Once upon a time it was possible for a writer to earn a living writing short fiction. Now, by a living, I mean at the lowest level of subsistence. Enough for a rented room, paint-thinner bourbon, shake doobie, stamps and cigarettes. The late Harlan Ellison used to get by working the penny-a-word market for the pulps. But this was back when thirty dollars a week could support a person.
The thriving magazine market began to die off during the fifties. Some say TV did it in, as it had radio plays–maybe in the same manner that streaming is draining television today. Whatever the cause, writers like Ellison began to write for TV because that was where the money went.
Still, that doesn’t completely explain why the paying short fiction market dried up long before online journals (such as ours) could do to it what Napster did to record sales. After all, novels did not die due to TV; mass market genre paperbacks still sell; so do anthologies written by the masters of fantasy and science fiction. But writing short stories no longer supports even the least demanding lifestyle. And like poetry, it may be that more people write short stories than read them.
But it is still an art, thus valid. Sadly, malletheads think that anyone can write a short piece and the real art (aka, money) is in novels. Malletheads see good and profit as being the same thing. Although I believe that producing a great novel is a monumental accomplishment, it doesn’t follow that short fiction is inferior to the long form–save for the effect each has on your bank account. Besides, some writers are distance runners while others are sprinters. Dorothy Parker discovered that she was a short track specialist incapable of writing a novel, and drank a bottle of shoe polish after she had spent the advance for a novel she could not write. She survived, as do her shorts, which, unlike the lady herself, have never been out of print.
Writing short fiction requires “knack.” If some genius out there can get to the elusive soul of “knack” the world will be hers. If you have it, you can get away with anything. Some people, more malletheads, confuse “knack” with “code.” Thinking that you can “crack the code” is like seeking God by driving God out of your heart because you are an unendurable mallethead. There ain’t no code. The only trait that knack tales have in common is a little light that shines no matter how ridiculous or dark the subject matter may be. A story can defy all the school rules of storytelling and still shine, while something that has ten diplomas behind it can just lie there, dead as canned mackerel.
For once I see a slightly less awkward segue open to introducing this week’s stories–plus a Saturday Special by someone not named Tom Sheehan. Still, the previous sentence proves I lack the knack of effortlessly performing a segue without becoming self conscious about it. Fortunately I am all out of shoe polish.
Goddam, there must be an echo in here, because every week I make a crack about the five authors having a combined sum of 200 appearances. Then I will introduce Tom Sheehan and four first time performers. As sure as the Egg McMuffin predates the McChicken (by nine years–case closed on that age old question as far as I’m concerned) it has happened again. This week we have fond remembrance, mistaken identity eroticism, keen social commentary, not so fond remembrance and living every last minute of life. Each one is a gem and I encourage you to have a look and place a comment at the bottom of the stories; ‘cos, frankly, nobody is doing this for hammerhead approval.
Monday saw the return of that close orbiting comet, Tom Sheehan. Telling Two Granddames Apart speaks of a time gone by and of two fine women gone by. But here we are looking at two strangers born in the 19th Century, and through Tom’s talented hand, we get to know them. Such is the power of the short.
Tony Dawson made his site debut on Tuesday with The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place. There have been few stories with as clever a premise at heart as this one. Tony times this one perfectly, and the result will make you smile.
On Wednesday, Hylas Maliki gave the reader into a culture that is, frankly, a mystery in the Western world. The Handicapped Man’s Desire is fascinating and yet it speaks universal truths about how we are influenced simply by where we are born. The POV presented is highly original and it is the rare piece that entertains and informs.
Salvatore Difalco’s first piece with us gives us another keen look into the human heart with Uncle Fail. It would be too simple to see the Uncle as a stereotypical blowhard; he’s a three dimensional person, and the degradation and shame he must endure is especially poignant.
First timer Santiago Marquez Ramos closed the week with Photogenic Memory. Such an fine testament to a spirit that refuses to be forgotten and the winning means he uses to gain a sort of prolonging of his legend, if not immortality.
And there we go, another week certified a hundred percent hammerhead free.
We now close with a Saturday Special by another newcomer, Conor Barnes. A Great Bird is ethereal and a creation greater than the small sum of its words. Still, we hope that readers will leave Conor and our other performers this week both compliments and encouragements. Could make another crack about hammerheads here, but we have heard enough from those guys.
A Great Bird by Conor Barnes
Mrs. K turns to Mr. K one night and asks him if he is faithful to her when he lucid dreams. Mr. K says: it is almost morning, I am going to prepare the children’s lunches, and besides, I do not often lucid dream anymore. Mrs. K lies in bed and determines she is hurt. Night after night, she trains herself to lucid dream.
Mr. K knows. He warns Mrs. K that the people she encounters in her dreams are not the people from her waking life and cannot tell her anything she does not already know. Mrs. K turns away from him and enters the dream world. In it, the bread on their table is the warm bread of her childhood. She can fly and does so, circling the house like a great and terrible bird. Mr. K comes out to stare at her. He beckons the children, who are standing at the door, and who refuse to join him.
Do you see? Mrs. K cries down to them. Do you see what you’ve done to me? Mr. K cries back, but whether he recognizes her or not she cannot tell. The sound of her great wings and feathers, lofting her farther and farther into the air, drowns out any sound.