Teachin’ the Craft

Pretty Ain’t Easy: The Myth of the Easy Short Story Cycle. 

There’s a belief among writers that linked short stories are easier to write than novels, that perhaps a story cycle is really an attempted novel that failed.

In this workshop, we’ll discuss the benefits of reading and writing a story cycle and compare the experience with that of a novel and short story. We’ll also examine ways in which various authors have intentionally linked their collections, analyze the most effective techniques, with the goal of applying them to our own writing.

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This was the blurb to the craft seminar I taught today at Queens, part of our MFA graduating requirements. Although I read a dozen linked short story collections, I really focused on Junot Diaz and how he linked his 3 books, using his main character and narrator, Yunior.

I also presented an overview of ways stories can be linked from Dr. Kevin Cook, Short Story Cycles, Linked Stories, & Novels-in-Stories. (Arizona Universities Faculty Exchange Lecture Series. April 4, 2007.) and listed techniques as described by Dylan Landis, in his Paper Chains and Lace: Lessons on Linked Stories from Love Medicine(Tri-Quarterly. March 12, 2012.)

As a class we read excerpts from Diaz’s story Fiesta 1980, and analyzed the links presented there which carried over into his most recent book, This Is How You Lose Her and specifically the story, The Cheater’s Guide to Love. We also discussed the idea of novel vs. linked stories, and brainstormed story collections that are not labeled as linked, but could be. A great class, a great discussion!

I’ve included my list of recommended readings below. Feel free to add your own in the comments section!

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Recommended Reading List:

1. Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich
2. The Beggar Maid by Alice Munro
3. Drown by Junot Diaz
4. This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
5. The Brief, Wondrous, Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz – novel
6. Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson
7. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie
8. Good Scent from a Strange Mountain by Robert Olen Butler
9. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
10. Animal Crackers by Hannah Tinti

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7 Comments on “Teachin’ the Craft

  1. I’m intrigued. After watching Dr. Cook’s presentation, I must say I’m hooked into the idea of linked short stories. I enjoy Junot Diaz’ writing as well and was wondering if you could post the handout of recommended readings. I think it would cool to get a grip on the topic while it’s hot and what better way than by reading! Thanks!

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  2. Hey Pedro –
    Thanks for reading! I included the list in the post. We also had a discussion at the end of the seminar of collections that could be labeled as linked but are not, such as Breece D’J Pancake’s stories (place – West Virginia) or Brady Udall’s Letting Loose the Hounds (place – southwest, Arizona), etc.

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  3. Nice thoughts. I’m working on a series of linked short works of fiction and creative nonfiction, so good food for thought. Thanks.

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  4. Pingback: I Don’t Have to Talk to Anyone and Other Reasons I Like Residencies | Sheila R. Lamb

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