Discover more from Bethany’s Substack
Longish Opinions on Short Forms
This things I believe.
First things first: Why do people make “I would NEVER let my child ___” videos and tweets?
I feel like the gravity of having a platform, just as a concept or even as an aspiration, (which is to say, on some level, none of this is tethered to reality) causes people to make theatrical declarations. Right? Like it’s why some people do Twitter so wrong. Instead of realizing that (in its former glory) it was a mall—a good one where there are high end stores that no one actually patronizes but the presence of those stores draws the good food court vendors and the hair extension and cell phone provider kiosks are top notch—folks decided it was pulpit. Like, you MUST make declarative prescriptions and judgements. Just unnecessary pronouncements. I didn’t spend enough time on Youtube in the past to realize this was happening everywhere. All of social media, unfortunately, is a platform. Everyone, therefore, must be an expert. Like, what a broken society when the top aspiration is to influence the lives and decisions and opinions of total strangers on the basis of nothing beyond the fact that you woke up this morning.
And what I hate about this is that it sounds like I’m saying all this from the perspective of a middle aged person who is just disgusted with the world’s evolution, and that’s just the most cliche thing on earth. Requires no critical thinking, just resistance to change. But um, some change is bad. Right? So like, from a sociological perspective, an ever-expanding percentage of the population conflating attention with authority, and requiring nothing of a self-proclaimed influencer but the liberal use of filters and an air of confidence…is actually a pretty familiar phenomenon, we do it all the time, especially in the 90s. Nevermind, all of this tracks.
I guess the good news is, at this rate, in like nine to ten months, literally every single person with a social media account will be an influencer and, hungry for audience, we will turn our attention to nature, speaking to the trees, who have so missed our companionship that they will flourish in response, the face of the earth repopulated with a dense forestation that will make wifi spotty at best.
What kind of imbecile am I that I haven’t talked about the audiobook for Take The Mic?!!?
This book has been such a gorgeous thing, and I cannot believe that it’s out in a new format now. I recently listened to Soneela Nankani’s performance of my short story, “As You Were”.
Genuinely. The absoluteness of my inability to can.
As far as I’m concerned, this short story is my only thoroughly contemporary piece of work, where nothing operates like a speculative device. (From which you should be able to infer that my other works all have some such thing, whether it’s historicity as in So Many Beginnings or an ever-present avatar for a sociological thesis as in Cherish Farrah). What it does have is marching band and the culture of marching band (and spoken commands) as motif, and hearing it narrated…
I hadn’t read the story in quite some time. This anthology released in 2019, and is sandwiched between my debut, MEM, and my young adult debut, A Song Below Water. Which is just such a wild time, that I honestly would have to sit and think about it in order to draw up memories specific to the anthology alone. Except for zoom chats with Darcie. That I remember easily. I remember getting her story and knowing it was the bookending story I’d been looking for. Soliciting these stories and editing them was actual bliss. It’s actually why I’ve never done it again. (Surely greed would be punished. Why do I think I have but one child.)
Anyway. Soneela, who also narrated MEM, was resplendent. As I’m writing this, I’m realizing I need to listen to it again. Gorgeous.
Speaking of short stories. I identify as a novella-ist. I realize that is a strange thing for an author of five novels to say, but the truth is I’ve published four novels. MEM, my first, is a novella. It’s story in its natural form, for me. I remember saying in a recent talk that as a student of sociology and a novella-ist, I recognize that there are so many novels in the world because so many people didn’t know they had any other choice, particularly those wanting to break into traditional publishing. They think story, they think 80,000 words. There’s no space between those thoughts to apply creativity to the construct, which is a shame. That means there are a bunch of weirdly-shaped overlong novellas and short stories stretched and wrecked into novel form. Whole lot of bloated and unjustified word counts because people are socialized to skip an entire consideration in creation.
None of which is what I came here to say, but let’s stand in our truth, shall we?
A novel tries to befriend you and the short story almost never. - Joy Williams
I remember the first time I heard that quote, relayed by a third party, as many things are on Twitter. (What are the appropriate words before something can really RIP, by the way? Is there a Happy Hospice sentiment or…do we just inelegantly wait.)
I thought, no wonder people are so perplexed by the novella. Or just mine, let me not universalize. I’m not trying to keep secrets, I’m not opaque to be insufferable. I think if the novel wants to befriend you and the short story wants you to quickly get the point, the novella ain’t thinking ‘bout you. You just happen to be here. It knows what is and is not your business. (To anthropomorphize a story format.) And because it isn’t concerned with you, a novella isn’t actively going to keep a secret, it’s just going to necessitate your cognitive involvement. Which I think is fair. As a novella-ist.
What I’ve found though is that there’s an increasingly thin veil, for me, between a novella and a graphic novel. Which I can only say because I’m not an illustrating artist. What I mean is, the part of the story that is my responsibility is sometimes indistinguishable between those two mediums. And I have two novellas that are undergoing their metamorphosis, or will. (There are tells, and necessities, in the identification of when something is a graphic novel script instead, but I have twice only identified it after completing the novella. Which may speak to my socialization, and knee-jerk assumption of format in storytelling, although I’d like to think it’s more about the fact that I can do one thoroughly on my own, and not the other. So I do that first.)
Once again, that’s not what I was going to say.
I was going to say I wrote a new short story. I used to do it all the time. Speculative literary or scifi + short story = natural chemistry. My problem now is that as a novella-ist passing for a novelist, with a publishing history and a team…the post-completion clarity (that it must be shopped) is devastating. I’m beside myself. Why the torture? Where was this story when people kept approaching me for short work? How dare it.
And then anyway.