Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Author interview: Isaac Sweeney

How did you become interested in short stories?
In school, the assignments were always to write short stories or poetry in the creative writing classes. We also read a lot of short stories. There just isn't time to assign a whole novel in a semester. So I started writing short stories out of necessity -- it was the assignment. But I fell in love with the craft. I love reading them because I can start and finish reading a short story in one sitting. I love writing them because, as the writer, I find them challenging, intensely focused, and extremely engaging.


As an author, do you think writing short stories is worthwhile?  Why?
Yes. Absolutely. I think there's art in the brevity of a short story. It's Hemingway's iceberg principle (all that stuff unrevealed that's under the surface -- the stuff you know is there and you still have to watch out for). I've said this before, but one of my favorite writing rules is by William Strunk. I'll regurgitate the whole thing here: "Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the write make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell."
When I write short stories, I revise a lot. I cut and cut. Everything I think is unnecessary, I get rid of, until you have a plot, interesting and insightful characters, and a story that manages to be  powerful. I feel another quote coming on: "If you would be pungent, be brief; for it is with words as it is with sunbeams. The more thay are condensed, the deeper they burn" (Robert Southey).

What types of short story promotion have worked for you?
I still try to find people to review my pieces, though reviewers like novels. I'm "on the list" with a few review blogs and websites, so hopefully they will review soon. I've signed up for some interviews. I use Twitter pretty well, and Facebook a little less effectively. I'm thinking long-term and building myself as a brand, so I'm doing well with that. I was recently "Twitterviewed" by Novel Publicity (transcript here: http://www.novelpublicity.com/2011/03/isaacsweeney-author-of-against-her-fading-hour/) which I think was great for building my brand. I love Kindleboards as a way to communicate, to learn, and to promote. I would like to see more ebook authors do readings or host "Kindle parties" or things like that. Maybe one day.

What types of short story promotion have not worked for you?
Being pushy and saying, "buy this." That doesn't work. I try to be a human being and communicate with people, and not just be a commercial.

Do you consider 99 cents to be a fair price for a standalone short story?  Why or why not?
I think it's more than fair. Unfortunately, I'm not my market, and I don't think all readers consider it fair. In America, size equals power/prestige. People want the most for their money, but they measure "the most" by the weight of a thing or by how much space it takes up. Quality should be more important than it is. The most for the money should include the experience of the story, the lasting impression, the quality of the piece. It's like other art forms. We don't judge the mastery of a painting by the size of the canvas. The Vietnam memorial in Washington DC is a minimalist type of structure, but it has been hailed as one of the best war memorials in the world. I guess what I'm saying is that although readers can get novels for 99 cents, that shouldn't devalue the short story.

Check out Isaac's work on Amazon

3 comments:

  1. I really liked that quote by Strunk.

    I too have run into that issue with bloggers and wanting novels. More specifically, they want hard copies of novels that are not self-published. It just takes time to weed through all those.

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  2. (Another) good interview. Strunk is great for writing advice.

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  3. Yeah, that Strunk quote is great. King put it even more concisely: "Omit unnecessary words."

    Which I tell myself everyday and also violate everyday.

    Thanks guys!
    Shana Hammaker
    METAMORPHOSIS, Twelve Terrifying Tales for 2011

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