Me, Short Stories, and Robert Heinlein
I have a funny relationship with short fiction. It is not the form I reach to automatically when I write: I think in the long-term panoramas of book-length works. But now and then something will grab me, and out will burp a short story. And some short fiction I really, really love.
In spite of this, for most of my writing career I have not thought of myself as a short story writer. It is only now, that I am looking through older material in my files, that I realize I have been writing shorts in fits and starts for more than 30 years.
Thinking back, I am not surprised by this. My inspiration to write short fiction, the thing that totally grabbed me with its amazing twist and utterly fascinating core concept, was Robert Heinlein’s phenomenal “And He Built a Crooked House” (which you can read online here.) The “cool” factor in that story was off the charts for me. I can’t say what I thought was so cool about it without doing spoilers, and if you’re not familiar with the tale yet, I don’t want to ruin it for you, so I hope you’ll read it yourself and maybe you’ll be fascinated by some of the same things I was. (Might get into this more in a later blog post.)
I loved that story so much that, in the days before photocopy machines were everywhere, I typed it out with my just-learned 7th grade typing skills, so I could have a copy to read again after returning the book to the library. I even built a tesseract out of toothpicks and modeling putty, after his description in the book, so I could see what he was trying to explain. (Pre-internet, it wasn’t so easy to find images of obscure things like tesserae.)
After I lived and absorbed the adventure that was that story, I thought, I want to write like that! But as I continued to work at writing, I discovered I am basically a marathon runner, not a sprinter. Still, when I do feel the need to dash, it is sometimes with Heinlein (or other role models) on my shoulder.
I am also terribly fond of unforeseen twists and gotcha endings. Or even “gotcha” starts. I remember one very brief page-and-a-half opening chapter by Len Deighton in one of his spy novels that made me literally gasp with surprise. Now isn’t that funny: I no longer remember which book that was (I’ve read them all), but I do remember that reaction, which is exactly why I went on to read everything the man wrote – then from his example was able to add some tricks and techniques to my own writer’s toolbox, and hopefully have become a better writer for leaning in this sort of manner.
The twist or gotcha doesn’t work for every story, nor does it always happen even if the author wants it to. But regardless of the exact style that ends up on the page, I have been happy with the results of much of my short-form story telling, although very little of it (only two pieces to date) has ever been published.
I suppose that’s another consequence of not thinking of myself as a short story writer. But things in my writing life have been conspiring to make me think of short fiction differently, and so my relationship to these kinds of stories has undergone something of a sea change recently.
What does this mean for you the reader? Well, it means that I’m finally pulling my short fiction out of the filing cabinet drawers and letting it see the light of day. In some instances, these stories are free. Others carry a modest price tag. I’m now making my short fiction available here through my website or online ebook outlets like Amazon.com.
Related projects coming up: Right now, I’m wrangling folklore from my fiction settings and writing more of the same. This will be appearing soon in a book called Sa’adani Tales. Another short story project in the works is called Backstreeters, a collection of tales about the low-lives and backstreet vagabonds of the Empire. I also have a couple of novella projects that I’ll be announcing later.
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So: on to the stories! You can find links to my short fiction and excerpts for reading on this page. Let me know what you think, ok? I’d love to hear readers’ takes on this content, and I’ll be reading your comments with interest.