09 December 2022

Showdown At The OK Towne Centre (or, A Tale of Two Karens)


 Author's note: This is not the first time I've published this tale. However, 'tis the season.

2009 by Lyle https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

My first Christmas in Cincinnati found me doing my first ever Christmas Eve shopping dash.  I ended up at Kenwood Towne Center, the mall nearest the then-in-laws’ place.  Big mistake.  In looking for a parking place, I wound up in a standoff with another guy waiting for the same parking space to open.

 

I stared.  He stared.  Somewhere nearby, a car stereo blared the theme from A Fistful of Dollars. Finally, the car pulled out and away.  It was on.

Or was it?

Before I or my nemesis could get our feet off our respective brakes, two women in expensive sedans whipped around us and shot into the same parking space.  Or tried to.

As Michio Kaku will explain on his many television appearances, two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time.  What a waste of a Lexus and a BMW.

My nemesis and I got out, looked at each other, then watched the two vicious ladies cuss each other out.  One of these ladies was a eucharistic minister at my church at the time.

“You know,” I said to my nemesis, “it’s really not a bad day to walk.”

“I’m parking over by the Kroger,” he said.

“I’ll join you.”

Half the Kroger lot was empty.  Nemesis and I parked without incident or conflict.

I suspect the two ladies got lumps of coal in their stockings.

08 December 2022

Is It Life, Or Is It A Character Arc?


Lately (which, in my case means pretty much "all the time") I have been giving a fair amount of thought on the notion of character. I've written in this space before about the importance of strong character development as a component of any piece of well-done fiction. But two things have recently conspired to set me pondering the notion of character more deeply than ever before.

I'm talking about the novel Magpie Murders by prolific author/screenwriter Anthony Horowitz (who also recently adapted his novel for production as a BBC TV series), and of Pearl Harbor Day (yesterday: December 7th–the anniversary of the Japanese sneak attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

How are these two items connected?

I'm so glad you asked.

We'll start with the fiction and go backward.

Without giving too much away, the central theme of Horowitz's work deals with the time-honored authorial trick of mining the lives of real people for material for a work of fiction. And in this instance, of the potential consequences of same.

"So what?" I hear you saying, "Don't writers do this sort of thing all the time?"

And the answer is, "of course." And it doesn't limit itself to actual fiction. One famous case of someone taking from their real life and heavily fictionalizing aspects of an otherwise "factual" memoir was the hatchet job that novelist Ernest Hemingway did on his erstwhile friend and expatriate colleague, Great Gatsby author and Jazz Age icon F. Scott Fitzgerald in his memoir of living and working in 1920s Paris: A Moveable Feast. Hemingway's reminiscences of Fitzgerald contain enough truth to seem familiar, while also tarring the admittedly high-living Fitzgerald as an eccentric hypochondriac.

Were Fitzgerald not already twenty years dead when Hemingway published A Moveable Feast, he may well not have recognized himself in Hemingway's hit piece. Truly a well-written and subtly vicious "portrait of the artist." A close reading of the piece reveals numerous hints as to Hemingway's rumored inferiority complex, and there is a fair amount of score settling in the memoir's pages. The blackest mark against the monumentally talented Hemingway's character is that by all reports Fitzgerald considered Hemingway a friend, and no doubt would have been deeply hurt by the book.

Leaving off the discussion of real life influencing character for a moment, let's take a stab at tying in Pearl Harbor Day.

I'm fifty-seven, born two years after the Kennedy assassination, and thirty-six on September 11th, 2001.These two events, the "do you remember where you were when you heard about..." moments in the lives of my generation and that of my parents, bear a similarity as a temporal and cultural touchstone to the same moment in the lives of my grandparents' generation: December 7th, 1941, "A date that will live in infamy."

So how to use Pearl Harbor Day the event as a tie-in to character development? There's the obvious notion of writing about the events of that day, as James Jones did with his novel From Here to Eternity. I'd like to explore the notion of using this event a bit more tangentially though.

Imagine Pearl Harbor Day itself, the anniversary, not the day of the actual sneak attack, playing an outsized role in a character's life. How so? It's already of the anniversary of one of the most traumatic days in American history.

The question we have to ask is: How could the anniversary, and not so much the main event, impact a character's life? Now stay with me here...

Make it the character's birthday.

And make the character the son of a Japanese mother and an American father. And ratchet up the symbolism/potential impact on the character by making his mother a married Japanese diplomat who got pregnant with him while conducting an affair with his American naval officer father.

To raise the stakes even further, make the character an adoptee who survives a bout of cancer that robs him of the sight in one of his eyes while still less than a year old. Taken on by loving parents, American teachers working in Japan.

Now we  begin to try to flesh out the character more. He grows up to be short (5'1") but powerfully built. A music-loving multi-instrumentalist, a voracious reader, who could work his way through a whole library shelf in a week.

Make him a study in contrasts: a homebody handy with just about any kind of tools, able to fix (or jerry-rig) nearly anything. Occasionally a wild man out at the bars–someone best described as a "gregarious loner"–a fascinating conversationalist tolerant of nearly everyone he ever met, able to get along with anyone, but truly close only to a very select circle of friends. And a guy who relished (mis)quoting W.C. Fields ("Any man who hates dogs and babies can't be all bad."–something actually said about Fields, not by him.), but was a colossal fraud on that front: no one loved (and was loved by) him more than small children and dogs. ALL of them.

And because of his wild streak, make this character the most deliberate of men: understanding on some primal level that his flights of reckless abandon will get him into trouble if he's not careful. Make sure to have him carry the memories and scars of this duality: a drunken fall from a friend's roof following a Halloween party–the time he was the passenger in a friend's car and the friend (after a few too many) veered off the road and hit a house. More scars.

And you keep layering it on from there. So much so that of course, when this character eventually goes to meet his Maker, it's as a the result of a tragic accident.

Okay, you got me. This "character" is, of course, real. And here's the tie-in: it's my friend, Jeff. And he really was born on December 7th, the child of a Japanese diplomat mother and an American naval officer father. And like the author character in Magpie Murders, I have culled the above details from my friend's life.

I've done this in part because I'm writing this post on Wednesday, December 7th for publication on Thursday, December 8th. And today is my friend Jeff's sixtieth birthday. And as usual, on this, Pearl Harbor Day, I'm not thinking of World War II, or Hawaii. I'm thinking, as I do often every year, and especially on his birthday, of my friend Jeff, a true man among men. They didn't come any funnier, any quirkier, or any more interesting.

And although it's been over twenty years since his tragic accident, lord, do I miss him. And there isn't a week or a month that goes by when I don't wish he were still around, and that he could have met my wife, and played with my son, and spoiled the hell out of my already willful dog.

So in honor of my friend Jeff, I'd like to ask you, dear reader, during this holiday season, to take a moment and tell those you love and who love you how much they mean to you. And if you can't find the words to tell them, better yet, show them.

A simple (if not always easy) test of character.

See you in two weeks.


07 December 2022

Hello DALL-E


Tulip next to a bubble

 I just acquired a new hobby, which is good, because I didn't have nearly enough ways to waste time and money.

DALL-E 2 is an artificial intelligence program that creates illustrations.  You begin by giving the AI a prompt, telling it as specifically as you can what you want.  In about ten seconds it gives you four variations. Many are weird.  Some are totally off-base (you will see one below). Some are delightful.  If you see one you like you can have the next iteration be variations on that one.

I started with something simple: I wanted to make a meme* related to the Tulip Bubble, one of history's first recorded stock market crashes.  So I asked DALL-E 2 to create a tulip next to a bubble.  You see the best of the four options above.  I used two free programs to straighten out the angle and add the text.

Then I started playing around.  See below.  I don't claim any of them are masterpieces but they are a thousand times better than I could do.

  
Cat playing the fiddle by Van Gogh





Faces are a weak point.  And the AI has odd lacunae: it understands Alice in Wonderland and George Washington, but not Sherlock Holmes. Deerstalker cap means nothing to it as well.

As I understand when you sign up for DALL-E 2 you get 30 free selections, plus 15 per month.  If you go past that it is $15 for 115 more.  Not expensive.


Police interrogating a penguin by Rodin

Police interrogating a penguin by Rembrandt

Police car chase by J.M.W. Turner

The last one is another meme I created, this time by asking for: drawing of the back of a person sitting in an armchair reading a book with a coffee cup.

Mafiosi recycling drawing (?)
 Some of these could make pretty good story prompts.  Some will certainly wind up illustrating my blog entries.  Now, if you will excuse me, I need to see what a kangaroo playing the banjo would look like if painted by Matisse. 




Alice in Wonderland by Salvador Dali
* According to Wikipedia the word "meme" was coined by Richard Dawkins in 1976.  It meant "an idea, behavior, or style that spreads by means of imitation from person to person within a culture."  More recently it has come to mean an image widely shared on the internet.

06 December 2022

No More Guns, No More Tacos



This month saw the release of the final episode of the Guns + Tacos novella anthology series, a project that Trey R. Barker and I created and edited that involved 22 writers (including ourselves) who produced 24 novellas and four bonus stories over the course of four years.

Trey, Frank Zafiro, and I wrote about the project’s genesis back in 2019 (“The Genesis of Guns + Tacos,” SleuthSayers, April 2, 2019), but the short version is this:

Temple and I met Trey and Kathy Barker for lunch at the St. Petersburg Bouchercon in 2018 and somehow wound up discussing Trey’s two favorite things: guns and tacos. Later, Temple suggested that “guns and tacos” might be a good premise for an anthology. Over the course of the afternoon, Trey and I batted the idea around, and that evening, while sitting on the veranda of the Vinoy, we suggested the idea to Eric Campbell of Down & Out Books.

Eric asked if we could turn the concept into a “novella anthology series” similar to A Grifter’s Song, the series Frank Zafiro had already successfully pitched to Down & Out. At some point, Frank joined the conversation, offered advice and suggestions, and later let us crib from his successful proposal for the creation of our proposal. (He also contributed a novella to the first season.)

And for four years Frank’s series was released each year January through June and ours July through December.

It is possible, given the open-ended nature of the Guns + Tacos concept, that it could have lasted longer, but Trey—who has an incredibly busy life—wanted to spend more of his available time writing and less of it editing. So, we decided to bring the series to a close.

GUNS + TACOS

Guns + Tacos novellas are set in and around Chicago and share one thing in common: Each story involves a visit to Jesse’s Tacos, a taco truck that is rarely in the same place twice and that sells weapons as the special of the day. Contributors were tasked with telling the story of why people would purchase guns from Jesse’s Tacos and what they would do with the guns once they had them. This allowed for a wide range of stories, though they tend toward action and hardboiled.

The mystery writing community is small, and chances are we all have less than six degrees of separation. Even so, Trey and I were able to bring together a variety of contributors who were not known to us both, which is one of the joys of co-editing, and seeing how each writer responded to the challenge makes for a great deal of enjoyable reading.

Trey and I contributed to the series, as did Ann Aptaker, Eric Beetner, C.W. Blackwell, Alec Cizak, James A. Hearn, David H. Hendrickson, Hugh Lessig, Adam Meyer, Karen E. Olson, Alan Orloff, Gary Phillips, Neil S. Plakcy, William Dylan Powell, Ryan Sayles, Mark Troy, Joseph S. Walker, Andrew Welsh-Huggins, Stacy Woodson, Frank Zafiro, and Dave Zeltserman.

If you’ve not yet experienced Guns + Tacos, all of the novellas are available as ebooks from the publisher and at your favorite online bookstores. For those who prefer reading traditional books, at the end of each season, that season’s novellas are collected into a pair of paperbacks. The first three seasons are currently available as paperbacks and the final season’s paperbacks should be available in early January.

CHOP SHOP

Keep your eyes peeled for a new serial novella anthology series coming in 2023.

I’ve created and am editing Chop Shop, a series about car thieves in Dallas, Texas. Contributors to the first season have been lined up and will be announced sometime next year.


My story “Kissing Cousins” appears in the first issue of Starlite Pulp Review, due out this month.

Also coming this month from Down & Out Books:
Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir, vol. 3, with stories by Ann Aptaker, Trey R. Barker, C.W. Blackwell, John Bosworth, John M. Floyd, Nils Gilbertson, James A. Hearn, Janice Law, Steve Liskow, Sean McCluskey, Adam Meyer, Alan Orloff, Jon Penfold, C. Matthew Smith, Joseph S. Walker, Michael Wegener, Andrew Welsh-Huggins, Sam Wiebe, and Stacy Woodson.

05 December 2022

Brick by Brick


Persistence may be humanity’s highest moral calling.  Lightning flashes of heroism may be the stuff of stirring narrative, but it’s often the steady pressure of day-to-day effort that rules the day. 

Real-life homicide detectives know this.  If they haven’t caught the perpetrator in the first few days after the crime, they know they’re committed to the long slog. They hunker down, gather their resources and push on.  You’ve often heard about them canvassing the neighborhood.  What that means is they’ve knocked on every door, interviewed every source, researched every possible connection.  This is vastly difficult and time-consuming work. 

Writing is sort of like this.  Ever notice that you can only write one letter at a time?  Assuming you don’t dictate your novels into a machine.  It’s work, and it takes concentration and discipline and persistence over long periods of time. 

Winston Churchill wrote millions of words over the course of his prolific lifetime.  He also loved to lay up brick.  I think there’s a connection there.  I’m guessing those bricks were exceptionally straight and well-placed, a sturdy bulwark against the ravages of time.  Like his prose. 

Churchill is often compared to a bulldog, of course, but I’m better acquainted with terriers.  To me, these are a sub-species of dog, unique in their focus and determination.  And persistence.  I’ve had five over the years, and none have ever caught a squirrel, though each opportunity is met with the same level of fierce resolve.  They never give up.  They never surrender. 

My other hero of persistence is my friend Steve Liskow, who submitted 350 short stories before getting his first acceptance.  He went on to win a bucketful of awards, including an Edgar nomination, which makes the tale that much more moving.  My wife will tell you that I’m not easily deterred when I have my mind set on something, but I can honestly say I’d have thrown in the towel long before Steve. 

The guy who founded the ad agency we worked for, and later bought, once told me that the two most important qualities behind a successful venture were clear thinking and endurance.  That drive to get out of bed every morning, no matter how tired you feel, and how much you’d rather be doing something else. 

When Glen Frey of the Eagles was a struggling nobody he lived in an apartment above Jackson Brown, also struggling.  Frey notes that he was kept awake by Jackson Brown going over the same musical stanza for countless hours, perfecting and polishing.  Okay, that Jackson Brown and Glen Frey (and his roommates Don Henley and JD Souther) lived in the same apartment house doesn’t seem possible, but you get the point.  Some may call it obsession, but to others, it’s just doing the work.

I’ve never had writer’s block, thank God, but I’ve spent occasional moments staring at an empty page, or screen, wondering what I should do next.  My simple solution is to start writing. Anything.  A letter to a friend, a description of my mood, free association making little sense, but after a while, the words begin to form into coherent sentences, and I knew how the rest of the time is going to go. 

My favorite book on writing is Ann Lamott’s Bird by Bird.  Her core thesis is contained in the title.  Her little brother was daunted by a report he had to write on birds, and their father advised him to just start the project, completing one bird at a time.  One step at a time, one brick on top of the next, one letter following another, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, page by page, until there you have it.

A book. 

04 December 2022

Selous Scouts


Not Your Boy Scouts

Note: This is a follow-up to my story in Alfred Hitchcock, ‘The Precatory Pea’. After writing this article, I received terrible news, which I include at the end of this article.

A few matters in my Alfred Hitchcock story bear explanation. As so often happens with storytellers, several particulars, as my grandmother would say, coalesced at the right place and moment. Most significant was laconic Simon Parkin, formerly of Zimbabwe, née Rhodesia.

According to his wife, in-laws, children, and small animals, he’s an utter lamb. Nonetheless to strangers he, like my brother Glen, projects a don’t-ƒ-with-me aura. He’s NOT the guy you want to jostle in a bar, not twice, anyway. It’s not so much he suffers fools badly, he doesn’t suffer them at all. Perhaps that restrained intimidation may simmer from his military background.

Selous Scouts badge

He began to talk and eventually he turned to history. Simon told me about Selous Scouts, Rhodesia’s special forces, specialists at guerrilla warfare. I captured some of his words for my story: “Reid-Daly marshalled the finest counter¬insurgency team on the planet. Our fathers fought Soviets and Red Chinese, for God’s sake. Uncle Ron kicked Castro’s arse back to Havana.”

After speaking with a couple more people, I tracked down relevant material in a Pietermaritzburg bookstore. The mixed-race Scouts were fierce. They were sly. They were feared. Their ferociousness scared the hell out of the communist putative freedom fighters. But interestingly, they became known for an offer that couldn’t be refused.

Critical Career Path

Unfortunately, I couldn't justifiably include one of the Scouts’ most interesting philosophies, a sort of prisoner triage. When the Scouts took POWs, they looked for those who might be saved from prison or possible execution. They offered captives an opportunity to join the Scouts.

This wasn’t done haphazardly, but was well planned, testing each. For example, during interviews, the interrogator and a too-casual guard would leave the room occasionally and, during one of these exits, the guard ‘accidentally’ left his rifle behind in a corner. How the prisoner reacted determined his future… or lack thereof.

I wouldn’t have given that program good odds, but surprisingly captured recruits turned out to be especially loyal with a success rate of eight or nine out of every ten.

Clearing the Air

Wikipedia is experiencing one of its hysterias about Selous Scouts, arguing that violent apartheid-era Scouts who’ve written on the subject shouldn’t be allowed as sources. Let’s be clear– they weren’t angels. They were at-risk soldiers for the white government of Rhodesia. But their fierce reputation spread, leaving behind a sense of awe. Think Rommel. Think King Shaka.

I received cautions not to write about Selous Scouts and especially don’t criticize them. Simon didn’t think an outsider could write about them at all. But no, I didn't plan to criticize.

My mind raced in a different direction. Zimbabwean and South African mercenaries were highly sought after apartheid, but the Blackwater 2007 mass murder in Nisour Square, Baghdad temporarily reduced demand for hired guns.

What if, my thinking went, what if unemployed wannabes fancied themselves as heirs of Selous Scouts? And what if they turned to cross-border crime to fund themselves?

As our Nellie noted, her nemeses were urban bad guys, not soldiers of the bush. In a literal sense, they didn’t know their own land.

A Colourful Cast

Like real Scouts, each of my bad guys brings a different heritage to the party:

  • Smith   — Rhodesian English
  • Buhle   — Ndébélé
  • Smuts   — Afrikaner
  • Svitsi  — Shona

and the other characters:

  • Nellie  — Zulu
  • Barbara — SA English

A spread of ethnicities like this appears fairly commonplace in South Africa.

Madam & Eve
Eve, Madam, and Mother

Apartheid may have ended, but a vigorous service economy remains for workers who fall outside of BEE, Black Economic Empowerment. In South Africa, the domestic black/white relationship is close and complex with considerable interpersonal involvement that retains a certain formality.

A sly comic strip, Madam & Eve captures some of this attitude. Madam Anderson may be the employer, but she ain’t the boss. Four million readers follow them… Black, White, Brown, and Coloured– and yes, South Africa has those designations as Trevor Noah has explained. (Eve's niece Thandi is one of the most delightful characters ever.)

Nando's ad
You are not reading this wrong.
(World Cup ad)

Nando’s, a famous chicken restaurant (its peri-peri hot sauce has been seen on the shelves of my local Walmart), is known for its sexy and politically incorrect hilarious ads about South Africa issues. You have to love people who laugh at themselves. Who else but Nando's would offer a WTF Special? (Wednesday, Thursday, Friday) One advert is sooooo risque, I don't dare provide a link, much as I'd love to.

[And I do love South Africa. Of all the countries I’ve visited, lived, and worked in, South Africa is my favorite. I loved it and I could easily live there.]

Military Hardware

The story references the ugly, stubby weapon ‘HMC’, sometimes called a spraygun. Here it means ‘hand (or handheld) machine carbine’ and not an M1 designated QUAL HMC made by Quality Hardware Manufacturing Company.

As opposition to apartheid took effect around the globe, South Africa and Rhodesia could no longer buy on the arms market. As a result, they began manufacturing their own designs, some considered the finest in the world. Their boat-hull shape and double skins made military vehicles notable for their resistance to mines and IEDs. You can see one example, the Casspir in the film, District 9. The Marauder came along later. It was featured in the British television program Top Gear.

US flat-bottom HumVees faired poorly in Iraq. IEDs ripped through the floors of vehicles. Soldiers welded steel plates underneath, creating their own double hull, although a better solution was manufactured elsewhere.

Salad Days… it’s all in the wrist.

After our Nell stitches up the doctor, she makes her exquisite salad and serves each a bowl in the Nguni tradition. This distinctive method of serving looks like this: The server extends the bowl in one hand while cupping the forearm with the other hand.

I recommend salade lyonnaise without extra red berries.

Breaking News that may Break Your Heart

The following is disturbing and it reveals a major spoiler in the story. Proceed with caution.

03 December 2022

Happy in My Shorts


  

And why wouldn't I be?--I live in what some call the middle of the Deep South, and for about seven months of every year down here, long pants are just too hot. But I'm also happy writing shorts instead of longs, which has a little more connection to this column.

Interesting note: several of my published nonfiction-writing friends complain that they sometimes aren't recognized as "real" writers. Why? Because they haven't written and published fiction. Seriously, they say nonfiction doesn't get as much respect. (According to them, nonfiction doesn't even have its own name; instead, it's nonfiction.) I disagree with this opinion--the nonfiction authors I'm referring to are more talented writers than I am. But this perceived disrespect does seem to be something that bothers them. 

That same (mis?)perception also applies to short-fiction writers vs. novelists. Those who specialize in writing short stories don't get the same respect and recognition as those who write long. Some of that, I think, is justified: writing a good novel is much harder than writing a good short story--though there are some who disagree with that as well. As for me, I love writing the short stuff and I plan to continue doing it until the little workers in my brain get tired of it. Does that mean I'm not a real fiction writer? Maybe it does. But to that I reply, "Who cares? I'm having fun."

I'm reminded of something a writer friend named Neil Schofield once mentioned in a comment responding to one of my weekly Criminal Brief columns. He said, "The short story is not a rehearsal for The Novel . . . it's an end and an art in itself, and a damn exciting and rewarding one."

Another insightful comment on this subject came from fellow SleuthSayer Leigh Lundin:

"I'd add that word limits foster discipline. they help foster better writing habits such as cutting out the fat."

and yet another from Dave Duggins:

"While you're writing and marketing novels, keep writing short fiction . . . they keep your name in front of a reading public while you toil away in relative anonymity creating projects that will take a year or more to write and another year to hit bookstores. Short fiction is a good business decision."

Let me add to this praise of short stories by pointing out some definite advantages to writing shorts instead of novels. I saw these listed someplace long ago, and I think they still apply:


1. Short stories can be resold. And resold many times, to different places. There aren't a ton of markets out there that will consider publishing reprints, but there are some, including anthologies. I have one story that's been reprinted ten times.

2. Short stories give you a sense of completion. You can write THE END, submit your story to a market, and then turn around and write another story the next day that's completely different. That kind of satisfaction and freedom is a big thing, to me.

3. They don't take a long time to write. A novel can take a writer months or even years to complete, while the shorts I write take a matter of days--a week or two at the most. Slam, bam, and then write another one. And if one doesn't sell--well, I know this is negative thinking, but if it doesn't sell you've invested a lot less time.

4. They can help build a resume. Publishing a number of short stories in respected markets can help your career as a writer in several ways. It can make you better known to readers, can attract the attention of other editors, and can--if it's important to you--increase your visibility to agents and publishers of longer works.

5. They're good practice. Crafting marketable short stories gives you valuable experience, especially in how to write tight and compact. That's something that can help when it comes to writing anything, from flash stories to novels to nonfiction to screenplays. Fictionwise, shorts can also teach you a lot about story structure--plot points, character arcs, etc.

6. You don't need an agent. Many writers are advised to try to find an agent before they try to publish a novel--and that's not a bad idea. As a writer of shorts, I do have an agent, and he's been a great help to me on things like foreign sales, movie deals, and such--but the fact is, most short story writers don't have an agent and don't need one. Certainly not at first.

NOTE: I've been careful not to list the DISadvantages of writing short vs. long, the biggest of which are money and fame. But who wants to be rich, right? Besides, most novel writers aren't rich either. Or famous.


In addition to all the above . . . writing short stories is fun. I write a lot of them, and when I'm not actually writing I'm putting them together in my head. As I've often said, none of my time is wasted anymore. If I happen to find myself waiting around for some something or someone--my wife, a friend, our kids/grandkids--I use that time to dream up plots and characters. (Talk about living in a fantasy world . . .)

A final point. If you're not a writer but you read a lot, consider trying to write a short story. Since they are short, it shouldn't be as daunting a task as a novel. And if you're already a novelist or a nonfiction writer, you might want to try your hand at writing shorts as well. Think of it as a break from your normal routine. At the very least, it might recharge your batteries.



So. What do y'all think? If you write, what kind of writing do you do? Ever tried to experiment a bit? Have you tried writing short stories and found you enjoy it? Did you find it relaxing? Challenging? Do you write both short and long? Fiction and non-? Have you experienced any of those six advantages I listed above? Are you sick and tired of these questions?


In closing, here's something else I heard long ago: Writing a good novel requires a better storyteller; writing a good short story requires a better craftsman. I suspect that's true. 

Not that it matters. In the publishing world, there's room for both.