A tantalizing irony: to get to know what kind of short stories aren't being published in America these days, you can look between the covers of this book and find exactly 20 of the year's best stories that aren't--are?--being published. As explained by the project's editors, this is the sixth annual ``emerging writers'' volume, and the fourth since the publication became a Birch Lane series. Stories again include first-, second-, and third-prize winners (Clint McKown's ``Mule Collector''; Annie Dawid's ``The Settlement''; Joshua Sinel's ``The Summer After''). From among the 17 others, the editors clarify, ``Two deal with the Holocaust, one with the aftermath of Vietnam, two with black experience, three with the `redneck' or poverty- ridden part of the South.'' All of the pieces ``were submitted by `emerging writers,' which, as Tobias Wolff pointed out in last year's introduction, is `a loose category meant to encourage submissions by everyone not yet famous enough to enjoy the certainty of publication elsewhere.'' This year's guest editor and judge of the prize-winners was the recently deceased Wallace Stegner, whose introduction, serving also as guideline and primer to the art and practice of the short story, is crisply reasoned and scrupulously observed. Of the non-prize-winning stories in the volume, Stegner writes that ``Though some are more technically finished than others, all have the bright look of promise.''