I must begin this blog by saying – and I’d never thought I’d say this – that Michael now officially has the patience of a saint. I wasn’t supposed to do ANYTHING even vaguely writing-related for at least two weeks after I turned in THE POLTERGEIST EFFECT, but as so often happens, stuff happened, and suddenly I had to jump right into an novella for an anthology…
But if I can make it so that the timing on the next one isn’t so crazy, this might just be a good pattern I’m discovering for myself: finish a novel, TAKE A BREAK, then do a quickie short before jumping into the next novel.
Because once I got past that “I never want to write again” feeling, I had a great time writing this thing, just as I had a great time writing “The Edge of Seventeen”, the short story I did last year right after finishing THE PRICE, for THE DARKER MASK anthology that comes out from Tor next month (and which our own Naomi Hirahara and I will be promoting at the American Library Association conference this weekend).
Now, I seem to be coming at this short story thing backwards – I never wrote one until I’d turned in my second novel. The thing is I’m not much into short stories, really – I don’t read many of them, and am not a particularly “short” writer in general. I mean, by the time you have enough story for a short story, you might as well write a screenplay, as far as I’m concerned. Since so far the only way I seem to be able to do shorts is if someone is threatening my life, I don’t think I’ll be doing too many of them.
But (always with the caveat that I keep all the rights to do a full-length novel/script/graphic novel/play/short film based on the story) – I’ve found these two shorts I’ve done very creatively refreshing.
For one thing I have found myself writing about Southern California in a way I have rarely done in scripts – and never so far in a novel, not even in the next four projected books. I don’t know why that is, since I’ve spent almost my entire life in California and you’d think that I’d find it kind of natural to write about.
But so far, no, only in these shorts – I guess because in both cases I’ve had to do them so fast that I needed to be able to throw down images without any research or any conscious thought whatsoever.
This novella (it’s called “D-Girl on Doomsday” and it’s about Hollywood and the Apocalypse) was particularly fun because I got to be just blistering about the whole experience of working in Hollywood – so much delicious hostility there to tap into, and it gave this piece a nice bite. I’m not sure I could maintain that level of savagery for 400 pages, but for 80 pages? It’s not only doable but amazingly cathartic. And you get that ecstatic “FINISHED!!!!” feeling so much faster… I can see the appeal of that, for sure.
I don’t think I’ll ever be able to crank out the shorts, but once a year? Yeah, I like the feel of that. So I think I’ll be scheduling a short story a year into the ideal calendar that is finally taking shape in my head. That is, going into the second half of my second year as a professional author I am seeing how all of this new author chaos and madness eventually starts to sort itself into a manageable and maybe even enjoyable routine.
By the time you turn in the third book you’ve kind of figured out how much time it really takes you to write a book from scratch while juggling the marketing side of the job (plus, as we’ve been discussing here these last two weeks, you finally realize that you CAN pull off pretty much any book you start). With that information in mind, you can decide how many books a year or every two years that adds up to without, you know, incurring a divorce.
You figure out the conferences you absolutely have to go to, and you start getting good money for workshops, which become your other must-dos, and you start planning your other signings and events around those and – this is important – you start saying “no” to the impractical requests. You add in the particular promotional things that have worked best for you (for me, doing the bookstore drive-bys in the cities where I do other events).
And I think scheduling in a short story after each book might be just the thing to add depth to the growing body of work.
So what’s your relationship with short stories? Do you read them? Write them? Do you find yourself writing things in a short story that you wouldn’t do in a novel?
And if you’re at ALA in Anaheim this weekend, please stop by the Sisters in Crime Booth, staffed by the awesome SinC Library Liaison Mary Boone and Patron Saint of Mystery Authors Doris Ann Norris (the 2000 year old librarian).
The booth is number 290, & easy to find, right by the Internet Room, and here’s the author signing schedule:
Saturday, June 28:
9 – 11, Hannah Dennison
11 –1. Sue Ann Jaffarian and Denise Hamilton
1 –3, Jeff Sherratt and Aileen Baron
3 –5, Darrel James
Sunday, June 29:
9 –11, Melissa Garcia
10 – noon, Linda O Johnston
11-1, GB Poole
noon –2, Cara Black
1 – 3, Liz Jasper
3 –5, Alexandra Sokoloff
Monday, June 30:
9 – 11, Pat Ricks
11 – 1, Sheila Lowe and Debbie Mitsch
1 – 3, Elizabeth Zelvin
2:30 – 4:30, Naomi Hirahara
Tuesday, July 1:
8 – 10, open (Mary Boone and Doris Ann Norris)
9 – 11:30, Bonnie Cardone
I enjoy writing shorts. I’ve had a couple of short pieces published in Murdaland, Out of the Gutter, and Crimespree. But there are very few outlets for short works in the style in which I write, and almost none that pay for them.
I’m more of a short story kinda guy as far as writing. I’m trying to work on a novel now, but I feel like I’m struggling. The problem is, I keep coming up with different ideas and want to throw them into the novel, but that would be pretty impractical. At least with short story form, I can finish one idea and then move right on to the next.
As far as reading, I really don’t prefer one over the other.
Dusty, I’d love to read some of your shorts. Can you post links?
RJ, that’s funny. I find short stories much more intimidating and challenging than novels, even though novels take so much longer. My brain is just wired for longer.
Alex, I so admire this new short story focus of yours! I went to a reading last night by Tobias Wolff, timed to launch his new collection of short stories, and he thrilled me with the possibilities there.
I wrote my first short story for publication earlier this year and loved doing it! It’ll be in an anthology put out by the American Crime Writers League next year.
When I get stuck writing my novels, I’ve begun to turn to short stories to keep the creativity moving. It’s been working well so far.
Have a fab time at ALA!!!
Alex: the one for Murdaland has an excerpt here.
Here’s an SF/horror piece I did for Spinetingler:
I kind of enjoy writing shorts, but haven’t had any published yet. It’s just fun to write and then edit and then move on to another story. I am waiting for a flash piece to either wow an ezine or get rejected, but I will agree with whoever said you don’t write shorts for money, because there just aren’t any outlets where you can publish consistently that pay. At least in my unpublished experience. Deaver and S. King and Patterson may have a slightly different reality when it comes to shorts than me…
X, I’m like you, lately come to the form. I didn’t write my first short until well into my second book. My shorts are much darker than my regular work — more horror and supernatural, and a lot are in first person. I went on a huge roll for a while, discovered I’m much better at flash fiction than longer stories. A reviewer called my story in the Killer Year anthology Hitchcockian, which was the most wonderful complement. I have a flash short, MADONNA IN THE GRASS, out this month too. It’s a translation in Finland. : )
I have several started that need to be finished polished and submitted. I just lost the extra time to work on them. I want them back, that spark, the sense of completion. Very gratifying creatively.
The first short story I ever wrote (other than for assignments in school) was for the KILLER YEAR anthology. It was HARD WORK. Harder in many ways than a novel. I kept seeing the bigger picture, and in that the story wanted to be longer. I swore I’d never do it again, but . . .
Since, I’ve written another short story and a novella. I’m learning, but they still don’t come easily to me. The novella wanted to be a book, and I could easily have written 100K words and expanded the story, adding characters and more twists and turns and suspects. It was harder to trim and cut. But in the process, I learned how to tighten my stories and I think in the long run this will be a benefit.
I’ve always loved Stephen King’s short stories and novellas. He is the master. There’s been a few others I’ve enjoyed (the KILLER YEAR antho rocks!) but sometimes I feel cheated, as if that’s it? I want more! LOL.
Hah, LU, I have enough trouble writing ONE story – an a whole antho of them seems completely impossible.
JU, first person is still something I haven’t tried. That’s interesting that you’ve used it in shorts – that’s a really good idea. Maybe my next one.
Dusty, thanks for the links… yay, something to read
Allison, I really liked your novella for WHAT YOU CAN’T SEE. But I agree with you – I rarely read shorts because I so often have that – “That’s it?” feeling.
Stephen King is the great exception. Masterful short stories, I love his.
Just keep writing, Jake – you’ll wow someone!
I didn’t know Deaver wrote shorts – will definitely have to check THAT out.
I’m like Alex, in that I don’t read a lot of short stories and find the really interesting ideas eventually grow into longer projects for me. I do write a short story every year or so, usually for anthologies my writers group puts out, or for ideas that strike me as fun but don’t really have the legs for a full novel. I’ve had several published (so I guess they don’t suck), but my interest and energy will always be primarily devoted to the longer forms.