Monday, March 22, 2010

linked short stories--still uncool? (Your Questions continued)

Ashley A asks, Do linked short stories still make you really fucking mad?

Ashley found this post of mine, from almost three years ago. Re-reading it, I remember how furious I was that day I wrote that.

Ashley, to answer your question, no, linked short story collections don't make me angry anymore. In fact, now I read them for fun. I personally don't love them as much as novels--I find it's too easy for me to disengage after one story ends, whereas I have an OCD compulsion to finish a novel--but I have read some really great ones in the last year. Some examples that spring to mind are Joan Silber's Size of the World, Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth, and Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge.

In terms of acquisitions, I think the climate has changed lately in favor of short stories. They are still a very, very difficult sell, but hey, so are debut novels (to be fair, story collections are still harder). But Strout's Pulitzer in 2008 and Lahiri's unprecedented debut as #1 on the NYT list the same year have made publishers and readers both realize they don't need to think of the short story as a strictly hoity-toity genre. A friend of mine predicted the Era of the Short Story is still to come--in a couple years, she thinks, there will be even more marketing and award attention for them. I guess we'll see.

So I'll throw this out to the blogosphere. Do you guys read short stories? Do you buy collections of them?

Do you ever get pissed that people just don't get it that most things need more butter and more salt? Is there anything that can't be made even better with salt and butter? I'm serious. Thank you.

I can't think of a single thing. The other day, the RM taught me to put butter and salt in my oatmeal. SO DELICIOUS.

40 comments:

Empress Awesome said...

Buuuuutter!

Thanks all I gotta say.

Christi Goddard said...

I have two short story collections. One had an intro written by Dean Koontz. The stories inside were pretty good, but from authors I've never heard of. The other was a collection of Dean Koontz's short stories that he wrote before he became famous. They were okay but not fabulous, and I'm a huge fan.

I read short stories in magazines, but more than that I don't see myself buying a short story collection unless the premise was really awesome. One exception: There's a werewolf Christmas book that piqued my interest that I still need to look into.

hampshireflyer said...

I read a lot of sf and fantasy, so I actually would buy these - if I've enjoyed the voice and the setting the first time, then the chances are I'm going to again. (One thing I'm really looking forward to catching up with at the moment is Cathrynne M Valente's The Orphan's Tales, which is one - or two - of these...)

Erin McGuire said...

I loved both Jhumpa Lahiri short story collections. I also liked Daniel Handler's (Lemony Snicket!) Adverbs. Does David Sedaris count?

Lisa_Gibson said...

I've always added salt, butter and some milk to my oatmeal. Yum! Occasionally a bit of honey as well.
I like short stories too, just not in my oatmeal. ;)

_*rachel*_ said...

Well, I'm a sucker for The Martian Chronicles, and The Joy Luck Club did pretty well.

So, do I read short stories? Some, mostly when I'm looking for a place to submit my own and end up in the stories part of the magazine whose guidelines I was reading.

Do I buy collections of linked short stories? Eh. Show me a collection that makes me want to part with a heap of money and I will. For me, it's challenge enough to buy new a novel I've never read.

Laurel said...

I'm seeing short story anthologies as a vehicle for more backstory to successful series. Ancillary character who doesn't get a whole book? Whatever happened that weekend that Mister X was out of town? Write a short story about it!

The other avenue I see for these (and where I've bought them) are eBooks. Novel length is usually $7- $10. Short stories go for anywhere from $1.99-3.00. That's if you don't find them as bonus material on an author website.

Theresa Milstein said...

Salt and butter make almost everything better.

I used to read short stories, but I liken them to being on a diet - I'm left wanting more. Longer pieces tend to have more closure.

Simon Hay Soul Healer said...

Butter and salt doesn't make smoked kahawai taste any better. Cook a fillet of fish in butter, but keep the butter away from kahawai smoked with manuka or pohutakawa.

Lisa K. said...

As a short story writer myself, yes, I absolutely do read short stories. I tend to prefer anthologies to single-author collections though. The only collection of linked stories I really enjoyed was a collection by Margaret Atwood a few years back (can't remember the title though), which was an amazing collection.

Linda said...

Yep. I read them. I buy them. I write them. I've got Lydia Davis' Collected IN MY LAP as I type this, and Amy Hempel on the bookshelf. I write a flash fiction piece many Fridays for #fridayflash, and hang out in the cyber-zines because that's where much of the best short fiction is found.

The BEST book I've read yet this year is Colum McCann's LET THE GREAT WORLD SPIN. But you know that already ;^)

Olve Kitteridge is on my kindle, waiting for consumption next week while on vacay.

Short fiction, done well, is like a perfect petit four -- sweet, satisfying, and easily digested.

Peace, Linda

Ashley A. said...

Aaahh. Thank you, Moon Rat!

Thank you commenters.

I will keep checking back here to read every follow-up thing you have to say. What an exciting literary world this is.

And buttery. Salty, buttery world.

Katherine said...

I love short stories. I love novels, too, but I do love short stories. Jorge Borges is one of my favourite authors. I have a some SF short story collections (James Tiptree Jr. and Ursula K. Leguin especially) where the short stories can give some longer works a run for their money on power and relevance. I have three literary magazine subscriptions just because I prefer to read short works during my commute.

I do love novels, like I said -- but they're a different kind of read. I mean, it's like fighting over whether oatmeal is better with butter and salt or with brown sugar. They're both good, but it depends on what kind of mood you're in.

Bethany said...

I should be more interested in the first question since I'm working on a short story collection. But I force all things to compete and the second question was hilariously non sequitor (though that may not be entirely attributable to the questioner), so the second question wins.

clindsay said...

I personally don't enjoy short fiction. I try. There are a few writers whose short fiction I'll read but usually because I discovered them either as a novel writer first (like China Mieville) or as a poet (like Dylan Thomas. But I just become frustrated by most short fiction.

The one exception is flash fiction; stories that are 1500 words or less. There's some great stuff out there in flash fiction and I really see it as an untapped art form.

Amy said...

Tim Winton (Australian) has some great short story collections, and they are linked in the most complicated ways. They actually do well as repeat reads, you get the most out of them that way. I'm thinking of Scission, Minimum of Two and The Turning. There may be more.
And on the butter thing? Popcorn sounds great right now!

Laura said...

I love short story collections. I tend to buy the ones with multiple contributing authors, although I've bought short story collections by a single author that I really adore.

The reason I love them so much? Because they're perfect for a brief respite from life. It takes me a little over a day to finish a nice, hefty book, but I usually disengage from life while reading it. No cooking, cleaning, conversations, etc.

On the flip side, I buzz through a short story in little to no time. It doesn't take up huge swathes of my day, doesn't irritate everyone around me because I have a hard time surfacing from the text, and the collections usually introduce me to new and awesome authors.

I love short story collections so much. Oooh, you should read "Legends" and "Legends II." Those are two very awesome collections with an incredible idea behind them: Take already well-known authors with beloved series and lots of fans, and have them set short stories in one of their published universes.

Brilliant.

Kate Evangelista said...

Now that I think about it, nope. I like novels better. Short story collections make me think of English class.

Ashley A. said...

Katherine:

Butter, salt AND brown sugar. Swear.

S.K. Azoulay said...

I read a lot of short stories, and usually buy (and eventually read) collected editions which include the complete short stories of certain writers I admire (Kafka, Borges, Carver, Nabokov, Malamud, Hemingway, Babel, Beckett, Flannery O'Connor, I could go on). My particular version of OCD means I have to read the whole collection, even if it is terrible (e.g. Grace Paley's Collected Stories).

By the way, I'm also working on a collection of linked short stories, but I wouldn't dream of trying to sell it as a debut work. Luckily, I have a completed novel and another in the works. I'm saving the short stories for that point in time when a publisher begs me for new work. That point will come, right?

CKHB said...

I do read short stories, linked or otherwise, but I'm also the kind of person who applies to get into an MFA program, so I recognize that I'm not normal.

I once bought about five giant collections of short stories at once, causing the bookstore checkout clerk to ask me if buying that much paper didn't in fact defeat the purpose of SHORT stories...

Jaleh D said...

I'm more of a novel reader (and writer), but there is something about short stories that I admire. A couple good short story anthologies I've read and enjoyed are Patricia Wrede's Book of Enchantments (all by her) and Marion Zimmer Bradley's Sword and Sorcery XVI (she edited). Good stuff there. You can reviews of them on my blog.

Miss Alice said...

I love short stories - have done since I tripped over a volume of Chekov as a teenager, and I wish there were more of them in print. One of the real joys of epublishing is the sudden availability of more short stories and novellas as stand alone works.

I love a well done set of interlinking short stories even more than I like single short stories, although I must admit I'm more likely to pick up a volume of short stories by several authors I've never heard of, assuming the theme looks good, than I am volume of unrelated short stories by a single author I don't know.

Glynis said...

I tend read short stories in the Spring. I think it is because I am so active cleaning house. I get prepared for a long hot summer of novel reading.

ClothDragon said...

I'm having a small difficulty in that I only rarely like short stories, but I'm making an effort to write shorts for a while. I want to practice endings and that's easier when you don't have to write 60,000 words for each ending -- or at least that was my thought process on the matter. I've subscribed to two short story magazines and in each issue I seem to find one story I really like but they still don't thrill me.

Butter though.... I think there is nothing that can't be made better with butter. I have to be careful with the salt though. Hubby has blood pressure issues.

fshk said...

I don't read a lot of short stories (which I say, but I have a whole shelf full of anthologies, although most I never made it all the way through). But if there's to be a Time of the Short Story, I think it will be ushered in via ebook. Obviously, it's not cost effective to release short stories one at a time in print, but as an ebook, it's viable. Same deal with shorter novels and novellas.

Jess Haines said...

I'm not big on writing short stories (though that's not to say I haven't).

However, I read them often. I'm subscribed to a service that sends short stories via email every day. Plus I have a few collections scattered throughout my mountains of books at home.

-J

Suze said...

The only short stories I've ever read were ones required for a course. That said, my nephew reads short story collections like they're candy.

jjdebenedictis said...

Salt does not make chocolate better. Butter is okay. Have I found an exception to the rule? You know I view these things as a challenge.

Sara J. Henry said...

Forget the butter and salt in oatmeal - add crunchy peanut butter. Delicious and very satisfying.

Ashley A. said...

jjdebenedictis:
chocolate sea salt caramels!
chocolate + caramel (butter) + salt = YUM

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I'm admittedly biased toward short stories, but in my genre SF/F, it's long been a staple. I think short stories will go gangbusters online as time and attention spans grow shorter. In fact, my most recent short story sale, a friend's kid read on my phone. I thought that was pretty cool.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

Oh, and I would highly recommend Paulo Bacigulupi's PUMP SIX for some of the best shorts around today. But there's really no excuse to buy - there are incredible short stories for free online: Big Pulp is a staple for multi-genre stories, Spinetingler (and of course my own Electric Spec). I'm also hearing awesome stuff about Crimefactory, a noir/crime zine.

I love me some linked stories. I'd love to read more, and I'm even writing some, though I'm selling them all separately.

Horserider said...

Very, very, very rarely do I read short story collections. I don't have access to that many and most of the time my To Be Read pile is high enough as it is. I rarely have enough money to buy novels so I'm not likely to be buying a short story collection unless it really catches my attention.

Maria said...

I decided I needed to learn the short story form to improve my writing--and try to get a writing credit or two to my name.

I read a lot of short stories and wrote several (a few were even published by online zines.) Bottom line for me--I prefer novels. The short stories I like best are related--a collection of stories that all take place in the same world or short stories that involve the same characters. And those start to feel a bit novel-like, which is probably why I enjoy them.

Short stories are a different breed, but in the age of e-books...I think your friend may be correct. There may be a few good years for the short story coming. After all, it's easier to read a short or two while standing in line than it is to read an entire novel on your iPhone.

moonrat said...

this is interesting... i'm a little surprised by how many professed short story addicts there are! surprised and pleased.

eimearryan said...

I'm a huge fan of Bret Easton Ellis's linked collection, The Informers. And Holly Goddard Jones's Girl Trouble is amazing, though it's more about overlapping characters and locations than full-on linkage.

Susan said...

Yup, read, love, and recommend short stories to people all the time...why they are not insanely popular in our time-crunched society, I don't know. It's great literature in a bite-sized version.

Umbrageofsnow said...

I know I'm probably the outlier, but in the past year I've bought a total of 5 novels (have read 1 of them so far) and looking around at the bookshelf and under the bed... at least 22 short story collection in the past year. Admittedly only 3 of those are linked short story collections. But the point is, I buy far more short stories than novels. And in the past couple years, I've almost given up novels altogether. Too much time wasted on the crappy ones, and half the good ones are ruined by going on 100 pages longer than they should have.

And for the record Edgar Allan Poe thought short stories were superior as well. Of course he also thought sleeping with cousins was a good idea, so...

Anyway, yes butter fixes everything.

moonrat said...

Umbrage--do you subscribe to the magazine OneStory? It's exactly for people like you, and super cheap ($21 a year for 18 issues, one story per issue, perfect for tucking in your wallet/pocket/purse/shoe).