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Category: General

“For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn”

Most people have heard this short, six-word story, usually attributed to Ernest Hemingway. The way I first heard the story behind it was that, when challenged to write a super short story with a beginning, a middle, and an end, he scribbled this on a napkin and handed it over. This story has fairly well been disproven by Garson O’Toole of  The Quote Investigator, who wrote a blog post on the possible history of this legend, a very interesting post at that.

Advertisements closely matching the abbreviated text above did appear in classified sections over the decades. Here is an example published in 1906. Intriguingly, this section of short ads was labeled: Terse Tales of the Town:

For sale, baby carriage; never been used. Apply at this office.

In 1910 a newspaper article about a classified advertisement that was thematically similar and twelve words long was published:

Baby’s hand made trousseau and baby’s bed for sale. Never been used.

The article is great. You should go read it after this.

However, I don’t think that the fact that Hemingway didn’t actually write this lessens in any way what it can teach us. While I know authors who are masters of the story story art, I also know authors who feel that a short work, commonly known as “hint fiction” “drables” flash fiction” and other things, (which can be indeed 6 words if an author so chooses) isn’t “really a story.” They argue that you can’t really tell a story in that short of space.

I tend to disagree with these sentiments. As an author who both writes and reads short works, sparse wordage  can convey emotion that is just as intense as a longer piece. Think about it – how haunting it is to think of a pair of little baby shoes, for sale for unknown reasons, although the instant reaction is the death of the infant. There is no lack of emotion, and we get exactly what the author is trying to tell us.

It is a challenge to write this short – every word must count in a way that isn’t as critical as in a longer piece.

“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” – Mark Twain.

Writing short is like putting together a puzzle, where every piece has an exact place to go. One wrong piece and the composition of the whole thing is off.

As the author of stories from under 25 words to novels I don’t think any particular length of story is the best. I enjoy reading and writing them all, but recognize the challenges that come from writing short work.

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Working on things related to writing that aren’t writing fiction

I find that it is a lot harder sometimes to focus on writing things, (like blogging, tweeting, facebooking, tumblring) that aren’t directly related to writing my fiction, which is hard enough sometimes. Yet, especially in this age, all are important, becuase they are the way that authors communicate directly with their fan base. (Which admittedly, I don’t have a large one of at this point, but at some point I will.) It is fun to do to, in a different sort of way, but it requires dedication and drive, which sometimes I don’t feel like I have a lot of. I don’t do New Year’s resolutions, but this resolution just happened to fall around the new year, partly inspired by current and upcoming publications. My publications page will be updated shortly, and then we will return to your normally scheduled blogging.

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Hint Fiction Artwork

Last year I had a short-short story titled “Insomnia” Posted in a W.W. Norton anthology titled Hint Fiction: An Anthology of Stories in 25 Words or Fewer. All of the stories included were 25 words or fewer, and the authors ranged from very well known such as Joyce Carol Oates the very unknown such as I. It was edited by Robert Swartwood, and not only was it a fun piece to write, but the book turned out fantastic, and is in its second printing I believe.

Now a couple of months ago I received an email from Robert that some of the stories from the book were going to be included in a juried art show at the Columbia Art League in Columbia, MO. I didn’t think too much of it, assuming my story wouldn’t be one of the ones picked. However, about a month ago I received an email from Robert (who was flown out for the show, the lucky dog) that my story had inspired, not one, but two pieces in the show. And he sent pictures that I have his permission to post.

My story – which was also included on the website for the show (how lucky am i??) – was:

  Sleeping Beauty never minded the spindle prick. It was the wake-up kiss she hated.

The first artwork is by Inessa Morelock:

Insomnia by Inessa Morelock
Insomnia by Inessa Morelock

The second one was by Gennie Pfannenstiel:

Insomnia by Gennie Pfannenstiel
Insomnia by Gennie Pfannenstiel
Insomnia by Gennie Pfannenstiel
Insomnia by Gennie Pfannenstiel

BOTH were also featured in The Columbia Daily Tribune’s slideshow of entries! Also there is a writeup here.

I hope one of them wins the show!

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