Ideas for stories come easily to me. However, not all writers and would-be writers can say the same. If you struggle to come up with ideas, or perhaps ideas you think are good enough to sustain an entire story that people will want to read from beginning to end, let me assure you it’s not an impossible feat. In fact, it just might be easier than it seems.
Here’s how a new story came to me a couple of weeks ago: I was staying with a long-time friend at a cabin near a lake. Naturally, as you might expect, we got to talking about mutual friends and acquaintances. A couple of those people had done things that I could very loosely use in a story. Next, since my friend and I are both kayakers, we went out on the lake. Since she knows the waterways quite well, she led me through a series of channels when the water was unusually high for August. Still, there were challenges like getting around a beaver dam and one narrow, brisk channel where we wanted to go upstream. We finally reached a calm, lovely pool. Some days earlier, we had visited the house where John Brown once lived and is buried, now a historic site. I had had no idea he even lived there! I did know that several forts in the region played key roles in the French and Indian War.
I put these disparate elements together into a new story, one I had no notion of writing before my visit. Notice how I’ve shifted from talking about story ideas to story elements—setting, backstory, characters, events. That’s how I cobble together a bunch of my stories. It’s nothing like starting off with a killer idea.
Now here’s my challenge if you are struggling: What events—be they historic or simply fascinating incidents—happened near where you live now or once lived? What about them intrigues you? What have you seen, done, and experienced in these places? Who else was with you? What else can you throw into the mix, especially an obstacle or two? I hope that before you know it, you’ll be in the middle of a fine story that only you can tell.
Hey, my zombie story is in a new 99 cent anthology of 44 short-shorts. These short-shorts (no, not the ones women wear) are just the thing to read while standing in line or sitting in a waiting room or taking public transportation. Hope you’ll try ’em on … er … give them a read. The folks who put out the Quickfic 1 Anthology stuffed it with terrific SF, fantasy, and horror.
When I first started publishing short fiction, I found it frustrating that so much of the writing advice out there was geared toward novelists. This still seems to be true, although nowadays, advice for fiction writers is apt to focus on publicizing their work as much as creating it, or even more so. What’s a writer of short stories, novelettes and novellas to do to help those who’ve read a few of their shorter works find more of them?
Well, one answer-by no means the only one-is to set up an Author Page on Amazon.com. You can set up your free Author Page in under an hour, usually in considerably less time than that if you are at all technologically savvy. Here’s how. First, search on Amazon.com for your name and whatever pseudonyms you’ve used. Amazon should spit out a list of magazines, anthologies, collections, singles, and other publications in which your work has appeared. You will want to make sure that it’s complete, particularly as to stories that may be a few years old. If items are missing, it’s pretty easy to fill out the form to alert Amazon to what needs to be added. In fact, when I’ve done so, they made my requested additions overnight. Also, don’t be surprised if your search turns up some items that aren’t yours.
Next, you want to hop over to Amazon’s Author Central and start adding your published work to your Author Page:
Why should you take the time to do this? Well, here are a few advantages of having an Amazon Author Page:
- Readers can click “Follow” to get automatic updates as to your latest stories
- You can include a photo and brief bio for those interested in finding out more about you
- You can add links to your Twitter feed, Facebook page, website, and blog posts to let readers know what’s new
- You’ll be better positioned to help your readers find your novel-length work or stand-alone shorter works as they come out
- You’ll generate publicity for the books and magazines that feature your stories, never a bad thing
Given that this blog post is all about publicity, here’s my Amazon author’s page. I hope you’ll click on my Follow button. Thanks!
Though I do have a system for fiction reading, I can never come close to reading all the books I want to, or intend to, in any given year. My system in 2014 was to focus on quite recent titles, and to read everything (or close to it) that was nominated for the Nebula or Hugo awards. While I mainly read novels, I find that they get a disproportionate share of attention by many readers. More’s the pity, as short stories are a great way to find new writers you’ll love, and to enjoy some wonderful works that cannot be sustained at novel length. So, without more ado, here are some books that really stood out for me this past year.
Straight Up Science Fiction
The Martian – Andy Weir – It’s a tale of the competent man as a fully developed protagonist in a battle to survive alone on Mars.
Ancillary Justice – Anne Leckie – There are so many reasons this first novel has taken the major awards.
The Red: First Light – Linda Nagata – Military science fiction has to have a lot going for it to hold my interest, and this one does.
Hard Wired – Walter Jon Williams – For contrast, I re-read this cyberpunk classic to find that it’s still fresh, gritty, and gripping today.
Contemporary and Historical Fantasy
American Craftsman – Tom Doyle – Here’s a modern-day military thriller/fantasy mash-up of interest to readers of Poe, Hawthorne, and Lovecraft.
The Golden City – Kathleen Cheney – This is a thoroughly enjoyable detective story set in turn-of-the-century Porto, featuring selkies and other sea people.
The Golem and the Jinni – Helen Wecker – I loved the people and the setting in turn-of-the-century NYC, which is where my mother’s parents met and married.
Hild – Nicola Griffith – This portrayal of life, religion, and intrigue in 7th Century Britain gives us a wonderful look at just how different it must have been to live in a pre-industrial society lacking much of the knowledge of science that we take for granted.
River of Stars – Guy Gavriel Kay – A sweeping historical fantasy based on ancient China, with memorable characters
Maplecroft – Cherie Priest – Thriller in which Lizzie Borden meets H.P. Lovecraft
Shambling Guide to New York City – Mur Lafferty – What’s not to love about a travel guide for vampires, zombies, water sprites, and the like?
Short Story Collections and Anthologies
Her Husband’s Hands and Other Stories – Adam-Troy Castro – These are dark, even disturbing stories, not something to breeze through merrily.
Best of Kage Baker – The author was a remarkably gifted story teller who passed away too young.
The Year’s Best Science Fiction 29th, 30th, and 31st Annual Collections – Gardner Dozois – I’d somehow fallen behind in reading these annual anthologies of short fiction by many of the best writers in the field.
Year’s Best SF 18 – David G. Hartwell – Another great assemblage of science fiction, some of which overlaps Gardner’s, by another masterful editor.
Catfish and Mandela — Andrew X. Pham. Most of the non-fiction I read is for my own research. However, I was so taken by this part-biography, part-travel-tale written by a Vietnamese immigrant to the U.S., that I simply had to include it.
Lastly, I present you with some gender stats: The books I’ve read in 2014 (all of them, not just my favorites) are almost evenly split between male and female authors, with just one more male author than female author. While I love to read authors I’ve never tried before, I don’t systematically try to balance the number or percentage of books I read that are written by women as opposed to men. In picking out my 2014 favorite books, I only gave thought to author genders after I’d finished my list. Hence I find it interesting, and reflective of nothing other than my own personal taste, to see that my favorites this year in SF are split 50-50, and 60-40 for fantasy. My dark fantasy favorite books this year are both by women, while the single-author collections divide equally. Maybe I do have a slight preference for women authors, as the list above has 6 men and 8 women for single-author works. Having said all that, I have to conclude that a list of 14 favorite books (excluding the 4 anthologies) isn’t a large enough sample to draw any meaningful conclusions.