Five Shots of the Good Stuff by Jay Ridler

Being a big fan of short stories and short story collections, I’m very happy to have author Jay Ridler here today to sing their praises. I’ll be reviewing his collection, KNOCKOUTS, tomorrow, but for now the floor is Jay’s.

Jason S. RidlerFive Shots of the Good Stuff: Why You Should Love Short Story Collections (Including Mine!)

Short stories are the underdog of fiction. They have been called “dead” so many times they might as well be zombies, because they won’t stay down. They refuse to give in. They continue, as Henry Rollins might say, to rise above.

I think they’re due for a renaissance, myself. The novel is still king, but with ebooks on the rise the need for fat novels to dominate shelf space in bookstores and convince people they are getting “the quality of quantity” is no longer a bullet proof stance. And through the cracks, I hope, will come a short story revolution to rock you with tales akin to a knife fight in a phone booth: short, sharp and deadly.

So, in honor of the release of my first ebook short story collection KNOCKOUTS: TEN TALES OF FANTASY AND NOIR, featuring the bona fide knockout Debbie Rochon on the cover and an introduction by acclaimed horror writer Norm Partridge, I’ve made five cases for you to read short stories and collections, especially mine! Each of my stories noted here are included in KNOCKOUTS, so you can’t lose.

1. Short stories are cool little labs of experimentation that give the reader a quick and dirty dose of fiction. Example? The late magazine Brain Harvest, who published quirky stuff that was so short you were finished before you knew it, published my story “Grudge Match”, a two-fisted fable inspired by Bruce Lee and a thousand bad action flicks. It’s a Jäger shot of adventure with zero room to get boring!

2. Lots of writers first develop their craft in short stories. Stephen King, Joe Lansdale, and Ray Bradbury are three greats that come to mind. Each remembers that moment when they realized they were no longer writing just pastiches of their influences, but with their own voice. Those stories are a magic. I’ll always count “Blood and Sawdust” as one of those stories. Everyone was writing vampire fiction, but I was writing about Bukowski-esque tough guys and lowlifes, so I tried melding them together within the arena of bare knuckle brawls and hard luck kids, and, voila! A tale of a fat vampire who takes the losers purse and the kid who helps him to reach the big time was born!

3. Ever have a friend shove a novel in your hand and say “you MUST read this book! It will change your life!” You get one chapter in, and, Sweet Christmas, it blows and sucks at the same time. You put it down, never pick it up again. What’s cool about a short story collection, if you don’t like the first one, you might like a different story. Just skip to find the one you dig. You’ve got more chances of finding something you like! That’s why short story collections are the loot bag of fiction. For instance, if you don’t like my gritty tale of a female Japanese cage fighter, “Blood that Burns so Bright”, you might dig my tale of a hard working son, his corpulent mother, and the miracle elixir that will turn their life inside out in “Suckerpunch.”

4. If they’re organized well, a short story collection can have a novel-like effect, the stories becoming more than the sum of their parts. Think of Ray Bradbury’s October Country (originally released as Dark Carnival) or Martian Chronicles. When you’re done with those books, you feel as if you’ve been on a journey. The stories were different spots on the map of the writers mind as you hitched a ride through their imagination. KNOCKOUTS starts with a bang, but ends with a whisper, and in between you get eight more tales of hard knocks and true guts from a variety of walks of life. They include the tale of a double-tough gal who mentors a nutcase in a Mexican wrestling mask in “Stung Girls and Punching Bags,” to a dangerous instruction manual for would-be vigilantes, “Heroic Polemic, Found in a Public Washroom.”

5. Short stories are a great way to get to know a writer in short order. It’s easy to not finish a novel, but just as easy to finish a short story. If you dig my gritty tales of fantasy and noir, you’ll probably love my novel DEATH MATCH, the greatest pro wrestling thriller of all time, which Elizabeth kindly reviewed a while back. It’s full of sex, death, and headlocks (oh my!), and the sequel is due soon as well.

So go on. Try hanging out with ten true KNOCKOUTS and tell me the short story is dead. I double dog dare you.

– Jay “Doc” Ridler, Ph.D.

Jay Ridler is the author of Death Match, the first Spar Battersea thriller, Knockouts, a short story collection, and has published over forty short stories in such magazines and anthologies as Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Brain Harvest, Not One of Us, Chilling Tales, Tesseracts Thirteen, and more. His popular non-fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, Dark Scribe, and the Internet Review of Science Fiction. A former punk rock musician and cemetery groundskeeper, Mr. Ridler holds a Ph.D. in War Studies from the Royal Military College of Canada. To learn more about Jay Ridler visit his blog, Ridlerville, or find him on Facebook and Twitter

5 Comments

  • Leo Korogodski

    March 23, 2012 - 2:16 pm

    At this year’s Boskone, I attended a very interesting panel on short story writing, with Jim Kelly, John Joseph Adams, and others. One of the issues discussed was why short stories are not more popular than novels in the age of multitasking and shortening attention spans (I think it was JJA that brought this up).

    I proposed that this is because the reader actually wants to stay with a novel’s world/characters for a longer period of time during the very interruptions in reading, perhaps ruminating on them in the background of his/her thoughts (while driving, for example) or even at a subconscious level. A short story also can be hard to forget, but it’s a relatively rare quality.

    A potential solution to that, offered by Jim Kelly, is: what about short story cycles? The problem with that, of course, is the difficulty of finding the earlier stories if a reader comes into it in the middle. To which I suggested exploring the experimental PULP publishing platform developed by Neal Stephenson, which can serve as a convenient online repository with the option of subscriptions on the author-by-author or cycle-by-cycle basis.

  • Nicole Cushing

    March 22, 2012 - 4:09 pm

    Agree with pretty much all of this. Honestly, I think I lack some gene that allows the brain to appreciate of novels. I’ve tried reading novels, even novels by authors whose short work I enjoy…but I almost-always find them bloated/slow.

    Generally speaking, short stories don’t give you the vast world-building of a novel, but I honestly am not that big a fan of world-building. I enjoy fiction that makes me think or feel differently than I’ve ever thought or felt. I enjoy fiction that has a certain degree of intensity. That’s the trade off with a short story…you lose breadth of scope, but get intensity. A worthwhile trade-off in my book, any day.

  • Steve Weddle

    March 21, 2012 - 12:26 pm

    Any friend who suggests a book for me knows damned well if I don’t like the book then THE FRIENDSHIP IS OVER.

    nice post. i’m a fan of short stories.

  • sabrina ogden

    March 21, 2012 - 11:55 am

    I love short story collections, and truly believe that a short story writer is a genius. To be able to give me all the emotions that I would find in a 300+ page novel in only a few short pages… Well, that’s pure genius.

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