Almost all of my writing this year has been my own fiction; I’ve written just one review (for Horrified). Some of you may have come across my cosmic technician The Engineer; well, I’m just finishing the fifth story to feature him. They’re darkly comic urban fantasy, and there will be a few more of his (mis)adventures to come.
But what to do with them? Traditionally, collections of short stories have been hard to sell, although there is a healthy wave of new horror collections from independent publishers: I’ve reviewed a few here. Although some of my older fiction is here, I won’t publish these on the Gyre. The fact that the first story has been published conventionally (i.e. it made it past a gatekeeper) has given me confidence that these are good enough to ultimately submit.
But these aren’t just short stories. Most (but not all) of them are related, and building towards a final, longer story which will probably be novella length. But nor is it a novel. So how the hell do I try to sell that – neither fish nor flesh – to an agent or publisher?
Well, Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country gave me confidence. I read it in the summer of 2020 while I was writing the Engineer’s second outing (“Sweet Exorcist”). That book is lenticular: look at it one way and it’s a novel: there is a unity of characters, setting, and an overarching story. But look at it another and it’s a collection of shorts: each one features a different character.
(This is not new territory for me. About twenty years ago I wrote a book, set in Dundee, in which each story was set on a different street; and just as streets intersect, so did (some of) the tales. I wrote it for a competition which wanted novels. This wasn’t a novel but if you squinted, it could be. It got shortlisted, and there was an awards ceremony where it was “highly commended” by the judges. All very nice (and all very long ago). And although I have since written a Robin Hood novel (which you can find elsewhere on this blog), and an abandoned fantasy story (after 200 pages – one of these days I’ll revisit it), I just find the shorter form easier.)
These Engineer stories are getting longer: each one has more depth, more characters than the one before, so maybe I’m working my way up to a novel by stealth, and by not telling myself that’s what I’m doing. Who knows, one day I might have written a novel by accident.