I wish to thank editor Darrell Laurant for featuring my novel LOST SISTER on his website Snowflakes in a Blizzard. Darrell approached me with this idea, having found LOST SISTER on Amazon. In the blizzard of books available to us now, he aims to showcase works of merit and reintroduce them to the public. Please visit his website to discover more good reads and become acquainted with their authors. You can read about Darrell’s mission here, and don’t miss that last line. I love his vision, his kindness and his wonderful sense of humor.
Change is tricky. You don’t see it coming or going. You only know that at some point you put away your bread machine, stopped wearing your purple jacket, started listening to talk radio instead of CDs.
I just finished writing a short story using a method that surprised me. Typically I write in a linear fashion, letting the story roll out like a rug. How can you go wrong if you begin at the beginning and end at the ending? This latest tale spun out differently. I wrote the ending first and pieced the rest together like a quilt, working with the scenes that interested me, setting aside those that didn’t.
Both methods are difficult–all writing is difficult–but this new quilt-making approach roused my interest. It was like finding a secret passage or getting away with a clever crime. Could I really do this? What if the story had no momentum? What if the stitches were visible? Well, several people have read this story and I’m happy to say, so far so good.
I’ve heard that it is not uncommon for novelists to build their stories in this piecemeal fashion. I suppose the breadth of a novel, the long effort it requires, leaves more room for fancy. The brevity of the short form is a discipline, compelling writers of this genre to see the point and get to it. Discovering that I can work and juggle at the same time has put a measure of fun back into the job. I can hardly wait for the next surprise.
Dorothy Parker said, “I hate writing, I love having written.” What if you could love them both?
This post originally appeared on a terrific review site, Booklover Book Reviews http://www.bookloverbookreviews.com/
Why do most readers avoid short stories? I’ve posed this question to several people, who have offered a small range of reasons. Some say that short stories end too abruptly, or that they often have no resolution at all. Others mention a lack of plot, claiming that writers of this genre are more concerned with style than story. But the most common complaint is that short stories are simply too short. When it comes to reading material, people favor long-term investments and will not consider other options, even with the possibility of greater returns. “I make friends with the characters,” someone told me yesterday. “I want them to stick around.”
I find this both odd and poignant, basing the value of something on how long it keeps us company. You don’t see this more-is-better mentality applied to other art forms. A symphony does not trump a song, nor is a portrait less important than a mural, or a statue more impressive than a figurine. And poetry—no one accuses poems of being too short. I wish I could write poetry; the audience is small but ferociously loyal.
I understand the preference for novels only in theory. Being a writer, maybe my own characters edge out the competition, but I don’t think of characters as company—entertainers, yes; companions, no. I ask other things of the people I meet in books. They must be credible, first of all, and informative, and interesting. No matter how scant the time I spend with them, if the author has succeeded, if the characters are well done, I will remember them, and their troubles, all my life.
Novels run the opposite risk, often drowning in their own excess. Sometimes, reading a novel, I get the feeling that the author is figuring things out bit by bit and I am wading through his thoughts, bumping into the clutter. While I’ve read many wonderful novels, I am in greater awe of the spare clean rooms, the potent distillation, of a good short story. There is a bounty of them, from the deliciously chilling tales of Edgar Allen Poe to the devastating brilliance of Annie Proulx’s Wyoming stories. At least once a year I reread Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried” just to remind myself what a writer is capable of, and I am no less stunned by the short works of Jean Thompson, Antonya Nelson, Lorrie Moore, Joyce Carol Oates, John Updike, Alice Munro and so many others.
Despite these masters of the genre, the popularity of short stories has been declining for decades, and rare is the author who can make a living off them. Who would guess that in this age of texts and tweets, the short form would be struggling for attention? Maybe this techno world we live in is just the point. People need to escape, to lose themselves in more tantalizing realms, in which case, a short story can be the quickest route, the ideal restorative, the ready feast.
In their heyday, short stories appeared every month in popular magazines. Later they were found only in published collections or literary journals. Today, with increasing frequency, they are popping up in e-readers. Now that readers have an instant and inexpensive way to access short stories, I am hoping the genre will enjoy a renaissance, that people will set aside their fat beach reads, at least occasionally, and try something more slimming. Maybe even delicious.