In my story collection SURVIVAL SKILLS you will find a hell-bent storm chaser, a malicious parrot, a young man afraid of cars, a dog with too many secrets, a guilt-ridden sister, an insidious garden weed, a love-struck goose, adulterous wives, mysterious deaths and a few lesbian love affairs gone awry. This is the advantage of story collections: the ease with which a reader can slip in and out of disparate worlds, tasting all kinds of trouble.
I strive for beauty and precision in my writing. While I have published both a novel and a story collection, I am most fond of the short story genre, the distillation involved. While novels depend on an accumulation of details, short stories must get to the point swiftly. For me, writing feels like sculpting; I try to chip away the extraneous to reveal the essence. Nothing matters more than the reader’s time, and I strive to honor it by cutting clear paths and offering something I hope intrigues them.
Life on this planet is a communal experience, and readers and writers form a sort of therapeutic bond, a mutually beneficial relationship. In an effort to bring the reader in close, I offer up my own doubts, fears and heartaches, knowing they are common chords. A couple stories in SURVIVAL SKILLS feature dogs, which stymied a friend of mine who wanted to know how I can write about them so convincingly, having none myself. I told her there is no shortage of examples. To write about dogs, to write about anything, requires two faculties: observation and empathy. If the story calls for more information, I turn to research (an occupational hazard: research can be addictive). An interesting aspect of this investigative work is how little of it I actually use. Research is like shopping. I meander down dozens of aisles and wind up with just two or three small treasures. These I tuck into my stories as discreetly as possible—only the best for my readers.
How are these details chosen? I’m not sure. I do know that when I spot one, my heart quickens. My favorite literary quote was penned by Georgia O’Keefe: “It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get at the real meaning of things.” Absolutely. The right details take us straight to the truth, and short stories are great vehicles for getting there.
Many people don’t read short stories, preferring the lengthy immersions offered by novels. I am baffled by this unwillingness to invest in low-risk, short-term investments, particularly given our paltry attention spans. Essentially readers are basing the value of a story on how long it keeps them company. You don’t see this more-is-better mentality applied to other art forms. A symphony does not trump a song, nor is a portrait less important than a mural, or a statue more impressive than a figurine. And poetry—no one accuses poems of being too short. I wish I could write poetry; the audience is small but ferociously loyal.
Just let me say: If you want to make new friends, fall in love, laugh out loud, solve a mystery, take a vacation, or just learn a few jaw-dropping things about this world, you don’t always need three hundred pages. Stories of any length can be stunners, and some of the very best writing is found in short works.
I am encouraged to see more and more LGBT writers breaking away from conventional novels and exploring other genres. Greater emphasis is being placed on the craft of writing and the quest for excellence.
Why would a greyhound refuse to run? Could a brand new face change one’s personality? What would make a goose adopt a divorcee? Where does the brain travel during coma? Why are moths attracted to light? Just how smart is an Amazon parrot? Can a woman lose her partner to the arms of an octopus? How do people survive the harsh infinity of a desert town?
These are a few of the questions that led to the creation of SURVIVAL SKILLS, and I hope I came up with some adequate answers. I am currently working on a second collection in an effort to connect with more readers and better understand the world we share.
Do you prefer to write what you know, or are you open to exploring what you don't? Do you prefer writing short stories, or novels?
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