The other day I finished A Clash of Kings and found myself without the usual stack of library books that feed my reading schedule. I had just one: an anthology called Under the Moons of Mars, edited by John Joseph Adams and featuring stories by Joe R. Lansdale, Peter S. Beagle and many others you would recognize. I started in on it and I got about 50 pages deep into the book when I realized I wasn’t enjoying myself. This got me to thinking about why.
First off I should say that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the writing in Under the Moons of Mars. The stories I’ve read thus far have all been uniformly good, so this is not a case where a string of duds has turned me off the whole batch. What seems far more likely is that I’ve grown detached from the short story as a storytelling method and that’s affecting my ability to have fun with them.
Not too many years ago, when I started writing again, I produced a short story every couple of days. I wrote tons of them and many were published in various ‘zines. I actually won my agent on the strength of one of my stories, “Corrida de Toros,” and to this day she asks me if I could please, please, please turn it into a novel. So it’s safe to say that I was steeped in the art of the short story. I read them, I wrote them, I lived them. And then….
Somewhere along the line I realized that my short-story writing was going nowhere. Yes, my stuff was appearing regularly here and there, but I wasn’t making any money and, frankly, that’s the whole reason I write. If I didn’t make money doing this, I’d find something far more enjoyable to do with my time, like playing video games or pulling out my own teeth with a pair of pliers.
So I quit writing short stories. At the same time, I completely stopped reading them. I turned all my reading and writing energy toward novels and that has been the case ever since.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with short stories, but I no longer garner much enjoyment from reading them for the reasons stated above. I can even read an excellent short story, recognize it for being excellent, and then turn my attention elsewhere without giving it a second thought. And for the most part I immediately avoid any anthology that crosses my path. I checked out Under the Moons of Mars strictly because it relates to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom novels, of which I’m a huge fan, and not because I was hankering to read a bunch of short material.
From time to time it does occur to me to write something in that format again. My wife and a few readers have encouraged me to write a short companion piece to The Dead Women of Juárez and post it here. I have given it some thought. At the same time, just the idea of doing something like that kind of turns me off because I know it will be, not wasted effort exactly, but not helpful to my career as a novelist.
Maybe someone in the comments will change my mind and I’ll suddenly appreciate the short story all over again. I suppose anything is possible. And I will finish Under the Moons of Mars and if the quality of the stories holds true throughout, I’m going to give it a good review. But part of me is always going to be aware that short stories no longer have a hold on me, for good or ill, and consequently we’ve grown apart.