As for the short stuff—no, that is not a reference to those of us Wenches who are below the average height, or as we prefer, “vertically challenged.” <g> Instead, I’m talking about short stories.
Specifically, I’m talking about ENCHANTMENT PLACE, a new DAW fantasy anthology that I’m in. http://tinyurl.com/6jleqx DAW publishes a number of such anthologies, often packaged by TeknoBooks and edited by Denise Little, one of my all-time fave editors. Here’s Denise’s recent ninc.com blog on how packaging works. http://tinyurl.com/5laa53
I did my first story for Denise several years ago in CONSTELLATION OF CATS. It involved cats and astrology, and since we frequently swap cat stories, she thought I might be interested. I’d never written a short story, I’d never written fantasy, and as Denise pointed out, the money generated would maybe buy a nice dinner for two if you went light on the wine. How could I resist?
I decided to dedicate an afternoon to seeing if I could whack my silly idea into shape. Four hours later, I had a draft of “The Stargazer’s Familiar,” and my career in fantasy was born. (I loved that anthology’s cover! So much fun.)
Last year, when I returned to writing classical historicals, I knew I’d miss fantasy, so I e-mailed Denise and asked if she had any upcoming anthologies where I might fit? She responded with ENCHANTMENT PLACE, which is a Chicago mall where the magical do their shopping.
In a charming intro to EC, Denise explained how she was shopping with her sister, a Texas mall queen, and speculating on where vampires and werewolves and unicorns bought what they needed. Her sister said off-handedly, “Let them get their own mall!” Thus are great ideas born. <g>
My particular story, “Shining On,” has a thoroughly human protagonist in Roy Blake, combat veteran and shoe shiner, and it ended up being the first in the anthology because it’s a pretty good intro to the mall. Not that I intended that—I was just having fun. And being a romance writer, my story ended up having romance in it, too.
I just received my copy, and the stories I’ve read so far have been a hoot. There’s something about a magical mall that induces a light touch. Those of you who know the work of Esther Friesner, fantasy auteur and lover of hamsters, will not be surprised to learn that the key familiar in the shop that sells familiars is a hamster. <g> The ever hilarious funny Laura Resnick’s slacker heroine makes the mistake of reorganizing the mall deli and ends up the feds and vampire mafia chasing her. So if any of you are looking for some fun short stories (17 in this particular anthology), get a copy of ENCHANTMENT PLACE. It should be good for quite a few chuckles.
By the way, did you know that a ‘collection’ is all work by one author while an anthology is many different authors? I didn’t until recently—the terms are often used interchangeably. But I digress.
Besides flogging ENCHANTMENT PLACE, I thought this would be a good time to ruminate on the value of writing shorter works. Some authors have a gift for writing short, others naturally write long. But even for people like me who write long, it’s delightful to occasionally do something different. A short story can be like a bite of sorbet to clear the palate between courses in an upscale restaurant.
Purely by coincidence, as I was thinking that, my friend Laura Resnick e-mailed:
“…I just read “Shining On.” ….What was really interesting to me is how different it is from your romance or novelist voice. Pretty much any MJP book I pick up, I’d know within a few pages who wrote it, or I would AT LEAST say, “This sounds like Mary Jo.” Same way with many good authors—you can just tell who’s telling the story. But I really don’t think I could have guessed who wrote this story. Similar style in terms of specific word choice and elegant sentence structure, but that wouldn’t have been nearly enough of a clue. So I can see why the short fic in sf/f would be a fun variation for you, because it’s a chance to experiment with different voices, as well as different styles and themes.”
“I’d have sworn a man wrote it. Not because it was a male POV, but because it read to me like a man’s voice–a male writer’s voice. Even in your male POV in romance, I don’t feel as if we’ve switched to a male voice, just a male POV. There was also more edge than your romance voice has—say, a touch of sarcasm or cynicism that isn’t part of your romance voice….this had a pragmatic, sturdy tone that’s not as familiar to me.”
I found her comments interesting because it’s hard to hear one’s own voice. I have found that when I do a short fantasy, I seem to slip into first person/male/humorous and possibly feline. I don’t think I could sustain the voice very long, but for something short, my army Ranger, shoe shiner, and highly adaptable guy voice came very naturally.
I never write first person otherwise—I would have trouble staying that focused, I suspect. Maybe jumping into first person for these short stories feels natural because it enables one to nail a lot of set-up and characterization very efficiently?
Short stories have a very distinguished literary pedigree. In rarified literary circles, there are writers who have built entire careers on exquisitely chiseled stories where every word is as carefully chosen as the perfect diamond for an engagement ring. The story may or may not be actually about anything, but it is beautifully written.
Then there are genre stories, of which there is a long and healthy tradition in mystery and sff. There are authors whose whole careers have been spent writing sff stories, and they’re well respected in the field.
But of short romance stories—not so much. What romance has is novella anthologies, and for very good reason. In mystery or sff, a good story can be spun from an idea. But romance is all about the characterization. It takes time—words—to create characters, conflict, and to build a believable relationship. So romance anthologies usually have three or four stories, not twenty. And it’s not uncommon to have ‘reunion’ stories where the characters need to sort out an existing relationship, so the work of developing the relationship (and straining it) takes place before the story even starts.
It’s possible to do a romantic short story—my “Shining On” is romantic—but it not a true romance because it just sketches out the characters and the potential ahead of them.
We Wenches are major producers of romance novellas. We’ve all done them. Wench Edith and Mary Balogh are the queens of Regency romance novellas, and both have had collections of novellas published. (Edith’s is the lovely A LOVE FOR ALL SEASONS.) Romance publishers often use anthologies as marketing tools, pairing a well-known author from their house with several authors who are lower on the list who will benefit by being exposed to a larger audience.
And authors like doing them because—well, they’re fun. A chance to do something different. To give a happy ending to a minor character from a novel. To use an idea that isn’t big enough for a novel, but which the writer really wants to write.
So how do you feel about short romances? Do you like novellas? Are there some in particular you remember with great fondness? Or are they just too short to be fun?