“Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care?”

I intended to neatly organize my panel notes and thoughts from Astronomicon 11. It was a lot of fun and I met some wonderful people–legendary sci-fi writers, aspiring writers, poets, and other artists, some small-press publishers, and of course, other fans. And I wanted to blog it all in order. Then, mindful of my broken promise to blog more about the 2009 Rod Serling Conference, I decided to just post since I know there are folks interested in the following topic.

I had two goals for the con: To meet Nancy Kress (she signed my copy of Beggars in Spain as I squeed about how awesome I thought the novella was) and to attend a panel called “Short Stories: Does Anyone Still Care.” Everything else was icing–and very substantial icing, I might add.

The panel consisted of Kim Wehner, a local (to the Rochester area) writing instructor (who writes as K.L. Gore), and Craig DeLancey, professor, playwright, and fiction-writer with publication credits in Analog, among others. Author Daniel A. Rabuzzi, a panelist in other panels, was invited to contribute from the audience. Here’s what I picked up…

To start, the question of whether or not anyone still cares about short stories has a simple answer: Yes and no. Using figures from Locus, DeLancey observed that while subscription rates for genre magazines (particularly “The Big Three”) are decreasing, the number of published short stories are increasing. (I was a little unclear about how “published” was defined, exactly.)

95% of the audience raised their hands when asked by Wehner, “Who writes short-stories?” When she asked why, the typical answers popped up: To take advantage of brevity for impact, to follow the examples of novelists who can’t fit everything into their novels and put them into short-stories, to practice in preparation for novel-writing, etc. I chimed in with the credo I adopted from a line in one of Aimee Bender’s stories, “I want to be violated by insight.”

It was funny. I could feel that parts of the audience were thinking, “That’s cool!” and other parts were thinking, “He’s gotta be one of those pretentious MFA bastards.”

Wehner’s theory–something I’ve heard elsewhere–is that short-story readers are primarily writers or aspiring writers. She did not say it in the tone that usually accompanies that statement (“Those hoity-toity Raymond Carver wannabes!”) nor did the typical “Writers writing stories to impress other writers rather than for readers” argument come up.

But I wondered if that accounted for the fact that short-story collections and anthologies just keep on coming. “Can we say that writers are the ones supporting the short-story industry?” I asked. One audience member attributed the continued propagation of short stories to pros who basically force the issue with their publishers. He repeated a story one of the pros told in another panel (I think it was Nancy Kress, but I could be wrong), that she was willing to write a novel for her publisher that she didn’t really want to write in exchange for publishing her short story collection.

I countered that while that may be true of individual collections (I don’t believe that, personally), that doesn’t really account for anthologies: themed anthologies, “best of” and “year’s best” anthologies, etc. “Clearly, there is a maket,” DeLancey said.

The panelists asked the audience “Where do you read your short stories?” Answers varied–it seemed that only slightly more people answered “online” than “books.”

At that point, I publicly admitted that I didn’t subscribe to the Big Three magazines. I buy a magazine or read a particular online mag based on the table of contents. Period.

DeLancey, a playwright, wondered if the art of the short-story was a “mature art form” in the way theater and opera are, and if so, why don’t we hold it subject to the same limitations? In other words, no one expects a ballerina to become a millionaire. No one expects a theater to break even, let alone make a significant profit. And things being what they are nowadays, is it fair to tell a short-story writer (or even a novelist, for that matter)–and these are my words, not the panelists’–that, “You’re probably not going to be Stephanie Meyer, so get over yourself.”

Rabuzzi took the comparison a step further, mentioning the theater scene in New York City, where you have Broadway–the rock stars, the big hits–and Off-Broadway, Off-off, and down the line. The more interesting stuff tends to be in those areas.

Short-stories have been, and still are, the “bleeding edge of our [i.e. genre] fiction”, DeLancey said. “What would our fiction landscape look like if short-stories were gone?” he asked. Someone responded, “It’d be all Cats and Phantom of the Opera.”

Though folks were quick to add, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” It’s interesting to note how often I heard that phrase, especially when names like Dan Brown or Stephanie Meyer came up. Moreso, it was the way it sometimes came out, like “I have to say that even though I secretly wish those people would go back where they came from.

Despite a bit of arguing (again, a story I’ve heard elsewhere) about the difference between what editors say their subscription numbers are vs. what appears in Locus, the number of stories published (again, what’s “published” exactly?) as podcasts are booming.


I know I’m missing a few points, but I can always add those later. But here’s what I took away…

  • I realize that at a lot of panels, one rarely walks away with any feeling of resolution. And I personally wouldn’t have minded if there was a dissenting voice somewhere in the audience who would’ve said, “No, I don’t care. Fuck short-stories!”
  • Yes, people care about short-stories. They’re not going away.
  • Yes, it’s a fact, publishers–the big ones–hate short-story collections. And yet, how exactly do we account for something like The New Space Opera 2?
  • If the short-story still has growth potential, it’s not solely in print.