When Simon Smithson and I published Sparks, the deal as we had discussed it always included a 6-week clause. When Sparks did so well at the outset–flying up the Amazon rankings in multiple categories and hanging in as a “Hot New Release” over Christmas–we briefly discussed keeping it live longer, but ultimately decided against it.

I think it was the right decision for Sparks. The 6-week window introduced an element of scarcity it didn’t otherwise have.

Digital publishing, however, seems to favor what many businessfolk call the long tail and I like to call the long game, mainly because even though I (mostly) have an MBA, I still like to play.

Now, just a week or so ago, Amazon announced a new Kindle Singles program, which Wired hailed as a beacon to “save long-form journalism.” Basically, it’s Kindle-original content that’s longer than a magazine piece but “much shorter than a novel,” clocking between 5,000 and 40,000 words, it seems. According to Wired. According to that press release, the lengths hew to approximately that midpoint.

I liked the idea. When I first published Entrekin, I used Lulu to implement what I called the iTunes publishing model; the collection was available, but each individual story was available as a 99-cent PDF.

It was a rousing success. It sold way more copies than I’d ever expected. When I made the digital content free, the downloads skyrocketed.

And now that Sparks‘ time has passed, and now that Amazon has announced this Kindle Singles–which is pretty much exactly the model I implemented nearly four years ago–well, it felt rather natural to published both of my Sparks stories the same way.

So I’m going to, and I’m going to start with “Struck by the Light of the Son,” and I thought, hey, what a great opportunity to talk about it a bit.

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In the spirit of lightening things up here a bit, I figured I’d post something more cheerful. To quote Tom Hanks in That Thing You Do! (which is certainly one of the most underrated movies of all time), I thought I’d give you something happy, something poppy.

Because it’s a perfect day for a ride, ain’t it?

***

I should really just sell the damned thing. Manhattan just isn’t a place for such a beast, much less the Village. New York’s a walking town. A subway town. Sometimes a bus town, and some other times still a taxi town. It’s a bustling town and a jogging town, a drinking and dancing and staying-out-till-4-am town, and in fact it’s a different kind of town just about every minute for just about every person in it, but it’s not so much a driving town. There are too many cabs, too many long limousines with precious celebrity cargo, too many delivery trucks and big buses, too many Lincoln Town Cars shuttling CEOs to the office and back. The air is too bright and the sounds are too vibrant and the color is too loud to be shuttered away from the world by four windows and a growling engine, but still I keep the dilapidated duster.

I tell myself I keep it because I wouldn’t get much for it. The old lady who used to own it never did know much about anything she put a key into, and the engine’s hoarse in her memory. The duck tape on the torn cloth top; the old, nearly bald tires; the muffler that might as well not exist—selling it might cover a month’s rent or a fancy night on the City, but not much more.

That’s what I tell myself, anyway.

But I know the truth. I don’t keep it because selling it wouldn’t make enough; I keep it for days like this.

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Denver is cold and rainy today and supposed to remain that way all weekend. I can hear the patter of raindrops and the flow of rainstreams through my window, and the sky beyond is grey.

School starts Tuesday, but I plan to drive over on Monday to fully familiarize myself with the campus. Plus: make some copies, set anything else up, all the good administrative stuff.

In the meantime, I’m planning my syllabus. Somewhat difficult: never built one mainly from scratch before. I know what goes in one, of course, but otherwise? (any teachers/instructors: if you have advice for me, leave it in the comments. I could totally use some. Or generally: if you were taking a college class, what would you expect from your instructor and his syllabus?)

Besides that, I’m planning to clean up iTunes and finish a short story.

Have a good weekend.

For a long enough while that I can no longer recall when it began, I’ve been reading lamentations about the current health of the short story, or, more accurately, the complete lack thereof. Seems a lot of people think it’s dying or already has done, that it’s gasping its final breaths and all that’s left is the death rattle. For example, this post on After the MFA (which further links back to a post on Galley Cat), about anonymous e-mailers who wrote to the latter site “asserting that the short story is, in fact, six feet under in their literary world. “Valid career” go the anonymous cries, as in you can’t have one writing short stories.”

I yet wonder about ‘valid careers’. Since when has writing ever been a valid career choice? It’s difficult, long, time-consuming, and quite possibly the least valued of the various media; people seem to think very little of dropping a hundred bucks on a single evening at the cinema (parking, ticket, popcorn, soda, etc.), but few of them seem interested in dropping $30 on a hardcover novel. Heck, even I rarely do (I buy from Amazon marketplace. You’re awesome, Amazon marketplace). Books very rarely sell more than a few thousand copies (with obvious notable exceptions, so put your hands down Messrs. Brown and King. You too, Jo Rowling); most sell substantially less. 15,000 or so is usually considered pretty successful. Meanwhile, the albums that top the Billboard charts often move more than 200 times that in a week.

And then AMFA offers a terrific suggestion for the reason: “Maybe it’s because all of our stories suck?”

Boyhow.

He asks readers when was the last time they read a story that blew their mind. I’m sure some people, like my colleague, the illustrious Mr. John Fox over at BookFox, could probably cite one off the top of his head, but I’m also certain most people wouldn’t be able to. Heck, I know I couldn’t. If I had to think of really recently, I’d probably re-peruse Gaiman’s Fragile Things. Beyond that? Besides Ray Chandler or Stephen King, I draw a blank.

This isn’t to say I haven’t skimmed issues of The New Yorker recently. In fact, one of the assignments in one of my classes with Shelly Lowenkopf required us to edit one of the stories contained therein; I chose one by a woman named Tessa Hadley, “Married Love”, and covered it with marks. I see on searching her name that she’s had three stories published in the magazine since Feb. 2007, and I say, “Really, New Yorker? Really?”

But this is the current way of the short story. This is the sort of fiction/voice students in MFA programs (and their faculties, too, for that matter) strive for. It’s tedious and homogenous at best, and just plain crap at worst.

It’s sad, because short stories are fun. Short stories can provide a venue for the kind of experiment one can’t sustain for the length of a novel. Two of the stories in my collection concern C. Auguste Dupin investigating the death of Edgar Allan Poe; I don’t think such a conceit could sustain a novel’s length (it’s arguably too ‘gimmicky’. Two novels whose titles I can’t recall tried it, in fact, albeit, from the reviews I read, unsuccessfully). Some of the stories were inspired from songs; certainly not a conceit for a novel.

(one reason I chose USC’s Master’s program was that its teachers were known for their novels, and not their short stories)

One other thing I think works against short stories is the way they’re published, i.e., pretty rarely and in obscure places. Because, seriously, who reads literary magazines except writers who are hoping to publish in them, and what sort of market is that? It’s not so much that the form is dead, perhaps more that its medium has changed; when most magazines’ content can be found online anyway, what’s the point of the newsstand? Why buy the newspaper when The New York Times is online, for free. And this isn’t an argument for buying the cow; this is a real question in terms of market and audience. As the aforementioned Mr. Lowenkopf noted in this blog post, “many individuals who like to think of themselves as writers have the singular goal of publication,” which is a bit backwards because publication is one of the slightest aspects of writing, and in the age of the Internet and POD, what’s ‘publication,’ anyway? Who’s the arbitrary arbiter of quality that decided Miranda July’s collection was worth so much attention last year (and whose mind did it blow, really)?

Last month’s issue of Wired featured a story on free (it’s free, here, in fact, which is fun). Short stories are, traditionally, a basically free medium; they have historically been published in magazines, so it’s almost bonus content. $5 pays for the whole magazine, of which the story is merely one feature.

Short stories won’t die, because writers will always write them, but I think the trend will be toward freedom.

When that comes to fruition, however, one thing to keep in mind: we as readers should demand awesome and never again settle for any damned less.