Puzzle Pieces

Puzzle Pieces

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I love writing short fiction. Partly because the sex-to-story ratio is high (and who’s going to complain about that?), but mostly because short stories give me a chance to explore concepts and genres beyond the traditional romantic themes of my novels. I get to indulge my interest in paranormal and fantasy while playing with ideas I find compelling, but maybe not big enough for a full novel. I’ve had the great pleasure of writing stories for Delilah Devlin in two of her Cleis Press lesbian paranormal anthologies. I had fun creating characters like Aurica, a sexy crime-solving vampire in Girls Who Bite, and Shay, a shape-shifting shaman in She-Shifters (you know the drill – try saying that five times fast). And in Bold Strokes Books’ Women of the Dark Streets, I wrote about Tyvka, a werewolf member of the Lycan Resistance.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a creature of habit, fond of my rituals and routines. (Fond. Not obsessed. Really.) One of my favorites is my morning ritual of coffee (the stronger the better, with Silk French vanilla soy cream, in case someone wants to make me breakfast in bed) and computer time. I like early mornings, but getting both my mind and body ready to start the day at sunrise can be as difficult as dragging a teenager out of bed before noon on a weekend. So I gradually ease into alertness by playing word puzzles and an on-line jigsaw. The latter provided me with an unlikely inspiration one day when the completed picture was a wolf in a snowy wood. The cold images, with the predominant colors of pale blue, white, black, and brown, made me think of a frozen Russian tundra, and piece-by-piece a story began to form in my mind. If I’d needed to wait for an opportunity to capture this mental setting in a novel, the memory of the puzzle might have languished forever in the back corner of my mind. (Picture the government storage facility in Indiana Jones. Dusty and cluttered.) But a short story? I could use the idea immediately. All of a sudden, Ty and her rebel cadre were born.

A true puzzle fanatic, I do regular jigsaws as well. I’ve had a 2000 piece version of da Vinci’s Last Supper on my dining room table for at least two years. (That might be a slight exaggeration. But it probably isn’t.) I have a love-hate relationship going with this damned puzzle. On the one hand, it’s a constant reminder of an incomplete project. But on the other, it makes for one less surface I need to dust. These two jigsaws – my on-line one that can be completed in less than ten minutes and my tabletop one that requires more time and effort to finish – are a perfect illustration of my approach to a novel versus a short story. One requires a huge commitment and the other is done in a day or two. One has a large number of highly detailed, intricate pieces, while the other is made up of big chunky sections. But both need to fit together seamlessly. I hope to create characters whose edges and patterns are compatible and welcoming to each other so they join snugly and forever like Ty and Mina. And the resulting picture? Whether the components are big or small, the word count measured in hundreds or thousands, the end result needs to be as beautiful and believable as I can make it, or it isn’t worth writing. Or, for that matter, worth reading.

What about you? What do you like most about reading or writing short stories?


12 thoughts on “Puzzle Pieces

  1. Erotic short stories get to the point (and sex) faster. It is a win win situation. LOL!

    1. I’m right with you on that, Candy. It’s the main reason I enjoy reading them as well.

  2. I have a very short attention span, and long projects are very stressful for me. By the time I reach the end of a novel, I’m sooooo ready for it to be done. With shorter works, I have fun and feel satisfied when I’m done. Kind of like sex. I like it hard and fast. 🙂

    1. LOL. Good to know, Delilah! I agree, and I also like that shorter works allow for more variety — a good thing in the bedroom or on the page 🙂

  3. I love reading short stories lately because it seems like I never have time to read a longer story. I also love a well put together novel and living in the book with them and getting deeper and deeper into the depth of it. On writing is another thing…the short stories let me get the ideas out of my head and down on paper leaving my mind free to work out the inter workings of turning a group of my ideas that I combined to make into a book. Each chapter is like a series of short stories with same place setting and my 2 main characters. It is a feeling of great pride when I do get working on my short stories and it seems to all fall into place much easier than the flow of the longer book. But since I’m new to all of this writing I guess time will tell all. I do know I have 15 WIP of short stories and 50 ideas that is about a page each telling where I want each story to go. Not to mention my book with all of the post-its stuck to the pages from ideas I got doing everyday things…just like a puzzle piece that I have to put into the puzzle at a later date. I never thought of writing like puzzles but it makes so much sense. I love puzzles of all kinds and the fun just trying to figure out how to get them to fit together just like the snippets need to slip into each other with a real tantalizing effect on the reader as well as the writer.

    1. You might be new to writing, Deb, but it sounds like you have quite a few interesting projects in process! That’s awesome. I find short stories are a great work out for creative muscles — sometimes they’re perfect as a condensed form of writing and sometimes they have the potential to grow and become novels.

      I’m glad to hear from another post-it fan, too. I go through tons of sticky notes with every project 🙂

  4. Vic,
    As always, your analogies are awesome and fitting! I love your writing and have enjoyed it since you were just a wee thing!

    1. Thanks Mom. You don’t read my stories, but thanks. 😉
      On the other hand, you’d really like Karis’s writing–both her short stories and her novels.

  5. I love to write short fiction because you can get right to it, and the story usually is more compelling and exciting. You get to the good stuff quicker, in other words 🙂 I love reading short fiction for the same reason!

    1. Me too, Sapphyre. There shouldn’t be anything superfluous in a short story — every word and action matters so much.

  6. I’ve always enjoyed short stories. I cut my teeth on Science Fiction stories by old-school masters such as Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury. I think short fiction has a lot to offer in terms of delivering a punchy, memorable message.

    When I started writing a few years ago, it was natural for me to start with short stories, and although I now write longer stuff as well, I still relish the directness a low word count can bring. 🙂

    1. I adore Bradbury’s stories as well, JL. He was able to hit a reader with so much meaning and ambience in so few words. My favorite (and possibly one of the reasons I never had kids) was “The Veldt.”

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