Trillium Book Award Author Readings June 16

On Writing: The CBC Short Story Prize Edition, with Becky Blake

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Congratulations to the finalists for the CBC’s Canada Writes Short Story Prize! The five short-listed authors for the English-language competition are Becky Blake, Matthew Howard, Roderick Moody-Corbett, Eliza Robertson and Jay Tameling. Their stories were selected from a pool of over 2,400 submissions. At stake is the the grand prize of $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts, a two-week residency at The Banff Centre, publication in Air Canada's enRoute magazine and well-deserved bragging rights. The jury, made up of Can. Lit giants Esi Edugyan, Lawrence Hill and Vincent Lam, will announce their choice for the winning story on Tuesday, March 26.

Open Book: Ontario has caught up with each of the finalists to find out more about their stories. Today, Becky Blake tells us about "The Three Times Rule," a story that's been 12 years in the making. You can read "The Three Times Rule" here.

Open Book:

Tell us about "The Three Times Rule".

Becky Blake:

It’s a four-page story about memory and sex. I’ve been working on it, off and on, for about 12 years. I’m happy it’s finally finished.


Can you tell us where the germ of the idea for this story came from?


When I first wrote this story I’d been going through a period of disappointing dating, so I was thinking about how hard it is for two people to really connect, and how we often have an impulse to keep trying, even when things aren’t making sense.


What was the biggest challenge you ran into while writing this story?


I wanted to be as spare as possible, and to give readers only what they absolutely needed to follow along. When friends read various drafts, sometimes they were having difficulty figuring out what was going on. So, I’d add in a line or detail here or there. It was hard to find the right balance between telling and not-telling.


What do you enjoy most about the process of writing a short story?


Short stories are like little mysteries to me. An idea springs up and I don’t know why. Then I spend a long time writing about it, until eventually I can sleuth out its motives. That moment of figuring things out is always really satisfying.


How do you make a character vibrant and realistic in just a few pages?


My CBC story is written from an intimate third-person perspective so the reader has a lot of access to the protagonist’s thoughts. To round out her character, I also used dialogue and a couple of select details: the fact that she used to live on the street, and the rule she has about how many times she sleeps with men.


Is there such a thing as a perfect short story? What story have you read that's come closest?


No, I don’t think that a perfect short story really exists. (And if it were possible to create such a thing, readers probably wouldn’t respond as intensely to it as they do to a brilliant, but slightly flawed story.) Having said that, some gold standard stories definitely exist. Raymond Carver’s “Feathers” comes to mind, or Julio Cortázar’s “Letter to a Young Lady in Paris.”


What would you say to convince someone who is "more into novels" to give short fiction a try?


I would say to them that good short fiction is incredibly rewarding to read, with less investment of time. Then I might loan them one of my favourite collections, like Pasha Malla’s or Sarah Hall’s, or anything by Etgar Keret or Junot Díaz. Actually, I probably wouldn’t loan out those books; I really need to have them on my shelves.

In addition to writing fiction, Becky Blake has also worked as a journalist, an advice columnist, a script consultant and a playwright. Her stories and articles have appeared in publications such as Remix: A Revolution in Text Forms, Kiss Machine, The Coast, DailyXY and NOW Magazine. Film companies she has worked with include White Bull Film and Philtre Films. Becky holds an MFA in Creative Writing from The University of Guelph and currently lives in Toronto.

Click here to read "The Three Times Rule" by Becky Blake.

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