As much as Scott Nicholson is known for his novels, the man also has a slew of short fiction on his mantle, so after I had a chance to read and review one of his more recent collections, Missing Pieces, I had the chance to ask Scott a few questions about short fiction and their relation to the new digital landscape. Enjoy.
Gef: Missing Pieces is a collection of stories that supposedly didn't fit in with the other collections you've published. Do you find yourself thinking of stories like that as runts of the litter or the loner kids in class, or is it just something like looking for a balance with the book that certain stories upset a little bit?
Scott: Well, it wasn’t a very calculated decision. Part of it was I trimmed a couple of the earlier collections to make them more focused, and part of it was I’d had some new stories published since I put together my first ebook collections in 2010. So there is a mix of old and new, but the difference is that the stories in Missing Pieces are a mix of fantasy and horror, whereas the earlier collections are broken up by genre. Plus I wanted to use a creepy doll’s head on the cover, so the theme created itself.
Gef: With the digital age hitting a new plateau right now, how do see its effects on short fiction, for good or ill?
Scott: I think the pricing isn’t right for individual short stories. They should be 25 cents each, or 49 cents at the most, but the major markets have a minimum price of 99 cents for any digital product. So people put out short stories for 99 cents even though a lot of indie writers sell entire novels for 99 cents. I am happy to give 10 or so stories for 99 cents to $2.99, so a collection seems like a fair way to offer them for a low price yet still worth it for me. Of course, right now digital publishing is wide open, but it’s also confusing for readers, too. A digital short story looks exactly the same as a digital set of encyclopedias.
Gef: How has the reception been towards your collected short stories as opposed to your novels with regards to digital publishing? Does it add up to a niche market or have readers gravitated to one as a result of reading the other?
Scott: It’s hard to tell. Discoverability is so different now. I don’t think many people make a calculated effort to go find all my books, or they would all sell in roughly the same numbers. Instead, I think people come across them in different ways and go, “Hmm, I’ll try that one” or “I don’t have that one yet.” And because I have written in so many different genres, I can’t even promise that if you like one you will like them all.
Gef: How much of a gear shift is there for you when you're writing a short story instead of a novel?
Scott: Basically it’s the difference between a sprint and a marathon. I usually write stories in one or two sittings, riding one idea and one emotion with intense focus. Novels require some weaving and character-building and usually reflect a phase of your life, where your head is at when you’re writing them. Novels need multiple ideas to sustain them.
Gef: When you put together a collection, do you have a particular game plan in mind before hand, or do you simply look for some stories that might fit well together?
Scott: Aside from Missing Pieces, the other eight were built from existing inventory, so it was pretty easy to divide them into genres, such as science fiction, fantasy, supernatural, mystery, and psychological horror. I even have a literary collection, These Things Happened, which contains some realism, biographical essays, and poetry. I guess I’ve really piled it up over the years.
Gef: Have there been any authors over the years that have had a greater influence on your short stories than your novels?
Scott: Ray Bradbury, certainly. I always wanted to write that well, with such graceful, musical adjectives. I guess Kurt Vonnegut was an influence, too, but remember, when I was cutting my teeth, most markets wanted 3,000-word stories, unless you were Stephen King. I got to where I could finish a story within 100 words of 3,000 without ever checking the word count function. Some of my science fiction stories run longer, but usually if you went over 8,000 words, it was almost impossible to find a magazine market for it. Of course, magazines are virtually extinct and size no longer matters. How quickly and dramatically everything has changed during my short career.
Gef: What's next on your plate in terms of your short stories and novellas?
Scott: I’m writing a short story for the wonderful Jeani Rector of Horror Zine, and I may have one or two other commitments. After piling up hundreds of rejection slips, I have a hard time turning down any editor who asks me to write a story, although I rarely start one on my own. Commercially, it is better to write novels, and after writing nearly 100 stories, I don’t know if they can serve as warm-up acts for me anymore, since they are a great vehicle for writers experimenting and finding their voices. Maybe 15 years in, I am who I am. But if the right idea starts bugging me…never say never.
A big thanks to Scott to taking the time to answer a few questions, as well as offering up a free e-book to a few lucky winners. If you want to get your hands on a copy, all you have to do is leave a comment between now and September 14th. That simple. Just be sure to leave an e-mail address (youremail at whatever dot com) so I can contact you afterwards.