They Didn't Ask Me (dr_phil_physics) wrote,
They Didn't Ask Me
dr_phil_physics

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Short Story Thoughts

Food For Thought

Found via Locus Online, Paul Kincaid's Science Fiction Skeptic on Bookslut, writing about What Won't Sell:

A nice piece giving the pro and cons one hears about the life and death of the short story, particularly when it comes to SF and genre. Kincaid starts with a really nice historical note:

The short story was invented in 1884. Well, no, of course it wasn’t; there had been all sorts of stories, long and short, before that, but they tended to be called things like "tales." The term "short story," or "Short-story" as it was first presented, came from the American critic Brander Matthews in an article in Saturday Review in July 1884 in which he argued that it was a distinctive literary form in its own right. Quite how the short story is distinguished from the novel in anything other than length is something I’m not going to go into here, mostly because I don’t know and believe me there are many volumes of critical texts to muddy the waters as much as you like.

I discovered this fascinating literary historical snippet in Peter Keating’s superb study of late-Victorian and Edwardian literature, The Haunted Study, where I also discovered that within a year or so of the short story being "invented" publishers were sucking their teeth and shaking their heads and muttering, "They don’t sell, you know."


Ah, nice to know that the more things change, the more they stay the same. But we really knew that, didn't we? He then picks on the assertion that short stories don't sell, and names a number of the late-Victorian and Edwardian writers whose fame today is all based on the short story -- even in serial and episodic publication, such as the Sherlock Holmes stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. And then we get the sentence which I must confess is near and dear to my own heart:

And the short story is a form that seems particularly well suited to science fiction.


I freely admit I'm not really a short story writer. Left to my own devices, my stories tend to sprawl and become unwieldy, though part of that is poor editing -- there are things which are useful for me to know, and I suppose the characters, but not the general reader. Still, I like long sprawling epic stories, so I suppose it's no surprise that I aspire to write them.

My problem is that it is really hard to get a big sprawling epic SF novel(s) published by an unknown. No, I haven't actually tried it yet, because I haven't decided that the cost-benefit ratio is worth me taking the time to fully finish and edit a novel, let alone ship one. Instead, I took it upon myself to start writing shorter works, and after showing some promise, applied to and attended the 2004 Clarion workshop. There the instructors over the six weeks told me, "Dr. Phil, you should really be writing SF novels, not short stories." And I agreed, but then laid out my plans to be able to go to a book publisher with a few publishing credits under my belt, so I'd not get too lost in the slush heap. And they thought that was actually a plan.

Which Leads Us To The Market Situations

Filled with doom and gloom, there are those who say that SF/F/H short story markets are dead, or even that short stories are dead. But Paul Kincaid's piece does a nice job of showing just what a muddle the whole business is -- you can prove your points either way.

Actually, this has been a good week for people writing about writing -- so many things I've run across, that I probably haven't made note files for all the good comments. Here's a link to jimhines Jim C. Hines' piece on Self-Publishing.

As Jim freely admits, self-publishing is a lightning rod/third rail sort of topic, quick to get opinions from all over. He takes pains to point out that some of the commonly quoted examples are not really relevant for those of us writing genre fiction -- the success of selling non-fiction or poetry by self-publishing doesn't really apply. And in fact, his big objection is not so much the self-publishing aspect of it, as the predatory sales tactics of some and the way that some abuse the poor hopes of the damned (my words -- grin).

And By The Way...

Speaking of author Jim C. Hines and genre short stories, his short story "The Haunting of Jig's Ear" appears in the new Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine issue #31. Jig is Jim's goblin character and he's having a hard time of it here, with a lovely little surprise at the end. I've said it before, ASIM is a very interesting Australian publication, and it is well worth it to get a subscription. And of course, I'm supposed to have a piece in issue #34 in the spring... (grin)

Dr. Phil
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