Writing short and long

When not writing, author Susan Curnow of Alberta, Canada, is wrangling horses, walking her Irish Wolfhound or being owned by her cats. She recently interviewed me on her blog:                                             —-

Susan: As  well as your novels, you’ve put together some superb anthologies. Do you think this is an essential part of an author’s resume – to write short stories? Is this why you are putting together the Alexander Triads?


Alma: No, of course not. Some fine novelists have never written anything “short” in their lives – others have, but the short works were awful (because they insisted on being embryonic novels), and some brilliant short story writers have never written anything longer than maybe 10,000 words.

And that’s perfectly okay. Being able to write both short AND long is not a requirement in this game. But you are blessed if you can. Some people, like Neil Gaiman, for instance, are equally at ease in both formats.

I actually don’t write that much “short” fiction – my natural length is somewhere in the region of (on average) 90,000 words. The rules for writing long and writing short are very different indeed and it takes experience and practice to be able to follow them properly in either format.

Think of novels as a necklace of gleaming diamonds, something that works together to produce a nice, well balanced piece of jewelry. A short story is by contrast a single perfect gem. And where the occasional flawed stone in the necklace can be masked by the quality of the stones next to it, the short story has no such luxury – it has to work and stand on its own, there is nothing that exists around it to hide those imperfections. This can be a daunting task. You wouldn’t think so if you just compared the sheer amount of words but a short story is a much heavier load than a novel is – and if the novel is all you can comfortably carry the weight of a short story can crush you.

And no, it is in no way essential as a part of a writer’s resume. You write short stories because they insist on being told that way, because you WANT to, and never, not EVER, because you think you are obliged to.

As for the Triads, they kind of grew out of an original collection of short stories which was literally my first published book, “The Dolphin’s Daughter and Other stories.” It now has a new lease of life as the Alexander Triads book #1, “Once upon a fairy tale.”

Once I reissued those three thematically connected  stories it was a natural progression to come up with other “triads” of connected stories, some published and others never before seen. It’s been rather fun, actually. And there are a couple more Triads planned, and in the works.

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Susan asked some interesting questions and you can read the whole interview here