Malahat fiction board member Liam Workman talks with Open Season Award fiction judge Jaspreet Singh about the longevity of the short story, Roberto Bolano's fiction, and due diligence when submitting to contests.
Jaspreet Singh is a novelist, essayist, and a short story writer. His collection of linked stories, Seventeen Tomatoes, received the Quebec First Book Prize. His novel Chef (about the damaged landscapes of Kashmir) was a finalist for a Commonwealth Prize and won Alberta's George Bugnet Award for Fiction. Read the rest of his bio here.
Every year someone new is proclaiming the short story dead, or the novel dead, or the play dead. But people are still entering contests every day, and more and more online journals seem to be sprouting up. What are your thoughts? Are things really as dire as some people say? Or are the old forms actually dead?
In the times of Elena Ferrante it is really hard to declare the novel dead. Third rate homicide detectives, or writers who have lost steam, or critics desirous of quick attention often come up with such preposterous ideas. But really this is not a bad thing. Even Einstein's theory of relativity gets challenged every now and then! Crucial new experiments and tests only end up increasing our 'faith' in the theory.
Each time someone pronounces the demise of the novel or the short story, we the readers discover that these forms are more alive than ever.
Are you tired of being asked about your decision to focus on writing? I feel like a lot of writers have these big markers in their careers that everyone focuses on, and the author's get stuck explaining their choices for the rest of time. Or am I just projecting?
Don't you envy Elena Ferrante's anonymity?
Do you find yourself seeking out short stories, or are you more of a novel reader? Anything have your attention right now?
Both forms interest me. As Roberto Bolano said, "Reading is more important than writing." Here is someone I discovered recently: the US-based Syrian writer Osama Alomar. Alomar writes very short stories in Arabic. You can find some of his allegories and fables online. New Directions will publish a translation next year. Osama Alomar supports himself by driving a cab in Chicago.
Here’s an example of a very short story by him:
TONGUE TIE - "Before leaving for work I tied my tongue into a great tie. My colleagues congratulated me on my elegance. They praised me to our boss, who expressed admiration and ordered all employees to follow my example."
The Open Season Awards is one of our newer contests, so the amount of previous winners is pretty small. Do you have any tips for the writers out there? Anything to avoid, or encourage?
There is an excellent short story ("Sensini") by Roberto Bolano in which the narrator describes a phase in his life when he was obsessed with short story contests. A story of his receives the fourth prize. "Naturally my story was better than the winner's, so I cursed the judges and told myself, Well what can you expect?" He decides to meet the third prize winner, an older man, who tells him to "compete for as many prizes as possible, although he suggested I take precaution of changing a story's title if I was entering it for, say, three competitions that were due to be judged at the same time!"
Ok, now let me try to answer your question. Tips? My suggestion to writers who participate in contests is exactly the same I give to writers who do not participate. "The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof, shit detector" (Hemingway).
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