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  • Writer's pictureWendy Harrison

THE LONG AND THE SHORT OF IT--April 1, 2024


In the 1980s, after thinking of myself as a writer since childhood, without having actually written anything since college, I decided to add to the balancing act of wife, mother, and lawyer by writing a novel. Since my favorite books were mysteries, I started there.

It never occurred to me to try my hand at short stories first, which would’ve made more sense for someone with a tightly packed schedule. For one thing, I rarely read short stories, preferring the meatier plots and characters of a full-length book. If I were to follow the adage, write what you know, mystery novels should be my sweet spot. Also, I feared I wasn’t capable of coming up with more than one story idea a year, as I would have to if I started on the trail of short stories. Even just one idea was going to be a challenge.

I read a few writing craft books, but was otherwise on my own. This was the 1980s, pre ubiquitous computers and the World Wide Web. Manuscripts were sent out to publishers and agents via typed hard copy with an SASE (Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope for you youngsters out there).

I started with a detailed outline and couldn’t imagine writing any other way. Sometime later, I realized that besides plotters there were pantsers, those who wrote by the seat of their pants with little or no idea where they were heading as they wrote. I still can’t wrap my brain around that.

My first book was a mystery involving the discovery of a naked woman with amnesia hiding in a bush on the Boston Common by a lawyer out walking her dog. I then wrote a second one featuring the same lawyer and then a third. At some point along the way, I found a New York agent who shopped book 1 around. That led to a collection of flattering rejections, praising my writing but feeling that my lawyer wasn’t different enough from other similar books. I guess I should’ve given her purple hair or a limp. Then life got in the way, and I gave up writing.

Jumping ahead to 2020. I had retired as a prosecutor and now was trapped at home. Faced with the depressing times of quarantines, handwashing, and supply chain issues, I decided to try writing again. Now I had the benefit of the internet and discovered that publishers of anthologies posted Calls for Submissions online for anyone to respond. But short stories? Did I dare?

After a short mystery fiction reading binge, I felt ready. When one of the anthologies called for stories inspired by songs from the ‘60s (Peace, Love, and Crime), I was off and running. “Nights in White Satin” was my first published story. Since that time, I’ve had 21 more stories accepted for publication in various anthologies and online magazines.

I can’t pretend that coming up with ideas has been easy. I know writers who erupt with story ideas as often as the Yellowstone geysers spout. Not me. The development of every one of those stories has been tortuous.

But here’s the real reason I’m going to stick with the short form. Recently, I discovered a 40,000 word romance manuscript I wrote in 1999, hiding in the back of an old filing cabinet. I decided to see if I could make it into something I’d be comfortable sending to a publisher. For the last few weeks, I’ve been wrestling it into submission and still have a ways to go. Since my short stories usually range between 3000 and 5000 words, this experience has been somewhat overwhelming. Most full-length mystery novels are between 85,000 and 100,000 words. Not going to happen again for me, but I’ll be forever grateful for finding that Call for Submissions that started me on the short story road.

 

 

 

 

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