Namesakes, Contests, and Short Stories

It’s been busy here. (Is it ever not?) However, the sequel to Artemis Awakening, tentatively titled Artemis Invaded, is now revised and turned into my editor at Tor. I’ll admit to feeling pretty satisfied—and impatient to see the book out. We’ll need to wait until next June, though.

Now it’s time to turn my energies to new projects.   Among these will be a couple of short stories and maybe, if I can get my act together, that short story collection you folks requested a while back. I’ll fill you in as soon as these come closer to being realities, rather than dreams.

Adara the Puppy

Adara the Puppy

Artemis Awakening hasn’t even been out for a month and already it’s having an influence. One of my vets has named her new puppy after Adara the Huntress. Adara the Puppy is very small and lives in a household with two large (but friendly) adult dogs, several cats, a rabbit, and assorted wild animals who are being fostered. Her owner says she chose the name to give the puppy something to grow into. I hope the name’s an inspiration.

I’ve got to admit, I giggled for about a week after finding out and couldn’t resist sharing. Isn’t she cute? I’ve seen a short video of her and her two adult canine companions and it’s quite clear that in her mind Adara the Huntress isn’t too big a name.

On other fronts, for those of you who like to write book reviews or enter contests, you might want to check the contest we’re running from my Facebook page: write a review of Artemis Awakening, provide a link, and be entered into a drawing to win either a signed, personalized hardcover or an audio download of the novel. If you’re interested, check this.

The other day I found myself thinking about the strange dichotomy involved with me and short stories: I like to write short stories but I’m actually not much of a short story reader.

This was brought forcefully home to me when I was recommending Laini Taylor’s collection Lips Touch Three Times to a friend. I heard myself saying, “I don’t usually read short stories, but I really liked this. Of course, there are only three stories and they’re long enough that they’re more or less novellas…” Later in the same conversation, I mentioned that among my future projects I was looking forward to writing two short stories. I definitely heard the disconnect.

So, obviously, I need to think this through. First, there are definitely authors whose short stories I not only read but seek out. Roger Zelazny and Charles deLint both spring to mind.   I bet if I thought longer, I could come up with others. There are those authors who are often better at a shorter length. I really like Walter Jon Williams’ novels, but I think some of his strongest work is shorter. His novel This Is Not A Game is structured like two interconnectednovellas and is all the better for it.

When I think back, I’ve actually read a lot of single author short story collections and, in most cases, enjoyed them. So what’s my problem?

Well, for one, I’m not a big fan of gimmick stories, no matter the length. I’m also not a big fan of inconclusive endings. Both of these are more likely to happen at shorter lengths, rather than longer. I have read too many short stories that are in reality descriptive vignettes. Someone has a clever idea or image and thinks that’s all a story needs. It doesn’t.

Fact is, a short story needs everything a novel does – and needs to present it within a smaller space – or at least with fewer words.   (I leave the image because for me stories do seem to occupy a physical space. And I don’t think it’s just a lump of pages.)

Roger Zelazny said – I’m not sure just where – that a short story should feel as if it was the final chapter of a novel. Maybe that’s why I like his shorter works. He doesn’t leave me hanging. I certainly have tried to follow that advice with my own short stories and so am surprised how often when I finish reading a story aloud, the immediate response is “But what happened next?” Of course, I get that with my novels, too.

Short stories are also more often driven by ideas than by characters. I’ve written a lot of stories for theme anthologies. Sometimes the theme is very generalized – dragons, let’s say, or angels – and sometimes it’s more specific – alien pets or girls, guns, and monsters. I enjoy the challenge of trying to come up with a story that won’t resemble anything else in the collection. That often means starting with a list of the usual – big dragons, wise dragons, nasty dragons – and vowing to avoid these.

Once I’ve made my list, I start musing about who the main character will be. For a short story, usually I try to keep the focus on one POV character. Sometimes I’m in the mood to write about a certain type of person. Other times the theme dictates it. For the Mother, Matron, Crone collection, for example, a female protagonist was pretty much a given.

Between these two I arrive at my setting. Plot comes last of all. To avoid slipping into vignette-mode, I make sure I know what the conflict will be… even if I don’t know the resolution. But I make certain there is a resolution. Just about the only people who like stories with indecisive endings are English professors – and that’s because it gives something to discuss in the classroom.

Any recommendations of good short story collections out there? I’m not talking “Year’s Best” or “Nebula Award stories” or like that – I can’t help but read those with my critic brain on. I’m just looking for a good read…

6 Responses to “Namesakes, Contests, and Short Stories”

  1. Peter Says:

    The puppy is Adara-ble (yes, I went there). I really need to settle someplace long enough (and large enough) to justify getting a new puppy, my life is canineless at the moment.

    As for short story collections…single-author or multi-author? Any collection of Howard Waldrop leaps to the front of the queue in the first case. I haven’t read a lot of multi-author collections lately (just picked up _Rogues_, but haven’t cracked it open yet, on the basis of “it has stories by a bunch of people I like in it”), but I’ve really been enjoying the Shadow Unit collections (if you aren’t familiar with SU, it’s what happens when a bunch of very talented writers sit down to write fanfic about a TV show that doesn’t exist).

  2. Paul Genesse Says:

    Hi Jane, You can’t go wrong with a puppy pic like that! So cute! I’m excited to read Artemis Awakening, and it’s going to happen soon. I enjoyed your comments about short stories. I needed to hear that right now as I’ve got two stories due in July. Thanks for the post.

  3. Louis Robinson Says:

    How modern do you need your stories to be? Over at Baen’s Bar, we started putting together a list of ’100 Classic SF” books [in response to somebody or other putting up a list of 'classics' that included maybe a dozen novels more than 20 years old. But that's another discussion] It was supposed to be 100 novels, but we quickly realised that a very large percentage of truly classic SFF is short-form, and that several collections had been as influential, if not more so, than most novels. Anyway, to make a long post short, here are some of the collection suggestions from that effort:

    Healy & McComas: Adventures in Time and Space
    Conklin: A Treasury of Science Fiction
    Silverberg: Science Fiction Hall of Fame

    There’s some overlap on these, but not as much as one would expect. Silverberg, of course, is able to pick up the almost 20 years of stories that hadn’t be published yet for the first two.

    Also suggested were Anderson: The Earth Book of Stormgate, and White: Hospital Station.There were other collections and anthologies suggested, but titles escape me.

    A more recent take on the early period is Flint, Drake & Baen: The World Turned Upside Down – they selected the stories that had the most impact on them personally.

    For relatively recent collections, hmmm… there’s been something of a gap until about 10 years ago. Apparently, anthologies stopped selling well for quite a few years, and are still making a comeback. I’m sure you’re familiar with DAW’s Fantastic! collections, and the urban wolf/witch/sucker genre seems to be pumping them out – and some of the stories are pretty good. Aside from that, I suspect that you’ve been involved in most of the decent recent anthologies and know them better than I do.

  4. janelindskold Says:

    Ah… Howard Waldrop! Yes. Excellent recommendation of an author who does great short work — if you like quirky, which I definitely do.

    And I love _The Earthbook of Stormgate_.

    I hadn’t heard about the Shadowunit concept, but it sounds as if it has potential.

    I haven’t read _Hospital Station_ and will put it on my list.

    I’ll admit to being leary of any collection that proclaims that the editor knows what is best, but maybe I should get over my reaction. _The World Turned Upside Down_ sounds interesting.

    I contributed to several of the DAW “Fantastic” collections — in fact, one of my first sales was to _Dragon Fantastic_ (“Between Tomatoes and Snapdragons).

    Many of these were packaged by the late Martin H. Greenberg and his staff, who put a lot of love into the projects. I submitted to several “cold” and one of the great professional landmarks in my life was when I received my first invitation to contribute.

    Please feel free to keep the suggestions coming!

    • Peter Says:

      http://www.shadowunit.org if you want to read about the inception of the project (or read the stories, which are also available as e-books and I *think* as PoD).

    • Louis Robinson Says:

      I have a feeling that “Science Fiction Hall of Fame” wasn’t Bob Silverberg’s idea, although I’m open to correction on that. OTOH, it is rather difficult to put together any sort of retrospective collection without introducing some notion of ‘good’, even if not ‘better or ‘best’.

      I’m rather like you, though: I abandoned The Year’s Best Whatevers after a couple of years of looking through them and going ‘this is supposed to be _good_?’

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