We asked our contributing authors Dale Carothers, Erica L. Satifka, Naomi Libicki, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Ferrett Steinmetz and Peter Andrews some questions.
What do you like about writing short fiction?
It all comes down to the sense of wonder that I get when I write about new worlds and cultures.
Writing short stories is a great idea for those who are easily bored and distracted. By the time you're sick of writing a short story, it's almost over!
Aside from what I like about writing fiction generally? Well, a) I can finish a short story, and b) I can finish a short story while raising a small child.
Short fiction is less of a time commitment than a novel, and you can do lots of different things with it. It's a brief encounter you can handle lots of different ways. I think I've heard Kate Wilhelm say a novel opens a door to another world, and with short fiction, you're just peeking through the keyhole. I like peeking.
I like the challenge of trying to create someone interesting in the space of basically a chapter or two. I'm writing short stories these days as a way of learning compactness - and there's no greater way of doing that than trying to compress one of the most significant moments in a character's life into a couple of thousand words. Which I can't always do. Or do correctly. Or do well.
Sometimes a short story is a tap on the shoulder. Sometimes it's a peck on the cheek. Sometimes you just get grabbed from behind and wrestled to the ground. A good tale comes as a whole, with an opening sentence, a series of twists and turns and an ending that lingers. I can't write checks, answer a question or even pet the cats when a short story visits. (The cats, in any case, run away when they see me pacing, mumbling and tapping at my keyboard.) You can feed the characters in novels and scripts a bit at a time, but short stories, once you look their way, demand your full attention.
In eighth grade, Sister Marie Evelyn read pieces by Poe and Thurber from start to finish (I think without taking a breath). I've been hooked ever since. The combination of narrative, mood and the sheer music of words is wound into my DNA by now. I couldn't step away from short stories, even if I wanted to. (And I've tried.)
When my left brain responds, it provides reasons for writing short stories. With longer works, you can get away with more, but short stories keep you sharp since every word counts. If a short story "fails," it's a small investment. You can just move on. It's much easier to get feedback on short stories than it is a novel because more readers are willing to give you that sliver of time. And they are responding to a complete work, not a chapter. Most of all, short stories can be your laboratory. Experiment with unreliable narrators. Go nonlinear. Turn a well-structured story up-side-down. (My current passion. You know how It's a Wonderful Life" inverted A Christmas Carol? I just did the same for The Cask of Amontillado.)
I love the way characters in novels argue with you when you try to put words in their mouths. I love the economy and insistent structure of a screenplay. I love what happens when an actor interprets the words of a play. But, even though it is harder to keep a story from rambling as I get older, I do like writing short stories best.
What have you realized about yourself through writing?
Writing keeps me both happy and sane. It's the most gratifying intellectual & creative challenge I've ever experienced.
That I would rather write than "be a writer," and that those two things are not exactly the same thing. Also, it's okay if your writing habits are not the same as someone else's writing habits. Really, it is.
I've realized the time I spend asleep and dreaming is actually productive time and should be maximized.
Most of what I know about myself I found out through writing. Writing is a way to get in touch with the subconscious -- kind of an altered state, where things rise up from the dark pool and flow out through the fingers, and later you look at what you've written and wonder, what the heck was =that=?
Endurance. When you're trying to write professionally, unless you're very lucky, there's a long dry desert ahead of you where you write and improve and write and improve and write and improve, and because you're not quite there yet you must subsist on nothing but the barest handful of praise, washed down with sandy rejections. Yet you must endure. You will improve. Or so I am told.
Writing directed me not to be a computer programmer. I have a natural talent for numbers, puzzles and the abstract, and I can totally and happily lose myself in right brain activities. (I may be the only person who admits to enjoying doing his taxes.) The problem is that going in this direction turns me into a nonverbal, antisocial person. Writing, on the other hand, heightens my sensitivity and my attention to emotions (my own and others). It humanizes me (except when I am actually in the process of writing). It increases my interest in and understanding of other people.
What are you working on now?
I'm writing my first fantasy novel and I have several more short stories in the works.
More short stories, a new issue of my zine "Breakfast at Twilight," the day to day operations of Black Light Diner Distro, and the care and feeding of four small felines.
A YA fantasy novel that I've been working on on and off forever, a short story or possibly a novella about an interspecies linguist vs. a shadowy government organization, and a comic about a boy and his balloon animals who fight crime.
Right now I'm working on a couple of short stories, but when November arrives, I'm going to plunge into NaNoWriMo. I don't have a plan, a plot, or a character yet. This will be the third time I've done NaNoWriMo. I haven't completed a novel yet, but I've come up with things that please me, and the exercise helps me remember how fun writing can be.
Many, many stories. The last two I finished were the tale of a monstrous squid trapped in the moat of a madman, and a girl with a frozen great-grandfather in her living room. I'll probably be writing on the secret fractalline nature of the Dewey Decimal System next week, or perhaps a Muslim personality recreator. Who knows? Let's shake up the ol' neurons and see what escapes.
Until the severance check runs out, I'm a full-time writer. My goal is 10,000 words per week, and I've been keeping that up pretty steadily for most of the past year. This means I have a lot of projects that are in progress. I'm rewriting Warriors, a screenplay based on real white hat hacking adventures. Reworking Lucky Numbers, a novel I wrote with my wife, will commence when the editor who asked for it gives us the thumbs up. Another novel, The Charm Offensive, is well underway, and I am collaborating with an artist on a graphic novel, Zeitgeist Rangers. A full-length play, Timing and Balance, is fermenting in the meantime.