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short storiesI don’t plan to begin any large-scale writing projects until November (NaNoWriMo, baby!), but in the meantime, I have to keep the writing muscles limber. So I’ve been batting around some short-story ideas, one of which I saw through to completion this week (more on this in a bit).

Here’s my problem, though: I’ve never been a particularly active writer of short fiction. If I may borrow from my tired tennis parallel, I’m more like Pete Sampras (who rarely played doubles) than John McEnroe (who was great at singles and doubles). And when I say I’m like Pete Sampras, I mean I’m what Pete Sampras would be if (a) he didn’t play tennis and (b) he put on about 150 pounds.

What was I talking about again? Oh, yes, short fiction.

Anyway, my struggle is that my ideas tend to be sprawling, and short stories — because, you know, they’re relatively short — tend to be tight. In other words, I find the form challenging, which is fun in its own special way.

I submitted my completed short story to Stone’s Throw, an online literary magazine edited by Russell Rowland. Stone’s Throw is actively seeking submissions of short fiction, poetry, art and reviews, so if you have something to offer, please consider tossing it in.

Now, it’s back to trying to tame the next idea that bubbles up. In the meantime, I would love to hear tips from folks who are more confident in the form. If you have any, drop ’em in the comments section (or consider writing a guest blog post).

On my bookshelf, right in my line of sight, is a compendium, The Best American Short Stories of the Eighties (cover image above). I think I’ve found tonight’s reading material.

The idea came to me when I was considering the short story. This ditty may be nothing more than a manifestation of my mind’s odd need to make comparisons, no matter how absurd. But bear with me for a moment:

When I ask you to think about John McEnroe (let’s assume here that you have at least a mild acquaintance with professional tennis), you no doubt picture him as a singles player: three Wimbledon titles, four U.S. Opens, showdowns with Bjorn Borg and Jimmy Connors and a predilection for berating chair umpires. And why wouldn’t you remember him that way? That’s what made him famous.

Similarly, if I ask you to think about Stephen King, the novels come to mind: Carrie, The Stand, Christine, Misery, Cujo, Pet Sematary — on and on (the guy is ridiculously prolific, so I’m not naming them all). Again, perfectly natural. The novels made the man famous.

But here’s the thing about John McEnroe: For all his wondrous talents as a singles player, he may be the greatest doubles player ever. During his heyday, in the ’80s, the best doubles team in the world was McEnroe and whomever he deigned to play with (Peter Fleming mostly). The guy was ranked No. 1 in doubles for 257 weeks, a record. He’s so good at it that he won a doubles title in 2006, at the age of 47.

So it is with Stephen King. The novels made him famous and fabulously wealthy, but his prolific writing of short stories and their unflagging excellence make him as good as we’ve seen at the form. Check out the list, and if you have a spare weekend, grab a collection (I’m partial to Night Shift and Skeleton Crew, but that’s just me) and disappear inside it. You won’t be sorry.

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