Because my traipsing through short fiction venues is designed to be one-stop, it’s necessary to note that I won’t be bothering with serialized content. I say necessary in the case of Fireside’s October 2014 issue, because the bulk of the issue seems to be devoted to Lilith Saintcrow’s serialized She Wolf And Cub, including a prologue, and then Chapter One. Which is fine because it makes this inaugural edition of The Short List a rather breezy one, consisting of just three stories to read and a short note from editor Brian J. White. That is absolutely not an indictment of She Wolf And Cub—but if I get hooked on every serialized piece I stumble across, I’ll end up doing nothing but catching up on those by the third or fourth Short List. I’m intentionally avoiding it. And that’s actually something worthwhile to note about reading short fiction publications: feel free to skip over anything that doesn’t grab you right away or that just doesn’t sound interesting. With so many other stories to choose from, there’s no sense getting stuck on one that you won’t finish or that isn’t working out for you.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years trying to improve my writing skills by focusing on short fiction. Along the way I’ve read a ton of it, both to learn from what was out there and to see what was selling as I tried to align my submissions to markets that were (more) likely to buy my work. And in the process I developed a love of short fiction.
I could easily say that liking short stories isn’t particularly a recent development. But considering how well short work scratches the reading itch without the commitment inherent in choosing a new novel, it’s kind of surprising that it took me this long and this particular circumstance to get me truly invested in it. It simply didn’t occur to me earlier to seek out short fiction—other than the occasional author collection or intriguing theme anthology. I certainly never thought about subscribing to or buying fiction magazines.
I recently had a conversation with some other writers in which it was observed that sometimes it feels like short story readers have a 1-to-1 overlap with short story writers. That basically the only people who care about literary or genre magazines which run less-than-novel-sized pieces are people who are writing in that format. Maybe that’s untrue or unfair. But what I don’t think is controversial is the idea that short stories could be getting more attention than they are from pure readers.
My hypothesis is that maybe these publications just don’t get enough non-writer-y attention. Perhaps if someone explored some of the available options with a focus on their value to readers; if there was a concerted effort to get conversations started the way they’re started about books—with the added benefit of more inclusiveness since it’s much easier to get a group of people to read a ten-page story than a 300-page book—the short fiction community might not feel so insular.
Enter The Short List. This will be an experiment. For as long as it feels fun and engaging, I’ll choose a different publication for each installment and offer mini-synopses, reviews, and essays about the selected issue. My intent is to spread the focus around: professional-paying, high-profile publications will sit alongside indie and niche collections. I want to do genre magazines and eclectic anthologies. But more than anything I’m going to focus on these selections from a reader’s perspective. What’s the value like? How fun are the stories to read? How likely is it readers will find themselves sharing their favorites with friends? I specifically won’t be talking about the publications’ submission process or pay rates. Cover price may be a factor, art design might come up. What won’t be discussed are topics like the ease of working with the editors, what kind of submissions they’re looking for, or how frequently they respond with personal feedback.
The format may change and evolve over time. I do want to consider this a somewhat critical evaluation of each selection, but I don’t really care to fixate on ripping apart stories (and authors) I don’t care for. I also don’t have much interest in carefully curating my selection of a given publication based on issue or theme. The way I see it, any reader should be able to pick up any issue and be well-rewarded for their time and money. So I won’t be cherry-picking too much.
But here’s my hope: if you love to read, I hope you’ll read along with me, at least sometimes. I want to start conversations, introduce people who love to read to stories they might not otherwise have seen, connect new fans with new favorite writers, and get people excited about short fiction publications for the joy of reading bite-sized stories.
Stay tuned for the first edition of this feature coming very soon.
It took me over nine and a half months to get through a single novel this year. To put that in perspective, I read 59 books last year, and 44 the year before.
To be fair, I did spend the first four months of the year unemployed and looking for work. Just as I began to zero in on a job prospect, my wife gave birth to our second daughter. So for a lot of the year I’ve been busy and somewhat sleep-deprived. And then there is the fact that I’ve been reading a ton of short fiction. Some has been for research purposes as I comb through samples of various magazines and sites that accept unsolicited submissions; some has just been because most of what I’m writing these days is short fiction and it feels worth it to study the form. And I recently became aware of a big gap in my literary headcanon as I have little to no exposure to poetry, so I’ve read a bunch of that lately, too.
But none of this quite explains my sudden decline in reading books.
I think a big part of it has been that I’m very routine-oriented when it comes to some things. Over the past few years I did a lot of commuting on public transportation, and it became a reading haven for me. Once I no longer had that job, reading needed to be carved out of different time periods. Other activities like writing, exercising, chores, they all competed with reading. It isn’t easy for me to adjust activities from one niche in my day to another, especially when a previous slot seemed to really work. Ask me how good I’ve done at exercising since I stopped being able to squeeze it in alongside my lunch break at work.
Another part of it may be that I tried to tackle two large novels right around the time my regular reading time disappeared. One was Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, which I picked up because I wanted to read a romance novel to expand my horizons and I thought some of the speculative elements I’d heard about in the series might make it easier to digest. And I was enjoying it, but it didn’t have that stay-up-all-night-reading hook to it. I gave it too long before dropping it. Then the other was the fourth book in the Song Of Ice And Fire saga, George R. R. Martin’s epic fantasy series. The first three books, despite being rather hefty in size, took me a month or so each. But this book is a slog. It’s not bad, necessarily, but it’s kind of a series reboot and it ignores a lot of my favorite characters from previous books and adds a bunch of new ones I have a harder time caring about. So it’s been tough to get into the groove with it, and I still haven’t quite given up on it, mostly because it’s hard enough to keep all the characters in my head when I read a chapter a week. I’m afraid if I tried to come back to it, I’d never finish.
And really that is the thing that has kept me from finishing books, and it’s a lesson I had learned a few years ago. The more aggressive I am at putting books down that don’t hold my interest, the more I read.
The book I finally finished was John Scalzi’s Redshirts, which I listened to on audiobook while I did chores around the house. It’s a neat trick, but it turns out it only works for a certain kind of breezily-paced book. I’ve been trying to do the same with Michael Chabon’s “The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier and Clay” and while I’m very much enjoying the book (and the narration!), its literary style and fairly somber tone and pacing makes it less effective at helping me simply pass the time.
Hopefully I’ve broken the seal, though. A couple weeks after finishing Redshirts I tore through Octavia Butler’s Dawn and decided to give A Feast For Crows one more push and I actually made pretty significant progress. Maybe I’ll finish it and somehow this year won’t be a huge reading disappointment after all.