WSJ on the Crime Short Story Boom
The Wall Street Journal’s Tom Nolan writes about the mini-explosion in the mystery short story as seen by the plethora of anthologies on the market, even if there are only two major magazine short story markets, EQMM and AHMM, still left:
While the last two monthlies are still on newsstands,
most other mystery digests have vanished, victims of changing habits
and tastes. Even as crime novels of all subgenres, from spy-thrillers
to stalker-sagas, became well established on best-seller lists,
crime-related short stories came to seem almost as scarce as classic
But the short crime story is making a comeback in the
21st century, not through magazines but in books: anthologies of
original tales pegged to a common theme, be it sports, male-female
entanglements, or the city of Baltimore (Poe’s deathplace).
"The anthologies were a natural outgrowth, I think, to
fulfill the desire for some people to read short fiction and others to
write it," suggests Otto Penzler, the New York publishing figure and
crime-fiction scholar who has edited several such volumes in the past
few years (including "Murder at the Racetrack," "Dangerous Women" and
"Murder at the Foul Line").
"I really love the challenge of short stories,"
Maryland author Laura Lippman told me recently from Texas, where she
was touring in support of her best-selling novel "What the Dead Know."
Ms. Lippman, who has contributed to, among other all-original
anthologies, several volumes of Akashic Books’ "Noir Series" (including
"Dublin Noir," "New Orleans Noir," "D.C. Noir," as well as "Baltimore
Noir," which she edited), admitted she will write a short story
whenever she’s asked to.
"It’s tricky, because they’re not cost-effective. . .
. In the time it takes to write a short story, I can write about a 10th
of a novel. I mean, a short story takes a month; they have to be so
finely tuned, and you can’t really get away with anything! . . . I
think people want to be somewhat surprised; the story has to take a
turn that they didn’t see coming. Doesn’t necessarily have to be a big
O. Henry gasp kind of moment; but they are looking for a very tight,
There are also some great quotes from the Mr. Short Story prolific, Ed Hoch:
It takes him two to three weeks to write a 6,000 to
7,000 word tale, says Mr. Hoch, who averages about 18 such stories a
year. "Once I’m given the theme, I can usually turn out a story quite
easily. . . . Usually I sort of go at it from a backward direction; I
try to come up with a theme in an unusual manner that probably somebody
else isn’t going to think of right away." On infrequent occasion, he
has difficulty finding a starting point, he says; but this veteran
professional can’t afford to stay stumped for long. "Happily, I never
suffer from writer’s block more than a few hours at a time."
So approximately how many mystery short stories has Ed Hoch written in 52 years?
"I know exactly," the 77-year-old writer answers with
a chuckle — and, like a true short-story master, hooks us in three
sentences: "I’m up to 938 that I’ve published. I’m trying my darnedest
to get up to a thousand. I don’t know if I’ll make it or not."
Fingers crossed he can, because who on earth will ever come that close again?