If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.

July Interviews

7/1 Lena Gregory, Scone Cold Killer
7/8 Jessica Baker, Murder on the Flying Scotsman
7/15 TG Wolff, Driving Reign
7/22 Leslie Budewitz, The Solace of Bay Leaves
7/29 Cynthia Kuhn, The Study of Secrets

Saturday Guest Bloggers

7/11 Mark Dressler
7/18 James McCrone

WWK Bloggers:

7/4 Valerie Burns
7/25 Kait Carson


Congratulations to our two Silver Falchion Finalists Connie Berry and Debra Goldstein!

Paula Gail Benson's "Cosway's Confidence" placed second and Debra Goldstein's "Wabbit's Carat" received Honorable Mention in the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable 2020 short story contest. Congratulations, Paula and Debra!

Susan Van Kirk's Three May Keep A Secret has been republished by Harlequinn's Worldwide Mystery. The WWK interview about the book can be accessed here. We're so glad another publisher picked up this series.

KM Rockwood's "Burning Desire," and Paula Gail Benson's "Living One's Own Truth," have been published in the anthology Heartbreaks & Half-truths. Congratulations to all of the WWK writers.

Please join Margaret S. Hamilton's Kings River Life podcast of her short story "Busted at the Book Sale" here. Congratulations, Margaret!

Look Margaret S. Hamilton's short stories in the new Mid-Century Murder by Darkhouse Books. Margaret's story is titled "4BR/3.5BA Contemporary."

Grace Topping's second novel in Laura Bishop staging series, Staging Wars, was released by Henery Press on April 28th. Look for the interview here from April 29th.

Annette Dashofy's 10th Zoe Chambers mystery, Til Death, will be released on June 16th. Look for the interview here on June 17.


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Short Stories

I find that most people know what a story is until they sit down to write one.”
Flannery O'Connor
Flannery O’Connor, one of the favorite American short story writers, hit the nail on the head when she said that.
In the past few months, I have been working on short stories.
Three have been accepted for publication in various venues, one is still under consideration, and two have been rejected. Those I will reconsider, and may join a small group of stories I want to tweak again before I submit them.
Since I am always learning more about writing (not to mention pretty much everything else in my life) I decided to look at some of the most esteemed short stories published recently and, as they say in high school final exams, “compare and contrast” them to my writing and what I know about writing short stories.
Canadian author Alice Munro writes short stories, and she won a Nobel Peace Prize for Literature last year. Can’t be much more esteemed than that. I bought her book Runaway. I also bought a copy of The Best American Short Stories for 2013.
The first thing I learned is that I don’t know nearly as much about writing short stories as I thought I did. The second thing I learned is that when you’re really good, you can break the “rules” and the story can be better for it. That’s probably a matter of knowing the “rules” so thoroughly that you know when they need to be broken.
Alice Munro
And that illustrates one of the points. I go to great lengths to remain in POV, either 1st or 3rd person, and not stray into a 2nd person POV, even an impersonal one like in the paragraph above. But any number of the stories did just that. Maybe I should do some experimenting with it, especially in those situations where it seems to come naturally in the story and I have to go back and rewrite.
The Boston Globe said of Alice Munro, “Each of the stories in Runaway contains enough lived life to fill a typical novel.” Many of them encompass a span of years. I have a tendency to think of short stories as a snapshot, a view of life at an important time in that life, and most of mine happen in a brief period of time, often a few hours. Another thought for me to ponder.
I tend to think of some of the “rules” of writing as sacred, but the authors of these stories have other ideas. Vast amounts of exposition—telling, rather than showing—is present in many of them. As are adverbs—
even a fair number of Tom Swifties. Flashbacks and reminisces are common, as are scenes jumping around in time, and sometimes I have trouble sorting it out. Maybe I’m just not sophisticated enough a reader? And if so, how can I ever hope to be a decent writer?
One aspect of most of the stories is a change or growth in the characters, although many have endings that leave the reader hanging and not sure how the characters will implement their new-found truths, or even if they are aware of the change.
Art Taylor, who won the last Agatha award for short stories, has an article in the latest First Draft, a newsletter for the Guppies of Sisters in Crime. He gives a quote from John Updike:
I want stories to startle and engage me within the first few sentences, and in the middle to widen or deepen or sharpen my knowledge of human activity, and to end by giving me a sensation of completed statement.”
If you're interested in more on the same topic, an article in the New Haven Review covers this in much greater detail. Here's the link:

Do you like short stories, either to read or write? Do you think they need to follow “rules,” or do you think it's a matter of what works best for a particular author and story?


Gloria Alden said...

KM, I enjoy reading and sometimes writing short stories, although I spend more time working on my books than my short stories. I don't read as many short stories, either. I loved Flannery O'Connor when I read her stories for a class I took on her and Percy Walker. However, when one of my book clubs read Alice Munro's prize winning anthology, many didn't finish the book - I think I still had a couple more stories to go - because the endings were unsatisfactory, in our opinion. The writing was good, the beginnings and middles had us interested, but not the endings. That's rarely true with any mystery story I read most with a twist at the end. And now I'm off at a horribly early hour to catch a plane.

Jim Jackson said...

I find many modern short stories unsatisfying because they are navel-gazing rather than telling a story. As you mentioned they often do not have endings (or as Gloria's reading group called them unsatisfactory endings).

I want a beginning, middle and end with stuff that happens and people react to that stuff and each other

I’ve enjoyed Annie Proulx’s short stories a lot.

~ Jim

E. B. Davis said...

Short stories, like Art's, in the mystery genre, I like because most bring the reader to a finite conclusion. Those arty reads in the mainstream don't appeal to me even though the win awards. I stopped submitting to Glimmer Train for that reason. If I don't like what I'm reading, my fiction won't appeal to the publication. And I do like reading shorts.

On Flannery O'Connor--I think her shorts are overkill. Many of them I don't understand. "A Good Man Is Hard to Fine" was such an overstatement, I thought Flannery may have well taken a hammer to her readers' heads.

I'll shut up now.

Shari Randall said...

A good short story can have tremendous impact. I remember vividly so many short stories I read in school - Faulkner's A Rose for Emily, The Lottery, Leiningen Versus the Ants, To Build a Fire - they had all the elements that Updike spoke of, especially the "sensation of completed statement." And talk about startling!
So, yes, I do enjoy short stories, but I enjoy the ones that do adhere to Updike's rules. (I just didn't know it until now.) That sense of, shall we say, uncompleted statement, that we get in some stories, is unsatisfying for this reader.

Warren Bull said...

Short stories are satisfying to write and to read. It can be tricky to include an entire story arc in a relatively few words but when done well they can leave a lasting impression.

Paula Gail Benson said...

Thanks for this thoughtful post, Kathleen. I've learned so much about writing by concentrating on writing and reading short stories for the past two years. Making a short story satisfying is a delicate balancing act, but such a great accomplishment!

KM Rockwood said...

Gloria--I have to agree that I didn't care for the endings (or lack thereof) in most of Alice Munro's stories

Jim--great observation. I think the idea that a lot of modern stories are "navel-gazing" is very true. The characters can be so self-absorbed.

E.B.--I agree, stories like Art's are a much more satisfying read to me.

Shari--I don't mind open-ended stories to a certain extent, but I do agree that there needs to b a completed statement or I'm frustrated.

Warren--some of the stories that have stuck with me the longest are well-done short stories.

Paula--I think we've seen more and more authors writing short stories, and I hope they are becoming more popular, in all their forms.

Kara Cerise said...

Good question, KM. I don't know if all short stories should follow the rules. I think that might be creatively limiting.

However, I prefer to read short mystery stories with a character arc, even if it's a small one, and a satisfying ending.

Unknown said...

I have just opened up a blog specifically focusing on short stories! I would love for anyone who is kind at heart to stop by for a read, comment on what you like and don't like, and spread the word!


KM Rockwood said...

Kara--You're right, the rules are there to be applied or broken, ans appropriate, and truly skilled writers, who know the rules, know when to break them.

Neal---thanks for the information. I will definitely be checking this out.