Perfect Strangeness

by Doretta Lau

Doretta Lau is a journalist who covers arts and culture for Artforum InternationalSouth China Morning PostThe Wall Street Journal Asia, and LEAP. She completed an MFA in Writing at Columbia University. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in Day One, Event, Grain MagazinePrairie FirePRISM InternationalRicepapersub-TERRAIN, and Zen Monster. She splits her time between Vancouver and Hong Kong, where she is at work on a novel and a screenplay. In 2013, she was a finalist for the Writers’ Trust of Canada / McClelland & Stewart Journey PrizeHow Does a Single Blade of Grass Thank the Sun? (Nightwood Editions, 2014), her debut short story collection, was shortlisted for the City of Vancouver Book Award, longlisted for the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, and was named by The Atlantic as one of the best books of 2014.

The fiction included in Issue 30: Summer 2015 was selected by Doretta Lau, our Guest Summer Fiction Editor for 2015. Below, she talks about the experience and the quality work represented in this issue.


When I read a short story, I hope the voice will lead me somewhere I haven’t been before. Perhaps I’ll traverse a remote location or meander down an off-kilter line of thinking. Thoughts can be so very strange, which is why I am a sucker for a killer first-person voice. Through fiction I have been able to inhabit so many realities and understand perspectives beyond my own. The seven stories I have selected for The Puritan’s summer issue all have a perfect strangeness, reflecting the world in a way that disarms me. It is such a pleasure to encounter great craft and to gain insight into the lives of others, real or imagined.

I learned how to edit fiction by apprenticing with Diane Williams, the editor of the literary annual NOON. She worked on stories in a way I’d never seen before: cutting paragraphs of text, deleting words, moving entire sentences around. It was like watching a master craftsperson cut and polish a precious gem to reveal its sparkle. First, I applied this kind of vigour to my own prose and now, with the tremendous trust of the seven writers I worked with for this issue, I applied Diane’s alchemy to their writing.

My first thought when soliciting stories and trawling the slush pile was I wished to feature the work of writers who had not yet published a novel or short story collection. (As I went through hundreds of submissions, I encountered so many excellent writers from Canada and around the world—I’m sorry I didn’t have space to publish more stories.) I got my big break when Event published my story “How Does a Single Blade of Grass Thank the Sun?”. Silas White, publisher of Nightwood Editions, read this story and asked me if I was working on a book manuscript. Later, the story was nominated for the Journey Prize. I’d spent a year querying agents and sending the manuscript off to slush piles and suddenly everything was different; after all the rejection and disappointment I was going to publish a book. I hope to pass on this same magic to another writer.

 


Doretta Lau is a journalist who covers arts and culture for Artforum InternationalSouth China Morning PostThe Wall Street Journal Asia, and LEAP. She completed an MFA in Writing at Columbia University. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in Day One, Event, Grain MagazinePrairie FirePRISM InternationalRicepapersub-TERRAIN, and Zen Monster. She splits her time between Vancouver and Hong Kong, where she is at work on a novel and a screenplay. In 2013, she was a finalist for the Writers’ Trust of Canada / McClelland & Stewart Journey PrizeHow Does a Single Blade of Grass Thank the Sun? (Nightwood Editions, 2014), her debut short story collection, was shortlisted for the City of Vancouver Book Award, longlisted for the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, and was named by The Atlantic as one of the best books of 2014.

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