Meet the authors longlisted for the 2020 Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award
Introducing our longlisted authors: Shawn Vestal
Shawn Vestal is the author of the novel Daredevils, published in 2016 by Penguin Press. It was named the winner of the Washington State Book Award. It was published in the UK by One/Pushkin Press, as well as in France (titled Goodbye, Loretta, by Albin Michel); and in Germany (titled Loretta, by Kein & Aber). Vestal’s debut collection of short stories, Godforsaken Idaho, published by Little A/New Harvest in April 2013, was the winner of the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize, which honours a debut book that “represents distinguished literary achievement and suggests great promise”. He also published AKA Charles Abbott, a short memoir, as a Kindle Single in 2013. Vestal’s short stories have appeared in Tin House, McSweeney’s, Ecotone, The Southern Review, The Iowa Review, Zyzzyva, Cutbank, Florida Review and other journals. His story Teamwork was published in The Sewanee Review in its Summer 2019 issue. It was later named the winner of the magazine’s Andrew Lytle Prize, honoring the best fiction published in 2019. He has published journalism and essays in The Guardian, The New Yorker website, and other venues. He lives in Spokane, Washington, where he is a columnist at The Spokesman-Review newspaper, and a member of the faculty in the creative writing programme at Eastern Washington University.
He is longlisted for the story: Teamwork
A player on a 1980s high school American football team recounts one disastrous season – on and off the field – with the team’s every moment charted by their emphatic, omnipotent, highly volatile coach. This energetic, evocative story is bittersweet, nostalgic, and incredibly funny.
What inspired you to write the story? Is it drawn from personal experience?
The story does draw, in small ways, on my experience of playing on a small-town football team when I was a teenager, but is primarily an invention whose origins I don’t fully understand. I had been thinking about the way in which some coaches swing between screaming angrily at their players and rounding them up for team prayers – a real incoherent mixture of the sacred and the profane. The story began with trying to write in a voice that had both of those qualities.
How does writing short stories differ from writing full-length fiction, and what do you enjoy about writing in the genre?
I like the power of compression in a short story, and the challenge of trying to achieve heightened effects on a reader in a single reading experience. Many of my very favorite literary experiences have been reading stories, whether it’s Franz Kafka or Alice Munro. I love the sense, when writing short fiction, that I can hold the entire movement of the story in my head, and really explore how it fits together and how I can manipulate each piece of it.
I find it much harder to keep the scope of a novel-in-progress all active in my imagination at the same time, if that makes sense. Organisationally, it’s much more difficult, and there is much more work in revision to make sure that all the parts of the novel are communicating with each other.
How do you write? Longhand or typed? Why does your chosen method work for you?
I type on a laptop, and have done so for so long that I don’t even really think about other methods of composition. I like to make a lot of changes as I go, to tinker and meddle, take things out and put them back and take them out again – I can’t imagine writing longhand. Though I do, when I write my bad poetry on the rare occasion, find longhand is the only method that feels right for that.
Which short story collection by another author would you recommend?
So many. I’ll say George Saunders’ Tenth of December because I dipped back into it recently.
What’s your favourite short story of all time? Who would you cast to read it?
Again, there are so many. One is Alice Munro’s Runaway, which is just a masterpiece of a long story that has enough life packed in it for a novel and a sequel. I could imagine it being read wonderfully by J Smith-Cameron (who plays Gerri on Succession.)
Who would you cast to read the story you have entered?
Liev Schreiber. In the hopes that I’d get a chance to talk to him about playing newspaper editor Marty Baron in Spotlight.
What are you reading now?
I’m finishing Wolf Hall, and preparing to dive into Bring Up the Bodies. Also reading one Munro story a week and then cocktail-Zooming with some friends on Friday nights to talk about it, as a coronavirus lifeline. And I am slowly savouring my friend Christopher Howell’s miraculous book of poetry, The Grief of a Happy Life.