Hey friends, here I am typing away on my digital typewriter doohickeymobile. It’s pretty cool. I’ve been writing a lot on it. Mostly short stories. Oftentimes VERY short (though I did write a 7,500 word one yesterday). Hope the typewriter isn’t making me write shorter. I do think it might just be my temperament; these days I have less and less tolerance for the interstitial stuff inside a text–descriptions, action, etc. I still do like dialogue though.
I don’t know where I was going with this.
Okay I set this post aside for a day, and now I’ve come back to it after writing ANOTHER short story. Writing some weird stuff, some really weird stuff, guys.
I don’t know how novelists–people who spent their whole writing careers working on novels–ever learn to write short stories. I mean, people ask you to. If you’re a successful novelist, people are always asking for short stories for their anthologies, or soliciting them for their magazine. It’s a real problem. A short story usually starts wrapping up right around the point a novelist is getting ready to type Chapter Two. The two forms are completely different, from their aims to the sentence-level writing. Or at least they are when I do them.
Writing short stories is significantly easier than writing a novel. People say it isn’t. Do not believe them. I started off writing short stories. I’ve been writing and submitting them for seventeen years. The story I just finished is the 254th story in my records. I am approaching 1800 short story rejections (though am not quite there yet) and I have 61 short story publications, though at least twenty of those are publications I would not readily admit to. It’s possible to write a decent story in ninety minutes. I mean it doesn’t happen often, but I’ve had a few stories come out that way. Salable novels don’t often work that way. At some point you lose control and need to take stop. A novel also just has fewer ways to be good than a story does. A novel’s number one objective is to keep you reading. Everything else is secondary. And you end up expending a lot of effort just keeping the book interesting. Short stories don’t face the same problem. It’s, just, I don’t know, it’s very different.
As an aside, there is a certain momentum to a story writing career. I read a story recently that was in a semi-pro zine (as part of my Nebula campaign, you gotta read other peoples’ stories), and this was a great story. Easily the match of most stories in top sci-fi zines (Asimov’s, Clarkesworld, etc). In contrast, I have a story coming out next month in Asimov’s: “I Didn’t Buy It” is a story I almost didn’t submit, because I thought it was a little slight. But it has a stylish voice, and it’s a fun story, so I was like why not. I don’t think Sheila thinks it’s the world’s greatest story either, but it’s only 1500 words long, and it can pad out the magazine. I do not think I could have gotten an editor to take that story as my first-ever sale.
There is also a downhill side to a story-writing career. Eventually you become old hat and can no longer sell to certain publications that once used to be excited about you. I remember when Charlie Finlay took over F&SF there were a bunch of Gordon Van Gelder’s faves who he no longer published. Nothing personal, their work just wasn’t to his taste. Now I see that Finlay is stepping down and Sheree Thomas is taking up the editorship. On the one hand this is great; I don’t think there are any other major sci-fi publications with Black editors. But on the second hand, I just started selling stories to Charlie! Now I’ve gotta start all over again.
It’s okay, that’s how it goes. I’ve recently been making an effort to NOT send my best stuff to the science fiction journals anyway. It’s a very tempting thing to do, because: a) they read and accept work comparatively quickly (within 1-2 months)_ and b) people actually read them, so you feel like the story doesn’t entirely disappear (though it still mostly disappears). But I do want to publish in some of the bigger literary journals, and that won’t happen if all my best stuff is coming out in Lightspeed.
I do write a fair number of stories that are on the cusp, that could appear in either type of journal. But I also write a fair number of stories that could ONLY be in sci-fi journals or ONLY be in literary journals. I don’t know, I’m not as much of an interstitial writer as are many of the writers with feet in both camps. I like straightforward mimetic realism.
Oh well, who knows. But the point is, I am a story writer again. Maybe I’ll take a year and write only stories, and all the editors will get completely sick of me