It’s the most wonderful time of the year

That’s right, it’s Steven Beattie’s one-man crusade to honor short story month, which I think he might have created. Every year The Beats lays down a month of funky stories accompanied by his smart guy chatter on why they matter. You should basically show up at his site, That Shakespearean Rag, every day for a month. After that, I expect he’ll go back to his office to hibernate among his piles of books that he stored to see him through the long, harsh, non-short story seasons.

It’s a legitimate question. Why read short stories? Why write them? They don’t have a large audience (though the audience that is there tends to be ravenously dedicated to the form). Collections of short fiction barely outsell poetry, which is not operating anywhere near bestseller territory [ed comment: Ouch, Beattie. Ouch.]. Publishers are leery of short fiction and must be persuaded to put their weight behind what is sure to be a loss leader on any year-end P-and-L sheet. (The poet Jonathan Ball, who has a story collection due later this year with Book*hug Press, has said he finds it easier to get a book of poetry accepted by a publisher than a book of short fiction; to understand the irony, see above.)

It is true that a story with the ability and timing to tap into the popular zeitgeist may go viral online; this is certainly not the norm. (And not incidentally, many readers of “Cat Person” were so jolted by the emotional honesty in the piece that they mistook it for a memoir or work of creative non-fiction.) Story collections occasionally win national literary prizes and, even more occasionally, short-fiction writers are honoured with a Nobel Prize in Literature. But the form is largely ignored or derided by the majority of the reading public.

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