Stephen Oliver: The Long and the Short of it

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The Long and the Short of it

Stephen Oliver

I complained to my mother the other day because I had just received another raft of rejections and was being ignored by a whole load of other agents and publishers. I’m “only” selling short stories, despite having sent out queries for my dark urban fantasy anthology 81 times this year and my Young Adult space opera novel 100 times.

Not to mention the 135 submissions for 70 different short stories, for which I have recently received my ninth acceptance this year.

Now, my mother is my greatest fan at the moment, despite telling me that my stories are “weird” and asking whether people are interested in reading such strange tales.

Anyway, while I was getting ready for bed that evening, I realised that I’ve been looking at things the wrong way around.

Many of my writing idols (Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C Clarke, Harlan Ellison, HP Lovecraft, to name but a few) started as short story writers. They only later became recognised for the quality of their stories. Some went on to become novelists, while others preferred to stay with shorter stories.

The thing is, they had to establish themselves with a body of work in the pulps before they achieved recognition. Nowadays, there are far more science fiction, fantasy, and horror magazines than when they started. The possibilities of online magazines, eBooks, POD paperbacks, and hardbacks are fantastic, even if you aren’t self-publishing. Small, indie publishers are on the lookout for writing to fill their books. And the readership is hungry for it.

Moreover, some of their earliest novels weren’t novels at all.

I’m thinking of I, Robot by Isaac Asimov, in particular. It tells a series of separate, interconnected tales about the rise of the robots and Dr. Susan Calvin, the robopsychologist who aided in that rise. This would be classified as an episodic novel nowadays, much as George R R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire tells the stories of Westeros and the struggles for the Iron Throne.

I mention this because my YA space opera novel Shuttlers is very much in the same vein. Not to mention that the first dark urban fantasy anthology functions as well as an episodic novel as it does as an anthology. Even the three later volumes show a progression of the recurring characters and themes.

As for weird, here are a couple of examples of the themes of some of my recently accepted stories:

• A descendant of Viktor Frankenstein uses his ancestor’s secrets to exact his revenge.

• The victims of a serial killer get their revenge on the night before his execution.

• A young female ghoul goes out to a Christmas fair and meets that special someone.

• A hero’s job is to defend his city against unnatural and supernatural foes, but he can’t remember that.

As you can see, bizarre stories indeed. It seems, however, that readers want weird stories. The weirder, the better.

So, I’m going to keep on plugging away until someone recognises my merits and I get those contracts for my longer works.

Please visit Stephen’s website for more great articles:

About Stephen Oliver

I’m a ‘Pantser’ (aka ‘Discovery Writer’), meaning that I write ‘by the seat of my pants’.

In other words, I have no idea what I’m writing until I’ve written it. Give me a picture or a writing prompt (a sentence, a phrase… heck, even a word will do) and let me loose. I can come up with something in twenty minutes, 400-500 words to create a new story. I don’t stop there, of course. Those few words can turn into four or five thousand, or more. The next day or week, the Muse will strike again, and I’ll finish it off, creating something weird, wonderful or just plain odd.

Once I’m done, then comes the hard part: turning it into something good. I’ve had to learn that what I wrote initially is only the beginning. Read, revise, edit, wash, rinse, repeat. And repeat. And repeat… There are some stories I’ve gone over dozens of times, and I’ll still find something to improve, on occasion.

So it is that I’ve self-published a self-help book, written dozens of short stories, completed a novel, and am still working on two more. My genres cover science fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy, horror, humour (very dark), noir, detective fiction, fairytales and fairy stories. Often more than one in a single tale… Oh, and there’s a second self-help book in the works, too.

I came to writing fairly late in life, but that ain’t going to stop me now. As Harlan Ellison once said, “A writer is some poor schmuck who can’t help putting words on paper.” That’s me, because I’ve already written over a million words since I began. I’ll be done when they peel my cold, dead fingers off my keyboard.

Mind you, given the kinds of stories I write, that will probably be because one of the monsters I created finally finished me off!

One thought on “Stephen Oliver: The Long and the Short of it”

  1. Just to say, my YA novel “Shuttlers” was published 3½ weeks ago, while the anthology, titled “Paranormal City”, is due out soon.


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