Unattainable goals: short story writing and pie crusts

"The great Irish short story writer Frank O'Connor thought it a pure form, 'motivated by its own necessities rather than by our convenience'. I am not sure whether the novel is written for our convenience, but it is probably written for our satisfaction. That is what readers complain about with short stories, that they are not 'satisfying'. They are the cats of literary form; beautiful, but a little too self-contained for some readers' taste. Short stories are, however, satisfying to write, because they are such achieved things. They become themselves even as you write them: they end once they have attained their natural state."

(Anne Enright, The Guardian)


  1. One could say much the same thing about writing poems.

  2. Great post. :D Here's more...

    That quote is definitely not the history of the science fiction short story. At least it is not the history of the thirties to the fifties when the fans haunted their mailboxes or the drugstores for the next issue of several magazines which featured stories because novels had to serialize to fit. In sf writers devised as well intermediate forms called short novels, novellas to suit the magazine constraints, and they did this for a few pennies a word. Writers wrote and sold often to stay alive and readers read compulsively, living the lives of true fans. And certain ones, like Robert Sheckley did many other writing jobs too, outside of sf.

    Not only in writing but in illustration too. I just featured Kelly Freas on my blog a couple days ago who won ten Hugos (out of 20 nominations) for sf art as well as being the guy who did Mad Magazine covers and basically created Alfred E Neumann.

    Or are we only talking about "art"?

    And like dave wrote, much the same could be said about poetry too. I am a poetry hack. I must be because I write far too many of them to be an artist.

  3. And yet I have mastered the pie crust. Mine is hideous -- the pie, baked and cooled, looks like a casserole -- but it tastes wonderful. Perhaps in short stories and pie crusts we may not have everything, but instead a certain excellency in one area?

  4. Like conversation and grace under pressure, pie-making remains at heart a Southern skill. If only I hadn't left Arlington, VA at age four, or at least had retained the accent. Even kugel defeats me.

    Perhaps we need a pact to complete and trade over-larded and under-kneaded short stories?

  5. Christopher: You are absolutely right, for everyone forgets to address that quite wonderful form. So many contemporary novels are thin constructs bolstered with footnotes (i.e. Diaz), leaving readers longing for a rich, steeped novella.

    SF authors have been underpaid and undervalued forever, eh?