Ron Carlson Writes a Story

Ron Carlson

Graywolf Press



112 Pages



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Ron Carlson has been praised as “a master of the short story” (Booklist). In this essay collection, he offers a full range of notes and gives rare insight into a veteran writer’s process by inviting the reader to watch over his shoulder as he creates the short story, “The Governor’s Ball.”

“This is a story of a story” he begins, and proceeds to offer practical advice for creating a great story, from the first glimmer of an idea to the final sentence. Carlson urges the writer to refuse the outside distractions—a second cup of coffee, a troll through the dictionary—and attend to the necessity of uncertainty, the pleasures of an unfolding story.
“The Governor’s Ball”—included in its entirety—serves as an illustration of the detailed anatomy of a short story.


Praise for Ron Carlson Writes a Story

“There are no particularly useful preliminary instructions other than to keep at it until it feels right. And this is where I think Ron Carlson Writes a Story has a function—a function that goes some distance towards redeeming an otherwise undistinguished genre. My favorite parts of the book all concerned Carlson’s descriptions of how hard it is to focus on the story and keep working, and how essential this patience is to creating anything of value. Even people who feel like part of an artistic community end up, finally, alone at their desks, and it helps to have the voice of experience in your mind when you want to get up and chase the nearest comforting distraction. Carlson is a good friend in this respect, and worth listening to. The odd irony of craft books, though, is that in the end they are themselves the kind of distraction that they warn against—for all parties involved. Authors write them when they should be focusing on their creative work, and aspiring writers read them when they should probably be doing the same.”—Akshay Ahuja, Bookslut

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Read an Excerpt

It would be strange to get in the car and think you were going to pick up the kids at school, but not be really sure. But there are moments in the process of writing a story when you must tolerate that uncomfortable feeling: You stay alert to everything that is happening and by listening and watching, you find out where you are going by going there. Somebody else may get in the car.
--from "Ron Carlson Writes a Story"
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  • Ron Carlson

  • Ron Carlson is the author of eight books of fiction, including Five Skies, published in May 2007. He directs the graduate program in fiction at the University of California, Irvine.