Monday, November 4, 2013

The Long and the Short of It

Most authors write long and, invariably, have to cut—be it with a machete or a scalpel. Would that I had that problem. Instead, I habitually write short. Very, very short. As if words are at a premium, and I'm broke. Pretty funny if you've met me in person—because I usually can't shut up! But it's true: My prose is as different from my speech patterns as day from night. I like to be direct. To get in and get out. But not without imagery and metaphor. I refuse to sacrifice sensation for length.

In fact, it's sort of a personal challenge to be as evocative as possible in as few words as possible. Passion, hope, despair, hatred...I love delivering all of these broad emotions in tight little bursts. I love echoing phrases and bringing back themes, tying them all into neat packages that fit in your pocket.

How did I come to write this way? I don't know. But I do know that I honed it with fan fiction, through writing gap-fillers for TV episodes that left me wanting more and character-driven POV pieces that explained someone's thought process or hidden desire. I've never really written long, ongoing sagas. It's always been the snapshot, the glimpse, the "might have been" in one long look or the briefest of blinks.

This winter sees two such efforts from me, in two very different anthologies that are on sale now: Cleis Press' Big Book of Orgasms and Riverdale Avenue Books' Still Hungry for Your Love. But the stories are actually very similar. Both "Matinee" and "Quake" are about women in India navigating the complex social strictures in order to pursue pleasure and fulfillment. And both tales are dreamier, more atmospheric, than my more contemporary works.

When you're trying to tell a complete vignette in less than 5,000 words, mood is of the utmost importance. Mood, characterization, motivation and conflict: All of these things have to be sold to the reader quickly and deftly. Did I succeed? I don't know. Readers will have to be the judge. But I'd like to think that I made it all work. "Quake," in particular, is one of my favorite things that I've written so far. Because it's eerie and mournful and yet happy at the same time.

Will I ever be able to write something that goes on for pages and pages and days and years? I hope so. I hope that's the personal challenge I set and meet next. But until then, I'll keep it short and bittersweet!


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