Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Joy of Short Stories

I have friends who love to turn out long books. For some writers, 150,000 words a pop is nothing. The mammoth novel has never been my favorite form. If I have to pick my natural length, it would probably be the novella. And the short story is also a treat for me.

Too bad I wasn’t born soon enough to take advantage of the golden age of short stories in the Nineteen-Twenties and Thirties. Back then, the major writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Edith Wharton could live off the income from stories—sold to popular magazines such as Colliers and The Saturday Evening Post.

I read a lot of those stories later when I was an American Studies major at The George Washington University and then as a graduate student at the University of Maryland. And I loved them.

But my fondness for the form actually started earlier, when I discovered science fiction as a kid. From the age of ten until into my twenties, science fiction was a lot of my leisure-time reading. And the most frequent variety was the short story.

I’m going to skip over decades when the short story declined in American culture, mostly due to the dying out of the magazines that published them. It’s more fun to go right to today’s resurgence of the market. And I’ll credit the rebirth to indie publishing. You don’t have to be invited into an anthology to write a short story today or find a magazine that still buys them. You can write the stories that stir your creativity and publish them in e-format.

Some authors are doing them to keep readers happy between novels. Others are writing them because they have an idea they want to explore that won’t work in novel form but may be perfect for a short story.

I’ve done a couple of them myself—AMBUSHED and HOT AND DANGEROUS—as well as a novella, CHAINED.

All of them are the kind of fast-paced romantic suspense I’ve been writing for years, where a man and a woman fall in love against a backdrop of terrible danger. The risks intensify the emotions building between them. And the hero is likely to be a guy with paranormal powers that add to his sexual appeal and his warrior skills.

I’m loving the freedom that the indie market has opened up for writers—especially the ability to publish stories of any length you want. And luckily for us, readers are appreciating these shorter works, too.

What’s your favorite story length for leisure reading? Or do you love the freedom to choose what’s best for your mood of the moment?

And stop by Lunch Time Reads at http://bit.ly/TYxidH , where you can find some great short stories by favorite authors, each for 99c.


Nancy Baggett said...

I guess my favorite length is a longish, but not exhausting novel--but I like fast-paced and tightly edited NOT longer due to padding! I used to love beautifully crafted, taut short stories, but you are right, they have been hard to find for quite a while.

pearl said...

Short stories have become my best source for trying new authors. Anthologies of short fiction allow me to sample new aspects of genres, leading me to some of my favorite authors of urban fantasy, which led me to steampunk and who knows where else next. Like you, I fell in love with sci-fi in my pre-teens, Andre Norton, Zenna Henderson, Anne McCaffrey, were my role models. I devoured anthologies of the golden age, so I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the short story.

Rebecca York said...

Pearl, I didn't know we had that in common. Adventures in Time and Space was a major influence on me!

Willa Blair said...

I read anthologies now and again, but really like a longer book. With short stories, I'm always left wondering what happens next.

That said, for travel, short stories are great.

Chassie West said...

I'm in awe of anyone able to write short. I've written only one novella, at my editor's request and still came in 5K words over the length requested. Managed to cut it down by 3K and that's how it went to press. It's a unique talent, but given how well you've done it, it gives me something to shoot for. The stories in Decorah Security Series are a perfect model. I'm waiting for the next one!

Toby Devens said...

I write novels and love reading them, but there's a special place in my heart for short stories. I loved the collections of my childhood and teen years: Salinger's "Nine Stories," each a gem; Updike, O'Hara, Cheever--many top novelists also wrote shorts. Decades back,some of mine appeared in McCalls, Family Circle and Ladies Home Journal. All the women's mags carried them. And then, except for literary journals, the shorts disappeared. They're back now. In collections like Nathan Englander's brilliant "For the Relief of Unbearable Urges." And independently, especially e-published. I really enjoyed your "Hot and Dangerous," Rebecca. It's a smart, sexy, action-packed quick read that jump-starts all kinds of hormones. Keep 'em coming.

Rebecca York said...

Thanks, Toby. One of the few things I have the rights to is a short story called Conquest, which I'm going to publish. I wrote it like a three-act play, where it dips into the lives of the characters at three crucial times.

Elizabeth Ashtree said...

I am always amazed by people who can write short. I have a hard time doing that. Guess I'm wordy. But more than that, I find it difficult to pack a whole story into a limited number of pages. Your short works are astounding in terms of the tension and plot you manage to pack into them. Kudos!

Rebecca York said...

Thanks, Elizabeth. It's a form I really like.