Snow interrupts play

Or rather, it interrupts work. I have just finished writing a commissioned erotica (paradoxically, featuring a parasol and a tropical waterslide, very inapposite to the snow outside) and spent several days turning over a pile of short stories, deciding what to send where.

It’s a thankless bloody task, as any writer will tell you, and reflecting back on the year behind me, I’ve realised just how competitive a business the short story world can be. And competitive is okay, but there’s something rather disturbing about the stories that I’ve read this year (and that’s hundreds and hundreds of stories, believe me) which is that they all seem to fall inside some kind of ‘rules’.

These rules are sometimes well-established eg start your work in media res and sometimes seem to be massive extrapolations from a current success – why were so many stories in the second person published in the past year or so? Because one or two high profile writers produced good work in the second person, obviously, and editors thought they’d like to have something like that too.

Quirky stories always seem to involve drugs and/or urban settings. Bleak stories end without resolution. Stories set in exotic locations always feature bad, grasping, culturally blind Americans or Europeans.

This is an exaggeration of course, but I have read almost no literary short fiction in the past two years that was quirky and rural, bleak and had a clear ending, exotic and featuring sensitive Americans/Europeans. So that would rule out Willa Cather, Somerset Maugham and Graham Greene if they were writing today, which of course they are not, but you take my meaning I hope.

And I know I sound curmudgeonly, and I’m not the only one to be bleating about the narrow range of short fiction that gets published today, but I’d love to hear of some magazines, zines and journals in the literary genre that are pushing the boundaries by accepting short fiction that falls outside ‘the rules’. Please? Because I seem to have an awful lot of it on my desk …

(winter jasmine in my garden - full bloom in the bitter cold, it's got to be a metaphor for something, right?)

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