In 2012, determined to crack the short story markets, I set out to read every genre short story published in a “professional” short fiction venue (as recognized by SFWA). I didn’t quite succeed in that goal, but for eight months, I made a pretty good go of it. Listed below are some short stories that stand out to me as I look back.
They weren’t all published in 2012. They also aren’t all genre fiction. I don’t think any of them is over 5,000 words, so if you read this because you’re my friend but you don’t think you like to read genre fiction, maybe give one of these a shot. None of these stories should take you over twenty minutes to read. The shortest of these is under 500 words, which will literally take you all of two minutes to look at. (Anything labeled “flash” will take you under five minutes to read.)
I’m gonna cheat wherever possible and crib from the comments I wrote at the time I read the stories, rather than trying to recreate their effect on me.
So here goes, in no particular order:
- “Gifts of the Magi,” by Anatoly Belilovsky
This flash piece is a cute fusion of O. Henry with Kafka. Particularly appropriate this time of year. Also, I think I got something in my eye.
- “Forgotten Women,” by Diana Sherman
This is possibly the most devastating bit of flash fiction I’ve ever read. At 655 words, it will
challengedemolish any preconceptions you have about how powerful a short short story can be.
- “Fragmentation, or Ten Thousand Goodbyes,” by Tom Crosshill
This story first stood out to me because my mother, like the focal character in this story, came to the United States from Cuba in the Operación Pedro Pan airlift. Before long, though, I was hooked by this haunting commentary on the futility of trying to hold on to someone forever, and the importance of treasuring our loved ones while they are with us.
- “Dear Editor, Enclosed Please Find My Story About Your Unfortunate Demise,” by Luc Reid
Okay, I admit it. This fun flash piece pushes all my struggling-writer-revenge-fantasy buttons. I would like to have been in the room when the slush reader came across this story and figured out what she or he was reading.
- “The Ghost of a Girl Who Never Lived,” by Keffy R. M. Kehrli
This is everything I love in a short story–it’s thought provoking, but unlike many “profound” stories, Kehrli treats every character on every side fairly and as a person rather than a straw person. This story got me thinking, but didn’t provide any easy answers to the questions it raised. This is one of those premises I wish I’d thought of.
- “Where You End and the World Begins,” by Sam Ferree
I don’t usually go in for mind-breaking stories, but this one was rewarding because it worked on an emotional level. Don’t try to understand it, just go with it.
- “How to Become a Writer Or, Have You Earned This Cliche?” by Lorrie Moore
I can’t for the life of me recall how I stumbled across this story. It’s from 1985, and it’s not a genre story, but while the particulars are in every way different from my life, it contains some underlying truths about this mad quest to put your writing, your soul, in front of other people and have them be anything other than snide or patronizing.
- “Never Date a Writer,” by Alex Stephens
In the same vein as the last one, this flash story is a non-genre piece about what weirdos we writers are. I was touched by the reversal in the story, and wish there had been a bit more after it comes.
- “Change,” by Nikki Loftin
I’m a sucker for gender-bending stories, and this flash piece is a particularly sweet one.
- “Scattered Along the River of Heaven,” by Aliette de Bodard
Aliette de Bodard does one of the best jobs I’ve seen of creating a culture and a history and making it real in just a few thousand words. When you read this, you keep wanting an easy ending, but that would be a cop-out. Glancing back at it again all these months later, I think this story particularly speaks to me because of my own “a people divided” experience of growing up in El Exilio.
- “Paper Menagerie,” by Ken Liu
Because, why the hell not? I actually read this story when it first came out, and not in 2012, but as I was immersing myself in short fiction this year, I kept stumbling across Liu’s byline on so many of the best stories I read. Dude’s having an amazing year. Ray Bradbury challenged us short story writers to try to write a short story a week; Ken Liu’s upped the ante and seems to SELL a short story a week. This is probably my favorite of his that I’ve read so far.
So there you go. If you’re not a regular reader of short genre fiction, I hope you find some gems here. In any case, for me it was nice flipping through some of the stories that most moved me this year.