The Long and Short of It

I just finished reading my 5th book of the year! I know that isn’t a huge number to a lot of people, but for me it’s pretty good and puts me on track to blow my modest Goodreads 12-book reading goal out of the water. This no-looking-at-the-phone-in-bed rule I instituted at the beginning of the year – call it a resolution if you must – is paying off pretty well for me.

Just because the cool kids are doing it, here’s what I have read so far:

  • “Martin Eden” (Jack London)
  • “The Silent Girls” (Eric Rickstad)
  • “Born to Run” (Bruce Springsteen)
  • “The North Water” (Ian McGuire)
  • “Frozen In Time” (Mitchell Zuckoff)

That’s a pretty diverse list, actually. You’ll find both classic and modern literature, an autobiography, a stupidly cheesy mystery/serial killer/police procedural, and a fascinating nonfiction account of a WWII plane crash in Greenland and the present-day attempt to find the wreckage. They have all been, well, good reads with the exception of the stupidly cheesy mystery/serial killer/police procedural (no offense, Eric Rickstad).

Immediately upon finishing that last book, I “went to the library” and “checked out” book numero six. It’s a short story collection called “Crow Fair” by Thomas McGuane. I very rarely read short stories, but this book had excellent reviews from the literary community so I decided to try something new. (By the way, I added those quotation marks up there because going to the library actually meant going to the library’s website and checking out a book involved downloading it to my Kindle. Ahh, 21st century, how I love thee.) You know how sometimes you can read the very first sentence of a book and know right away that you are going to love it? That’s what happened with “Crow Fair.” McGuane’s writing immediately drew me in. Bonus: I finished the first story on my lunch hour, which is a nice sense of accomplishment. Can’t wait to dig in further.

I am actually fascinated by short stories. I have always wanted to try my hand at writing them, but find it a difficult art form to master. For some reason, I have a much easier time writing novels. Go figure. Maybe I’m just too long-winded, ha. I feel like it’s a real challenge to tell a tale concisely. How do you adequately develop characters and come up with a beginning, middle, and end in only 20 pages?! And yet, people do. I have written exactly one short story in my adult life, and I think it’s decent, but I’ve been stymied in my attempts to do more. I’m thinking “Crow Fair” will provide me with the inspiration I need.

Ironically enough, it was a short story that fueled my passion for writing to begin with. Back in junior high I entered a short story contest sponsored by my local library on a whim, and won first place. It was called “The Egg” and is a pretty dark and cynical tale of a post-apocalyptic America. I still have it, and occasionally dig it out to read. It’s actually not too bad. I think the prize was something like $50, and I could not tell you what I spent the money on to save my life. Probably Atari 2600 cartridges or something. After all, it was the 80s and I did love me some Pitfall. There were a couple other short stories in college that, come to think of it, were also  dark. Both involved bad people who harbored secrets. Hmm. This strikes me as odd, given my normally sunny disposition. The one I wrote 10-ish years ago is called “The Autumn Gate” and isn’t quite as dark as the others, though it does explore the theme of mortality. It’s basically the story of a guy walking down the street of his childhood hometown, which he is visiting for the first time in years, and watching some kids playing baseball. I actually have no idea if it’s any good. All I know is, it’s about twelve pages long, so GO CONCISE MARK! Good job.

Just writing this post really makes me want to take another stab at short stories! I suppose I should finish my novel-that-is-taking-forever first, though.

It’s been a pretty great weekend so far. Friday night we went out to our favorite neighborhood bar, Shanahan’s. Unfortunately we couldn’t grab our usual table thanks to a private event, which meant our regular server, who knows us (and our orders) by heart, couldn’t wait on us. We ended up sitting at the bar, but those tequila sodas and fried pickles tasted as good as ever, so no complaints.

Afterwards…well. Let’s just say I lead a fun life.

Saturday, we went to the Kennedy School – part of the McMenamin’s chain – for lunch, cocktails, and a movie. “Star Wars: Rogue One” was playing and we hadn’t seen it yet. The tickets were $4 and this theater has a collection of plush, cozy chairs and loveseats annnnnd you can eat and drink right there, so it’s always a fun time. Let me just say, the movie was excellent and we both enjoyed it very much. It wasn’t even on my radar when it first came out, but it does the Star Wars franchise justice. Go see it.

Afterwards we drove into Portland. I wanted to walk around the waterfront to see the cherry trees, which finally decided to blossom this week, a final dagger in the heart of what turned out to be the coldest winter around these parts in over three decades. The cherry blossoms were beautiful, and everybody else in town seemed to have the same idea. It great to get out between rainstorms, though.

Came home and watched “Deepwater Horizon.” Talk about an intense movie. I highly recommend that one, as well.


Published by Mark Petruska

I'm a professional writer and editor living my best life in south central Wisconsin.

14 thoughts on “The Long and Short of It

      1. That’s unconscionable. You should send them an invoice for your therapy bills after getting your hopes up so high only to dash them in such epic fashion.


  1. I love, love, love a good collection of short stories. But, why are they always either dark or about really eccentric people? I always finish thinking, ‘Well, that was good, but disturbing!!!’

    As mild as our winter was, we are still at least a month away from cherry blossoms.


    1. It seems like most works of fiction these days, be they short stories or novels, deal with dark situations and/or eccentric characters. I once wrote a novel and when I sent the manuscript to an agent for review, she got back to me complaining that NOTHING HAPPENED. Funny, I felt like I told a story…but it wasn’t dark enough or weird enough apparently. Ha.

      Hope you get your cherry blossoms soon!


  2. “I added those quotation marks up there because going to the library actually meant going to the library’s website and checking out a book involved downloading it to my Kindle. Ahh, 21st century, how I love thee.”

    HA! OMG, that is so funny Mark because I actually thought you “went” to the library and actually “checked out” the short story collection!!! Many, many years ago, I had a library card to a local library branch and enjoyed checking out books, DVD’s and music. Gosh, I can’t even remember the last time I actually read a whole book.

    I have a friend I’ve been blogging with for years and years, who’s name is Valerie and is from the UK who quite often posts short stories that she’s written. She’s a VERY talented writer who blows me away in her ability to adequately develop characters and come up with a beginning, middle, and end in only 20 pages?! And she can do this not only in not using 20 pages, but she condenses them into a single blog post using only 8-10 short paragraphs. If you ever have the chance, please check out her blog because I have a feeling you would enjoy her writing. She’s very diverse in her styles.

    Thanks for your recommendation of the movie, “Deepwater Horizon,” I will definitely look for it. You know me, I love movies!

    Beautiful photographs, Mark! Those trees are gorgeous!

    Have a super week!


    1. I have not set foot inside an actual library in years, Ron. But I do occasionally make a trip to Powell’s Books and pick up “real” books there. In fact, book #5 was an actual paperback from the bookstore (and Springsteen’s autobiography was hardcover). I like to mix it up and alternate between e-books and real ones.

      Thanks for recommending Valerie. I’ve seen her comments on your blog and if you’re vouching for her, she is somebody worth checking out. I’ll do it and tell her you sent me!


  3. I, too, find novels much easier to write than short stories. I’ve written maybe a dozen short stories and deem them ‘okay’. Four of them have been shared on my website, but I don’t think they’re good enough to submit for publication anywhere. I’m told their good, but meh – just not feeling it. Novels, otoh, oh yeah! But, therein lies another problem, finding a publisher who’s interested in something 120K words long! *sigh*. And that is why I self-publish.


    1. Hey, self-publishing is the way to go for any self-respecting writer who wants to maintain full control of his/her work. Good for you! 120K words IS pretty long…but I’ve certainly read (and enjoyed) longer books than that.

      I feel a blogger short story challenge coming on…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. A friend and fellow author just wrapped up his 214K mss this weekend! I was like WHAT!?! I really don’t understand why people think 120K is a long read. It’s about 400 page. That’s what I’ve always read, even back in high school, so I suppose that’s why that’s the length I write. I see ‘novels’ now that aren’t even an inch thick and I’m a little disappointed even if the writing is outstanding. But, I guess that’s just me.


  4. I can’t write a short story to save my life. I’m convinced there are novel people and their are short story people. And then there are the people who do both just to blow my theory. 😉


  5. Your short stories sound awfully tantalizing. I can’t be alone in thinking you ought to post some, right? They sound like they’d be a treat to read.

    You know, I’m great at STARTING to write novels but have never actually finished one. My hope is to break that streak this year, though I’m diving into research first (the topic involves Norse mythology).

    And the no-phones-in-bed thing is always a good idea. Always.


    1. You may not be the only one thinking it, but you are the only one who asked! Hmm…I will take your request under advisement. 🙂

      Good luck on your novel. Would you ever consider doing NaNoWriMo?


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