It ain’t like it used to be guys and gals. And thank God for it. Because what used to be sucked. Cell phones, the internet, cars, air conditioning. Go back a hundred years and you’re not going to find any of that stuff readily available. So let me be the first to say that I’m glad and thankful to live when I live. I honestly can’t think of a better time or a better place in all of history.
However, as a writer, there is a tiny part of me that pines for the days of fifty years ago, when it was still possible to spot that dying and elusive beast known as the short story in its natural habitat. And these days ain’t like those days at all. I recently read a bit Stephen King did about the short story not really being dead, and how there were plenty of authors still writing and selling them, but what he really meant was that he was still writing and selling them, which he can do, because, you know, he’s Stephen King.
Not that I have anything against him for it. I love the short story form. I write short stories as often as I can, and for the most part I’ve enjoyed every second of it.
But the short story is dead. Don’t believe me? Then consider this: science fiction writer Robert Silverberg got his start writing short fiction at a rate of a million words a year. And he sold it. I doubt even Stephen King could find a market for that much short fiction today. Back in the day, almost every magazine on the rack had short stories published in it. I heard an interview once with Kurt Vonnegut where he talked about selling short stories to Cosmopolitan for crying out loud. I can only imagine what kind of story it would have been, but it must have been better the crap they foist off on people these days.
About the only place you can find the short story form these days is bundled together in an anthology and even those are becoming more and more scarce. Aside from Stephen King, the last single author short story anthology that I remember seeing and buying was T. C. Boyle’s The Human Fly and Other Stories, and that was off of a remaindered rack years ago.
But you know what? I still write the things. I harbor no illusions that I’m going to get one of them published anywhere, but I do it…well because I want to. I love short stories. I love writing them. I love reading them. Why? Because I remember how powerfully I was affected by those stories back in high school. Stories, like “Mimsy Were the Borogoves,” and “Microcosmic God,” and “Grownups,” and a whole host of others impacted me in a way that no long fiction book ever has.
I don’t know what has happened to the short story. Given the short attention span of our culture, I should think the form would have flourished. But it hasn’t.
Instead it’s crumpled off in some dark forgotten corner of the library stacks bleeding out its last. May it rest in peace.