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Introducing our longlisted authors: Marie-Helene Bertino

Marie-Helene Bertino cr  Sioux Nesi.jpgView larger
Marie-Helene Bertino. Photograph by Sioux Nesi

Meet the authors longlisted for the 2020 Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award

Marie-Helene Bertino is the author of the novel 2am At the Cat’s Pajamas and the collection Safe as Housesand was the 2017 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Fellow in Cork, Ireland. Her work has received The O Henry Prize, The Pushcart Prize, The Iowa Short Fiction Award, The Mississippi Review Story Prize, and has twice been featured on NPR’s Selected Shorts. She teaches at NYU, The New School, and Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, NM, and lives in Brooklyn, where she was the Associate Editor for One Story and Catapult. Her third book, Parakeet, is forthcoming from FSG in June 2020.

She is longlisted for the short story: Flowers and their Meanings

A woman comes back to her hometown to look after her mother, who is recuperating from an operation. During her stay she experiences the usual peculiar intimacies of their relationship and some unexpected, extraordinary events. This is a funny, moving look at family bonds, surreal occurrences, and the passage of time.

What inspired you to write the story? Is it drawn from personal experience?

Stars of biographical matter glimmer here, but the galaxy is fiction. I did spend a month helping my mother recover from a surgery, during this time I did improperly water her zinnias and she did call a sandwich “heartbreaking”, greeting customers is considered a theft deterrent, I have twice been approached by men in trucks asking what the man in the first paragraph asks. Everything else is fiction.

How does writing short stories differ from writing full-length fiction, and what do you enjoy about writing in the genre?

I find it’s more difficult to justify why something would make a good short story as opposed to a novel, which is oddly more forgiving. Whatever matter you place into a story must be able to be compressed in a way that rewards the form’s particular alchemy.

How do you write? Longhand or typed? Why does your chosen method work for you?

I write in longhand, a leftover habit from my earnest, doomed time as a poet.

What’s your favourite short story of all time? Who would you cast to read it?

In the Heart of the Heart of the Country by William Gass. I’d cast a different person for each brief vignette, so by the end there’d be an accumulation of dozens of various voices, and I’d like most of those voices to be my brilliant friends.

Which short story collection by another author would you recommend?

In addition to the story collections I recommended last year, I’d recommend Yoko Ogawa’s singular, unparalleled, peerless Revenge. I’d also recommend Laura van den Berg’s I Hold a Wolf by His Ears. Laura never makes a linguistic misstep and is the rare author I can throw the keys of my mind to and trust I’m in the hands of a master driver.

Who would you cast to read the story you have entered?

Greta Lee, Parker Posey, Natasha Lyonne, or Zoe Kravitz.

What are you reading now?
I’m reading Hex by Rebecca Dinerstein Knight, a gutsy, self-assured, wild, tender novel and Maisy Card’s These Ghosts are Family, a sensational debut novel that feels haunted with the kind of familial secrets that are handed down and deepen every year.

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