Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Death of the Short Story has been Highly Exaggerated

A couple days ago I was reading Vanessa Gebbie’s blog. She’s a well established short story writer in the UK. She was blogging about a two page spread in London’s Sunday Times talking about the death of the short story. The’experts’ have said that the short story is on the demise and will soon be little more than grazing fodder for academics. And, to add insult to injury, literary agent Lucy Luck claims, “It is no longer possible for a writer to earn a living by publishing short stories to fund their writing.” I can’t get the whole thing out of my head because, frankly, it has pissed me off.

In a world where attention spans have dwindled to minutes, and immediate gratification is one of the basic human rights, are you trying to tell me that short stories are not at the verge of catching the biggest wave in history? The problem stems from experts who dwell on the status quo and lack imagination. They blather on about the death of the short story so publishers, almost always cowards, look at short story collections as nothing more than a bother. They haven’t a clue how to market them and since the experts have told them there is no market, they are caught up in their own self fulfilling prophecy. There is no market- the publishers won’t publish them- readers have nothing to buy- so there is no market. Voila- the experts were right! Wrong.

I just don’t buy it. There is a huge untapped market out there. There are few people who want to take two or three months of their lives to read A Suitable Boy, but there are plenty who can take some minutes out of their lives to read 'The Headstrong Historian' ( a fantastic short story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in the New Yorker). Look at the wonderful re-birth of the poem with performance poetry. Poets took the matter into their own hands. Maybe it is time short story writers do the same.

I do think everyone must take another look at what a good short story is, though. Long convoluted looks at our navels are not gonna swing it. Also, schematic genre is also not the way to go. We need a mix. We need excitement, movement, thought prodders. Brief, sharp glimpses that stab deep into the human experience leaving the reader caught in that moment even days after reading.

Legends abound of literary experts who were so off base they appear ridiculous in retrospect. The same will undoubtedly happen here. My son has a t-shirt that says “Chuck Norris doesn’t sleep, he waits”. I say the short story, much like Old Chuckers, is not sleeping (nor dead) - it’s waiting. And when it starts its movement watch out! Mark my words.


Anonymous said...

A woman after my own heart. I got 4 short stories published last year but so far - no novel. I've been blogging for a year and have built up quite a following mostly from people who like to read my short stories. I have had over a hundred people ask me if I would consider self-publishing a selection of the stories featured on my blog. So I agree with you completely. The short story isn't dead, it's very much alive. And there are some great writers out there. A new wave of short story writers is about to rise and I , for one, plan to be surfing alongside them.

Lauri said...

Yahoo for Selma!!
I don't know about the publishing environment in Australia but here in Bots if you don't write for schools, if you sell 100 books you're doing okay. Also, self publishing really isn't the pariah it used to be. If you have a market cultivated through your blog, what use is the publisher to you? I say self publish and sell through your blog.
Yeah for the short story!
I've been thinking about short stories and cellphones- how are they selling flash fiction through cellphones in other countries? I just feel there is a market there too.

groovyoldlady said...

Love to read 'em. My life is too busy and distracted to go full bore into a novel with any kind of frequency. It is those short stories that keep me reading! I don't care if they're 1 page mysteries in Woman's World magazine or if they are in a big, meaty compilation I snatched up at a library sale. Short stories are SO here to stay!

On a totally different subject, I recently got to taste red bush tea (rooibus) and, And, AND I totally and completely LOVE it!

A good friend of mine who lived in S. Africa for years thinks I'm nuts. She can't stand the stuff.

Maybe she and I should start a detective agaency or something, even if neither one of us is of "traditional build".

Lauri said...

I am not a fan of rooibos tea, but I know that it is healthy, many people put it in babies' bottles.

As for a traditional build, that is always something that can be aspired to, GOL, it just takes some effort. ;)

Karen said...

Long live the short story! They are the perfect thing for busy people, not that there's anything wrong with a long novel.

But what's this you say about atten- Hey! I think I'll go for a walk!