Nominees for the Story Prize Speak on Process and Inspiration

The Story Prize, the annual twenty-thousand-dollar award for a short story collection, closed its 2011 competition entry pool earlier this month—and now its blog is offering a close look at the writers whose books were nominated. Authors such as Danzy Senna, William Lychack, Joseph McElroy, Ana Menendez, and Shann Ray, all of whom had collections published this year, discuss their writing processes, sources of inspiration, and the books that made them want to write.

In today's post, Menendez, nominated for her collection Adios, Happy Homeland! (Black Cat), emphasizes practice and training over "witchcraft or pure chance" as key to the creation of our masterpieces, with James Joyce and Vincent Van Gogh to back her up. Lychack, nominated for his second book, The Architect of Flowers (Mariner Books), discusses the importance of another art—judo—to achieving an understanding of balance and dedication in the writing process. And Alan Heathcock, nominated for Volt (Graywolf Press) breaks down his approach to writing into six steps. Thirty-five nominee discussions are currently posted as part of the running series.

The judges are having a word on the blog, as well. Breon Mitchell, a professor of comparative literature who is joined on the panel by Sherman Alexie and Louise Steinman, reveals what the jury is looking for in a Story Prize submission: "Samuel Beckett once said that most people could only enjoy a text if it reminded them of something else they had read. We enjoy hearing echoes of earlier texts in a new one, like musical motifs borrowed from compositions of another age. Yet we also set a high value on originality—we want to be surprised, not just by a turn of events, but by some element we may never have encountered before."

A shortlist of three collections entering the final running will be announced in January, and the winner of the Story Prize will be named on March 21 at a ceremony in New York City.