You should buy and read short story magazines. For lots of reasons.
The selfish reason first – I write short stories. The more people who buy and read short story magazines, the more money these magazines have for acquiring work and the more likely they are to buy mine.
But here’s the other reasons. Short stories are, perhaps, the best way to get into reading fiction. People who feel unsure about reading books will find that the shorter lengths (as few as 100 words, sometimes!) are less opressive. Because they’re short, people can read them in a few spare minutes in their busy days.
Short story magazines are cheap. Usually cheaper than a book for dozens of seperate stories!
And they’re complete stories, with characters and a plot arc and all the things you love from TV and video-games, but there’s no unnecessary extras. Just the story.
Short story magazines cover all genres and interests. Upset that there aren’t enough fairy-tale retellings in the bookstores? There’ll be a magazine you can read.
As for why you should pay for them? Well, there are plenty of brilliant free ones out there, it’s true (I suggest popping over to 101 fiction for good, very short pieces, and not just because a story of mine will be going up there soon) but the competition for writers to get into the paying market is fierce. Which means you get the best of the best. The brilliant ones.
So, you’ll be supporting the careers of writers, ensuring hard working creatives get paid, and enjoying yourself at the same time. Win win!
Some of my favourites:
Most of these publish spec fic, as that’s what I like to read and write. Some publish literary or have a small niche.
If you want to read short stories and don’t know where to start, a good place to look is duotrope. It exists mainly as a way for writers to keep track of submissions, but you can search it for specific genres and sub-genres, and you may well find a magazine you like that way.
No matter how hard you work or how good you think your work is, you are not entitled to representation or a publishing contract. This is a business, not a sponge-bath for your ego. If an agent doesn’t think they can sell your work, or a publisher doesn’t think they can make money on it, they will reject it. Accept that.
You are certainly not allowed to assault a literary agent because your work is rejected, and if you have any sympathy with the man assaulting her you are a shitty human being and you can unfollow me right fucking now.
Cross-posted on my other blogs to boost signal.
When I go through the door, it’s like entering a new world. Lots of new worlds. As many worlds as there are books.
I like the silence, the hush, the sense of expectation. People are quiet in bookstores, they stand alone and gaze at books, their minds already half away. SOmetimes they pick up a book and flick through it’s pages with a delicate touch. The book purrs under the notice, catlike. (Books are cats to me. Loved but indifferent to you.)
I wander in bookstores. I drift around tables, touching covers, picking up the odd book and reading the blurb. I spend a few minutes in front of the ‘beautiful books’ section, wishing I could justify another copy of Jane Eyre just for that pen-and-ink cover. I can’t. I drift some more.
I feel at peace in bookstores. A combination of factors – the smell, the colours, the presence of those books, all those billions of words – it has a weight to it, which no matter how unhappy I am makes me feel better. I usually find my way to one of three sections – Sci-Fi and Fantasy, Horror, or Crime. Sometimes I amble through the fiction section, but only when I’m looking for something in particular. When I just want to get a new book, not caring which. I go straight to one of the former three.
This is where I start acting like a Booksexual (Librosexual? Bibliosexual?) in earnest. I touch the books. I stroke them. Lift them to my nose and sniff them. I treat them like a person treats their lover. The only thing I don’t do is stick them inside me because a: don’t want to be arrested b: don’t want to be banned and c: papercuts OW. But I love them. In this moment I am poised on the edge of something magnificent – discovery, friendships, love, all of those things could wait for me in here. I stroke my thumb along the pages.
Once I’ve bought the book, I’m impatient. I get it home, and immediately sit down to immerse myself in its world, know it’s characters, feel it properly. It usually only takes me a few hours to read a standard novel if I have no distractions, and that first read through NEVER has distractions. If the book is good, I get lost in it and finishing it leaves me in that strange, disconnected space where nothing feels right.
If the book is bad, I am angry and disappointed in the same way as if I’d been lied to by a friend. My expected journey is spoiled. My love was misused. My money was spent on something not wothwhile. I am dissatisfied.
I’ve been denied my deserved climax, the emotional connection I want from books. The writer has taken it from me. I am furious.
And that, children, that feeling? That is where vicious reviews come from.
The inimitable Chuck Wendig has ordered us to write another piece of flash fiction. As I want to get better at flash, I joined in. These are the rules for this week:
A few weeks back I was playing with that random sentence generator used in another flash fiction challenge, and I got what was, for me, a truly fascinating story-inspiring sentence.
“The noticed android walks past a wondering chamber.”
I don’t know what the fuck that means, but I like it.
So, your flash fiction challenge should utilize this sentence.
In fact, it should be your opening sentence.
After that, you’ve got up to 1000 words to tell the story, whatever that story may be.
Here is my attempt. It comes in at 727 words.
The noticed android walks past a Wondering Chamber. It walks with a strange, halting gait – its left leg out of time with the rest of its body. As it walks, it disturbs the detritus of a dead civilisation. The notice on it’s back reads RESCUE in letters that must have been red, once, though now faded and peeling and coated in grime.
It walks past the Wondering Chamber as feral dogs and cats scatter before it. Just past the once glorious building, it halts. People came here in their droves. There is an alert set in it’s programming. People gathered here. A signal in the corroding mass of its mind. People. It is looking.
A Wondering Chamber: They come here as families, as lovers, alone. They come here and they laugh and love and dream. It doesn’t know what those mean, but the PROGRAMMER thought it was important. They come here and are human. Check. Check it Check it.
The outer door is locked, but the lock is rusted. The android can get through. The reception is dark, but the android can see through the dusty blackness. Computers are silent on desks. The android could talk to those computers if they were awake. They aren’t awake.
The inner doors are open and buckled. Force was used here. Great force. The Chamber lies at the end of a long, black corridor. The android switches on it’s recorder. What it sees and what happens transmits to a place where humans can pick it up. No-one has picked up a message since the start, but it’s part of the program.
The wondering chamber is huge. Information in the memory banks is available. The Wondering Chambers were made so that 100 human beings could comfortably co-exist within them, and never bump into each others space unless they wanted to. Metallic noises echo as the android searches it.
The android is programmed with the very best of analysis software. It can assess what has occured in any situation with 98% accuracy in order to make it more useful in its role. It is support staff for the RESCUE operation. Search and RESCUE.
They came here because the doors locked. Humans liked doors that locked. And the equipment that made the wonders, though delicate, was sturdy enough to keep the smaller humans (CHILDREN. Pay special attention to CHILDREN. Search and RESCUE) quiet as the fires burned outside. The doors would keep the screams out. People would come and save them.
No-one came. Humans do silly things when they are desperate. The android was too late. There were bones heaped in the corners of the Chamber, small ones and big ones. The smaller skulls had holes in the center of the forehead, the bigger ones had holes in the temple. The android was too late. They’d huddled in the corners, they’d killed their children, and then themselves.
The android can access recordings from the security droid that floated above this section. There are gaps in the memory, but it’s still good. The fires had gone too long. The destruction had been too much. Everyone ran. The pictures are of that. Running and screaming and blood and fire. There were no videos from inside the Chamber, but the androids programming tells it it hadn’t failed. People do that. Next one, Next one.
Instead, it picks up one of the smaller skulls. It has software to extrapolate faces even from wrecked messes. When giving people to hospitals it provides an image so that people can have faces again. It is important for humans to have faces. It picks up one of the smaller skulls, and it creates a face for it. It regards the face for a while. and saves it in it’s memory banks. A small query is raised in the programming, but it doesn’t matter. This is a thing that has to be done. It records the little girls face alongside the faces of CREATORS and PROGRAMMERS and V.I.P’s that must be long dead.
It stops and waits for a moment, surrounded by the bones of the dead. It thinks this might be MOURNING . MOURNING must not be interrupted unless humans are at risk. It is a necessary thing.
When it is finished, it leaves the Chamber and continues it’s search. It is a RESCUE droid, and it looks for survivors. It has been looking for twenty years.
If you like post-apocalyptia, why not check out In Case of Survival?
You cannot have a story without conflict. I’m not talking about big battle set-pieces or epic arguemnts, necessarily, but of conflict in genereal. Very simply, to have a story, a character needs to want something, and something else needs to get in their way.
How much freedom does that give the author? How much freedom does that give the reader? As a reader, no matter what your tastes, there will be a type of conflict to suit you. Romance usually feaures conflict between desire and practicality. Fantasy can feature conflict between anything and anything else.
The best stories usually have two layers of conflict though. They have the personal conflict effecting the characters – this is what makes us root for them (or not!). Then there’s a bigger conflict laid over the top of that. Surviving the apocalypse. Fighting the oppressive regime. Taking your pervy boss to court. Keeping the farm. Something big, somehting where the stakes are even higher than the small conflict.
The brilliant authors, the ones we remember, tie those conflicts together and make them mirror each other. The girl surviving the apocalypse at all costs finds a stash of food and weapons – but there’s a village she knows of that needs it. If she gives it up, she might die, if she doesn’t they WILL die. Complicating matter, she wants to bone one of the men in that village, and her feelings make her weak… Tha’s shit, but do you see? How combining two or more conflicts make a book deeper, a story more engrossing?
My favourite books in the whole wide world do that.
It dissapoints me when I read a book with little or no inner conflict. Where the characters are always right and don’t change, and where their fighting for things always comes right after an appropriate amount of struggle. It feels weak. It feels pointless.
Make your characters work for it. Make them struggle. Make them weep and laugh and strive and hate and love and change.
As well as loving books, I also love games.
But this isn’t a blog about games! It’s a blog about books!
Which is why all my yammering about games is kept far away from here, over on PlanetIvy.com. If you like games, you should check out my articles – and while you’re at it, check out the rest of the magazine as well.