Tuesday, December 16, 2008

December issue: great gift ideas

Need gift ideas for the holidays? Look no further, everything you need is in The Short Review's December issue: we have ten short story collections and anthologies to recommend, which wend their way from Cyprus to New York to North Dakota, from the past to the future, from music to magic, fantasy to erotica, monkeys, with much flash fiction and a helping of humour.

Ledra Street by Nora Nadjarian

The Past Through Tomorrow by Robert Heinlein

New York Echoes by Warren Adler

Dirty Girls edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel

The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke

Dial M for Monkey by Adam Maxwell

Space Magic by David D. Levine

Months and Seasons by Christopher Meeks

As in Music by Kathy Page

Night Train by Lise Erdrich

And seven author interviews, with
Nora Nadjarian
Warren Adler
Adam Maxwell
David D. Levine
Christopher Meeks
Kathy Page
Lise Erdrich

It's all here.

Happy New Year, may 2009 be filled with great reading (and many short stories!)


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A little love from Canongate

I am delighted that independent publishing house Canongate have chosen The Short Review as their Site of the Week on their new "Meet At the Gate" forum and "cultural hub"!

They say:
"Here are Canongate we’re big fans of the short story..... though [The Short Review] may only just be celebrating it’s first anniversary, [Tania's] love and passion for the short story have already brought The Short Review Internet acclaim....In short (pardon the pun), with interviews, reviews and features in abundance this is definitely the place to go if you want to keep your finger on the short story pulse."
Thank you, Canongate - publishers of story collections by Miranda July and Nam Le - so glad to meet fellow short story lovers.

Check out the full article and don't forget to vote, leave a comment and have a look around Meet At The Gate.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

And the winners are...

Here are the results of our first anniversary prize draw... but first, a little photographic evidence of fair play:
The Hat
The entries in the hat

Entries were then picked out at random... and the winners are:

  • Anne McDonnell, Nottingham, UK (Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth)
  • Padraig Moran, Dublin, Ireland (Kuzhali Manickavel, Insects Are Just Like you And Me Except Some of Them Have Wings)
  • Dr Rohi Shetty, Pune, India (Fran Friel, Mama's Boy and Other Dark Tales)
  • Ruth Almon, Tel Aviv, Israel (Jay Mandal, A Different Kind of Love)
  • Jennifer Doyle, Galway, Ireland (James Burr, Ugly Stories for Beautiful People)
  • Alan Beard, Birmingham, UK (Gerard Donovan, Young Irelanders)
  • Evan Costigan, Co. Kildare, Ireland (Stinging Fly anthology, Let's Be Alone Together + bonus Stinging Fly anthology)
  • D MacNamee, Cork, Ireland (Philip Shirley, Oh Don't You Cry For Me)
  • Kaye Linden, Florida, US (Jennifer Pelland, Unwelcome Bodies)
Winners, your books will be with you in the next few weeks, please allow a little time, some of the books will be travelling quite a distance to get to you.

Thank you to all those of you who entered - if you didn't win a book this time, go and get hold of the ones you wanted anyway and make a short story author very happy!

PS: If you want to win more free books and you are resident in the UK, place an order for literary magazine Transmission and one lucky winner will receive a parcel full of books. Deadline Dec 14th 2008. More information here. Good luck.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Review of the Year

Hard to believe that the Short Review is now a year old, with several hundred on our mailing list and several hundred more in our Facebook group! Check out our Anniversary competition, you could win a copy of one of the books we are reviewing this month:

James Burr

Ugly Stories for Beautiful People

Win a signed copy!

Fran Friel

Mama's Boy and Other Dark Tales

Win a signed copy!
Jhumpa Lahiri

Unaccustomed Earth

Let's Be Alone Together

Bonus: get a free copy of Stinging Fly's first anthology, These Are Our Lives
Kuzhali Manickavel

Insects are Just Like You are Me Except Some of Them Have Wings
Jay Mandal

A Different Kind of Love

Win a signed copy!
Philip Shirley

Oh Don't You Cry for Me

Win a signed copy!
Neil Campbell

Broken Doll

Win a signed copy!
Gerard Donovan

Young Irelanders

Jennifer Pelland

Unwelcome Bodies

Win a signed copy!

Seems time for a little stock-taking and statistics:

This month's reviews bring the tally to 127 short story collections, including 31 collections that were published in 2008, reviewed by our reviewers all over the world.
  • 60 books published by small presses
  • 25 anthologies
  • 60 debut single author collections
  • 13 award-winning collections
See the Categories page for more.

62 authors have been interviewed about their stories, and here are a few tasters of what they've told us:

Sylvia Petter, author of Back Burning, said: “I’m always happy when people buy my books. But I’m happier when I hear that they have found something in them that has touched them in some way. Once the book is out there, it’s a part of yourself that you’re sharing - what you believe in, in a way”.

Sarah Salway, author of Leading the Dance, said she “went through a stage of feeling sick when I knew someone had read my work in case they didn’t like it, or thought I was ‘odd’. But now I’ve come to terms with the fact that there will always be some people who won’t like my stuff and also that I am definitely ‘odd’ !”

Kevin Barry, I learned, hides in bookshops, spying on browsers to see if they are buying his collection, There Are Little Kingdoms. Nikki Aguirre, author of 29 Ways to Drown, carries: “… a negative critic in my head. He keeps me on my toes and says all the biting things no one else dares. I let him too, but sometimes he gets carried away and won’t stop yapping. Then I have to threaten his chocolate intake. Oh, I can be cruel.”

And what does “story” mean to all these short story writers? Anything and everything, from “the feeling of holding onto a sparkling handrail into the dark” (Aimee Bender), and “something jewelled, dense, which will glow in the mind long after you have finished reading it” (Elizabeth Baines), and something that "has the power to blow off the back of your skull off" (Jennifer Pelland) to “the movement of a character from one place to another, how he or she got there, and what it means when they wind up in the new place” (Dave Housley), "Something we enter after it has begun and leave before it has finished" (Gerard Donovan) “a kind of uneasy, fetching trip that has a beginning middle and end, which doesn’t mean anything gets resolved, but an event or a worry gets worked through in an illuminating and, hopefully, generous way and you walk away knowing more than maybe you meant to” (Pia Z. Ehrhardt), "a place where people aren't judged" (Neil Campbell) and simply “the intense pleasure of getting to know another human being” (Paddy O’Reilly).

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Guest blog: Randall Brown Gives Thanks

Recently, I had to write the acknowledgments for a collection of (very) short fiction, and as I thought of person after person to thank, I realized maybe I hadn't been that kind-of mythic, solitary writer of lore, holed away from the world as if in a cave, banging out words that barely can be seen with the light of a single desk lamp.

A story recently accepted by Cream City Review illustrates this (modern) phenomenon. The story began with a prompt in an online office: "Pick at least two sentences (or more if you dare) and use them verbatim in your story." The ten sentences—for example, "Who is Marvelous Marvin and why is he wearing my underwear?" and "Candice, twenty-four is not just two dozen!"—presented a goal, and the equally energizing challenge of a deadline in which to write the story. I decided to use all ten sentences. The surreal quality of each one led me to the idea of an hallucinating character, and the different names made me think of that character envisioning an entire village. So what kind of person would be transformed profoundly from this village of figments? Someone alone, fated to paralysis, someone like my own father, suffering with Parkinson's, a thought which lead back to me, fearful about my future, my ability and commitment to care for him, the disease in my own genes. None of these deep-seated drives would have been confronted or brought to light without that initial prompt.

So thanks Scott Newton Twombley for that prompt that led to a draft of a flash about a father hallucinating because of his Parkinson's medication and the son's allowing the hallucinations to continue with disastrous results.

So many of my stories wouldn't exist without the impetus of a prompt. I'm in a flash-a-day writer's group that uses 5-word prompts generated daily (People sign up for a day of the week; on a recent Tuesday, I posted "mine, fire truck, birth, market, uncharted," words I found on the front page of CNN). Recent stories came from a Writer's Digest prompt about a money-filled enveloping leading to adventure and First Line Journal's requirement to use a given first line ("While not the intended effect, the outcome was surprisingly satisfying"). Word-limits, such as the six-word memoir or the five-hundred word limit of Quick Fiction, often not only help generate stories, but also create an urgency in the writing.
Once posted, the story, tentatively titled "Future Perfect Tense," underwent a reading, review, and (gasp!) voting by the online office members. The feedback focused on taking out some of the prompted sentences, confusion about the ending, its disjointed feel, and a general dislike for the tentative title, "Future Perfect Tense."

So thanks, David, Ivan, Tania, Elise, Karen, Beth, Kim, and Frank (and the rest of The Flash Factory) for all your insights!

The story won that week's contest, giving me the confidence to revise it. I really liked the title, even though most people didn't; I liked the way it evoked the son's fear of his own fate (future), the father's desire for health (perfect), and the Parkinson's (tense). I decided to tell the story using future perfect tense, making the thing people had the strongest reaction to (albeit a negative one) a central part of the story: "Before the police arrive, the Parkinson's will have stiffened my father's movements, slowed them down to God's time."

Having people respond to an early draft gets me to focus on the central element of the story, to figure out what draws people's passion and interest. While the prompt forces me to search for the story to contain it, these first readings give me the feedback needed to know what aspects of that initial story to emphasize, what the primary focus will be. Often, the thing readers didn't like—really, really didn't like—becomes what I build the revision on, for it's often what gives the story its originality and edge, its ability to stand out among a world full of stories. It's not the focus group agreement I'm looking for, but the sense of where the readers' passions lie. In this story, it had to do with their dislike of "future perfect tense," their uncertainty about whose story it would be (the father's or son's?), how much everyone liked the hallucinated village the father created, the ambivalence about its ending with a gun and a police involvement. These responses defined, for me, those areas of risk, made me aware of what I was up against with this story, the things that, if I wanted to keep, had to be sold to readers with an equal amount of belief and commitment.

Next, I posted the story at the Zoetrope Virtual Studio Flash Wing Workshop, where sixty-nine writers read it and nine offered formal reviews. For forty days, readers and reviewers have access to the story. Along with the comments and insights and suggestions of the reviewers, maybe it's those forty days of waiting—my resisting the desire to send it out now!—that allow a story to reach (or at least, get close to) its full potential. The typographical, grammatical, nit-picky errors get discovered, along with broader issues of plot and character and the like.

Thanks Eliza, Bonnie, Tom, Rosanne, Melissa, Jeanne, Bev, Kevin, Gary and all the flash-happy Zoetropers for the reviews!

Each story searches, during those forty days, for its ending, its sense of fixity, the right word in the right slot, the inevitable yet surprising finale, a rightness, the ending that's more than a joke, a twist, a clever word-play. Depth. Profundity. Discovery. The gain that only comes from loss. Something that haunts, like those figments from the father's deepest desires. What an amazing thing it is to know I have the time and help to find those final words—or, as is (too) often the case, to learn that I've already found them, a few sentences or paragraphs earlier.

Well, this story gets a happy ending, a publication in a journal I've (often) wished about getting into. Sadly, there's only room for my name on the byline. In addition to the aforementioned names, there are of course those hundreds of other names that made it possible for me to write that story, every story, names that go back to the time when my grandfather, Ed Simpson, carried in his wallet the poem I wrote for him and pulled it out to show anyone who stopped to talk to him.

Thanks, Pap.

The hardest thing for me, as both a person and a writer, to do is to step out of that dark, womb-like cave and take the risks necessary to face the uncertainties inherent in writing stories. While the final answer always resides inside, the outside world of writers and readers have helped me with every single story I've written or published. To thank all of them would take more words than I have available—and plenty more I haven't the ability to express. The collection that came together as a result of all their quotes begins with a quote from Kerouac; in the collection, I didn't include the beginning of that quote, "They danced down the streets like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I've been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones…." I discovered, in writing and collecting the stories in Mad to Live, how important it is not to shamble alone, but rather with a whole host of mad ones dancing with you along the way.

So thanks, Dingledodies.

Randall Brown
teaches at Saint Joseph's University and holds an MFA from Vermont College. Work has appeared in Quick Fiction, Hunger Mountain, Connecticut Review, Saint Ann's Review, Evansville Review, Dalhousie Review, upstreet, and others. He is the author of the award-winning collection Mad to Live (Flume Press 2008) (Read the Short Review's review here). His essay on (very) short fiction will be appearing in the forthcoming anthology The Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction: Tips from Editors, Teachers, and Writers in the Field (Rose Metal Press 2009). He is currently the Lead Editor at the flash journal SmokeLong Quarterly.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Two Short Review Authors up for Books to Talk About in 2009 Awards

Good news for the short story: Alison MacLeod, about whose short story collection 15 Modern Tales of Attraction our reviewer said "Here is an author unafraid to push at the shape of what a story can be, what it can say," and Sophie Hannah, author of The Fantastic Book of Everybody's Secrets, about which our reviewer said "Hannah writes with real wit and a rich vein of Northern humour " have both been nominated as one of the finalists for the Spread the Word 50 Books to Talk About in 2009. Read the reviews of 15 Modern Tales of Attraction and The Fantastic Book of Everybody's Secrets. Then go and vote at Spread the Word, and make sure some of the books being talked about in 2009 are short story collections!

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Short Review Issue 11 Oct 2008: Travel, Science, Love, Death and Flash

Issue 12 October 2008

Travel is one of this month's themes: with Gary Schanbacher's Migration Patterns, Derek Green's New World Order, as well as St Petersburg, where God lives, according to Tom Bissell.

Andrew Porter's The Theory of Light and Matter and Daniel Marcus' Binding Energy throw a little science into the mix.

Flash fiction is provided by Yannick Murphy's short short stories in In a Bear's Eye, some M is for Magic by Neil Gaiman, and the Wastelands anthology provides apocalyptic tales.

Love and death round off this month: Chavisa Woods' Love Does Not Make me Gentle or Kind, and Rob Shearman's Tiny Deaths.

A bumper eight author interviews provide some background to the collections. Happy reading!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Ambition of the Short Story

A wonderful quirky essay on short stories which hits the nail exactly on the head in the New York Times by Steven Millhauser (whose collection, Dangerous Laughter, we recently reviewed on The Short Review)

The short story — how modest in bearing! How unassuming in manner! It sits there quietly, eyes lowered, almost as if trying not to be noticed. And if it should somehow attract your attention, it says quickly, in a brave little self-deprecating voice alive to all the possibilities of disappointment: “I’m not a novel, you know. Not even a short one. If that’s what you’re looking for, you don’t want me.” Rarely has one form so dominated another.

But Millhauser knows that the short story has more up its tiny sleeve:
The short story believes in transformation. It believes in hidden powers. The novel prefers things in plain view. It has no patience with individual grains of sand, which glitter but are difficult to see. The novel wants to sweep everything into its mighty embrace — shores, mountains, continents. But it can never succeed, because the world is vaster than a novel, the world rushes away at every point. The novel leaps restlessly from place to place, always hungry, always dissatisfied, always fearful of coming to an end — because when it stops, exhausted but never at peace, the world will have escaped it. The short story concentrates on its grain of sand, in the fierce belief that there — right there, in the palm of its hand — lies the universe.
And he ends on a triumphant note which is so very welcome after all these articles trumpeting the "death of the short story" and the "poor short story", victim of the cruel publishing world:

The short story apologizes for nothing. It exults in its shortness. It wants to be shorter still. It wants to be a single word. If it could find that word, if it could utter that syllable, the entire universe would blaze up out of it with a roar. That is the outrageous ambition of the short story, that is its deepest faith, that is the greatness of its smallness.

Click here for the full piece, The Ambition of the Short Story -
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Monday, September 22, 2008

Guest post: Sarah Salway On Doing Nothing

To drift = to trust

To get lost = to discover new things

To do nothing = to recharge

Let’s take your average writer. OK, let’s take me. I am an A* worrier, a textbook Virgo, and more than slightly driven. I love deadlines, daily writing practice, word counts, goals. I take on too many projects and like nothing better than ticking items off my to-do list.

And, from conversations I’ve had with other writers, I’m not alone. The myth of us all sitting alone in our rooms day after day communing only with the page is, I’m convinced, exactly that. A myth. Just hearing about most other writers’ timetables exhausts me but mine is just as bad. When I started writing fiction, I was also juggling bringing up two small children and a part time job. I remember being asked at a reading whether I had any writing rituals, and going completely blank because, at that time, having the iron will and self-discipline to get to the computer was celebration enough. Sharpening three pencils before I started writing, or going for a long walk would have tipped me over the edge, let alone picking fleas from my cat (Colette) and finding a lover who would strip naked so I could use his back as my writing desk (Voltaire).

But, surprise, surprise, I’ve discovered recently that I can’t keep up the pace forever. The well runs dry. And so I’ve discovered the joy of stopping. Not for ever, of course, but just two or three days of doing nothing is enough to sort me out. Not sitting at my desk doing nothing (I do a lot of that anyway). Or reading on the beach (lovely as that may be). Or even the residencies, or retreats, or writing courses, which all have a structure and are infinitely valuable, but are different. No, what’s seems to work for me is that I go somewhere I don’t know, where I’m not known and where I don’t need to make an effort so I can fall into a state of mild gloominess without anyone trying to cheer me up.

A city is best for this kind of anonymity. Drizzly Dublin was my first illicit do-nothing break, although it didn’t start as such. In fact, I had a busy timetable of networking arranged, but hours after I arrived, I developed a strange puffiness around the eyes which carried on puffing up until it took over my whole face. Really. I tried to ignore it, but when a woman in a café took one glance at me and moved quickly to another table, I cancelled all my plans and instead lurked in the corners of art galleries, the dusty shelves of second hand bookshops, the back row of a lecture. I avoided eye contact and barely spoke. I seemed to be using as little energy as possible, spending more than an hour scribbling notes in my journal about just one painting, rather than racing round the whole gallery. Then I walked slowly, in a funk of self-induced self-pity (is there any other kind?), round the park, watching happy couples, and formulated a story about the painting in my head. Back at my hotel room, I wrote this up in longhand.

Slowly, slowly.

By the next day, at one of those free talks all museums seem to offer, I had become so much part of the background that the speaker skipped over me when he went round the room asking everyone where they were from. But from under my invisible cloak, I watched a father laugh with his two teenage daughters throughout the whole lecture and spent lunchtime making notes abut them in my journal. I wandered round shops where I brought nothing, barely looked at anything because I was thinking about who those girls’ mother might be. And then walking, walking, walking the streets, I started a conversation with her in my head. Back in my hotel room, once again, I wrote it all up in longhand.

Back at home, it took much longer to click back into my everyday life than if I’d rushed around as I normally did. Weeks later, I was still thinking about my mood in Dublin and what was it that had inspired me so much. Because on the surface, I must have looked miserable, I actually felt pretty miserable much of the time. I definitely mooched rather than stepped out purposefully with an agenda and guidebook in hand, but something was happening underneath. I left Dublin after three days with three stories in my notebook which, for me, is pretty spectacular. It felt as if I’d stopped the world for a while.

In Rebecca Solnit’s collection of essays, A Field Guide to Getting Lost, she quotes Walter Benjamin. ‘Not to find one’s way in a city may well be uninteresting and banal. It requires ignorance – nothing more,’ he says. ‘But to lose oneself in a city – as one loses oneself in a forest – that calls for quite a different schooling.’ She goes on to say that, under Benjamin’s definition, to be lost is to be fully present, and to be fully present is to be capable of being in uncertainty and mystery.

I think this is it. I surrendered to, rather than trying to organise, the experience. I gave myself up to a state of suspension I can’t normally achieve even when I put time aside for writing. This year, I’ve been on a two-week residency with nothing to do but write and that was an amazing experience. However, I still had people to speak to in the evenings. There was no way I got lost in the same way.

My trip to Dublin was three years ago, and in my mind I still flick back to my bank of images from those few day. It was something I remembered all over again this summer, where I found myself unexpectedly in Minneapolis with two and a half days to kill, and absolutely nothing to do.

I’d been taking part in an arts project in Iowa, a state I hadn’t expected to like but found beautiful. It made me want to see more of the mid-west, and as I couldn’t see myself coming back there any time soon, I decided to base myself in Minneapolis – my stop-over point – for my last few days in America, and organise some day trips to explore new areas. I would do this, and this, and this, and that. I looked over maps on the internet, searched out travel times and asked for recommendations.

But when I got to my anonymous hotel room, I wasn’t sure if this was the best use of my unexpected free time. Could I be brave enough to do nothing again?

‘Order room service and write, write, write,’ a friend suggested via email. But remembering Dublin, I set out to get lost in the city again. This time, luckily, my skin didn’t puff up alarmingly but I still became happily invisible.

And, as with Dublin, I felt my internal clock shift. I woke late, and went to bed late. What I would fit into an average half hour at home, having a cup of coffee say, took hours. I walked everywhere whereas at home I might cycle or take a bus to save time. Within a frighteningly short time, I got used to not talking, not least because I didn’t have anything to say. My mind hadn’t exactly shut down, but it had turned inside.

If I hadn’t have known I was going to be catching a plane back, then I might have got worried at how easily I adapted to silence and anonymity, but as it was, I was safe dropping into a temporary chrysalis.

The work I’d brought with me to edit and work on stayed in my suitcase. After a day I didn’t even take notes in my journal. I watched couples and groups sitting outside bars, having food, coffee, conversation almost as if they were another breed. I wandered aimlessly, got lost in back streets and found myself again almost by accident.

On the plane home, I sat next to a man from Minneapolis. ‘So what did you see?’ he asked enthusiastically. ‘Did you go to St Pauls? See the shopping mall? The Modern art gallery?’ I shook my head so many times, I started to wonder if I should lie just to please him. I’m still not sure why I didn’t just tell him the truth. ‘I did nothing. I mooched around like one of those teenagers you want to tell to snap out of it. And it was wonderful.’

OK, as a way of life, it’s not terrific. Even as an artist’s date, I’m not sure it would come up to scratch, and I definitely wasn’t good company - sullen, silent, mouse-like, lacking in all initiative and avoiding all the coolest bars to hang out in, but I know now that getting lost, doing nothing, allowing myself to get gloomy, is as much a part of my writing process as setting word counts and deadlines. As Vladimir Nabokov writes in Pale Fire: The lost glove can be happy too.

Sarah Salway blogs at Sarah's Writing Journal. Read The Short Review's review of her short story collection, Leading the Dance.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

September Issue now up

The Sept issue of The Short Review is now up:

Flash fiction is a dominant thread running through this month's books, with an award-winning chapbook (In the Land of the Free by Geoffrey Forsyth), a collection of prose poems (Annie Clarkson's Winter Hands), and fabulous examples of food-related fiction (Jim Crace's The Devil's Larder) . Shakespeare's heroines provide inspiration (Silent Girl by Tricia Dower), there are close encounters (Close Encounters by Jen Michalski) on cool blue trains (Peter Hobbs' I could Ride All Day on My Cool Blue Train), our reviewer dreams of large motorbikes (Refresh, Refresh by Benjamin Percy), a prize anthology doesn't disappoint (Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology 2008), and tales of science versus supersition (Galileo's Children edited by Gardner Dozois) and warnings about what we're doing to our planet make for interesting reading (EarthFuture by Guy Dauncey).

Seven author interviews - from Clare Wigfall, Benjamin Percy and Jen Michalski to Peter Hobbs, Annie Clarkson, Geoffrey Forsyth and Tricia Dower - demonstrate again how writing fiction is a personal and a collective experience.

Head on over....Happy reading!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Guest article on Vulpes Libris for Short Story Week

The book-loving folk at the excellent book blog Vulpes Libris invited me to contribute a guest article for their Short Story Week. My article, What We Talk About When We Talk About Short Stories, is now up. Thank you to Vulpes Libris for inviting me to rant about short stories, my favourite topic!

To give you a taster:
I would like to tell you what I will not be talking about. I won’t be:

1. Talking about the short story collection as the victim of the narrow-minded publishing industry, how sad it all is, if only they could all wise up etc…etc..
2. Trying to persuade the readers of this blog to abandon all novels and move wholeheartedly and exclusively to short story collections because they are far superior
3. Saying things like, “Well, in this day and age, with the diminishing attention spans and tiny screens on mobile devices, shouldn’t short stories just be a perfect fit?”

None of the above, I feel, does anything to inspire readers. Who wants to read the “poor short story” that no-one thinks is really as good as a novel? Do short story writers want to be read out of pity? I don’t think so.
The rest of the post here.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Guest post: Polly Frost's Confessions of a Genre Slut

One of the many things I admire about The Short Review is the way in which it celebrates all kinds of short fiction. Recently Tania Hershman wrote about the topic of literary short fiction vs. genre short fiction. I was really fascinated by her posting, which made me think about my own attitudes and experiences.

Attitude #1: I love both writing and reading short fiction.

Attitude #2: I’ve always been puzzled by the divide between the “literary” and “genre” worlds.

And let me say first that I admire anyone who persists writing stories. And I’m grateful to readers who -- despite far too much mainstream media neglect -- continue reading short fiction.

Let’s face it: It’s hard to make money writing short fiction. It has to be one of the least practical forms of writing. Not only have commercial outlets disappeared. Agents and book publishers often discourage you from writing short fiction.

They do this despite the fact that everyone knows our schedules are choppy and our reading time is growing too scarce. It should be a great time for short fiction. Instead, too many mainstream-publishing figures put pressure on writers to“grow up” and turn out novels. Grow up, indeed. Tell it that to Chekhov! And too many readers think they aren’t doing any real reading unless they’re in the midst of something 400 pages long.

All due respect to novel-writers and novel-readers, but when a lot of the novels today feel like they should have been short stories. Good ones, often! But they feel padded-out, like the writer had been ordered by an agent or publisher to turn a good story-idea into something full-length.

The fact is, short stories don’t just offer a concise reading experience. They often have a special kind of power over readers. My mother, for example, was still affected by having read Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” several decades after first reading it. In my own experience as a writer: People have written me about a one of my pieces of short fiction years after it was printed. Somehow it had stuck in their minds.

How great is this?!

Still, short fiction is something that takes commitment and love to write and publish. And it takes savvy and persistence on the part of readers to find and enjoy. I’m on the side of anyone who roots for them.

Which brings me to the topic of the war that goes on between the literary and the genre worlds. You’d think that anyone who writes or read it would be cheering for everyone else. Instead, some highbrow literary people sneer at genre stories. Meanwhile, there are genre people who are belligerent and defensive.

Zooming in, you discover other divides too. There are the genre-within-genre wars like the one that The Short Review posted about: The mundane sci fi fiction camp versus the fantastic sci fi fiction camp.

Now, in many ways I love these tiffs. What we’re seeing is writers who are passionate about what they do sounding off their art. And that’s vital for good health as well as fun to observe. Their manifestos are provocative, and they make me think about what the writers conveying in their fiction. As a writer myself, I grope my way towards my fiction. But I understand that some writers motivate themselves by writing manifestoes.
Still: How seriously to take these dust-ups?

As a Californian who grew up on loving both Roger Corman exploitation movies and Glenn Gould Bach recordings, I guess I’m a bit of a natural-born post-modernist. And as a consequence, I’ve published short fiction in a variety of genres. I’ve been published as a humor writer (two of my New Yorker pieces will be included in their upcoming “best of” anthology), and I’ve been published as a horror, sci fi and erotica writer (my collection, “Deep Inside” was put out last year by Tor).

The one thing I’ve been a total flopperoo at has been writing “literary” short stories. As a writer I got started by taking a workshop in Venice, California, from Michael Silverblatt, who’s now well-known as the radio interviewer The Bookworm. I churned out straight-faced story after straight-faced story. Then, after several weeks of this, Michael took me aside and informed me that I had no talent for writing literary stories. He softened the blow by telling me that I was very funny, and that I might want to think about writing humor. Maybe I should think more about emulating James Thurber than Italo Calvino.

Damn! But after 15 seconds of feeling wounded I started to see his point. I knew that I wasn’t a lofty marble bust. I’m a mischievous bomb-thrower -- basically a satirist and a humor writer. (In fact, Michael and I wound up co-writing several humor pieces, one of which was published in The Atlantic.)

These days I write in a variety of genres and often refer to myself as a “genre slut”: sci fi, erotica, noir, suspense, horror, and my longterm love humor. Tip to those setting out: Satire and parody are great ways to explore many different ways of creating fiction!
Despite how zigzaggy my creativity is, the one thing I always come back to is writing short. I’m working on a full-length thriller right now and my husband and I just finished co-writing, recording and directing a 14-hour radio play and 32 NYC actors. Great experiences all. Yet it’s always a rush to come back to writing short.

I suspect that many writers feel this way. Besides the fact that they’re brilliant and beautiful writers, I love the fact that Amy Hempel and Alice Munro are so devoted to short fiction. Erotica writers like Alison Tyler and Rachel Kramer Bussel continue to supply heat and shivers in compact packages. I’ve been as affected by the short tales of Philip K. Dick, Stephen King and Patricia Highsmith as by their novels. Raymond Carver and George Saunders never made any apologies for writing short. And there’s the much-too-neglected field of humor writing. As far as I’m concerned, some of the humor pieces of Ian Frazier and Roy Blount, Jr. qualify as short fiction masterpieces.

It’s all high-quality -- maybe even great -- stuff. And you may have noticed my ploy in the previous paragraph. Look at those stories and writers: literary, erotica, sci fi, crime, horror and humor. They go together nicely, don’t they? What does it really matter that they come from different camps?

So here’s my final feeling about the question. Let’s enjoy the wars, the tiffs, and the manifestos. They give us something to talk about, and they give at least some writers reasons to sit down at the computer. But let’s not overlook what our favorite short fiction shares too: insight and inspiration.

As well as the special thrill of doing self-contained pieces of fiction in short form.

The Fold,” the webseries Polly has co-written and co-produced. (R-rated!)
Her husband, Ray Sawhill's site.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

And the winner is....

Danny Birchall, London, was the first email with the correct answers. Congratulations, Danny, a copy of Paddy O'Reilly's The End of the World is winging its way to you. The correct answers are:
  1. How many authors in their author interviews said they had just read Miranda July's debut collection, No-one Belongs Here More than You? 3: Sarah Salway, Neil Smith and David Gaffney
  2. How many categories does Nathan Englander's collection, For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, appear in?: 7: Award Winners, Debuts, Funny, Historical, Jewish, Magical realist/surreal, Quirky
  3. Which letter is the most popular choice to begin the titles of short story collections? The Letter B
Commiserations to those who didn't win, thanks for entering, there will be another chance to win a free book coming soon.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Issue 10 August 2008: The Competition Issue

A truly international theme: three collections from Down Under, Chinese short-shorts in honour of the Olympics, stories of Filipino Americans. Also: two shots of science fiction, two authors with middle initials, a "bracing" anthology and a liberal sprinkling of fabulist fantasy. All available at The Short Review.

And here's your chance to win one of this month's books: Paddy O'Reilly's stunning debut collection The End of the World. All you have to do is answer these three questions:
  1. How many authors in their author interviews said they had just read Miranda July's debut collection, No-one Belongs Here More than You? (HINT: use the GOOGLE site search from the Short Review home page)
  2. How many categories does Nathan Englander's collection, For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, appear in? (HINT: see categories page)
  3. Which letter is the most popular choice to begin the titles of short story collections? (HINT: See Reviews page)
Email your answers to
by August 14th. First correct answer wins the book!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Short story collection news: Short story collection wins New Zealand's Montana Medal for Fiction or Poetry.

Charlotte Grimshaw's collection, Opportunity, has won New Zealand's prestigious Montana Medal for Fiction. The judges said of the collection: "By turns touching, funny, dark, and redemptive, this is a book for reading through then re-reading in a different order, for following clues, for setting aside and thinking about, and for getting lost in.’" Click here for more information on the award. Grimshaw's collection was longlisted for the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Prize in 2007.

Two of the four books shortlisted for the Montana Medal were short story collections, the second being Luminious by Alice Tawhai.

Congratulations to Charlotte, who wins $5000, and who also took home the $1000 BPANZ Reviewer of the Year Award! Read more about her on the New Zealand Writers site.

So many short story collections to read, so little time.

Friday, July 18, 2008

How to sell short story collections

(Cross-posted with TaniaWrites.)

Very interesting guest post over at Dawn's She Is Too Fond of Books blog by Christopher Meeks, author of two short story collections, The Middle Aged Man and the Sea and Months and Seasons, about the process of getting published and how he marketed and promoted his collections. He hired a publicist for the second collection:

I hired a publicist so that the book might be reviewed in publishing industry journals such as Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews, places that bookstores and libraries read to select what books they order. My publicist called to say she’d just spoken with Booklist, a major journal for librarians. “They said they rarely review short story collections—maybe two a year—and it has to be from a big-name author.” I wasn’t big name.

If librarians don’t see the book reviewed, how can short story collections get in libraries? If libraries don’t offer a lot of collections, then how do people consider short story collections? If book reviewers don’t consider collections, then it’s not on the radar of ordinary readers. Thus, it’s an extra challenge to get a short story collection seen.

It is saddening, this response from Booklist, as if short stories are so odd, different, unloveable, that of course Booklist wouldn't consider them. Where does this come from, this reaction? Why do we have to constantly defend the short story collection, prove and prove and prove again how it should simply be included - not put on a pedestal and lauded above the novel, just included. What a great loss for all those who miss out on wondrous writing because of this attitude.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Karen Russell longlisted for Dylan Thomas Award for Young Writers

Short Review author Karen Russell's collection, St Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, has been longlisted for the Dylan Thomas Literary Prize for Young Writers. The winner will receive 60,000 pounds. For the Short Review of Karen's collection, click here.

Clare Wigfall wins BBC National Short Story Award!

Many many congratulations to Short Review author Clare Wigfall, who has won the £15,000 BBC National Short Story Award for her story, The Numbers. I listened to "The Numbers" the other day and I was deeply moved by it, an amazing story, a little different, strange and beautiful. (You can still listen to it online until Wednesday).

Congratulations to Clare, the youngest shortlisted author, who we interviewed and whose debut collection, The Loudest Sound and Nothing, we reviewed on The Short Review. And congratulations to the other four authors who were shortlisted - and the other 595 of us who sent a story in, even if we didn't make it ... this year. Clare, what will you spend the money on??

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Martha Kearney: BBC Judging the National Short Story Award

This from the Financial Times, where Martha Kearney talks about judging the BBC National Short Story Award.
I have enjoyed short stories through most of my life, and found the process of reading the entries a genuine pleasure. With many younger writers as well as more established names, there was immense variety. There were also some bizarre points of concurrence. What is it in the zeitgeist that made at least three of the entries write about the Sami people of Finland or drove others to choose the Fens or pick the Hindu goddess Kumari as a theme?
She also says:

Overall, we felt that there was a polarisation in the entries, with true excellence at the top of the field and then a drop in quality. Too many of the stories felt like compressed novels. Others had striven too hard for “the big ending” or predictable twist in the tale. The perfect short story arrests the reader’s attention immediately and then goes on to illuminate an entire life through one scene or a few actions.

Full article here: / Arts & Weekend / Living - The Diary: Martha Kearney

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Story competition news: Margot Singer wins 2008 Glasgow/Shenandoah Prize for Emerging Writers

The Pale of Settlement by Margot Singer has won the 2008 Glasgow/Shenandoah Prize for Emerging Writers. Final judge Cathy Hankla, who selected the winning title, writes:

THE PALE OF SETTLEMENT is a stunning collection of interwoven narratives that delves deep into the human need for both belonging and moral integrity. Singer examines origins, cruelties and beliefs in the context of the nefarious nature of memory as a vehicle for obtaining truth. While some of Singer’s characters are literally digging for material shards that might prove ancient texts valid, the ashes of another character are by chance winds. Impermanence and timeless truth struggle in these pages, finding characters, language and form that are at once recognizable and original.

Singer’s short story collection, which won the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, also received an honorable mention for the 2008 Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award and was a finalist for the 2008 John Gardner Fiction Book Award. Singer wins $2500. For more information, see

Monday, July 7, 2008

Issue 9 July 2008 of The Short Review

Well, we are at issue 9 already, almost at our hundredth review.... not quite!
What do we have this month? Four collections that were longlisted for the world's richest short story prize, the Frank O'Connor international short story award:
While they didn't win, read the reviews and see if any of them take your fancy.

There is an added dimension here: Niki Aguirre, whose collection is reviewed by Sarah Salway (whose own collection, Leading the dance, we reviewed several months ago) herself reviewed Vanessa Gebbie's collection, and both are interviewed on their Author Pages.

I wondered about whether to run these both in the same issue, and then I thought that they could be seen as short story writers who have never met, communicating through their writing. For example, if you combine their interviews you can almost hear them chatting:
TSR: What does the word "story" mean to you?

Vanessa Gebbie: Something that takes you out of yourself for the duration of the read. Something that leaves you thinking or wondering. Asks the question, 'What if?' I found this quote the other day by the late Bryan Robertson OBE, curator of the Whitechapel Gallery. It sums up what I look for in a story, however long it is, flash, short, novella or novel... "What I look for is…a transcendent ability to soar above life and not be subjugated by it." Isn't that perfect?

Niki Aguirre: ... due to my upbringing, I prefer those that are rich in the oral storytelling tradition. The best ones are the ones you get lost in: multilayered, babbling and chaotic, not necessary neat and linear. If you think about it, when you are sitting in a café or a pub telling a story, it seldom goes from point to point: the little asides are the best parts. Stories are often desperate things, dying to be voiced and heard -- nothing calm and organised about that. Although I admire people who can write succinctly and in an orderly fashion while still maintaining a good level of excitement. That’s something to strive for.
Alongside these four collections, we have: uncanny and quirky stories from Richard Matheson (Button, Button) and Aimee Bender (Willful Creatures). Aimee is also interviewed about the book, her second collection. Neil Gaiman's Fragile Things are a little too fragile and fleeting for our reviewer, a Gaiman fan, and the Sea Stories anthology didn't go down swimmingly. 2007's Best of American Short Stories was rather hit and miss, despite being full of big names.

So, some hearty recommendations and some rather more wary reviews.

And: following the poll on this blog, where a majority voted for having direct links from reviews to booksellers (as long as it isn't to just one seller), you can now click straight through from the new reviews to buy the book from the publisher's and author's websites (if available), Amazon, AbeBooks and (used and new) and there is a friendly reminder to visit to find your nearest independent bookstore (if you live in the US). We hope that this makes your Short Review reading experience richer... but don't forget, pass those short story collections around!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Claire Keegan wins the Edge Hill Prize for a short story collection

Thank you to Elizabeth Baines for alerting me to the fact that Claire Keegan has won the Edge Hill Short Story Competition for her second collection, Walk the Blue Fields. Congratulations to Claire, who wins £5,000.

Jhumpa Lahiri Wins World's Richest Prize for Short Story Collection

Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth so impressed the judges of the Frank O'Connor International Short Story award that they decided not to even bother with a shortlist and simply announce her the winner of the €35,000 (£27,000) prize. Congratulations to her and to all those longlisted May this get more people reading short story collections!

For more on the prize, see the articles in the Guardian and the Irish Times.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Short Review author shortlisted for BBC National Short Story Award

Congratulations to Short Review author Clare Wigfall, whose collection The Loudest Sound and Nothing we reviewed a few months ago, has been shortlisted for the BBC National Short Story Award with her story, The Numbers. The full shortlist is:

Richard Beard Guidelines for Measures to Cope with Disgraceful and Other Events

Jane Gardam The People on Privilege Hill

Erin Soros Surge

Adam Thorpe The Names

Clare Wigfall The Numbers

The winner will be announced at a breakfast on Monday 14 July, and broadcast on BBC Radio 4's Today programme. Good luck to all five!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

To sell or not to sell?

In the nine months the Short Review has been in existence we've had a lot of emails saying how much people enjoy the reviews and how they have gone and bought several of the books we reviewed. And others have said, Well, why don't you just have a Buy this Book link from the reviews?

I am conflicted: there is a difference between a site that publishes reviews and a site that sells books, no? One is commercial and one is literary/artistic. Or is this an old-fashioned view? The aim of The Short Review is to bring short story collections into the spotlight. Is it ridiculous to tease someone with a great review, and then make them spend those extra minutes searching for how to buy the book?

If the Short Review was to link directly to Amazon, then we would get some percentage of books sold. Does this affect the "objectivity" of the site, if it appears that we are attempting to push a book so that you buy it? Our reviewers are supported in whatever opinion they take of the book they are reviewing. Would this be affected?

What do you think? Have your vote in the poll on the right, and leave a comment!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Issue 8 June 2008

Issue 8 June 2008 of The Short Review is now up - lots of ideas for summer reading if you're in the northern hemisphere and books to keep you warm in the winter months if you're down south.

This month's issue is brought to you by the numbers 3, 13 and 18. There are phantasms, bodies, apologies and meetings, a bumper seven author interviews, some lies, some truths, some very tiny gems, a little fantasy and a lot of great writing.

New Reviews:

You Have Time for This
a celebration of the richness that can be packed into the brevity of five hundred words or less...
ed Mark Budman

Ryan Seacrest is Famous
A successful blend of pop culture and lad lit.....
by Dave Housley

Balancing on the Edge of the World
A temperament both in control and struggling with private rage, corrosive humour, then a gentle, dry empathy....
by Elizabeth Baines

The Dream Lover
He describes the miserable burdens of humanity, but his approach is humorous, not grim – a bit like Graham Greene with jokes...
by William Boyd

How They Met

Teens fall in and out of love and lust while navigating the minefields of school, parental expectation and sexuality
by David Levithan

13 Phantasms & Other Stories
A smorgasbord of Blaylock's best short fiction
by James P. Blaylock

Apologies Forthcoming A sensual immersion in the Chinese Cultural Revolution, with stories that expose the everyday hardships of citizens...
by Xujun Eberlein

Bodies in Motion
The first collection I read for which the label novel-in-stories felt appropriate.
by Mary Anne Mohanraj

18 Lies and 3 Truths: 2007 StoryQuarterly Annual
An assortment of stories, some of which sparkled more than others, especially those from newer writers whose trajectories are surely on the rise.
ed by Tom Jenks, Carol Edgarian, MMM Hayes

The Cusp of Something
An original and often beautifully written collection, which challenges and occasionally frustrates readers with its lyrical prose and complex characters.
by Jai Clare

Author Interviews:

"I very consciously organized the order of the stories, with the one page fictions teaching the reader that Black Tickets was an unusual book"
Jayne Anne Phillips, Black Tickets
"I chose what I consider my best stories – and those with some kind of thematic development."
Jai Clare, The Cusp of Something
"I constantly worry about boring the reader. I think this psychology helps me developing a more captivating plot and pace"
Xujun Eberlein, Apologies Forthcoming

"When writing Bodies in Motion, my advisor, looking at an early draft, said that I seemed to be writing for white people, because I was doing a lot of explaining of Sri Lankan culture.That really startled me,..."
Mary Anne Mohanraj, Bodies in Motion
"It honestly blows my mind to imagine what my junior-year-of-high-school self would have thought had someone told him the story he was writing would be published twenty years later in a collection by Knopf... and that it would be his eighth book"
David Levithan, How They Met
"Jennifer [the publisher] also strongly encouraged me to make the story Bare the first story, so the first four words of my collection are 'I shaved my balls...'."
Dave Housley, Ryan Seacrest is Famous
"It was interesting to see the different ways in which my stories "talked" to each other according to the order in which I placed the rest of them – creating different rhythms of mood or style or situation.."
Elizabeth Baines, Balancing on the Edge of the World

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

New competition for short story collections from Dzanc books

Good news for short story authors: one of the most exciting short story collection publishers around, Dzanc, whose first book, All Over by Roy Kesey, is reviewed on The Short Review, has announced that along with its usual submissions process, it will also hold the Dzanc Short Story Collection Contest:
Between 2008 and 2010, Dzanc Books and its imprints, OV Books and Black Lawrence Press will publish no less than 21 short story collections. This is a staggering number in an industry where many publishing houses will not publish more than a single collection in any year. Dzanc's commitment to publishing great writing does not shy away from the short story and we are intent on extending our vision past 2010 with plans to publish many additional short story collections.

Dzanc is now receiving some 2000 submissions per year. With this in mind, we feel it is imperative to the process of publishing not only short story collections, but novels and literary nonfiction, that we alter our submission policy for unsolicited short story collections.

Beginning June 4, 2008, we are announcing the Dzanc Short Story Collection Contest. All authors wishing to submit a short story collection to Dzanc may do so, and will be judged collectively during the remainder of 2008. In January of 2009, we will announce the winner of our Dzanc SSC Contest and that author will be published by Dzanc in 2011 and receive a $1000 advance.

If you strongly believe your work is the type of collection that Dzanc would be interested in, please feel free to enter.

For more details, visit Dzanc's Submissions page. Best of luck to all.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Short Review Authors News

Double congratulations to Susan DiPlacido, whose collection, American Cool, was the runner-up in the Romance category of the 2008 Beach Book Festival, and semi-finalist in the Erotica category of the Independent Publisher Book Awards. Short Review of American Cool.

Short Review authors Cristina Henriquez and Etgar Keret are the subjects of Thomas Beller's New York Times article, Foreign Exchange.
Both Keret and Henríquez weave their characters' difficulties into those of the larger society around them, but the results of this process are quite different.

And the winner of the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction has just been announced: Jerry Gabriel’s collection, Drowned Boy, chosen by judge Andrea Barrett. Drowned Boy will be released by Sarabande Books next year. A future Short Review author, we hope. Congratulations!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Criticism's vocabulary of cruelty

Thanks to Short Reviewer Mark for drawing my attention to this fascinating article by Molly Flatt on The Guardian's Book's Blog. Entitled "Criticism's Vocabulary of Cruelty", her premise is that reviewers seem to find it easier to write "funny negative" book reviews than, in the words of one critic she quotes, to "praise interestingly". She notes that online reviews tend to achieve more popularity if they tend towards the funny negative; generous and positive reviews do not get cited so often. But, she cautions reviewers, would you say everything you write in a review to the author's face? If not, perhaps you might want to rethink.
Despite our native savagery, surely there is nothing quite so pleasing as a balanced, sensitive and generous review that manages to capture the spirit of a beloved book? Maybe the problem is that the texts that really touch us engage our emotions and our passions, so that in describing them we must also reveal something of ourselves, whereas a clever slating distances us through self-consciously crafted irony and wit.

Food for thought for any reviewer. The full article is here.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

Short story collection news: Libris prize and Edge Hill shortlist

Short stories can be lucrative: D. Hooijer has won the 2008 Libris Literature Prize for her short story collection The Daily Grind is a Predator. This is the first time the prize, worth EUR 50,000, has been awarded for a short story collection. The jury commented that
In her stories she has managed to strike a delicate balance between story and narrative style, between content and form. Hooijer succeeds in making her stories surprising, moving and humorous.
We will have to wait until they are translated into English!

For more on the Libris prize click here.

The shortlist for the second Edge Hill Prize, worth £5000 to the winner, was announced on Saturday 10 May, at the climax of the Oceans of Stories Conference, hosted by Liverpool John Moores University and Edge Hill University. Author Helen Simpson presented the shortlist, which was selected by three judges: author Hilary Mantel, BBC Producer Duncan Minshull, and Prof. Rhiannon Evans.

The shortlist in full is:

Tiny Deaths by Robert Shearman (Comma Press)
The Separate Heart by Simon Robson (Jonathan Cape)
Walk the Blue Fields by Claire Keegan (Faber and Faber)
The People on Privilege Hill by Jane Gardam (Chatto and Windus)
Old Devil Moon by Christopher Fowler (Serpent’s Tail)

Congratulations to all those shortlisted - winner announced in July.

More on the prize here.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Self-published short story collection on Frank O'Connor Longlist

As reported in the Guardian:

This year's 39-strong longlist for the €35,000 Frank O'Connor international short story prize sees a runaway American bestseller vying with an almost unknown, self-published author.Jhumpa Lahiri's latest collection, Unaccustomed Earth, recently topped the US book charts and has been immediately pegged as the frontrunner. But the prize for the year's best short story collection in English has a record of rewarding new talent over established names - so Mary Rochford's self-published volume, Gilded Shadows should not be written off too quickly.

This is a very interesting piece of news from the point of view of The Short Review. Self-publishing is a tricky topic for reviewers. We currently do not accept any collection for review that was self-published or whose author is involved in running the press that published it. Why? Good question. There are terms I could bandy around, like "quality control" etc... But frankly, I've read some dreadful collections published by "mainstream" press. I guess what most concerns me is that some unnamed "floodgate" will be opened if we accepted self-published books that would overwhelm us. But surely the point of The Short Review is to celebrate all published short story collections?

There was a very interesting blog post on this topic recently on the Vulpes Libris blog, by novelist Anne Brooks. She starts by saying:

Hello, my name is Anne and I’m a self-publisher. Yes, I thought I ought to get that out of the way at the beginning, partly because it’s true and partly because it’s sometimes akin to admitting you’re an alcoholic. Not done in polite circles. And once you’ve admitted it, people laugh nervously, fall silent or drift away. Often all three. Or perhaps that’s because I’m no good at small talk. It’s hard to say.

Half of my books are published by the small press and half are self-published. The latter is something I’m proud of, and am becoming more so as the years progress.

She and three fellow writers set up their own press, Goldenford Publishers. They have encountered difficulties getting their books into bookshops, but this is not something unique to self-published books - local authors, for example, are finding it harder and harder to get shelf space in their local bookshops. Interestingly, Anne found that "other shops, such as delicatessens, vineyards, and even museums, are more open to stocking self-published books and also arranging events".

She sums it up by saying that

One encouraging aspect of self-publishing is the openness of online books reviews to small- and self-published books.... In the online world, there’s an encouraging openness in giving critique to non-traditional books which is regrettably absent from the traditional hard-copy reviewing press. ... perhaps it’s time for the Times Literary Review and other such publications to wake up and smell the roses: self-published books are eminently readable and people need to know about them too.

This is all food for thought for me as the editor of The Short Review. I would be very interested in hearing other opinions: for reviews of self-published collections or against?

Monday, May 5, 2008

Genre in fiction 1: Mundane Sci Fi?

As editor of the Short Review, one of my tasks is to assign each collection that we review to one or more categories on the Find Something to Read by Category page. I decided from the outset that books could appear under more than one category heading, because it didn't seem to make sense to confine them to only one: Horror, say, or Mystery. There are funny gritty stories, quirky horror, magical realist crime stories, anthologies that contain a whole wealth of different types of writing.

Recently this has led me to think about "genre" fiction: what is it and why do we need this distinction? I am new to science fiction - having been a fan of Star Trek as a kid - but reading two books for review, the Logorrhea anthology and Kelley Eskridge's Dangerous Space, have opened my eyes to what the genre is and what it isn't. It isn't necessarily aliens, starships and space wars. It is often highly imaginative, magical and what some would call "literary fiction" (another genre... more on this in a later blog post.)

On this topic, I was delighted to read this in today's Guardian Books Blog:

OK, I admit it, sci-fi is boring. After endless Star Trek re-runs, innumerable badly scripted Hollywood movies and a thousand video games with pixel-deep narrative, the once wondrous ideas of sci-fi have become yawn-inducing. Fortunately for me, beyond the world of tedious mass media sci-fi, lies the exciting world of literary science fiction or "SF" constantly producing new ideas to satisfy my hunger for wonder. Now a radical sect of SF writers and critics claim that SF needs to abandon all those wondrous ideas, and concentrate instead on the everyday and the mundane. All hail the Mundane Revolution!
This "radical sect" has a blog: Mundane-SF, which has actually been in operation since 2004 (the website it initially pointed readers to seems to have disappeared). The blog is comprised, in great part, of reviews of what it calls "mundane science fiction", science fiction which, in the words of Guardian blog writer Damien G Walter, eschews
powerful myths like faster-than-light travel and alien civilisations, myths that have been much overused and have no basis in scientific fact ... in favour of scientific realities like biotechnology or environmental change.

This is pertinent to the world of the short story because, says Walters,
Where literary fiction has long since abandoned the short form in favor of the fertile intellectual territory of Waterstones 3 for 2 tables, SF has continued to value short fiction as the arena where the genre innovates and evolves.
Readers will now have a chance to judge Mundane Sci Fi for themselves: the latest issue of British sci fi magazine Interzone, due in shops on May 8th, is the first Mundane SF special issue. But the most important point, for me as a reader looking simply for great short stories, is Walters' summing up of these stories:
The effects of climate change and the potential wonders and horrors of bio-technology loom large, as does the impact of the internet on politics, society and the individual. But very real, very human emotion lies at the heart of these stories, conveyed with a sense of literary style that puts most literary fiction to shame....A wave of technology promises (or perhaps threatens) to effect such enormous change that the next 20 years will make the last 100 look positively sedate in comparison. Mundane SF is the literature exploring how those changes will change our lives, and for all of us living through them it should be essential reading.

The point is - these are not just "science fiction" stories for fans of the "genre" - these are great pieces of writing for anyone who loves short stories. Why should SF fans be the only ones to enjoy them? Step outside your "genre" box, readers, and get stuck in to some great stories. The Fix's review of the Mundane SF special issue is here.