The following is the introduction to my next collection of short stories, currently in production. I thought I’d share it with you all now.
Why do authors write short stories?
For years, they were considered a loss; most publishers wouldn’t accept an anthology of short stories unless you were one of the big names. The magazine market, once a welcome home for short fiction, all but dried up and blew away over the years, replaced by fluff pieces on the latest celebrity gossip and countless articles on the ever-popular search for the G-spot. Time spent working on short stories was almost considered wasted. It was infinitely easier to sell a novel than a short story, or even a collection of them. Considering the difficulty in selling a first novel, that’s saying something.
But authors continue to crank them out. I don’t know a single writer who doesn’t have a stack of them, all polished up with nowhere to go. One author I know has a backlog of at least a hundred different shorts that will most likely never see the light of day. Knowing how talented the author is, I consider this one of the world’s great tragedies. Some writers use them as writing exercises, meant to do nothing more than keep the gears oiled, so to speak. Others write them simply because they need to write something, but need a break in between novels. And others still, too afraid to tackle the admittedly Herculean task of writing a novel, stick to the short story, perfecting their craft and learning the ropes. In this, the short story shines; I don’t know of a single author who didn’t cut their teeth on short stories.
Myself, I use them as a diversion. If a novel can be likened to waging a war (and I certainly believe it can) then the short story is one of those rare periods of inactivity in between the battles. Such breaks are always a welcome diversion, like a pickup game of baseball in between artillery shellings.
While the novel is a complicated machine, full of inter-connected cogs and gears all turning together in an elaborate dance, the short story is a simple mechanism. One big wheel, turning slowly as the author works the crank. The various cogs and wheels of the novel each have different purposes; one might be the setting, another the backstory. All of the characters have their own mechanisms, and all of them work together to turn the main shaft of the story. The action of the mechanism produces many byproducts, including themes, allegory, and messages. But the short story is a different animal.
There’s only one moving part to the short story, and it exists solely to fulfill one function. It’s sole purpose is to tell the story. The author turns the crank, and the story rolls out onto the paper. And since (or maybe because) it only does one thing, it tends to do it very well. I dare you to find a single novel, from any author, that can sustain the tension and impact that pervades W.W. Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw,” or even comes close to equaling the juxtaposition of the mundane and the horrific in Stephen King’s “Children of the Corn” or “The Mangler.” To this day, I’ve never found any novel that can hold a candle to the suspense in Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Then again, Poe is one of those authors whose work shines best when it is short, brutal, and to the point.
For years, authors have continued to crank out short stories, despite the seeming lack of a viable market for them. But today, that’s all changing. The advent of independent e-books has brought the short story out of the dark, dusted it off, and presented it to the world. It let it get away from the kid’s table and allowed it to sit with the grown-ups, so to speak. And I, for one, couldn’t be happier about it.
Of course, the same rules that govern the world of novels also apply to the short story collection; for every Stephen King’s Night Shift or Robert Bloch’s prodigious bibliography of short story collections comes a plethora of real stinkers. Still, the avid reader doesn’t seem deterred by the odds; they happily wade through pile after pile of utter garbage, hoping to find that one rare gem.
With this collection, I’m hoping I’ve done something more than add to the garbage pile. So, for your amusement (or just to give you another reason to call me a hack) here is the latest collection of my own diversions.
The Things We Leave Behind is currently in production. I’ll have a cover and release date for you guys soon.
Until then, you can pre-order SINS OF THE FATHERS, the latest Jennifer Blake novel.