“Short Stories Not Forgotten” may be too short

Short Stories Not Forgotten

Short Stories Not Forgotten by Calvin Bender is a small collection of short fiction. As I’ve mentioned many times, a big problem with a lot of short fiction is that authors fail to get in a full story arc. With this collection four, that is a problem with every piece. In fact, these seem more like brief ideas, each being a good start for something, but none following through to make a complete story. Every one ended abruptly, with none feeling quite finished. If the author just would have given us more. In all honesty, I can’t give it more than two quills.

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Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs at no charge. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.

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Let’s Talk About Short Fiction

The Collapsar Directive

I have a story appearing in the newly released science fiction anthology from Zombie Pirate Publishing, The Collapsar Directive. It’s a dystopian tale titled, If You’re Happy and You Know It, set in a world where you’re only allowed to be happy on the weekends.  I must give kudos to the editors, Sam Phillips and Adam Bennett for their selections for this anthology. The other stories featured in this anthology are all top rate, and my fellow authors are a talented bunch. I feel proud to be counted among them.

Zombie Pirate Publishing is pretty smart really, because they get their authors involved in the process – not really the actual publishing process, but with the final editing and, certainly in the marketing process. And having been involved in the process with this great group of writers, reading the stories of the others, which are all well written pieces, got me to thinking about what elements make up a high quality short story.

When I review a short story, I look for the same things I’d look for in a novel length work, with a few exceptions. I’d down my rating for the same type of things though: if it doesn’t read smoothly, if there are logic problems (which occur less in short fiction, but they do occur), excessive use of adjectives and unnecessary words, or if there are a lot of typos or spelling errors which bring my editors mind right out of the story.

Just as in a longer story, I want to see a well-written story, with a beginning, a middle and an end. But, this is where short stories often fall short. In a novel, it may take the author several chapters to wrap up all the loose ends and tie their story neatly into a bow. Short stories don’t have that luxury. Although, there is no set length as to how long a short story should be, other than word count limits set by those you are submitting to, it is even more important with short fiction to eliminate any unnecessary words and get to the point of the story. If you don’t, your story may end up becoming a novel. So, in short fiction, I look for stories that tell the tale without drawing it out unduly.

However, it can be difficult to get in a full story arc, without drawing out the tale, so I’ve come to expect this to be the case with short fiction. That way, instead of being sadly disappointed when a short story falls short (pun intended), I am pleasantly surprised when I come across short fiction which feels complete at the end of the story. It is even harder with flash fiction. The shorter the story, the less space you have to accomplish the task. I recently reviewed an anthology in which almost every story had a full arc, leaving me with a very satisfied feeling. (Catch my review of Darkscapes.)

All of the stories in The Collapsar Directive accomplish this feat, as well. All the stories featured seem to arc nicely, the beginning, middle and end are usually easy to identify in each one, and they all hold my attention to the end. That, of course, is the most important element in any story, long or short. It has to pull you in and hold you there from the first page to the last, regardless of the length of the story.

 

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“Gnarled Bones”: A Collection of Five Brief Tales

Gnarled Bones

Short stories carry the burden of telling the tale in few words, so they often sacrifice many of the qualities one finds in a novel length work, including details that fill in our mental picture for us, making readers work harder to gain a clear vision for the story. Another common complaint that I often voice is the fact that they are a brief glimpse into the character’s lives and don’t always have a complete story arc, making them feel incomplete, like there should be more. Such is the nature of the beast we call the short story. I have had to learn to expect these things when I’m reviewing short fiction, and not mark against the story for these faults alone. So, while I may comment on some of these qualities when reviewing anthologies or short story collections, they will not be the basis for lower ratings. Those will be based on the quality of the writing and how well the stories are crafted, just as they are with a longer work.

That being said, I found Gnarled Bones and Other Stories by Tam May to be a collection of highly crafted stories, with brief descriptions that skillfully put readers in the scene and allow them a clear vision of each story being told. Each story in this collection has heavy literary qualities and each carries the theme of empowerment, or the lack of it, in some way. Although most of them felt unfinished to me, they were none-the-less captivating, capturing my full attention during the brief snapshots I was allowed.

Along with Gnarled Bones, the story which sticks out most in my mind is The First Saturday Outing, which I enjoyed at first, but was later disappointed in, when the woman’s inability to empower herself and embrace her freedom became apparent, making the character, whom I’d been routing for, appear weak and inept.

Also to be found in this collection is Mother of Mischief, where Marie is driven by her need to look after and care for someone, drawn to mischievous men who need to be kept in line. Bracelets, where Isabelle, a circus acrobat is drawn to her circus family through the tragedy of a lion attack on a child. And, Broken Bows where, for Anne, a train ride becomes an act of defiance and two very different souls find one another briefly.

Along with theme, the stories in Gnarled Bones and Other Stories have other things in common, as well. Each has a female protagonist, each has literary qualities and feel, and each is well crafted to tell the story with skill and ability. I give it four quills.

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Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs at no charge. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.


“Weeping Willows”: A Ghostly Tale

weeping-willows

Weeping Willows by B.J. Robinson has the potential to be a good ghostly tale. Unfortunately, Robinson didn’t take it quite far enough. All the elements are there, but they just don’t come together very well.

The story fails to set a tone scary enough to cause any real anticipation. The House of Usher, it is not. The one spirit that actually shows herself, isn’t very threatening, is actually rather helpful, providing all the needed information about the house’s history, so the story may proceed, thus removing any sense of mystery the story might have been carrying.

The plot is classic haunted house to the point of almost being cliché. Two couples enter into a contest where the couple who lasts the longest in the old house, which threatens to crumble and fall into the sea, wins a honeymoon in Hawaii, but of course, the house is haunted and the spirits don’t seem happy about its latest guests.

The circumstances often seem a little too convenient, as if the events occur at the convenience of the author, to get the story out. It feels like the characters do what is necessary for the story to unfold, but perhaps not what would be natural for their personalities, but that could be because the characters lack depth. Character development is always a challenge when writing short fiction due to the short amount of page space, but without it, it’s difficult to care about the characters.

Weeping Willows is a ghost story of fair quality. I give it three quills.

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Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs at no charge. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.


“Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces”: A short fiction collection that’s full of surprises

Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces

This week I’m pleased to review Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces – the latest collection of short fiction by my friend and colleague, Jeff Bowles. Since I know Jeff personally, I do admit to a certain amount of bias, but only because I truly admire the way this man crafts a story, so I went at this reading with a certain amount of anticipation. With Jeff, I never really know what to expect, but I always expect to be pleasantly surprised.

And, I was not disappointed. The stories found in this collection are original and unique, and the artwork is awesome.

The first story, Will of the West, has a good western flavor with a surprise ending.  I truly enjoyed the vivid imagery of the lightning dance is Blue Dancing With Yellow, and Jeff’s story telling voice in Tumbleweeds and Little Girls nails the young girl’s POV. Four Heads, Two Hearts is a unique romance with its own unusual set of obstacles and a very interesting solution. The Fall and Rise of Max Ziggy is a reincarnation story of the feline kind.

Two of the stories deal with the topic of mid-life crisis, a topic that the author seems too young to know a lot about, but when you read these stories, us old foggies may find, or at least I did, that his interpretations are pretty spot on. Mid-Life Crisis: The Video Game defines the age of technology in a way the older generations can relate to, right down to the frustrations of dealing with voice activated responders which never seem to get our answers right. And,  Jack Hammer’s Online Identity Crisis provides an online view of the mid-life crisis of a hit man that is sure to make you chuckle.

The collection also offers two ghost stories: Falcon Highway is a good, old fashioned ghost story running along the lines of an urban legend. And, Deadman’s Hand is a ghostly tale of being ‘spirited’ away.

All of the stories contained in Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces are well crafted and quite entertaining, and they all contain unexpected elements that Jeff Bowles makes to work in short story form. Each and every one carries the uniqueness that is Jeff Bowles style, making for an overall enjoyable read. I give it five quills.

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Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs at no charge. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.


“How Smoke Got Out of the Chimneys”: An Entertaining Ditty

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The short story How Smoke Got Out of the Chimneys by Deanna Knippling captures the tone of old England to perfection. Knippling has created a likeable main character in Smoke, a sharp young girl on the street who eeks out her living as a chimney sweep, and as one follows her brief tale, one can’t help but long to see her succeed.

Living as part of a street gang, Smoke is the oldest of the chimney sweeps, who passes for younger than she is due to her small stature, but she knows her days as a sweep are numbered and she must find a new mode of living before the gang retires her in a brothel. Fortune is on her side when an opportunity appears before her, but it’s not without risk. The resulting adventure had me rooting for her every step of the way.

Short, but well crafted and quite entertaining,  this tale is everything a short story should be. I give How Smoke Got Out of the Chimneys five quills.  Five Quills3

 


“Under a Brass Moon”: A Cool Collection of Steampunk and Science Fiction Stories

under-a-brass-moon

Under A Brass Moon: A Sci-Fi Steampunk Anthology is not quite as big the last anthology by Curiosity Quills Press which I reviewed, Chronology, but it is still pretty big. Unlike Chronology, which was full of pleasant surprises for me, Under a Brass Moon was just what it promised to be in the title: a collection of sci-fi and steampunk stories, and every story had elements of one or both genres.

 

The biggest contributor is YA author Jordan Elizabeth, who had six stories featured. Included is a Cogling short story, Upon Which Victor Viper Sat, which is a steampunk ghost story. (See my review of Cogling here.) A cursed hotel, where spirits are trapped. When Lady Rachel Waxman’s chest of paper cranes is stolen from Edna, she is determined to get them back, even if it means she must face a cursed hotel with trapped spirits and a desperate boy, willing to do anything, even murder, to regain his family’s fortune. Maiden in the Clock Tower is a stand-alone love story, along the lines of a fairy tale, with a rather sweet Happily Ever After. The other four short stories are companion stories to her Treasure Chronicles series, of which I also had the pleasure of reviewing Treasure Darkly. They Call Her Treasure is a humorous piece, sure to rouse a chuckle or two, but the other three, Treasure in the Field, Run of the Treasure and The Other Face of Treasure fell short for me, as if they weren’t finished and the promise of the premise wasn’t quite fulfilled. It’s a problem I find a lot in writing short fiction.

 

The second biggest contributor is James Wymore, with four stories: Sherriff Anderson’s Steam Deputies, a steampunk western shootout with steam powered deputies; Gearhead, a story of victory from apparent defeat when a captured gearhead knight tricks the Baron and steals his captured war machine; Vault, a magical steampunk story of witches and wizards and trapped spirits; and The Dark Glass, a tale of Jinda, an orphan girl, and her brother, who dream of escape from the care of the mean old butler who has been assigned with their care, but when Jinda discovers the key that leads to the treasure their father left them and escape is close at hand, the story ends. Like the Treasure Chronicle short stories of Jordan Elizabeth, mentioned above, this short story fails to deliver on the promise of the premise.

 

One of the problems with short stories is that it is hard to get in a full story arc with so few words. Other stories from this collection which left me feeling there should be more include Talking Metal, by W. K. Pomeroy, Fritz Finkel and the Marvelous Mechanical Thing, by award winning author Lorna Macdonald Czarnota, (We get to see why the two can’t be together, the obstacles their love faces. We get to see the grand measures taken in leiu of courtship, because it is a short story. There is a realization that she feels the same way he does, but steps to achieve the goal are only alluded to. The reader is left feeling cheated and wanting more.), Lucky Escape for Goldilocks Girl, by Irish writer Perry Mcdaid, (This protagonist had the feel of a female steampunk Robin Hood, promising to be an exciting story, but alas, it falls short of delivering on the premise.), and Queen of Cobwebs, by Jeremy Mortis, (A mechanical spider vampire tale. The protagonist is not very proactive and is rescued by outside intervention. This tale had the potential to be really good, but didn’t follow through.) Another story that didn’t quite do the trick for me were Harvester, by poet and author Amberle L. Husbands, a story about sentient plants, which lost me totally.

 

Under the Brass Moon also features two steampunk time travel stories: A Connecticut Yankee in Queen Victoria’s Court, by G. Miki Hayden, and Hour of Darkness, by Ashley Pasco; and two steampunk spy stories: Kung Pow Chicken for Pygmalion, by fantasy and science fiction author D.J. Butler, and The Poison We Breathe, by Christine Baker. For a steampunk ghost story, check out Calliope, by award winning author Terri Karsten, and for a great not-love story, try Henry the Tailor, by Grant Eagar. Upcoming writer Nick Lofthouse also does a passable science fiction story where the future isn’t so promising in Vacant.

 

My favorite stories from Under the Brass Moon include The Iron Face of God, by freelance writer and author Benjamin Spurduto, which is a pretty good steampunk mystery. It kept my interest. The story didn’t really let on to the motive for the murders, but maybe that’s okay with this one.

 

Also on my favorites list is Ethereal Coil, by MG/YA novelist S.A. Larsen, where nothing is as it appears, and The Women of Lastonia, by Lorna Marie Larson, which is a science fiction story that takes readers to outer space and planets far away. A Gulliver’s Travels of outer space, but this starship crew break the first rule of space travel when they rebel against the planet’s distasteful laws, which dictate they give up one of their shipmates or interfere with the evolution of the alien species.

 

Last but not least, my favorite story from this collection is The Balloon Thief, by New Adult author Jessica Gunn, a steampunk heist story where everyone is after the treasure and no one is who they seem. This story is well written and quite enjoyable.

 

Overall, the stories in this collection were entertaining, but many of them left me disappointed just due to the fact that I didn’t feel they had a full story arc and there should have ben more. Even the ones which left me wanting more, were entertaining stories, though not all were enchanting. I give Under the Brass Moon three quills.

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Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read, and she never charges for them. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.