Guest Blog: Peter Tupper
Greetings. My name is Peter Tupper. I’m a writer and journalist in Vancouver, BC, and I’m here to tell you about my new book, An Angel Has No Memory, published by Inkstained Succubus.
“Hello, I’m Rose Chung,” she said, extending her hand. “You must be Ms. Marro?”
“Teodora. Call me Teo. Welcome to the Fulfilment House.” The other woman shook her hand and smiled a slightly crooked smile. She wore the dark suit which seemed to be the informal uniform for escorts at the Fulfilment House. Rose could see a needle pistol in an underarm holster under Teo's jacket and the ID card clipped to her belt. “I’m here for your orientation. Follow me and let me know if you have any questions.”
The Fulfilment House, which occupied several floors of an office block in the Pasadena arcology, reminded Rose a little of a casino: dark earth tones, no clocks, no windows, nothing to remind people of the outside world. There were also the security cameras watching everything, like the eyes of a tarantula. She could see attractive people in exercise wear doing yoga, exercising or painting. They must be the Assets she’d heard about.
An Angel Has No Memory was submitted as part of anthology, which fell through for lack of contributions. Inkstained Succubus decided to publish it as a stand-alone short story ebook. This gave me pause, as that is a new form of publishing.
How long is a book? SFWA says that a novel has to be at least 50,000 words long, and most novels today are much longer. But a novel isn’t the same thing as a book. A book can theoretically be of any length, contain multiple works by multiple authors, or even just be a compilation of LOLCats.
How long is a story? Hemingway wrote a story in six words: “For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.” I once asked a romance novelist what was the difference between a category romance and a literary romance. She said, “About 20,000 words.” Category romances are meant to be short, fast reads, compared to more involved reading of literary stories.
I don’t read a lot of fantasy, and I’ll admit it’s partially because I’m intimidated by the sheer size of some fantasy works published today. Looking at the thousands of pages of George RR Martin’s A Song Of Ice And Fire series makes me cringe. Even if I like it, I’m not sure that I’d like that much of it.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Consider the last fantasy novel I read, Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea (1968), the first of the Earthsea books. In less than 250 pages, Le Guin included action, adventure, coming of age, backstory, romance, magic, travelogue and more. A little bit of everything, skillfully arranged into a compact, aesthetically pleasing package, like a bento box lunch. Though this was the first of a six-book series, the narrative stands alone. The reader is invited continue the saga, not commanded. If you visit a used book store (remember those?) you’ll see that most of the older books from the 1960s and 1970s are relatively thin, but in the 1980s and later the books get thicker (and correspondingly more expensive). Each represents a more significant investment in time and money.
The short story has also shifted in how it is published, distributed and read. Apart from the red-headed stepchild format of the chapbook, for the most part the short story was distributed in magazines or anthologies. SF&F magazines are a troubled medium, with pay rates that haven’t changed since the 1980s, and minuscule readerships. My local mega-bookstore has the SF&F digests in the magazine section, on the opposite end of the store from the SF&F paperbacks and hardcovers.
Compare that to a short-story instantly downloaded to your reading device for a few dollars. In the post-Kindle era, we see a wide variety of short works of fiction and non-fiction published alone and for individual sale. It’s too early to say if this format of publishing and reading will last. It might be a fad, or it might lead to a new golden age of short fiction, adapted to our modern, hyper-busy age.
That does come with new challenges. There aren’t magazine editors to act as gatekeepers or taste-makers, who might champion a new writer. You might buy an issue for one writer you know you like and end up reading something new. A given work has to fight for recognition in new ways.
There’s an instructive parallel in the evolution of music publishing in the last few decades. There’s no intrinsic reason a pop song has to average three and a half minutes, or an album has to cover both sides of an LP. 45 rpm records with two singles dominated the market, until the rise of the LP in the 1960s, which allowed the concept of “album rock.” Post-Napster, the single track has surpassed the album as the primary unit of consumption, with listeners assembling their tracks into their own playlists on their music players. This creates new possibilities in both content and format. Popular songs have shifted from strong, flowing rhythms to keep the listener on the same radio channel to sharp, memorable opening hooks to keep the listener from hitting “Shuffle.” The medium informs the message.
My zombie erotica story “The Charge of the Soul” was published by Forbidden Fiction as both a stand-alone ebook and as part of the Touched By Death anthology. The data set of sales is too small to draw any conclusions about whether people prefer to buy their short fiction a la carte.