For the short story reader. Updated every Monday.

The Short Form

Week n° 41: August 05, 2013

Languages differ not so much with regard to what they allow you to express as with regard to what they force you to express.

Award-winning translator of Russian literature, editor of Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida and Russian Magic Tales from Pushkin to Platonov

Tips on characterization from Robert Boswell's “How I Met My Wife”:

We all know that what characters say reveals who they are (although playwrights often argue that characters speak not to reveal themselves but to conceal themselves). Dialogue is a vast subject, and I’m going to look at just one aspect of it, one very simple dialogue strategy: Put one character in your story who says precisely what most people know not to say.

Imagine, for example, that upon entering a crowded room, your protagonist, who has just had sex with his wife, is met by a character who says, “Hey man, you smell like you just had sex with your wife.”

Our recommendations this week

14 Stories

The boy looked at the bullet that had rolled to within a foot of him. He thought it was a stone, picked it up, dropped it because it felt so rough, almost prickly, stared at it and said “Holy G, that's a bullet. Someone tried to shoot me with a bullet,” and opened the roof door and ran downstairs. The pigeons flapped when the door slammed behind the boy, settled in the same positions they were in before. “This is Anna,” the chambermaid said on the phone, “Anna from the fourteenth, and I think there's been a shooting on my floor.” The hotel detective said maybe it was a loud car backfire she'd heard and Anna said “No sir, no backfire. I heard it while in the hallway, so you could be right if you said it came from a guest's television screen.” He told her to wait for him by the center elevators and she said “Make it snappy, sir, as who's to say there isn't a lunatic loose.”

Mr. Randall lay groaning on the floor. Bad shot, bad shot, he thought, he tried to say. That note out the window—which one?—he hoped not to his ex-wife or mother.


We read it in 14 Stories.

The Vampire of Moca

Let's put this story in context. Santurce, Puerto Rico, once known as Cangrejos, meaning Crabs, but no longer. Santurce. Blocks and blocks full of doctor's offices and temples—Catholic, Evangelical, Mormon, Rosicrucian, Espiritista, Jewish, and yoga-ist, if that's what you call it. The stench of sewers 24/7. Unbearable heat. Reggaeton, old school salsa, boleros, bachatas, jukeboxes, pool halls, slot machines. Topless bars, Dominican bars, gay bars. Catholic schools, beauty schools, vocational schools, and schools where you get a professional degree in just one year and without much homework. Fabric stores, arts and crafts stores, no-prescription drugstores, barbershops and hair salons. But the mecca is the 7-Eleven, which is like saying Santurce's Plaza las Américas. That's where I met him.

We read it in Mundo Cruel.

Where is the Voice Coming From

I'd already brought up my rifle, I'd already taken my sights. And I'd already got him, because it was too late then for him or me to turn by one hair.

Something darker than him, like the wings of a bird, spread on his back and pulled him down. He climbed up once, like a man under bad claws, and like just blood could weigh a ton he walked with it on his back to better light. Didn't get no further than his door. And fell to stay.

He was down. He was down, and a ton load of bricks on his back wouldn't have laid any heavier. There on his paved driveway, yes sir.

And it wasn't till the minute before, that the mockingbird had quit singing. He'd been singing up my sassafras tree. Either he was up early, or he hadn't never gone to bed, he was like me. And the mocker he'd stayed right with me, filling the air till come the crack, till I turned loose of my load. I was like him. I was on top of the world myself. For once.

I stepped to the edge of his light there, where he's laying flat. I says, “Roland? There was one way left, for me to be ahead of you and stay ahead of you, by Dad, and I just taken it. Now I'm alive and you ain't. We ain't never now, never going to be equals and you know why? One of us is dead. What about that, Roland?” I said. “Well, you seen to it, didn't you?”