Saturday, 17 September 2011

In Defence of Short Stories #14: Michael A. Kozlowski

Starter: before we get going, you might want to check out this recent post on Alain Gomez's Book Brouhaha blog. It's a link to other blogs about short stories, so well worth checking out prior to reading this week's In Defence of Short Stories defence below.... One of the links is back to here so there's no excuse not to come back for the main course.

Main Course: today's guest, uh, chef is Michael A. Kozlowski, a horror writer, whose short stories are collected in the admirably titled Some Days Suck, Some Days Suck Worse
(Amazon UK | US, B&N, Smashwords). He also has some free stories for you to sample on this page of his site.

He's the first person to mention Jersey Shore while attempting to defend short stories, to the best of my knowledge.

Take it away Mike...

When I first saw this whole “Defence of the Short Story” thing, I thought to myself (mainly because I have not yet figured out how to instill my thoughts into other people’s brains) that I needed to write one of these. So I asked James if I could contribute and then I spent a few weeks starting and stopping and typing and deleting and coming to the realization that I wasn’t sure just where the hell I was going with this.

I’ve always loved short stories; more than novels I would venture. I like the quick pace, the bare bones, the grab you by the scruff off the neck, shake you around a bit and discard you in a shaking, panting heap sort of thrill of the short story. I like to read them and I like to write them.

As, primarily, a horror writer, I am already assaulted with the idea that my genre is often maligned and regularly dismissed as the sub-standard, red-headed stepchild of the “literary” world. The fact that a lot of my work is in short story form which, apparently, makes me the equivalent of a loud, stinky fart on a crowded bus; a few people find me amusing but most…eh, not so much.

I will say that I’m surprised the short story needs defending at all. In a society that has the collective attention span of a fruit fly, you’d think short works would be all the rage. That said, if you look at the way we’re drawn to disasters, self-destructive celebrities and shows like Jersey Shore, you’d figure horror would be a stellar market to be in. But let’s not blame the reader just yet. For that, you can go back and look at the previous posts on this subject and get all kinds of intelligent arguments and information from a number of clever authors.

So just what am I getting at? Well, for a guy who claims to write short stories, you’d think that, whatever it is, I might be finding my way there by now. And I am…I think.

It’s not easy to write a short story. It’s worth saying that it’s not easy to write a novel either, at least one that’s worth reading, but we’re not talking about those right now. You’ll often hear writers talking about “killing their darlings” which is to say, cutting out all the bullshit. And you’ll hear them lament that process as painful but necessary to produce a quality work. In a novel (Oh, look! I guess we are talking about those a bit) that might mean cutting out superfluous information or overly descriptive text or random, wandering sub-plots that don’t really lend to the overall work. Maybe that 100,000 word piece needs to be sliced down to 80,000 or 70,000. That can be quite a task.

Now imagine taking that same story or plot idea (and I don’t mean to imply that every novel could just as easily be a short story; this is for illustration purposes only) and cutting it down to about 5000 words, which is about where you need to be for most short story markets. There’s no room for anything extra in there. Yet, when a short story works (and, as with any piece of art, they don’t always) it’s so beautifully compact that nearly every word and moment sticks with you.

A short story author has to be succinct. He or she has to grab your attention and give you a great pay off all in a short little span of time. A short story might only be as long as a typical novel’s space allotted for a singular character development. Short stories are, in short, hard to write well. There are a number of authors out there, many of whom have posted here before me, who continue to accomplish it, but there are a great many that, I suspect, aren’t very good at managing it. Rather than hone that skill, they revert back to novel length work and use the demise of the short story as an excuse; ironically contributing to that demise.

If the short story is dying as an art form, it’s at least partially because there aren’t many good artists out there. 
They say that if you create a good piece of literature, it will find a home. We could have another discussion about why that may or may not be true but, regardless, it begins with the creation.

Pudding: nice little review of The Other Room over at Novel Opinion - despite the name, they obviously have good taste in short stories too...

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