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bear by san

March 2017



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writing dust bible 'house of dust"

the perils of short fiction

Nobody ever thinks of me as a short story writer, and it kind of makes me sad--because at heart, that's what I am.

Now, don't get me wrong. I love a good novel. I even like writing them, though I have to do it in a single enormous push of effort, because otherwise I get bored, bored, bored and wander off. I can't stand the endless tinkering that some writers do, the working on the same project for years on end.

I can't bear it.

(I get bored anyway, but if I'm working on a book for six months, I can stand the boredom. By the time the 37th revision rolls around, though, I am stultified.)

And novels tend to move so slowly. Hundred of pages, and barely enough plot for a good novelette!

You can actually spot the short-story-writer DNA in my novels, even the long ones. That thing people talk (complain) about, where too much happens too fast and it's too dense, too hard to keep control of? I suspect it's directly related to the author (me) being a short story writer at heart. Because I really believe in my heart that if a paragaraph is not doing three (and preferably five) things, it is not doing enough work. (The five kinds of work a paragraph can do in a work of fiction are: increasing or resolving tension (plot), exposition, worldbuilding (setting), developing character, and illuminating theme).

So I try to have small reversals and revelations on every page. Which sort of makes my books bad for reading quickly, I am told.

And I love writing short stories. I love the feeling of accomplishment they bring. I love how they are tiny perfect jewels, when done right, and they are just there breathing and making you sad or glad or sorry or melancholy or joyous or a little hollow under the breastbone.

And so I have a problem. Because really, the reason I write is to be read. I write to an audience (you guys, ora fraction of you guys.) And there's a dramatic tension there, of course, because while writing to that audience I am trying to stay true to my artistic vision (such as it is) and tell stories I can be proud of.

And short stories make me sad. Because they just vanish. They hang around for a month or so, and then drop back into nonexistence, never to be seen again. And nobody ever reads them again. They go to the Island of Misfit Stories, and hang around unread with their pals.

And I think I would feel better about that if I knew I'd be able to print collections, eventually, but really--the odds of my selling another collection in the next ten years is pretty slim. And I have a little pile here, of unreprinted stories of which in some cases I am inordinately fond, and I would like to be able to let people read in book form. The stuff that's collected in The Chains That You Refuse--some of it, I am very proud of. The title story, "Botticelli," "When You Visit The Magoebaskloof Hotel, Be Certain Not To Miss The Samango Monkeys," and so on. But I'm also very aware that those stories are my early work, and a lot of them are rough at the edges, insufficiently developed, heavyhanded, flawed in various ways.

And there's another book, book-and-a-half's worth of stuff that will likely slowly work its way up to my website, because that's the place I can put it where people will be able to read it. It's mostly small-press-published, because I'm mostly a small-press-published short-story writer, and it's mostly impossible to find otherwise, and I wouldn't expect anybody to spend ages tracking down a back issue of On Spec to read "Los Empujadores Furiosos," even though I love it. It's gone, more or less, like a song sung in an empty room. (I've written over sixty published pieces of short fiction at this point. Some of them are in The Chains That You Refuse, and some of them are in New Amsterdam. And then there's all this other stuff that's just, poof, gone. Good stuff, some of it, I think. "Orm the Beautiful," and "Tideline," and "The Inevitable Heat-Death of the Universe," and "Sounding," and "Love Among the Talus," to name a few.

I love those stories. And yet--

--there they go.

And that makes me wonder why I write stort stories, when they're so ephemeral, and so few people read them, and really, they're more work per square yard than any novel will ever be, and at the end of the day I know they have a limited lifespan and then vanish. It seems like so much work for something that will more or less fall of the edge of the earth and never be seen again.

I guess I write them because I love them.

And what happens after that is between the story and the world.


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That first one isn't disappearing though. :)

As for the second, anyone doing a War Machines or something can grab that.

Who knows how the technology will shake out (like Hamilton's datasphere or somesuch), but something on the web and the wayback machine might get noticed long after novel X. So the website thing perhaps a good strategy, for fiction immortality of a sort.

Or, how many Andre Norton novels are lying around the bookshelves of people reading your livejournal, for example (other than the gutenberg variety, that is). Or even being read? Being a grandmaster and all.

Even your Kress/Reed/Swanwick types haven't got tons of collections, I think?

There was a mailing list discussion of longest wait for something like that for a writer - 50/60 years or something perhaps for one still living.

So with 2, you are doing pretty well already it would seem.

From other discussions obviously some writer types would like to have the stuff published as soon as they have 8 stories to rub together for your bare medium collection median. Not the case here, of course, but presumably the idea here is to make these the better examples, in general?

That would be the desired outcome for those-who-buy, anyway. :)

they're all food metaphors

short stories are tapas. Something small, and perfect, that makes you want more of that thing, but also something slightly different. You write short stories because it's kind of difficult to read, say, Carnival three times back to back in the bath, but I can with "The Devil you Don't"


not that I have... um.

Re: they're all food metaphors

Hee. I write them to be read.

Yeah. (thank you)
(1) I cherish *New Amsterdam*.
(2) Is it possible that you write short stories for the joy of it?
(3) Chapbook?

(4) I'm sorry.
I love short fiction collections. I love short stories. They are awesome.
Don't people generally write anything because they love it?

Heh. I'm of the "love having written" school, personally. I love finished things. I love talking to people about the finished things. I love it when people get pleasure or comfort or insight from my work.

I love the characters, but they're around, you know? They live in my head.

Some of them, I am sad are made of fiction, because they are the best friends ever, and I would like to go out dancing with them, or play cards, or buy them a beer. Like Matthew and Jenny and Elspeth and Chaz and Daphne and Kit and Cricket and Gourami and Jackie. I *love* those guys.

You know, purely as a reader, I don't differentiate my fictional loves by length. When I read a good story, novel or short or novella, I keep it. And I re-read them. I keep lots of fiction magazines, some with post-its sticking out of them so I can re-find that one story that changed something for me. I own few anthologies, but tons of magazines. Yeah it takes up space, but I don't WANT to forget those stories I found important.

On the other hand, as a writer, someone just yesterday was asking what stuff I had published that they could go read, and I had to tell them that most of the shorts were gone now and unobtainable except on my hard drive...
I have Love Among the Talus perpetually bookmarked, for reading whenever I want because I love it so.
I read all the stories that are up on or linked to from your website. Instead of doing my work :)
:: thinks of the bear as short story writer ::
Well I certainly think of you as a short story writer. In fact, (I'm embarrassed to say) I've never read any of your novels....

Great short stories have a way of staying with me far more than novels do. I remember all the stories of yours I've published and particularly love your Lovecraftian stories (but you knew that).
*g* YOU have enough reading to do without trying to keep up on novels, I think...

I tend to agree about great short stories.

They cling.
My fav. stuff by you is still short stories (in The Chains That You Refuse & New Amsterdam). Keep writing!
& I should also have mentioned Avram Davidson, my Favourite Writer Evar, who was at his best in short stories. (The moral is that after you die poor in horrible conditions, almost all your stories will be anthologised. Sorry.)
I'll be very naive here, as I have no ideas what your short story contracts are like: couldn't you put them up to read on your author website (I'm sure you have one) after appropriate time passed (when the magazine/book was out of print)? Maybe with a comment system if you wanted feedback from readers? I abuse a wordpress installation as a school newspaper, for example, so the boys can comment if they want to.
reading through the comments it's obvious you already do this, so disregard this *hits self in back of head to remind self that she ought to read the comments first*


"but really--the odds of my selling another collection in the next ten years is pretty slim. And I have a little pile here, of unreprinted stories of which in some cases I am inordinately fond, and I would like to be able to let people read in book form."

You could do an experiment and self publish a short-story collection as an e-book...
Hey, some of us do buy short story collections. (Just not enough of us, sorry.)

How practical would an e-book only collection be? Short stories are almost the perfect thing for e-books IMO, since you can dip in and read a story or two while waiting for the bus/train/doctor/Second Coming.
I wonder if one of the difficulties in timeless short fiction is the necessity of putting a story down when you're done reading and letting it marinade for awhile. In a short story collection, there's a tendency to push onward to the next and each story is choked out by the next.

The two shorts that immediately pop out as having stayed with me are "We can get them for you wholesale" and "Columbus was a dope." Otherwise...well, The Things They Carried isn't a short story collection, even though it masquerades as such. It's not a long list of memorable works.
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