Some writers are best at short stories, some at novels. If you’ve got short stories in your genes, don’t despair, you’re not limited to literary journals. There is salvation for publishing longer works. Take a gander at Louise Erdrich’s gem, Love Medicine.
As I walked back from the rive that filled my brother’s boots, I could feel change coming onto me, riding me hard. I knew, from the first moment I got back to the house, I was not the same Lyman Lamartine who had left—that boy was gone. I saw my talent for money was useless with the deep problems. Worse than useless. If I bobbed to the surface, others went down.
For weeks after Henry Junior’s death, I still couldn’t take in the fact. I sat in his chair in front of the television, fit my hands over the raw spots where his had gripped, shut my eyes to get the sense. The old ones say a Chippewa won’t ever rest if he’s drowned, a rumor that both scared me and kept me up at night.
Louise Erdrich, The Tomahawk Factory
How can you not keep reading that? Love Medicine is the story of two Native American families, the Kashpaws and Lamartines. Erdrich and her partner, Michael Dorris, insisted that for marketing purposes, the book was a novel. But by my definition, Love Medicine is a collection of linked short stories. Linked stories can stand alone, but are tied together by setting, character or theme. This is a powerful collection, deep and nuanced, poetic and rich.
One advantage to linked short stories is the versatility of the technique. How else can you have multiple first person narrators in one book? Erdrich does it in her Native American series and it works.
The linked short stories collection is one of my favorite forms. It reflects the ethnic or native tradition of passing down familial lore through oral storytelling. Take a look at Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club or Jamaica Kincade’s Annie John. Stories are passed down from generation to generation. Even Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried follows that path. Imagine soldiers telling stories around the campfire before going out on patrol.
I’ve played with linked short stories, but a novel is in my blood, at least at this point in my writing career. Don’t let that stop you. Read Love Medicine and start writing a great series of stories.