Will The Short Story Survive

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USS_Annapolis after surfacing through three feet of Artic ice, credit: photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Tiffini M. Jones, U.S. Navy

Over at Absolute Write the subject of short stories came up and there was a link to an online site that had an interesting premise as a title, “Why Book Publishers Love Short Stories.” Here’s the link, if you want to go there and share Alan Rinsler’s optimism. Alan is an editorial consultant in New York City and here are a few of  his observations about the current status of publishing vis-a-vis the short story.

There’s a robust market for books of stories,

Literary journals publishing short fiction,

Book publishers take chances on new writers,

Short story collections can sell very well,

The short story as dress rehearsal.

Had enough?  I have and those are just the sub-headings; there’s a lot of comments and opinions still left in the article. My first reaction was this guy’s off his rocker; everybody knows short stories don’t sell, but then just the other day I was in the local independent bookstore, where they list and display all the best selling books for that particular store and the number one book was Olive Kittredge by Elizabeth Strout. And it’s a collection of short stories and it’s been at the top of the list for months.

OK!  First, let me explain a few things. I live on the coast of Maine and that’s where all these stories take place – in Crosby, Maine. But still Ms. Strout is also doing pretty good on the NY Times Bestsellers list and I think she picked up a Pulitzer Prize for fiction too boot. Not bad for a collection of short stories.

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Titantic bow as seen from MIR 1 submersible: credit NOAA

And then there’s Jimmy Buffett’s collection of short stories. That book is called Tales from Margaritaville. And if you think the title has just more than a faint resemblance to a song of a similar name you’re right. Being a famous songwriter didn’t hurt, but seems I remember somewhere that not only did Tales of Margaritaville make it to the top of the NYT Bestseller list, but so did his A Pirate Looks At Fifty. Quite a feat because both books were at the top of the list at the same time. (no it wasn’t a tie, one was fiction and the other was non-fiction). The last somebody fulled a stunt like that was over a hundred years, back at the turn of the century when Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain did the same thing. Now that’s a pretty good accomplishment for a pop star and if you think Buffet’s writing’s a fluke check out his reading list. It’s available if you thumb through the Pirate book.

Don’t forget about the short stories that became a movie. That list includes Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Rear Window based on a It Had To Be Murder by John Michael Hayes and the Pit and the Pendelem by Edgar Alan Poe.

So now that I think about it, the short story might be a little more important than one realizes. Even though only a few of the big NY magazines still pay good money for a short, they still  act like a proving ground for mainstream fiction writers.

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