Form – Short Stories

I do not want to touch too much on this literary form as we have a site at BellaOnline specifically focused for short stories. But being the literary fiction site it would be remiss of me not to mention short stories as an extremely relevant and vital literary fiction form. This is not to say that all short stories are literary fiction because short stories carry their own genres like books do.

The most basic determinant of a short story is word count. To fall under the title of short story they must range in length from 1000 to 15,000 words. The decision of whether a short story is literary fiction or not is pretty much the same as for books; in literary fiction the “language is heavier, the imagery lush, the characters detailed and story line thought provoking.” Like literary fiction books, literary short fiction has notable awards to distinguish it. “Literary fiction is not about chick lit, mystery, science fiction or horror…If it doesn’t fit into a genre of its own then you’ve probably found yourself some literary fiction.”

I have to admit other than the occasional literary magazine containing short stories or the occasional collection of reviews a publisher may send I spend little to no time on short stories. I think this is probably generally reflective of the majority of the population. They just are not publicized as much. This is not to say there isn’t talent there. Many short story writers go on to write longer length pieces, often spurred by their initial short stories. Imagine what Oprah could do for the short story form if she highlighted an author’s collection.

Keep an eye out for:

Five Classic Short Stories

  • A Rose for Emily (William Faulkner)
  • The Snows of Kilimanjaro (Ernest Hemingway)
  • The Story of an Hour (Kate Chopin)
  • Twice Told Tales (Nathaniel Hawthorne)
  • Melville’s The Piazza Tales (Herman Melville)

Five Modern Short Stories

  • Runaway (Alice Munroe)
  • Licks of Love (John Updike)
  • In the Garden of North American Martyrs (Tobias Wolff)
  • Changing Planes (Ursula Le Guin)
  • Interpreter of Maladies (Jhumpa Lahiri)

Ten Literary Journals Featuring Short Stories

This article was posted 6/24/2009 at the Literary Fiction site at BellaOnline.

Literal Latte Literary Magazine

a journal of prose, poetry and art

The paper version of the Literal Latte debuted back in June 1994 in the literary mecca of New York City. They printed their last print publication in July 2003 but have continued the online entity they started November 1996 ever since. The Literal Latte’s online presence has seen various incarnations over the years but their latest launch in November 2008 is by far their best appearance. Their primary goal is “stimulating minds with quality essays, short stories, art, and poetry by aspiring writers from all around the world”. They do this through a rich array of well known (Ray Bradbury, Gloria Steinem, John Updike) and unknown writers.

The new website (same address) uses a lovely WordPress format which is easy to read and fanciful to the eye. Although the table of content text could be a tad larger and the essays lack any illustrations, graphics or photos, the large size type of featured pieces, narrow columns and subdued tones encourage comfortable reading. Because the website uses a blog format you can easily add it to your RSS reader to keep on top of future content. Visitors are also given the opportunity to comment on the content they read, a gift often not given by literary magazines.

Literal Latte will be celebrating the start of 2009 with their first annual print anthology titled, The Anthology: Highlights from Fifteen Years of a Unique “Mind Stimulating” Literary Magazine. As the name suggests they will be celebrating the best of the last fifteen years of quality literature that graced their pages

For the person wanting to challenge their own creativity, Literal Latte has five annual writing contests in the categories of fiction, short short, poetry, essay and food verse. Each contest costs ten dollars to enter with a top kitty of $500 – $1000.

If you want to delve into the last decade (plus) of literary offerings you can do so by visiting their drop down menu of “past issues” which they are painstakingly rebuilding and adding to with the new format. Not everything is up yet but there is enough there to keep you busy.

I spent some time perusing through the essay, fiction, poetry and images sections and was pleasantly entertained as I’m sure you will be. If you haven’t been to this historical piece of literary enjoyment then I recommend visiting. And if you haven’t been in a while then it’s time you revisited. The Literal Latte introduces four new additions a year.

Visit Literal Latte for a dose “stimulating brew”.

Originally written 12/15/2008 for Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer – Author Interview

One has to wonder how a married mother of three who works as the editor of a literary website and teaches creative writing at two universities in Toronto still finds the time (and energy) to write. It may have taken some excellent time management but Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer has managed to get two books; the first, a collection of short stories (Way Up) followed by a novel (The Nettle Spinner), under her belt. And she has a new release set for next year. Please enjoy reading more about Kathryn’s perspective on writing and the writing life.

Moe: Looking back, did you choose the writing profession or did the profession choose you? When did you ‘know’ you were a writer?

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer: I would say there was a convergence of intention and happenstance. I do not recall being taught to read and write, and, in school, already at five I was being asked to mentor older children in the writing of stories. I had teachers along the way support this idea but really I didn’t know how one became a writer; I didn’t have a clue how to do that until I started meeting other writers about twelve years ago.

You know, the ‘writing profession’ is a funny way of putting it. Most Canadian literary writers can’t fully support themselves with a book out every three to five years. Writing is never a singular pursuit. It is that which you do because for whatever reason you need to do it. It is ingrained, for me, part of my identity.

Moe: What inspires you?

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer: I am inspired often by things that others find ugly: a clear-cut, war rugs, a car wreck, broken people, rust and decay. I don’t know why I search out beauty there. Maybe, it’s the perfectionist in me trying against the odds to make perfect what can’t be.

Moe: Every writer has a method to his or her writing. On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer: I don’t have a typical day. The writing process always changes for me and always has. Sometimes I work better in the morning, sometimes in the afternoon. I don’t have a routine except that I try to write everyday for at least an hour. With children, it has often been a challenge to write at all, and so I have become adept at writing in my head toward such a time as I can sit down and put it to paper. So, it can be argued that I am always writing, even when I am not. This gives me a great deal of freedom as I can always claim to working!

Moe: How long does it take for you to complete a book you would allow someone to read? Do you write right through or do you revise as you go along?

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer: I revise compulsively throughout the writing of a book. My current manuscript has been in the works for about seven years. The Nettle Spinner took me about three years to write. The collection of stories, Way Up, took ten. There doesn’t seem to be a recipe.

Moe: When you sit down to write is any thought given to the genre or type of readers?

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer: My ideal reader is curious, and willing to work; my writing requires the reader to come part way to make the thing work. I want to engage people, not entertain them.

Moe: When it comes to plotting, do you write freely or plan everything in advance?

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer: It is impossible to plan everything in advance. The writing process belies all best laid intentions there, in my experience. You set out to do such and such and your writing brain brings you somewhere wonderfully better! I wouldn’t trade that in for a static outline. Having said that, though, I do have a clear idea of character, setting, plot, theme etc, before I begin. So I have a direction, and a purpose, but lots of freedom to play inside that.

Moe: What kind of research do you do before and during a new book? Do you visit the places you write about?

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer: I love research and so will do all sorts of it, sometimes as a complete distraction from the work. With The Nettle Spinner a lot of the research was easy to access locally, online and through libraries. The book is partly set in a northern Ontario treeplanting camp and, as I treeplanted quite a bit though my early twenties, I drew on experience for those scenes. My new novel is set largely in New Mexico, and so I traveled there to verify aspects of my research and to gain access to an oilfield, research that was necessary to fully apprehending the place. I might have gotten away without this trip, but it did give me a feeling that the foundation of the book was solid, which I hope translates into a feeling of verisimilitude for the reader.

Moe: Where do your characters come from? How much of yourself and the people you know manifest into your characters?

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer: There is a notion in the oral tradition of storytelling (fairytales and legends) that all the characters in a story are aspects of the individual. I like to expand that notion to suggest that every character I write is me, in some truth, or some fantastical projection, else how could I imagine him or her. This gives me a level of commitment to the characters, in that they are always investigations of my own humanity, what I am capable of, what seduces me, what darkness and what light, and shades thereof, I can achieve.

Moe: Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If yes, what measures do you take to get past it?

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer: I don’t suffer from writer’s block but there are times when I do not write. Ideas are forming in these times, whether I can recognize that or not.

Moe: What do you hope readers gain, feel or experience when they read one of your books for the first time?

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer: I would like readers to have questions when they finish my books, questions they might go in search of answers for, and questions they might ask themselves about their own humanity. I want to direct readers to themselves and to the world in ways they hadn’t before imagined. I want to help people open their minds, and keep their minds open. It is a beautiful thing, to have an open mind.

Moe: Can you share three things you’ve learned about the business of writing since your first publication?

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer: I have learned everything I always knew but may have forgotten from the publishing world: writing is about writing, writing is art, writing is an intellectual pursuit.

Moe: What is your latest release about?

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer: The Nettle Spinner is about how stories are transformed by whoever is telling them. It is about a young woman who becomes fixated on the rendering of an old folktale into a weaving only to find that her own life magically begins to parallel the original story. The book is like those Russian nesting dolls in that it retells a real Flemish folktale, then it retells that folktale within the weaving, then it retells that story in the main character’s parallel modern story. The story has, in fact, then lived on in various retellings inside reviews. I am playing with the notion of orality, how women’s stories have traditionally been transmitted, and how transformative these transmissions can be.

The idea came slowly over a number of years as I searched for a way to tell a story set in the north. I wanted the story to be a dystopian about the earth, about our regard for nature, about storytelling.

Moe: What kind of books do you like to read?

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer: I like to read intelligent novels, well-written non-fiction, graphic novels, children’s literature, books about writing.

Moe: When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer: I read. I also like reading. Oh, and going to readings!

Moe: New writers are always trying to glean advice from those with more experience. What suggestions do you have for new writers?

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer: I suggest taking a course or two at a reputable university. I think a great deal can be accomplished by having the right sort of guidance early on, and a group of people who like to do this crazy thing, and who will respect your interest in doing this thing, too.

Moe: If you weren’t a writer what would you be?

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer: I used to have fantasies about being a fireman or a baker. But in reality I’d likely be an academic, which amounts to being a writer of sorts, I suppose. I’m cheating you out of an answer.

Moe: What is your favorite word?

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer: Oh, there are so many. I like words that fill the mouth: Helvetica, conundrum, widdershins, and words that don’t look how they sound, so there is an implied secret to them: plumbing, segue, knife.

My interview with Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer was first published on 1/17/2008 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.

Visit Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer’s official website.