• National Short Story/Salsa Month

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in WBN News & Events     Comments 3 comments

    (Editor’s Note: We’re kicking off this month’s WBN Book Club a tad late, but we’ll make it up to you by assigning some quick reading–one single short story. We’ll probably do a short story for June as well. Then in July, I’ll be leading the charge as we dive headlong into Toni Morrison’s Jazz, so grab a copy now if you want to get a jump-start on your homework.

    Now I’ll hand it off to Jeff Questad, our moderator for May, as he fills us in on this month’s plan. DD)


    May is National Salsa Month, dedicated to the appreciation and proliferation of spicy hot tomato-based condiments. Here in Texas, salsa is so revered it could be used as currency, traded for horses. But someone somewhere feels the rest of the world needs to think more about salsa. I don’t disagree with that. May is also dedicated to recognition of Latino Books, Bikes and Mediterranean Diets. This month, the egg, the hamburger, and the salad all ask for your affection. May is also Jewish-American Heritage Month, Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month, and let us not forget National Hepatitis Awareness Month. These are all worthy of your focus and you should spend the month dwelling on them.

    May is also National Short Story Month. Even if nobody is noticing.

    It is possible the short story could use more love. It occupies its place in literature, worshiped by some, less than compelling to the many. Authors like Hemingway and Updike are revered for their major novels while their careers as short story authors–publishing dozens of stories and filling volumes with wide ranging and memorable short work–are talked about as an afterthought. Writers who focused on the short form, trailblazers like Raymond Carver or Donald Barthelme, are regarded as monkish ascetics, working a strange and quaint tradition, remembered by other writers but barely noted by the reading public.

    There’s no money in short fiction. The short story has all but disappeared from major American magazines.

    In writing programs, perhaps by necessity, the short story exists as the principle means of training the writers of the future, many of whom become novelists and leave their short work behind as artifacts, stepping stones on the way to “serious work.” Writing groups bulge with unpublished novelists toiling away on 800-page behemoths while snorting in disapproval at the barely plotted slice of life 2500-word snacks the short fictionist brings to the table. The dedicated short story writer is often considered lacking in seriousness, the story itself pure appendix.

    But the short story breathes still, and may be experiencing yet another of its many Golden Ages. In the modern online publishing world, the short is the perfectly-suited form for hurried attention spans and tightly packed web spaces. We read on airplanes and in stolen moments at work, and the short story speaks our language. The short short, or flash fiction, is emerging as an unexpected and unique subculture of more traditional short fiction. High dollar fiction may have beat a retreat from commercial magazines, but the literary journal proliferates and talented writers publish extraordinary stuff. Revered anthologies collect the best, and there continues to be an audience for the thousands of short stories published each year. It is impossible to count how many venues exist, in every genre imaginable, for the printing of short fiction online.

    I don’t buy that the short story is struggling. I relish the chance to celebrate it in May.

    I’d suggest you celebrate National Short Story Month by hugging a short story writer, but many of us flee from human contact and touching us will leave you with an irritating skin rash. Instead, I urge you to keep a safe distance, and read some quality short fiction.

    In May, the WriteByNight Book Story Club is going to make it easy for you. In a nod to National Short Story Month, we invite you to read a single story. We’re even going to give it to you.

    Dagoberto Gilb, though Los Angeles born, is a local favorite here in Austin with deep ties to Texas storytelling. Many of his stories take place in Texas or on the border, but his reputation transcends the Southwest. Since his first collection, Winners on the Pass Line, he’s been dedicated to short fiction, publishing dozens of stories and a several highly regarded collections. His book The Magic Of Blood was a PEN/Faulkner finalist and was the winner of the 1994 PEN/Hemingway Foundation Award. (Dago writes here about the book being banned in the recent Arizona fiasco.)

    I knew of Gilb and had encountered his stories, but was newly struck by the sureness of his writing when I read “The Blessing.” The story appears in his most recent collection, Before the End, After the Beginning, a series of stories Gilb wrote after experiencing a stroke in 2009. Gilb’s characters are vivid and familiar and his mature voice has an authority earned over two decades. Gilb is writing with great vigor and authority here. His prose is sure footed and sly, capable of precision and sudden sudden movements. Before The End, After The Beginning was the most outstanding collection of stories I read in the last year.

    Uncle Rock” is one of the standout stories from the book. It appears in The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories 2012 and also in Best of the West 2011: New Stories from the Wide Side of the Missouri. It first appeared in The New Yorker.

    Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to read “Uncle Rock,” then meet me back here in two weeks, where I’ll have some things to say and you’ll be invited to chime in and discuss the story with me.

    Read “Uncle Rock” in The New Yorker


    Jeff Questad is a writer and Black Sabbath enthusiast in Austin, Texas. You can (and should) follow him on Twitter.


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    Laura Roberts

    May is also NATIONAL NINJA MONTH! But probably only celebrated by me. I’m also insisting on a “Take Your Ninja To Work Day” one of these casual Fridays. Feel free to join in this silliness on my blog, Rebelsofthe512.com. But as to your point about short stories, OMG, I can’t believe you picked a Dagoberto Gilb story. Once upon a time I had to read one of his stories for work, and my co-workers and I started asking each other “Is Dagoberto Spanish for ‘douchebag’?” True story. Kinda like his crappy one, “Northeast Direct,” where he watches a stranger reading… Read more »

    Kathy Waller

    May is also Texas Mystery Month. But that doesn’t mean we can’t read outside the genre.

    Justine Tal Goldberg

    I’m in! I picked up this year’s O. Henry Prize collection at the launch party a couple of weeks ago (where Dago read from “Uncle Rock” and discussed his process). The stories are impressive, as always.

    Would love your thoughts, please comment.x