If I can pull a song into this opening line-thing, though, then my vote's for Bonnie Prince Billy's "I'd be riding horses if they'd let me," from "Horses." That evokes so much, and all at once, and so elegantly. I wish I could do something like that each time out.
Name one short story that inspired you to write short stories yourself?
Margaret St. Clair's "The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes." I think I read it at the exact right minute of my life. I'd already been through Where the Red Fern Grows, and knew without a doubt that I could stick an axe in a tree like that, and hang a lantern on it, let it rust, but this story, man. It still destroys me. In the best way. It's this kid who can see one day into the future. And the world knows it, and loves him, and watches his television program every morning, to hear his predictions. Which are never wrong. But then one day he looks ahead and sees this comet just hurtling to Earth, to wipe us all out, no chance of survival, no Bruce Willis, so, on his program that morning, he looks right into the camera and he says that this is going to be the best day ever. That people are going to hug each other, nobody's going to be unhappy, all of it. It's the best gift he could possibly have given the world, and it's a lie. This is at the bottom of everything I write.
Who are your five favorite short story writers?
Just five. Man. Stephen King, of course. I love how a lot of his stories, you can tell he's just fooling around, that he just wanted to see what would happen if he tried this. And he's talented enough, he nearly always makes it work. Early Tobias Wolff, I'd say. I mean, later Wolff is solid too, but early on, when his stories were more mechanical, more rigid, they were a study of how to fit the elements of a story together for maximum effect. Lee K. Abbott. Dude can seriously write. People don't read him enough either, I don't think. I mean, we associate him with Thom Jones and that whole crowd from the nineties, I think. And Jones and Bass and all them were and are good, of course. But Abbott, something the way he moves through a story, it's just completely natural, while feeling wholly exotic. Two more, now. How about the Stephen Millhauser of Penny Arcade the The Barnum Museum? Can I limit his person-ness like that? His later stuff hasn't really been for me, but, in those two early collections, you could see his imagination just firing like crazy, and his fascinations were all laid bare. Very cool stuff. And, last and most hot right now, but more for long series of long books (which are excellent), George RR Martin. His stories work in peculiar and unconventional ways, which I've never quite been able to crack. Or, I can't replicate them, anyway, but they're always in-mind, are always a challenge, a goal. And, were I not keeping myself to somewhat contemporary, here, Robert E. Howard would definitely be on this list. His stories aren't remotely neat, or contained, and often not even well-crafted. But they're so, so sincere, each time out. And I appreciate sincerity above all, finally.
What are five short stories that you would recommend everybody should read?