I Love Short Shorts

iOCX7EjJdTlDkbSF5Y9mWhIJ_9xkZa0jUU7XoajAWLo  No, I don’t mean the cheeky, ripped cut-offs the young gals wear. I mean short stories in varying lengths between a few hundred words (flash fiction) and 10,000 or so, something to be read in a single sitting. Merriam-Webster defines a short story as “an invented prose narrative shorter than a novel usually dealing with a few characters and aiming at unity of effect and often concentrating on the creation of mood rather than plot.”

O-kay. I’m not sure I wholly agree with that simple definition, because—well, let me go back in time about four years. Orange County Chapter of Romance Writers of America decided to publish an anthology of short stories called Romancing the Pages written by some of its members. I’d never considered writing short and had read very few short stories through the years. But, I answered the call. It sounded easy. Come up with a simple romantic plot; dash off a few thousand words during the down time while working on my novel. Hey, it was a chance to get something published. “The Guy With the Dragon Tattoo” came in at around 2,500 words, took many weeks and many revisions to finish. But I kinda liked writing short, even though it was just as hard (maybe harder on some levels) than working through an entire 60,000-word novel.

But what is the appeal of short stories to the reader? Their appeal, as I mentioned, lies in the fact you can read most of them in one sitting, while getting your hair done, waiting to pick up Junior from soccer practice, that hour at night before turning off the lights. We live in a Snapchat, Twitter, sound bite world. There isn’t the angst associated with picking up a short to read versus an 80,000-word novel. Wow, don’t have time to devote to that tome, so I’ll save it for, um, later.

But why else read short? It’s a chance to try out different genres, authors, styles. Since writing “Dragon Tattoo,” I’ve read dozens and dozens of short stories across many genres and romance sub-genres. A few did focus mainly on creating a mood; many contained an exciting plot and delicious characters. The good stories contained a beginning, middle and end that satisfied like a hearty bowl full of Irish stew. I experienced a full range of emotion appropriate to the genre. I laughed, I cried, I cringed, I sighed.

A side-benefit? Instead of reading the back of my Cheerios box for the millionth time, I can get in a whole story during breakfast to satisfy my reading addiction. Short stories can encourage those who don’t regularly read to get in the habit.

This year, I once again had the opportunity to contribute to not one short story anthology, but two. My critique group, Writing Something Romantic, is working on an anthology called Love for Christmas, which we’re hoping to publish before the holidays. My story, “Charmed by Christmas Magic,” came in at 10,000 words. The other romance anthology, Secrets of Moonlight Cove, will publish in the next few weeks. Each fun story in the anthology takes place in the fictional California coastal town of Moonlight Cove, and references characters from the other stories. “Maggie’s Mystery Man” also runs 10,000 words. Look for announcements of both publication dates here, on Facebook and other social media. I hope you’ll give shorts a try. Bet you can’t read just one!

 

The Magic of Research

One of the great things about being a writer is the research. Great for me because I have an insatiable thirst for knowledge, from the esoteric to the scientific. I learned about mushrooms (fungi) and the study of them, called mycology, when I researchiOCX7EjJdTlDkbSF5Y9mWhIJ_9xkZa0jUU7XoajAWLoed the subject for one of my earlier stories. I contacted a mycology student in the Pacific Northwest where my story takes place and she happily provided me with her published research papers. A decline in mushrooms would result in a decline in flying squirrels, which would ultimately result in a decline in the already threatened northern spotted owl. Who knew?

From that same story came my love of Procyon lotor, also known as the rascally raccoon. One of these hardy, adaptive animals figured prominently in the story, and every time he was on scene he entertained me. I also learned about other flora and fauna of the Pacific Northwest, the dangers of deforestation and the wonders of our ecosystem.

Another story had me delving into the world of road rallies where, not speed is king, but perfect timing to various checkpoints. Normally, you have a driver and a navigator. Some rules will not allow the use of GPS. You’re given a road book, and some directional instructions can be as basic as “go 10.56 miles and turn right onto the dirt road.” In my story, I added the additional challenge of deciphering a riddle at each check point that, when solved, would reveal an artifact that each entrant would need to collect for extra points. Humor was key here, as some of the items were hilarious, often inappropriate.

When my interest turned to the paranormal, I knew I wanted something a bit different for my witches than what most people associate with that world of magic. In my work-in-progress series Charmed by a Witch, I have witches, both female and male, with differing levels of power, differing specialties and talents. My Internet search led me to all kinds of interesting and weird sites, including many self-proclaimed real witches who take their status very seriously. I learned about covens and spells and tools of the magic realm.

My witch in Charm’d, the first book of the series, makes charm bracelets using crystals and gemstones, then “charms” them with a spell so the wearer may achieve success, fall in love, overcome difficulties, gain better health, etc. Her spells enhance the already-mysterious properties inherent in the stone itself. For instance, a carnelian can aid creativity; coral will bring happiness; garnet, wealth. Most have healing of the physical as well. Are you looking for love while trying to get rid of wrinkles and a few pounds? Wear rose quartz. Are you seeking success in your endeavors while suffering from chronic constipation? Amber is the key.

In my paranormals I can make up a lot of stuff, but I still find myself constantly researching facts to lend authenticity to an imaginary world. The wacky and wild can then somehow make sense. And I can satisfy that thirst.

by Barb DeLong