Please welcome NY Times best seller Allison Brennan to my blog today as she talks about fear in small bites! Welcome Allison!
I’ve always loved short stories.
One of the first adult short stories I remember reading was And He Built a Crooked House by Robert Heinlein. I was probably 11 or 12, and I was fascinated by the concept of the tesseract collapsing into four dimensions. It was a bit freaky, but not wholly scary because they all survived. The same summer I read The Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury, about hunters in the future traveling back in time to kill a T-Rex dinosaur. The hunters are warned that they must stay on the path—one small change in the past can have cataclysmic changes in the future.
You might think because my earlier reading preferences that I would have written science fiction. While I have a desire to write a futuristic dystopian series that borders on SF, I still love my mysteries and suspense.
I also loved all the short stories I was “forced” to read in junior and high school. Flowers for Algernon? Loved. The Scarlet Letter? Wow. The Cask of Amontillado? Freaky! The Lottery? Terrifying!
A few years after glomming on SF shorts and reading for school, I read Stephen King’s THE STAND, his longest book at that point in his career. I fell in love with the master of horror, and read everything I could get my hands on … particularly his short stories.
For King, “short” can be anything from a few pages to a meaty novella. The Langoliers, for example—one of my favorites of his shorter works—is probably close to 70,000 words, a short novel. Others, like another fave of mine Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut might be 5,000 words, but just as delicious to devour.
Though I love King’s books, I have a particular affinity for his short stories. Not many authors write short stories anymore—at least not with regularity. There are still a few mystery magazines around (Ellery Queen, for example) and the digital age has resurrected novellas into cheaper, stand-alone stories. But the Golden Age of the short story passed before I even started writing.
For me, the short story is a bite-size tidbit that I can read in one sitting and be completely satisfied. If it’s a mystery, I want a puzzle to solve while watching my daughter’s soccer practice. If it’s science fiction, I want to think about the future and how what we do now might impact it. If it’s horror, I want to be scared. While this is true in full-length novels, it’s doubly important in a short story because the intensity level needs to start high and stay there for the duration.
Still, there are some genres that continue to thrive with truly short stories (under 15,000 words.) Mysteries, of course, as well as horror and science fiction. This is good for me, the reader. And challenging for me, the writer.
Writing short isn’t easy—at least not for me. While some writers find it hard to pen a 100,000 word novel, I find it hard to write a novel under 100,000 words!
The first short story I wrote was for an anthology edited by Lee Child, KILLER YEAR. It was supposed to be under 5,000 words. Mine clocked in at 6,200 – and that was edited down from over 8,000! When I had to write my first novella, my editor said 30,000 words … it ended up being just under 40,000.
But I forced myself to learn to write lean—and it’s helped with my books. Between full-length novels, I try to find the time – even if just a couple days – to write a short story. It sort of purges my palette, so I can go from one world to the next.
Her Lucky Day was just that kind of story. I wrote it for the Horror Writers Association anthology, BLOOD LITE II, and it was supposed to be “light” horror under 5,000 words. Guess what? Mine was 4,200! I actually came in under the maximum word count … a first for me.
I also have a novella coming out on October 27th! It had first been published in 2011, but hasn’t been available for the last two years. “Ghostly Justice” is part my Seven Deadly Sins series, book 2.5, and is my take on vampires. Trust me – there are no nice vampires in this story!
What about you? Do you enjoy short stories and novellas? What’s your favorite short story you read while in school? Recently?
If you’re interested in reading more about my Seven Deadly Sins series, I posted an SDS short ghost story on my blog.
BIO: Allison Brennan is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than two dozen thrillers and numerous short stories. She lives in Northern California with her husband and five kids. Visit her website at http://allisonbrennan.com