Writing Short Stories & The Struggle With Brevity

If you’ve been following my posts on this site for the last… two years or so I guess? Wow. Has it been that long already? Anywho – if you’ve been following my post you’d know that I’m a big proponent of working on the the next project while the forces beyond your control do what they need to do with your last project.

For me the last few years, that’s been waiting for responses from query letters. Well I’m back in the query trenches again. While I did start my next novel, The Brewancer, I wanted try my hand at writing short stories too. I wanted a change of pace from novel writing, but also wanted to challenge myself to tell a competent story in format I’m relatively unfamiliar with. I read a bunch of the Nebula nominated stories earlier this year for our podcast, but other than that, I haven’t really had the time to delve into the many wonderful short stories coming out seemingly daily.

After spending about a month writing, editing, rewriting, reediting a short story about the end of the world heralded by a Pokemon GO-ish video game, I have this to report:

Writing short stories is really hard.

Not that novels are easy by any means, but at least with novels you have a lot more space – more freedom to tell your story the way you want. A standard SFF novel can be anywhere from 80.000 – 120,000 words (or more if you’re an established author). That’s an incredibly wide space to build a world and inhabit it with well developed characters. I tried writing some short fiction a few years ago, but it was a brief and messy dalliance. I considered this my first “real” attempt at writing a short story.

Here’s a few of the takeaways from the experience:

A Glimpse Into a Grander Tale – One of the approaches it took to writing a short story was looking at it as a scene in a larger narrative. This story has a few flashbacks, but the main plot is the buildup to and engagement of a big fight scene. I got this idea from Fran Wilde – who at World Fantasy read scene from her novel SKYBOUND that originally started as a story, but evolved into a novel.

Keep The Cast Small – There is only a finite amount of space to introduce and build a backstory for the characters in a short story. Mine had four. In the early drafts, the main character had three friends that she went with to fight the monsters. Well guess what? Putting together even a minimal backstory for three secondary characters was too much. Three friends became two. I think that worked out well, because I was able to give the two remaining a little more depth, even still with only 5,000ish words to work with.

Respect the Economy of Words – Brevity is not my strong suit. I like to use a lot of descriptions that some might consider a weeee bit overwrought (they are right usually) and this short story of exercise was the greatest challenge of my overwroughtness. It was difficult, not just because I’m prone to writing overlong descriptions, but because I felt like there was a necessity for flowery language if I wanted to eventually submit this to a “literary” short story magazine. So how to be descriptive without being tooooo descriptive? I don’t think I have quite gotten the right balance yet, but that’s what future drafts are for, right?

Endings Are the Hardest – I love a good cliffhanger ending. A cliffhanger with enough closure to be satisfying is something very difficult to pull off. I think I did a pretty well in OVERDARK, but not so much with my previous novels. Taking the approach of a short story being a scene in a larger tale, I had to both end a scene and give closure to that scene. There’s a main relationship centerpiece to the story I wanted to make sure had some semblance of satisfactory closure. Of all the challenges in writing a short story, this was probably the greatest. Because this is the end of a scene and the story could continue onward, the right mix of “The End” and “To Be Continued” was really tough to nail.

Complaining about the hard stuff aside, writing a short story was an overall enjoyable experience. I liked the challenge and I think the story itself is pretty good. I still have a fair amount of editing to do, but hopefully it will be ready for submission when the big markets open up again in the fall.

So what are your experiences with short stories? Any advice on how to navigate some troubles I had in writing them myself?   

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New Release + Cover Reveal + Giveaway!

This has been one of the busiest weeks of my life! Between the day job and the family and the new release last Monday and the cover reveal for my upcoming release, it’s been just crazy. For the most part, though, it’s good stuff – well, accept for the barfing German Shepherd yesterday – so I can’t really complain.

Or at least I try not to.

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At any rate, I’m going to start with some info about the anthology that released last Monday. My story is called Change of Heart, and it’s a female/trans-female love story.

The germ of the idea for Change of Heart came from a scholarly article I read about Dr. James Barry, a 19th century British military surgeon. He was incredibly gifted, accomplished, and known for being rude, and after he died, the serving-woman who prepared his body discovered he was a woman.

His story has been claimed by feminists, and more recently by students of trans history. It’s impossible to know how Dr. Barry viewed himself – as a highly intelligent woman who did what was necessary to practice medicine at a time when women were forbidden to do so, or as a man who happened to have a different biology. Either way, Dr. Barry fascinates me. There are very few records of trans people from before the 1970s, and I wanted to explore how it might have been to live with that kind of secret. We’d agreed to set all our stories in New Orleans, and since few US cities have a more colorful history, I basically just picked a year and went with it. I hope I captured something of the time and place, and I hope you enjoy my sweet and spicy little story.

 

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Here’s the blurb…

Momma says a body reaps what they sow, and Clarabelle’s planted the seeds of trouble. The year is 1933, and not much else is growing in the Oklahoma dirt. Clarabelle’s gone and fallen in love with her best friend, so she figures it’s time to go out and see the world.

If she’s lucky, she’ll find the kind of girl who’ll kiss her back.

Clarabelle heads for New Orleans, and that’s where she meets Vaughn. Now, Vaughn’s as pretty as can be, but she’s hiding something. When she gets jumped by a pair of hoodlums, Clarabelle comes to her rescue and accidentally discovers her secret. She has to decide whether Vaughn is really the kind of girl for her, and though Clarabelle started out a dirt-farming Okie, Vaughn teaches her just what it means to be a lady.

I’ve read a few of the stories in the anthology, and they’re all pretty good. Some paranormal, some contemporary, with a range of heat from relatively sweet (like mine!) to whips & belts of the BDSM variety. If you’re interested in checking the anthology out, here’s some links…

Amazon US| Amazon UK | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Kobo

 

And now…

Irene Preston and I have been sitting on our hands for the last few weeks.

Sitting. On. Our. Hands.

Because we’ve had the cover for Vespers and we weren’t allowed to show it off till after the cover reveal. But now it’s revealed and HERE IT IS!!!

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Choosing a favorite cover from amongst my books is sorta like choosing a favorite child, but…

No it’s not. This is my favorite cover so far. It’s pretty damned perfect in capturing the vibe of the story, and I might have a bit of a crush on Hooded Dude. Here’s a bit more information about Vespers

Thaddeus Dupont has had over eighty years to forget…

The vampire spends his nights chanting the Liturgy of the Hours and ruthlessly disciplines those unnatural urges he’s vowed never again to indulge. He is at the command of the White Monks, who summon him at will to destroy demons. In return, the monks provide for his sustenance and promise the return of his immortal soul.

Sarasija Mishra’s most compelling job qualification might be his type O blood…

The 22-year-old college grad just moved across the country to work for some recluse he can’t even find on the internet. Sounds sketchy, but the salary is awesome and he can’t afford to be picky. On arrival he discovers a few details his contract neglected to mention, like the alligator-infested swamp, the demon attacks, and the nature of his employer’s “special diet”. A smart guy would leave, but after one look into Dupont’s mesmerizing eyes, Sarasija can’t seem to walk away. Too bad his boss expected “Sara” to be a girl.

Falling in love is hard at any age…

The vampire can’t fight his hungers forever, especially since Sara’s brought him light, laughter and a very masculine heat. After yielding to temptation, Thaddeus must make a choice. Killing demons may save his soul, but keeping the faith will cost him his heart.

Working with Irene on this story has been a fantastic experience. You may be thinking I’m just blowing smoke to promote a book, but truly, tossing the words back and forth and learning how another writer works was tremendously satisfying.

And FUN!

We’ve got Vespers at a reduced preorder price of $0.99, so if you’re interested, click on over…

Amazon     –     Barnes and Noble     –      ARe     –      iBooks     –     Kobo

 

Giveaway

And finally, I promised you a giveaway, so here it is. For the chance to win a $25 gift card PLUS 7 (seven!) paranormal romances by authors like Alexis Hall, Claire Cray, and Jax Garren. Click HERE to get to my website where you’ll find the rafflecopter thingy to enter. The books in the prize package are SO COOL.

So that’s what’s going on in my life? What’s up with you? 🙂 I promise next post won’t be quite so me-me-me-me-me. It’s just been an exciting week.

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Why yes, this *is* the dog who was barfing. He’s much better now, thank goodness!

Type-Cast

Have you ever taken the Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator test? I have, more than a few times. Junior year Psych, senior year Theory of Knowledge class, job applications, recreation–- you name it. For whatever reason, I’ve taken the famous personality test almost more times than I can count. And although the results have varied slightly from time to time, I’ve usually been impressed with how closely my resulting type mirrors my way of interacting with the world, my inner landscape, and the people around me.

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For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Myers-Briggs instrument (often referred to as MBTI), it’s a psychological test designed to measure peoples’ preferences in how they process information, make decisions, and interact with the world around them. Although the actual test is hours long, you can take an abbreviated version of the questionnaire here. Basically, the test measures responses to questions based around four basic dichotomies: Extraversion vs Introversion; Sensing vs Intuition; Thinking vs Feeling; Judging vs Perceiving. And while the test certainly doesn’t cover every aspect of personality variance, nor strength of preference, the test can still be a useful tool.

When I first took the test, I thought it was too simplistic, and possibly deterministic. But as I’ve gotten older and taken the test several more times, I believe that understanding the typing process and how the dichotomies apply to yourself and others can actually be a very valuable tool. Your type affects so many things, from the way you learn best and how you approach teaching others, to how you recharge mental energy and prefer to socialize. Knowing your own type as well as that of others in your life can help you appreciate and understand differences in relationships with friends, partners, and professional contacts. It can help you work better with others and manage your own work.

It’s also important to remember that the MBTI measures strength of preference, and not dichotomy. For example, the first time I took the instrument I skewed so strongly Thinking vs Feeling that a classmate accused me of “being a cold-hearted robot.” No. Just because I value the judgment of my mind over the judgment of my heart does not and never will mean that I have no feelings, or am incapable of empathy. Similarly, I often fall right on the borderline of Introverted vs Extroverted, which means that in many scenarios I can fall in either direction. Sometimes social gatherings make me want to leave without saying goodbye so I can spend the day in bed watching Netflix. Other times I feel lonely all day writing and want nothing more than to go out drinking with friends.

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It’s not a box to hem you in; it’s a language to understand and explain your preferences.

My type is ENTP: Extraverted Intuition with Introverted Thinking. According to the MBTI, this means I use my intuition to examine the world outside my self, absorbing ideas and images from the situations my life presents me with. I live in a world of possibilities; I’m creative, curious, and excited by concepts and theoretical challenges. But this type doesn’t come without its drawbacks. I’m more interested in generating possibilities and ideas than creating plans of action or making decisions. I tend to start projects…and then never finish them. I tend to overlook details, and often don’t value other peoples’ input as much as I should.

Anyone who knows me will agree that this sounds a lot like me. But having my personality type laid out in no-nonsense terms before me means that I can’t ignore the realities of how I look at the world and interact with the people around me. Knowing my type not only gives me insight into how I can leverage my strengths, but also which weaknesses I should focus on to manage my relationships with others and my professional productivity.

Because frankly, with my type it’s a miracle I ever finished this darned blog post.

Have you ever taken the MBTI? What’s your type? How has it helped you understand and appreciate yourself and others? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!

Conventions 101: I Forget How to Human

For the last five years, I’ve been trying to attend one convention every year.

That doesn’t sound like a lot, but for someone with nearly debilitating social anxiety, it’s a huge achievement and a measure of my commitment to my work. This year, I’m attending four cons of various types, including one for fiber artists, one for pagans, GenCon, and World Fantasy. That’s a record for me, and I have very mixed feelings about it.

Cons are great. They’re a chance to meet people, to learn things, to get new ideas, to see individuals we look up to, to enrich friendships and connections we can now make over the internet. But they’re also expensive, exhausting, and stressful, at least for someone who has actual sobbing meltdowns when she has too much social interaction.

When I say I have near-debilitating social anxiety, I don’t mean I get butterflies about going to parties. I mean my hands shake when I call to order pizza. I mean I once rode a bus its entire route because I needed to interview the driver and I was too scared to talk to her. I mean I cry when my friends want too much of my time. Talking to people I don’t know actively frightens me.

I’m not playing around when I say I’m introverted and shy. I’ve come out of my shell a lot in the last decade, primarily because I worked as a reporter—which, in retrospect, was not a brilliant career choice—and I had to talk to people if I wanted to do my job.

So, for me, going to cons is a bit of an endurance test. Over the years, however, I’ve learned a few things about how to do it without inducing nervous paroxysms of overstimulation.

  1. If you’re attending with a friend, explain to them that you may need breaks. Hell, even if you’re not attending with a friend, if you need a break, explain to your companions that you need some time to yourself. Most humans understand that other humans need rest.
  2. Actually get some rest. Parties last all night, and most of the fun that’s had at cons is had at those parties. But the human brain mends itself or something while we sleep (ask a scientist if you want details), so even if you’re sleeping during the day, make sure you’re getting some sleep.
  3. Don’t feel like you need to do everything. Not really all that interested in “Underwater Basket Weaving in Ancient Civilizations” or “Flax: From Plant to Garment”? Well, you can skip those panels. Yes, I know you paid for the con, and that includes all of the panel topics, but you really don’t have to attend every single session.
  4. Remember that other people are people, too. For every terrified soul like myself, there’s at least one extroverted person who will introduce herself and take you around to meet all her friends. And really, if you introduce yourself to a terrified soul like me, I’ll introduce you to my friends, too. I’ll just be quaking in my boots while I do it.
  5. Learn your triggers and your warning signals. Does loud music stress you out? Maybe cut out of the dance party early. Do you get a headache when you’re reaching the breaking point? Time to bail. This one is tough, and it takes some trial and error, but you have to know yourself to be able to take care of yourself.
  6. Finally, learn to say yes—and no. If you’re not at your limit, saying yes to a random invite may just set you down a path to meet your new best friend. But if you are at your limit, saying no can keep you from having a bad con experience when you could have had a great one.

Honestly, if I can survive four cons in one year, anyone can do it. And remember, if you are a person who enjoys making new connections, reach out to someone you don’t know—your act of friendliness may save one person from a terrible, lonely experience.

Do you work the con circuit? What are your survival tips?