Stretching Them LegsI don’t think I can say with complete certainty that there is a specific genre of fiction I enjoy most. Are there some genres that resonate with me less? Certainly, but none that I would say are “the best”.
I can’t say that for form, though. In my heart, short fiction is the best fiction.
So why in the hell did I decide to start writing novels?
There’s a shorter answer, but it’s worth exploring at length (in the spirit of this piece).
I’ve never believed the novel to be a “natural” form of storytelling. Looking back on our history—before we were as literate as we are now—storytelling was often a group activity and often vocal. Humans spent thousands of years telling each other short stories. Sometimes these were serialized and sometimes they weren’t, but we consumed them in perfect bursts—perfect little experiences that frightened, titillated, and engaged us. Not to say that the invention of the printing press and the increase in general literacy was a bad thing, but I do think it’s worth pointing out that technological advancement led to consumption of media in longer formats.
Anyway, how perfect is a short story? To get a full resolution within moments—to see truth spoken to power in poetic, beautiful ways that we often can’t match or properly express in lengthier formats. We see that beauty in the works of so many we call legends: Poe, Wolff, Saunders, Kafka, Marquez, Ballard, Le Guin, Christie etc., etc.
So, if this is my favorite form of writing (4 novellas and a short story collection stand as proof), then why bother with the novel? Why try my hand at what’s effectively more of a marketing apparatus—a means of conveyance whose worth is derived by the number of physical pages its words inhabit?
Well, because there’s beauty there too, it’s just a matter of learning and I’ll admit that I was terrified of learning to craft my work that way.
It’s that difference between making a chair versus making an entire sofa. There’s worth and merit to both but while one may seem easier (it isn’t), the other does require more time and patience (not always).
That patience part, that was tough. Short stories, at least for me, have been easy in the sense that I can get a first draft out with speed. Revisions can be where I falter and take longer to really get the pieces in the right place.
Novels? Oh boy, that was a different beast. That feeling I got with short stories would dissipate every few thousand words and I found myself wondering if I was writing pointless pages that were incapable of being salvaged and made bright by even the most vigorous of revisions.
When I finished my first draft of a novel that shall never know anything but the dark of the desk drawer to my right as I type this, well, it felt like a huge deal. There was still the idea that I had to revise (a lot) but that first hurdle was overcome—the mental block was shoved a few inches out of the way.
That led to the next try which became Hell Chose Me.
Coming off another novel, I was ready for the challenge and I was also more informed in how my preferences could lend themselves to the endeavor. I taught myself to treat the project like a sequence of shorts while trying my best not to evoke that feeling on the reader’s end. This is a lot easier said than done since treating the project as piecemeal is a little dangerous—and stalled several ideas that remain unfinished.
This was part of a bigger lesson, too. I began to realize that my preferences weren’t making the experience more or less of a challenge, it was merely the story speaking to me. The real challenge was my ignorance of the book/short/whatever we’ll call it speaking to me and letting me know where and when the hard stops are located.
The first novel and Hell Chose Me were content to be lengthy examinations of what could easily have been a shorter work. The shorter works were content to be just that: shorter pieces with different intentions.
Again, all of this should be obvious, but there are plenty of experiences one can have as a creative that make you want to smack your forehead and groan at its apparentness.
Hell Chose Me has been a five-year journey with as many dips and turns as the narrative. I’ve rewritten it multiple times, changed entire concepts and subplots, or added/removed characters. I’ve hated it, loved it, and given up on it. I revealed a little too much about myself and discovered things that I didn’t know were in my head. I learned how to write a first draft with purpose thanks to Hell Chose Me.
In short; this book changed me, and I hope readers can take something out of the experience.
***Angel Luis Colón is the Derringer and Anthony Award shortlisted author of Hell Chose Me, The Blacky Jaguar novella series, The Fantine Park novella series, and dozens of short stories that have appeared in web and print publications like Thuglit, Literary Orphans, and Great Jones Street. He also hosts the podcast, the bastard title.
Keep up him on Twitter via @GoshDarnMyLife.
Oh, I actually do know what that pig on the cover is all about. But if you don't know and want to find out, you can read what Angel wrote about it recently on Elizabeth A. White's terrific blog: The Pig Story
You can pick up Hell Chose Me here.