[Reading Room] Theories of the Point of View… by Jennifer Wortman

This story is a great example of a short story that doesn’t follow a narrative structure but succeeds anyway.

Its full title is Theories of the Point of View Shifts In AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long”

The Opening

Continue reading “[Reading Room] Theories of the Point of View… by Jennifer Wortman”

[Reading Room] Good With Boys by Kristen Iskandrian

This story captures the intensity of pre-teen life in all its aching glory and vibrating physicality. If you’re looking for a story that’s an example of how to create a strong voice for your first-person character, read this one!

The Opening

Continue reading “[Reading Room] Good With Boys by Kristen Iskandrian”

[Reading Room] Joan of Arc Sits Naked In Her Dorm Room by Rachel Engelman

This story won the 2018 2018 Stella Kupferberg Memorial Short Story Prize and was performed as part of the Selected Shorts series at Symphony Space in NYC. (Be still my heart. Can you imagine?!)

Electric Lit logo

I love stories like this. It’s an excellent example of what short stories can do.

There is no need to explain how Joan of Arc (and it does seem like it is the Joan of Arc) is somehow inhabiting a modern American university or college. In a short story, you can trust your readers to come along for the ride, no matter how surreal, as long as everything makes sense within the story world you create.

And in this story, it does.

Continue reading “[Reading Room] Joan of Arc Sits Naked In Her Dorm Room by Rachel Engelman”

[Reading Room] Useless Things by Ariel Berry

Since we’re all about Flash Fiction here at StoryADay during February, I’m going to be highlighting some flash stories here in the Reading Room. This story comes from 100WordStory.com, a project from NaNoWriMo’s Grant Faulker, and partners.

teacups

Useless Things by Ariel Berry caught my eye because of its mix of big ideas and mundane moments in life. It does what short fiction is supposed to do: make us stop, figure out what’s happening, and think about how we might deal with a similar situation in our life.

Continue reading “[Reading Room] Useless Things by Ariel Berry”

[Reading Room] There’s No Such Place As Bedford Falls by Joanne Harris

The Reading Room is a series of posts analyzing short stories I have read, with a writer’s eye.

This Christmas story was first published in the UK’s The Telegraph newspaper in 2007.

Opening Line

It’s six in the morning, and Santa’s on the blink.

This certainly fulfills my need for an opening line to be intriguing. (The phrase ‘on the blink’, means ‘malfunctioning’ for those not raised in the UK!)

Of course, the story very quickly delivers on the line. The Santa in question is a light-up decoration (hooray, for a double-meaning for the phrase ‘on the blink’! I’m seeing blinking lights now). Continue reading “[Reading Room] There’s No Such Place As Bedford Falls by Joanne Harris”

[Reading Room] Nightmare Town by Dashiell Hammet

Short review: I can’t believe I’ve never read anything by Dashiell Hammett before. I must be crazy. This was awesome. Totally got its hooks into me and stayed with me long after I read it.

Nightmare Town is the title story in this collection by the Noir master. Having mostly watched movies adapted from Raymond Chandler stories, and pastiches of Noir by others, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

I was, however, preparing for a reading at a Noir night, and thought I ought to do some research before I wrote a story to fit the theme.

Wow.

The Story

Continue reading “[Reading Room] Nightmare Town by Dashiell Hammet”

[Reading Room] A List of Forty Seven Lies by Steven Fischer

I keep a spreadsheet of short stories I’ve read.  I make a note of titles, authors, where I found the story and a short comment about the story, to make these posts easier.

My notes, on reading this story, simply say: “Wow”.

A List of Forty-Nine Lies is a pretty intriguing title, and the story delivers immediately.

My name is not Levi. I am not afraid. The machines that hover in swarms over the streets cannot read the thoughts inside my head.

I am not running from them. I have nothing to hide.

Continue reading “[Reading Room] A List of Forty Seven Lies by Steven Fischer”

[Reading Room] Needle In A Timestack by Robert Silverberg

Cute and slightly terrifying story of two men competing for the same woman, but this time they have the power to go back and change the past.

(Compare this to Geoffrey A Landis’s story where nothing the time-traveler did in the past could affect the future in any way.)

Silverberg does a great job of creating signposts for readers that make the effects of time travel seem almost mundane (one character tastes cotton in his mouth when the past has been changed, another gets a persistent twitch under the left eye…).

As writers today, we wouldn’t have a character stop to explain why the gadget in their pocket was buzzing (We wouldn’t write, “My phone buzzed again. It did that every time a friend send what we called a ‘text message’ from a similar device, over the wireless cell network…” No, we’d just say, “My phone buzzed. Alan again.”)

Similarly, these characters simply mention the significance of the sensation the first time and then use it in the story to signal to the reader that someone’s been time-traveling again.

It was nice to read a story with potentially disastrous technology that wasn’t completely dystopian. It did seem a little shallow at times, though, because I’m so used to ‘realistic’ takes on doomsday technologies in current stories. Not sure how I feel about that, being an upbeat and optimistic person who likes a laugh, but felt a little cheated by this story.

How Stories Age

It’s funny how stories age. I guess we can’t worry too much about that. We just have to write the best stories we can, and keep writing them as we change and age. Some of our work will survive. Some will become embarrassing. And that’s OK.

As something of a side note, it’s interesting to go back and read older short stories and find things I wasn’t expecting.

For example, I’ve never worried too much about the sex (or gender) of the person who wrote a story or of the main character. I’ve never worried too much about older social attitudes that we have, thankfully, left behind, showing up in stories where we couldn’t expect the author to have a more modern outlook.

But in spite of not going around looking for these nits to pick, I am increasingly impatient with stories in which the women are cardboard cut outs. I don’t know if I should curse Alison Bechdel for bringing it to my attention, or simply shrug and accept that there’s so much good writing out there no that DOESN’T fail the Bechdel test, that it’s OK for me to be more picky.

I’m not willing to cut myself off from a world of literary history, just because the writers weren’t inclusive (or not-horribly-racist), but I can’t seem to help having a niggling, deep down dissatisfaction when a good writer excludes half the population or is clueless about basic human dignity.

Again, I’m glad these stories were written, and I won’t not read them because they aren’t inclusive. The writers were working with what they had. Some were better than others. But me? I’m certainly becoming less likely to read and praise them just because somebody tells me I should.

Read this story in The Time Traveler’s Almanac

Do you worry about reader or posterity when you write? How do you feel about stores that have aged badly in one respect, while still having other features to recommend them? Join the discussion in the comments.

[Reading Room] Ripples In The Dirac Sea by Geoffrey A. Landis

I found this story in The Time Traveler’s Almanac, (Ann & Jeff Vandermeer, Ed).

This is one of the best time travel stories I’ve ever read, and I’m a huge fan of the sub-genre.

Although this story was first published in 1988, I haven’t seen anyone else treat time travel and it’s consequences like this. In fact I’m amazed no ones turned this into a script [1. Assuming they haven’t] (it’d be perfect for Black Mirror). Continue reading “[Reading Room] Ripples In The Dirac Sea by Geoffrey A. Landis”

[Reading Room] The Death Ship by Richard Matheson

It’s tough to read Matheson’s stories now because his are the quintessential Twilight Zone type story (they were turned into several of the best TZ episodes) and have been ripped off, parodied and lovingly copied so many times that they feel cliched.

But concentrating on that takes away from the exquisite, concise, clear writing, characterization and big ideas of the original material. He really is a tremendously good writer.

His stories contain big ideas, thoughtfully dealt with in crisp prose that I could read until the end of time.

The Death Ship

This story was adapted into an early Twilight Zone episode. It comes from the early days of space exploration, when ideas were big and facts in short supply. Some of the assumptions in the story are suspect by today’s scientific standards, but that was never what these early sci-fi stories were about. (You know, unless they were written by Arthur C. Clarke, who also had a hand in inventing Radar, so he’s a bit of a special case.)

In this story three men in a space ship survey new planets, looking for new homes for the humans from the chronically overcrowded Earth. When they go down to investigate a particular planet, things start to get weird.

From that point on, the story is a purely about human nature and drama, with the space-faring backdrop becoming fairly unimportant.

That’s one of the things I find irresistible about science fiction. The writers hook you with the setting, with the gadgets and the ‘what ifs’, but then all the best stories end up being about the human condition.

They do what art is supposed to do: make life look a little bit strange, so that we can reassess our own position towards it. No matter which side of the political shouting match you’re on, it seems like that’s something our civilization could us at the moment, don’t you think?

What setting or story type could you use to reel in a reader who needs to see part of their own life with fresh eyes?

Read the story in The Time Traveler’s Almanac