Five 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.