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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?