HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: It's proof sometimes themes simply appear. Earlier this week we talked about aromatherapy--and today we host an author whose sleuth is named Stella Lavender. See? You can't plan stuff like this.
But Karen Pullen says she just had a very enlightening experience. Why--she asked me--do some short stories stink, some seem "meh," and some--are instantly fabulous? And--keep reading--she's offering a wonderful prize to a lucky commenter.
SHORT STORIES: Love ‘em or Leave ‘em?
by Karen Pullen
Reading a book of short stories is a different experience from reading a novel: like eating a box of chocolates vs. a four-course meal. But a great story can stick in your mind for weeks, months, years. I still remember stories I first read years ago by Alice Munro, Raymond Carver, and John Cheever. A great story has that intense bingo moment of revelation when the human condition is revealed in all its depth and complexity. I’m particularly fond of Irish short story writers like John McGahern, William Trevor, and Claire Keegan who write about marginal characters’ love and despair.
So why do only two stand out as phenomenal and unforgettable? Make me think, I wish I could write like this.
And, insecure, I’ll never be able to write like this.
But if I can figure out what makes them special, then maybe I can write a good story.
So here’s what I loved about the two stories that won my cold judge’s heart.
Characters who seemed real, not cardboard or stock. Flawed, even unlikeable, prickly, weird, a bit obsessive about their desires. Just like me and you, underneath our thin good-manners veneer.
Language that’s neither clichéd nor pretentious. Practically no “telling.” Reveal all through the eyes of the narrator. The narrator is a wee bit unreliable, unaware of what is going on, which keeps me reading, because I want to know! Tight, tight language, not a spare word.
My scoring will be combined with other judges to select finalists, then there will be voting. Perhaps my favorites will win but maybe not: there are two other judges and lots of people voting. And tastes differ.
Cold Feet Synopsis. SOMETIME DEATH IS THE ONLY WAY TO SECURE A SECRET. Special Agent Stella Lavender is looking forward to an elegant outdoor wedding, a much-needed change of pace from her adrenaline-fueled work as an undercover drug agent. On the grassy lawn of the Rosscairn Castle B&B, she waits with the couple’s family and friends for the ceremony to begin. But one of them has other plans, and as the guests grow restive, the satin-clad bride is dying most horribly. When the sheriff asks for Stella’s assistance, she’s energized by the opportunity to prove herself. But why would someone kill a bride on her wedding day? Even as a paranoid drug dealer seeks to silence her, Stella must unravel a complex knot of obsession, grief and secrets before the murderer claims another victim.