25th Trillium Award

On Writing: The CBC Short Story Prize Edition, with Roderick Moody-Corbett

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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, Mathew 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, Roderick Moody-Corbett tells us about "Parse," a story written as one long sentence with a Pomeranian dog running into the middle. You can read “Parse” here.

Open Book:

Tell us about "Parse."

Roderick Moody-Corbett:

Plot-wise, it’s pretty standard fare: two people who maybe still love each other go their separate ways. At one point, a little dog shows up. Which if there’s something faintly Chekhovian in that, great. It’s an intentional Pomeranian. What distinguishes this story from a Danielle Steel novel, say, is that it’s told in one long, gruesome sentence and the word “semiotic” is employed adverbially.


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


I’m not much for germs, but I think this story evolved out of a desire to write something formally weird and sad.


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


Creating tension inside a long sentence can be very difficult. Of course, this is true of short sentences, too. But sustaining interest, ensuring that the sentence renew its verbal buoyancy, this was challenging. And, you know, I’m not a sadist. I’m not in the business of bruising readers’ palates.


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


Tough question. I guess I really love that moment when a voice begins to assert itself in the language. And editing. Pursuing a logic of sound, losing sleep to a semicolon, winnowing chaff from grain.


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


False starts and worried omissions.


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


A perfect short story? Maybe, I don’t know. David Bezmozgis’s “Natasha” is pretty much flawless. And I’m of the mind that Amy Hempel can do no wrong. Lately, I’ve been on a bit of a Norman Rush kick. “Instruments of Seduction” is insanely strong. I wouldn’t change a word.


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


For my nineteenth birthday my parents gave me a collection of Chekhov’s stories, as selected and introduced by Richard Ford. Prior to Chekhov, the only short story that had made much of an impression on me was Hemingway’s “The Old Man at the Bridge” (and I think largely because this story ends with some kind words about cats). Anyway, long story short, this book roused me from my dogmatic slumber.

Rod Moody-Corbett holds an MA in Creative Writing from the University of New Brunswick, and is currently working towards a PhD at the University of Calgary. In 2011, he received a Newfoundland and Labrador Arts and Letters Award for short fiction. His work has appeared in a number of Canadian journals.

Click here to read “Parse” by Rod Moody-Corbett.

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