I have a confession.
Until this year, I did not like short stories. I tried on multiple occasions to get into short stories but every time I did I would walk away with the same thought: “This feels like homework. I’m gonna go read a novel.”
I think my personal problem stems from the way short stories are taught. My experience with short stories in high school made it seemed like short stories were meant to analyzed rather than enjoyed. They were a heavy handed vehicle for themes and ideas and not a lot of fun.
When I graduated high school I assumed that short stories would hop on a plane with calculus and fly to the Land of Things I’ll Never Have To Do Or Think About Again. I felt like I had done my time and I could survive off the like two Ray Bradbury stories I actually enjoyed until the day I died. Then I made a huge mistake.
I became a writer.
I went to college and got a degree in Professional Writing which required I take a class on short stories. I wrote six short stories that semester and they were all pretty terrible. I realized my problem was that it’s hard to write what you don’t know. I mainly read novels so when I sat down to write, that’s what I wrote. Every short story I wrote tried to become a novel part way through and it was super frustrating. So I said, “Fine, I’ll read some short stories.”
I was working at Barnes & Noble at the time so I got a subscription to Asimov’s on my nook. I would get the new issue and read a few stories and every time I would be disappointed. Looking back, I must have been unlucky because Asimov’s publishes great stuff but the experience was very off putting. I gave up.
A few years later, I tried again. This time I went with general fiction short stories and hooooo boy was that a mistake. Trying to get through that anthology truly felt like homework. So I gave up again.
Then this year rolled around and I decided to get more serious about my writing career. I’ve heard from a lot of writers that they enjoy writing short stories because it lets them try out some things without having to commit to a whole novel. That sounded great to me because I’m constantly coming up with ideas and there’s no way I have time to write eight novels a year. So I tried short stories again.
I tried another general fiction anthology and only made it part way through. But this time I didn’t give up. I went to a local book store and looked through all the sci-fi/fantasy short story anthologies. I ended up grabbing The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2018 anthology edited by N.K. Jemisin. I remember think, “The BEST? We’ll see about that!”
They weren’t wrong.
I finished the first story Rivers Run Free by Charles Payseur and promptly texted my wife who was with the baby in the other room: “I LIKE SHORT STORIES NOW!”
That’s literally all it took. One short story.
I of course continued on and right now my favorite story is Destroy This City with Me Tonight by Kate Alice Marshall. I’ll be honest, that story almost made me hate short stories again because it’s so good it made me jealous.
The whole anthology is packed full of fantastic stories. If you’re having trouble getting into short stories, I highly recommend it as a place to start.
Thanks N.K. Jemisin for putting together such a wonderful collection!