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Autumn 2006 | Volume 29, Number 4 | Books, Film & Music

Fiction On A Small Canvas

New volume celebrates the best in Christian short stories

Bret Lott reads stacks of short stories. That’s part of his job as editor-in-chief of The Southern Review, a literary journal published at Louisiana State University, where he teaches English literature. He has also authored several volumes, including the bestselling novel Jewel(chosen as an Oprah’s Book Club selection), and the short-story collection The Difference Between Women and Men. So he was eminently qualified to serve as editor of The Best Christian Short Stories, published earlier this year by WestBow Press.

The book’s first story has Seattle Pacific University roots. Penned by Mary Kenagy — managing editor of Image journal, and an SPU adjunct professor who teaches fiction writing to undergraduates — “Loud Lake” follows a young Christian at summer camp.

Lott says that he didn’t make his final selections for The Best Christian Short Stories because they delivered an explicit Christian message: “I chose them because they were stories that told the truth of human experience through the prism of a Christian believer blessed with the gift of writing.”

Short stories, says Kenagy, provide a unique and rewarding way to think things through. “I tend to think more in terms of people and events than ideas — which is why I’m not an essayist or a theologian,” she explains. “As a reader, I love good short stories. You can read a short story while your dinner is cooking, or while you’re at the Laundromat, and then you can hold the whole thing in your head at once and keep thinking about it while you’re eating or driving home.”

According to Kenagy, “Christian stories” often suffer from the problem of pain — or the lack of it. “The central Christian story…doesn’t shy away from pain,” she notes. “But since Christians are often nice people, gentle people, we get this mistaken idea that they should be reading some special kind of kinder, gentler fiction than everyone else, an idea that is doing nobody any favors.”

What makes a short story excellent? Lott lists a few essentials: “A short story has a much smaller canvas than a novel does. The challenge, therefore, is keeping it to the point. Stay in scene, stay on character, stay on detail … stay on target.”

Lott visited Seattle Pacific’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program last summer. “I think [SPU’s] program is important,” he says, “because it allows believers a place to work on the gift they have been given, to refine it, to rehearse it, and thereby learn the depth of the word and all it means and can mean. … Certainly every other M.F.A. program in the country teaches the same thing. But students in this program know what is at stake. We know whom we serve.”

— By Jeffrey Overstreet (
— Photo by aaron hogan


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