Friday, October 19, 2018

THE DEBATE: IS A SHORT STORY TRULY HARDER TO WRITE THAN A NOVEL? by Gigi Pandian


Gigi: When Jenn learned that my first short story collection was coming out this week, she said, “short stories terrify me!” That got me thinking, why do so many mystery writers fear short stories? They’re such fun! But it’s also true, for the longest time I had no idea how to write one. I had successfully finished writing a novel before I was able to write a good short story. 

JENN: It's true! They do terrify me. Break it down for me, Gigi!

As a reader, I love short stories—you do too, don’t you?—but writing them? I wasn’t sure how to pull it off—until I realized my short story superpower. What clicked for me was that I’ve always adored locked-room mystery stories, the classic puzzle plot stories where it looks like the crime itself is truly impossible. Those puzzles are perfectly suited to the short story form. By keeping a locked-room mystery short, the reader can read it all in one sitting and remember the string of complex clues pointing to the solution and have a satisfying “aha!” moment at the end. I knew if I was going to write a good short story, I should write what I loved: a locked-room mystery.

Locked-room mysteries—also known as impossible crime stories or miracle problems—center around a satisfying puzzle that’s hidden in plain sight, and often with the clues pointing like a supernatural solution is the only possible explanation—think of the TV show Jonathan Creek and Golden Age mystery novels and stories by writers like John Dickson Carr and Clayton Rawson. (Any other Jonathan Creek fans reading? I adored that show!)

Once I’d worked out a twist that would be the solution of the seemingly impossible crime, the rest of my first story flowed out of me. One afternoon at the San Francisco Public Library, I began writing the Jaya Jones story longhand in a paper notebook. I couldn’t stop writing, and I gave myself a hand cramp, but I finished a full draft of the story! While my agent was pitching my first novel to publishers, and I submitted my story to an anthology competition, and a locked-room mystery short story became my first publication. 

That method of writing a short story is what I still follow today—I find my twist that solves a seemingly impossible crime, then ask my characters what would be an interesting way to get there. It can take a long time to work out a clever twist to make such a story successful (I’ve got a few ideas that I’ve been trying to work out for longer than it takes to write a novel), but once the story solution clicks, the process gets easier. 

Because I love to be fooled by clever puzzles steeped in a mysterious atmosphere, I want to give readers the same experience. I’m having a ball writing stories in between novels, and I’ve been thrilled that readers are enjoying them—“The Library Ghost of Tanglewood Inn” won an Agatha earlier this year (eep!), and I’m even more excited about my new novelette that leads this collection of stories: “The Cambodian Curse,” a Jaya Jones story with multiple locked-room mysteries. 

Readers: If you aren’t already a fan of this genre, you’re in for a treat if you pick up a locked-room mystery collection from the Golden Age of detective fiction or one of the many new ones! For a starter list, my Goodreads page has a locked-room mystery list with 100 novels and short story collections. 

And writers: If you want to try writing a short story but don’t know where to begin because it’s so different from a novel, my advice is look at what it is about your favorite short stories you love. Once your particular spin on stories clicks for you, I bet you’ll begin having as much fun as I am. 

Do you have a favorite short story? Or have you thought about writing one but haven’t tried yet? (And seriously, Jonathan Creek fans, I want to hear from you! I dearly miss that show and think it’s time to watch it again.) 



I’m giving away a copy not of the book itself, but something you can’t buy – a comic-style zine of illustrations inspired by the stories in the collection, drawn by my artist mom! I’ll draw a winner a week from today from one of the commenters. 


THE CAMBODIAN CURSE & OTHER STORIES includes nine locked-room mysteries, plus an introduction from Laurie R. King and a foreword from impossible crime mystery historian Douglas G. Greene. Appearing here for the first time is novelette The Cambodian Curse:  When an ancient and supposedly cursed Cambodian sculpture disappears from an impenetrable museum, and the carving’s owner is killed by an invisible assailant while a witness is a few feet away, historian Jaya Jones and her old nemesis Henry North team up to solve the baffling crime. 



Gigi Pandian is a USA Todaybestselling and Agatha and Lefty Award-winning mystery author, breast cancer survivor, and accidental almost-vegan. The child of cultural anthropologists from New Mexico and the southern tip of India, she spent her childhood traveling around the world on their research trips, and now lives outside San Francisco with her husband and a gargoyle who watches over the garden. Gigi writes the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mysteries, Accidental Alchemist mysteries, and locked-room mystery short stories.

Connect with Gigi on her website [http://gigipandian.com/] Facebook[https://www.facebook.com/GigiPandian/]
Instagram[https://www.instagram.com/gigipandian/]
And via her email newsletter[http://gigipandian.com/newsletter/]

66 comments:

  1. Congratulations on your new book, Gigi . . . I enjoy short stories and I’m looking forward to reading it.

    Locked room mysteries are one of my favorite kinds of stories . . . Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None” and John Dickson Carr’s “The Hollow Man” are a couple of my favorites . . . .

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    1. Thanks, Joan. And it's nice to find another fellow fan of locked room mysteries.

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    2. Locked room mysteries are a favorite but so tricky to write!

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    3. Uh oh. Someone forgot to lock the gate

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  2. So wonderful! So wait… You mean you write your short stories essentially starting with the end? Like you think: the library shelves have a secret panel! (Not that you would use that :-) ) and then figure out what comes before and after? That is such a brilliant way of thinking about in. And I have to admit, come to think of it, when I wrote my first short story, that’s exactly how I did it too! And why is it that there are times one thanks:, that’s a short story idea? Is it because it is just one gem of a thought?
    Love you Gigi— and hope you are weathering the turmoil.

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    1. Yes! I outline my novels, but never no the exact ending, but short stories are the opposite. I really with my brain would fix the end of two story ideas I have that aren't *quite* right yet, so I'm not sitting back down with them.

      And thanks so much about the note about Midnight Ink. I've learned to only worry about the things in publishing within my control -- like writing good books and stories, and hanging out with lovely mystery readers and writers like all of you :)

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    2. Very healthy attitude, Gigi. It feels like the ground beneath an author’s feet is never really settled in publishing. *sigh*

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    3. Jenn, it's so true. Even though I'm pretty comfortable with uncertainty, it takes more mental energy. Luckily the good parts outnumber any bad ones by far.

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  3. Congrats on the new collection, Gigi! I also like writing short - it both gives me a break from long form and lets me explore darker voices, different settings, and mew structures.

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    1. Yeah, that's NEW structures (haven't yet written from a cat's point of view...).

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    2. There's your next story prompt, Edith ;)

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  4. Congratulations on your short story collection! I periodically take a break and bang out a short story based on a strong visual image (two woman, one short and round, one tall and gangly, walking through the snow drifts).

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    1. Thanks, Margaret. Oh, that's a cool way for a short story to call to you -- I immediately have a striking image in my mind already from that one line...

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  5. The book and the prize look wonderful Gigi! I think I do that with short stories, but an idea for a twist comes so seldom to my brain. And then it takes a good month to write the darn thing. And then selling them is hard! But you make it all sound easy...

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    1. Ha -- it's not easy, just fun. I'm still bouncing around a couple of ideas I've had for YEARS that aren't working yet, but I keep hoping I'll work them out so I can write those stories.

      And thanks for mentioning the zine. I love it when my mom and I have an excuse to work on a project together.

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    2. Your mom is a gifted artist, Gigi! Love the zine!

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    3. She just keeps getting better and better! She always did art as a hobby when I was growing up, but since she retired about 10 years ago, she's become AMAZING. My parents garage is now an art studio, leaving the cars outside to gather frost :)

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  6. The first locked room mystery I remember reading was Murders in the Rue Morgue by Poe. The solution is... preposterous. I do find shorts very hard to write, and I agree that it's a form where starting with the ending is a good approach. Congratulations on the book and the prize!

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    1. Thanks, Hallie!

      Oh yes, the solution to that Poe story is so farfetched... But I'll give him credit for doing it before others were experimenting with the form.

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    2. But The Purloined Letter was genius! I’ve always remembered that one.

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  7. Gigi, I absolutely LOVE locked room mysteries! I always consider it a treat when I find a good one. Can't wait to pick up your book.

    Two of my all time favorite short stories, though, are not mysteries at all, even though mysteries are my go-to genre. But when I think of amazing short stories, the first two that pop into my mind are Kurt Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron" and Stephen R. Donaldson's "Daughter of Regals."

    Finally, I have to comment on how surprised I was to see an author named Gigi who was not our daily commenting Gigi. I don't think I've ever known a Gigi in my life before, so I though it was really unusual to have two here in this community. Is it just me? Is the name Gigi more common than I realize?

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    1. Yay, another locked room mystery fan!

      I haven't read those stories, so I must look them up now.

      The name Gigi is uncommon enough that whenever I meet another one, we're always each tickled about it. I was signing books at the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association earlier this month, and several people said to me "Oh, there's a bookseller here named Gigi -- you must meet her!" So it's still a novelty :)

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  8. Gigi, I love your advice here and plan to put it to work when (if!) I ever finish WIP. I used to try a story occasionally and just ended up with a lot of shapeless pages. Then after a long time of not writing, I somehow had learned how to do it. Not saying I did it well, but at least the shape was there.It's fun to take a tiny bit of something that would not work for a book, or to try out a completely different character or setting.I've had a few published but don't feel I've mastered it. Yet. That's why I'm so excited about your advice! Good luck with the collectio, too

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    1. Thanks, Triss. I hope you're excited to turn back to a short story once you finish that novel!

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  9. I'm with, Jen! The idea of writing a short story terrifies me! This new collection looks fantastic, Gigi, and I can't wait to read it. Thanks for pointing us to your Goodreads recommendations. I don't have much experience with locked-room mysteries, but now I know where to start. I've not watched Jonathan Creek, but I think I might have to start!

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    1. Oh you're in for a treat with Jonathan Creek! Do let me know if you check it out -- and I promise I won't be offended if you don't like it or anything from my reading list ;)

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  10. Hi Gigi!

    Congratulations on your launch of your short story collection this week. I will track it down!

    Thanks for sharing such a brilliant insight into the art of writing a good short story. You can bet many of us already are noodling on your advice, figuring out how to adapt it to our own short story efforts.

    History provides such good guidance (in so many areas of life) if we simply remember to stop and look back.

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    1. Thanks, Brenda! Ha, I don't know if it's a brilliant insight, but it's what clicked for me :)

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  11. Good morning, everyone! And thanks for inviting me, Jenn!

    I'm on West Coast time, so I'm popping in with a quick note to say I love all of these comments, and I'll be back to reply to these great notes shortly -- after a quick workout and a cup of coffee to wake me up so my replies will be coherent ;)

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    1. My pleasure, Gigi! Thanks for making the time to pop in! I can’t wait to read your short stories - I’m so impressed by your fearlessness!!!

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  12. Probably my favorite short story is "Lamb to the Slaughter" which I always thought was genius. looking forward to reading your stories, Gigi!

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    1. Thanks, Judi! Oh, Roald Dahl. I haven't read that story in ages. Making a note to reread it.

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  13. Welcome Gigi and congratulations on your new book.

    Jonathan Creek! Do you know you can get the whole series on BritBox? No, Reds, I'm not a commissioned salesperson for BritBox, but I do love it. And if you aren't familiar with Alan Davies, you're missing something. Gigi, you can also see him on QI, BritBox again.

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    1. Thanks, Ann. Thank you for the BritBox tip. I've been tempted to subscribe, but I don't watch enough TV to get through my existing wish list. I watch TV with my husband, but on my own I generally stick to books, as there are so many great ones to read!

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  14. I love Jonathan Creek! Will have to check out Britbox, Ann. So far I haven't managed to watch a fraction of the stuff available on Acorn. And adore Alan Davies on QI.

    Gigi, I'm terrible at short stories, and I know it's because I'm not good at twists. Sigh. Can't wait to read yours, though, and maybe that will give me some ideas! Love your giveaway--someone is going to be so lucky!

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    1. With multiple recommendations, I really must look up QI now!

      While it's my favorite style, I don't think all short stories need a twist. One of the cool things about stories is that there are so many styles to read, with something for everyone :)

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  15. Shalom Reds. When I was young, I was a voracious reader. As far as mysteries, I think I had read all of the stories in the Sherlock Holmes canon. I read all of Poe (short stories and poetry). I don’t remember them now but I read much of Ellery Queen.

    My favorite short story is not a mystery. It is John Steinbeck’s The Crysanthemums. Written so long ago and yet it is so timeless.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, David. I've read all the Sherlock Holmes, but I haven't read all of Poe or Ellery Queen. I really should do that someday.

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  16. Welcome, Gigi! Locked-room mysteries are always intriguing. I'm impressed you could come up with a whole collection of them. And how cool of your mom to create those illustrations!

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    1. Thanks, Marla! These are stories I've been writing for many years now, collected here together for the first time, with a new novelette to lead the collection. It's been fun thinking of different twists for each story.

      And yes, I love my mom's cool interpretations of the characters and stories! In her paintings, she's best at portraits, which comes through in her illustrations as well.

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    2. Marla -- I drew a random winner this morning to get a copy of the illustrated zine -- and you're the winner! Please send me your mailing address to gigi @ gigipandian.com

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  17. Hi Gigi -- I'm excited to see you blogging here today because I just read "The Cambodian Curse" last night and really enjoyed it. I'm looking forward to the other short stories as well and hoping to see Jaya in another full-length mystery. She's such a fun character and I've loved learning new things about all the different places you've set her adventures.

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    1. Oh Cathy, I'm so happy to hear you enjoyed the story! And YES, I'm currently working on Jaya's next adventure. She's pulling me in different directions, so I need to see where the book goes...

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  18. I'e always enjoyed short stories, but lately I've started making a more concerted effort to read them along with novels. Halloween is an especially great time for short stories, and I just posted a list of some scary short story collections, mostly classic, on my Reading Room blog (https://www.readingroom-readmore.com/2018/10/octobers-bright-blue-weather-good-time.html).

    Gigi, I loved "The Library Ghost of Tanglewood Inn." Congratulations on winning the Agatha for it. I have The Cambodian Curse & Other Stories on my list of books to buy myself for Christmas (I always give myself a bag of books for Christmas). And, I've always respected the skill and talent it takes to write a great short story. You have certainly mastered the art of it. Oh, and your mother's illustrations for the zine are amazing. I guess talent runs high in your family.

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    1. I agree, Kathy! Halloween is perfect for short stories - especially mysteries!

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    2. Thanks so much, Kathy! I've got my own LONG list of Christmas books I'm compiling. Now I just need my husband to get moving on building me another bookshelf ;)

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  19. I tried to write a story once. I was around 11 and thought I could write a Nancy Drew type mystery. I never got past the first line or two.
    Looking forward to diving in to the newest collection of your stories.

    Libby Dodd

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    1. Good old Nancy. I tried to write one of those, too. Not very successfully.

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    2. Thanks, Libby. Yeah, if I didn't figure out my story ending up front, I doubt I'd get past the first line, or at least the first page, either.

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  20. Welcome Gigi. You novels are intriguing and captivating. What creative ideas you have. I enjoy your stories.

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    1. Thanks for the note. So glad you're enjoying the books.

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  21. Congratulations Gigi! Your short story collection sounds wonderful. I am very impressed with your unique series so now I have your new collection to look forward to.

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  22. I find a lot of short stories are missing that twist or feature characters I don't like. Both of those sound like things your short stories would eliminate for me. Looking forward to reading them. (Sorry about the late post. Wasn't really home yesterday, and my phone won't let me comment here for some reason.

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    1. I hope you enjoy the stories if you pick them up! Twists plus characters I love :)

      p.s. I feel as though I'm always late reading things online, since I stay offline while writing!

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  23. Gigi, really happy to read your explanation, with examples, of conquering the short mystery. I do love short stories and have written several without fear, but a short mystery seems elusive. Now I'll try again. Thanks!

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    1. Good luck as you try a short story again -- they really are such fun to play with!

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  24. I don't write locked-room mysteries but I need to know the twist at the end before I begin writing. Once in a while the twist/ending will change as I write, but mostly I have a clear sense of where I'm going. You new book sounds like a treat--can't wait to get my hands on it.

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    1. Thanks, Susan. And yes, smart to listen to your characters if the ending needs to change.

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  25. Even later than usual in commenting. I just LOVE locked room mysteries. John Dickson Carr remains a huge favorite. But I think my top ever is The Red House Mystery by A.A. Milne. Satisfying story, great case of (not likeable) characters, fun! Your collection of stories is loaded up on the kindle for my next read--congratulations on this latest offering!

    Best,
    Melanie

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    1. Thanks, Melanie. Always happy to find someone else who adores this genre -- I hope you enjoy the stories!

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  26. Thanks to everyone who stopped by to chat! I drew a random winner from the commenters to receive the zine, and Marla Bradeen is the winner.

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