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Thursday, July 26, 2012


Have you?

That's not a rhetorical question; it's very very very serious. Or at least it's meant to be.

Maybe it ain't.

So, I'm going to just come and say it: I don't really like short stories all that much. I don't really like writing them or reading them*.  This post isn't meant to knock short stories, far from it. When in the hands of the right writer a short story can deliver a jolt to the system so potent that it makes novels, the longer in the tooth older cousin of the short story, look like a boring ole' windbag. I think my distaste for the short story stems primarily from the fact that I don't write them very well. No, no, don't worry, you don't have to flatter me, I know I'm not a good short story writer and I'm OK with it. For some reason, it is an art that eludes me. After writing lots and lots of them and finding very few I'm even OK with, I think it might be time to accept that this might be a part of the writing gig that just isn't my thing.

I have to admit this is a bit of a relief because it basically frees me of the nagging guilt I've been feeling for years about not being as well read or as published or as super cool awesome as my short story writing contemporaries. It's impossible to stay away from the internet. It's impossible not to be jealous even when you know you shouldn't be. Why be jealous of someone else's success, especially when they're awesome and totally deserve every bit of attention they get? It's silly, no? Still, the internet and the rapid-fire publication schedules of so much of the internet indie writing scene can make a novel writer feel downright lazy, not to mention paranoid as hell that he's going nowhere extraordinarily fast.

The thing is, writing novels and writing short stories is a lot like sprinting and long distance running: it takes a special person to be really good at both of them. There certainly are people who are good at both (Stephen King, Nabokov) but not many. Some writers just take a little longer to develop their ideas, and hopefully the exploration is well worth the extra effort and time. I come back often to this quote from Roberto Bolano in 2666, when at one point two characters are chatting and one of them says that he prefers the minor works of the great masters, like Bartleby over Moby Dick. This astounds the other one, Amalfitano, and he thinks to himself, “What a sad paradox. Now even bookish types are afraid to take on the great, imperfect, torrential works, books that blaze paths into the unknown. They choose the perfect exercises of the great masters. They want to watch the great masters spar, but they have no interest in real combat, when the great masters struggle against that something, that something that terrifies us all, that something that cows us and spurs us on, amid blood and mortal wounds and stench.”

I love this quote. It makes me happy, makes me feel like writing books is something worth doing. It's not that short stories are not an art form in and of themselves, or that they are less than novels, it's just that I'm not sure they push the author quite as much as the sustained intensity of writing a novel. Maybe they do and maybe that's why I'm no good at writing short stories. Maybe I don't try hard enough. Maybe I don't feel it enough. It's certainly possible; I'm far from a writing guru. But, I can tell you nothing has pushed me harder than writing my novels, especially this last one. I, as Bolano writes, struggled with myself and pulled out my sticky, angry demons into the light and I examined them and threw them in the book and I spent most nights agonizing over whether it was right or whether I was doing something wrong. More than anything I've ever done, this book felt like something I had to do. Like if I didn't I would always feel incomplete, or empty, or close to bursting.

I've never felt that way about a short story. So, I'll stick to novels. I'll stick to the struggle. I think I could be good at it. Maybe not, but the struggle is worth it. Right? Right?

*There are, of course, obvious exceptions to the rule: xTx, Roxane Gay, Matt Bell, Stephen King, DFW. But really I just tolerate short stories from these writers because I like reading the words they put on a page so much. They are more exceptions that prove the rule kinda things than something that invalidates the post.