It’s always been interesting to me that late and early in each year, several news items we touch on at Publishing Perspectives have to do with short stories.
This normally is sustained no longer than the stories themselves are.
Within a week or two, this little confluence of storytelling and issues of brevity is swept into the rest of the new year’s avalanche of news.
But it’s quite distinctive.
- In France, for example, an independent publisher called L’Ourse brune (The Brown Bear) has been set up to produce “the promotion of short stories by prospective authors.” Martine Paulais, based in Notre-Dame-de-Cenilly in Normandy, says that too many French editors neglect the form.
- Then in London, there’s a shortlist of short stories–or a short-story shortlist, which is harder to say three times fast. The Costa Book Awards in January name the writers behind a shortlist of three short stories. (The authors’ names are not known until public voting on the stories is finished, so that the vote is “blind” and not swayed by issues of possible familiarity with one of the shortlisted writers.)
- Also in the United Kingdom (land of literary awards, as you might remember me pointing out in the past), the BBC National Short Story Award program has opened and will, in early October, enrich a fortunate author by £15,000 (US$20,438), and four shortlisted authors by £600 (US$817) each.
- Then in Madrid, there’s perhaps the most aptly named event, the Desperate Literature Short Fiction Prize will not only pay a writer €1,500 (US$1,821), but also will send that writer to a seven-day artist’s residency at Umbria’s Civitella Ranieri retreat and provide the writer with a consultation with an agent in London. It’s named, by the way, for the Desperate Literature bookshop that produces the award.
There probably is no real rhyme or reason to the way short-story news gathers in little corners of coverage near the end and beginning of a year, although this year we could be forgiven for speculating that it might have something to do with “the times.” More than once since January 6, I’ve misheard a news anchor or a correspondent and thought she or he had said that more than 100 “writers” had been arrested in connection with the rampage at the US Capitol. Can Rioters Unboxed be far behind?
Awards programs operate on their own fiscal-year model (which is why, in fact, the Costa program in London is about to award its 2020 prizes in 2021). So it’s not just that “startup” factor of the top of the year having arrived.
You wonder if during even more orderly and safe times than these, however, there might be a practical element to short-story activity at an annual changeover.
To be clear, I respect and admire the short form as the entity-unto-itself that it is. I also don’t think the consumer base always gets the efficacy of short stories, many making the Brussels sprout mistake of believing that a short story is a baby cabbage. Of course, sometimes a story is a baby cabbage and an author will go on to develop that story into a book.
Could short story work have to do with testing out ideas that might become bigger projects during the year? Might a short story be a misfire, an intended book chapter that ended with more finality than expected?