If I want my wife to read a short story collection, I don’t tell her that it’s a short story collection. I say, “Oh, Junot Diaz’ Drown? Yes, that’s a really good book. Incredible voice. You should read it.”
No mention of stories. Separate stories. Stories that are not linked to make some sort of a novel.
People don’t want to read short stories. Not anymore. Or at least they don’t think they do. They don’t buy them. They don’t seek them out. They don’t ask their friends, “What’s the best short story you’ve read lately?”
But when I teach Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral,” my students say, “Whoa. That’s such a good story. That was incredible.” When we read The Moccasin Telegraph by Kinsella, they love the collection. Same with stories by Miranda July or Sherman Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight In Heaven.
Why do they love these stories so much? Because good stories are like perfect espresso. They smell and taste so good and they can be consumed in less than twenty minutes – good for a short attention span or small blocks of time. With a good story, there’s that single effect, that one change, that precise moment.
And, honestly, I love writing stories even though I’ve never sold a story collection (How does an author actually sell a story collection?). None of the three books I’ve sold are story collections. I have a complete story collection, a manuscript (not necessarily a good manuscript but a manuscript nonetheless) and my collection even won an award – The Oregon Literary Arts Fellowship for Fiction. But it hasn’t sold.
Because stories don’t sell.
Stories are art. To write a story, a writer has to love the process. He or she has to read good poetry and care about every last word. Each image. The rhythm and precision. The short story writer must revise and revise and revise.
This year, I decided to release a story album. One short story produced with a band. The band members approached me with the idea, art for the sake of art. Art in collaboration. And I loved the idea. Sometimes, all a short story writer wants is for someone to understand what he is doing, to recognize the intended effect.
This band’s sound was clean (the guitarist, bass player, and drummer don’t mess around – they work). They wanted to produce a professional quality album of a story I read at a reading last winter. I said, “Let’s do it.”
So we recorded and re-recorded. The producer mixed and mixed the sound. It was mastered by a professional. And now it’s ready. We’ll release it to the enormous hoards of short story fans (legions, really, the uncountable masses) next week.