Alumna Erin Stalcup’s AWP conference panel presentation is now available at Structure & Surprise, the supplementary blog for the craft book Structure & Surprise: Engaging Poetic Turns:

It’s what I’ve never seen before that I recognize,” which I hear as an argument for surprise in all art. I’m particularly interested in surprise at the endings of short stories—when I recognize what I didn’t see coming. The stories I love, I can’t look away from—I want to lose my breath, I want the floor to drop away, I want to be blown away—and often this happens at the very end, sometimes the last line. John Gardner said that every ending should be both surprising and inevitable, so I’m curious how to make that work when the ending is heavy on the surprise part. I’d argue that sheer reversal in an ending results in unsatisfying surprise. The classic stories that end in a switch are fun to read, but you can only read them once: Guy de Maupassant wrote “The Necklace” in 1884, and O. Henry wrote “The Gift of the Magi” in 1905, and most people probably know those plots by heart, but the surprise of reversal is the only purpose of the story, which ruins future readings. Interestingly, both stories were first published in newspapers, a forum that asks for a single reading, then disposal. Those stories offer pleasure, they fulfill a human craving for reversal that’s possibly left over from myths and fairy tales—but they aren’t the most satisfying stories I know, and I don’t want to write stories like them. That kind of surprise feels old fashioned, historical...[Keep Reading]…

Erin’s fiction has appeared in PANK, The Kenyon Review, and The Sun, among others.  She’s currently a PhD candidate at the University of North Texas, where she’s finishing her first collection,Gravity & Other Stories.

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