Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Short Story Tide

It seems that certain art forms rise and fall over time -- or maybe all art forms do. The 60's were great for rock music, the 1600's for painting, etc. The 80's were definitely a wonderful time for the short story. Kicked off by Carver, the decade really just exploded with new and interesting voices: Laurie Moore, Charles Baxter, Amy Hempel, Grace Paley, Ann Beattie, Rick Bass, Richard Ford, etc.

Or do I just think that because I started reading short stories then, and was all pre-cynical and loving everything?

I feel like short stories are at a low ebb now, though there are some signs of strength and originality, like the quasi-science fiction stuff by Kelly Link. I'm not sure if the lack of short story energy is on the part of writers, readers, or publishers, or if it's just one of those cyclical things. Another possible explanation is that the personal essay and memoir have largely eclipsed fiction. If that's the case, then I guess that memoir has about two or three years to run its course, and then fiction -- including short fiction -- will rise again. (Hmm... that has a kind of "famous last words" ring about it...)

Meanwhile, according to the very cool blog Syntax of Things, February is SoTShoStoWriMo, or Syntax of Things Short Story Writing Month. I have been enjoying NaNoWriMo for a couple of years now, so maybe I'll give it a try. In any case, I highly suggest checking out the blog, as well as the other literary blogs we've linked to.

I certainly would love to see a short story renaissance.


Stephanie said...

I think short stories represent a much tougher market--to break into and to sell. I've heard of the glory days of major magazines paying for short fiction, but they seem like a legend. Now you get paid in copies by small magazines, which can be wonderful (but not financially sustainable).
I think lots of writers also regard the short story as an artificial workshop construct. (I've heard that said more than once by writing instructors.)
It take skills to write consistently good, fresh short fiction and I'm not sure that many people have those skills.
But when they do--hoo damn!--it's always a fun ride.
One of my favorites: Angela Carter's Bloody Chamber.

5 Red Pandas said...

"I think lots of writers also regard the short story as an artificial workshop construct. (I've heard that said more than once by writing instructors.)"

Hmm, interesting concept, but I don't buy that. There have always been tales, and "short fiction".

Perhaps it seems to be a construct of workshops simply because in the short amount of time you have in an MFA program may encourage writers to write short fiction that their peers can critique without having to understand the back-story as with a novel.

Entering the short story market such as it is seems very daunting to me. Without an agent it feels like you're releasing balloons that just float away into the atmosphere when you submit stories to little magazines. Who knows if you'll ever hear back from anyone. It takes either a delusional mind or tenacity to keep trying.

I'm sure that has nothing to do with the lack of outlets for short stories, but it might give writers some pause before tackling a collection if they felt they'd have a better chance of being published if they wrote a novel instead.

rmellis said...

I don't think the short story is just a workshop construct -- it has a real place in the ideal magazine -- though certainly workshops have wrought some bad magic on them.

Telling students, "Here, spend two years writing this totally fake thing," doesn't help the genre, does it?

Matthew Tiffany said...

Glad to see another reader beating the short story drum - I've wondered about its current lack of fashionability (?), given our purportedly decreasing attention spans. I love the short story. Hope you are right about its impending return to fame and glory.

I am also pondering a leap into the Short Story Writing Month...

Jeff said...

I hope you area able to participate in SoTShoStoWriMo. If you do, be sure to drop me a line. And thanks for the link!