Reading It Different Ways

In the guidelines for the anthology it says "the very best Hint Fiction stories can be read many different ways." That doesn't mean of course that your story has to be read many different ways. Look at Gary Braunbeck's story which Stewart O'Nan chose as the first place winner in the contest. It gives a hint of a more complex story, and the reader can make a pretty good educated guess what that story is.

Even the Hemingway six-word story leads toward one conclusion: that a young couple had a miscarriage and then were forced to sell what little they had already bought for the baby, such as the shoes.

Only not everyone agrees with that. During my student teaching I'd introduced the class to this story (we'd been discussing inference) and one of the students said maybe the baby was born without any feet, and that was why the parents wanted to sell the unworn baby shoes.

A bit of a stretch, yes, but there's nothing in the story to suggest otherwise.

In terms of reading a Hint Fiction story many different ways, I want to use two examples from the winners and honorable mentions.

The first is "Peanut Butter" by Camille Esses:

He was allergic. She pretended not to know.

Only eight words, but it's a story that can be read many different ways. Who's allergic exactly? Maybe a young boy, a brat, and the woman babysitting him is making a sandwich that she knows will cause trouble. Or maybe it's a wife, tired of her husband's cheating, his drinking, his whatever, and even though he's allergic she adds it to a recipe to get back at him. It could go on and on.

The second is "Progress" by Joe Schreiber:

After seventeen days she finally broke down and called him “daddy.”

This one is eleven words, and I can see this being read one of two ways: a sociopath kidnaps a woman, a la Silence of the Lambs, starves her, tortures her, whatever, until after so many days she breaks. Or on the flip side it's a man who marries a woman with a child, and maybe something happened to the previous husband, maybe he died or left them, and the girl was still attached to her real father and maybe her mother wanted her to be nice to her new stepfather, show him some respect, and so finally she broke.

As with the first, it could go on and on.

(Full disclosure: yes, Joe and I are friends, and while I originally encouraged him to submit to the contest, Gay and I did not know what story was his, nor did Stewart O'Nan, so the fact that it not only made the top twenty but then was chosen as the third place winner just goes to prove the strength of the story.)

Anyway, I hope that helps for anyone confused on the idea of Hint Fiction stories being read many different ways. If not, well, leave your questions in the comments section and I'll try to answer them the best I can.

Also, speaking of Joe Schreiber, he has two new novels coming out this fall. One is an original trade paperback called No Doors, No Windows and sports this great cover:

The other is a Star Wars novel -- a horror Star Wars novel -- coming out in hardcover and sporting this fantastic cover:

One thing about Joe besides being a great writer -- he has had major luck so far with all his covers. Check out his blog to see the rest.