Virginia Pye: Black Tickets & Feminist Poets of Another Time

Virginia Pye
photo: Tennessee Photography

I met Virginia Pye at a book festival down in Richmond ages ago, so I was delighted to hear that she’s got a new short story collection, The Shelf Life of Happiness. In her stories, you’ll see how an elderly painter being courted by a rich young art collector and a teenage skateboarding enthusiast embarrassed to be driven to the skate park by his dad are fighting similar battles. You’ll also spend time with a man who’s accompanying his old friend from college, who’s now dying of AIDS, as he gets married in a remote town that’s little more than a few stores and a motel lining either side of the highway, and a woman who’s struggling to make sense of a brutal murder that stuns her small community. In this essay, Pye shares some thoughts about a story collection, and the poems that preceded it, that helped her clear a path to writing about characters struggling to figure out, let alone assert, their identities.

When I was twenty, Black Tickets, the story collection by Jayne Anne Phillips, with its hard-edged prose about hard-edged people, hit me hard. I’d read Hemingway’s short stories. Fitzgerald and Chekov, too. Isaac Babel and Isaac Bashevis Singer, and that one about the yellow wallpaper that everyone had to read. Unlike novels, short stories seemed the place to start for an aspiring young writer. Stories were like small sculptures, carefully shaped and refined, seemingly comprehensible with a single walk around.

But when I tried to write them, mine tended to sprawl into an unruly mess. My pages grew dense and overwritten as I attempted to say too much. Then I read Black Tickets and saw that when you used restraint, you created meaning in a more powerful way. If you kept it minimal, you could leave your reader aching for more, at least that was the hope. But it wasn’t just Phillips’ style of writing that I admired and wanted to emulate. Her stories hit home because they were about women and girls, not unlike me.

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23 October 2018 | selling shorts |

Lynn Sloan: Coast to Coast with Ollie

Lynn Sloan
photo courtesy Lynn Sloan

Lynn Sloan recently had a story from her debut collection, This Far Isn’t Far Enough, chosen for inclusion in the acclaimed radio series Selected Shorts. It’s a potentially huge boon for an emerging writer, and I hope it helps introduce readers not just to “Ollie’s Back,” but to other fantastic stories like “Call Back,” in which an aging actor struggles to take care of his wife as she goes through dementia, or “Nature Rules,” which starts out as a story about a woman dealing with a bear rummaging through her garbage cans but takes a sharp detour into family drama. In this guest essay, Sloan talks about what it’s like to have your work showcased in what just might be America’s most widely recognized reading series.

“VIP parking at the Getty,” my friend exclaimed.

I had just her told that a story of mine that she’d read five years ago in messy draft form had been chosen for Selected Shorts on Stage. Selected Shorts! She and I often talked about the outstanding short stories read by notable actors we’d listened to on this long-running NPR show. I thought she would be wowed by my news. My story, “Ollie’s Back,” chosen for this fabulous literary show—amazing. The program, “A Feast of Fiction,” would also include stories by Donald Barthelme, Stephen Tobolowsky, Annie Proulx, and Willa Cather (Willa Cather! I read Willa Cather in eighth grade!). Such luminaries and me—astonishing.

This Selected Shorts, which usually performs at Symphony Space in New York City, would be at the Getty Center in Los Angeles in March, which is way better than New York City in March, and I would be there. None of this impressed my friend more than the fact that I would be given a VIP pass to park at the Top of the Mountain at the Getty.

Two months later, as I stood on the plaza of the Getty an hour before the performance I understood why: VIP, Very Important Person anything, doesn’t enter the normal writer’s life. But here I was an hour before my story, “Ollie’s Back,” would to be read by the actor Nate Corddry on the plaza of one of the world’s most beautiful museums with a view that overlooked Los Angeles and reached to the Pacific Ocean. It doesn’t get better than this.

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18 June 2018 | selling shorts |

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