Ben Peek (benpeek) wrote,
Ben Peek

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Short Fiction: Keep It, Burn It, Juggle It.

Tonight's topic: Short Fiction and what to do with it after it's published.

The topic comes round from Ben Payne (benpayne) who, after hearing that Agog! Smashing Stories had gone out of print, asked if I had ever "thought about archiving your old stories on a website?" The reason for that is that "someone told me this was a good idea... to pull in the fickle non-small-press-buying punters..." which seemed fair enough as a point and, before that, a question. A good one, even, because I started thinking about it later.

My immediate response to the question was no and, even now, that's still the answer. A little less emphatic, perhaps, but still the answer. It's probably fueled more through disinterest and my particular thoughts concerning short fiction than anything else. I'll get to that second bit in a moment, but first, the disinterest.

It's pretty simple, really, that one of the reasons I don't archive is because I don't have a website. I'm not a huge fan of websites when it comes to interacting with people. They're a bit too static, a bit too much like this dead thing floating upon the water. There are some very nice websites, of course, and Deb Biancotti (deborahb) does excellent web mojo. But for my personal tastes, I find that I just don't get any interest from websites. It goes to such an extent that I had to be convinced to put the 2005 Snapshot on the web and slapped round by David Carroll (ashamel) to focus on it. This disinterest is one of the things that convinced me to try blogging. Blogging is fluid, immediate, personal, direct. There's a sense that you're coming into contact with the individual, rather than viewing the billboard they have erected on the side of the information superhighway. Blogs are like the little diner on the side of the road: dirty, mean in make, and filled with a range of people you'd never seen connected in any other place.

So I've never had much urge to archive because I've never had much interest in sites. I suppose I could place this blog into a site, but then questions about designing, keeping, and operating one begins. The problem there is that I like shiny beautiful things, but lack the funds and ability to do it myself.

The other side of my response is linked to the way I view short fiction.

Much of the world now believes that prose--especially fictional prose--is a thing you keep. It's built to last. You keep it. Don't burn it, baby, keep it, keep it. Part of this, I think, is due to our educations, where we are taught the importance of prose. Words can change the world, can change us; they can speak to us, about us; they have a power that digs beneath the skin and lingers. It's all true, and don't think for a moment I don't love that about words. But it has, I think, made words precious, given them a sense of importance that poetry and fiction are trying to equal, and which a part of our society wants it to equal. Which is all fine and good and I certainly agree to the extent that I want good words, but good words is measured differently by everyone, so it all becomes murky there. The end result, however, has been to cast words as a thing to be kept, to be placed upon the shelf, to be given importance, and when new relationships walk in, pulled down and shown with a bit of emotion. It's kept. It's nurtured. It--and perhaps this last part comes mainly from writers, who have more than a right to think this way--should last.

(It strikes me, however, that this desire for prose to be long lasting is a bit of a contradiction in a society where most people do not re-read. It's just a thought that, since I'm as guilty as anyone else there. I don't re-read very often--instead, afterwards, I'm out searching for a new thing and there is so much new thing.)

In juxtaposition to this, my view of short fiction is that it is not built to last. It's a moment, a thought, twenty minutes, a bad sitcom of alloted time, a moment of quietness when you sit down, read it, engage on the level of the text as you wish, and then toss it aside. Don't bother re-reading it. Short fiction is about that short sharp stab of the moment. It's the now. It dates the moment you put it down. Grows old, tired. You go searching for something new and you forget it. You look for the author's next bit, which may be totally different to the one you just read because it's short fiction, and the time involved is tiny, nothing to stress, something you can give to any endevour and not feel as if you've lost anything if you hate it. Short story authors get a lot more second and third shots than novelists, especially if I liked an aspect of their story. But reading a novel is an investment of time and place (both head and real) and so the stakes, for the reader, are higher. They want more. They should get more. That's not a judgment over if one form has an inherent quality over the other, just noting that novels, with more pages, more room to develop, to change tone and form, are capable of doing more than a short story. Thus the experience of a novel should be larger than that of a short story, at least as far as I'm concerned.

So I write my short fiction to be consumed, to be eaten in a gulp and tossed aside, to be engaged at with it various ideas and characters and conversations with whatever I've though would be an interesting thing to work as a subtext (if I worked anything) but not, I believe, to be revisited unless it is altered in a substantial way. And this is how I write it: I throw myself in, scream for that wild burst of energy to write it (and the less wild ones of rewriting) and then I forget about it. If I reckon it was worth, I send it out, see how it goes, but essentially, I'm done with it.

Which means I don't think about archives.

The last thing I want to make clear is that I don't see this as a quality assessment. It has nothing to do with that. It's just looking at the time involved, both in crafting and reading. There is something about the short story to me that makes it a perfect bit of disposable prose. Others might not see it that way and that's cool, but me, I'm caught up in that and I love it.
Tags: disposable fiction

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