I have an obsession with the short story form. I might even have an addiction. Or a mania. Whatever you want to call it — I can’t get enough short stories in my life.
It doesn’t matter whether the work is flash fiction of less than a thousand words, average length short stories in the several thousand range, or what Stephen King famously called “the banana republic of the novella.” If it’s a shorter-than-standard-novel-length piece of fiction, chances are good it will interest me. Genre doesn’t matter, either. I’m as apt to read the latest “literary” short story in The New Yorker or Tin House or Glimmer Train Stories or Zoetrope All-Story as I am to read the latest sf/horror in the great online Apex Magazine and Subterranean Magazine, the latest fantasy in Realms of Fantasy, the latest mystery in The Strand.
And of course, outside of the magazines, there are the anthologies. Anthologies seem to be taking up more and more of my shelf-space. Single author anthologies by writers ranging from Joyce Carol Oates to William Trevor, Michael Chabon to Karen Russell, Orson Scott Card, Stephen King, Daniyal Mueenuddin, Jhumpa Lahiri. “Best of” Anthologies from The Best American series and the O. Henry Awards. Themed genre anthologies edited by the great Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling, John Joseph Adams, P.N. Elrod, Jennifer Brozek, Maurice Broaddus.
I could go on for pages. My obsession/mania/addiction is such that three years ago I created a community on livejournal called “365shortstories,” where I review stories as I read them (or reread them) and invite others to do so as well. I can’t say there’s a huge amount of participation, but people do seem to enjoy “watching” the community and occasionally authors and editors will chime in to comment on my comments.
What is it about the form that sparks my interest so? I’ve tried to describe it, and anything I say comes out trite and cliched. Yes I do love the fact that most short stories are “done in one,” but I also love the interconnected short stories that form a larger picture (think Robert Silverberg’s TO OPEN THE SKY, Ray Bradbury’s THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES, Daniyal Mueenuddin’s IN OTHER ROOMS, OTHER WONDERS). I like the economy of words that allows a story to be easily consumed during a meal or even a bathroom break, but I also love those wordy novellas that require longer to digest. There is no single aspect of the short story form that I can point to and say “that’s why I love them,” just as I can’t point at one aspect of my nieces and nephews personalities and say that’s why I love them. The plain fact is, I just do.
As for my own writing, there was a period where short stories were all I was writing. That was shortly after moving to New Jersey in 1996. I suddenly had a spate of small inspirations, none of which felt like they should be stage plays or novels. All of them are more than 1,000 words (some barely so) and I would say none more than about 5,000. One of them, a tale called “Invisible Me,” has been published in print form in a literary magazine called Willard & Maple. I have one copy; my other comp copy disappeared a while ago in the hands of some friend or another who borrowed it to read the story and has probably forgotten it (as I have forgotten who has it). I have been, in the past two years, pretty remiss about sending those stories back out into the world. I’ve taken to editing them (in at least one case almost completely recasting the nature of the story), and recently other short form ideas have been popping into my head.
It might be time, in addition to reading and reviewing short stories, to really start writing them again.
(In conjunction with this post, you can find my thoughts on the latest P.N. Elrod-edited urban fantasy anthology, Dark And Stormy Knights, in the next post.)