Sunday, September 18, 2016


Do you realize many famous movies are based on short stories?
The list is long. I’ll only mention four.

          "The Sentinel” by Arthur C. Clarke became 2001: A Space Odyssey.
                  “The Birds” by Daphne du Maurier.
                  “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” by Truman Capote.
                 “The Body Snatcher” by Robert Louis Stevenson.
      Some experts hypothesize that short stories are good bases for movies because they both tell stories by implications and quick shots without the superfluous explanation of novels.

How long is a short story?
Debatable. Every publisher and contest uses a different definition—no longer than 20,000 words, between 1,000 and 6,000 words, or less than 4,000 words are frequent limits. Stories shorter than 1,000 words are often called flash fiction.

However, two famous writers gave the best definitions of short stories. In 1846, Poe defined a short story as prose fiction that could be read in “one sitting.” The problem is “one sitting” is probably shorter now than then. H.G. Wells defined it as a “half-hour read.”

Short stories versus novels?
In theory, short stories contain the traditional elements of dramatic structure, but in a condensed form. However, the exposition (the introduction of setting, situation and main characters) is often deleted and the story begins in the middle of the action. In many, the resolution is abrupt and/or open to interpretation. Often short stories focus on a single plot in a single setting.

What’s the history of short stories?
Short stories, as examples of story telling, could be considered descendents of the Roman and Greek fables and early Christian parables. Fairy tales are also classic examples of short stories.

In the 1800s magazines created a high demand for short stories. Hence, many American and English authors (Nathaniel Hawthorne, Thomas, Hardy, Arthur Conan Doyle, Mark Twain) wrote short stories in the 1800s. Probably the most famous author of short stories from that period is Edgar Allan Poe ("The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Pit and the Pendulum," and "The Murders in the Rue Morgue").

During the twentieth century, most major authors wrote short stories at least occasionally. Despite their publication in high profile magazines, many readers considered short stories to be a lesser form of literature than novels. However, short stories gained more respect when the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Alice Munro, the “master of the contemporary short story.”

Why did I write this blog?

My first collection of short stories—The Good Old Days?—will be published later this month.

Blurb: Did you ever wonder whether many nostalgic narratives of the good old days are cases of selective forgetfulness? All the short stories in The Good Old Days? are loosely based on recollections of childhoods in the 1940s, 1950, and 1960s. The combination of mirth, fear, anger, and finally wisdom displayed by the narrators of these tales may make you reassess your memories of childhood.

Thursday, September 1, 2016


 Or to put it another way—when does a memoir or biography become fiction? I like books labeled as non-fiction to be just that, but I like lots of facts in fiction.

I’m sure many of you will disagree with me because you love to escape into a different world when you read. However, Downton Abbey would lose its zing if costumes, sites, and key historic events in WWI and the flu epidemic of 1918 weren’t described correctly. Even fantasy novels are enhanced by a few facts. The evacuation of children to from London during the Nazi blitzkrieg is the basis of CS Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia.

Points to consider when including facts in fiction
1. Create a strong plot, and #insert facts to create realistic characters.
I’ll give an example from Malignancy. In this thriller, a woman scientist tries to escape the clutches of a drug lord and accepts a State Department assignment to set up scientific exchanges between the U.S. and Cuba. However, the scientific community is less safe than she expected.

That’s the plot. One of Sara’s surprises is Cuban researchers have patented a vaccine that is thought to strengthen patients’ immune response against a certain type of lung cancer. (Fact: The cancer vaccine Racotumomab is in clinical trials now world wide.). Other surprises involve her love interest and the dug czar. They are not based on facts. The scientific facts allow me to show Sara’s expertise and ingenuity. They also keep her from being a busy body, who wouldn’t be included in real exchanges among “diplomats” from Cuba and the U.S.

2. Pick #relevant and exciting topics.
A great author can make any topic interesting but most of us aren’t great writers. Readers are more apt to be interested in tales based on intrinsically interesting issues—global warming or curing cancer. Michael Chrichton (Jurassic Park), Robin Cook (Coma), and Ian McEwan (Solar) were particularly skillful at selecting scary high-tech issues for their thrillers.

3. #Use facts to turn locations into strong characters.
Realistic locations improve any novel. Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises would be pretty boring without the hypnotic descriptions of the Festival of San Fermín in Pamplona. The decadence and beauty of Venice set the mood for Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice. The Cuba (I visited three years ago and depicted in Malignancy) is surprising and probably transient.

4. Be as accurate as possible.
A writer of thrillers told me recently that readers accept a couple inaccuracies in a novel if you have stated most of the information correctly. I don’t know if that’s true. Certainly, Dan Brown has been criticized for inaccurate historical information in his best selling novel, The DaVinci Code, but he certainly included enough facts to ignite readers’ interest.

Why not pick up copies of Malignancy and see if you like facts in fiction, too? Malignancy won first prize in the 2015 Public Safety Writers annual contest.

Malignancy is available at Amazon