Paul Yoon’s Character-Building “Island”

Paul Yoon
photo: Peter Yoon

It hardly seems like it’s been three years since Paul Yoon won the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award for his first novel, Snow Hunters, let alone seven years since he was tapped as one of the National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35″ young writers of imminent distinction. Now here he is with his second story collection, The Mountain, a half dozen stories set in locations around the world, from the outbreak of the First World War to the near future. Each of Yoon’s locations, whether it’s the shattered landscape of post-WWII Europe or the rundown housing for Shanghai factory workers, is vividly detailed, in ways that dovetail neatly with the characters’ behavior—in this world, you feel, these people surely would do these things. In this essay, Yoon tells us about a short story that helped him get to that place in his writing.

I discovered a writer named Alistair MacLeod when I was around twenty-one years old. He passed away a few years ago, but he was known for his work set in Nova Scotia and also for his great slowness. His entire career spanned, I think, two short story collections and a single novel. I read his stories first, and one in particular, when I was first attempting to write, changed the way I thought about craft and how to compose fiction. It’s called “Island,” and it centers around Agnes, a woman living alone in her old age in a small house on a small island off the coast of Cape Breton, which itself is an island, though she calls it the mainland.

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20 August 2017 | selling shorts |

Caitlin Hamilton Summie: Awoken by Erdrich

Caitlin Hamilton Summie
photo courtesy Caitlin Hamilton Summie

I’ve known Caitlin Hamilton Summie for years, first as the marketing director of some fantastic small independent publishers, and then as the proprietor of her own marketing and publicity firm. Now I find out she’s been writing her own short stories this entire time, and they’ve just been collected in To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts. It’s an apt title: Caitlin’s characters deal with the holes left in their lives by, say, fathers lost to combat overseas, or sisters who were their only point of contact with an estranged family—or they’re haunted by the memory of a young girl who played hopscotch outside their apartment building those few months they tried living in Manhattan. Or…well, discover for yourself. In this guest essay, Caitlin reveals how Louise Erdrich’s stories were the key that unlocked a central aspect of her own writing.

I have loved the short stories of Jhumpa Lahiri and William Maxwell and Hemingway—and others—but if I were to think of one collection that really affected me as a writer, it would be Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich—the first Love Medicine, not the revised edition she published later.

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14 August 2017 | selling shorts, uncategorized |

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