I promise I am not ignoring you my amazing readers. While I am putting the finishing touches on my next book, I am having a great time hosting some incredible guest bloggers and helping promote fellow indie authors. Today, I am very happy to have Michael K. Rose visit my blog. Michael is the author of the science fiction adventure series Sullivan’s War. Michael recently released a collection of short stories aptly named Short Stories (see links at the end of the post). I am so grateful to Michael for stopping by to share his thoughts on short fiction.
Short Fiction is Dead?
Every so often, I read a newspaper or magazine article, or some comment on a blog, about how short fiction is dead. In fact, I’ve been reading this same article for about the past ten years or so, but that’s just since I’ve been paying attention. After hours of grueling research, I’ve learned that this article has been written 236 times since 1973. (I made that up, don’t fact check it.)
So why has the final nail been driven into the coffin of short fiction so many times these past few decades? How can it be dead and yet have its obituary written again ten years later? That’s easy: it’s not true. It’s an attention-grabbing headline, though. “Oh no,” say short fiction-loving literary types (like me), “what a tragedy!” We read the article and see the statistics about how the magazines who published fiction have stopped doing so, the magazines dedicated to short fiction are dwindling and those few that are left are seeing their circulations shrink year by year. We read that readers don’t want short fiction, they want novels. I’ve always found this particular point puzzling. One faction of the “It’s the end of the world as we know it!” crowd says that our ever-shortening attention spans will lead to the downfall of Western civilization. Another says that our hunger for low-brow as opposed to literary fiction—and, let’s face it, short fiction tends to be more “literary” than the novels most people read—is the culprit. I, however, don’t think short attention spans or even content is the problem. It’s all about pacing.
When many people think of short stories, they think about those super-literary stories The New Yorker publishes, those stories in which not a whole hell of a lot happens but that are filled with esoteric, existentialistic purple prose. When they think of novels, they think of… James Patterson. To many, Patterson means fast-paced, action-packed books in which a lot happens but none of it requires any particularly deep thought. Are our attention spans shortening? Those of you who’ve made it this far into the article will probably agree with me: yes, they are. But the problem has more to do with content than with length. We (and here I mean Americans) have not only shortening but narrowing attention spans. The things that interest us are becoming fewer and fewer. There’s a reason Hollywood releases the same damned romantic comedy three times a year. They’ve found the magic formula and are going to milk it while they can.
So what does this have to do with short fiction and its possible demise? As someone who has just released a collection of short stories, I say “everything.” I am not one who grooms my fiction to appeal to trends but I do know that if I want to sell books, I have to make my stories hold readers’ interest. And I have found that I can do this through genre fiction. That speculative element—whether fantastic or scientific or horrific—provides another layer for a reader to enjoy. In “Sleep,” Jane has just murdered a man and must dispose of the body. But her unique circumstances—aboard a freighter traveling between star systems—provide some interesting problems in how she’ll go about doing that. A seemingly simple story of a marriage falling apart, such as “If I Profane with My Unworthiest Hand,” is given an extra element of interest when the reader learns that George Reed has invented a machine that may grant him immortality.
In my collection Short Stories, I have tried to balance the literary elements in my writing with the attention-grabbing circumstances provided by the genre of each piece. I don’t simply want to tell a good story or tell a profound story—I want to do both. And this is where I believe short fiction has faltered. There have always been great writers writing great short fiction but the two audiences—those who want something fun and those who want something profound—have been divided into two different camps reading two different canons. The “fun” camp has gravitated toward novel-length works because the “profound” camp took the short fiction format by storm in the ‘50s and ‘60s. When people thought of the fiction printed by The New Yorker or Harper’s, they did not think of fun. Magazines like Asimov’s and Analog Science Fiction were there but genre fiction, at that time, was a much more insular group.
But two things have changed all of this. The first is the eBook revolution. Any writer can now write a short story and put it up on Amazon for 99 cents. Any reader with an eReader or access to a computer can buy it. Our ever-frantic way of life has led to fast-paced, short novels. But it has also led to an environment for which short fiction is perfectly suited: an environment in which people want to read but don’t have a lot of time in which to do so.
The second event has been the de-stigmatization of fantasy and science fiction. Harry Potter, A Song of Ice and Fire, the great success of Marvel’s superhero movies over the past decade or so, not to mention the recent vampire craze, has sent genre fiction mainstream. Eyebrows no longer raise if you’re seen reading a book with a spaceship or an ogre on the cover. This is no longer the domain of the seedy pulp rags. Yes, there have been science fiction and fantasy films for many, many decades, but they were mostly aimed toward children and young adults. The creature features of the ‘50s and ‘60s were not for adults. Even Star Trek was not very well thought of until it was cancelled and college students starting watching it in syndication. But now genre books and films and video games are for all. And now readers are discovering that a short story can be both fun and intellectually engaging.
So as print magazines, once the only place that published short fiction, experience their slow demise, that which has replaced them is providing a forum for short fiction to make a comeback. And I do not mean just short stories. Novellas, always too long for most fiction magazines and too short to be printed on their own, can be published digitally without having to worry about the physical constrains of word count. Indeed, half of the stories in my collection Short Stories originally saw publication as eBooks only, two as stand-alone stories and three in a mini-collection called Inner Lives. And I plan on releasing many more short stories in the future. I want to create short works that tie in with my Rick Sullivan series. I want to release another short story collection. I am even toying with the idea of a serially-told story in which readers can take an active part. A whole new frontier is opening up for short fiction. Embrace it. Short fiction is not dead.
Michael K. Rose is the author of the science fiction adventure series Sullivan’s War. He grew up in Arizona, where he now resides, after spending part of his formative years overseas and in Maine. When he is not writing, Michael enjoys reading. He is a lover of classical music and regularly attends performances of the Phoenix Symphony and Arizona Opera. He also enjoys tabletop and card gaming. He is an avid and enthusiastic traveler and has visited nearly thirty countries on four continents. Michael holds a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology from Arizona State University.
To connect with Michael, please visit the following links:
Short Stories by Michael K. Rose
The science fiction stories of Michael K. Rose can most accurately be described as eclectic. He is best known for his science fiction adventure series Sullivan’s War and in this collection you will find stories that adhere to the strongest expectations of the genre, such as “Sergeant Riley’s Account,” “Sleep” and “A Random Selection.”
But you will also find stories that, while speculative in nature, owe more to literary fiction than anything else. Works such as “Main & Church,” “Inner Life” and “Pedro X.” explore the psyche as opposed to the outer reaches of the galaxy.
Whatever your tastes, you are bound to discover many favorites amongst these ten stories. The first five have been previously available electronically but this is their first appearance in print. The last five stories are new to this collection.
eBook Editions Available at:
All Other International Amazon Kindle Stores. Links here.
Signed print copies are available from the author here.