COLUMN: I’ll tell mine; you tell yours

The Nelson library's Anne Degrace on flash fiction....

The story goes like this: Ernest Hemingway was lunching with some friends at a restaurant. He bet the table ten bucks that he could write an entire novel in six words.

After the money was gathered, he wrote on a napkin: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” He passed it around the table and collected his winnings.

Considered an extreme example of “flash fiction,” the story of Hemingway’s challenge has become the foundation for a challenge in which anyone can participate. Which makes it a great challenge for the library to throw out during BC Culture Days from Sept. 30 to Oct. 2.

The library’s six-word story challenge, which runs Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, is open to teens and adults. It’s fun, and we’ll post your stories (on post-its, of course) in the library and on our web page.

There are lovely literary prizes, and of course your own 15 make that six seconds of fame. It’s just one aspect of Culture Days at the library, which offers activities for kids as well.

We have some great flash fiction in the library or available through BC Library Connect (in which you can access materials province-wide with the click of the “hold” button, and they arrive magically by post), including my first introduction to micro-fiction in John Gould’s Kilter: 55 fictions, which was nominated for the Giller. Other practitioners of the craft include such disparate literary masters as O. Henry, Philip K. Dick, Kurt Vonnegut and Franz Kafka, proving that micro-brilliance knows no boundaries.

Flash fiction is not a North American phenomenon; in Latin America, a short piece of fiction flash fiction is usually a thousand words or less is called a micro. The Danes call it kortprosa, and the Bulgarians call it mikro razkaz. So: bigger than a Hemingway-style, six-word wonder, smaller than your average short story, and in its own unique category within the often-underappreciated larger category of short stories.

In Canada we have brilliant short fiction, with authors that must include Timothy Findley, Mavis Gallant, Stephen Leacock, Alistair MacLeod, Margaret Laurence, W.P. Kinsella, Thomas King, and of course Alice Munro, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature despite that fact that her early publishers told her she’d never really make it if she didn’t start writing novels.

Described as “An International Literary Saint” by Margaret Atwood (also a fabulous writer of short fiction), Munro’s early accolades were humbling at best: “Housewife Finds Time to Write Short Stories” was the title of a 1961 piece in the Vancouver Sun.

She said, “Memory is the way we keep telling ourselves our stories—and telling other people a somewhat different version of our stories.”

Munro wrote long short stories; Hemingway’s ran the gamut. Perhaps my favourite collection of all time is J.D. Salinger’s brilliant Nine Stories, in which the vast complexities of a family are revealed in a remarkable economy of pages that leave me anything but shortchanged.

In a six-word narrative, one might ask: What if we’re all just stories? It’s a good question. Personally, I think we are: walk in a graveyard and you can feel them around you. Stop for a moment on a crowded street and imagine everyone around you as ambulatory vessels full of stories. Walk in a library, and well… I’d say your story starts here.

Anne DeGrace is the Adult Services Coordinator at the Nelson Public Library. Check This Out runs every other week. For more information go to nelsonlibrary.ca.

Just Posted

RDCK approves loan request to remediate Salmo tailings site

The H.B. Mine tailings pond poses a risk of toxic contamination

VIDEO: John Dooley elected Nelson’s mayor

Logtenberg, Anderson, Woodward, Renwick, Morrison and Page elected to council

15 new mayors to take office across the Kootenays

Here’s a look at the highlights from across the Kootenay region in B.C.

Castlegar voters choose Tassone as new mayor

All incumbent councillors also returned

Mayoral results from across B.C.

Voters in 162 municipalities in B.C. set to elect mayor, council, school board and more

Voting set to start in B.C. proportional representation referendum

Two-part ballots now being mailed to all registered voters

Voter turnout at 36% in B.C.’s municipal election

Vancouver saw 39% turnout, Surrey saw 33%

Harry and Meghan travel in different style on Australia tour

Prince Harry and his wife Meghan are on day seven of their 16-day tour of Australia and the South Pacific.

AP Exclusive: Stephen Hawking’s wheelchair, thesis for sale

The online auction features 22 items from Hawking, including his doctoral thesis on the origins of the universe, with the sale scheduled for 31 October and 8 November.

In Khashoggi case: Saudi calls, ‘body double’ after killing

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman called the son of Jamal Khashoggi, the kingdom announced early Monday, to express condolences for the death of the journalist killed at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul by officials that allegedly included a member of the royal’s entourage.

Alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur waives right to preliminary hearing

Bruce McArthur, a 67-year-old self-employed landscaper, has been ordered to stand trial on eight counts of first-degree murder.

N.B. village faces backlash after council raises ‘straight flag’

Chipman Mayor Carson Atkinson says the flag met the village council’s criteria because it “recognizes, accepts and respects the rights of individuals under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

B.C. oncologist changing the face of breast cancer treatment

Dr. Juanita Crook, a Kelowna oncologist, has seen 100 per cent success using brachytherapy to treat breast cancer in some patients.

Three strong earthquakes reported off Vancouver Island

The quakes, all measuring more than 6.0 on the richter scale, were about 260 kilometres west of Tofino

Most Read