Changing focus: From a novel to a short story…

Let’s get something straight first. I don’t have a master’s in fine arts. My degrees are in journalism and library science. Two very fine degrees, to be sure, but sometimes I feel like I’m feeling around in the dark when I write about writing. I know the basics. I know how to plot a story, I know how to characterize and how to describe. I’m very good with grammar and my self-editing skills are improving. But when it comes to story arc and some of the finer points of writing, I go by instinct.

It took me almost forty years to write a decent novel. Before that, I played around with short stories and flash fiction…mostly flash fiction, or stories of 1,000 words or less. Finally I got up the courage to write a novel. Weeds and Flowers was my first novel, written in a series of flash pieces because I was too scared to attempt to write a novel the traditional way. Then I wrote Winter Solstice and put it away for several years. Finally, I wrote Secrets of the Lotus and decided it was good enough to publish. Fortunately, I found a publisher (the wonderful Lyrical Press) that agreed with me, and after I re-worked Winter Solstice, they published that one, too. Now I’m on my fourth novel with Where the Heart Lies.

So how much of a shift in focus does it require to write a short story after you’ve written a novel? A lot. I played around with short romances a little. I even won third prize in a romance short story contest with “Life After” (available in The Best of All Sins: Stories of Love & Heartbreak). Short romances are really tough to write because you have to avoid “fast forwarding” too much. Fast forwarding can be either skipping over a lot of scenes you’d normally put into a novel or just having two people fall in love too fast. We don’t live life in fast forward, and while it’s okay to skip the boring parts, you still need your story to make sense. I guess that’s where the story arc comes in–if you’ve got an MFA, anyway.

My second romance short story “Agapi Mou”, was as successful as my first. It appears in the romance anthology FOREIGN AFFAIRS, which goes on sale in ebook format from Turquoise Morning Press next week and in print a month later. “Agapi Mou”, which means “My Love” in Greek, follows the romance of Myron and Lisa and takes place on a vineyard in eastern North Carolina. Myron and Lisa have known each other for several years. Lisa owns the vineyard that grows the scuppernong grapes that Myron’s winery in Greece uses to make scuppernong wine. Circumstances have kept them apart but on one of Myron’s visits, a simple kiss awakens their attraction to each other. Is the attraction just eratos (erotic love)…or could it be agape (true love)?

FOREIGN AFFAIRS also features stories about other hot men from foreign countries by exemplary romance authors (with their heroes in parentheses) Karen Booth (Antonio from Italy), Karen Stivali (Daniel from England), Georgia St. Mane (Logan from England), Sidney Bristol (Luc from France) and J.M. Kelley (Declan from Ireland). Look for more about these authors and their stories in the coming days.