Cherry Saturday, December 21, 2019

Today is Short Story Day.

Here’s the thing about short stories: They’re harder to write than novels. You have to do everything in a short story that you’d do in a novel, you just have 5% of the real estate to do it in. It’s like dancing on the head of a pin: you can do it, but you have to be very careful and constantly aware of the edges. I don’t think I’ve written more than fifteen or twenty short stories (some of them went immediately into the trash, so I can’t do a head count now) because it’s an impossible length for me. On the other hand, my creative writing mentor, Lee K Abbott, was born to write short stories so that even novella length was tough for him. It’s like the writing fairies give you a gift at birth–“This is going to be your natural length, kid”–and that’s where you’ll be in your writing life, sprinter or marathoner, already decided. Which may be why I think writing short stories is so hard, I just wasn’t born to do that. No, it’s because they’re short. You screw up in a novel, there are a lot more words to succeed with; you screw up with a short story, you’re done.

On the other hand, reading short stories is not only easier than reading a novel, it can be more pleasurable and infinitely more impactful (is that a word?) because they hit you like a bullet, hard and fast. My favorite short stories may not be the best stories ever written (although they’re damn good) but they’re the ones that stayed with me. Including but not limited to and in no particular order:

“Rape Fantasies” by Margaret Atwood
“Cathedral” by Raymond Carver
“The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” by Ursula K. Leguin
“The Waltz” by Dorothy Parker. (See also, “Just a Little One,” the best melding of comedy and tragedy in a short story)
“The Bedquilt” by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
“The Telltale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe
“A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner
“Hips” by Sandra Cisneros (Really, any story from The House on Mango Street)

I have so many more, but enough about me. What are your fave short stories? (And go here for a list of possibilities.)

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62 thoughts on “Cherry Saturday, December 21, 2019

  1. I mean it’s a cliche, but I really do love “The Gift of the Magi” this time of year. My father told it to me as a kind of parable long before I ever read it and I think that’s why it stuck with me.

    I also love some of Joyce Carol Oates’s twisty dark thriller short stories that get published in things like Ellery Queen Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. I can’t take reading something dark for a whole novel, but something short with a really good twist? Very satisfying.

  2. Reading short stories is much harder for me than reading novels. Most of the ones I’ve read, therefore, are SFF, because I just won’t make the effort elsewhere. Some of them have been worth it, but I can’t think of any right now.

    1. I also have difficulty with short stories. Either I like the characters and want a lot more of them, or there is otherwise not enough ‘there’ there, or maybe I am just difficult. I read a lot of SFF short stories in my teens because our high-school library had some of the collections. They didn’t have mystery collections and romance? Who puts romance in a high-school library? (insert sarcasm here)

      The only short-story collections I’ve read in the past two years were SFF. Naomi Novik (Temeraire) and Carrie Vaughn, whose ‘That Game We Played During the War’ remains on my Kindle.

      1. I feel much the same.
        The biggest exception I recall is a collection by Dick Francis called Field of 13. Although it came out in 1998, I still remember sitting on my sofa with tears running down my face as I read on of the stories. The memory of the day I read that story is so strong that although I have purged 2/3 of my mysteries over the years, my copy has survived all the moves and semi-annual purges since then.

        1. I have this book, but I remember being disappointed when I realized it was short stories. I’ll have to give it another try. I love Dick Francis in general, but I like to live in his world, and short stories don’t give me enough time there.

  3. Sinners, Saints, Dragons, and Haints, in the City Beneath the Still Waters By N. K. Jemisin. I think that’s the right title. The story haunts me. It’s about creatures in the flood waters after hurricane Katrina. From her book How Long Until Black Future Month?

    Edna Ferber’s The Afternoon of a Faun which recreates a time and a place I have never known but feels real and immediate.

    1. Oh and several stories by Joan Aiken that I read as a child and don’t know the names. There’s one about a girl who talks to her grandmother’s bees, one about skipping rope at the seaside, and another about a giant tree inside a house. There was a book I used to check out from the library as a child. I’ve never been able to find it since so I don’t know any of the titles but the stories were magical and their memory has never left me.

  4. Tell me a riddle. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking.
    In my mind I always group it with A River Runs Through It and I don’t know why as they are different lengths different topics different authors …but I have a favorite short story and a favorite novella and those are they.

  5. I think my favorite is James Thurber’s “Unicorn in the Garden.”

    I have hardly written any short stories either. I’m definitely a long form author. Although ironically, I just put out a mini-collection of short-short stories set in the Baba Yaga series world. Three of them (including a new one I wrote just for the collection) are set at Yule, so it seemed like a nice gift to my readers. I’m no James Thurber, but hopefully people will like them. (If I have any readers here, it is called Tiny Treasures.)

    1. Thanks for mentioning Tiny Treasures. I enjoyed your Baba Yaga and Riders’ books, so I’ll keep my eyes open for this one.
      I looked for it on Kobo just now, but apparently it’s not available to “the rest of the world” yet, or at least not through Kobo.

  6. Back in the day women’s magazines were my short stories go to place for reading material. The majority of them would have at least two stories per an edition. Good Housekeeping could be relied on to have also a novella included in each monthly copy. I do miss them so.

      1. That is how I found Mary Stewart, reading a piece of one of her novels in a magazine in the doctor’s office back in high school.

  7. The Lonely Sea: Collected Short Stories, Alistair MacLean. Wonderful, thrilling and evocative.
    Most of the short stories by E. Nesbit, Agatha Christie, Diana Wynne Jones, Georgette Heyer and Jeffrey Archer.
    The Just William stories by Richmal Crompton.

  8. For my short piece, not exactly a story, I am reading “From Nesselrode to Jeopardy” by S. J. Perelman and will share with you two sentences which establishes the perfect precepts to aspire to:

    “Not that money’s actually vital to my existence, mind you; one art I’ve mastered is how to make do with the absolute minimum. Given fair seats at the ballet, half a dozen friends with country houses from whom I can scrounge weekends, a few custom-tailored suits, some decent hand-lasted shoes -it’s a weakness, I know, but I’m fixated on good leather – and three months a year at Montreux or Bordighera, and I can live in a hole in the wall at the Crillon and rub along on a gigot and a crisp salad.”

  9. So agree. Writing short vs long stories is very different.

    A few years ago, I wrote a short holiday story for my mystery series specifically to challenge myself as a writer. Was very different experience from my long books. I found the book called The Art & Craft of the Short Story by Rick DeMarinis super helpful for me as I tried to hone my skills.

    I had written some short stories in the past but never drawing on a world and characters I’d already built in a series, which added a whole other layer to the challenge for me. In the end, I loved the process and have since added other short stories to my series. But I gave them different goals and more leeway for my MC, because as mysteries I knew they wouldn’t be “official cases” my MC had to solve but more “trouble she finds herself in” style.

    Now I like writing both the long books and the novellas and find the switch good for me. And if I believe my hubby, who says the short story writing has made me a better long story writer, than I count that as brownie points:)

  10. Generally, I fear short stories because a collection of them contains so many possible worlds that I may like, may hate, may find boring, or whatever — but I have to somehow commit to trying them all (or at least I start out feeling like I’ve committed.)

    But I will jump into collections from writers that I love because I feel they’ve already gained my trust and I will find worlds that are compatible, whether I realize it at the beginning of each story or not.

    My two favorites are stories by Ursula Le Guin. The first is “Winter’s King”, which carries a character from the setting of Left Hand of Darkness into the world of those outside that setting. It was very rewarding and unsettling to experience the change of pronouns, which Leguin had said she wished she’d done in the novel, but didn’t.

    Less of a challenge but more sweet and rewarding is “April in Paris” which is an accidental time travel story about an unhappy modern man who suddenly finds himself on fire and 500 years in the past, and how he finds love and friendship there. It makes me happy just to think of that story.

    1. After my first time visiting this discussion I queued up ‘The Wind’s Twelve Quarters’ which I’d downloaded on sale. And UKLG is a fine writer. However after finishing the collection I had to go straight to something with a happy ending because DAMN.

      From my reading journal: “a lot of Themes and Meanings … Generally speaking, a complex situation is described, someone is placed inside it, and then they go insane or are abandoned or die. One, I liked: April In Paris. It is about loneliness, solved by a time-travel-invoking incantation, and resolves to two human love affairs and a rescued dog.”

  11. Oh, my! As a writer in days of yore, I wrote mostly short stories or even shorter, flash fiction. I liked being limited to 1,000 words to tell the tale. I’d like to blame Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot, but that was just an influence, not the sole influence.

    Someone mentioned O Henry’s Gift of the Magi – definitely a favorite. If you ever saw a movie “I, Robot”, realize that it was loosely – exceedingly loosely – based on an anthology of short stories by Isaac Asimov. Or how about Flowers for Algernon that became the movie, “Charly”. The 1975 movie “Rollerball” was adapted from a short story, Roller Ball Murder. I used to read all the “Year’s Best Science Fiction” anthologies.

    Robert A. Heinlein, a Dean of American Science Fiction, wrote a lot of short stories. He had a table labeled “Future History” where he tied a lot of them together. One of my absolute favorites was The Menace from Earth. It’s a romance about young Holly Jones, future starship engineer and current tourist guide. She’s afraid she is losing her… partner… Jeff to the Menace, a beautiful actress named Ariel, a tourist from Earth. Love triumphs. Short story.

    Poul Anderson wrote short as well as long, and the first story in “The Trouble Twisters” taught me about constant width polygons. “Bwah?” you ask? Well, there was this radio trivia quiz that asked, “Why are manholes round?” Their answer (erroneous) was “It’s the only shape that you can’t turn on edge and drop into the manhole.” I called in and explained constant width polygons. They said Too Much Information and stuck by their answer, but I knew the truth!

    Stories. I like ’em short, I like ’em long, I like ’em whatever length it takes to tell.

    1. My favorite sf short story writer was Robert Sheckley.

      One day, my writer friend Alisa Kwitney came to stay and as we were driving to my house we started talking about our parents and the impact that they’d had on our writing, and she said that her father had been an SF writer. “I used to read a lot of SF,” I said. “Who was he?” Yep, Robert Sheckley. I almost drove off the road.

      Laura Resnick, another writer buddy who shows up here every now and then, is Mike Resnick’s kid.

      My dad was an electrician. Go figure.

      1. I had no idea Laura Resnick was Mike Resnick’s kid. I loved her Esther Diamond urban fantasy series. Disappearing Nightly is the first one and they’re really a lot of fun.

  12. I’ll be the odd writer out (I often am) and admit I love writing short stories. Not saying they’re necessarily good, and they’re definitely not deep, but I love writing them and the feedback is positive, so I think people enjoy reading them. For me, it’s a chance to play with just the tiniest bit of time, the tiniest problem, in my series characters’ lives (often secondary characters instead of primary) and get to know them better or to wrap up something left unresolved in the novels. Which reminds me I have a short story for the marriage proposal by a secondary character in the Danger Cove quilting series which I never used. I should probably put it at my website.

    If anyone’s interested, my latest short story (it’s close to flash fiction length) is “Who Let The Goats Out” and it’s posted at Dru’s Book Musing here: https://drusbookmusing.com/2019/08/07/matt-and-merle/ The characters are the significant-others of the two series protagonists I have for the Danger Cove series.

    If you want to see more, just go to drusbookmusing.com and put Gin Jones in the search engine. A few are character interviews, but most are bits of flash fiction.

    1. Nice advertisement, as well as nice story. I just bought Danger Cove Mystery Boxed sets, stories 1 through 20 in all. 🙂

  13. When I was in high school, I was reading voraciously, especially science fiction. I came across a book of short stories by H. Beam Piper, an author I was familiar with for his novels, so I took the plunge. The most memorable one for me was “He walked around the horses”, where a diplomat gets out of his coach, walks around the horses and disappears into a parallel universe. I don’t remember many of the details (although I just looked at the wikipedia article), but I remember being struck by this story, partially because it was told through correspondence.

  14. Just as there are long-form and short-form writers, I believe there can be long-form and short-form readers I’m Team Long Form. And, yes, I was scared when younger by an Eudora Welty short form and have never recovered.

  15. The short story that I remember most vividly is Roger Zelazny’s The Last Defender of Camelot, collected in Unicorn Variations. Really, all the stories in that collection are fabulous.

  16. I like reading short stories and I like writing them, although sometimes, they stretch a little in the writing, become novelettes or even novellas. But the short form seems easier for me to write than the novel length stories.

  17. That A, B, C, etc. writing exercise you shared was kick-ass.

    I can’t think of a short story, but Daniel Pinkwater’s slim “Young adult novel” is fantastically funny

  18. When I signed the contract for a book of Christmas short stories two years ago, I had no idea what I was in for: creating not one but more than twenty settings, finding names for a host of characters and making up their stories, and writing about Christmas during the hottest summer we ever had … and yet, it is a format which I like a lot, even if it’s so different from a 80,000-word novel.

    We read a lot of short stories in English class at school: E.A. Poe, Mark Twain, Ambrose Bierce. I also loved Thurber, Dorothy Parker and Lord Dunsany (is he known in the U.S. at all?) One of my all-time favorites is “The Invisible Japanese Gentlemen” by Graham Greene, and of course “The Camel’s Back” by F. Scott Fitzgerald – so very Southern Belle/ Roaring Twenties and yet so timeless! Must dig up my copy right now.

  19. I have always liked short stories, and they have been a lifesaver to help me get out of some serious reading slumps. Two this year I read that stuck with me were How Long Until Black Future Month? (N.K. Jemison) and Stories of Your Life and Others (Ted Chiang).

    I also love Lavar Burton Reads podcast, because a)Levar reads a short stories, and that man could read the phone book and I’d listen and b)I get introduced to so many new to me authors in a variety of genres. My favorite episode is “A Fable with Slips of White Paper Spilling from Pockets” by Kevin Brockmeier.

  20. It’s been ages since I’ve crocheted. I did m few blankets and shawls, but mostly I’ve knitted.

    Does anyone have recommendations for online tutorial videos? There are so many on YouTube, but does anyone have a favorite channel?

    Thanks!

  21. Two short stories I read in grade 10 stick in my mind even today. Both end with murder.
    Cannot remember the titles.

  22. Two short stories that wrung my heart out to dry were “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce; and “In the Gloaming” by Alice Dark. Both knock a punch

  23. I loved Asimov’s BLACK WIDOWERS mysteries and Heinlein’s “—And He Built a Crooked House—”, and “—All You Zombies—” are special favorites. Don’t know whether Eleanor Farjeon’s MARTIN PIPPIN IN THE APPLE ORCHARD is exactly the kind of short story collection anyone’s thinking of, but it’s a long-time favorite.

    1. I sold three articles to “Dragon Magazine”, published in issues 17 and 27, based on “—And He Built a Crooked House—”. The main article was “Tesseracts – or Driving Mapmakers Mad.” That one was reprinted in their first “Best of” edition, and later in “The Dragon Compendium” hardcover. Remember when Jenny advised, “Don’t sell your copyright”? I sold my copyright. I’ve always gotten a kick out of seeing the article reprinted, but never a dime for it. 🙂

      The article included a map, which paid extra… once.

  24. I like shorts but don’t generally remember them. But one of the ones Jenny mentioned, the LeGuin short about Omelas, is the one that has stuck with me for decades.

  25. I never liked short stories until I read Suleikha Snyder. Seriously. This means up to last year.

    I’m still very, very picky about which short stories I read and generally go past them to full-lengths.

  26. I teach lots of short stories in my high school English classes because my students are reluctant readers, and I like to have something we can read all together in class.

    That makes it hard for me to pick favorites, because I have spent so much time with some of them!

    This whole comment thread is a treasure trove of new stories to check out and reminders about stories I have loved.

    As for writing them, I have finished some short stories and have yet to finish and all, so perhaps that is my natural length? Ha ha .

    I signed up for a short story contest in the new year , NYC midnight. Information is here if anyone wants to join me: http://www.nycmidnight.com/

  27. I have a vote for favorite short story, “What We Wanted To Do” by Ron Carlson. Do I remember correctly that he was a teacher of Jenny’s? I heard this story when it was one of the acts of an episode of This American Life (Fiascos?), and I still can’t even think about how perfectly read this was without giggling. I was compelled to find the book (The Hotel Eden). Cheers.

    1. I took a seminar from Ron Carlson and he was brilliant.

      My favorite Carlson story: After one night class, we went to Larry’s, our local OSU dive bar, and took Ron with us. The rest of us went to our big table in back, but Ron sat down in a booth with complete strangers and said, “Hi, I’m Ron Carlson. Tell me your story.” And he moved from booth to booth asking people about themselves and people told him. It was amazing.

      The Don’t Look Down story is his, too. If you hit a snag while you’re writing, if you haven’t researched everything, don’t worry about it, “Don’t look down,” just keep writing, you can fix it later.

      My fave of his is “Bigfoot Stole My Wife.”

      https://www.bcsd.org/cms/lib/NY02212067/Centricity/Shared/Speech_Debate/Bigfoot%20Stole%20My%20Wife%20by%20Ron%20Carlson.pdf

      The guy is a great teacher and a terrific writer.

  28. One of the first short stories I remember impacting me was ‘All in a Summers Day’ by Ray Bradbury. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/All_Summer_in_a_Day
    It has an ambiguous ending which I remember infuriating me, but it has certainly stuck with me all these years!

    Another is Roald Dahl’s ‘Lamb to the Slaughter,” about a woman who kills her husband with a frozen leg of lamb and then proceeds to feed the now cooked murder instrument to the police investigators. Such black humour, and I so enjoyed the woman’s cleverness.

  29. I am sour about short stories in that the ones I was given to teach were by men of a certain era which were effective for teaching a high schooler how to read: Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner — they show up on the short story list that Jenny included in the beginning of this blog post. I became disaffected because I felt I was selling kids a very select line about what good writing is; because I was teaching them a system for finding answers instead of for finding questions; and, because women were absent, by and large.

    I like the fact that everyone’s posts invite delight and include many women’s writings.

  30. My all time favorite short story is “Jerry Was a Man” by Robert Heinlein. Lots of others of his would be on my list, but I’m getting old, and can’t remember as many titles as I once could.

    Ray Bradbury’s book The Martian Chronicles is full of wonders for me.

    Kipling’s The Jungle Book, Just So Stories, and The Second Jungle Book I read and reread as a child and young adult. Ditto the Sherlock Holmes stories.

    Edgar Allan Poe and Saki, both of whom I encountered in grade school, were great short story writers. So were C. M. Kornbluth and Keith Laumer.

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