Look what we have for you today! Author Jean Ryan joins us to discuss the power of the short story. And, because she’s cool like that, she’s also giving away an ebook copy of her short story collection, Survival Skills.
You can learn more about Jean at her website HERE.
And you can enter to win a copy of Survival Skills by entering a comment into the little box below. We’ll announce the winner here on Friday, August 2. Good Luck!
by Jean Ryan
I like to think SURVIVAL SKILLS has something for everyone. In these stories you will find a hell-bent storm chaser, a malicious parrot, a young man afraid of cars, a dog with too many secrets, a guilt-ridden sister, an insidious garden weed, a love-struck goose, adulterous wives, mysterious deaths and a few lesbian love affairs gone awry. This is the advantage of story collections: the ease with which a reader can slip in and out of disparate worlds, tasting all kinds of trouble.
While novels depend on an accumulation of details, short stories must get to the point swiftly. For me, writing feels like sculpting; I try to chip away the extraneous to reveal the essence. Nothing matters more than the reader’s time, and I strive to honor it by cutting clear paths and offering something I hope intrigues them. Joan Didion once wrote that writing is “an aggressive, even a hostile act” in that a writer imposes her views on others, corrals them into seeing things her way. Joan Didion is a brilliant writer, a master of precision, but I hesitate to use the word hostile in describing my desire to connect with readers.
Life on this planet is a shared experience, and readers and writers form a sort of therapeutic bond, a mutually beneficial relationship. In an effort to bring the reader in close, I offer up my own doubts, fears and heartaches, knowing they are common chords. A couple stories in SURVIVAL SKILLS feature dogs, which stymied a friend of mine who wanted to know how I can write about them so convincingly, having none myself. I told her there is no shortage of examples. To write about dogs, to write about anything, requires two faculties: observation and empathy. If the story calls for more information, I turn to research (an occupational hazard: research can be addictive). An interesting aspect of this investigative work is how little of it I actually use. Research is like shopping. I meander down dozens of aisles and wind up with just two or three small treasures. These I tuck into my stories as discreetly as possible—only the best for my readers.
How are these details chosen? I’m not sure. I do know that when I spot one, my heart quickens. My favorite literary quote was penned by Georgia O’Keefe: “It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get at the real meaning of things.” Absolutely. The right details take us straight to the truth, and short stories are great vehicles for getting there.
Many people don’t read short stories, preferring the lengthy immersions offered by novels. This is interesting, this unwillingness to invest in low-risk, short-term investments even with the promise of greater return. Just let me say: If you want to make new friends, fall in love, laugh out loud, solve a mystery, take a vacation, or just learn a few jaw-dropping things about this world, you don’t always need three hundred pages. Stories of any length can be stunners, and some of the very best writing is found in short works. I am hoping that with the increasing popularity of e-readers, allowing easy access to short stories, more readers will embrace this genre.
Why would a greyhound refuse to run? Could a brand new face change one’s personality? What would make a goose adopt a divorcee? Where does the brain travel during coma? Why are moths attracted to light? Just how smart is an Amazon parrot? Can a woman lose her partner to the arms of an octopus? How do people survive the harsh infinity of a desert town? What if you met a little girl who looks just like your sister, and what if the same dreadful thing had happened to them both?
These are a few of the questions that led to the creation of SURVIVAL SKILLS, and I hope I came up with some adequate answers. The passions and problems in this collection span relationships of all kinds, because that’s the world we live in and the way we come together.