SPOTLIGHT | Michael Shou-Yung Shum

Michael Shou-Yung Shum was last year’s second-place recipient of the Gertrude Stein Award in Fiction. 

Submissions to this year’s contest are due midnight, New Years Eve. Submit here!


shum 284Question: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Michael Shou-Yung Shum: I currently live in Knoxville and am a PhD student in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Tennessee. Other than writing, I love playing golf, gambling, and spending as much time as possible with my partner and our cats.


Q: Where did you grow up? Give us a quick snapshot of your life-story.

Mike: I was born and raised in Houston. I’ve also lived in Armonk (NY), Chicago, Seattle, and Corvallis (OR) at various points in my life. I was a rave DJ in my twenties, and I’ve also worked in advertising and as a poker dealer.


Q: Why did you submit last year? What inspired you to get your fiction out there?

Mike: I chose to submit to the Gertrude Stein Award because Stein’s aesthetic theory—the text as an arrangement of words—greatly influenced my writing practice. I have enormous respect for both her and last year’s judge, Rick Moody.


Q: How did you approach your winning piece when you were writing it? Is it different than how you approach other pieces?

Mike: One of my favorite short stories is Donald Barthelme’s “Some of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Colby.” I just love the tone of it, and thought it might work well in the context of a story where a group of young kids find a dead body.


Q: What made you want to start writing? How did you ‘know’ you were a writer?

Mike: Books were very important to me when I was young. I was—and still am—fascinated by a text’s ability to transform the reader’s experience of life into something richer and more mysterious. I wanted to learn how to produce these effects.


Q: What other writers influenced you and how did they do so?

Mike: My favorite short story writers are Barthelme and Grace Paley, for their style, voice, and command of tone. I feel like I learned a lot from them. My favorite novels are probably The Unconsoled by Ishiguro and Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor—both strange and wonderful masterworks that defy convention.


Q: What have you been writing this past year? What are you working on now? Do you have any literary works in the oven of your mind or in the files of your computer?

Mike: I am obsessed with two nineteenth-century stories about obsession: Alexander Pushkin’s “The Queen of Spades” and Henry James’s “The Aspern Papers.” I am writing my version of both, a novel called Queen of Spades, that brings to bear my own experience working in casinos in the 2000s.


Q: How has your experience with The Doctor TJ Eckleburg Review and the contest influenced your writing and/or publishing?

Mike: It was a tremendously validating and gratifying experience to have a story I consider a little odd and unconventional—but also my personal favorite among all my stories—recognized by a magazine whose sensibilities I greatly respect and feel aligned with. How wonderful it is to know that there is an audience out there for the kinds of stories I like to read and write!


Q: Do you have a favorite craft book or website you would recommend to writers?

Mike: I highly recommend William Gass’s collection of essays Fiction and the Figures of Life. It is likely to change the way you think about your function as a writer.


Q: Any advice for writers submitting this year?

Mike: Be daring first, and then control it.


Submissions to The Gertrude Stein Award in Fiction are due midnight, New Years Eve. Submit here!


On a very cold day in December, Salvador called a meeting of the Science Club to inform us that he’d discovered a body in an alley several blocks from our junior high, frozen to the pavement behind the dumpsters.  This was no ordinary body, he proclaimed, decayed beyond definition.  You’re going to want to keep it when you see it.  We were skeptical, to say the least.  Because he wants to be a forensic pathologist when he grows up, Salvador feels qualified to make these kinds of sweeping statements.  But we went and looked it over, and indeed, it was a magnificent body, in the best condition we’d ever seen.  All of us—with the exception of Jack—wanted it.  However, we decided to defer an official club vote for three days, which seemed a reasonable length of time to allow the police to exercise their lawful claim upon it.  Presently, the proposed time passed without incident and it remained very cold, whereupon we voted by a margin of 4-to-1 to move the body to our clubhouse.  Personally speaking, I thought Jack should be the last person on earth to have a say in whether the body belonged in our clubhouse or not, but our rules are basic.  Every member has the right to a vote, even if he’s two years younger than anyone else and in the remedial classes at our school.

–From Michael Shou-Yung Shum’s award-winning story “In Defence of the Body” 

Read the entire story, as well as last year’s first and third place recipients of the Gertrude Stein Award in Fiction, fiction by Rick Moody, nonfiction by Cris Mazza, an interview with Steve Almond and fabulous other poems, stories and artwork in issue 18 of  The Doctor TJ Eckleburg Review  available here.


Michael Shou-Yung Shum currently lives in Knoxville and is a PhD student in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Tennessee.  Previously, he received an MFA from Oregon State University.  His recent stories and essays have appeared in The Writer’s Chronicle, Midwestern Gothic, and Barrelhouse. For more information, please visit