Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Return of Short Fiction

A Guest Post by Travis Richardson
Holly West: I remember the first time I met Travis Richardson. It was at a SoCal MWA meeting featuring Stephen Jay Schwartz and Attica Locke in conversation about their debut novels. Back then, I knew very few people in the Southern California writing community, but Travis sure did, and he didn't hesitate to introduce me to a lot of them. Despite his penchant for writing gritty crime fiction, he's one of the friendliest people I've ever met.
His latest novella, Keeping the Record, is about a disgraced former home run king whose rampant steroid use has modified the former All-Star into a testicle shrinking, soprano speaking, bra wearing recluse. Hiding from creditors, he discovers that his single season home run record--the only thing he has left, asterisk be damned--is about to be broken by a second baseman. Determined not to let that happen, he sets off for St. Louis from the East Bay, leaving a trail of destruction and bodies in his wake.

I'm so happy he a
greed to write a post for Do Some Damage today.
Travis Richardson: I am very honored that Holly West has asked me to write a guest post here. If you haven't read Mistress of Fortune, I highly recommend that you do. Holly’s Isabel Wilde is a fascinating and complex character who hustles like nobody’s business in 17th century London. I’m looking forward to more books in the series.

olly: Thank you for that, Travis! This sounds like a meeting of the Mutual Admiration Society. What else would you like to talk about today?

Travis: I read and write both short stories and novels. I was fortunate to be asked to sit on short story panel at the upcoming Left Coast CrimeConference. I love the compactness and power of a good short story. They rarely get the notice of a novel, outside of a few classics like "The Lottery" and “The Most Dangerous Game” or collections of Sherlock Holmes and Edgar Allen Poe tales. Perhaps that is understandable since a novel is a commitment of several hours/days unlike the minutes it takes to read a short story. The novel is like a multi-state road trip, whereas a short story is like a drive across town (albeit possibly shady and dangerous)... at least in terms of mileage compared to pages.
Yet I feel like we're in a new renaissance of the short story (and even more so the novella). Jumpa Lahiri and Elizabeth Strout have won Pulitzers for collected works (and several collections have been finalists). Short story websites have multiplied, and ebook and print-on-demand technology has made it easier for small publishers to enter the market with anthologies, giving extra opportunities for writers to put out their work.
Good short stories pack a wallop and get to the point, leaving the fat on the cutting board. Lean but developed characters burst onto the page with desires and obstacles they must overcome to get to a swift conclusion. 
If fiction were music, a good short story would be like a hit song: three to five minutes of perfectly executed (or engineered in today’s pop world) instruments and vocals. Thousands of songs are made every year, but only a few make the charts. Same goes with fiction and the explosion of new material that comes out weekly. Like songs on the radio where a listener has picked a specific station over dozens of others, a reader chooses a website or a magazine with short stories and might read one after another similar to listening to a DJ’s playlist. Each story makes an emotional punch, followed by the next one. Yet in the end, a few stories will resonate strong like a song you can’t get out of your head even after hours of random music.
A friend and I recently started a blog, It launched on January 29, Anton Chekhov’s 154th birthday. We are reading and reviewing all of the short story master’s 200+ English translated stories (out of the over 700 he wrote in total). Chekhov began writing out of necessity to take care of his mother and siblings after his father fled town in debt (they paid short story writers back then), and he did it while going through medical school (so what is your excuse for not writing today?). I remember being blown away by his story “The Bet” one summer that started a love not only for his stories, but short stories overall.
Years later I found myself bored with most of the “literary” shorts (Look, another affluent, unhappy couple!) and fascinated with crime fiction. Stories where critical choices have severe consequences. Stories where violence is always an option. Stories with sharp, bloody edges that would leave me wounded afterwards. Stories that I find on Shotgun Honey, Plots With Guns, All Due Respect, Needle (nod to Mr. Weddle) and Thuglit, among other great publications.

I’m hoping the site will help me to not only become more disciplined by writing daily reviews (with the weekends off to catch up) and to study the craft from a lifetime of a single writer’s work, but to see if the doctor/writer still has the power to captivate me as he once did when I was younger. Reading his stories in chronological order, I’ve noticed young Chekhov making observations about his fellow Russians – both the ruling class and the peasants – and poking fun at them, as well as trying different formats. (The Swedish Match is a “murder” mystery.) Although he nails a few poignant moments, I know there will be many more as Chekhov matures.
I think we are in exciting times for shorter, compressed literature, especially in crime fiction. Perhaps it’s not a golden age (silver possibly?), but in a world of short attention spans, digital devices, and Internet word of mouth, I’m hoping that short stories (and fiction in general) will take off again and we can inspire new generations of readers and writers.
Thanks again to Holly for letting me post here today.
Holly: No, thank you, Travis.
You can find out more about Travis Richardson at His latest novella, Keeping The Record from Stark Raving Group is out now


Mar Preston said...

Interesting, Travis. I admire your short stories. I seem to need a carriage return to be able to say anything.

Travis Richardson said...

Thank you, Mar! I think you're doing well.

Craig Faustus Buck said...

great blog, Travis. I'm impressed that you've got the time to do the Chekov blog. That's quite a commitment. we just saw Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike last night, sort of Chekov pulp. Keep up the good work!

Travis Richardson said...

Thanks Craig. I don't really have time, but I'm making it happen. What did you think of VSMS? I see they've extended it at the Taper.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Travis,

I enjoyed reading your blog and I hope you're right about a renaissance in short story fiction. Like you, I read the great classics of the genre and later taught them to students. So many people are writing wonderful short stories these days. I still love both reading and writing them myself. Good to know more about you and your work!

Travis Richardson said...

Thank you so much Jacqueline! You're such a great supporter of the short fiction community. We really appreciate it.