Friday, June 18, 2010

The Long And The Short Of It


Shane asks: Your output of short stories is astonishing. But why do you write so many as opposed to spending more time on your novels? Also, what's it like being British in America? Stranger in a strange land, or do you enjoy it? That's three questions, I know, but you're so interesting I have to ask them all ...

There are a few reasons I write short stories. First, I like reading and writing them. I’m not sure why they're viewed as the bastard child of fiction. Episodic TV is essentially short storytelling. When you break an episode of CSI or whatever down, it isn't much more than a short story. People watch them, so I don’t know why they have an objection to reading them. There's an intensity to short stories that get lost in most novels. A short story can strip away all extraneous data and ready get to the heart of an issue. It can be a very intimate experience. Also some story ideas are just destined to be short stories that won't carry themselves beyond twenty to thirty pages. From a pure writing perspective, there's something gratifying about writing something that can be completed in a few days. I write quickly, but with the best will in the world, a novel is still going to take me months to write, meaning I have to live a plotline and characters for a long time and sometimes it can feel like a bad relationship where I can the same characters and their problems every day. So, having a finished product in my hands is good for the soul. Also, writing short stories helps me develop as a writer. I can experiment with voice, structure, style and all manner of writing standards and if it doesn’t work, the investment isn't as large as a novel. Short story writing has taught me how to be a very economical and succinct writer. From a business side of writing, short stories are great advertisements for my work. If a reader hasn’t read my books before and aren’t sure if they want to drop some money on an unknown quantity such as me, they are more inclined to give one of my novels a whirl but if they’ve read and liked a short story. It’s more effective than a glossy ad in a magazine and I get paid for my advertisement. So at the end of the day, short stories are worth devoting my time to.

It’s quite fun being English in America. I get to be the outsider, which means I get cut a lot of slack. My thoughts, expressions and opinions can get excused because I’m English and not familiar with your customs. It means I can be provocative and that helps me learn about my environment. We might speak the same language, but we are very different people. I’ve found people are unguarded around me since I’m not American, especially strangers. A few times people have opened up to me on subjects such as race, marriage, love and all manner of things because I’m not American. They’ve spoken freely because I’m not bogged down by expectation and I’m ignorant to their upbringing. It’s been interesting and enlightening at times. It helps me as a storyteller because I get to talk to people honestly and get to the heart of a subject. It helps me write about people in a convincing manner.

I think the only downside to life as an Englishman in the US is the slang. You don’t have very creative slang here, which is very disappointing. This has forced me to speak very plainly here. Very sad.


PS: For those joining the party late, anyone who leaves a comment, your name will go into a draw to win a copy of my latest book, Terminated. At the end of the week, I'll draw two names and send them a book.

5 comments:

Paul D. Brazill said...

I know what you mean about slang. Living in Poland I have to neuter a lot of my language- slang, idioms, cultural references. However, a mate from Hartlepool lives in the same town as me so when we meet my spoken language, well, er, degenerates actually!

An American writer I know met thriller writer Matt Hilton in the US last year. He's a Scot and lives in Cumbria. She thought he sounded 'just like Hugh Grant'!

Meredith Cole said...

I'm impressed by your output of stories, Simon.

My father is British (he's lived in America since 1958) and although Americans always identify him as English, anyone he meets who's English says he "talks like an American"! Is this starting to happen to you? Now I think maybe he hasn't lost his accent, just his slang!

simon said...

Paul: It's a tough life. Someone over at MURDER SHE WRITES asked me if I knew what a monker hanger was. :-)

Meredith: The last time Iwent home people thought I used American words but sounded English. I am somewhat bi lingual these days.

Terry Stonecrop said...

We have some slang. You might try the South for interesting word usage. But the English English slang is much more creative, I admit.

I like your idea of selling your short stories to sell your work, but aren't short stories harder to sell, in the first place?

simon wood said...

I take a zen approach to selling. It's only hard to sell a story if you think it's hard...