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Viable Paradise 21 and More

by Jonathan 0 Comments

On Saturday, I’ll be heading up to Viable Paradise 21 on Martha’s Vineyard. When I got accepted back in July the feeling was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. That said, the workshop seemed a long way off.

Now it’s almost here and I have mixed emotions. Of course there’s the part of me that can’t wait. Then there’s a part of me that wants to keep it in the future indefinitely so I can always have it to look forward to. Ultimately it doesn’t matter either way. I must wait and it will come to pass. What I do while I’m there and after will ultimately define the experience. A week of immersion in all things writing is an amazing gift. Did I mention I can’t wait?

In the meantime I’ve been working on a couple of short stories and percolating ideas for still more. I’m toying with the idea of doing NaNoWriMo for the first time to hammer out the bones of a new novel. I’ll need to nail down some serious prep work if I want to make that happen.

I’ve been reading a ton of short stories this year and it’s been awesome. Digging into Paragons, Apex Magazine, The Weird, Worlds Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, Clarkesworld and more, I’m loving the form, where in the past I found myself ambivalent.

From a writing standpoint, as I mentioned in an earlier post, short stories have been a great test kitchen for story ideas while forcing me to use language more efficiently, to fully form story lines, and to layer in subtext. Another benefit is being able to finish stories and get them out on submission while moving on to the next one.

I’ve also worked through several novels in the past months including The Big Short, The Lies of Locke Lamora, Range of Ghosts, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Hammers on Bone, and Signal to Noise. I just fired up A Star Called Henry last night. So far so good.

I reckon the next time I check will be after Viable Paradise 21. Can’t wait to dig in and report back.


Missing Pages

Missing Pages - Photo by Diane Varner

A couple of weekends ago we had a yard sale. My Mom hauled her stuff to our house to join in the fun. In clearing out some of her stuff, she came across a book called The Short Story and Its Writer edited by Ann Charters and published by St. Martin’s Press and asked if I’d be interested in it. I flipped through the table of contents: Joseph Conrad, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Jorge Luis Borges and on and on.

I took it because the thought of such a variety of short stories at my fingertips was exciting. I recently started writing short stories and want to read as many examples from the masters as I can to learn and for the sake of the reading itself.

The first thing I wanted to read was Sean O’Faolain’s piece How to Write a Short Story. It sounded like just what I needed. On the way to that piece I was waylaid by Borges. I had never read any of his stuff, but I’ve read that he is not to be missed. I started reading The End of the Duel. Crazy stuff. Things were moving along, I became more engaged in the story, and then, just before the climactic scene, the story ended. I was confused. It didn’t seem like the story should have ended. In fact, there was no punctuation.

The pages had been torn out.

I was going to page forward to find the other Borges story and the O’Faolain piece and wouldn’t you know, about forty pages total were missing, including those.

I couldn’t help but wonder if the pages had been taken by someone too lazy to lug around a giant anthology or if it was someone who couldn’t afford the book and needed those pages. Something tells me it’s more like the former because there are other chunks strategically missing, including a chunk of Heart of Darkness, Turgenev’s Byezhin Prairie, Kipling’s The Wish House and still others.

What an ass bite.

My hope is that whoever took the stories loved them so much that they couldn’t live without them. My fear is that those pages are in some land fill somewhere or were used to start a bonfire for homecoming.

Fortunately there are plenty of other stories in the book, so I guess I shouldn’t go complaining too loudly that the free book I got is incomplete.

This led me to wonder if anyone else ever experienced anything like this. Have you ever settled in to enjoy something only to find it was incomplete or other than expected?

Writing Short Fiction with an Eye on Long Fiction

This Photo is Reminscent of My Current Short Story in Progress

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I’m in the process of wrapping up the second of two short stories that I’ve written in between drafts of Shadow of the Black City. With each short story I write, my awareness of things grows and my writing improves.¬† Things blurred in the murk of my peripheral awareness are coming into focus.

Right now I’m the equivalent of a guy in a blackout who just found the circuit breaker with a weak flashlight. That may be a bit of an overstatement, but with how much I’ve learned in the space of a few weeks, I can only imagine how much I still don’t know.

I want to see the whole house bathed in light.

What I’m suggesting is by no means novel (heh). Those who’ve written for a while and have explored the short story markets know of what I speak.

For me, the appeal of the short story is summed up by a couple of quotes from Janet Burroway in Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft:

The greater the limitation in time and space, the greater the necessity of the pace, sharpness, and density.


The form of the novel is an expanded short story form. It asks for a conflict, a crisis, and a resolution…

Sounds like stuff I want to do in my work whether regardless of the form. I love how the limitations of the short story force me to economize for effectiveness in plot, character and theme.

It’s also nice to take a break from the novel and explore unmapped areas of my imagination. Those forays into the unknown are great for churning up the subconscious and seeing what ideas arise. Writing begets more story ideas and better writing.

How can you lose?

Short Stories

by Jonathan 3 Comments
Here's hoping the bones of my next short story aren't so, um, combative.

Here's hoping the bones of my next short story aren't so, um, combative.

I wrapped up the first draft of my first novel three days ago. It felt good. Not great, but good. The following day, all I could think about was all the stuff that needed to be rethought, reworked and rewritten. The prospect of doing those things is daunting and exciting. I look forward to the revision process, but I also look forward to some weeks away from the novel.

To that end, I am working to stretch my short story muscles a bit. I’ve entered a few contests hosted by Jay Lake, Susan Adrian and Ken Scholes, but those were all of the flash variety. Until I started entering these contests, I hadn’t done much with short fiction since primary school. I am thankful opportunities like these exist. It is unlikely I would have written any short fiction while working on my novel if not for these authors’ offering incentive to do so. Now that I’ve done some, I’m encouraged to do more for the sake of writing. Prizes are nice (not that I’ve won any), but to explore short fiction can only help to better my writing.

Also, it is a nice break from working on one concept to explore many. The challenge for me will be to see if I can convey the feelings, tones, characters and stories economically. Today I’m mapping out the bones of a fantasy short story, probably something in the 3,000 to 6,000 word range. I’m trying out some tools I’ve come across with regard to setting up the story, so it’s an exercise of sorts. It’s also an exercise I plan to submit for publication.