Thursday, May 7, 2009

Genre Blocks: The Short Story

The second Genre Block panel of the day does not actually concern a genre.

Library Consultant Diane Young is here with short story author Simon Van Booy.  Simon began by giving a beautiful reading of a story from his first collection the Secret Lives of People In Love.

Simon prefers the short story form for its "decadence".

When asked how he knows when one of his stories is complete, Simon responds that he continues to work on them as long as the stories are "still breathing".  He actually had to fight the urge to make a correction to the story he read to begin the session.

One audience members asked if short stories require the author to have full fleshed out characters in mind or if an impression of those characters is enough.  Simon requires fully imagined characters for his work.

Simon resists the urge to revisit characters, although he has been known to insert them as background characters.  Also in his latest collection, Love Begins In Winter, one story focuses on the descendant of a previous protagonist.

Simon writes poetry as well, but most as "an emotional release".  He is clearly a far greater fan of the short story form.

An audience member asks why short stories are not on the radar of many people.  Simon wonders if they need some better marketing.  He once met someone who avoided the form because they felt all short stories need to be depressing, and clearly that's not the case.

One person has found that people in their library enjoy novels for the sense of escapism, and the concentration found in short stories do not provide them the same level of immersion.

On the other hand WMRLS rep Jan Resnick feels that the narrower focus of short stories have produced works that have affected her far more deeply than most novels.

Michael Colford has found that author's who manage to gain a reputation as a short story writer can build a decent audience, but that the mid-list authors often fail to do so.  He has likewise found little success for anthology collections (outside of the year's best...).

Only one audience member has led a discussion on a single short story, although one other person did cover a full collection. 

Simon teaches as well and has only been able to use short stories for discussion in his classes, albeit primarily because a full reading can be fit into a single class.  His best students have been at-risk students.  They have a strong desire to be in class and "haven't been ruined by literary criticism".  He had particular success with a discussion based around Guy De Maupassant's the Necklace.

From Diane's handout: "the modern short story presents a fragment of life; its climax involves a fleeting moment of revelation".

Next time someone comes up to you for reader's advisory, hand them a copy of the New Yorker.

Focusing on short stories works great for spinning off writers' groups.

Many short story writers (Chekov and Raymond Carver notably) are forced to write for quantity in order to make a living.  When Carver won the Genius grant he said his stories would probably start growing longer accordingly.

Another audience member has a brilliant idea for using a bar metaphor to promote short stories, with the stories as shots.

Another great idea, include short stories with orders at any library's with cafes.

In closing Simon was responsible for what is far and away the best line of the conference: "If a novel is like a marriage and a short story is like dating, then what is poetry?"

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