Posts in "Short Stories" category

What is the Perfect Length for Short Stories?

short-story-length-saved-for-webThe perfect length of a short story can be tricky to figure out. Make it too long and you exceed the reader’s attention span and nobody wants to publish it; make it too short and you have flash fiction on your hands.

Edgar Allen Poe described the proper length of a short story by saying it had to be something readable in a single sitting. I like that. It measures a short story by reading time, rather than page length or word count. But I think word count is the easiest way to measure story length.

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How to Write a Short Story: The Complete Guide in 9 Steps

How to write a short storyNovels are difficult to write because of size, but short stories are difficult because they require perfection.

Any tiny little mistake in a short story becomes magnified into gigantic proportions.

If a minor character fails to come alive in a novel, you can forgive the error because there is so many other things to enjoy, but if a minor character falls flat in a short story, a reader will become annoyed and a literary magazine editor will throw it away.

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Two Quick Highlights for Summer Reads

Just wanted to highlight two short story collections coming out this month and in July — if you want to check out some other good reads for the beach (but not "beach reading") look at the LA Times list and NY Times list.

Memory Wall by Anthony Doerr, published by Scribner 

From South Africa to Nazi-era Germany, Doerr spins expansive tales that belie their short story format. Title story published in McSweeney's #32 (that's the one where all the stories take place in the year 2024). 

The Spot by David Means, published by FSG 

Title story published in New Yorker, about prostitute that kills her John, then is hunted by her pimp. Lots of vagrants and junkies populating this troll through low-life's alley. 

On a side note, I just finished Apparition and Late Fictions by Thomas Lynch, which came out in February of this year. There's only 4 stories and a novella, many of which specialize in lonely divorced characters estranged from their families. 

I do admire the graceful way Lynch shifts from a present-tense moment of a stroll through the woods watching out for a fierce dog to telling the entire life of a character (Hunter's Moon), but at times the narration seemed drawn out, particularly with Apparition, in which a Methodist minister recounts his shipwrecked marriage and descent into debauchery with the aid of a renegade priest. The story takes far too many pages to describe the agent who trails and photographs his cheating wife. Still, these stories have a quiet and wise power to them.

The Atlantic Renews Commitment to Short Stories

Atlantic Monthly April 2010  The Atlantic is going to start publishing fiction again. So no more of those newstand-only summer fiction issues (which were good, though, especially the 2008 one that highlighted emerging authors). Instead, a supplement will accompany the May issue that will include half a dozen short stories and — obligatory for all American magazines, for every single issue — an essay from the ubiquitous Joyce Carol Oates.

Here's an excerpt from the full note in the April issue:

"But as longtime, generously loyal readers know, for the past five years we have published fiction once a year in a special newstand issue, rather than in any of our 10 subscriber issues. During what has been widely noted to be a 'challenging' (read: harrowing) business environment for publishing, this has been a necessary compromise. But none of us has been particularly happy with it, and we have been searching for ways to once again place great fiction in front of all our readers."

The vote of confidence is encouraging. As they say later on in the editor's note: "We are seeing renewed interest in the short story."

Strangely, editor James Bennet doesn't mention what will happen with the Kindle model, which sells e-stories for $3.99. Will they continue with supplements, the Kindle model AND a summer fiction issue? It seems like they're experimenting with all forms of distribution and will stick to whatever works.

I actually respect this — it seems forward thinking. Even if the Atlantic editors don't know the course, they're willing to try out a few roads to find a viable model.

Short Story Collections in 2010

Happy 2010, everyone. And get ready for a new spate of short fiction. We got some doozies forthcoming.

Here are ten upcoming short story collections I’m looking forward to this year.

Upcoming Short Story Collections  Sam Shepard, Day out of Days (January) 

Forthcoming stories  Amy Bloom, Where the God of Love Hangs Out (January) Stories linked by the motif of love.

New short story collections  T.C. Boyle, Wild Child (January) Boyle’s one of our best. A master of the short story.

2010 short stories Richard Bausch, Something is Out There (February) Love the cover art.

Upcoming collections Thomas Lynch, Apparition & Late Fictions (February) Haven’t read my review copy yet. Publisher’s Weekly panned it, but Kirkus praised it. Only five stories, but looking forward to the novella.

Upcoming 2010 books Brad Watson, Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives (March) 

Forthcoming books Tiphanie Yanique, How to Escape from a Leper Colony (March) Been looking for more fiction from Yanique ever since I read the title story, which won the Boston Review 2005 prize.

New 2010 stories Ron Rash, Burning Bright (March) Burning Bright review from I Read A Short Story Today. Title story first published in Ecotone, which has developed quite a nice reputation in its brief but distinguished life.

Short Stories Robin Black, If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This (March)

Boys and girls like you and me  Aryn Kyle, Boys and Girls Like You and Me (April) Contrary to the title, this one’s all about women and girls.

John Grisham’s Ford County

Ford county john grisham On November 3rd, John Grisham is dipping into the short story realm with his first collection, "Ford County," which has a manly ring to it (it's where his first novel, A Time to Kill, takes place). Nice to have the commercial boys dip into a realm normally owned by the literary folk. I predict sales that haven't been seen since Steven King published his last short story collection.

There's a video interview with him, in which he describes his motivation for writing this collection: "Well, I tried everything else but poetry." Oh, if only all short story writers could have such noble aspirations.

Grisham says that they're long short stories — there are only seven — but no matter the length, it's excellent publicity for the form.

Attention Spans for Short Stories

Every time writers begin moaning about publisher's repudiation of the short story form, someone trots out a seemingly common sense argument: that our shortened attention span, created by electronic devices of all ilks, should make reader seek short stories more, not less.

The argument goes that short stories can be read in one sitting, in five to fifteen minutes. Perfect for a commute or for a brief dip into a fictional world at the pool. Easy to get in, easy to get out. This seems to make perfect sense.

However, I've always been suspicious of this argument. If true, then why aren't short stories selling in higher quantities? I felt something was being overlooked in the rhetorical equation.
Over at the Rumpus, in a wonderfully titled post "More Crappy News for Short Story Writers" by Seth Fisher, it starts with a letter from an editor explaining why these collections aren't selling:

"I have no confidence in being able to place a collection at this time in the world of publishing. Publishers don’t like to publish short story collections in general unless they are VERY high concept or by someone very strange or very famous or Indian. In the current climate, it is harder to publish even those. Some of the authors I represent have story collections I have not been able to talk their loyal publishers into publishing. I can’t in good conscience encourage you to send them to me. It will just make both of us feel bad. I am very sorry. If you write another novel, I will gladly read it."

But the comments section helps explain why collections are actually worse for our shortened attention spans. Maida argues that:

"In fact, the short attention span issue is one reason readers might prefer novels. Once they are into a novel and familiar with the characters, they can pick it up and read it in five minute increments, while commuting, etc. A standard-length short story often requires a one-shot dedication of fifteen to twenty minutes, which many readers can’t seem to muster."

And Lincoln adds:

"Short story collections actually take more attention because each story is a new world that the reader is entering whereas a novel is one world… perhaps the analogy to the current age is something like a TV series. A TV series may go on for a long time, as a novel can, but it is easy to jump in and out."

I think commenters have put their finger on the true issue. Somehow, short stories require more concentration, to jump in and out of new characters and scenarios every ten minutes. That, combined with a number of other factors, like publishers not knowing how to market short story collections (which is why ethnic collections sell so well — they can market them all as Cuban or Indian or Pakistani), all contribute to a black hole of short-story-collection marketability.

Short Stories as Moles; or, the Literary Journal Scene in Germany

Thanks to Absinthe Minded (great name, by the way), for referring me to this article in the Goethe Institut about the literary journal/short story scene in Germany. Love the opening:

“Like moles, literary magazines burrow through the subsoil and often bring literary treasures to light. They live on self-exploitation, are sometimes short-lived and bizarre, and publish against the mainstream. And they sometimes feel out trends that later rock the literary scene with truly eruptive success.”

The article goes on to discuss the career of Günter Eich, how circulations run between 30 and 30,000 (ha! — love the lowballing), and the stubbornly long literary journal name “das heft das seinen langen namen ändern wollte.”

Rolf Grimminger, quoted in the articles, notes the changing role of literary journals:

“The significance of literary magazines has changed greatly in recent decades. In the 1950s is canada pharmacy online safe they were still a real medium of information about what was going on and about authors and the possibilities of writing. Then competition came in the form of features articles in newspapers and audio-visual media”. Today the charm of many magazines is precisely their niche existence and their subversive subterranean activities.”

He’s right about the persevering charm of literary magazines — for many of them, it is about filling a (admittedly small) niche. In the U.S., though, I doubt that feature articles in newspapers were ever offering competition. The rising competition is certainly audio-visual media, especially since publishers are now wanting books themselves to be multimedia shows.

The course for most journals seems not towards mainstream status and struggling against the parameters of their niche, but working on embracing, exploring, and digging deeper into those niches.

10 Greatest Short Story Writers?

Greatest Short Story WritersOver at Listverse, they do a great job of amassing a huge number of Top 10 Lists, but the ten greatest short story writers is wack.

Okay, they have some shoo-ins (oh, and they limit it to American short story writers). O’Henry? I’ll grant that. Poe? Sure.

Then debatables. Asimov? Well, he’s a talented writer, especially if you’re in the SF scene, so that one could be argued in terms of preference. And same goes for Steven King.

But Ray Bradbury, I’ll grant that fullstop — he’s a guy who’s risen above genre to the level of pure greatness (although his greatness is certainly in his past, and not in the drivel he keeps pushing out these days).

And sorry, JD Salinger just doesn’t make the cut. Nine stories is really his only proper story collection (the others are novellas). Besides, he’s really known for Catcher in the Rye. Except if when he dies he comes out with a treasure trove of stuff he’s been writing for decades — then he might well turn into a contender for the list.

Also got to argue with Updike. His fame rests on the Rabbit books and other novels, and though I respect his facility with poetry and essays and short stories, it’s still all about the novels.

The ultimate WTF moment? Chuck Palahniuk. Seems like the list author had a secret Man Crush, cause there is no other way Chucky is getting on this list (even despite the kick-ass I-am-Wolverine photo)

What we desparately need is some Cheever, some Flannery, some Hemingway, some Carver, and less of a list weighted toward Genre Folk and Old Fuddy Duddies.

Of course, if you’d like to argue as well, you can wade into the forum and join the 202 commenters who have already given their two cents.

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Guardian Summer Short Stories

The Guardian has released their summer short story bonanza, which includes some as short as a thousand words.

Dave Eggers offers “A Fork Brought Along,” which has the amazing distinction of being the funniest story I’ve ever read about a fork.

AM Holmes contributes “All Is Good Except The Rain” which has so much dialogue it resembles a play, but two women having a discussion over lunch turns into very strange affairs, ala typical AM Holmes style (my favorite story of hers — “Georgica” — has a woman spying on lovers at the beach, waiting until they leave so she can extract the fluid from condoms and impregnate herself with it. Shocking and haunting.)

In “The Massive Rat,” which offers his Black Swan Green world from the Father’s perspective, David Mitchell wins the award for best verb — “Me and Lorna have sort of Berlinned the house into her zone and mine” — and for the cheesiest coincidence (read it).

Also includes William Boyd, Julie Myerson, and the winner of their short story competition, Lisa Blower.