Up until a couple of years ago, I hated novellas. Not to read—I’ve enjoyed many that way, from most of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories, to King’s The Mist and all four novellas in Different Seasons*, to John W. Campbell’s Who Goes There?, to Well’s The Time Machine, to Orwell’s Animal Farm, to name a few. No, I hated them as an author.
Whenever I passed the 6,000 word mark for a story, I mentally checked off a bunch of magazines whose maximum was that total, and when I passed 8,000 I removed still more, and when I went over 10,000 it was very distressing, since only a handful of magazines published things over this length. If I kept going, say to 75,000, or 80,000 words or so I then relaxed again, as I was back in a happy zone. Because then I could submit the story to book publishers as a novel.
But what about those that were between 10,000 and about 75,000 (again, an average--some consider 50,000 or 60,000 a novel, others 80,000 or even 90,000)? The ones that couldn’t be edited down to get below that short story maximum, but also couldn’t be padded to gain the novel minimum? These were the nightmarish stories, existing in the unhappy medium—I would finish them, all the while cursing, knowing I was writing something of an unpublishable word count.
Because yes, some publishers did (and still do) put out short story/novella collections, so theoretically a novella could be printed along with some other novella or short story “friends” in a single volume, but these were on the rare side. Especially if you were like me, and didn’t have any book length works out—publishers did print short story collections on occasion, but very rarely from first time authors. So a few of my stories went unpublished, or even looked at by any editors much. All due to their inconvenient, awkward length (all together now, “That’s what she said!” or a similar dick length joke).
But recently a wonderful thing happened—ebook publishing started, took hold, and began to flourish. (You may be saying, “Hey, Old Timer, it’s been more than a couple of years—where have you been?” To which I’d reply, “Shut up, punks! It’s not nice to point out my lack of computer knowledge,” and then I’d fall asleep, Grandpa Simpson-style.) Suddenly novellas were okay, viable sizes for publication. Since it was digital, everything was cool. The price could be lowered so people would buy shorter works, but the publishers could still turn a profit—good for everyone.
Lo and behold, one of my novellas actually became my first book publication. Now I can just write out a story as long as it will go, and not worry about how many words it is. It’s very refreshing.
Incidentally, some may have noticed that I referenced stories over 10,000 words, but, while estimates are vague, a common cut off minimum for a novella is about 17,500 words. So what are the 10,000-17,500 word works considered? (Like my second ebook, Kaishaku.) Longish Short Stories? Novellettes? Just what we need—more ill-defined, kind-of-eye-of-the-beholder literary categories! Actually, it doesn’t matter. Ebook doesn’t care. Ebook just knocks another $1 off the price, and everything is golden again.
But in all seriousness, the current system is so much better. Readers can enjoy medium sized stories for a reasonable price, and in a more convenient format, too. Authors have more markets for prose of all lengths. I have my Luddite tendencies, but even I have to admit that the Old Days (and I exaggerate—I’m in my early 40’s, so the Slightly Older Days) were definitely much worse.
* A little personal trivia here, of interest probably only to my family (and maybe even that’s a stretch), but King’s Different Seasons story, The Breathing Method was the only story I ever read with a character sharing my last name—Sandra Stansfield, one of the main characters. The only other same-named character I know of was Gary Oldman’s evil DEA agent in the movie The Professional (French title is Leon: The Professional).
One final bit of self-promotion—the blurb and excerpt to my horror/suspense novella Dead Reckoning are below. This is the ebook being offered as the prize to my contest for the blog hop.
Kurt Minnifield is a fledging actor playing a zombie in a low budget horror movie. The director and crew decide to move their shooting to lovely and isolated
… only they don’t get proper permission. Watkins State Park
Victor Newsome is a thirteen year old trying to both shed his nerdy image and learn outdoor skills at a special survival camp. After teaching the boys how to make shelter and kill their own food, the counselors decide to take a day trip to the neighboring state park—Watkins.
A series of ethical lapses, poor decisions, and bad luck lead to a colossal misunderstanding. Violence erupts as both sides fight desperately against a dangerous set of foes. Who will be more savage—the literal “monsters,” or the boys equipped with deadly weapons, and the knowledge of how to use them?
Kurt struggled to catch up as the unknown actor continued to track the other zombies. Now he saw that the other actors must have seen or heard the guy—they’d turned around and were advancing on him. The guy wasn’t Chris, or Rickey, or Gene, either, this was definitely some new actor. So what happens now? No one had any special effects things on that he could see, so unless this man ran away the unscripted, natural shooting was over.
The actor wasn’t fleeing. He raised his gun and aimed it at the zombie in front, Will. His hand shook for a second, and then he fired.
The crack of the shot was loud, and Kurt nearly fell over in shock. That was no blank! That sounded real! What the fuck? And then he turned his head to look at Will. Blood was running from a hole in his chest. Kurt gasped. Will had been the last zombie to be made up before Kurt—he was positive that T.J. hadn’t put any squibs on him.
Will had stopped, and his zombie claws went to the wound, and he stared at the hole wonderingly. The zombies nearest him—Tabby, Henry, and Ed, all dropped their arms down and were staring at Will too, and then back at the mystery man with astonished expressions on their faces.
The guy hesitated, and then raised his gun a little, and fired again. There was a second boom, and then Will’s eye broke up, followed almost immediately by the back of his head. Blood, and pieces of whitish skull and grayish brains splattered out, onto the forest floor, and even slightly on Tabby’s arm. Will fell on his side with a strange gurgling sound.
Holy Shit! thought Kurt. That was no squib either. This was real! This guy is psycho! He watched as Tabby took off, into the bushes to the side of the clearing. Henry and Ed crouched by Will’s body, and struggled to communicate with the alien assassin. They waved their arms wildly, trying to signal “Stop” with their palms held up. Their grunting was noticeably louder, but still inarticulate. Kurt started to walk across the clearing to join the group.
The armed man paused a moment more, and then aimed once again. The two zombies tried to duck behind Will’s slumped corpse. Two shots whined past, and then a third hit Henry in the shoulder. Just then he whirled in Kurt’s direction and fired again, just as Kurt threw up his hands. As soon as the gunman turned, Ed and Henry were in the bushes right behind Tabby.
Fire rushed through Kurt’s left hand, just above the wrist. He groaned as he saw blood, and tendons, and even bone through the hole in his mangled hand. He dove to the ground, just as another bullet hit a tree right where his head had been. And then he was gone, tearing through the bushes and trees almost without looking.
The man trotted up to Will’s body, and kicked at it curiously. He looked briefly at the spot where the hand-shot zombie had disappeared, and then he turned back and went after the first three zombies.
It hadn’t been thirty seconds when the first fly landed on Will’s destroyed head, took off, and then landed again. Soon a large crowd of them was jockeying for a prime position.
(Precious Monsters I Love Horror/Paranormal Novella Blog Hop Code is below)