Here Laura Furman series editor of the PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories talks to former Vintage Publicist and O. Henry Prize Winner Paul Yoon about winning the O.Henry Prize and his first published collection of stories Once The Shore.
Laura Furman: Your story “And We Will Be Here,” in the PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories 2009 is an interesting study in time. There’s the compressed time of the main character’s, Miya’s, life, her years at the institution, and the time over which the story takes place, among other pieces of time, if I might use that phrase. Was time on your mind in the process of writing the story?
Paul Yoon: Yes, absolutely. Time was very much on my mind while writing this story. I think it’s because I visualized the story as a small map––as I tend to do for all my stories––or a detail of a larger one, and so you have an orphanage on one side of the hills and a hospital on the other side, and I wanted to explore that particular area, that geography, as deeply and thoroughly as possible.
The wonderful thing about fiction (and film and even paintings) is that when you have a certain setting or a landscape your movements are not limited to the physical––meaning, it doesn’t have to be about a character literally crossing a hill; you can play with time and move your characters through the present, past, and the future. So that a footpath not only leads to a tree but leads to that tree many years ago; or a hospital window can be a window of what was once a school; and so on. I guess it’s kind of like visualizing time as not just moving horizontally––from left to right––but moving all over the place––backward, vertically, diagonally––within a specific location. I wanted to attempt that. It was how I saw the story, and the book, in my mind.