From Thea: I’m so pleased that author and editor Steve Weddle has come to visit my Writer Wednesday feature today. Like Dan O’Shea and Joelle Charbonneau, Steve is another one of my agency siblings represented by the Donald Maass Literary Agency. This is his bio taken from his website:
Steve Weddle grew up on the Louisiana/Arkansas line, holds an MFA in creative writing from Louisiana State University, and currently works for a newspaper group. He lives with his family in Virginia.
In 2009, Weddle and six crime fiction writers created DoSomeDamage, where he blogs weekly.
In this blog post, Steve talks about linked stories. To give you just one example of linked stories, this is what I’ve been doing with my Elder Races novellas that feature a mysterious Tarot deck. I loved Steve’s blog post which gave me an opportunity to learn what he has done with linked stories.
Steve’s also having a giveaway. As always, the details for the giveaway are at the end of his post.
So I’d written a couple of stories about this character, Roy Alison, and my agent suggested a novel. This was after my first mystery novel went back into the drawer and my second mystery novel never made it out of the drawer.
A novel about this Roy Alison guy? Maybe. One of his stories, “The Ravine,” was picked up by Keith Rawson for the CrimeFactory anthology First Shift. http://www.amazon.com/Crime-Factory-The-First-Shift/dp/098284364X/ That was the first Roy story, which takes place in the northern parts of Louisiana. I also had a few other stories about that area. One was a story based on that “Day In The Life” song from The Beatles. That story was in Off The Record, an anthology Luca Veste put together to benefit two children’s literacy charities. http://www.amazon.com/Off-The-Record-Charity-Anthology/dp/1470975858/ Another story I did was for the D*cked anthology, tales of horror and hilarity inspired by the aura of Dick Cheney.
I had these stories, all taking place in the same area, the rural Ark-La part of the Ark-La-Tex. And they had a similar vibe, a similar feel. Something between rural noir and literary fiction.
I was reading Raymond Carver, Anne Beattie, Alan Heathcock, Bonnie Jo Campell, Chris Offutt, Donald Ray Pollock, Denis Johnson, and a host of others. I was writing maybe a story or two a week. I also pulled out my MFA thesis in poetry, revamped some of those pieces into stories that had been lingering at the back of my head for, well, some years, shall we say.
I started putting these together and filling in threads, thanks in no small part to the prodding of my friends, my family, and the world’s best agent, Stacia Decker. We ended up with a couple dozen linked stories.
The girl found in the story from the D*cked anthology? I have another story that precedes it, where you find out what started to go wrong. In another story, that incident just barely threads through, as a completely unrelated story develops. So you’ve got the story of a community, not just a story about Roy Alison.
My collection, Country Hardball, isn’t so much a bunch of stories I wrote during a certain period of time. I’ve read collections like that and they’re great. I’ve been reading three such collections by David Means. Basically, this is a collection of David Means stories the New Yorker and Harper’s published in 2009. This one is a collection of stories the New Yorker and Esquire published in 2010. And so on. I love these collections. They’re great individual stories. In fact, recent guest blogger Dan O’Shea has a great collection of stories called Old School. (And I have a deal for you if you’ll buy Old School – I’ll send you a link for an audio version of Dan reading one of my Country Hardball stories. http://steveweddle.squarespace.com/book/)
But those collections are not linked stories in the way Donald Ray Pollock or Chris Offutt have worked their books.
I’ve heard what I’ve done – and others have done — called a novel-in-stories. This doesn’t seem to be exactly right. I think a novel is a specific thing. A novel is a 300-page book with a main storyline and maybe a couple of side-tales that weave through. I’m not trying to put a technical definition on the thing, by the way. Just trying to say that it’s different from putting together two dozen stories, where the first and seventh one dove-tail in this way and a thread that starts in the fourth story stitches its way through five more off and on. Characters disappear after the third story, only to be talked about in the seventh, and washed up on a creek bed in the eleventh.
This is different than a collection, too, which, as I mentioned, seem to be gathered through some sort of writer’s chronology.
In a book of linked stories, you get to see characters, places, stories from different points of view. Denis Johnson’s book Jesus’ Son is a prime example.
In a book of this type, you’re not boxed in by lost key on page 24 that has to reappear on page 187 as a significant clue. In a book like this, you’re focused on the individual stories themselves, the glimpse they give you, each one being, to borrow an Evan Dando line about a girl, “the puzzle piece behind the couch that made the sky complete.”
Writing these stories, in a way feels like working a thin narrative in terms of being sparse with the writing, not bogged down by the weight of the overall. And, in a way, it feels like embedding each story with a kind of thickness between the words, that shadows leaning away from edges that let you know the thing is real.
To me, a book of linked stories can be the best of all worlds. A reader can dip in and out like a short story collection or can start the long swim through a stream that winds along for 250-pages. Instead of fragmented enjoyment or a neat whodunit solution, a book of linked stories brings in a whole geography of being, of understanding, a way of joining together all the shards, all the glimpses we have of these people, these places on these pages.
For a giveaway, Steve is offering to one commenter a choice of one of the books on his webpage here. On offer is Dan O’Shea’s Old School, which is featured on the page, or any of the titles down the side of that page.
Answer the following question to enter the giveaway: which (if any) linked stories have you read and liked?
Giveaway ends on Friday May 18th at 12 noon MDT.