Victoria Griesdoorn, who has not only written a great post on an equally great Neil Gaiman story, but also provided a link where you can hear it for free at the end (I told you she was fabulous). That's proper free, not in some horrible illegal way.
She describes herself thusly: a scientist by day, reluctant writer by night, Clarion Write-a-Thon 2011 survivor, slush reader for Dark Fiction Magazine, and founder and contributing co-editor of the of Altered States anthology series. Victoria has short fiction published in City of Hell Chronicles Vol.I and Cruentus Libri Press's upcoming 100 Horrors anthologies [Me too! - JE]. She's also writing her first novel; a tale of magical realism. Find her at VDGriesdoorn.com or on Twitter @VDGriesdoorn
Take it away Victoria...
My love for reading rekindled when I stepped into my local library, as a 15-year-old kid, and discovered the horror section. Soon I went from King's Misery and Koontz's The Bad Place and Intensity to my real love, the gothic novel. I read my first genre book for kids, Clive Barker's The Thief of Always when I was in my twenties. And then I discovered Neil Gaiman.
I fell in love with the short story when I ran out of Gaiman novels and read Fragile Things. It was 'Harlequin Valentine' that showed me that a story, no matter how short, can have a beginning, middle and end, and feel as epic as a novel.
It's the tale of a Commedia dell'arte harlequin who on Valentine's Day gives his heart (literally) to his love, his columbine. The woman in question, Missy, goes around town trying to solve the mystery of how the thing ended up on her door. I won't spoil it, but in the end Missy takes matters into her own hands and the trickster is tricked.
The story does this wonderful thing of meandering at a pace. It goes from encounter to encounter, from meeting to meeting, from character to character. All of them are people and they all have something to say. The story is whimsical, but dark. Raw and thoughtful. Funny and morbid at the same time. It is the essence of an epic compressed into 3,500 words.
Since reading that story, it has not left the back of my mind. I have written a few shorts myself and have been fortunate enough to see one published. When writing, I now think about 'Harlequin Valentine'. I ask myself how I keep characters alive, and prevent them from looking like cardboard cut-outs. How do I lead the reader down an unexpected path? How do I take a familiar concept and do something new with it? And how do I do that on a hair's breadth?
The short story, if done well, does all of this and more. 'Harlequin Valentine' certainly does.
If you want to check the story out, pick up a copy of Fragile Things, or look for the Harlequin Valentine graphic novel. There is also a reading by Neil Gaiman himself, available for free at Last.fm.