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Short Sharp Shock

May 14, 2013

Short stories are a funny old beast. When I decided to give the writing thing a shot last November I thought short stories should be the thing I focused on most, as I doubted that I had the concentration span or ability to do anything longer. I even went as far to think short stories would be so much easier than anything else to get my head round.  By gum, I was wrong. It turned out they were a lot bloody harder to write than I was expecting. Trying to come up with an idea that worked within the limited word count didn’t come easy at all. Once an idea did come along, trying to set a scene or establish a character without having the luxury of waffling on at length seemed nigh-on impossible. And as for trying to come up with a satisfactory ending that resolved the story in anything approaching a worthwhile manner… well, that’s proved to be about as easy as finding a bit of Twilight fan fic on the internet that doesn’t make me want to ram pencils into my eyes.

In the end I did manage it, or at least I managed something. I don’t know if they’re any good or not (and I certainly have my doubts about the quality of the endings), but I’ve now got a few shorts in various stages of completeness. I’ve posted one here, sent two to publishers and the rest are languishing in the many different levels of editing hell. ‘Goodness gracious,’ I hear you cry.  ‘You’ve actually managed to pull your finger out and get your shit together long enough to submit something to a publisher?’ Indeed I have. Two things, no less. One by the title of My Biggest Problem by Maisy Harrison was sent to a publisher looking for stories about shapeshifters, and The Wisdom of King Weejun was hurled optimistically at an urban fantasy anthology. Did I mention I found coming up with decent titles pretty hard as well?

Hopefully I’ll get better at it.  Short stories are quite important to me – I’ve enjoyed reading them for years now, mainly due to the convenience. I normally don’t get a lot of time for reading, just snatching forty-five minutes or so at a time during a lunch break or before going to bed. When I get into a story I like to read it in one or two sessions rather than in lots of short bursts, which I rarely find the time to do. But with a good collection of short stories I can nibble at small portions a little bit at a time like a Japanese meal. This is obviously easier than sitting down to a comedy eating challenge style 32lb steak, which is what it can feel like to try to tackle a novel in one go.

You wouldn't think this little bugger was cute if you'd read Pigs Blood Blues

You wouldn’t think this little bugger was cute if you’d read Barker’s story ‘Pigs Blood Blues’

As an aside, I’d just like to take a moment to mention what is possibly my personal favourite example of the short story art-form – The Books of Blood collections by Clive Barker.  I’d go as far to say that the collected editions of those stories rank among my favourite horror books of any length. The tales in those two volumes are masterpieces of the short story art as far as I’m concerned.  They’re tightly plotted, intense bursts of powerful, visceral horror that manage to build tension and deliver satisfying endings despite their compact size.  A couple of them might be a bit forgettable but the classics like The Body Politic, Dread, The Midnight Meat Train, Rawhead Rex and the delightfully whimsical (and extra brief) Down Satan! are absolute gems of the horror genre.

In fact, the more I think about The Books of Blood the more I wonder what went wrong with Mr Barker.  He progressed from the short stories to excellent horror novels like The Hellbound Heart, The Damnation Game and Cabal but then the tales started to get chubbier and more elaborate. This lead to somewhat rambling but still entertaining books like Imagica and Weaveworld, and then to big, fat, self-indulgent monstrosities such as Coldheart Canyon, Galilee and Sacrament. I suppose he’s hit the same problem as Stephen King, that he reached the point where he’s too big and successful for a good editor to try and bring him under control (possibly by hitting him on the nose with a rolled up newspaper and telling him ‘NO!’ in a firm voice).

Galilee is essentially a two inch thick Mills n’ Boon novel with the occasional freaky sex scene thrown in to try and disguise the lack of a decent story. As far as I can tell Coldheart Canyon is a flimsy premise for Our Clive to write a couple of orgy sequences involving the ghosts of Hollywood superstars along with a hastily tacked on story about the fleeting nature of fame.  And as for Sacrament… well, that one’s a right corker.  It was billed in some circles as Clive’s ‘coming out’ book, which seems somewhat unnecessary since there can’t be many people who were unaware that he was on the other bus. It’s not like I’m being all prudish about the books racier scenes – after all man-on-man action was a rather prevalent feature in In The Hills The Cities, one of the best stories from the Books of Blood – but it seemed so damned gratuitous.  Is it too much to ask to have a worthwhile plot to go along with them?  And maybe a plot that doesn’t take three hundred damn pages to get going? The internet scuttlebutt is that our boy Clive is currently working on a Harry D’Armour / Cenobites novel of door-stop like proportions entitled The Scarlet Gospels, and he’s been beavering away at it for quite a few years now. I, for one, can’t exactly say I’m waiting for it with bated breath.

Still, things could be worse. Even if Clive Barker doesn’t get his short story mojo back I’ll always have The Books of Blood to go back to. And if I fancy a change from Barker’s brand of brutal horror there’s so many other great short story collections to dive into – Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series, Leiber’s Lankhmar stuff or Robert E Howard’s vast range of action-packed excellence to name but a few.  Then again if I fancy something a bit more high-brow I could plump for Neil Gaiman’s collections like Smoke and Mirrors and Fragile Things. Gaiman can manage an excellent tale when his head isn’t too far up his own backside, a problem that can strike him from from time to time.  If anyone can recommend any other collections that might be worth my time feel free to pass on your tips in the comments section below – I’m always keen to give new authors a go.

Anyway, that’s enough rambling from me for now as I’ve got important stuff to do.  I’ve got to sit nervously reloading my e-mail over and over again on the off chance a response from one of those publishers has turned up in the last couple of minutes. Yup, I really am that keen to get my first rejection and that little refresh button won’t repeatedly press itself. 

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From → Musings, Writing

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