It's long, like a novel, but it's mostly about short stories, which I've been thinking of a lot lately--especially since writing a noir short story for an anthology, which I loved loved loved writing.
I dwell on this so much of late, whether what I'm obsessed with these days -- namely, the past -- should go into my novel or stand alone as a short story. I just read Polly Frost's thoughts on this subject and think: short story! Then I think, short stories can be too short when you tend to write long; my first published short story ("Quickening") was 9,000 words.
Short stories were my first love. I spent my entire time in college writing short stories and poetry. Didn't even consider writing a novel until I was years out of college.
Short stories give you more immediate gratification, too. A novel can take years but a short story might take, at most, a couple of months. Getting it published can be a trial, though, unless you're willing to pub it anywhere.
I just received the new book, Off the Page, edited by Carole Burns. It's a compendium of short pieces with quotes by 40-some writers on aspects of writing. I like what Gish Jen says about novels vs. short stories:
It's the difference between having an affair and being married. The story is fun because you can go anywhere, you can write about anything. I think in my stories you can see that there's a slightly giddy air to them. I think you can see I'm on holiday. But there's a way in which you can put everything that you know as a human, including the texture of your life, into a novel.
I love novels, yet--and don't hit me for saying this--sometimes I think too many are being published. So many cross my threshold in consideration for the show and I can't help but think some shouldn't have been published at all, and others should be way shorter--short story length, actually. There's such pressure to write novels, not short stories.
Depends on my mood as to what I want to read. Lately I tend to read novels, though I love the noir anthologies published by Akashic Books. Los Angeles Noir is a current favorite. (This year Susan Straight won an Edgar award for her story.) Susan, Gary Phillips and Naomi Hirahara talk about writing noir on my show, which you can hear on podcast. (Enter one of their names in the Search box and you'll find it.)
I asked Frost what she thought about short stories vs. novels. She said:
God bless everyone in the mainstream book world who publishes short fiction! The New Yorker, the book publishers who are committed to anthologies, the editors who stand up for short story collections. I'm grateful for your radio show and for Tania Hershman's
The Short Review -- you celebrate short fiction!
But I don't think the road to mainstream publication is easy for anyone writing short fiction of any kind, literary or genre, these days. I wish I could say that there is one easier path to get published, but I don't think there it exists.
This is a puzzle to me, to be frank. For one thing, I've been writing and publishing since the mid-1980's, so I've seen phases come and go. There have been times when mainstream publishing gushed out a lot of short fiction of many different kinds, and when critics and readers enjoyed a real wealth of material and talent to explore.
Remember the Gordon Lish years? The years when both women's and men's magazines like Redbook and GQ regularly published short fiction?
Now doesn't seem to be one of those eras. Still, I'm confident the good times will return soon.
For another thing, there's a growing audience for short fiction, especially among younger readers. People are working longer and longer hours, time is getting chopped-up in strange ways, and life seems to be getting faster and faster.
It really should be a great time for short fiction. But maybe we creators of it need to be more entrepreneurial. Maybe we need to take more advantage of the online world, of Amazon's Kindle, of self-publishing, of audio, of doing live readings. I myself did live readings in lounges and bars during the last five years and it was a fantastic experience -- I was happily surprised to get full houses and lively audiences eager to hear short fiction.
So whenever I think the grass may be greener for either literary short fiction writers or other genre writers, I stop myself. The truth is, we short fiction writers need to stop whining and start looking after our own business until mainstream publishing catches up with us and realizes that short fiction rules.
What about publishing, I said. Is it easier publishing novels?
It's absolutely easier on every level if you write a novel, from getting an agent to getting a book published.
A funny experience I had: When I first published a humor story in The New Yorker I got a call from a literary agent. The first thing she said was "So, do you have a novel?"
She lost interest in me the moment I said, "Actually, I haven't thought about writing a novel at all. I love writing short fiction."
I think this attitude on the part of the mainstream book business is, in fact, why there are so many crappy novels out there. I always say that many of today's novels feel like a short story that's gone on way too long!
It's easier, too, to get your book reviewed by the mainstream press (in so far as the mainstream press still even reviews books) if it's a novel.
However, I will say that my story collection, Deep Inside, has been reviewed close to 50 times, by mainstream and online publications and blogs. I found that many editors and critics welcomed a book of short fiction. Like everyone else, they have limited time, and it's appealing for them to read a collection of stories. I can't complain about the coverage I got for my collection -- it was much better than many novelists get.
The conversation isn't over, but this is enough about what I think. What do you think?