Today’s first short story themed post is from Karl Drinkwater, author of Cold Fusion 2000 and 2000 Tunes. Karl discusses why we shouldn’t disregard the short story and has kindly provided one of his ultra short stories, The Jug. My thanks to Karl for a great post.
Short Stories. The ugly cousin to the beautiful novel in the minds of many publishers and readers. But you should always look beneath the surface, get to know the substance, shake the hand of that cousin; hell, give them a hug! We all need hugs!
Don’t get me wrong: I love novels. But I have always adored short stories, ever since I would sneak off with a collection of ghostly tales when I was a kid, and read them under the bunkbed, or in a sighing tree. Each story would be a condensed form of excitement, a spoon of sherbet rather than a bowl of porridge.
As an adult I still love short story collections. Between the covers you get a variety of styles, moods, viewpoints and themes. A short story is easy to fit in when you’re busy; you can leave the collection by the bed for days, weeks, years, and you won’t have lost the plot when you pick it back up. There’s also the option to tie the stories together through an overarching concept. Take M is for Monster – 26 authors, 26 stories, one for each letter of the alphabet, and each is about a monster whose name begins with that letter. Or Machine of Death – the premise is that a machine has been invented that will print out your future cause of death. Then 34 authors wrote stories which all embraced that concept.
Sometimes short stories can stand alone, and have the strength to survive through time. In the past I’ve written about my love for many of these, such as The Yellow Wallpaper, and The Lottery. And as a fan of horror, I can’t neglect classics such as I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison (five people trapped inside a sadistic computer which tortures them forever); I Am Legend by Richard Matheson (last man on an Earth of monsters); and Who Goes There? by John Campbell (paranoia and alien body horror in the Antarctic). Count them as recommendations.
“Och Karl, it’s easy to talk the talk, but so far you’ve only released novels, ya wee scunner!”
Glad you said that, Mr Critical McVoice Inmaheed. I was included in an excellent anthology of Welsh short story writers this month, called Secondary Character And Other Stories – my blog includes my reading in Cardiff. And my current plan is for my next four books to be short story collections – two horror collections, two literary. They’ll make a change from 140,000 word coming-of-age novels. I also care about those that come after us. I started writing short stories when I was ten. It changed my life. I thank those that encouraged me. So this year I was one of the judges in a national short story competition for children. Maybe a collection by one of those imaginative kids will sit on my bookcase one day. I hope so.
I’ll end with one of my ultra-short pieces of fiction. Don’t worry, it’s not one of my horror pieces, so no chainsaws, zombies or tentacles will sear your eyes if you read on.
It sat there, reflecting distorted room back at him, glossy shine from which she was absent.
Her hands, delicate and creative, were designed to shape curvy inversions from clay; his own lumpen digits resembled unformed terracotta by comparison, blunted heaviness to hammer and break, not to shape. She was the creator, he the witness, standing by the side, minimal contribution.
Colour was unimportant to her, any splat would suffice to set off the milky white: only shape really mattered. Curves.
The top was pure flower-shaped femininity. He knew it intimately. From above it was so obvious: glossy lips and the small black hole of the neck, that design no accident as she stretched and smoothed; a joke perhaps, or maybe subconscious, they didn’t ever discuss the resemblance to secret places. He stared at it and went down the rabbit hole, a painless squeeze to fulfilment he never understood, but needed. She was the cause and he the witness, outside and within at the same time, squeezed so tight it suddenly hurt, he had to get out – not a rabbit hole but a warren, a maze of memory, tunnels of taste, painful smells, and sights, and sensations that tore him back out in horror at the finger-snapping pain of loss.
The wetness from his eyes refracted the molten room, nothing was sure and reliable anymore, but he could still see the pregnant curve below the neck; the vessel she’d created to hold something, something he would have loved. She was the creator, he the witness of minimal contribution, and to lose both in the smashed memory of horror, paining, keening, he couldn’t sit there any longer, he loved and hated it…
As the sharp pieces of the jug settled on the floor, spinning from his heavy-handed violence, he sat there, a distorted man with no shine, nothing to reflect now that she was absent.
You can find out more about Karl and his stories here: