Going Short

by Vinnie Hansen

Circa 1979? Golden Gate Park.

Way back, when I was in the graduate writing program at San Francisco State, I had short stories published in the campus literary magazines every semester. This instilled confidence in my writing, but also inflated my ego. I launched into the world thinking I might set the literary world on fire. Instead, after a few years, I realized I needed to eat and went back to school for a teaching credential.

While I still aspired to write books, short stories buoyed me during my teaching career. I could squeeze these manageable bits into my holidays and summers. The manuscripts found homes, won contests, and kept my writing dream alive.

short story nail polish

Short stories even have their own OPI nail polish. This color is called Short Story. 🙂

But I didn’t stop longing to write books and eventually hit on my Carol Sabala mystery series.

This year, after writing seven books in the series, as well as a stand-alone novel, I find myself back, full circle, concentrating on shorter works. I enjoy being able to envision the whole arc of the story from the get-go, certainly not something that happens for me with a 300-page manuscript. I like the time to fuss at the sentence level, weighing each word.

Last August, I added a novella prequel to my Carol Sabala series, which became one of the works in SLEUTHING WOMEN II: 10 MYSTERY NOVELLAS. It may have been at this point that I began seriously to contemplate the other advantages of going short.

While short fiction may mean fewer readers, it means more cohorts. In SLEUTHING WOMEN II, I rubbed shoulders with 10 other authors (one of the authors being a team)—meaning ten others to help market the product. We pooled our resources to buy advertising and took turns posting on blog tours. We amplified one another’s voices. Our e-anthology sells for only $.99, but I’ve been making money, and remember, that’s splitting the profit with 10 others.

Working collaboratively also creates connections and friendships. This year I headed off to Left Coast Crime in Reno armed with the cell number of the Guest of Honor, Naomi Hirahara. This only came about because we are both in Akashic Books’ SANTA CRUZ NOIR.

Clowning with Peggy Townsend and Naomi Hirahara. We all have stories in SANTA CRUZ NOIR.

Because Akashic Books’ Noir Series is world famous, encompassing over 80 titles from BALTIMORE NOIR to ZAGREB NOIR, their $200 payment for my story “Miscalculation,” qualified me to become an active member of Mystery Writers of America as did the earnings on the Sleuthing Women e-anthologies. This is not a benchmark I’d reached with my individual book-length works. To consider the financial reward of short fiction, for one flash-fiction piece (200 words), I garnered the Golden Donut Award, which came with free registration to the Writers’ Police Academy. The registration is currently a $425 value. That’s over $2.00 a word remuneration. Think about that in terms of a full-length book of 60,000 to 80,000 words!

As part of a well-established brand, SANTA CRUZ NOIR

received reviews in Publishers’ Weekly and Kirkus. In Kirkus Review, I received my own little paragraph: Though many of these stories are more interested in evoking a voice or mood than pursuing a plot to its conclusion, Vinnie Hansen’s “Miscalculation” provides a textbook example of how many twists can fit into the simple tale of a bank teller’s adventures with the Guitar Case Bandit.

Short stories also seem like the most probable way for me to be considered for an award. Edgars, for example, are awarded for short stories. Stories in collections like SANTA CRUZ NOIR, or the upcoming Sisters in Crime Guppies’ anthology, FISHY BUSINESS, (to which I’ve had my story “Room and Board” accepted), can be put before the Edgar Committee. Once an author wins an Edgar, he/she does not have to qualify that the award was for short story. One’s info can simply say, “Edgar Award winning author.”

Finally, short works are a way to keep my name in front of readers. I’m an incredibly slow writer. It takes me a couple of years to turn out a book-length manuscript. But between books I can announce other publications. My last book, my novel LOSTART STREET, was published in May, 2017, and I don’t see another book release until summer 2019. However, in the meantime, my novella SMOKED MEAT came out in August, 2017, my story in SANTA CRUZ NOIR released in June, 2018. Another story will come out in a local anthology titled SANTA CRUZ WEIRD in August, 2018. FISHY BUSINESS will reach the copy-editing stage about October, 2018, and I just learned that my story “Last Word” will be in FAULT LINES, the NorCal Sisters in Crime anthology. These stories fill the breech until my next book-length work.

Going short assists my going long.

How do you feel, as a reader and/or writer, about short stories and novellas?

Vinnie Hansen fled the howling winds of South Dakota and headed for the California coast the day after high school graduation. She’s now the author of numerous short stories, the Carol Sabala mystery series, and LOSTART STREET, a cross-genre novel of mystery, murder, and moonbeams. Still sane(ish) after 27 years of teaching high school English, Vinnie has retired. She plays keyboards with ukulele bands in Santa Cruz, California, where she lives with her husband and the requisite cat.

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  • Reply
    Kassandra Lamb
    June 19, 2018 at 12:43 pm

    I’ve really gotten into novellas lately as a writer. They are so much faster to write and somehow that makes them more fun. And I’m also enjoying them as a reader, especially when my reading time is limited. I can read them in one or two sittings.

    Short stories I’m not as fond of. I just about get into them and they’re over. 🙂

  • Reply
    Vinnie Hansen
    June 19, 2018 at 12:53 pm

    I know what you mean, Kass. My favorite stories are usually part of a collection that builds a larger whole. Santa Cruz Noir, for example, creates such a vivid portrait of our area. Another favorite of mine is Art Taylor’s On the Road with Del and Louise, where a series of short stories with the same two protagonists create the arc of a novel.

    • Reply
      Kassandra Lamb
      June 19, 2018 at 8:06 pm

      Oh, I’ve got to look for that. Sounds like my kind of short stories, quick reads but you get to stick with the same characters, and eventually see the “big picture.”

  • Reply
    Leslie Karst
    June 19, 2018 at 6:55 pm

    I actually wrote my very first short story (since junior high school, anyway) just last month, so this article comes at the perfect time for me–thanks, Vinnie! And I so look forward to reading your story in SANTA CRUZ NOIR (as well as all the others in the book)!

  • Reply
    Vinnie Hansen
    June 19, 2018 at 7:33 pm

    Thanks for dropping by, Leslie. I look forward to hearing more about your short story at this Sunday’s Santa Cruz Women of Mystery meeting. See you then!

    • Reply
      Leslie Karst
      June 19, 2018 at 7:45 pm

      And I’ll see you tonight, at Bookshop Santa Cruz!

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