When I teach my students how to create structure in their fiction, I always have them bring in a joke. Then we take the jokes apart. Each one has a set up, a build up, and then a payoff. If you can tell a good joke, I say, you can tell a good story. A man walks into a bar. Is there any better way to start? Bar Joke, Arizona surfaced from our slush pile, pulled by Marie Bertino, and then passed from reader to reader. Everyone had the same reaction–this story is great. It’s hilarious, and sad, and very, very different. I loved the concept of entering the jokes and turning punchlines into characters. But the story wouldn’t work if Sam had stayed on the surface and made it only about this conceit. The opening is intriguing, but what really won me over was when the duck walked in. That was the signal that this was going someplace else entirely, and it does–each story that is told builds on the one before, until the duck takes center stage, and the story finds its heart. What makes Bar Joke, Arizona even more special is that it is Sam Allingham’s first publication. I can’t wait to see what he writes next.

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