Short stories vs novels

Yesterday I stumbled across “Interview: Richard K. Morgan on the Failures of Capitalism and the Success of Science Fiction,” and it had me thinking this morning. Not so much on the failures of capitalism (questionable, even if bailing out the banks here in the US chimed the warning klaxons), or even so much on the success of Science Fiction, but on something Morgan said towards the end.

The io9 interviewer asked Morgan about his advise to young writers to not worry about writing short stories first, to just dig in and start writing novels. Morgan said:

I still stand by that. There’s a sort of enduring meme from the golden era of science fiction and shortly thereafter, that you could, right up until the late ’70s, although it got increasingly difficult, you could make some kind of living from writing short fiction, especially genre fiction. A lot of the guys who went on to become great science fiction writers essentially supported themselves for several years by selling short fiction to the pulps. That has endured within the genre as a vision of how to proceed. It just isn’t valid anymore. It’s very very hard to ship anything like the volume of short stories that would enable you to do that. I don’t think anyone’s doing that. There’s one or two people who make a living from short stories plus bits of journalism and so forth. Fundamentally it’s not the path to becoming a successful novelist.

I have to confess, probably my biggest inspiration for writing came after reading Asimov’s autobiographical material. Reading his recollections of being an up and coming writer, working with the Golden Age pulps and their editors, Campbell in particular, set me down a road where the meme is “make your name in the short story market, then evolve to the novel.” I don’t know that that’s necessarily false, and when I read this yesterday I mentally protested it, but while pretending to drowse on the way to work this morning (relax folks, I’m on a van, and not the driver, so pretending to drowse, or even outright sleeping, is permitted), I started reflecting on the Space Opera-y stories I’ve been working on the last few weeks. I’d already come to the conclusion that at least the first one, “Squatter’s Rights,” was probably unsellable as is. Its a nice setup story, but it doesn’t have the kick necessary to make it stand completely on its own. The second story I started, “Settler’s Way,” picks up 60 or so years later and carries the story on in greater depth, but even where I left off the other day, I acknowledge that I’m just skimming the surface of what the story could be (and like anything you’re currently working on, I believe it to be great 😉 ).

Now, I will continue working on “Settler’s Way,” as well as “Tempus Fugitive,” which I’m trying to write for a short story contest, but I am giving some serious considerations to lifting any bars I might have set mentally on “Settler’s” and just letting loose and seeing where it goes. Because I think, ultimately, no matter how much I want to knee-jerk a “No!” to Morgan’s comments, that he is on the mark here.  Even the other day when I declared what I wanted to do when I grow up, I acknowledged what I was doing wasn’t the path to being able to quit my day (and evening)(and sometimes weekend)(ok, really, just whenever the blackberry hums and the fate of the free world is at stake) job. But that thought was precipitated by an internal assumption that I follow the old-school methodology of building up a short story repetoire first, and in a decade or so begining to get “serious” with novels when I had matured enough. Besides, you don’t know if you can cut it if you don’t even bother to try. Brandon Sanderson (see the growing up post) talked about the half dozen or so novels he wrote that should never see the light of day. I think my problem with the churn out novels approach is that I want them to be read and succeed right from the get go, never mind that I really need that practice and time to make them worth it.

At any rate, I will say this. Tapping that side of me that wanted to write is sure making for more frequent, longer blog posts. Have a good morning kiddies!

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