Confession of a junkie

Turns out I’m an addict.  Short stories.  I won’t do the “Hi, my name is” bit as you already know it, coming here, but if you’ve a similar problem feel free to grab yourself a plastic cup of coffee and one of those donuts, if they’re not too stale, and take a seat.  We’re all friends here.

So why are short stories such a problem?  Well, because I’m trying to write a novel, for one.  And I’m supposed to be working a full time job, for another.  But it turns out I’d much rather be writing or reading a short story.  The latter helps the former, so I can justify that much.

Thing is, and maybe this is part of the addiction, I don’t think it needs justifying.  It’s a wasted day if I haven’t read at least one story (though usually it’s more than that) because if I haven’t read a story then I’ve been too busy doing something that doesn’t matter – you know, like washing up or tidying or going to the supermarket for food.  And like all addicts, I get crabby if I haven’t had my fix.

Thankfully there’s no fear of losing my supply.  I’ve got dealers aplenty willing to serve up my drug of choice.  If you’re still here, sipping your coffee and listening to me ramble, you know what it’s like to crack open a new book or fold back the page of a fresh magazine.  Sounds good, doesn’t it?  Looks good too, more often than not, and even if it doesn’t there’s the smell of the print and the paper.  (I’m afraid I’m still trying to get used to electronic formats.  To me, they’re still a little like nicotine patches or those plastic cigarettes – they’ll do, but they’re not the same.  And yes, I can appreciate the irony of writing that in a blog.)  Casting your eyes over the names of the contents list you experience either the joy of a familiar name or the thrill of a new one to discover and it’s all good, plus there’s the title to savour, and then we’re into the prose and, oh God, that escape is great isn’t it?  I’ve got to do it all at once, too; a bookmark is only allowed to mark a place between stories, never a pause in the prose, and should anything or anyone interrupt the reading…

We won’t dwell on that.

So, the problem.  Well, the problem is I really should go to the shops once in a while, maybe at least rinse those plates and cups.  I should plan my next day’s lessons.  I should use those tiles and paints that have been collecting dust in the bathroom for nearly a year now as I’m far too old to be living in what looks like student digs.  But even when I stop reading short stories I can’t stop writing the damn things.  Where most people have a list of groceries or jobs to do, I’ve a sheet of paper keeping track of what story is where, waiting for its acceptance or rejection ‘not quite for us, thank you’.  There are a lot of stories on that sheet.

And there are a lot of stories waiting to be on that sheet.  They’re done, sitting on my computer and waiting for somewhere to go.  There are only so many places to send them, though, and only so many multiple submissions even the most accommodating editor will take.  So they sit, getting dusty (e-dust, I guess) and I have that crawly feeling, that unpleasant certainty, that someone else will get there first, that I should have sent this one, not that one, and damn it someone else is going to get there first.

Which is how I feel about my novel.  I do.  I know I should get it done, should sit my arse down and write, but the moment I click on My Documents I see the fifteen or so stories I’m working on and, well, a few minutes on one of them can’t hurt.  And like all addicts, I’ve got my mental tricks, my methods of self-persuasion.  Like, well if I’m in the mood for this story then that’s the one I should write because the creative juices are flowing, man, I can’t ignore them, and if I work on something else then it won’t be writing it’ll be typing and there’s a difference.  And anyway, it’s all good practice for the novel isn’t it.

The truth is, I like the quick hit of a short story.  I like writing something that is complete pretty swiftly, all done, washed and dressed and ready to go.  If you’ll excuse the continued personification, my short stories tend to take a shower and put on the clothes I’ve laid out for them, whereas my novel wants a long soak in the bath and then it wants to try on various outfits, see what fits and what looks best and then maybe experiment with accessories.  It takes a lot of time.  I’ve no doubt it’ll be worth it, but I still worry about being late to the party.  So I don’t go.

Just like now, mixing my metaphors in a blog when I should be writing The Novel.  So thanks for listening, and finish off the donuts by all means, but I’m off to write my novel.

Though perhaps I’ll just take a little look at one of those stories I’ve been working on…

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5 Responses to Confession of a junkie

  1. Michael Kelly says:

    Yup, I’m an addict, as well. Nothing like a great short story. The best of them say as much or more as any novel.

  2. Ray Cluley says:

    And often so much more effectively – read many a novel that felt like a padded short story.

  3. Dominik says:

    I find it very difficult to go to bed without reading at least one short story… Though I do feel like certain stories demand a certain setting. For example: I read the latest issue of Shadows & Tall Trees on a late flight, while everyone on the plane was sleeping, and it was truly eerie. I just feel like the right setting will really heighten the effect of a short story (I’m aware this isn’t a new concept, but it’s one I subscribe to).

  4. Michael says:

    Dominik, indeed, I’ve also read on a late flight as everyone around was dead to the world. It was one of Hartwell’s anthologies, The Dark Descent, and was a very odd and exhilarating experience.

  5. Ray Cluley says:

    Sounds great. When I’m on a plane it takes a while to tune out the screaming kids someone is bound to have brought, and all the people being rude to the cabin crew. I’ll book late night ones in future.

    I read Patrick Suskind’s ‘Perfume’ in France, which added to the atmosphere – not sure that counts. On a similar track, I saw an old version of Dracula on a screen set up in a castle once, which was great fun, if a little cold.

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