Speaking of short stories, the wonderful Dana Cameron has an anthology out today – Pandora’s Orphans – that already sounds like pure summer pleasure, whether you’re at the beach or sitting around a campfire. While I first got to know Dana’s writing through her Emma Fielding Mysteries (like Emma, Dana is an archaeologist, imbuing her books with the kind of fun detail that makes a work sing), she’s conquered the otherworldly too with her Fangborn werewolf books. Pandora’s Orphans collects her Fangborn stories, making for a pack of werewolf fun. Take it away, Dana!
Like most folks, I enjoy reading short stories, particularly in anthologies, because it’s a chance to sample a whole range of authors taking on the same topic or genre at one sitting. It’s the same reason I like tapas or smorgasbord: lots of different flavors to try without committing to a single meal. Short story collections are a gateway to discovering new authors and new worlds.
I like writing short stories for a similar reason; I get to try something out without committing to a novel. For example, the first Fangborn story, “The Night Things Changed,” was my first attempt to write urban fantasy and my first at non-traditional world-building. The fun in writing about secret superheroes who look like villains (vampires and werewolves). Having worked many years as an archaeologist, my curiosity about their history led me to write more short stories as the occasions presented themselves. I got to explore Boston during World War II, with the advances in computing technology and jazz. I had a chance to imagine Cleopatra’s Egypt and an alternate history where she waged war on Rome. How would the Fangborn operate in Medieval England, when demons are all-too real a threat? What about a werewolf athlete at the holy Olympic Games in the ancient Greece or what if Sherlock Holmes was a Fangborn vampire? Why not! With each story, I learned a little more about the culture of the Fangborn, and how it varied from placed to place through time.
Short stories let me explore themes that interest me too, like the different ways love can be shown, or what family looks like, or what happens when your faith in something is challenged. One of my favorite themes is the difference between magic and science: If the Fangborn ability to shape-shift isn’t magic (and not even all the Fangborn agree on that), then what is?
Having all that material as a foundation, I was able to envision what Fangborn novels(Seven Kinds of Hell, Pack of Strays, and Hellbender) might look like. It was clear that the short stories led me to think about the Fangborn and how shape-shifters and animal-human hybrids appear in so many (if not all) the world’s cultures. After the novels, it made sense to collect all the stories (which had been published in different collections and magazines) into one volume and create a companion to the books.
One very strange thing occurred to me as I was putting this collection together: I never, never thought I’d write short stories. It’s a hard form to master, especially if you’re a recovering academic and used to writing novels. Left on my own, I would have assumed that my instinct to spell everything out clearly and my tendency to use all the words would make a short story impossible. I started learning how to write short stories by writing what I thought of as “very short novels.” Eventually, having proved to myself that it was possible, I was able to refine my technique, both by reading tons of other short stories, how-to advice, and practice. It’s amazing what you can trim from a word count (and strengthen a sentence) when you’re aware that you tend to use expressions like “just a bit” or “a little” or “seems like.” So never say never!
I recently had the chance to record a discussion about short stories and collections with Sara Paretsky, Lawrence Block, Nikki Dolson, Gale Massey, and Art Taylor for the forthcoming July 17th “More Than Malice” panel “Keep it Short: Story Collections.” If you haven’t already registered for MTM, you’ll definitely want to do so!
Dana Cameron writes across many genres, but especially crime and speculative fiction. Her work, inspired by her career in archaeology, has won multiple Anthony, Agatha, and Macavity Awards, and has been nominated for the Edgar Award. Dana’s Emma Fielding archaeology mysteries were optioned by Muse Entertainment and now appear on the Hallmark Movie & Mystery Channel. Since she hasn’t been doing much traveling or visiting museums, she’s been weaving, spinning, and yelling at the TV about plot holes and historical inaccuracies.