The Long and Short of It
People may or may not know that from a writing standpoint, my current work in progress is a short story collection. It is my first heavy foray into fiction, after publishing four memoirs and a handful of poetry books. I’d dabbled in it over the years, writing some short stories just to change things up, but it was never a full-on pursuit like this is. Fact is, I took all of those stories and am working them into this collection.
I have to say that it is exactly what I needed at this point in my writing. I’ve kind of run out of ideas for memoir at the moment, so figured I’d take on something different. I will probably return to it at some point but am enjoying the ride in the land of fiction for the moment.
I won’t lie though, at times it is way harder than memoir/nonfiction. Unlike memoir, none of it is done from memory, it is entirely new creation. It isn’t as easy as trying to remember a situation or a story and getting it down. I want to do justice to the genre and am learning a lot as I go. The thing about short stories are each is its own little novel. You need character, setting, conflict and resolution. The kicker is you need to do all of that within 5,000 words.
As it stands right now, I have 12 stories complete. Each of the 12 needs significant editing and rewrites, but I’ve fleshed out a dozen wildly different stories. I’d like to get about three or four more into the collection, so have my work cut out for me.
Part of the reason I took this left turn into fiction was for the challenge. I love to learn and stretch myself, and felt this direction might help do just that. I have a great online critique group that helps me flesh the stories out. They can be maddening at times because they’ll take a story and change it to the point that it needs significant rewrite. I struggle with it because I know of the work it will take to fix it, and I pit that against the fact that I know they are right – it will be a better story based on their recommendation. I’ve never taken constructive criticism personally because I know people are just trying to help.
I aspire to write a short story collection along the lines of Kim Suhr's book, Nothing to Lose or Chris Chambers' Kind of Blue. They are both local authors who I admire and respect and I look to their example for how to do it well.
So, stay tuned as I work through this first write and edit. I cannot imagine not having a writing project going on at any time. Between my submissions to magazines, entries into contests and ongoing book pursuits, it keeps me happy and off the streets!
Today’s musical reference is Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower, only because I respect his songwriting as much as any artist out there.