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short stories [Archive]

THE FUTURE IS JAPANESE giveaway contest—the future of short fiction!

The Future is Japanese is coming soon! This week, in fact. And to celebrate, we’re having our traditional giveaway essay contest! The Future is Japanese is an anthology of short stories, and the occasional novelette, so that will be our theme.

Take me home!

Once upon a time in the United States, the short story was a major part of literary culture. There were dozens of dozens of pulp fiction magazines covering every popular genre, including the ones we still read—science fiction, mystery, romance, western—and those that have faded into either the mainstream, or security, such as pulp magazines purely about boxing, or airplanes, or mad scientists and criminals pretending to be supernatural menaces. And of course, there were important slicks such as The Saturday Evening Post, which would publish F. Scott Fitzgerald one issue and Ray Bradbury the next. The New Yorker, Cosmopolitan, and all the other major magazines had fiction features. (In Japan, incidentally, many book publishers also publish magazines, and the short story is still commercially significant, and an important way to “break in” to the field directly.)

Then it all went away. There are a tiny handful of genre fiction magazines remaining today, and most of they paid the same rate they did fifty years ago. It’s not that the magazines didn’t keep pace with inflation, it’s that they kept pace with both inflation and their own plummeting circulation numbers. Most general-interest magazines got rid of their fiction sections (and honestly, most of their substantive reporting) decades ago. Now it’s all top-ten lists, celebrity photos, and weight-loss tips. Even Atlantic Monthly spun its fiction off into an annual special issue, keeping it segregated from the rest of their offerings.

Recently, there’s been a bit of a comeback. Online publishing made fiction magazines easier to start, if not maintain, and there’s been a recent resurgence in interest of the fiction anthology—especially themed anthologies the size of phonebooks. And increasing numbers of people are self-publishing short fiction for e-readers, as “samples” for novels, or just for kicks. But what will happen to the short story in the future? Do you even read short fiction? (If you’re entering this contest, I hope you do!) Write me a little essay about the short story and where it’s headed, and you can be one of four winners of The Future Is Japanese. Be sure to leave your essay as a comment on this blog entry, and check back often to view the conversation. On Friday May 18th, and noon Pacific, we’ll announce the winners! So play today!

The Stationmaster

We here at VIZ Media aren’t all manga, or all SF, all the time. Sometimes we publish novels that defy genre categories. One such is The Stationmaster by Jiro Asada. When I first read it, I was reminded of Shirley Jackson—some of Asada’s stories are supernatural, others straightforward realism. He’s by turns blunt and sentimental, intimate and journalistic. I asked Rebecca Downer, who edited this great short story collection for VIZ Fiction, to offer up a few words on a volume that’s called in its native country, “the book that made Japan cry.”

The Stationmaster cover
Jiro Asada’s stories in The Stationmaster are by no means epic in scope. Rather, they deal with very ordinary people, even very flawed people, who suddenly find their lives touched by the extraordinary. One could call these illuminating moments supernatural, or as the Japanese publisher tagged them, miracles. Whatever you call them, I think, in most of the stories, they are the product of the characters’ suffering. The stationmaster, for instance, in the title story, is experiencing the deepest anguish of his life. His station is about to close and his grief over the deaths of his wife and daughter is as sharp as though they just happened. Some benevolent force allows the old stationmaster relief in the form of his daughter, returning to him at the age she’d be if she’d lived. Perhaps it is a miracle; perhaps it is the old man’s own personal process of reconciling with his past—a sign he’s forgiving his past and letting himself move on. Whatever the case, it happened in that moment of deepest despair.

One of my favorite stories in the collection is “Devil.” There’s that kind of creeping dread that you find in the best of classic ghost stories, which turns out to be the perfect foil for this tale of the dissolution of a family, told as it is from a child’s point of view. The young boy who is both main character and narrator can’t really comprehend what is happening around him, and the story he invents to explain the events he is witnessing is both chilling and revealing.

In nearly all the stories it’s at that point of utter helplessness that a kind of protection for the character is conjured into being. Whether it’s a person—a ghost? a figment of the imagination?—or a story, a visit to the past, or a letter, Asada shows a deft hand in finding that ideal source of redemption, reconciliation, forgiveness, and forgetting, in each of his (not so?) ordinary characters’ lives. Sure, maybe they’re not epic, but the scope of human emotion the stories contain is pretty impressive.

A spooky little boy like me…

Hey all,

Just a quick note tonight, that I was interviewed about our rockin’ and seasonally appropriate dark fantasy title ZOO over at Ranobe Café (coffee not included). Mostly it’s me ranting about how poorly short stories are treated in the US marketplace.

In the interview, I mention that Stephen King, who knows a little something about horror and about short stories, recently declared that people have forgotten how to read short fiction. Here is the piece, btw, provided by Simon & Schuster which is, not-so-coincidentally, the distributor of fine Haikasoru products and the occasional provider of doughnuts to me when I am in New York for sales conferences. Check it out! (Btw, he says a “bad word” so if you’re at work, put on headphones.)

Back when he was coming up, King would publish his short stories in men’s magazines and fantasy rags. Now that he is the most popular writer in the world, he can publish in The New Yorker, Paris Review, and Esquire, and he is one of the few authors whose short story collections can appear in mass market paperback after a hardcover release. For the rest of us, including Otsuichi, who is very popular in Japan (740,000+ copies of ZOO alone over there!) the short story collection is a risk. Is King right? Have we fallen out of love with the short story? Are we too LAZY to invest in a story and then eighteen pages later reset our brains and try again? I worry that he is right. After all, the men’s magazines and fantasy rags that once published King are now either defunct, devoid of fiction entirely, or have one-fifth the readers they once had.

Prove me—and the KING—wrong, kids! Buy ZOO and I’ll be able to publish more short fiction from Japan.

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