The allure of the short story

Today I’d like to welcome Aussie author Angela Savage to Murderati. This is my second instalment, following on from my interview with Katherine Howell, to introduce some Aussie authors here at Murderati. 

I’ve met Angela a couple of times on the mystery ‘scene’ and ran into her again at Sisters in Crime Australia’s Scarlet Stiletto Awards – Angela won the top honour of the night and I was there as the official presenter. You may also recognise Angela from my ‘photoshoot to kill for’ blog.

Given Angela’s first novel was written after an award-winning short story introducing her main protagonist, and that she’s written extremely successfully in both the short and long form, I asked Angela to blog about the short story and the novel. What attracts her to both forms? Does she approach them with a similar mind-set?

I’ve entered the Sisters in Crime Australia Scarlet Stiletto Awards short story competition twice, once in 1998 and again in 2011.

The first time I was an unpublished writer with an abandoned manuscript burning a hole in my filing cabinet. Short story competitions provided me with focus, opportunities to practice my craft and try something new. The Scarlet Stilettos held the particular appeal of being exclusively for women writers, with stories required to have an active woman protagonist.

In what was my first foray into crime fiction, I submitted a story called ‘The Mole on the Temple’ about an Australian expatriate detective called Jayne who exposes a card scam in Bangkok.

My story won third prize. More valuable than the prize money was the confidence this gave me to persevere with both the crime genre and the main character. Jayne went on to acquire the surname Keeney and became the hero of my first novel Behind the Night Bazaar published in 2006. The second book in the Jayne Keeney PI series The Half-Child followed in 2010 and I’m currently working on the third, working title The Dying Beach.

Funnily enough, Behind the Night Bazaar started life as a short story that just kept growing. I’ve since ‘cannibalised’—to use Raymond Chandler’s word—several of my early short stories for scenes or subplots in my novels.

I’m not the only author to have kick-started my writing career with a prize at the Scarlet Stilettos. So far 15 women, including category winners like me, have gone on to publish novels. But I’m the first established novelist in the 18-year history of the Scarlet Stiletto Awards to return to the scene and take home the coveted Scarlet Stiletto trophy.

So what made me decide to enter the competition again after a 13-year break?

Part of the motivation stems from a crisis I had earlier this year about whether I could call myself an ‘Australian writer’, when everything I’d written was set in Thailand in the 1990s, albeit featuring Australian characters. I challenged myself to set a story closer to home and the result was my winning entry for the 2011 Scarlet Stilettos, ‘The Teardrop Tattoos’ set in contemporary Melbourne. The plot, involving a restricted breed dog, became inadvertently topical when a four-year-old-girl was tragically killed in an attack by a pit bull terrier only weeks after I submitted the story to the competition.

As in 1998, the short story form gave me an opportunity to try something new. But this time around I have no desire to develop the characters or plots into a full-length novel.

Pound for pound, I find short stories harder and more time consuming to write than novels. Short stories and novels have different centres of gravity. Both need to hook readers in at the start, but the narratives have different arcs. Short stories are less forgiving. There’s no room for superfluous adjectives or adverbs.

With novels you can loiter a little, while the nuances of the story and characters play out. Short stories have to maintain the pace or they’re dead in the water.

Secretly, like an actor who longs to direct, I’d really like to write songs—to tell a whole story in three or four verses and a haunting refrain.

I’ll just have to keep practising.

 

Angela’s first book, Behind the Night Bazaar, won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award as an unpublished manuscript in 2004 and was shortlisted for the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Book in 2007. Her second novel, The Half-Child was shortlisted for the Ned Kelly in 2011 for Best Fiction. The Half-Child is available in Kindle version on Amazon or in hard copy through Text Publishing.

We’re interested in hearing your thoughts about short stories and novels. Do you read both? Write both?

Angela will be around to answer questions too!

13 thoughts on “The allure of the short story

  1. Barbie

    I don't really read short stories, unless they're from an author I really like, and about characters that are part of a novel or something like that.

    I do, however, write short stories, as a writer wannabe. In fact, that's all I've been able to write. It's funny, I don't like details much, I've never been good at description, so, short stories have always been the right way to go for me. I've been struggling for years trying to complete a novel, but never managed to. Still, I've written dozens of serial short stories with the same characters. It's like I write snippets from the characters' lives, but have never found a way to properly connect them. Sometimes, I feel I write characters, not stories. I love writing them short. πŸ™‚

  2. Allison Davis

    I'm a big Alice Munro fan, among others, and the short story is I think the most difficult to write but can be incredibly strong. It is very disciplined writing and requires more of a punch in a shorter arc. I've only written a couple when I was younger but working on some now as "exercise" — we'll see how it goes.

  3. Larry Gasper

    I read both short stories and novels, though I prefer reading novels. I started out writing short stories but found once I had the characters I wanted to do more with them. This led to my first book, a collection of linked stories called "Princes in Waiting." Now I'm trying my hand with novels. I had one that I just kept on hitting the wall with, then I tried writing a short story with the same setting and ended up writing my way back into the novel.
    One thing I do like to do when writing is to read short stories so I don't get into a novel and not come up for air until it's done. I find that's a quick way to lose my writing time.

  4. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Hey Angela – thanks for being here! I wondered if your short story is available somewhere, like on Kindle, especially. We need a link!! Would love to read it and then Night Bazaar, since I recently turned a short story into a novel, too. and found the process amazing and perilous.

  5. Reine

    Hi Angela,

    Nice to see you here! Thanks, Phillipa.

    Lately I love to get into a story and keep reading it forever. I really don't like when they end. So for now, I am more attracted to novels than short stories. I do read them though and now will check yours out. I've never been disappointed by Murderati writers or their guests.

    One thing that interests me about writers, who do both short stories and novels, is how different the voice of the author sometimes seems in the two forms. I was wondering if you, or other writers here, feel that a different voice is being projected into one or the other as you write. I hope this makes sense. I don't have a feeling that it is at all clear and would like to be able to express it better!

  6. PD Martin

    Hi everyone,
    Guess I should answer the question too! I definitely prefer writing novels. Except for a few shorts when I was first starting out, I've only ever written one short story and it was 'to order' specifically for a magazine here in Australia called Women's Weekly. I did find the short much harder to write than a novel.

    In terms of reading them, again I prefer novels but Larry makes a good point. I generally don't like to read when I'm writing (like to be only in my world, my character's voice) but maybe shorts are the way to go. And they'd suit my current lack of reading time too – committing to reading a novel seems impossible at the moment. Hopeless, I know.

    Phillipa

  7. PD Martin

    Now with my "host" hat on…thanks for the comments, everyone.

    Barbie, maybe you should take a leaf out of Larry's book and bring your short serials together!

    Allison, yes, the short is harder to write for me! But I guess it's personal preference too.

    Larry, as I said in my last comment, good tip about reading shorts while you're writing!

    Alex, you're right…not sure if Angela's short is available but she should put it up on Amazon!

    Reine, interesting about the different voices. It will be great to get Angela's take on that. And I'm glad you're enjoying 'meeting' some Aussie authors.

    And thanks, Stephen!
    Phillipa
    PS It's just morning here in East Coast Australia, so hopefully Angela will be checking in soon πŸ™‚ Although she does have a day job so it might be a sneaky look from her office computer!

  8. Angela Savage

    Hi everyone,

    Phillipa is right about the day job. I am writing from the back of a taxi en route from a graduation ceremony for students of English as a second language.

    Thanks for the opportunity to meet you all on Murderati. Reine, I think you are spot-on when you talk of the different voices writers project – or experiment with – in short stories, particularly those of us who write novels. The Scarlet Stiletto Awards are judged blind and several judges were familiar with my novels. When I asked if they recognised or suspected me as the author of 'The Teardrop Tattoos', they professed to be completely taken by surprise.

    I read both short stories and novels, mostly novels. But I've appreciated a well crafted short story ever since reading the collected works of W Somerset Maugham ('Rain' is my favourite) and Oscar Wilde as a teenager. I also love Angela Carter. Raymond Chandler's short stories are worth reading to see how he cannibalised them for his novels. Of contemporary short fiction writers, I recommend Maille Malloy – one for next time you are immersed in writing a novel Larry.

    On the subject of reading when writing, I don't stop reading. I couldn't! But I tend not to read crime novels when working on one myself.

    The Sisters in Crime Australia have said they plan to publish 'The Teardrop Tattoos' on their website. I'll check on their timeframe and get back to you Alexandra. Might see if I can publish on my website, too.

    Great to meet you all,

    Angela

  9. Pari Noskin

    Wonderful to meet you, Angela. PD, thank you so much for introducing us to new writers!

    I do read both, though I haven't bought many books of short stories except for a few anthologies. I like both forms. Short stories, to me, are wonderful when I'm really busy because I feel like I'm accomplished something when I've read them. But I'm more of a novel-reading gal when I have long batches of time and want to luxuriate.

  10. Angela Savage

    Thanks for your comment Pari. Interesting how many of us see short stories as less time consuming as readers and as writers. I agree that it's easier to dip in and out of short stories as a reader, especially when you have a lot on your mind. But I no longer experience short stories as the easier form to write. Let's see if you feel the same way, Barbie, once you publish your first novel.

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