A Literary Theory (By Accident)

Recently I developed a literary theory on short fiction. This wasn’t intentional. It was a result, rather, of my attempts to escape boredom without having to pay any money.

I do aerobics. Aerobics have been described, not entirely unjustly, as “the ability to withstand enormous amounts of boredom”. I have tried to alleviate the boredom with music, podcasts, interviews, and – what proved best of all – audiobooks. Because I don’t enjoy audiobooks enough to actually pay for them, I use LibriVox, a resource of free audiobooks.

Free, because all the books are out of copyright.

Out of copyright, thus old.

Old, and so often short.

Short fiction was more popular in the old days, before the Age of the Trilogy. It’s an odd paradox that the literary fashion of our time, which demands Instant Hook (“You Had Me At Hello”), can hardly ever let a story end without first prolonging it through several books. On the one hand, the Hook Establishment, ever telling aspiring authors their first paragraph isn’t exciting enough. On the other hand, the ubiquitous series.

Literature of the old school wasn’t like this. It used to be that nobody expected anything truly exciting to happen on the first page, or even in the first chapter. If an author took a hundred pages to set up a story, readers would understand. And yet the days of the long, slow openings were also the time of the short story. A wealth of short stories surround literary monoliths like Moby Dick and War and Peace.

On LibriVox, I’ve found short fiction published in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: novellas by George MacDonald, a couple short story collections by E. Nesbit, a handful of sci-fi novellas and anthologies. The sci-fi anthologies especially helped me to see that the heart of a short story is not the characters, or the plot, but a single, pulsing idea.

As I listened to these brief sci-fi stories, I came to see them as expressions of ideas, answers to questions that, never spoken, could eventually be seen: What if Martians invaded Earth disguised as performers in a parade? What if aliens intervened to stop nuclear testing? What if it really were possible to bring bad luck? Could orbiting Earth change a man’s perspective in more ways than one?

Novels are also about ideas, small and large. But the virtue of short stories is that they permit the expression of ideas without the lengthy, elaborate weaving of novels – a sketch to a tapestry. Some ideas would not be given literary life otherwise – because the author lacks the time or interest, or simply because the idea itself cannot carry a long story.

Let me give you an example. Suppose I wanted to write about the Guild of Avenging English Students, a secret organization whose mission is to capture the Hook Establishment and send it through time portals in order to suppress various interminable classics. The ultimate goal would be that no one ever again had to write a paper on Moby Dick, and of course there would be all sorts of dangers, such as the Hook Establishment getting schooled by Tolstoy.

Is this idea worthy of a novel? No. Could it be woven with other ideas to make a novel? Probably not.

But it would be a lark, and in a short story the idea could reach, without exhausting, its potential. That is the beauty of the short story.

Cover Reveal: Draven’s Light

In the Darkness of the Pit
The Light Shines Brightest

Drums summon the chieftain’s powerful son to slay a man in cold blood and thereby earn his place among the warriors. But instead of glory, he earns the name Draven, “Coward.” When the men of his tribe march off to war, Draven remains behind with the women and his shame. Only fearless but crippled Ita values her brother’s honor.

The warriors return from battle victorious yet trailing a curse in their wake. One by one the strong and the weak of the tribe fall prey to an illness of supernatural power. The secret source of this evil can be found and destroyed by only the bravest heart.

But when the curse attacks the one Draven loves most, can this coward find the courage he needs to face the darkness?

Coming May 25, 2015


a Rafflecopter giveaway


ANNE ELISABETH STENGL makes her home in North Carolina, where she lives with her husband, Rohan, a kindle of kitties, and one long-suffering dog. When she’s not writing, she enjoys Shakespeare, opera, and tea, and practices piano, painting, and pastry baking. She is the author of the critically-acclaimed Tales of Goldstone Wood. Her novel Starflower was awarded the 2013 Clive Staples Award, and her novels Heartless, Veiled Rose, and Dragonwitch have each been honored with a Christy Award.

To learn more about Anne Elisabeth Stengl and her books visit: www.AnneElisabethStengl.blogspot.com




Pre-order Draven’s Light today!









Excerpt from
DRAVEN’S LIGHT
By Anne Elisabeth Stengl
(coming May 25, 2015)

He heard the drums in his dreams, distant but drawing ever nearer. He had heard them before and wondered if the time of his manhood had come. But with the approach of dawn, the drums always faded away and he woke to the world still a child. Still a boy.

But this night, the distant drums were louder, stronger. Somehow he knew they were not concocted of his sleeping fancy. No, even as he slept he knew these were real drums, and he recognized the beat: The beat of death. The beat of blood.

The beat of a man’s heart.

He woke with a start, his leg throbbing where it had just been kicked. It was not the sort of awakening he had longed for these last two years and more. He glared from his bed up into the face of his sister, who stood above him, balancing her weight on a stout forked branch tucked under her left shoulder.

“Ita,” the boy growled, “what are you doing here? Go back to the women’s hut!”

His sister made a face at him, but he saw, even by the moonlight streaming through cracks in the thatch above, that her eyes were very round and solemn. Only then did he notice that the drumbeats of his dream were indeed still booming deep in the woods beyond the village fires. He sat up then, his heart thudding its own thunderous pace.

“A prisoner,” Ita said, shifting her branch so that she might turn toward the door. “The drums speak of a prisoner. They’re bringing him even now.” She flashed a smile down at him, though it was so tense with anxiety it could hardly be counted a smile at all. “Gaho, your name!”

The boy was up and out of his bed in a moment, reaching for a tunic and belt. His sister hobbled back along the wall but did not leave, though he wished she would. He wished she would allow him these few moments before the drums arrived in the village. The drums that beat of one man’s death . . . and one man’s birth.

His name was Gaho. But by the coming of dawn, if the drums’ promise was true, he would be born again in blood and bear a new name.

Hands shaking with what he desperately hoped wasn’t fear, he tightened his belt and searched the room for his sickle blade. He saw the bone handle, white in the moonlight, protruding from beneath his bed pile, and swiftly took it up. The bronze gleamed dully, like the carnivorous tooth of an ancient beast.

A shudder ran through his sister’s body. Gaho, sensing her distress, turned to her. She grasped her supporting branch hard, and the smile was gone from her face. “Gaho,” she said, “will you do it?”

“I will,” said Gaho, his voice strong with mounting excitement.

But Ita reached out to him suddenly, catching his weapon hand just above the wrist. “I will lose you,” she said. “My brother . . . I will lose you!”

“You will not. You will lose only Gaho,” said the boy, shaking her off, gently, for she was not strong. Without another word, he ducked through the door of his small hut—one he had built for himself but a year before in anticipation of his coming manhood—and stood in the darkness of Rannul Village, eyes instinctively turning to the few campfires burning. The drums were very near now, and he could see the shadows of waking villagers moving about the fires, building up the flames in preparation for what must surely follow. He felt eyes he could not see turning to his hut, turning to him. He felt the question each pair of eyes asked in silent curiosity: Will it be tonight?

Tonight or no night.

Grasping the hilt of his weapon with both hands, Gaho strode to the dusty village center, which was beaten down into hard, packed earth from years of meetings and matches of strength held in this same spot. Tall pillars of aged wood ringed this circle, and women hastened to these, bearing torches which they fit into hollowed-out slots in each pillar. Soon the village center was bright as noonday, but with harsh red light appropriate for coming events.

Gaho stood in the center of that light, his heart ramming in his throat though his face was a stoic mask. All the waking village was gathered now, men, women, and children, standing just beyond the circle, watching him.

The drums came up from the river, pounding in time to the tramp of warriors’ feet. Then the warriors themselves were illuminated by the ringing torches, their faces anointed in blood, their heads helmed with bone and bronze, their shoulders covered in hides of bear, wolf, and boar. Ten men carried tight skin drums, beating them with their fists. They entered the center first, standing each beneath one of the ringing pillars. Other warriors followed them, filling in the gaps between.

Then the chieftain, mighty Gaher, appeared. He carried his heavy crescent ax in one hand, and Gaho saw that blood stained its edge—indeed, blood spattered the blade from tip to hilt and covered the whole of the chieftain’s fist. Gaher strode into the circle, and the boy saw more blood in his beard. But he also saw the bright, wolfish smile and knew for certain that his sister had been correct. The night of naming had come.

“My son,” said the chief, saluting Gaho with upraised weapon.

“My father,” said Gaho, raising his sickle blade in return.

“Are you ready this night to die and live again?” asked the chief. His voice carried through the shadows, and every one of the tribe heard it, and any and all listening beasts of forests and fields surrounding. “Are you ready this night for the spilling of blood that must flow before life may begin?”

Gaho drew a deep breath, putting all the strength of his spirit into his answer. “I am ready, Father.”
Gaher’s smile grew, the torchlight flashing red upon his sharpened canines. He turned then and motioned to the darkness beyond the torchlight.

The sacrifice was brought forward.

CrossReads Book Blast with Paula Michelson

cover

No Other Choice: The Naomi Chronicles, Book One
By Paula Rose Michelson

About the Book:

Naomi will be sent back! She left her family and all she held dear, traveled half way around the word while accompanying a blind, old grandmother because they promised to help her enter America and find her uncle. Instead they handed her over to immigration.

What she does now, she does because there is no other choice!

This is Naomi’s journey from adolescence to womanhood, from frightened isolation and captivity to the noble status of heiress. Trapped in a life where all who know her think her a saint, saddled with a mission and responsibility many would shirk from placed upon her shoulders, Naomi agrees to marry because that seems to be the easiest way to sidestep more issues.

As timely as the immigration debate of today is, author, William Struse’s endorsement says, “Duty, sacrifice, and faith are carried in the arms of love by a courageous young woman, who rises above her own flaws to help others.”

LINK to KINDLE

Paula Rose Michelson0011Paula Rose Michelson
As a Messianic Jew, Paula Rose Michelson wanted to write about life, love, choices, and forgiveness. She researched what befell the Jews baptized into the Catholic faith to survive the Inquisition, and when she began to write The Naomi Chronicles, Naomi told her the story you are about to read.

Because of her extensive background in recovery as a Chemical Dependency – Lifestyle Disorder Councilor, her work with The Rubicon Center, and as the founded LAMB Ministries in 1988, where she continues to mentor women suffering from trauma and abuse the way God mentored her, the author knows that though her heroine’s story is unique, Naomi’s issues of fear and hiding are universal, for they are seen in anyone who is masking their real pain.

Paula Rose Michelson is the wife of Lutheran Pastor and Chosen People Field Missionary, Ron Michelson. The mother of two married daughters, and grandmother of seven grandchildren, when not involved in ministry, writing, speaking, or teaching the effective use of scripture, you will find Paula researching her next book or meeting with friends.

Follow Paula Rose Michelson

Website | Facebook |Twitter

Enter to Win a $50 Amazon Gift Card!

Enter below to enter a $50 Amazon gift card, sponsored by author Paula Rose Michelson!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This book blast is hosted by Crossreads.

We would like to send out a special THANK YOU to all of the CrossReads book blast bloggers!