"Are we commencing our story now, as we take these decorations off the sweet and brittle tree? Are we ennobled, even by our stupidity and pain? The telephone is ringing: As I cross this room, am I, in fact, strapped into an apparatus of fate that will keep a teenaged girl up long into the quiet of an August night? Am I believable? Will I change her life? The answer is no, of course. The answer is not really, and no, and no again. The answer is that, as I go to the phone, two snowflakes unite in frigid air and drift through a cone of streetlight. The answer is that the sidewalk bends in the lens of a sparrow’s eye, that it is my daughter on the phone, shouting over digitalized party clamor. The answer is: all these nights and days accumulating like so much lint, all this longing and uncertainty capped off by slaughterhouse shame. "
--From "The Story and It's Writer"
"Con" in The Common, Issue 7
"...He was twenty-eight; she was twenty-two, but they both had the cautious gestures and expressions of people decades older. There was pain in their eyes. His showed the expectation that he would be hurt, but also an alertness to the pain of others. He was more comfortable with those who had suffered: the victims of this world. Her eyes revealed the history of her pain—but only in the form of her determination never to experience it again...."
"The Zip" in Conjunctions: 62
"...What Marie sees is the bad haircut of a thirteen-year-old who wants to look like a rock star. And under that unruly helmet of hair, she sees dog brown eyes and lips exactly the dusky red of raspberries. She sees a long jaw just slightly uplifted by hope, and a long, slender torso hollowed by an extreme lack of confidence. She sees an odd-looking young man who could just possibly be handsome if weren’t so heartbreakingly lonely and afraid...."
"As Long as He Knows You Love Him," in WHEN FIRST I HELD YOU, ed. Brian Gresko, Berkley Books
"Nothing would have happened if it hadn’t turned out that, exactly as the vitamins splattered out of the dropper, Simon took a deep breath—probably in preparation for a cry. The brown fluid swerved, mid-air, away from his tongue and down his throat. His eyes went wide; he gagged and fell silent. After a few seconds I realized he wasn’t breathing, and that his lips were turning blue..."
"Next to Nothing," Best American Short Stories 2014, October '14
"My Dreams Would Seem so Close," Guernica (Story) -- Autumn '14
"Off on a Comet," "Now and Again," "Brass Ring," No Tokens (Poetry) -- Autumn '14
"X" and "All Men Are Created," Ping Pong (Stories) -- Autumn '14
"Biology," (see below) will be mounted on the wall at The Atrium Art Gallery of the University of Southern Maine in an exhibition entitled "Secrets of the Sea," Sept. 18-Nov. 22.
Is this happiness or oyster-life?
This flexing of muscular torso-foot
joy’s wonder? This sifting of silt
from food in the shifting chill-dark?
If, in my mind, there is a life of flight
in the light beyond the over-swirl,
must I unfix my lips from this rock
to be right? Or is my apex to worry
quartz against my shell?
In some ways, Thomas Jefferson finds death more appealing than life. Nothing he does matters anymore, and so he is able to lose himself more completely in the moment. Now he is lost in the emerald translucency of locust leaves in dawn light. Now in a cloud of indigo butterflies fluttering over meadow grass. And now his heart is broken by the contest between joy and despair in every note of birdsong. Birds have three springs inside their heads, and seven cogs, and are not actually capable of choice, and yet, all day, every day, they sing of joy’s inability to outlast despair. There is something in this that Thomas Jefferson finds unspeakably beautiful....
"The new girl sat at the computer in the corner playing Ziggurat, Panic! and U-Turn. This was in the pine-paneled section of the Labyrinth, which is where the Minotaur had been hanging out lately, mainly because he didn’t remember ever having been there before, and he liked sleeping on the pool table...."
"Most people imagine ghosts as the leftovers of cancelled lives, but, in fact, they are only possible lives that never happened. That doesn’t mean ghosts exist, however. They don’t. Possibilities exist. And life is dense with possibility. But as long as something is only possible, it is nothing. Ghosts sorrow. They are haunted by the lives they might have lived. Their longing has no end..."
For the full story, click the link below:
"...[T]he single most important lesson I have learned standing at the front of a classroom is never to fake it. I can’t help my students by pretending to know something I don’t know, or by relying on some impressive but only half-comprehended bit of critical dogma or vocabulary. If I speak to an issue in the classroom, I want to be sure that I completely understand every aspect of the problem I am dealing with, that I can express what I understand clearly, and that I truly believe everything I am saying. I apply exactly the same standards to my writing. Some of my work strikes many readers as profoundly mysterious, if not downright impenetrable, but I work as hard as I can to be sure that I understand the implications of every scene, image and word, and that they all work toward some sort of effect and/or significance that seems right to me...."
"Roland’s longing trailed after him as he walked, a sort of dirigible, attached by a silver filament that tugged and tugged without ever lightening his step. 'Why’s that thing always following you around?' his brother asked. 'Haven’t you already got everything you could possibly want?'...”
"Hope" -- APOGEE
A NEW excerpt from NOBODY HERE KNOWS ANYTHING, a novel-in-progress.
"So anyway. My foster mother’s name was Mrs. Bingham. She weighed like two hundred and fifty pounds. This big, fat woman. And there was this other girl there. Chardonelle. She was a foster child too. Mrs. Bingham was getting paid for keeping us. That was the only reason. She used to make us. You know, when we been bad. She used to make us get down on our knees and thank God she was so generous that she took us in. “Without me y’all would both be dead!” she used to say. “So y’all thank God for bringing you to me!” And she would sprinkle sand on the floorboards so that it was extra painful...."
[For the whole excerpt, click the link above and turn to p. 46.]
"You Must Be Strong" - BIG BRIDGE
A brief excerpt from NOBODY HERE KNOWS ANYTHING, a novel-in-progress.
"I saw that my mother was gone and I picked up my pasteboard suitcase—sand-colored, with the loveliest honey-brown leather on all the edges and the handle, and two shiny brass fasteners—and I moved with the crowd...."
"I Would Never Do These Things" - CONJUNCTIONS: 58
Click on "Archives," then "Conjunctions: 58 - 'Riveted,'" and then scroll down.
"It seems that this story is actually happening and that I am one of the characters in it. I am at a vacation resort—rattling fan palms, turquoise harbors, chickens everywhere (crowing, making fretful clucks)—and a gigantic golden cloud is making its way toward us across the ocean. This cloud, gleaming sublimely in the vacation-bright sunshine, is death—but not just death; it is the end of the world. No one seems to know what brought this cloud into being or why the world is ending, but there is no question: When the cloud finally rolls onto our shores it will be as if none of us, and nothing we have done, seen, heard, or believed in will have ever existed...."
Photo: Carolyn Kellogg / Los Angeles Times
Sunday, March 27, 2011 "On Saturday, Tim Curry captivated the sold-out crowd at the Getty as he read Stephen O'Connor's story "Ziggurat." It was part of the three-program "Selected Shorts" series at the Getty, run by New York's Symphony Space..." -- Carolyn Kellogg
To read more about this amazing event, and to see a slide show featuring Stephen O'Connor, Tim Curry, T.C. Boyle and others, please click on the links below. The program will be broadcast three times during Selected Shorts 2011-12 season, and will be available as a CD and on iTunes.
The first time I read Franz Kafka’s “A Country Doctor”—at around age twelve—I had the distinct impression that I was discovering myself, that in his language and images, and in particular in his always surprising juxtapositions and narrative turns, I was experiencing something essential about the way I was and wanted to be in this world...
My favorite way to start a story is to get myself into a jam. I try to sit down at my computer with an utterly blank mind—that is with no idea of what I am going to write. As rapidly as I can, I jot down a sentence that is both surprising (to me, at least) and has some form of narrative potential. Then I try to follow the sentence with another that would seem profoundly incompatible with it, at least in a sane or coherent world. That’s the jam I like to be in, because then my challenge is to make this impossible world seem as natural and real as the world outside my window, and out of that challenge come all sorts of unexpected images and ideas....
INTERVIEW BY CATHERINE LACEY
Catherine: What one attribute (or attributes) do most (or all) of the characters in Here Comes Another Lesson have in common? (Feel free to answer this question by inverting it.)
Stephen: One of the things that has most disconcerted me about my books is that almost everything I have written — fiction or nonfiction, realistic or not — tells the same story about a character who tries to do the right thing and fails. In my memoir about teaching in the public schools, Will My Name Be Shouted?, I am that character. In Orphan Trains, a nonfiction account of a controversial 19th century child welfare effort, Charles Loring Brace is that character. But this character also appears over and over again in Here Comes Another Lesson, just as he (or she) also did in my first collection, Rescue. He’s the Minotaur in “Ziggurat,” the Iraq veteran in “White Fire,” Charles in the “Professor of Atheism” stories, and so on. The reason I am disconcerted is that I never set out to write about this character, and only find out that I have after the fact….