Short stories have a rich history, of course, and many literary giants — Hemingway, Nabokov, Cheever and Welty, to name a few — have written memorable collections. But they were largely seen as exceptions that prove the rule: publishers and authors tend to be wary of short-story collections because of the risk of being critically overlooked and, worse, lower sales.
I love short stories, so seeing this article from the New York Times was encouraging. Although I’ve written two novels (well, two novels that will see the light of day), most of what I write are short stories. And yet I’m sure that most of my friends who are writers have been told that to be successful, they have to have a novel. That never made sense to me when I think of writers like Raymond Carver, John Cheever, Grace Paley, and George Saunders who were (or, in Saunders’ case, are) known not for their long fiction, but for their short stories. Writers with a name for themselves through novels are getting in on the act; Margaret Atwood’s writing a serialized piece, Positron, for Byliner. Stephen King is selling shorts through Amazon’s Kindle Singles. Saunders, meanwhile, is No. 5 on the Times bestseller list.
Who says people don’t read short stories anymore?
Given how few people read even a single novel in a year, I’d always wondered why short stories weren’t a bigger deal for people who like reading but don’t have time for a novel. Likewise, current technology has made it easier to publish stories one at a time—though I’d be remiss in not pointing out that One Story magazine has been doing this in print for some time now. I think stories need to be appreciated differently from novels, but they can have an even bigger punch than a novel when they’re crafted carefully—and they really do require care. In some ways, I find them harder to writer, or at least write well, than a novel.
(But then I find it hard to write anything well. I blame endless distraction.)
What’s the last good story you read? For me it was “Commcomm,” by George Saunders.