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.
Continue reading “Week 384 -Born Too Late; Five Timely Tales and a Saturday Special Not Written by Tom”