Hello awesome readers. Today I am delighted to share with you a special guest post about making the switch from writing novels to short stories. This inspirational and educational post is brought to us by one of our giveaway contributors, Eddie Generous.
Training the Brain for Shorts
Whether it’s Nanowrimo or the dream of seeing your name on the cover of thick hardbacks next to the stars of the industry, so many would-be authors start stringing words together with eyes on that minimum benchmark of 60K words, novel length. Once that’s done, for many it becomes a thing to baby, maybe eventually hate, maybe eventually sell, but it’s slow going and in the meantime, smart rookies keep writing, but jumping back into a novel right away can be daunting. Plus, who doesn’t want some quick gratification, and relatively quick publication?
Bring in the short story.
Now to write a good short story, one needs a voice that shines brightly, otherwise all the skills you honed while crafting the slow-burn long haul fall to the wayside and your stories drown in slush piles. To find a voice, it’s my opinion that nearly every author needs to try on the voices of other authors, as many different ones as possible, until little bits stick, a button here, a line of stitching there, patches, laces, et cetera, until you’re the sum of all you’ve read.
The trick is to read from out of your genre, away from your typical warm places. Trust me, enough early horror writers read like imitation Stephen Kings to fill a stadium (I focus on horror simply because that’s what dwells in the Unnerving slush pile). Reading King is great, particularly Night Shift as most of the stories were from a time when he was still just some dude named King and not yet the king, but it can show; you are what you eat and you write what you read (to paraphrase the great Annie Dillard).
So here are some stellar title recommendations of voices strong and lasting in the loose category of short stories.
To start is a set (I’ve only read part two, part one on my shelf, and with any luck I’ll get time to tackle it by the end of the year) of three collections of shorts by Annie Proulx, famous for The Shipping News and Brokeback Mountain. The stories in the second Wyoming Stories books are collectively enough to make you ask yourself why you’d ever bother writing anything because you’re trash next to these stories. Proulx is crisp in descriptions and harsh, but humorous in follow through where intended, and painfully real elsewhere. The Hellhole is one of my all-time favorite short stories.
First released in 1922, D.H. Lawrence’s England, My England is one of those collections that carries its weight through the decades with situations poignant and thrilling, but also odd and curious. His style is straightforward and yet literary, worth filling your head with his stuff.
Next up is Margaret Atwood’s best (in my opinion) collection, Wilderness Tips. Funny, disgusting, horrific, supernatural, human, this collection is a buffet of emotion, but offers finest qualities of short fiction and in a literary manner that doesn’t feel like work to read. Hairball is a story that has stuck with me for years.
Though not often deal with humans, Ursula K. LeGuin’s Changing Planes is lesson in writing humanities. Softer in word choices, yet bearing powerful undercurrents of injustice, pain, and death, these stories offer up vast worlds in very tight word counts. This is a collection full of heart and fantastical imagery.
Lastly, Sourland by Joyce Carol Oates is the closest of these recommendations to horror. And at times, this features full-bodied terror. It is the method and vessels of delivery that make this collection standout. The points of view are those of rarity: victims in mistaken identities, those living with physical obstruction, the elderly. Joyce Carol Oates gets into places most don’t go and builds palpable suspense.
As for straight up the alley of horror/thriller/noir/dark speculative, the Unnerving favorites, read The Collection by Bentley Little, Houses without Doors by Peter Straub, Slipping by Lauren Beukes, The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury, And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe by Gwendolyn Kiste, Companions in Ruin by Mark Allan Gunnells, Greener Pastures by Michael Wehunt, Bones are Made to be Broken by Paul Michael Anderson, Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk, The Books of Blood #4 & #5 by Clive Barker, A Soundless Dawn by Dustin LaValley, Baby Powder and Other Substances by John C. Foster, and Strange Highways by Dean Koontz.
Alternatively, you can always go ahead and grab Hardened Hearts for a sampling of voices and styles of contemporary dark literature. Maybe this shouldn’t be an alternatively, but I never was a great salesman.
17 stories of difficult love, broken hearts, lost hope, and discarded truths. Love brings pain, vulnerability, and demands of revenge. Hardened Hearts spills the sum of darkness and light concerning the measures of love; including works from Meg Elison, author of The Book of the Unnamed Midwife (Winner of the Philip K. Dick Award), Tom Deady, author of Haven (Winner of the Bram Stoker award for Superior Achievement in a First Novel), Gwendolyn Kiste, author of And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe and Pretty Marys All in a Row, and many more.
Hardened Hearts dips from speculative, horror, science fiction, fantasy, into literary and then out of the classifiable and into the waters of unpinned genres, but pure entertainment nonetheless.
FOREWORD – James Newman
IT BREAKS MY HEART TO WATCH YOU ROT – Somer Canon
WHAT IS LOVE? – Calvin Demmer
HEIRLOOM – Theresa Braun
THE RECLUSE – John Boden
40 WAYS TO LEAVE YOUR MONSTER LOVER – Gwendolyn Kiste
DOG TIRED – Eddie Generous
THE PINK BALLOON – Tom Deady
IT’S MY PARTY AND I’LL CRY IF I WANT TO – J.L. Knight
BURNING SAMANTHA – Scott Hallam
CONSUMED – Madhvi Ramani
CLASS OF 2000 – Robert Dean
LEARNING TO LOVE – Jennifer Williams
BROTHERS – Leo X. Robertson
PORCELAIN SKIN – Laura Blackwell
THE HEART OF THE ORCHARD – Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi
MEETING THE PARENTS – Sarah L. Johnson
MATCHMAKER – Meg Elison
Eddie Generous is the creator, editor, designer, and publisher of Unnerving and Unnerving Magazine. In early 2018, Hellbound Books is publishing a collection of his novelettes titled Dead is Dead, but Not Always, and also in 2018 he is teaming up with Mark Allan Gunnells and Renee Miller to release Splish, Slash, Takin’ a Bloodbath, a collection of short stories.
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