It’s been a while since I’ve talked about short stories. Larry the Kindle loves him some short stories, especially when I’m cooking dinner. It’s like my very own floor show. Read a story, stir the pot, read another story, scream like a madwoman because something is burning, order a pizza and read another story. Life is good.
So in no particular order:
BEAT TO A PULP: Hardboiled. Glenn Gray (Author), John Hornor Jacobs (Author), Kent Gowran (Author), Kieran Shea (Author), Thomas Pluck (Author), Wayne D. Dundee (Author), Patricia Abbott (Author), Garnett Elliott (Author), Scott D. Parker (Editor), David Cranmer (Editor)
Recommended to me by Thomas Pluck (aka @tommysalami) over on Twitter, this collection of hardboiled crime stories follows the tradition of pulp noir crime fiction. (Tommy, I really liked “Black-eyed Susan,” twisted and nasty, just how I like it)
Also recommended by Thomas Pluck was this collection of dark, disturbing, and very good stories written and presented for charity. All proceeds for the ebook go to CHILDREN 1ST, an organization in Scotland championing the rights of children and vulnerable families.
Lost Children, Paul D. Brazill (Author), Luca Veste (Author), Chad Rohrbacher (Author), Benoit Lelievre (Author), Susan Tepper (Author), Seamus Bellamy (Author), Lynn Beighley (Author), Thomas Pluck (Editor), McDroll (Editor), Ron Earl Phillips (Editor)
I’m biased since I edited this short story, so you’ll have to trust me when I say it is one of her best (so far, since we’re getting ready to release Zombies Take Manhattan very soon and that collection is her best so far!). If you like zombies, Ferris wheels and sick humor, you’ll love this one.
McKenna’s short stories are always a delight. Unusual settings and themes, wicked humor, lots of irony. This one is set in the future where it isn’t the cops in speed traps you have to worry about, but those killer eyes in the sky.
What do Occupy Wallstreet and the Grim Reaper have in common? It all depends on who is using whom. A creepy little tale with some interesting points about the haves versus the have nots.
Catch & Release, Lawrence Block.
Larry the Kindle is not happy unless I have a few Block novels and short stories in the TBR pile. Block never pulls punches, but this short story has to be, hand’s down, the most chilling story I’ve read yet by him. Pop into the mind of a serial killer, if you dare. This one will have you locking the doors and looking funny at the neighbors.
If you have an ereader, short stories are the best value for entertainment around. If you’re loving the resurgence of short fiction that e-publishing is fostering, too, list some of your new-found treasures in the comments.
I resisted ebooks for a long time. I’ve been using a computer for writing since the 1980s, but that doesn’t mean I like reading on the things. I spend enough hours in front of a lighted screen to turn my eyeballs into quivering jelly. And they expect me to read for pleasure on a computer? Besides, I love printed books. I love everything about them from the way they look to the way they smell. Reduce a book to bits and bytes? No way.
But then I got interested in indie publishing and I had to see what the fuss was about. So I bought a Kindle. I will not say it was love at first sight. It wasn’t. It’s not the same thing as reading a printed book. I had to learn how to maneuver it to use it properly (and at my age, there is a measure of resentment anytime I have to learn to do something I’ve been doing just fine for decades). I did get used to it. I know I’m entrenched now because just last week I was reading a rather weighty tome while lying in bed and my hand cramped because of the awkward way I had to hold the book. I thought, “Shees, this wouldn’t have happened with my Kindle.” I’ve also discovered that the Kindle is much better for reading while I cook (Cooking bores me, so while things are simmering or steaming or whatever else that involves just standing around watching pots, I read a book. The Kindle, bless its sturdy plastic casing, takes splashes, spatters, greasy fingers and cake batter in stride. Additional bonus, my cats don’t chew on the Kindle and while they do like to lie on it, they’ve yet to figure out how to do it harm.)
The very best thing I’ve discovered, thanks to my Kindle, is the resurgence of short stories. I’ve always loved short stories. It seemed like every magazine I read as a kid had at least one piece of fiction in every issue. There were zillions of monthly and bi-monthly magazines devoted to genre fiction. The very best writers, the mega-writers, wrote short stories for the top magazines. Writers could make nice livings just writing short stories. That changed. Magazines realized they could make more money with advertisements than they could with fiction. Genre digest after digest folded or merged and eventually became sad little shadows of their former selves. Rates for writers dropped. Publishers decided novels were the money-makers and yeah, some writers were able to publish collections, but usually only after they’d become bestsellers with novels. Short stories faced the fate of poetry. Something only artists did, in their spare time, when they weren’t working a “real” job and nobody was expected to make a living at it. If a genre writer was bursting with short stories to tell, his options for publication were limited. He could write novels and hope his publisher took him seriously enough to invest in a collection. He could hope to be invited to contribute to an anthology. While short stories are still being written and published, they aren’t the ubiquitous purveyors of ideas they once were.
From a writer’s perspective, short stories are pure delight. Other than the requirement that they be, you know, short, there are no hard and fast rules. Short stories can be tightly plotted or dispense with plot altogether. They can be snippets, character studies, an exploration of a single, “What if?” or a slice of life. Short stories are a great way to play with a style or just have fun with language. Short stories are about ideas. Big, small, important, trivial, dark, light and everything in between. Hell, Ernest Hemingway supposedly a short story in only six words:
“For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.”
Unfortunately for writers, as the markets dried up, writing short stories fell into almost hobby status. Forget finding a market that paid good money, try finding one that paid at all.
Then came the rise of indie publishing and ebooks. Writers have discovered a whole new market by publishing short stories direct to readers. Writer after writer is indie publishing collections and stand-alones, all for a very low price. Because they can make money at it, they have incentive to keep doing it, which means the variety and selection will continue to improve and everybody is happy.
This reader thanks them and Kindle and Amazon and every other outlet that makes it possible for me to find short stories. In the few months I’ve had my Kindle, I’ve purchased a ton of singles and collections. A few of the stories were freebies. Gifts by writers to their readers. I haven’t paid more than five bucks for any of them (and no, I don’t need to hear from you jokers asking how many novels that has led me to purchase, so how much money am I actually saving, hmn? Just shut it.)
The .99 cent short story is pure heaven. Because the cost is so low, I’m comfortable trying out new-to-me writers. I can explore genres that have been neglected by publishers. I no longer have to buy a hardcover at twenty bucks for an anthology in which I’ll probably only find one story worth reading. I really like that a lot of my favorite novelists are taking advantage of ebooks to put out short stories.
Here are a few I’ve really enjoyed:
Weird Fantasy: Irregular Creatures, collection by Chuck Wendig.
Horror: Blood is Red, collection by Scott Sigler
Horror: Specimen 313, by Jeff Strand (FREE!)
Zombies!: The Undead: Zombie Anthology, by David Wellington and many more.
Psycho Horror: Head Cases, anthology by Scott Nicholson and many more.
Horror: Pickers and Pickled Punks, collection by Marina Bridges (I’m biased here since I edited this collection, but they are really good stories or I wouldn’t have edited them)
Literary: House of Skin, collection by Kiana Davenport
Mystery: The Burglar Who Dropped in On Elvis, by Lawrence Block
Women’s: Is It Spicy?, by Julia Barrett
Mystery: The Night and The Music, collection by Lawrence Block
Not every short story or collection I’ve found has been a winner. But I have unearthed enough real treasures to turn me into a short story fiend all over again. Thank you, Kindle.