“Speaking Briefly on Long Subjects,” an interview with faculty member Steven Schwartz, appears online at Fiction Writers’ Review:
Little Raw Souls is a story collection, which tips the balance of your body of work ever so slightly in the direction of short fiction (three titles) over novels (two). Can you talk about your relationship with each form?
Generally speaking novels are beasts; short stories strokable creatures. I didn’t write a novel until I was in my forties. Stories were my first love that I left for bigger ambitions and when those bigger ambitions—the third and fourth novels—didn’t pan out I returned contritely to the form and fell in love all over again. I used to believe I needed to save everything for a novel. Such a good line or situation! Surely I can have some character say or do that in a novel! But I slowly came to understand what I probably knew all along: there are simply subjects better suited to the short story.
I’ve heard a lot of definitions, and attempts, to define the diversity of the short story, but my favorite is Chekhov’s: speaking briefly on long subjects. Any good story will offer something long in reflection. In a short story, too, you can’t dwell while winding up or winding down as you can in a novel. Getting to and sustaining the story’s intensity—that vital nexus of character, conflict, and voice—becomes paramount. So I spend a lot of time looking at the first five pages of a draft, swallowing hard, and then cutting them and discovering the real start of the story on page six. Of course, a novel takes massive editing too, but with a story I’m always gauging its heat, as if I might pass my hand over top and feel when it goes cold and then know I have a weak spot. Unlike with a novel, I can keep an entire short story in my head. It works by exclusion, culling the unessential, whereas the novel functions by inclusion, sucking in research, stray comments, family stories, lovers, real and the imagined, like a central vac system.
Steven is the author of Little Raw Souls: Stories (Autumn House Press, 2013).