I haven’t written a short story for a long time. Short novels? Yes. Novellas? Love ’em. But a short story? I haven’t tried any since C.S. Boyack got me in the mood to write a few when he posted his October Macabre Macaroni stories, one a week. I used that month to post dark stories on my webpage–with mixed results. Horror and dark fiction have never been my strong point, but that’s exactly why I wanted to try it. Some people would advise me to do what I do well, or at least better. But once in a while, I like to push the envelope, to see how far I can stretch. And I learned that I’m not much better at horror or dark fiction than I was with my earlier stabs at it. Oh, well. Can’t win ’em all.
BTW, C.S. Boyack wrote a short story that October I loved. In case you’d like to try it: https://coldhandboyack.wordpress.com/2018/10/09/macabre-macaroni-second-helping/
Anyway, I digress. Sometime last year, I got what seemed like a brilliant idea at the time. If I could write a Jazzi and Ansel short story and get it into Alfred Hitchcock’s mystery magazine, it would be a great way to promote their series. To say that I didn’t think this through enough would be an understatement. But I’ve read quite a few novellas by favorite authors who use shorter fiction (66 – 100 Kindle pages) as teasers to keep readers happy during long pauses between their regular books. And I’ve enjoyed all of them–Lynn Cahoon’s Tourist Trap holiday novellas, Jenna Bennett’s honeymoon and holiday novellas, and Anna Lee Huber’s pre-wedding novella for Keira and Gage.
I decided that to be successful these stories needed:
- The same tone and voice as the books
- To establish the characters and their relationships just like the books
- Great mysteries to solve like the books
- The same feeling/setting as the books
Mind you, each of these things takes a bit of time, some extraneous scenes not found in short stories but possible in novellas. I tried to accomplish all of the above with a lot less words. And once I got all of those words written, I sent the story off.
A truth about Alfred Hitchcock magazine: they only accept online submissions. Then they give you a code to check your story’s status. Upfront, they tell you that they’re so bogged down with submissions, you won’t hear back from them for 6 to 7 months. Make that more like a year, maybe a few days shy of that. And then you don’t receive an e-mail. You only know you’ve been rejected when you check your code and see REJECTED next to the story’s title. Now, I wasn’t heart broken when that happened. I was a tiny bit ticked that they treat writers so shabbily, but publishing’s changed over the years, so I got over that. I pretty much knew that the way I’d written the story made its chances slim. I used to sell to Alfred Hitchcock, and I had more success with 2,000 to 3,000 word mysteries. This heavy monstrosity was 8,500 words. Only an author with a big name can get away with taking up that much magazine space. But it was a Halloween story, and if no one else wrote one, I might get lucky. And the story events happen during the events of book 3 in my series, so I had a year to wait anyway. So why not try?
But once it was rejected, I gave it another look. And I wasn’t happy with myself. I’d tried to marry a short story with a novella and ended up with a mess. A short story needs one, straightforward mystery with hardly any distractions or extras. A novella has the length to play with different elements, but that’s why it takes more words. So…
I spent last night and all day today reworking the story. It’s 7,000 words now. And I like it. I’m going to put it up on the blog’s snippet page closer to when The Body in the Gravel comes out September 24th. My learning curve reinforced something I already knew, but a rule I thought I might be able to bend. A short story is…a SHORT story. And I’m up for trying to write another one for Alfred Hitchcock sometime. But not for a while. Right now, all of my attention has to focus on writing Jazzi Book 5–The Body in the Past. (At least, that’s the title for right now). I’m hoping to write one chapter every weekday I can.
Another lesson I learned? Failure isn’t the end of the world. AND, if you want to break into a market, you have to give them what they WANT. No tinkering with their tried and true playlist. Ah, well, my short story adventure has to wait for another day.
For now, try to stay cool, and happy writing!