People always ask me what I look for in a short story, and my answer is always the same: "What?" Then, as they begin to restate the question, I flail wildly at my pocket. "My phone!" I say. "My phone is ringing! I have to answer my phone!" Then I skip off down the street, muttering to the nothing, and hopefully hop aboard a passing ice cream truck.

But no-- actually, no one's ever asked me that! Except myself (though I ask it all the time). Usually people ask me "How'd you get an agent?" or "What's your agent's phone number?" or "Where does your agent live?" Which is fine, because I have actual answers to those questions, as opposed to that one about stories, which, whenever my brain decides to toss it out, immediately sends me reeling into a big scary white space, like the one in The Matrix, only without Laurence Fishburne. "I wish Laurence Fishburne was here to explain everything," I think, as I stare into the distance.

Meanwhile, words like CONFLICT and CHANGE go floating by; CHARACTER rubs my foot; THEME bonks me in the head. "Leave me alone," I say, with my best scowl. Because clearly none of those things are important. I mean, yes, sure-- they're important when they are! But what about in those stories where they're not? In the end, the only ground that seems tenable is VOICE, but what's voice? It's just there! It doesn't even have a choice. That's like saying PLAYING is the most important part of music. Which it is! But you know what I mean.

So anyway-- remembering here to fumble towards the point-- I got really excited when Wigleaf asked me to do this. "Finally!" I said. "This is exactly the excuse I need! I can really sit down now and figure the whole thing out!" But, of course, long story predictable and short, while it was easy to find 50 stories to love, Laurence Fishburne has still not shown up.

"And...?" you are saying. "That's the whole introduction? You're not even gonna try to answer the question?"

"Well," I say, "Might have something to do with VISION."

And oh, looky here! It's my ice cream truck.

—Ben Loory

Ben Loory is the author of Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day (Penguin, 2011), and a picture book for children, The Baseball Player and the Walrus (due in 2015 from Dial Books for Young Readers). His fables and tales have appeared in The New Yorker, Weekly Reader's READ Magazine, and Fairy Tale Review, among others, as well as on NPR's This American Life, Selected Shorts, and live at WordTheatre.

To link to this directly: http://wigleaf.com/14top50intro.htm

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