Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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From Writer Unboxed: Focus on Short Fiction

Just glancing at the linked post, this bit caught my eye:

Bad Reasons to Write Short Stories

Short stories are great for your career, they say. Start with short fiction, they say, to

  • Build your publication credits
  • Help new audiences find you
  • Let editors know you’re serious
  • Raise your profile by winning contests
  • Keep your novel fans happy in between books

And I thought, whoa, that last one looks weird to me. That looks like a GOOD reason to write shorter works. Admittedly, I’m biased, as I’m basically certain I won’t have time this year to write the still-untitled-but-surely-soon-this-will-be-settled 5th Black Dog novel. I mean, I will start it, and I may make considerable headway, I don’t know, but I’m positive I won’t have time to write it and revise it and get feedback and revise it again and so on. No. Too many other things I also want to work on, and October starts to look right around the corner when I think of trying to fit all that work into the months in between March 1 and October 31. So in that case, it sure looks to me like it’s better to bring out a collection of Black Dog stories than nothing. Right? That would be true even if it weren’t time for another collection, which it is.

Now, I grant that many (most? nearly all?) readers who prefer novels don’t much care for short stories. So what I’m thinking of is an exception: shorter work related to the novels in a series. Probably it’s not a totally fair think to think of that particular category of short story in this context.

The rest of the linked post is fine — it’s largely about the difference between novels and short work, and advice for novelists trying to write short work, and for short story writers to move into longer forms. This is all fine and sure, it’s a good post. But now I’m thinking about my own shorter works. I suspect that a majority of readers who like the Black Dog novels do read the Black Dog story collections — and I suspect that relatively few of those readers ever take a look at the stories in Beyond the Dreams We Know. So I do think it’s true that relatively few readers who prefer novels will look at a shorter work unless:

a) It’s a longish novella by an author they particularly like; eg, the Murderbot novellas;

b) It’s a story that takes place in the world of a novel they already like.

Let me see. Hmm. Okay, Beyond the Dreams has sold 28% as many copies as Black Dog Short Stories I. Actually, 28% is better than I would have expected. That’s not too far under a third as many. That’s not bad for stories unconnected to a specific series. Especially since the BD story collection has been out longer.

Somewhat oddly, I don’t see a straightforward list of Good Reasons to Write Short Fiction at the linked post. Obviously the best reason is:

Good Reasons to Write Short Stories
  • The story you feel like writing turns out to be short
  • Writing a short story lets you focus on secondary characters in a connected world
  • Writing a short story lets you write something in a world you enjoy without having to commit to writing a whole novel.
  • Some readers will indeed discover your work through reading the stories in a collection.
  • A story or collection of stories helps keeps fans of your novels happy in between novels.

See? That last one is a good reason to write short stories and novellas, not a bad reason.

Raise your hand if you particularly like one or a couple of the Black Dog shorter works compared to the novels. Anybody? I’m betting it’s actually everybody. My own hand is definitely up.

Personally, I particularly like the stories that let Ezekiel get to be a pov character.

Also the ones that give Ethan the pov. I only wrote “Bank Job” because I thought Ethan was getting a raw deal, always being shown as nothing but Grayson’s jerk nephew, and I wanted to let him be seen in a more positive way. I had no idea he and Thaddeus were going to be a great team for the rest of the series, but here we are. The novella already written for the next collection is an Ethan pov story.

Keziah’s story was extremely difficult to write, but I think it came out well. Carissa’s story with Keziah was also difficult, but I really like that one too. They may wind up working together on a regular basis, who knows?

If you’ve got a favorite Black Dog story, which one is it?


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10 Comments Short fiction

  1. Elaine T

    The ones that come back to mind most often are the pair of Thaddeus and the Asian kid. The one where he finds the kid and gives good advice, the second where the kid takes it. In his own black dog fashion.

  2. Rachel

    Yes, I have had a query now and then about the kid. A short story about him fitting into Dimilioc would make sense. He’s about the same age as Amira and Nicholas, so I have been considering bringing those kids front and center in a story.

  3. Craig N.

    Now I’m envisioning a kids’ adventure story that follows middle-grade stereotypes… until it suddenly turns extremely violent. (I think it’s in the Justin shorter piece, not PURE MAGIC, where Amira reassures him that they will *find* the enemy causing trouble and *tear out their hearts.*)

  4. Kathryn McConaughy

    I like the whole Black Dog series, but think I’ve reread the BD I/II Short Story Collection more often than any of the novels in the series. Ethan and Thaddeus may be my favorites.

  5. Rachel

    Craig, that would be funny, and suitable for the BD world. Imagine three young teen black dogs solving a problem! That would definitely follow normal MG tropes only to a certain point and then, as you say, hearts on a plate.

    Kathryn, Thaddeus was a favorite of mine from the first moment he stepped on stage, but Ethan only after he got together with Thaddeus. Now they’re such a great team and only getting stronger with time. Maybe I should do a Thaddeus pov story again, not only an Ethan pov story.

  6. Pete Mack

    I like Thaddeus and Keziah best. Two of her quotes suggest a story to me: “American food is so boring. Not even lemon”, and “Black dogs should remember to be sad” might make a story, but maybe only fan fic.

  7. Alison

    I had to go back and reread them. Definitely the Ethan and Thaddeus stories stand out, but I also like anything to do with Miguel or Greyson, and also the prequel origin story with Ezekiel and Greyson and Thos. I like the way you describe how they all make their decisions and order their hierarchies and experience personal growth. The ominous, scary stories are a little scary for me even reading them a second time around. It’s all character development over plot, for me.

  8. Kim Aippersbach

    I think I almost like the Black Dog short stories better than the novels! Because, as Alison points out, they focus on character development. You can choose the telling moment, that crucial point when something changes for a person, or a relationship, and you’re great at those. Also I love getting the other POVs. (I love them all, but Ezekiel is my favourite.)

    I really like the Beyond the Dreams stories, too, though I tend not to reread them as much because I haven’t gotten as invested in the worlds. I think you’re very good at the short story format. I think any reason to write a short story is a bad one unless you know how to write short stories, in which case any reason is a good one!

    PS: Yes, yes, yes to the teen black dog story! Please!

  9. Rachel

    Alison, yes, I like everything that shows interaction between Ezekiel and Grayson. And come to think of it, between Thaddeus and Ethan. I like relationship stories. I like Carissa’s story with Keziah for the same reason.

  10. Hanneke

    I too agree with the commenters above, I like the short stories better – those I will reread, as I too prefer the focus on character development, and they don’t have the time to get too deeply immersed in the horror (which scares me off rereading).

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