Sunday, May 22, 2011

Short Story Month Giveaway: American Masculine by Shann Ray

This week, I'm celebrating short stories with giveaways and thoughts about short fiction by participating authors.  Join me each day as I pay tribute to National Short Story Month, a movement which has snowballed since the first efforts by Larry Dark and Dan Wickett to give overdue national attention to short stories.  For details on how to enter today's contest, scroll to the bottom of this post.  For more bloggers participating in Short Story Month giveaways, be sure to visit this page at Fiction Writers Review.

Today's book is American Masculine by Shann Ray, due to hit bookstores four weeks from now.  At one point, American Masculine was subtitled "Montana Stories" and featured two sparring bison on the cover.  The buffalo still remain, but "Montana" appears to have been dropped, perhaps in an effort to make the fiction more universal.  Make no mistake, however, the Big Sky Country--both beautiful and brawling--spreads to every corner of these 10 tales, which Dave Eggers has compared to the work of Cormac McCarthy and Annie Proulx: "lyrical, prophetic, brutal, yet ultimately hopeful."  In "Three From Montana," for instance, Ray writes: "In Montana, skies run from a tilted wooden porch all the way to the horizon line, and nothing keeps back the dawn...Everyone who has ever come here, remains.  The land and the vault of sky are everything and people so insignificant they are struck by the idea that God doesn't owe them anything."  When I read lines like those, I'm gripped by the desire to get in my car, drive ten miles north of Butte and stand at the edge of Elk Park, where I lean against the hood of my Hyundai, drink the fresh-washed air of the high-elevation valley through my nostrils, and say, "Goddamn, he got it right alright."  The book's Jacket Copy says Ray writes of "washed-up basketball players, businessmen hiding addictions, and women fighting the inexplicable violence that wells up in these men.  A son struggles to accept his father’s apologies after surviving a childhood of beatings.  Two men seek empty basketball hoops on a snowy night, hoping to relive past glory.  A bull rider skips town and rides herd on an unruly mob of passengers as he searches for a thief on a train threading through Montana’s Rocky Mountains."  American Masculine is the winner of the 2010 Bakeless Prize for Fiction, chosen from at least eight other strong semi-finalists, said fiction judge Robert Boswell.  In his foreword to Ray's collection, Boswell had this to say:
The sentences in this book have such grace and muscularity that they seem more performed than written, and the author's images and events carry the nearly visceral weight of memory.  In fact, during the weeks immediately following my initial reading of American Masculine, I twice caught myself struggling with what I thought was personal recollection only to realize that it was actually an episode from one of the stories.  For example, I thought I had dreamt of a train and I was trying to describe to a friend how compelling the dreams had been when I realized that it was not a dream locomotive but the train from "The Great Divide" curling about my consciousness, nosing its way into my life, making claims on my experience.  The work has that kind of resonance.  You finish each story with the understanding that something meaningful has happened to you, and though you may not be able to specify the meaning, you understand nonetheless that you have lived through something powerful and significant.
I guess Boswell kinda liked the stories.  Find out for yourself by a) entering today's contest, b) buying the book on June 21, or c) a & b--and if you win, give one of the copies to a friend in need of an "always-eloquent contemplation of the mysteries of grace and forgiveness" (Jess Walter).

About the Author:  Born and raised in Montana, Shann Ray holds a dual MFA in poetry and fiction from the Inland Northwest Center for Writers at Eastern Washington University, a Masters in clinical psychology from Pepperdine, and a PhD in systems psychology from the University of Alberta in Canada. His stories have appeared in many top literary magazines, including McSweeney’s, StoryQuarterly, Northwest Review, Narrative, Best New Poets and William and Mary Review. Ray is the winner of the subTerrain Poetry Prize, the Crab Creek Review Fiction Award, the Pacific Northwest Inlander Short Story Contest, the Ruminate Short Story Prize, and the Creative Writing Distinguished Alumni Award from Eastern Washington University.  His work was selected as a notable story in Best American Nonrequired Reading and anthologized in The Better of McSweeney’s, Vol. 2.  For in-depth background material, excerpts, book trailers, and his blog, be sure to visit Ray's website:

Five Story Collections: Five Great Fires

Rock Springs by Richard Ford
Master of dirty realism, narrative density, and clarity and depth of prose, Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Ford depicts the low-down frightfully real existence of our emptiness and how like fragile vessels we are.  We exist under the simple straightforward conception we have freedom to grow, expand, and illumine the world with color, yet we are so often bound to the gray and mundane by fate, or destiny.  As artful in its reach as Wildlife (Ford’s beautiful small book of awe-invoking portent), Rock Springs delivers.

Labors of the Heart by Claire Davis
A prose stylist extraordinaire with a light and fluid touch concerning the heart of humanity, Claire Davis exposes a vein of hidden resolve in the secret folds of her characters' interior lives.  Her discipline as an artist, enveloped by a great sense of the complexity of being human and graced by a caring hand, is a golden thread of illumination in the title story and throughout the collection.  Davis’ work, selected for Best American Short Stories and a Pushcart Prize, is rich with alienation, secrecy, the nuances of power, and the subtle ascendancy of love.

The Woman Lit by Fireflies by Jim Harrison
Prolific novelist (Legends of the Fall), screenwriter, poet (The Theory and Practice of Rivers), and short story writer, Jim Harrison embeds people in landscape and weaves through subtle narrative layering, masterful prose, and emotional import a web of intricate and compelling design.  "The Woman Lit by Fireflies," the final novella of this collection, generously explores ingenuity, freedom, and loyalty.

Lost in the City by Edward P. Jones
An artist whose prose and narrative arcs generate irresistible pull and evoke in readers a genuine sense of entire worlds, Edward P. Jones has written three books.  The first, Lost in the City, garnered the PEN/Hemingway award.  The second, The Known World, won the Pulitzer Prize.  A luminary of American letters, Jones affirms that which is humble and human, and does so with startling power.  The characters Jones writes are imbued with compassion, and the words of Martin Luther King Jr. aptly apply to Jones’ prose, a distilled language with “a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.”

Close Range by Annie Proulx
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for The Shipping News and known for vigorous torque-driven prose, Annie Proulx takes readers on a journey of speed and destiny in Close Range.  Her ability to uncover and dissipate the dead waters of American culture, providing a rich love of character and story in the process, is replete with momentum and artistry.  Her stories burn like bonfires in the darkness of a vast literary plain.

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If you'd like a chance at winning a copy of American Masculine, send an email to with "Shann Ray" in the subject line.  Please include your mailing address in the body of the email.  This contest is only open to residents of the U.S. and Canada (sorry, we can't ship to addresses with P.O. boxes).  One entry per person per book (yes, you can enter the drawings for each book during Short Story Week, but each entry must be sent separately).  The contest remains open until May 31, at which time I'll draw the winners of each day's giveaway.

Author photo by Vanessa Kay


  1. I can hardly wait to discover Shann Ray's work. Thank you so much for what you're doing for other Western writers and for Short Story Month.

  2. I think "American Masculine" is a pretty terrible book: Stilted, self-conscious, emotionally flat, reeking with artifice, written according to the MFA template to please the MFA crowd. He knows Indians and he knows how to write pretty descriptions of Montana, but we've seen the same please-the-academics crap hundreds of times before. Can't somebody who went through a graduate creative writing program please develop a) original thoughts in b) an original voice?