The Long and the Short of it

By Nathan Burgoine

The other day I was on the phone with my mother and I told her that LightLight  300 DPI would be out in October.

“Is this a real book, or another short story thing?”

I opened my mouth to reply, and stalled a bit. There was no good answer to that question. Short story collections are real books. Light isn’t a short story “thing.”

I went with, “Light’s my novel.”

I’m still not entirely sure how this happened. The novel, I mean, not the conversation with my mother.

I write short stories. I’ve done so for ages, and in the last few years, I’ve been lucky enough to be published in quite a few anthologies. When the last couple of anthologies released, I tipped over into the two-dozen mark, which makes explaining my publishing history – and the writing of the dreaded author bio – easier. “I’ve written dozens of short stories.” See? Economy of words.

Short stories and novels are very different animals, and I was absolutely enjoying raising and releasing short stories. I’m a huge advocate for short fiction, and I’ve even being doing a project this year where I read and discuss a short story a day on my blog.

So how did the short story writer end up writing a novel?

Blame Greg Herren. I’m pretty sure Light is his fault.

That’s probably not entirely true. (But it’s partially true.) The rest of the truth – let’s say it was seventy percent of the truth, because that’s a nice number but I don’t want to give Greg anything less than thirty percent of the credit – is that I started to bump into short stories that wouldn’t work.

That was a new experience for me. Usually, my process with short fiction is fairly smooth. Generally, I see a call for submissions, and my mind snags on some part of the theme. The idea sort of percolates while I’m going about my day-job and the rest of my  life, and finally it combines with another random moment – a line, a character idea, a setting, the conclusion, or some other piece – and the story begins to flow. I write a draft, walk away, come back and re-write what didn’t work, and then look down at the word count and either breathe a sigh of relief (I’m within the guidelines) or take a hatchet to it (I’m over the guidelines).

Somewhere after the first dozen short stories or so, something started to go wrong. I’d get frustrated at trying to “make everything fit” into the story I was working on. There was a mystery I was really trying to write for J.M. Redmann and Greg Herren’s Men of the Mean Streets called “Silver and Blue” and no matter what I tried to do to make it work, it got too long and the word count would double the limit before I got to where I needed to go. I got frustrated, put the story aside, and worked on something else instead. “Keeping the Faith” – the story that I eventually submitted – is a story that made me very proud and I was very happy with it (especially once the editors took the rough diamond and polished the heck out of it). “Silver and Blue” stayed in a file folder.

It happened again. And then again. One of those occasions was all the more baffling because I’d already used the characters in three short stories beforehand. Luc, Curtis, and Anders – the vampire, wizard, and demon from my “Triad” stories in Blood Sacraments, Erotica Exotica, and Wings respectively – were usually such team players. They worked well for me. So why were they suddenly giving me trouble? Again, that story – “Outfoxed” – ended up in a folder. Instead I told a story around a character that I had wanted to include in “Outfoxed” before it grew too overwhelming and unmanageable. “Necessary Evils” found a home where “Outfoxed” wouldn’t have worked, in the Raising Hell anthology.

It was one visit to New Orleans for the Saints and Sinners  Literary Festival that Greg asked me outright: “When are you going to give me a novel?”

My reflex response – that I write short stories – earned me a patented Herren eyebrow raise, so I knew that wasn’t going to fly.

I found myself going back to those files of short stories that just wouldn’t work, and there was Kieran Quinn, waiting for me. Kieran had first appeared in a short story I’d intended to write for the heck of it rather than an open call for submissions – something I almost never do, since my writing time is tucked between work and the rare times I’m on my own, and I can never keep up with all the calls I see as it is. But Kieran was a goofy character – a gay telepathic and telekinetic fellow with a cat named Easter and a job at a spa – that had occurred to me in stages and hadn’t faded into the background. I’d wanted to write a story about him for a “100 words a day” project, and had bumped into the same problem I’d been having with some of my short stories.

There was too much to tell.

When I told Greg about Kieran Quinn and pitched my idea for his story, he said he’d like to see more. I wrote more. It took me a couple of years from those scratchy notes and bits and pieces that had been abandoned to the final product that just released, but I’m glad Kieran got to get out of his folder.

It’s an incredible feeling to hold your novel in your hands.

Light Arrival!

Light Arrival!

Short stories are wonderful, and they’re always going to be my preference, I think. They’re not “warm-ups” for novels, and they’re not somehow “lesser” – with the exception of word counts. A short story does something quite different from a novel, even though they both tell a tale. I’m not sure I can quantify the difference, but I do know – now at least – when I’m working on a short story, rather than a tale that should be something else.  In a very real sense, writing a novel has made me all the more comfortable in the short fiction process.

And as my husband pointed out, those other ideas – especially the one with Luc, Curtis, and Anders – might want to be novels, too.

He’s a really big fan of the Triad guys.

Since I finished Light, though, I’ve gone back to short fiction. The first few stories just flew from my brain. It’s been magical, and comfortable, and the sense of satisfaction and reward is so immediate and wonderful. Light took years. A short story can take days, sometimes, when the stars align just so. And finishing and submitting a piece of writing is a heady and enjoyable experience.


“What about the Triad? That could be a novel,” says my husband, when he sees me staring at the computer and deciding what to work on. “There’s no harm in writing an outline, is there?”

There wasn’t. I did. Then I wrote another short story, then two. After, I re-opened that outline and started scribbling ideas in the margins.

My husband just smiles and makes me a cup of tea.

I’m pretty sure I know who to blame for the next novel.

16 Responses to “The Long and the Short of it”

  1. 1 Erin Saluta October 8, 2013 at 9:27 AM

    Great adventure through the writing process. I’m glad that you still believe that short story writers are different than novel writers and that short stories aren’t just warm up for a novel. They seem to each have their place.


  2. 3 greg herren October 8, 2013 at 9:54 AM

    I’ll gladly accept all blame for LIGHT, which is wonderful!


  3. 5 Neal Wooten October 8, 2013 at 9:58 AM

    Great blog. An author asked me just yesterday how long her new book should be. I said, “Only long enough to tell the story.” Too many writers get to a certain word count and decide to stretch it into a novel. I always point out that “The Time Machine” was only 32,000 words, and possibly the best scifi book ever written.


    • 6 Nathan Burgoine (@NathanBurgoine) October 8, 2013 at 10:19 PM

      Absolutely – I try really hard not to look at a word count while I’m working on something, which can sometimes lead to frustration when I’m above or below (usually above) the limits set in the call, but if I pay attention to the count as I’m writing, it’s easy to derail myself.


  4. 7 S.A. October 8, 2013 at 12:13 PM

    Happy “raising and releasing”! I enjoyed the blog, and wish you well with both your short and novel-length stories. 🙂


  5. 9 Paul Alan Fahey October 8, 2013 at 4:06 PM

    Nathan, this is beautifully written. I began writing short stories, flash fiction actually, and then graduated to 5K shorts. I haven’t yet made the novel mark as you have–just novellas to date– but I’m encouraged by your post. I know I’ll think back on what you’ve said when my characters just won’t slip into the word limits I’ve set for them. I’m sharing this post as others have already. Huge congrats your way for making Light a reality!


    • 10 Nathan Burgoine (@NathanBurgoine) October 8, 2013 at 10:18 PM

      Thank you! I wish I’d taken a moment to mention novellas – that’s a style (and length) that is absolutely another “in-between” niche that is different from other styles. And I have to say one of the best things about the e-book evolution is the ability for people to access a short story or a novel, and to make those formats once again economically viable for a publisher. Everyone can win.

      And thank you!


  6. 11 Devlyn October 8, 2013 at 10:04 PM

    Im a fan of full stories over short ones but I can understand their appeal. Keep writing whatever you fancy and we will keep reading.


  7. 13 Kim October 9, 2013 at 8:01 AM

    Thanks for sharing your process and congrats on the novel!


  8. 14 Mister_Dangerous October 9, 2013 at 12:13 PM

    Best of luck with your book. I like the picture of the books in the box.


  9. 15 Gun Brooke October 21, 2013 at 7:48 AM

    Congratulations to adding a novel to your many shortstories – I enjoy both formats immensely and I’m so thrilled to have your novel in my ebook collection. I’m saving up for books to read after Dec 1 (when mynext deadline is – yikes!) and with the holidays in mind. This year will be a reading-reading-reading holiday season, I’ve promised myself. It was really nice to read about your process, that is one thing I never get tired of hearing about. How my colleagues got started. 🙂 I wish you success!!!


  1. 1 The Long and the Short of it | Trackback on October 8, 2013 at 9:14 AM

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