Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Long Short of it All

Ever since I was a young boy I’ve read just about everything I could get my hands on. From classic literature to horror and everything in between. Yes, including some romance tales. I didn’t really have a choice in that subject because I was pretty much raised in a house of women and when there was nothing else to read… well, I read what my family was reading.
            However; when I discovered I was old enough for a library card, be it at the public library or the school library, my appetite for reading increased exponentially. Yet it wasn’t until my sophomore year in High school that I discovered the joy of short stories. The book that started this passion rolling was from my English Lit class. I wish I could remember my teachers name but I can’t, he did however give us large, hard covered tomes bound in a denim like cloth. It was almost too big to carry. The damn thing must have weighed six pounds.
            The first story he assigned us to read was “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut. Now, up to that point in my life, my only exposure to Vonnegut had been Slaughterhouse Five, so when I read that particular short story about a future filled with dystopian equality and a rebel fighting his entire life to prove how wrong things were and to ultimately pay for his decision with his life, well, it just blew my hair back. After class, I quickly made my way to the school’s library and checked out every Vonnegut book in the library and over the course of a week I read them all.
            He, Kurt Vonnegut, became my all-time favorite writer. So much so that to this day, when perusing the shelves of used book stores and library book sales, I tend to purchase any copy I can find. Which has landed me several first editions of his work. I’ve still yet to get my hands on a signed book by him even though I’ve found them for sale, I just never have the money for them.
            Yet out of all of his works, it are his short stories I love the most. I read them all almost every year. I don’t do it all at once. No, I scatter them out through my days and savor each and every word he put down on paper. They are like plasma to me. So rich, so full, so mentally invigorating that each one has a special place in my heart.
            Which led me down a path of detective work. I sought out other writers I liked and their collected short stories. Any time I found one of those books, I immediately obtained it and read it cover to cover. Be the topic science fiction, horror, literature, and what I’ve come to know now as speculative fiction. They were all good and I never felt cheated by the tales not being longer. Even when I wanted them to be longer, I somehow understood that the author had told the tale he wanted and that was enough for me.
            That is when I started finding hints to other stories scattered amongst the short stories I was reading. It seemed to me, that the writers liked to take main characters from one tale and use them as secondary and tertiary characters in other stories. When I figured that out, I knew the stories never really ended… they just kept going with different protagonists. I was gleeful.
            Which brings me to five years ago, when an old navy pal of mine encouraged me to write, I didn’t sit down and think whether I’d be a novel writer or a short story writer. Nope, I just sat down and wrote the story I wanted. I let the story tell itself through me. And what I wrote were short stories. I didn’t realize at the time that the short story market was almost zero and so competitive that for every story published a thousand others slowly die of rot on computer files across the globe. To tell the truth, I didn’t really care then and I don’t really care now.
            Nope, I still write the tales and let them dictate the length. Also, I use what I’ve learned from the great writers of my youth. Write with as much passion as you can and don’t use too much unnecessary descriptive narrative or unnecessary dialogue. Get the tale written, down and dirty.
            Which is what I seem to do. For you see, last week I was invited into another anthology. When I read the pitch, I knew it was something I could do. So I readily agreed before I even had an inkling of an idea for a story. Yet, not thirty minutes later the idea had formed and I knew I was on the right track.
            Four writing sessions later I had typed “The End” on a ten thousand word short story. And, I’m happy with it. The only thing left is to have the editors go over it with red pens and then make the proper changes and the get it off to the publishers. Then the waiting game really begins. The release date and the paydays.
            However; I’m not too concerned withthe pay, no, I’m more concerned with getting a copy of the book in my grubby little fingers. Not for pride or bragging rights, no, I want to read the stories of the other writers in the anthology. I want to delve into the minds of my fellow page mates and see what they wrote and how they wrote their tales. I want to be stunned, amazed and impressed with the talent and skill of my fellow wordsmiths.
            Don’t get me wrong, I still read novels. I have fourteen bookshelves overflowing with books to prove that. It’s just that when I’m reading a novel, whether for the first time or the second time, I tend to read a paragraph or chapter, then reread it only on the second go through I skip over anything I feel is unnecessary. Which makes for quick reading on the second go around but takes me twice as long on the first reading.
            Now, this is not a criticism of any writers writing, no, it is just me putting myself in the writers place and trying to strip away everything I feel doesn’t need to be there and rewrite it in my own head. Some books you just can’t do that to though. For example, the unabridged edition of Stephen Kings “The Stand” or “It” are true masterpieces and I love every last word in them. Of course most of his work is like that. His “Firestarter” book is still one of my favorite and I’ve read that at least a dozen times.
            So, in conclusion, I like novels, I like short stories and I truly love the written word. It’s powerful and sparks a person’s imagination in ways that are rarely reached. I don’t know if I will ever write a full 300 page novel. I hope to one day. But for now, I will stick with the fact that I write the way I write and I allow the stories to flow from my muse and onto the page in a manner that is as true to the story as can be.

            Have a great week, now, go read some short stories.

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