For the short story reader. Updated every Monday.

Shane Jones: The Short Form Interview

You can experience an entire world in a short story that takes you fifteen minutes to read. Pretty great.

Author of Daniel Fights a Hurricane, Light Boxes, I Will Unfold You with My Hairy Hands, and others.

The Interview

What draws you to short stories?

The answer to both writing them and reading them is speed. Writing a short story can be really intense, but it doesn't take nearly as long as writing a novel. Some might disagree. I think George Saunders spends a long time on his stories, and the time pays off. Frank O'Connor was known to edit his short stories years after they were written, and even published. But it's still faster. And reading them usually takes a sitting or two. You can experience an entire world in a short story that takes you fifteen minutes to read. Pretty great.  

People want to read novels and to write them. But a really powerful short story can destroy a mediocre novel any day. 

Are there any misconceptions about the form?

That writing them is easy. That short stories are a bridge to writing something longer like a novel. But that's total bullshit. Also, I think short stories are compared unfairly to novels. I guess I'm doing it right now. I think a lot of people may think short stories have fallen out of favor with readers and writers too. People want to read novels and to write them. But a really powerful short story can destroy a mediocre novel any day. 

What role does it play in a writer’s development, and in the field of literature as a whole?

For me, it was part of a process. I began writing poetry and wrote nothing but poetry for about five years. Then I wrote almost nothing but short stories for about five years. And now, novel writing. You kind of build yourself up to go longer and longer. But writing short stories, writing a really good short story, is hard. There's no room for error at all. With a novel, you could probably drop some shit lines, fuck a scene up, and the reader may forgive you or not notice. But a short story is so condensed. For a writer's development, you learn a lot when writing short stories, mainly to keep the energy really high and moving. As far in the field of literature, I'm not sure. Think short stories are great for teaching. A teacher can hit their students with a dozen short stories in a semester as compared to one novel. There's variety there, and students can sample a field of literature that spans decades. 

 ...writing short stories, writing a really good short story, is hard. There's no room for error at all.

How do a writer’s goals differ between writing short fiction vs. long? Does the short form allow more freedom to experiment?

Man, I don't know. I imagine every writer is different as far as a goal. The goal may be just to finish something, so a short story comes in handy. Some writers want to break hearts, others want to push a political agenda. It's so different, and those two examples I just gave are terrible. I could generalize and say that the goal with a short story is to get quickly to the heart of something and expose it and with something longer you're getting to the heart of something but you're stretching it out over a few hundred pages. Short stories can be drastically different, but usually they are like a hard core.  

What is the perception of writers who predominantly write short stories?

I think it's admirable. There's all this pressure on writers to produce novels. Most writers know that publishers don't want short story collections and if they do they don't sell. It's kind of the ultimate "I'm doing this shit for the sake of art" thing you can do.   

Recommended by Shane Jones

Stone Animals
Excerpt

When Carleton was three months old, Henry had realized that they'd misunderstood something. Babies weren't babies—they were land mines; bear traps; wasp nests. They were a noise, which was sometimes even not a noise, but merely a listening for a noise; they were a damp, chalky smell; they were the heaving, jerky, sticking manifestation of not-sleep.

We read it in Magic for Beginners.

Originally published in Conjunctions 43.

In a Tub
Excerpt

My heart—I thought it stopped. So I got into my car and headed for God. I passed two churches with cars parked in front. Then I stopped at the third because no else had.

Love Too Long
Excerpt

I’ll tell you what I liked that we studied at Bakersfield. It was old James Joyce and his book The Canterbury Tales. You wouldn’t have thought anybody would write “A fart that well nigh blinded Absalom” in ancient days. All those people hopping and humping at night, framing around, just like last year at Ollie’s party that she and I left when they got into threesomes and Polaroids. Because we loved each other too much. She said it was something you’d be sorry about the next morning.

We read it in Airships.

The 400 Pound CEO
Excerpt

I have a sense that God is unfair and preferentially punishes his weak, his dumb, his fat, his lazy. I believe he takes more pleasure in his perfect creatures, and cheers them on like a brainless dad as they run roughshod over the rest of us. He gives us a need for love, and no way to get any.

We read it in CivilWarLand in Bad Decline.

Originally published in Harper's, Feb 1993.