December 8th, 2007

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.
rengeek kit icarus

if you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there

So, when I stop faffing about having a social life and actually sit down and write, I can apparently still cover some ground in a day. (I have a horrible feeling that this is a preview of what January is going to be like, as Chill is stubbornly still not writing itself. Darned books.

Anyway, I got 3000 words on "Overkill" yesterday (I basically did nothing except hang around the house and write, which was actually really nice. I need days like that more often. (Tomorrow is also scheduled to be one such.) and 1313 today, and I will probably write some more after my lunch date. It's so nice to see actual progress on something, even if I am in one of those stages where everything I write seems flabby and colorless and horrible. (This is not uncommon, and I've mellowed out about it since I discovered that there is no appreciable difference between the stuff I hate while writing and that which I think is gunning for a Nobel. Except the sloggy stuff is not fun to write, and the house on fire bits are.)

I have about 7500 words on the story now, which has technically become a novelette. It's not very fast-paced, but it's good characterization and plot, I think, and it's leading up to a pretty big boom. Also, I like the way the theme is playing out. So I will see if I can bring it in before Sunday night, because that would make me happy, it would. And then I would have finished something, and I could go back and revise "King Pole" and send it to its hopeful eventual editor.