(Re)Finding the Path to Writing Short Fiction
Barb here. I have never considered myself a short story writer. Most of the ideas that hit me are “novel length.” I think JC is similar. Also, most magazines that publish short fiction consider a seven thousand word story to be quite long. I’m just gearing up at seven thousand, and JC is worse.
We sold Dhampir in 2001, and it was published in January of 2003, by which point we had finished writing Thief of Lives. To date, I’ve now sold nineteen novels. I’m more comfortable working at the novel length.
However, when we came up with the idea for the TNDS: Tales from the world of the Noble Dead Saga, we found ourselves drawn to the idea of longer-than-short stories. Since we were to e-self-publish them, they could be any length we chose. I find that one of the more liberating aspects of this explosion in e-self-publishing…
So…we talked about the TNDS (or the “Tales”) project for months before we really got started. There were so many decisions to make. At first JC even wondered if he was a “good enough” digital artist (he would say “graphics hacker”) to do the covers. He has been spectacular. Then we wondered, “Do we go through an aggregator like Smashwords or do we try to handle everything ourselves?
We are independent souls by nature, and we went with the latter. JC set up accounts for us on Amazon, B&N, Kobo, and then finally Apple (which we recently dropped). Then came the really hard part: asking ourselves what our fans might most like to read… and/or what might appeal to those who’ve never read anything by us.
JC decided to start off with the (slightly different) dwarves of our world. He wrote Karras the Kitten followed later by the first sequel Karras the Cat. Both works ended long enough to push the envelope for novellas by current length standards.
I decided to start with Loni, the lone elf living in Miiska (the home town of Magiere, Leesil, and Chap), and tell how he came to be there. At first, even attempting short fiction (after so many years of writing novels) was very awkward for me. I created an outline as I would for a novel, and the first draft was much longer than the final published version of The Game Piece.
The story was well received, and I began to wonder what to work on next. I thought popular characters from the past might be a good place to start, so I wrote some “fill in the blank” pieces about Rashed, Teesha, and Ratboy. I enjoyed writing those, and the short fiction medium was getting easier for me, but these stories made me feel like I was back working in the past and not the present.
When the idea for the The Keepers struck me, I knew I had something. I’ve always loved writing about the dark, dripping world of Droevinka, and one of the darkest things JC and I have ever written is the sequence in Sister of the Dead when Magiere, Leesil, and Chap find those sacrificed bodies of the five races in the cellars of Chemestúk Keep. I’ve never forgotten the family living there (Cadell, Nadja, and Jan) who helped our heroes with this.
After writing The Keepers, I saw a way to expand the world with something “new” and still give our fans the same flavor of what they’d come to expect from the Noble Dead Saga. I couldn’t wait to write the next story, The Reluctant Guardian, and after that… Jan and Julianna got inside my head and started something entirely new with Captives.
JC and I are creating these stories in the cracks of time around various deadlines on our novels, but we’ve both found the project to be surprisingly fun and liberating. We’ve come to realize that we might be short story writers after all… as long as we have no limits on length.