When is a mystery not a mystery? Obviously, when the mystery isn’t the point. Or the mystery.
Yes, that will require some explanation. It’s coming, but there are a few other things to cover first. Abe Aronson and Joanna Delvecchio are old lovers, as in both over fifty and they’ve been together for a long time. Abe is a retired history professor who attempts to brew beer, plays blues harmonica, and is writing a book on John Ball and the peasant’s rebellion. Joanna is a senior (as in ranking) flight attendant who likes to shoot hoops when she’s not worrying about her unhappy daughter, Lilly. Joanna is looking forward to her own retirement, after which she can fly anywhere in the world for free. They are almost but not quite living together in Abe’s home on an island off the coast in the Pacific Northwest. They are, in a word, comfortable with each other.
That comfort begins to unravel when, on a night out at the island’s only decent restaurant, they meet a new waitress named Lioness Lazos. She is, in a word, different, something that both Joanna and Abe realize right away. First, there’s her appearance, like someone who just stepped out of a painting by Botticelli. Her accent is unplaceable, she tells a story of her past which is almost but not entirely real, and in almost less time than it takes to tell about it, and at Joanna’s suggestion, she’s living in Abe’s garage. Then really odd things start to happen, like beautiful weather on the island, which isn’t known for this at all. And flowers blooming as they’ve never bloomed before, and Abe’s notoriously bad attempts at brewing beer suddenly start going right, and— Continue reading →
There was a time when I considered myself primarily a short story writer. I mean, other than the occasional review, that was mostly what I did and what I was, above all else and proud of it. This despite the fact that I had written over ten novels at the time, which of course I did not consider a contradiction. A story was a story, and some were longer than others. That was all there was to it, so far as I was concerned. However, I did have clear ideas about what was and was not a short story, none of which would fit into any academic definition. I knew one when I read one, contrariwise I knew when one wasn’t and tended to get a little miffed when I read a story in a magazine or collection, said story not living up to my own personal definition. “That’s not a short story, it’s an excerpt from a novel!” was my rallying cry.
So how did I know this? I didn’t, really. It was just something that seemed obvious to me. Someone clipped out a section of a novel, maybe smoothed the edges over a bit, emphasized the self-contained elements and downplayed those which implied matters outside itself in a cynical ploy to pick up a quick check and possibly some free advertising for the eventual book. Sometimes I’d give them a break because I knew the writer was primarily a novelist and probably couldn’t write a proper short story with a gun to their head. Ahem. As I said, it used to annoy me a little. I mean, if you’re in a short story market, write an actual short story, not this patchwork pretender!
Which is the title of my retelling of the Perseus and Medusa myth. It would have been the last story I published in Realms of Fantasy, only they folded before that happened. I decided to put it out there myself, since we don’t have a magazine that fills that niche any more. So try to imagine what it would have been like to read it there, with something like the illustration I chose for it. Good times.
Right at this moment I’m beginning to wonder if this blog post is going to get written today, or if it is, posted. Suffering from a wonky internet connection. We—okay, I—have gotten so dependent on this ephemeral flow of electrons that I now find it hard, creation-wise, to function without them.
Case in point, the illustration to the left. That is Skelos #1, a new magazine of dark and weird fiction from Skelos Press. I ordered a copy when I first heard about it, and I admit this was mostly from nostalgia. See, when I was first entering the field, there were no online magazines like Lightspeed or Beneath Ceaseless Skies. In fact, there was no “online.” There were personal computers of various sorts, and something called a BBS, which was basically a bunch of users clinging to one central computer via analog modem. Yes, I am THAT old. Regardless, magazines like Skelos were almost the only game in town if you wanted to write and sell(?) fantasy fiction. Pro level magazines did pop up from time to time. Most didn’t last long. Pro magazines like Weird Tales or Fantasy & Science Fiction were the exceptions, not the rule. There were a lot more pure SF magazines around, but they wouldn’t touch a fantasy story with a ten-foot cattle prod. So it was the amateur and semi-pro magazines that filled the gap. Most were shoestring affairs, everything from perfect bound presentation pieces to saddle-stitched fanzine level crap, published only as long as the creator’s energy and money held out. Names like Copper Toadstool, Fantasy Macabre, Whispers, Weirdbook, Space & Time. Some of those names you may know, since Weirdbook and Space & Time have resurfaced in new incarnations. I would have included Weird Tales in that, but it has apparently died yet again. Continue reading →
Whenever a thought occurs before posting, said thought being along the lines of “Who can I annoy today?” it’s probably a bad time to be posting anything. Yet I’m going to do both now and again, so best to get on with it.
I’ve been thinking of the short story again as it relates to novels, since I’ve had more than enough reason to consider both lately. I know we’ve been over this before, yet I can’t say that my basic position has changed. Which is: If you want to write novels, write novels. If you want to write short stories, write short stories. If you want to do both, well, come sit next to me and we can compare notes. I’ve also noted some discussion here and there on the idea of the “natural” novelist as opposed to the “natural” short story writer, the theory being that your brain’s wiring tends to push you in one direction or the other. I think it’s true up to a point. I know we can all think of examples of the brilliant short fiction writer who can’t do novels, and some novelists that wouldn’t recognize a short story if it bit their ankles. Yet I wonder how much of this is based in biology and how much is training and craft.
There was a time when whatever notice I’d gotten as a writer was for short stories. Then the Yamada Monogatari series transformed into a novel series and I haven’t published an original short story in two years. That has to change, or at least balance out a bit. I love short stories. I love to write them and (when I get the chance) to read them. Yet I’ve also loved a novel or two in my time and one of the very earliest pieces of writing I ever did turned out to be a novel. And I don’t claim to be a “natural” anything. It took me a lot of time and work to reach professional level at short fiction. Novels were no different. Like writing anything, it’s a learning curve and we learn by doing.
Some people still think that they should write short stories first because they’re stepping stones to novels. Like many cliches, there’s a grain of truth in it. Short stories can be a way to get your name in front of the readers. Also, there’s nothing like getting paid for something you’ve written to make one think, perhaps, you’re on the right track. You might even get the attention of book editors. Heaven knows it has happened before. But it’s just as likely you’ll publish short stories that vanish, as we’ve oft noted, “like rose petals in the Grand Canyon.” You’ll have spent months, years, perhaps decades doing something other than what you really want to do and be no closer to achieving it.