The craft of the short story It's not quite as easy as it seems.

This past Tuesday I released my third book, a collection of short stories called In a Northern Town.

It seems my writing is getting shorter and shorter. Maybe it has gone with the attention spans of our youth.

First came the novel. Then came a novella, which I followed up with a second novella. Being connected, I then published them together in one book. And then I started writing short stories.

I had heard that short stories were difficult to write, but that if done well could be extremely beneficial to a writer’s career. They offer glimpses into the talent, about what a reader might discover if he or she picks up a novel by the same author. They also offer an additional opportunity for promotion, as they can be submitted and appear in various magazines or online journals.

Seems easy, I thought to myself. Just crank out a couple thousand words and call it a day? The truth behind the short story was not so straightforward.

I had dabbled in short fiction before, but I had never seriously thought about writing a series of stories. So to start, I did what I always do, and that was to find short story collections by authors who had excelled. Two in particular stuck out to me.

The first was Ron Rash’s Something Rich and Strange. For those unfamiliar with Rash’s work, he sets nearly all of his fiction in Appalachia. That’s where he’s from, and he’s dedicated his work to capturing the essence of his homeland and the people who reside there. The collection is outstanding. Not only was it entertaining, but as a writer it completely changed the way I looked at short stories.

The second was The Nick Adams Stories by Ernest Hemingway. It collected the various stories that Hemingway wrote about his semi-autobiographical character Adams throughout his life. The first several stories, along with a few more scattered about, took place in northern Michigan — a place where Hemingway spent considerable time as a child and to where he returned following his injury in the first World War. His writing was always about truth, and this book was no exception.

My collection is called In a Northern Town. You could say it’s a mix of both Rash’s and Hemingway’s work. Without consciously intending to do so, I penned a series of stories that all took place in northern Michigan. Now, this isn’t a random setting — it’s where my first two books are set as well. But the region holds special meaning to me and I wanted to capture its culture and people and tell truthful and meaningful tales.

In all, I wrote the stories throughout the last year. But that “crank them out” philosophy disappeared rather quickly. First comes the ideas. Then comes the writing. Then comes the revising. Then comes the rewriting. Then comes the editing. Then you trash a few and start over again.

I thought it would be an easy process. I was wrong. But where is the satisfaction in easy?

“Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” – Theodore Roosevelt

In order to write any book — whether it’s a novel, a novella, a short story collection, a memoir — you have to feel compelled that the work you’re doing is worth it. So far, that has never steered me wrong, and so I’ll continue to write.

 

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