I still remember the day I found out about short stories. I was in the kid’s section of the Milton Public Library and I found a book called Bug Awful in a series called Science Fiction Shorts, edited by Issac Asimov.
Science Fiction Shorts was apparently Asimov’s attempt to drive the children of the world stark raving mad by tricking them into reading truly unnerving stories, stories clearly written by adults for adults.
Your parents would look at the book and say, “Oh how sweet, it has pictures in it. Nothing could possibly be wrong with such a wholesome format as a picture book.”
But when I opened that book, when I gazed upon those words…
The first story was called “Mimic.” It started out with an explanation of how insects protect themselves by the mimicry of their predators. And who could be a greater predator than man himself? The story went on to detail how one such insect, a bug with a human face and a carapace that looked like a long overcoat lived in a neighborhood for years until one day until one day the tenants in his apartment complex found him in his death throes, giving birth to thousands of tiny suit wearing bugs that flew off into the night.
You know, FOR KIDS!
It was disgusting. It was terrifying.
And I loved it.
After that I started to seek out these kinds of stories, short, unnerving, and almost always with a twist at the end. For me short stories weren’t just another kind of fiction. They were a revelation.
Because short stories had something that none of the books I had read up until that point had. Downer endings. There was no requirement that a short story end on an up note, no law that said the good guys had to win over the bad guys. And more often than not these types of stories reveled in the negative, affecting the reader through their darkness rather than light.
And anyone who’s read my fiction can attest that I’m still in love with the downer ending. I’m not sure why. I think it might have something to do with the fact that when you don’t give the reader what they want the story lives on for them, gnawing at the back of their minds, making them wonder if they could have found a way out of the labyrinth of misery my characters had navigated.
Or possibly it’s because I’m just a sick puppy.
I don’t know. All I do know is that of all the wonderful things my recent collaboration with Ellie Soderstrom has brought about, the one real point of contention between us is the ending. For some reason she stubbornly refuses to let me leave our protagonists mired in an inescapable pit of despair.
Personally I think it’s a girl thing.
How about you? Do you like to see your stories end with honey, joy and light? Or do you, like me, require a little bitter to go with your sweet?
P.S. Also, if you encountered Bug Awful or any of the other Science Fiction Shorts books, please share your experience in the comments. These were really fantastic books, and they appear to be out of print and somewhat rare. I’m going to have to snap up some used copies for my future kids.