Years ago, I read a newspaper article by a TV critis. The critic shocked me by saying, essentially, that TV didn't matter. The jist of the argument was that TV shows, even the greatest ones, were ephemeral. Was there an episode of any TV series you might care to mention where you could faithfully recount the plot? Let alone was it a story that touched you deeply. Let alone whether there was a single episode that you could honestly say changed your life. A TV episode was simply too short, too formulaic, too...well, ephemeral to make a serious impact on a viewer. Movies and plays were a different matter. The same way with novels?
Now, I seriously question whether the critic was on to anything. Certainly there were plots I could remember faithfully,(plots are often the only thing I can remember faithfully) there were episodes that touched me, and there were probably some that changed my life. Perhaps not in drastic ways (nothing has yet made me consider joining the French Foreign Legion, for instance) but subtly. And this was all before TV series had a second life on cable (does that date me?) and a third life on DVD. In fact, this was before DVD at all.
Also, this doesn't take into account the cummulative effect of a series -- one episode may not havea profound effect, but no TV writing staff would want to be known for just one episode. There'd be no point in calling it a series if you're going to judge it based on a single episode.
Now to short stories. Are they ephemeral? Do they disappear overnight, forgotten when the next short story is read, or can they have a lasting impact? Did you read Araby
in high school? Or Young Goodman Brown
? Or maybe Hills Like White Elephants
. Memorable, no? Here are two short stories that have never failed to leave me less than devastated: Tillie Olsen's I Stand Here Ironing
and Bullet in the Brain
by Tobias Wolff. Hey, that last one is even a crime story...They both have an effect on me that I can't even begin to describe let alone explain and I have a Ph.D. in describing and explaining literature. Seriously. These are stories that cannot be called ephemeral, I think. You can probably devise your own list of stories that have a similar effect.
Okay, okay, so those would all be considered literary story, and I'm a crime writer so... we're getting to crime stories. Stories about crime are very often stories about core human emotions and behaviors - revenge, jealousy, love, hate, justice, the list goes on. The subject matter, therefore cannot preclude them from being of lasting value. And the prose stylings of some writers is at least as fine as many a literary writer, so that also does not set the stories apart. (I'm thinking of Steve Hockensmith's
story Erie's Last Day
or Thomas Lynch's Blood Sport
among many others.) So what is the difference?
I think the difference is the attention that is paid. The field of short story writing is huge. Even the subset of mystery/crime stories is unwieldly. I have a brief list of links on the right hand of this blog that will take you to places where you can get fresh fiction in this genre. Don't go yet, I'm not finished. New e-zines keep popping up. Even a new paying print market has promised to show itself soon. It is difficult, therefore to stay abreast of the field, and harder still to seperate the wheat from the chaff. Because I think if you read nothing but short stories and found one (of any genre) each month that truly moved you, that would be great, no? And if a writer in his or her entire career came up with a half dozen stories that you thought were top notch, that would be one hell of a career, no?
That's why I think paying attention to short fiction is so important. If you don't pay attention, you won't find anything at all and you'll think the short story field is a wasteland of forgettable prose without a single oasis to slake your thirst and as a reader you'll die without having noticed the spot or two of water you could have otherwise found. The spot or two that could otherwise have saved you.
And so I review the stories I like here on my blog for the seven of you that stop by on occasion. This is my way of pointing out some of the good stuff and raving about the great stuff and paying attention overall. Because otherwise, the stories are, of course, ephemeral if we let them be.
Now, I must point out how lonely a job I have. I'm the slowest reader I know. Others, like Hockensmith and Simon Wood
have tried to take that title, but I have a firm grasp on it. I think one of the biggest services done to the mystery short story genre in recent years was the advent of Bob Tinsley's
blog where he reviewed fresh fiction daily. When you're done here, go check it out. It hasn't been added to in a long while, but it's a great archive. He even disliked one of my stories enough to write about it. Cool.
I'll be paying even more attention to the form and to the writers in months to come. Keep coming back for mini-interviews, reviews, and a roundtable. That's right. A ROUND-TABLE.