The Short Story Advent Calendar by Hingston and Olsen shows the wealth of material that exists within the genre of short stories. We’ve spoken to three different contributors that were featured this past week.
“I’ve always been drawn to fiction more than anything else when I’m reading,” says Brent van Staalduinen, author of day 11 story, Skinks. “My first formative reading experiences were with Stephen King, Tom Clancy and all those great pot-boiler writers that I would sneak up to my bedroom to read and stay up late with my flashlight. Words matter, and I think stories have the potential to really change people and convict them of good things.”
Calgary author Deborah Willis’ Eva is featured on day 14, touching on concepts concerning freedom in a mere 10-minute read. She says something she’s always loved about short fiction is the absence of belabouring the message.
“It really never talks down to the reader, because it has to remain short,” Willis says. “There’s no room to over-explain and I think that’s my pet peeve when I’m reading.”
She also likes the ability to read a complete story in one sitting and easily absorb the techniques used. van Staalduinen agrees with Willis, adding that there’s a special skill in writing short fiction.
“I think there’s something just so magical about the compactness of the form and how demanding it is in terms of the economy of words,” he says. “The challenge as a writer of putting together words in such a way that nothing can be wasted really appeals to me.”
Even while working on a longer novel, van Staalduinen finds he still tends toward short bursts of short fiction within the longer form to ration words and time down to a minimum. Much of his short fiction deals with a single intense moment, rather than an expanse of time. It’s within that moment that he’s able to expand upon inner processes of emotions and thoughts in a more rewarding way.
His story Skinks expands one single moment using this economy of words to pull the reader into the mind of the main character with seamless word craft.
“With short fiction, it’s like origami,” author Maggie Shipstead adds, “you have to figure out how to fold up the story to fit in this little space.”
Shipstead’s short story, Souterrain, is set in Paris and explores the city’s recent history in a captivating way. As a travel writer as well, many of Shipstead’s stories surround the concept of place and the subcultures that exist within each place. Her first two books, Astonish Me and Seating Arrangements, evolved out of short stories, something that many authors can relate to.
Shipstead finds the form useful to test out new ideas she’s still unsure about.
“Short fiction is a space to experiment; I can try out different voices or different structures without making this years-long commitment that a novel requires,” she says. “It’s also a good chance for readers to try something new, too, without also making a commitment.”