I hate writing short stories. I find them way, way harder to write than novels, although I have no idea why. I also don't particularly like reading them. What's the point, when there's not really enough room to get to know the characters or to develop a decent plot? I like novels.
But several things lately have made me decide to write some short stories:
1. It kept coming up during Worldcon and I decided there was a reason I kept catching that message.
2. The Daily Science Fiction September lineup was published last week and my short story "Blood Oranges" will run on Sept. 25.
3. That Daily SF story is my second of three pro sales required for me to be eligible to join SFWA, and if I don't write anymore short stories, that third sale will never happen.
4. I've been on the treadmill of writing a novel, trying to find an agent, failing to find an agent, writing another novel for several years and it's worn me down badly; I need a few short story sales to regain some confidence in my writing.
5. I suspect if I start to sell to pro magazines regularly, I'll get more interest from agents.
6. Some relatively quick money would be nice too.
So once I decided to write short stories--and focus on writing for the pro markets, not the smaller magazines--I also decided I needed to read what's being published these days. I went to the book store and bought copies of Analog, Asimov's, and Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine--EQMM because I like mysteries, not because I expect to write any.
I read EQMM first and loved all but one story in it. I mean seriously loved them, to the point where I may subscribe. In fact, I went back to the book store yesterday and bought Aflred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, because I wanted more. I haven't read it yet, though. I was floored that I reacted that way to short stories and picked up Analog expecting I'd react the same way.
I didn't. The stories were pretty well written but I found most of them dull, pointless, and thought they were trying awfully hard to sound important. In short, the magazine was everything I remembered from trying to read SF stories years ago, and the reason why I don't like reading them now. Asimov's was better; I enjoyed maybe half the stories. I also bought The Magazine of Fantasy & SF yesterday and read the first story today, and liked it. Hopefully I'll like some of the other stories too.
After reading these short stories, I've come to a major conclusion: a huge percentage of stories in all these magazines--including mystery stories--take place in evocative, exotic settings, which I suspect is an effective way to hook a reader into a story that might otherwise come across as bland. Foreign settings usually have a white man as the main character; "normal" settings frequently have an "unusual" main character (native American, Chinese-American, woman, etc.).
My writing has improved considerably (I think) since I stopped writing short stories a few years ago. Now I know the secret to setting, I think I can start selling to pro markets. If only I can finish some wretched shorts.