Perhaps I'm alone here, but i do not see a difference between George's teaching and his writing. Certainly, some of his stories go to a dark place, but that dark place is recognizable to me--places that reflect the darkness I see in the world today. To me, when i reflect on George's stories, what I think of are highly moral stories with moral quandaries for very human characters--no matter where they are placed in time/space. And what I see are endings that, for the most part, celebrate humanity and the decisions we humans must make on a daily basis. Will we be good people? or will we turn away from the good? (I'm sure there are stories that do not fit my description, but this is how I see George's stories--my takeaway. And so I am happy with my interpretation.)

As far as George's teachings here in Story Club and in his book on writing, what he offers us here is in full display in his fiction. His stories all escalate, they have causation, they build curiosity in the reader, they generate a reaction, and so on and so forth. Everything George has taught us about stories can be found in his stories. I see a lot of people asking George here to analyze one of his own stories and that would be fantastic. But i think we can do a lot of that on our own. Remember pulses? You can read one of George's stories and divide it into pulses, and then see how each pulse causes the next one. You can see where his characters are pushed forward, and you can find the moment that his characters must make a decision that defines them. You can see how active his voice is and how active his characters are. And on and on. It's all there, on the page. (But yes, let's do it together, with George leading us. That would be super.)

On another note, I want to thank everyone here in Story Club for the past year of connection, conversation, and friendship. This has been an experience like no other. The meeting of minds here has been so beautiful. Thank you to those of you who have gone deep with me here, and who have allowed me to go on and on and on. I've learned so much from all of you, and from George. Here's to a happy new year for all of us. This substack is my definition of joy--which to me is an active word, something that happens in the present moment, and which is most often found in the company of others, in shared experiences. Here's to many, many more months of shared thoughts and dreams, and lots of writing. xoxox

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One disconnect I’ve noticed between the Substack and your work is that the stories we discuss here seem very different from the stories you write. Regardless of how one may feel about your stories, we can all agree they don’t sound like Chekhov’s. Maybe we could spend some time on more unorthodox stories, to show that the principles you discuss can apply to a wide range of styles. Some Barthelme maybe?

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I will just say that I instantly forgave you everything I didn’t “get” about your writing when I hit one line in Swim in a Pond in the Rain (which I truly loved). You said something to the effect of “if you don’t agree with what I am saying, that’s your own artistic will asserting itself,” and that was to be encouraged. I love your teaching, your attitude, your kindness…and if I don’t love every story you ever write, well, much as I adore Dickens, I absolutely cannot get through Christmas Carol. And that’s okay! (I gag on almost all of Hemingway, but I will happily pay attention to what you might say about him.) As they say in AA… take what you need and leave the rest. It’ll still be there if you find you wanted it after all. Happy holidays to you and all the Story Clubbers!

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I'm blown away by the honesty of both the writer of the question and the answer. I like the tone of both, the question clear without being uncomfortable, the answer is so straightforward and lacking ego. Anyway, I loved Lincoln in the Bardo and it's what brought me here––the book totally took me away to another realm. I'd heard that there will be a movie made, and I have the strangest thing on my mind. If the book is made into a film, what will they do about the ghost with the erection? I hope they find a way to keep it in. That was such a freak fest of an idea for what was going on with that ghost.

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Hi George,

I just wanted to say that I am an English teacher, have been for 38 years, and that this year for the first seven or so weeks of school I used your wonderful book, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain. My students had never read anything like that before, and I must say, neither did I, since I believe that book to be something of an anomaly. Your warmth, your insight, your passion, your humor, all entranced them, as it did me, and they learned more about literature and writing than any of my students have ever learned (although I have tried) throughout all my years of teaching. Every day for those seven weeks, we sat in a circle and discussed your words, the words of those Russian authors, and what it means to be human through those filters. I watched them transform from adolescents to students of life. Because of your writing, we have become a true community of learners, where the text has become the teacher, and I, I am just another voice, joining with theirs, attempting to come to understanding, as I am in my life outside of school, and I simply can't thank you enough.

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Just to say I came to your work first and then was delighted to find you offered advice about writing. I used Lincoln in the Bardo as one of my texts in an essay on form in my MA in Creative Writing (along with Machado’s In the Dream House) - got my highest mark for it so thank you for that too.

What resonates with me most is your advice to find your own shit-hill to climb. I actively want to see the world slantwise for myself and am in awe of writing that shows me the world reflected back in a new way that lets me see it from a fresh perspective. Writing isn’t real life, so I don’t need it to pretend to replicate it and I like embracing the artifice - as in theatre, it adds a dimension to the experience.

I’ve actually come to enjoy Chekov et al more from Story Club - perhaps the other way round to the original poster.

Happy Christmas and New Year and look forward to reading more in 2023.

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I really need to incorporate this into my life: “A story doesn’t have to do everything; it just has to do something.” And I mean in my entire life, not just stories. Probably the worst thing for art is wanting to please everyone. It just can't be done, and it makes you clam up and not create art!

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Well now I need to add “A story doesn’t have to do everything; it just has to do something” to a sticky note right next to my other favorite sticky note which reads "Maybe don't get so butt hurt about feedback?"

I really appreciate your unapologetic you-ness. I discovered your work about a year ago and have greedily read about half of your published works at this point. You are one of those authors who keeps me chugging along even through my darkest of days. You have no idea what your stories have done for me but I hope to one day touch someone as deeply with my writing as you have with yours.

Merry Christmas <3

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Deep bow to you, George. I have been a Zen student for over 10 years but I also have a bunch of degrees and a very busy mundane world job. The fact that you can run a letter from someone who doesn't love and worship every single thing you do, and deal with it with humility and honesty, is what we need to see in writing and in life today. Thank you for your deep practice.

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I teach medical humanities to medical students. During the fall, the entire course is designed to put the students in the heads of people who aren’t like them, but who might be like patients they will see one day. One of the ways I’ve done that is with George’s short stories. I use “Puppy” from Tenth of December, to get them to talk about socioeconomic class bias. They don’t know that’s what they’re doing, at least not until we’ll into the discussion, but that’s what they’re doing. In that story, George puts us brilliantly into the minds of two mothers who are doing what they believe is best to love their children. The story is whacky. The voice of the first mother is incredibly well written. And I’m the second mother, students are sort of forced by their consciences to empathize with a “bad” person/mother. And every single year there are students who adore the session and others who think I’ve, at the very least, lost my mind, and at the worst they think I should be fired. The quote below is from a student who grew up and lives in a great deal of cultural advantage. And in his late twenties/early thirties, George’s fiction makes it not-too-late to make him an empathetic medical provider one day. It might not be for everyone, but it certainly DOES something.

Quote from student’s email to me after this year’s session...

“Prof S.

I wish I could have found the words to contribute to the class discussion today. To be honest, the content and message from your guided discussion rocked me. I have never taken the time to check my biases, especially as they pertain to wealth and class (I learned today that I have a bunch). Today was the first time I have ever done this, and I am deeply grateful for the instruction that you have provided. It quite literally left me speechless as I was uncovering all of the biases that I was too blind to witness. You have not force-fed your ideas of what is right but rather have given me a platform to investigate myself as a future PA, friend and trustee. To say that I have deeply enjoyed these topics would be an understatement, and I applaud the effort that you put into your instruction.”

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If it isn't too excruciating I would love to hear you talk about one of your stories in here as you suggest. Maybe breaking it into sections.

I think one of the things I've learned already from the freakification exercise is how much I was holding back trying to please everyone or get it 'right'. Liberated like a speaker with a knowledge module added and the dial accidentally knocked to max haha

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“...they come into a story of mine, are immediately confused about what is happening...”

I have to admit, that is one of the best descriptions of a George Saunders story that I have ever read. It’s completely true... and one of the things that makes me so excited when I read the work! I love that sensation of wondering what these weird words mean, what is doing on, who these people are, and for gods sake why are they in this fucked up situation?? I know that if I stick it out *something* will be made clear to me.

I can see how it’s not for all readers, though. And I can see how I might not always be in the mood for that type of experience.

I disagree with the idea that the writing and teaching are at odds with each other, though. I can’t really see it and am interested in hearing more about that perspective if anyone wants to share.

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Both Q & A here have my heart. And for this I not only sincerely thank you both--that question, posed better than I ever could, has been on my mind---but thank you also for pointing out, each in your own articulate way, the vital distinction between love & appreciation.

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Dec 22, 2022·edited Dec 22, 2022

Holy cannolis. I have heard from people who "don't get it" when it comes to George's stories. I was in an MFA program and we were asked to bring in our favorite short story and mine was Tenth of December. Next thing I knew (hoo boy) there was a vociferous discussion between the lovers and the haters. So it's good for George to say that writing is "creating energy" because the "meh" response would be the worst, wouldn't it? I immediately thought that my MFA workshops with these folx would uncover the haters as talentless cretins but was wrong and happily so. It's like people who like cilantro. They're not wrong, are they? I read somewhere there's a biological marker for people who think cilantro tastes like soap. Me, I fucking LOVE cilantro but then there you go.

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I read the Harper’s Magazine anecdote out loud to my husband because it cracked me up so much.

I think I mentioned here before Murikami’s story in First Person Singular where he talks about how his writing isn’t what everyone is looking for. I still think about that section of that story all the time. How it is a pleasure for both the person offering and the person receiving to have found each other.

I think it is easy to use our tastes as a sort of snobbery. I do this all the time. Someone mentioned recently that they thought a movie that I loved was overrated by critics. In my head, I was like, “well, you just don’t get it. You’re too daft.” I don’t admire this about myself. The other, more gracious part of me gets that it’s okay to have different tastes and that not all art has to speak to all audiences in the same way. Things would get pretty boring if that was the case.

Anyway, I love the honesty in this question and in the response. And it never once crossed my mind that the asker was daft because they didn’t get into George’s work. Just in case what I said before was taken as some hint that I felt that way. I absolutely don’t.

Life is way too short to spend time trying to force yourself to like something. I may never read Proust and I’m okay with that. I did, however read three books in the Confessions of a Shopaholic series.

Happy Holidays to all of you brilliant, lovely people!!

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I’ve been contemplating this very question and writing about your work on my Medium account, George. For me, I see an application of your theories espoused in “A Swim in a Pond in the Rain” in your stories. It’s like looking behind the curtain and seeing the machinery that makes it run. (Soon I will apply my own “badly imitated ‘Story Club George voice” to a reading of “The Mom of Bold Action” to show how your theories work for my (rather small) Medium or substack audience.)

And yet, as with many analytical endeavors, it’s not reductive with your stories. That is, there is something more than mere machinery. Therein lies the magic of greatness. The ineffable thing that’s difficult to pinpoint.

I, too, feel like a fan, a groupie, fan-fanning about Story Club everywhere I go. This past year, I’ve collected and read all your published books. I’m on the second read through.

All I can say is Thank you for Story Club! It has given me hope for a better life, hope for all those who love story and literature and art, and a glimpse at greatness in action, as well as some good friends.

I tell my gf often when I’m reading one of your stories - “this is so dark!” And yet. And yet. This isn’t McCarthy’s “The Road.” Contained within your stories are seeds of hope and an empathetic humanity.

Like Eliot, I see you pointing the way out of the waste land. Thank you. And happy holidays everyone.

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