The Long and Short of the Short Story

by Gayle Bartos-Pool

 

typewriterAfter writing my first three published short stories, something happened: Readers responded favorably to one of my characters. They liked this guy’s personality.

 

Of course a writer is supposed to craft memorable characters, but those are usually found in a novel. A writer has more room to flesh out characters in a 300-page novel, not a 25-50 page short story. But something was happening with my “Johnny Casino” character. His personality was too big to stay within 28 pages.

 

That’s when I realized I had more Johnny Casino stories in me. In fact, by the time I was finished, I had nine stories and 388 pages. That’s called a book. I had turned a one-shot story into what is basically a series.

 

But the journey was also a learning experience.

 

I wrote a batch of these stories and showed them to my agent. She liked them, but…she wanted more information about Johnny. She thought the stories needed a love interest, but I didn’t want the short stories bogged down with schmaltz. That wasn’t what I envisioned for my character. But I hadn’t written any reason why Johnny didn’t have a woman in his life, so I wrote a backstory. That’s when I learned a lot of new things about him. It was so detailed; it turned into the second story in the first collection, The Johnny Casino Casebook 1 – Past Imperfect.past-imperfect-cover-12

The backstory also gave me a different view of Johnny. He had his dark side as well as his sarcastic side. He was becoming a three-dimensional person. I started learning so much about him, more stories popped up. One was so compelling; it became the focal point of the second collection, The Johnny Casino Casebook 2 – Looking for Johnny Nobody.

bookcoverpreviewcropped

Since I had created a past for Johnny, I could write stories about him when he worked for the mob back in New Jersey when he was younger; after all, I had discovered that his father was a high ranking guy in the D’Abruzzo crime family. I could also do a story explaining how he became a private detective after he fled to California.

 

 

And here’s a heads up for all you multi-tasking short story/novel writers. The character I created who taught Johnny how to be a first class P.I. is the heroine in another mystery series I have been writing. I figured, if people like Johnny, they just might like the novel featuring Gin Caulfield. She is now in three novels, not short stories in this case.

 

The last thing I learned on this journey is that there is a different kind of short story out there. In classes I teach about The Anatomy of a Short Story I mention a short story is like an hors d’oeuvre. It consists of a few really good things served up in a small bite. Whether it’s a handful of cool characters in a terrific location involved in a catchy plot, the short story gets you to one location in the fastest way possible.

 

In contrast, a novel can take you far and wide with a cast of thousands with sub-plots and bits of interesting background stuff just for the fun of it, and the writer can use 300 to 400 pages to accomplish the task. But the short story writer has to chop out unnecessary characters, places, plot twists and trim down the description to its bare bones and do it in 10 to 25 pages, give or take. Or does he?

 

I think there is a new home for the short story. The Short Story Novel. The length of each individual story can be anywhere from 25 to 70 pages, but the main thing is to have a single set of characters, or in my case, one main character, in every story. Several characters make repeat appearances, and I mention one sub-plot in several of the earlier stories in any given collection that is resolved in a story of its own. Each story reveals more and more about my main character and the final story in Book One ends with a haunting question that will be answered in Book Two.

 

If this sounds like a television series, you betcha. I called it a “series” earlier in this blog and that is exactly how I visualize The Johnny Casino Casebook, whether it stays in book form or hits the TV screen. His stories might be in the “short story” format, but his entire life is a novel.

 

And for those of you who prefer to create something completely stand-alone in each short story you write, those individual tales can always be put into your own collection and published. I did just that in From Light TO DARK.

The Play’s the Thing – Plot is Everything - Some thoughts by Gayle Bartos-Pool

Second Chance Book CoverAnd to add one more thing to this blog, Johnny Casino isn’t the only short story character to be in a book of his own. Chance McCoy arrived this year. His first book is called Second Chance. There are more stories to come. And there is a second short story anthology called Only in Hollywood coming out next year. The book consists of various stand-alone stories, but one features a guy named Charles Miro, a former TV actor turned private eye. He works for a younger woman who owns the detective firm. There are several stories about these two coming up. You see, even a short story can magically turn itself into a book if you try.

Write on.

Only in Hollywood cover 2

 

The Best and Worst of Christmas Presents

All the way back to childhood, this is the season when most of us expect to receive gifts, whether wrapped in green and red for Christmas, blue and silver for Hanukkah, or black, red and green for Kwanzaa. Sometimes those gifts are amazing. Sometimes they are…surprising. And sometimes they are intangible items that can’t be wrapped in paper and bows. We’ve pulled out some of our WinR memories to share with you.

One of the best, or most memorable, Christmas presents I have received was my first Christmas after I moved to Los Angeles from London. I was house-sitting on my own in a half-finished house – just basically one unfinished room – no dry wall yet installed – with a camping-cot. I was also working as a waitress and had the Christmas Day shift. Phone calls home to my mum were VERY expensive in those days, but I spoke briefly to her before I went to work. When I got back, there was a parcel from one of my new-found British friends, who clearly understand my situation. The parcel contained a stack of airmail envelopes, writing paper, pens and international postage stamps (expensive for me) – so I could write to my family in England. Plus…. a bottle of vodka and a bottle of tonic!!! I spent the rest of the day writing letters home – and enjoying a plastic cup of vodka-tonic, no ice.

                                                                
                                                                                         – Rosemary Lord

The worst Christmas gift I ever received was a cookie jar: a big ceramic thing in the shape of a grinning brown bear, given to me by a family friend, a kindly lady who’d known me most of my life.

What’s so awful about that? Well, here’s what happened: I was a newlywed that year, in a low-rent apartment with the world’s smallest kitchen. No room for cookie jars, so I stashed the gift in a closet. I didn’t bake back then anyway—my culinary specialty was spaghetti.

Fast forward several months: my best friend Susie got engaged, and of course I had to get a gift for her bridal shower. Susie was quite the baker, and I thought of that cookie jar, gathering dust in the dark closet. My husband was still in school so we were subsisting, barely, on my tiny salary as a secretary for a small company. Therefore, I thought, it made sense to “re-gift” that cookie jar, which had never been used. Two problems solved: I had little money for a gift, and it seemed a shame to let the cookie jar go to waste.

It would have gone over just fine, except . . . Susie unwrapped the gift and laughed at the smiling bear. Then she lifted the lid. The well-meaning lady who gave me the jar had also given me a bag full of home-made oatmeal cookies, but I didn’t know it because I’d never looked inside the jar. Those cookies had been sitting there, turning to rocks, all that time.

I saw Susie’s bewildered expression as she held up the bag of cookie-rocks, and before I lost my nerve, I snatched the cookies and muttered something about my husband being a practical joker. I’m sure my face was scarlet, but my remark got a laugh at least.

Susie and I are still friends after all these years, and I’m sometimes tempted to ask her if she believed my fib back then. Most days, though, I’d rather not know.

The morals of this story: (1) if you ever recycle a gift, be sure to look inside first. You never know what you might find. (2) when in doubt, blame the husband.


                                                          – Bonnie Schroeder


I can only think of one gift that I knew instantly I would never use. It was a satiny pink blouse with a huge bow at the neck. Not my style, color, or fabric. It was the type matronly ladies wore at the time. I was 27. It made me look like a clown. My brother’s wife had picked it out. It was actually a designer label. She didn’t know my tastes at all since she lived in Ohio and I was in California. But my elderly landlady looked terrific in it. She got two gifts that year.

                                                                         – G.B. Pool


                                                       
I have a huge extended family, and therefore, we pulled names for Christmas. The first year, my uncle, who was my age, forgot about me. That night, when they pulled names, I was forgotten. He came up to me later and gave me twenty bucks! The next year, my aunt, who was in college at the time, forgot me again. She sent me a pair of Saluki sweats that I lived in for the next few years. I loved those sweats, and the twenty bucks came in handy. Sometimes, being forgotten isn’t all that bad.

                                                                        – Jacqueline Vick 


May you all have a wonderful holiday season!

What the Writers in Residence are Grateful for this Thanksgiving


Yes, yes, I am grateful for all the usual stuff – all the stuff we should be grateful for. But I am grateful for Pain and Loss, too. When the Bad Stuff is there, the balance is there, and the balance is what keeps us on an even keel in a world that doesn’t always make sense. 

I am grateful for Pain.

When I was in the Army, the Marines used to tell us that pain was weakness leaving the body. Nice idea, but that only applied to exercise and physical endurance. Real pain, the kind you feel in your body when there is something terribly wrong, is a constant reminder that you are alive and need to do something to alleviate that pain. See a doctor, take your medication, do all you can to feel better so you can really live. Do distracting things, like helping others, to get your mind off any pain that your doctor cannot fix.

Real pain of the other kind, the broken-heart kind, also reminds you that you are alive and human. You only feel that kind of pain when you have a depth of feeling which is in itself a gift. Tears can help you through it, but recognize it for what it is: a common experience which binds us together and reinforces our humanity. Pain shared is pain lessened.

I am also grateful for Loss.

Loss teaches us the value of – and fleeting nature of – all things. All things. Our loved ones, ourselves, our world, everything. How many times must loss teach us the same lesson? Every day we learn it over again. Live each day fully, appreciate each moment, live without regret. Know that Loss will touch you as it touches everyone, so be ready. Live with sincere love and caring every day, and don’t be afraid to show it.

I am grateful for Inconvenience.

Inconvenience is the niggling teacher of patience. A little patience can go a long way in overcoming Pain and Loss, so embrace it as a way to slow down and see the very real wonder of this world.

Moderation is key to appreciating Pain, Loss and Inconvenience. There is nothing at all to be gained from wallowing in them. But remember their useful qualities the next time you must experience them. And be grateful you are able to feel. It means you are alive and human, which is a very good thing.

                                                          Kate Thornton



I’m grateful for so many things, but to me, the “basics” are very important, and are the foundation that enables me to write. Very thankful I was born in The United States of American during this era, with all it offers on every level, have decent health, and people and animals with whom to share love and experiences. It is with that support I am able to write.        
                             Madeline (M.M.) Gornell






I am grateful that I was taught how to read; reading sparked my interest in writing. I often take it for granted, but there are many places in the world where people don’t have this skill. The work of other writers, in all its variety, is one of the best writing teachers in the world.

Bonnie Schroeder

For me, I truly believe that any talent I have to write, whether seriously or tongue-in-cheek is God-given. I’m also thankful for curiosity and nosiness, which helped me as a newspaper writer, and the love of reading which helped me build a good vocabulary.

Jackie Houchin

I am thankful for the rich inheritance I received from my family which includes: a smattering of my father’s witty sarcasm, some of my mother’s artistic talent, my grandfather’s love of history, my grandmother’s stubbornness (when it counts), my Aunt Mollie’s love of writing, and a pinch of sewing prowess from Aunt Dottie. I hope everyone has a few people from whom they learned wonderful things.

Gayle Bartos-Pool






I’m grateful for my husband

                       and family,

                                my friends

                                             and good neighbors.


                                                             Miko Johnston



I am grateful for the ability to be grateful. Many people have gifts and blessings, but they are unable to recognize them. That is what makes Kate Thornton’s post above so beautiful. It’s easy to be grateful for the good stuff, but it takes an open heart to find the redeemable qualities in the poop. Gratitude means getting out from under the weight of entitlement and embracing the fact that I don’t deserve anything, but that the Bon Dieu (as Hercule Poirot would say it) has seen fit to grace me. And then saying Thank You. 

                                      Jacqueline Vick


Goodness, I have so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. Where do I start?

Without the friendship and encouragement of my fellow Bloggists (is that a word?) my world would be bleak. We really do laugh together and cry together. They inspire me. Our monthly luncheons are a treasured time to talk of writing, of our home-lives, of cabbages and kings. The time goes by far too fast before we scurry off in our different directions.
I am thankful for the fascinating people and wonderful friends I have made since I found my new life in this ‘land of the free and the home of the brave.’


For the amazing adventures life has thrown at me. For the strength and ability to survive.
I am also truly thankful to have my loving family in England. My big sister Annie, my brothers Ted, Phil and Peter, my cousins, nieces and nephews. Although we may be thousands of miles apart, we are very close, speak often and meet up whenever we can – and still giggle together like a bunch of five-year-olds.

I am eternally thankful for the many years I had with my darling Rick, my late husband, who I feel watches over me still. He taught me so much and always helped me to laugh at life’s adversities. I think I am most grateful for the gift of laughter: the ability to laugh with others, to laugh at myself and at life’s absurdities.

And I am most grateful to have this Blog, that gives me the opportunity to formulate and share my thoughts…
                                                           Rosemary Lord