Let’s start by getting real. I’m approaching this anthology as a conscious exercise in avoiding nostalgia. By which I mean: new(-ish) shit only. Asked at a different time, and this selection would’ve consisted of the short stories that both shaped me as a writer and shifted my reading into a different gear. I’m thinking of the time when an introduction to Paula Fox’s ‘Cigarette’ changed my life, and in no small part altered the trajectory of a novel I was working on. And many years before that, early 90s, picking up a copy of Cheever’s Collected Stories from NYC’s legendary Gotham Book Mart and devouring them back in my seedy hotel room off Broadway and 10th, which was dealer, travelling salesman, hooker central. By which I mean: deeply romantic. Considering our current moment, you might feel that a spot of romance is in order – needed, even – but I’m leading you down a different path here, highlighting stories from writers that challenge and inspire me. I need that more than I need a beautifully turned Elizabeth Taylor sentence right now (virtually any line in ‘Hester Lilly’.) We all know that Paris is beautiful, so what is there outside of Paris? I’m over getting misty-eyed thinking about William Maxwell penning a heartbreaking short story in between sending letters and rose cuttings to Eudora Welty. Those are all nourishing moments, but in the midst of our turbulence I’m fuelled by anger and need the wisdom of those working around me to clear that mist (powerful, addictive, debilitating). I look for stories that make me feel smarter, hotter, which energise my beaten spirit, and most of all, give me hope. This is where I am, now, and these are the stories. Hope you feel them.