Madame, all stories, if continued far enough, end in death, and he is no true-story teller who would keep that from you.~ Ernest Hemingway
In late 2011, I published a collection of short stories I’d written the year. The title is Quiet Fury: An Anthology of Suspense.
This is sort of an accidental collection. Writing short stories was not something I routinely did. In fact, prior to this collection, the only short stories I’d ever written were for my kids, many years ago. But I’ve learned that circumstances in my life often bring about the best kind of accidents.
I’d had a challenging year. The late-stage Lyme has been wreaking havoc, making concentration difficult. Treatments for the Lyme pushed me further into the hazy, neurological nightmare of brain fog. The combination made it nearly impossible for me to work on a full-length novel. Yet, I am unable to not write. Characters dance around my head and won’t let me sleep. I had an endless, daisy chain of ideas I had to do something with. Without intending to, I sat down and wrote a short story. Then another. And I found I love creating the shorter form as much as I love creating a novel.
For me, the writing process for short stories is the same as that of a novel. A character pops into my head. One sentence. A quick ten-second clip of someone doing something. An idea begging to be explored. One of these things happens, then I sit down and write.
My stories run up and bite me on the leg - I respond by writing down everything that goes on during the bite. When I finish, the idea lets go and runs off.
~ Ray Bradbury
With my short story Tiny Dancer, these three lines popped into my head:
George limped up the steps and set the box by the door. No one noticed the blood on his hands. The city kept its eyes closed.
I couldn’t tell you where the words came from. I didn’t know who George was, what was in the box, or where the blood came from. I wrote the words down, thinking I’d use the paragraph as an opening to a future novel. Months later, I went back to that paragraph and wrote what wound up as Tiny Dancer. As I sat with George and typed his story, I still had no idea who he was. He gradually revealed himself to me, in much the same way he reveals himself to my readers.
I didn’t intend for this to be a short story. George’s journey fit into the less demanding world I’d stepped into. A product of a hazy mind that can only see so far into the fog. Sure, we could learn more about George. That’s true of all short stories. In fact, it’s also true of novels. No matter the length, all stories need a beginning and end. Nothing and no one exists in a vacuum. What we want when we read is the part that matters.
I am always at a loss at how much to believe of my own stories.
~ Washington Irving
The first short story I wrote, one that I also have available as a free download, is called The First Kill. The main character is Sean Riley, who happens to be a minor character in my two Michael Sykora novels. In the first book, No Justice, Sean began his existence as a character of convenience. He wasn’t supposed to have a big role and I wasn’t concerned with his back story. By the second book, Beyond Salvation, Sean had stepped in and claimed a larger place. His character became something more for me. He revealed himself in ways I hadn’t expected. And I needed to share that with readers.
Since Sean is a minor character, without a viewpoint in those first two books, I decided he needed a story of his own. I wanted readers to know who he is on a different level. The beginning of his story, The First Kill, was born:
The first kill was the hardest. His father staring with those dark narrow eyes that had incited fear for so many years. Even as the life seeped out of him, those eyes were full of scorn.
“You killed my mother,” Sean had said.
In the process of writing that story, Sean told me how he wound up a hit man - and why he is so good at it. Sean became much more than a minor character for me then. When the idea for book three came to me, which I’m working on now, it only made sense that Sean would have a much larger role.
This collection of stories has some things in common. First, which is obvious by the title, they all fit into the suspense genre. The other thing is, to varying degrees, they explore the mind of the bad guy/girl. What does it feel like to kill someone? What drove him/her to murder? Is a killer inherently different than the person who has not killed? If we see abuse but do nothing, are we as bad as the person who murders? These questions fascinate me. I hope the answers you find in these stories will fascinate you, as well.
I'm drawn particularly to stories that evolve out of the character of the protagonist.
~ David McCullough