Wham, Bam, Thank You Ma’am – America Loves Short Stories


Confession: I am not a novelist.

What? I feel so… betrayed, Katrina! I thought you said you were a writer?

Writing myth # 813: Novelists are the only breed of fiction writer.

I’m a short story writer.

Edgar Allan Poe defined the short story as a fiction medium in which “one should be able to read in one sitting.” There are several classifications of short story including the “traditional” short story which ranges from 2000-9000 words, flash (or micro) fiction which totals at 1000 words or less, and the drabble which is a form of micro fiction told in exactly 100 words.

The earliest versions of the short story, as developed from the oral fables and anecdotes of the 13th and 14th centuries have been labeled “tales.” These tales like Edgar Allan Poe’s “Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque” (1840) and Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle” (1819) paved the way for the “modern” short story.

The period following World War II saw the greatest boom in short fiction in the US. Magazines like The Atlanta Monthly, The New Yorker, and The Saturday Evening Post published short stories in each issue. Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” (1948) brought the strongest response the New Yorker had seen to date; and when Life magazine published Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea,” in 1952, the issue sold almost 5.5 million copies in two days.

But, that’s all in the past. Today’s society is ruled by technology, and the e-book is the King’s cousin by marriage plotting to overthrow the monarchy and take the throne for its own. The touchpad, iPad, Kindle, Nook, and smart phones all offer the reader a more “modern” and “cooler” way to read. America loves its trends, but the one thing it loves more is instant gratification.

Americans know that our attention spans have drastically reduced in proportion to how many new technological “toys” are on the market. We want to read. We want to feel like we’re educating ourselves in the way of literature. We’re cultured, too, dammit!

Enter the short story, once again.

Interest in flash fiction is on a steep rise, as are online literary magazines like Every Day Fiction and Smokelong Quarterly. It allows the public to ingest fiction in small gulps when they feel they don’t have “time” to absorb an entire novel.

Americans are also stingy and cheap. Why buy a novel when they can read a collection of short stories online for free? (Granted, I do not agree with this sentiment, but if a writer wants to get anywhere, they give the people what they want. We’re all masochistic tools).

Short story authors may never become recognizable names on the tongue of the Joe Blow until they publish a novel, but our work will always be in demand. A comforting thought in spite of the forth coming changes in the publishing industry. See Renee Miller’s blog: Dangling on the Edge of (In)Sanity for predictions on these changes.

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6 thoughts on “Wham, Bam, Thank You Ma’am – America Loves Short Stories

  1. Someone better tell those writers who feel short fiction is pointless about this trend, because that's the general consensus in many writing groups. But I'm with you on this. Short fiction is just as entertaining and worthwhile as longer works. And it's damn hard. I can easily write 80K words, but condense a complete story into 500? That, my friend, is an art. By the way, it's me; Renee. I can comment on everyone's Blogger page as me, except for mine & also yours. WTF?

  2. Some while ago I would've said that short fiction writing is just for people who don't dare to take on the work of writing a novel, but then I tried to write a short story myself. And man, was I wrong! It's damn hard work, and way more difficult than writing lengthily. I thought it's practically impossible to condense so much meaning into so little space. But then I read your stories, Katrina, and also those of a few others on OFW, and I realized it's not only possible, but some people do it exceptionally well, turning it into an art. Thanks for proving my initial ignorant opinion wrong. 🙂

  3. Fascinating post, Katrina – almost, but not quite overshadowed by the mysterious By the way, it's me; Renee. and her cryptic warning not to click on the numbers shit because dreadful things might ensue. You have the premise of a short story right there 🙂

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