Monthly Archives: January 2014

Short story collections: frequently asked questions

Q: What is a short story?

A: A short story.


Q: What is a short story writer?

A: A writer with a career death wish.


Q: What is a short story collection?

A: A collection of discrete short stories.


 Q: What is a linked short story collection?

A: A collection of stories that are discrete but also connected somehow.


Q: Why not just write a novel?

A: Why not just read cereal-box advertisements?


Q: Why not just stop writing fiction and get a real job? Anyway, I digress. What is a novel in stories?

A: A linked short story collection.


Q: Sounds pretentious.

A: The terms are meant to distinguish a collection of discrete stories from a collection whose stories are connected. A better term all around would be one that doesn’t include “short” or “story” or “short story,” since these words make people run away.


Q: Right? What’s with short stories? They just get started and then all of a sudden, they’re done. You can’t really sink your teeth into them. Why would anyone write them?

A: Because the form is rather tricky and rewarding and has a long and interesting history.


Q: Ha ha ha ha ha. Oh, you’re serious.

A: Yes! Alice Munro just won the 2013 Nobel Prize for a collection of stories.


Q: Alice who? Ha ha ha ha ha. Just kidding. What is a short story cycle?

A: A collection of stories where the stories are discrete but connected and also either build on each other or express conceptual tension.


Q: Huh?

A: Yeah, hairs are being split, but some people like that sort of thing.


Q: Should I now leave you to compose sort-of-okay literature in compressed and discrete form?

A: Yes, please.





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Markup!, a new reality game show

If you like Masterpiece, you’ll love Markup!, a reality game show for the editor in all of us.

In the first of three rounds, four contestants must electronically edit a passage from a marketing professional and make it comprehensible, compelling, and grammatically correct in two minutes. Players will be surrounded by ringing phones, phone conferences set on speaker phone, inane office chatter, and flickering lights. Results are scored by three judges, who will evaluate the markup and provide scores in three categories: Diplomacy, Elegance, and Thoroughness. The loser is dismissed from the show.

In Round Two, the players must electronically edit a passage from a literary theory grad student while suffering a head cold (no symptom relief allowed) and three straight nights of sleep deprivation. The loser is dismissed from the show.

In Round Three, the final two contestants must, in addition to experiencing incessant chatter, flickering lights, a head cold, and sleep deprivation, sit in a windowless, A/C-less building on a 106-degree day. They must perform a hard-copy markup on a twenty-five-page report (with 17 charts) written by an engineer whose third language is English.

The winner is awarded the grand prize, which is the knowledge that he or she has made a positive contribution to the written word.

Drew Carey is reported to be considering a move from The Price Is Right to host the show.

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Office poem #1

O, foul insouciance!
O, untethered Gen-Y disrespect!
I harbor you, my former youth,
my brightly imagined future regrettably now undone.
I see your ten and raise you none.

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Two (totally true!) anecdotes

1) A few weeks ago, a male acquaintance of mine introduced me to an acquaintance of his. My acquaintance introduced me as a fiction writer. The new guy said, “No, thanks, I prefer reality.”

2) Today, a co-worker noticed the novel sitting on my desk. She said that 99% of her reading is nonfiction and that she prefers true stories. I said that all fiction is true. “No, it isn’t!” she said. “I prefer factual things.”

We know virtually nothing about the universe. We know very little about our brains. We know a few things with some certainty (this is called history). We highly suspect that there are some universal, moral truths.

Everything else is conjecture. You are safe reading fiction.



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