How long is long enough?

The Art of Mending with Gold

Above Pop, the burning bowl of the cloudless sky, in every direction parched earth and dusty trees, and rocks striped with colour long before there were men.  The old man looked at the empty road, from the empty diner, believing he was alone.

The Hidden Words is an arts project to show short pieces of writing at the Blue House Yard, Station Rd, Haringey.  The opening of my story “The Art of Mending with Gold” is one of the pieces chosen. It is one of my favourites – I love the short story form, which allows free reign on themes and ideas, and imposes its own specific disciplines.

How long should a story be? Specifically, what makes something a short story and what makes it a novel?

A good short story gets into the situation, does its work, and gets out again.  It has more in common with songs and poems (of typical length) than novels do.  And very long stories told in poetry have more in common with novels.  Some short stories work at 1000 words, and some at 5000.

“The Art of Mending with Gold” is 1700 words.  A stranger comes to an isolated diner in the US desert west, with extraordinary consequences. The story has a beginning, a development, an end. It has three characters, and the action is concluded in one day.

The first answer to how long is intuitive. If everything seems to work, why make it longer?

Pop and Fernanda, and the stranger, are real people, and one could write their lives up to the point of the story. But I feel we know enough about them to understand what happens that day and to care.

The story ends how it does because (in my view) we don’t need to see anything more to understand emotionally what has happened, and we have space to imagine the wonder of how things are now and how tey will be.  Any more explanation feels unnecessary, assuming it is even possible.

Of course, everyone’s reaction can be different.

My novel Our Child of the Stars started as a short story, which showed the family preparing for Halloween, and then their peace is disrupted.  The conclusion showed the dilemma of their life together.

The short answer as to why it became a novel was that so much remained to be told. I wanted to show the sadness in Molly and Gene’s marriage, how Cory came, and why they were so convinced that they had to keep him a secret.  The short story showed a crisis unresolved. Was that day or something else going to bring more danger?

Showing that meant starting earlier – either to when Cory came, or as I decided, even earlier to show both joy and disaster in their marriage. Then, after that Halloween, if more danger comes, how do they prepare, what do they do? Where does it end? A novel is an exercise in obsession, thinking beyond what you need to write, understanding your characters in depth.

Once I knew Cory could not fit into one novel, it was soon apparent that it needed to be two. The first one works as a single book but left big questions unanswered. Readers would tolerate one key question gets some answer by the end of the second book. That’s where Our Child of Two Worlds comes from.

Sometimes a story could be longer and you still don’t.  You may love a short story with novel potential, and choose not to grow it into a novel. I have an 11000 word story where someone discovers the truth about their horrible society.  The elite will clearly not give up power without a struggle and there would be love, honour, struggle, sacrifice and perhaps redemption. My protagonist would be a player within that struggle. No shortage of material.  Yet I had said what I wanted to say, what interested me was in the story already.

As ever comments below! Or drop me a line.

Our Child of Two Worlds Finished (creatively)

Our hero cheerily finishes a book – anxieties of the second book – September and new starts – a new work in progress***

So!  Yesterday I edited a sentence – not a great sentence of itself, a brisk conveyer of information. Not important like the first sentence or the last.  It was the last outstanding sentence to edit of Our Child of Two Worlds. The long awaited sequel to Our Child of the Stars and the conclusion of the duology.

We are now at the proof stage. There’s a lovely jolt coming soon – and I am looking forward to it – because when proofs come it is laid out as a book.

On current plans, publication is six months away.  I am proud and excited, and frustrated that it will be some months before you have a change to read it.  Of course, I’m a bit nervous too.  Any writer is nervous what the readers might think – but those who have read drafts seem suitably bewitched.

I know nothing I could write can interest you as much as a copy of the book to read!

I promised newsletter subscribers

-a free Cory short story which is the wonderful opening of the first draft of Our Child of Two Worlds.  It’s perfect but the book now starts in a different place

-a chance to talk about helping/being involved in the launch

-and the opening of the conversation about whether we should write about the pandemic. 

Publishing is generally dissuading writers unless they have front line experience.  The 1918 flu was as deadly as the war and was largely ignored by literature.  For me, I think all human life was there, but its not the idea most obsessing me at present.

*** The work in progress is Victorian and it is affecting me

Do subscribe to my newsletter, ask questions via the contact form, and if you want to help with the launch get in touch.

Update on the book…

I’ve just sent out an email newsletter with an update on the book progress, news about the launch date, and new short story set during the time of Our Child of the Stars but in the USSR.

This is the first of a number of short stories I’ll be sharing in the run up to the publication of Our Child of Two Worlds. You might like to subscribe, you can never guarantee seeing any post on social media! And I don’t write unless there is something new to say.

www.tinyletter.com/stephen_cox

Going virtual

Odd how a virus can change things.  I’ve been tied up fighting it, biologically, and at work.  And I’m waiting for the feedback on the latest draft of OUR CHILD OF TWO WORLDS.

EdgeLit in Derby has moved its event to November, so that still may be happening.

Cymera (more here) is going online and I’ve just filled in a long questionaire about what I can do online. (No juggling on a unicycle, I’m afraid.)

I’ve just done an interview for an author’s blog and there might be a couple of other things.  But really it’s about staying well, keeping up with the day job, and waiting for the notes…

And my writers group has gone online, using Zoom.  I’m looking at trying to do some videos or Q+As because launching in the US in a pandemic obviously hasn’t been ideal.

More when I have it.

Read my fiction at Curious Fictions

and here

and subscribe to my newsletter to see what is going on.

Ask me a question!

Giveaway: Three copies of the proof given away

I just tweeted this

GIVEAWAY DRAW.

Three signed proofs of the ‘wonderful, magical, gripping’ #OurChildOfTheStars to be won.

Follow me and RT this to enter

(UK post only)

details, offers, links bit.ly/2RPmOCS 

EDITED TO ADD CLOSES 12/13 Dec.  Sorry!

  1. People who sub to my newsletter are entered and if they follow me and RT on Twitter as well they get a second entry
  2. Anyone can sub to the newsletter so this is fair.
  3. The publisher only covers post within UK, sorry
  4. Sorry Mum, no close relatives, wouldn’t look fair
  5. Actually, Mum has bought a copy
  6. I use a random number generator to pick the winner. Woo, Science!
  7. If you haven’t followed me on Twitter or subbed to my newsletter you can’t win
  8. I’ll try my damnedest to run a clean fair comp, but my decision is final

I Will Write You A Short Story

Authorsforfamilies.org is a group of literary people mostly from the US who got together on Facebook, to support immigrant children separated from their families.

Ripping children away from their families in tears and locking them up in cages, and no-one speaking the kids’ languages… and no paperwork… no easy way to connect a kid and their parents … we have this crazy idea that this is a Very Bad Thing. ***

So, we are fundraising to help, and we’re doing an auction.  There are lots of books, critiques, and advice things to bid on.

I’ve offered to write you a new, original short story.  Yes YOU, if you bid the most.  Cool, huh?

Here are the details.

It will be a story for age 16 + but without excessive sex and gore.  It will be between 1000 and 10000 words.  It will probably have some science fiction or fantasy take, but probably not vampires, werewolves, or zombies.  At the moment, I try to write things which end with hope.

It will take how long it takes.  I’d be surprised if I didn’t get you a draft within a couple of months, but what I will promise is fortnightly updates.

When I send you a draft, I’ll listen carefully to comments, but I won’t be planning a major rewrite.   I have a book deadline.

Will you like it?  I hope so, but there’s no realistic way I can write this unless we’re grown-ups, and accept that you might not.  I’d have to grill you about your taste for hours, and it would still be incredibly difficult to produce something you liked.  It may annoy you.  I hope not, but let’s accept the possibility.

We speak by email.  You give me four prompts.

  1. A name
  2. An object
  3. Something about style or setting or genre
  4. A line (poem, song, book, play) or a visual image but not of the object

I will try to use three of these, and it may be central or tangential, literal or figurative.

Of course, it’s fine to throw in some personal comments ‘Stories with aliens in give me hives’ and I may listen to those.

My decision as to whether I have delivered to you a story within the above parameters is final and no refunds will be given.

OK legal bit, as it has my name on it I keep the copyright and will publish it on my website.  The story will always be used with the line ‘Written for [you] after their kind donation to support Authors For Families.’  Unless you want to remain anonymous. You can put it on your website and send it to people in your Christmas letter, and we should talk about anything else you want to do with it.

It will come to you in British English, or a sort of weird hybrid I write when I set things in America.

An odd collection of my stuff is here.  I hope you enjoy it.

Bid early, bid often.

***You don’t think it is a Very Bad Thing?  Convo over, mate.  Educate yourself.

The Student, the Kaiju and the Eight Basic Plots – free on Medium.com

The Student, the Kaiju, and the Eight Basic Plots

That night, out in the family boat, when he was ten years old. Sea-mist came from nowhere. He was careless, and fell into chill April water, breathing its knife pain into his lungs. Panic. The current was strong, and the life-jacket could not protect him from cold. The water wanted to hold his head under, a force, a something that wanted to drag him down.

Story here

Golden Gate bridge

Free short story on Medium.com

The year of shouting a lot

On Saturday morning, early and dark, Kitten heard a crash. Her Monsters, Inc.clock said five and a bit, which was very, very early. Sasha was a quiet lump in her cot. Kitten went into her parents’ room, because the door was open. Even though it was cold, Mummy had the big bay window open and the room felt like outdoors…

 

I’ve published a short story on Medium and I hope you like it.  I’ve had great feedback from the people who’ve read it so far.

Subscribers to my newsletter got to see it early.  Why not subscribe?