Friday, September 30, 2011

Short Stories Elicit Reactions

Art should elicit a reaction out of you.  Even if you hate a movie or painting or book, it's still a memorable experience in its own way.  The worst possible thing an artist can be is forgettable.

One thing that really has interested me as I continue to write short stories is how people react to them.  I've received 1 star through 5 stars as a rating.  In terms of feedback I've had the scathing one sentence and I had a review that was nearly as long as the story itself outlining all of its merits.  Flattering or insulting, it doesn't bother me.  All I ever ask for is an honest opinion.  Honestly.

However, what seems to upset most people is the length.  In all the good reviews I've ever received, the reviewer tends to focus on the story itself.  The reviews that are not so positive or just plain lukewarm almost always stem from the length of the story.  On several (yes, more than once) occasions, I have received feedback saying that the story was so short it was a waste of time.

That kind of thinking... I just don't get.  But apparently the number of words is a source of animosity for some.   To the point where they can't possibly say if they did or did not actually enjoy what few words were provided. Ah well, you can't please everyone.

But there is a lesson to be learned here.  All this time that writers spend agonizing over creating the perfect revolutionary novel is a waste!  Useless effort!  All you really have to do to p*ss people off is write a piece of light fiction that's under 5,000 words.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Muzik Chronicles

So!  I've been wanting to start a mildly geeky blog for some time.  In elementary school I already had the music nerd title so in an effort to at least appear somewhat normal I would usually keep my geekiness in check.  Mostly.  I mean, it came out every once in awhile.  Like, everyone knew I loved Star Wars in 5th grade.  Whatever.

But now that I am an adult and free from the shackles of peer pressure, I am at liberty to express my geeky nature!  I've been mulling for some time over what kind of geeky blog I would want to write (plus, I just love to mull).  I've also been thinking about educating the short story reader.  Or at least maybe giving people an outlet to try writing for themselves.

The result: Muzik Chronicles.

Muzik Chronicles is an interactive sci-fi blog.  For my other fellow geeks out there: think of it like a customizable card game.  Every post is designed to add a little detail to the universe.  There are six types of posts:  weapon, ship, planet, race, profession, adventure.  The adventures are all done flash fiction style (1,000 words or less) and will all be based off of the an already created profession or race (or whatever).

Guest adventures are more than welcome!  For my part, I just have fun writing the posts.  It's like playing a game or something.  I'm hoping others will have fun with it as well.  If nothing else, it might encourage some people to try their hand at flash fiction.


Monday, September 26, 2011

Review of "After The Rain," a Short Story by Shannon Eckrich

Janie Chanson leaves Adam, her seven-year-old son, with her sister while she runs to the store. When she returns, her house is fully engulfed in flames, and her son is trapped inside. Powerless to save him, Janie can only watch as firefighters attempt to rescue him.

Much like the summary, "After The Rain" is very straightforward.  There aren't any layers within layers, there are no mysteries to ponder, we know exactly what happens to everyone.  "After The Rain" is about a woman stricken with grief as she watches her son die.  Period.

The writing is powerful and the characters are realistic.  Despite the short length you can't help but feel for Janie as she watches her son perish.  In that sense, the story does a credible job eliciting a reaction out of the reader.

But in the end, I'm not really sure what the author was trying to drive at.  It's a gripping but far too depressing tale to entertain.  The manner of death is sad but not unusual (you hear similar instances on the news all the time).  Stories like this are a tough sell as a standalone.  It almost seems like it would be more fitting if it were part of a collection about grief and loss.

3/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Buy this short story on Amazon or on B&N.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Educating the Short Story Reader

I think one of the biggest public dangers a short story writer faces is ignorance.  Now I'm not saying that everyone should know everything.  Nor am I calling anyone who doesn't read/understand short stories stupid.  But I am saying that short stories are a topic not widely discussed which therefore leads to a lot of misconceptions.

What do I mean by not widely discussed?  I mean people just don't really talk about them.  Period.  A TV show, for example, is something widely discussed.  So even if a person never watched TV at all they could probably give a fairly accurate definition of what a TV show is and probably explain to some degree how a TV show differs from a movie.  It's part of our culture and, therefore, an understood entity.

Short stories are not a large part of our culture.  At least, not in the same way books are.  The term itself (short story) seems somewhat self-explanatory.  The reader feels no need to research the purpose of the short story because they already feel like they know what it is.  It's a story.  And it's short.

Well, a book is a story, no?  Would you describe a TV show as a short movie?  Of course not.  There is no way I would classify Star Trek episodes as the same type of entertainment as Ben-Hur.  People get TV shows and movies.  They understand the premise of each and don't expect them to be the same.

Most people don't get short stories.  I think the average reader goes into shorter works expecting them to be like a book.  So the enemy is not really the short story and it's not how much the short story costs.  It's the ignorance.

If short stories are ever going to make a comeback in this ebook revolution, I think that people who do get short stories need to make a concerted effort to educate readers.  Not everyone has to like short stories.  But people should or shouldn't like them for what they are, not what they thought a short story should be.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Review of "The Deadly Path," a Short Story by Will Granger

In this short story, five-year-old Cindy watches from her bedroom window as an old man passes by in the middle of the night. Strangely drawn to the man, Cindy sneaks out of her house and finds him by following a golden path that only they can see. She watches as he buries strange coins by the corners of several houses.

What Cindy does not know, is that people start dying in those houses. Cindy's life changes when her best friend dies in a fire, and she finds one of the coins buried under the ashes.

There were things that I both liked and didn't like in this story by Will Granger.  I liked the concept and the pacing.  This may be a personal preference, but much can be forgiven in a short story if the concept is intriguing.  Granger does a good job implying a lot of things instead of spelling everything out.  This allows the reader to really focus on the creepy "Indian burial ground" aspects of the story.

The pacing of "The Deadly Path" also works well.  The whole story takes place over the course of twenty years.  All information is presented in almost news-like snippets. The scenario of one year is explained and then the next "chapter" will be several years later at the next incident.  Time jumps are often a problem in short stories due to the length.  But Granger did a credible job presenting a short story over a large span of time without any real head-scratching.

What I did not much care for were the characters.  Cindy's parents were flat, but I was actually ok with this.  I understood their purpose.  My biggest issue was with Cindy herself.  The story focuses on Cindy and the first twenty years of her life.  So we're watching her grow up.  In all the various age points, there's no real change in how she sees the strange man.  At five years old she's shockingly mature in how she sneaks out of the house.  At seven she displays deductive reasoning/planning that would rival most adults'.

I think this story could have really had more of an impact if how Cindy viewed this strange man changed as she grew up.  At the age of five most kids are still planning to be professional super heroes.  So the man could have had some mystical/supernatural qualities to him.  Then watching him go from "spirit-like" to more real and creepy as Cindy herself starts to mature and realize what he really is.

3/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Buy this short story on Amazon or on B&N.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Concept behind "Dead in a Flash" by Alain Gomez

Dead in a Flash is a flash fiction collection that explores those last few seconds before death occurs.  I've had this idea rolling around in my head for years now but nothing ever came of it until now.  I was inspired when I visited London for the first time and took a tour of the Tower.  As a part of the tour, they show you where all the famous "traitors" (people like the wives of King Henry) of England were held and where they walked as they were led down to the chopping block.

For some reason that little walk was very powerful to me.  This may have been due, in part, to the fact that I had been reading a lot of books about the Tudors at the time so a lot of the people they were talking about were fresh on my mind.  As they led us down the step I had this weird past/present feeling and it occurred to  me that if this were my execution, those surroundings would be the last few things I would ever see and experience.

That whole idea of dead before your time or an unjust death really stuck with me.  For a long time I wasn't really sure how I could portray that in writing.  Then I got into the ebook scene and flash fiction seemed like the perfect medium.

Dead in a Flash is possibly one of my more favorite things that I've written so far.  I don't know if anyone else will ever appreciate it but writing this collection really pushed me as a writer.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Short Story Blogs

Finding short story blogs is harder than one might think.  Sure, there are short story friendly blogs.  But this is not quite the same thing.  Usually it means the blog is run by a novel reader/writer that is open to the idea of maybe trying a short story.  It's a dicey prospect at best and can be a little disheartening if you're fond of the short fiction genre, especially if you're an independent author.

So I'm putting together a list of some short story related blogs (aside from this one, of course!) along with a description  of the blog.  You're not alone out there.  There are others that share your interests.  It just takes a little more work to find them.

Please feel free to add to this list.

Reading the Short Story- Written by literature teacher Charles E. May.  His posts are meaty, so don't expect a fast read.  Every post analyzes a short story of his choosing.  Many of them are classics.  This is a fantastic blog if you want an education in short stories.  If nothing else, go through his past blog post titles and read the stories he analyzes.

The Future Fire Reviews-  Not short story exclusive.  However, they have staff members that actually enjoy reading short stories which is why I recommend them.  Their reviews have no star rating but are very in-depth.

Scattershot Writing-  Written by James Everington.  A fellow short story writer, this blog is, in part, his own personal blog.  His posts will give you a little of everything and are always entertaining to read.  He enjoys featuring short stories by other authors including an ongoing blog series called "In Defense of Short Stories."

Short Sharp Reads-  Written by Andrew Warwick.  A short story writer who has decided to shine the spotlight on shorter works with this blog.  The blog is still new but it seems his posts will include short story features, general news and possibly reviews

Novella Reviews-  Run by novella writer, Jenna Anderson.  She has a few other "on staff" reviewers listed which allows for a wide range of interests.  She reviews novellas and short stories on this blog.  In her review policies she lists that the blog is mainly a hobby so she will only be accepting stories that look interesting to her.  But everyone is more than welcome to submit.

Short Story Symposium-  Written by me =)  This blog is designed to be a resource for those wanting to find shorter works to read.  Excerpts and links are provided but no reviews.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Sales Stats for Shiromi Arserio

I'm not a published fiction author. My background has been writing for magazines and online in the area of travel and outdoors. I electronically published my first short story, The Huntsman's Tale, on Amazon and Smashwords on June 15, and have done a low to medium amount of advertising on it. This particular short story is just over 9K, although the one I'm currently working on will be around 6K, so for me, the length of the story really depends on the story idea. The genre of the story is fantasy- more specifically fairytale retelling.

I haven't had any B&N sales yet. Here's my Amazon data:

June 2011 - 3
July 2011 - 6
August 2011 - 6

I plan to release my second short story later this month, and I am genuinely interested to see how that will affect sales, although my second story is more science fiction. My general feeling towards writing short stories, is to write to the length that the story calls for. Right now at least, i'm trying not to worry too much about sales numbers, and hopefully just build up a readership.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Review of "The Disappearances at North Valley High School," a Short Story by Nora Crest

New student Claude Williams is the talk of the school. Girls would love to go out with him, but the rumor is he's married! Can this be true? What is it he's hiding? Meanwhile, students have been disappearing all over campus, and no one has any clue as to their whereabouts. Natalie Jenson, the school snoop, is determined to get to the bottom of things, no matter what it takes.

**May Contain Spoilers**
For better or worse, this story reads like one of those Lifetime movies you see on TV.  It's light, moves along at a good pace and has scenery descriptions that sometimes feel more like a script rather than a story.

I found myself interested in the plot from beginning to end but the writing style was a little awkward. The dialog was sometimes redundant and the ending, though neatly tied up, seemed to come out of left field.  The villain ended up being someone who was never even mentioned earlier in the story.  So while our main characters are shocked at the discovery and treachery, I found myself held up by thinking "who is this guy?"

An explanation is later provided and our villain has his comeuppance.  But by this point, the damage is already done.  In a movie, the viewer is able to see all of the characters walking around and can piece things together.  In a written story, the only things a reader knows are those the author tells.

2.5/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Buy this story on Smashwords.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Review of "The Tool," a short story by Stephan Tweed

A dirty old man gets more than he bargains for when he uses a very special escort service.

This was an engaging story though somewhat clumsily executed.  The typos and grammar issues are numerous enough to where it does start to distract from the story.  It felt like I was reading a first draft of something rather than a polished work.

While the cover and summary seem to tell their own story, the actual one written down could best be classified as horror/thriller.  It's about a scam artist with a vendetta.  Without giving too much away, the scam artist trains young girls to take the money but not exactly provide the "escort service"

I did enjoy the plot.  The story has a sort of grim humor to it with an ever so slight nasty twist at the end.  While the premise of "The Tool" is easily understood, there were many instances where the writing just felt unpracticed.  The concepts where all good but maybe not portrayed in the most effective manner.  So much more could have been done to make the twist at the end that much more creepy rather than just haphazard.

2.5/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Buy this story on Amazon.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

August 2011 short story sales

Well, August has certainly been an interesting month in the sales department.  Since summer obviously slows things downs quite a bit, I decided to experiment.  What's the worst that could happen?  A repeat of July?

I've already tried to play around with prices with lackluster results.    Despite all the rampant theories about 99 cents vs. 2.99 vs. 4.99, it really doesn't seem to make any difference for short stories.  People either want them or they don't.  A customer who really wants a novel to read will feel short changed regardless of the price paid for the short story.

So I decided to set Celebrity Space for free on Amazon/B&N.  For several months, I've had flash fiction posted for free on Smashwords.  I also wrote a blog post on whether or not writing for free was worthwhile.  Strangely enough, my views have not really changed since that original post.  But let me post my August numbers first and then I'll go more into that.  As before, these are only the numbers for my under 10k words and collections:

Amazon (US,UK,DE):
              # of works: 14
              # of sales:  30

            # of works: 14
            # of sales:  11

Soo... a definite increase in sales.  I did not include the number of free downloads; it's not really relevant.  I should note that Celebrity Space is the first in a series.  So most of the increased sales were for the other standalones in the series or for the whole collection itself.

But I'm still not entirely sure about the whole free thing.  With the increase in sales, I have also had an increase in reviews.  Some of them positive, some of them give the usual "would have liked to see this as a novel."  Basically, free attracts people outside of my target audience.  It does also seem to devalue the work slightly.

However, I can't argue with the increase in sales.  It's been free for a few weeks now and the number of free downloads has slowed down compared to the frenzy of the first few days.  With the drop off in downloads, there has been a slowdown in paid sales as well.  But still better than previous months.

So free works... kind of.  It works on sites like Amazon, not Smashwords.  It works if the story you set for free is part of a series.  It works for just sheer exposure.  As a new author, these are important things for me to consider.  Where free doesn't seem to work is attracting people to my other stories.  It also doesn't necessarily attract my target audience.

For now, though, I believe the pros outweigh the cons.  Frankly, I need exposure as an author more than I need people to value my work.  I also need reviews, good or bad.  I also need  to get on the customers also bought lists on Amazon.  Free will help me do this for the time being.  So I'm going to try another month of free and see how it goes. 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Different Short Story Lengths

I have started a new blog called Short Story Symposium.  Never fear!  Book Brouhaha is still alive and well.  I have no intention of abandoning it.  Short Story Symposium serves a different purpose.  The idea behind the blog is for short story authors to feature their work.  I've noticed that Amazon and B&N are sadly lacking in this department.  Short stories are rarely, if ever, featured.

So, if all goes according to plan, this blog will become a resource for readers interesting in discovering new short fiction authors.  I am also using the blog as a way to educate readers how the word count will affect the way story reads.  I'm starting to believe that the biggest thing working against short stories is a lack of education rather than the price point.  But more on than in a later blog.

On Short Story Symposium, I spell out the different short story lengths.  It's a pretty good summary, if I do say so myself, so I thought I would post it here as well.

Here it goes:

"Short story" can be used as an umbrella term for a broad range of story lengths. It's important to understand both the terms and how the word count can affect the way a story reads. That way you can pick the type that suits your reading style.

I will be listing word counts as a way of indicating length. Most paperback books have about 250 words on a page. This can vary depending on how big the book is or what type of e-reading device you are using. But this will at least give you a rough approximation.

Novel - Will typically be over 40,000 words. We're not worried about these here on Short Story Symposium.

Novella - 17,500 to 40,000 words. These usually read like mini novels. The lower word count means that the plot tends to be more straightforward. There will be character development (hopefully) but don't expect tons of side characters and sub-plots.

Novelette - 7,500 to 17,500 words. Very similar to the novella in terms of how it reads. Depending on who you ask, some people squish the novelette and the novella into one category. There is a bit of a grey area around that 7,000 word mark where the story could read more like a short story rather than a mini-novel.

Short Story - 1,000 to 7,500 words. This is the actual short story rather than the umbrella term. Short stories are not intended to be read like a mini novel. The goal is to present an single idea (eating an ice cream cone) rather than an entire plot (my day buying an ice cream cone). A good short story will instantly pull you in with minimal description.

Flash Fiction - Less than 1,000 words. Sometimes referred to as literary poetry. Flash fiction must be even more precise than a short story. The goal is to use as few words as possible in order to let the reader finish the story in their mind. The best example is Earnest Hemingway's immortal six word story: "For sale: Baby shoes, never worn."

Friday, September 2, 2011

Concept behind "Forbidden Instinct" by Alain Gomez

You know, I'll be honest: I have mixed feelings about this story.  Forbidden Instinct and I never really "clicked" while I was writing it.  Which means, knowing my luck, that somehow this will be the story that makes me rich and famous.  That way when people ask the source of my inspiration I can give an eloquent "uhhhh....ermm...yeeeeah...." as a response.

I feel the resulting story is entertaining enough and I like the premise.  I really wanted to sort of begin to explore a certain type of romance.  The idea of women having to choose freedom in knowledge vs. freedom in family is interesting to me.  I want to try this plot framework again but maybe with a different setting.

While I may feel lukewarm about the story itself, I learned quite a bit while writing it.  For one thing, I learned more about what I don't like to write.  For another, I was able to explore that 5,000+ word short story range (this one clocks in at a little over 6k).  It really changes the whole dynamic of the short story.  I know that 5,000 words is more socially acceptable right now as a standalone, but you really do have a completely different story on your hands.

So, in short (pun!), there really wasn't much of a solidly formed concept behind this story.  Which probably led to most of the issues I had writing it.  But as a learning experience, it was invaluable to me.