Very recently I learned that one of my favorite Mary Gaitskill stories, “The Nice Restaurant”, has never been collected. I still have the issue of the New Yorker it appeared in, and while I do own Mary Gaitskill’s work, it had never occurred to me she wouldn’t have collected it yet until a friend mentioned it in passing on Twitter and I was reminded, again, why for at least 20 years now, I save stories from magazines.

They fall through the cracks. They don’t always get collected, and sometimes the writer never becomes a published author, i.e., with a book. And so in my shelves there’s a collection of literary journals and magazines alongside the books. I go to them when I teach.

I’m thinking about it today in relationship to a new project I’m involved with, the Storyville app, launched by the man who helped make buying music on iTunes so compulsive, Paul Vidich. Paul is a former Warner Music exec and also a MFA graduate of Rutgers-Newark, and he has turned his attention to the short story, even, as Peter Orner notes today, some say it is dying. Perhaps even because of that: he, like me, has that same passion for saving stories.

Paul’s project is, as described over at the Fiction Writers Review,

focused on stories from newly, or soon-to-be published collections, as well as on rescuing lost shorts from forgotten collections, securing stories that have fallen from the literary canon by negotiating 2nd-serial, electronic rights from every major publisher in hopes of republishing them for the Storyville audience. The publishers are, of course, delighted. With marketing budgets for collections already slim due to low sales, a decision that only compounds low sales further, many readers simply don’t know where to find great stories in the marketplace.

When Paul invited me to be an adviser, it was like I’d found an electronic way to do what I’ve been doing for a while now.

In a new essay of mine up over at The Morning NewsI talk about some of my reading habits and ways I tried to address a decline in my pleasure reading, or, as I like to put it, how the internet remapped my brain, and an e-book re-remapped it—and brought me back to books in general.  One of the things I’ve been enjoying recently is reading short stories on my phone, delivered via app, like Wells Tower’s “Raw Water” on the McSweeney’s app, for example. Being able to do this is something I’ve wanted for years, and even thought was necessary–I know some are skeeved out by the e-book, but I don’t think of it quite that way–I think of it as the story liberated from the page, in a sense, as if it got up and ran away to join the electronic circus. Before, leaving the house used to entail deciding which book I wanted to read later if I ended up in line or on the train–I can’t ride subways without something to read–and I used to sometimes walk out with three books in my bag. Now I like how I can relax a little, and if I end up waiting in the package line at the post office, read a great story on my phone.

I remember the first time e-books almost happened, and everyone decided they were never going to come to anything. It felt like the future had come and we’d said Not now. Technology was changing the music industry, film, television and pop culture, and it felt like literary culture was getting left behind. It’s almost the end of 2010 now, and the future is back and it doesn’t look the way we thought it would even two years ago: Indie bookstores are growing as the chains decline, and some are going to sell e-books. The Atlantic reinvented itself, turning a profit for the first time in years, and with the debut of his app for the Adderall DiariesStephen Elliott made the e-book even seem like last year’s news. Many have predicted the end of the printed book but I don’t really see it that way–I feel like watching my own consumption, it’s only gone up. I’m still buying books, but now I’m buying things I wasn’t able to buy before, and a story a week on my phone is an example of that. It’s not replacing anything in my life, it’s just a way to have more.

Storyville will send you a story every week to your iPhone or iPad (the Android version is underway, coming up in 2011). The first story, “The Transgression”, comes from TNB Fiction Feature Author Ben Greenman’s new collection, Celebrity Chekhov, followed by “Miss Famous”, from Robert Boswell’s Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards, and after that, stories from Daniel Kehlmann and Miljenko Jergovic. Check us out.

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ALEXANDER CHEE is a recipient of the 2003 Whiting Writers’ Award, a 2004 NEA Fellowship in Fiction and fellowships from the MacDowell Colony. He is currently the Visiting Writer at Amherst College. His first novel, Edinburgh (Picador, 2002), is a winner of the Michener Copernicus Prize, the AAWW Lit Award and the Lambda Editor’s Choice Prize, and was a Publisher’s Weekly Best Book of the Year and a Booksense 76 selection. In 2003, Out Magazine honored him as one of their 100 Most Influential People of the Year. His columns and articles have appeared in Out, Martha Stewart Living, Garden Design, TimeOut/NY and Bookforum. He is a graduate of Wesleyan University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and has taught fiction writing at the New School University and Wesleyan. His second novel, The Queen of the Night, is forthcoming from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. He is represented by Jin Auh at the Wylie Agency. You can reach him at alexander dot chee (a) gmail dot com

17 responses to “The Short Story is Not Dead”

  1. Greg Olear says:

    The short story and the e-reader is a perfect marriage, seems to me.

    Nice to see you on here, Alex…always instructive to read your take on what’s going on.

  2. I save stories from magazines, print them from online publications too. Glad to see new tech support for this great form.

  3. I don’t have a smartphone but I do think this is an excellent way to acknowledge that the short story still exists and to get those stories to people who want to read them. I’m a big fan of short stories and novellas. I think most novels should be novellas because many have entirely too much filler that isn’t necessary. It’s like, in order to be considered relevant in writing, you have to write 280 pages to get a book deal when that same book could easily be 170 pages and just as good.

    Best of luck in the venture.

    • Ha. That’s funny, I think of that though as being more of an editing crisis. But many have argued that our best story writers—and I agree—can often do in a story what many try in a novel, like Deborah Eisenberg, William Trevor, Alice Munro. For a mind-blowing recent novella, check out Hilton Als’ “His Sister, Her Monologue”, in McSweeney’s 35. It’s amazing. And thanks!

  4. Matt says:

    I second Greg’s comment. I’ve been hesitant to try to read a full-length book on my iPhone (I don’t have an iPad, and am loathe to get a Kindle or similar), but have enjoyed the short stories I’ve read on it from the Granta app or similar. Something about the length just seems right. I’m just waiting for this week’s paycheck to clear the bank before I download Storyville.

  5. With time, I would hope that the new generation of writers could put up their uncollected but published stories on their own websites, and as ePub and Kindle e-books, not unlike StoriesandNovels.com.

  6. Aaron Dietz says:

    Wow, this Storyville thing sounds awesome. I’ve been reading TNBer Will Entrekin’s Meets Girl on my phone and I’ve been surprised that I like it so much. It’s pleasant. It looks good. It weighs the same as my phone and fits in…my phone. So you know, it’s like carrying around books without carrying them. I know I must sound stupid for pointing out the obvious but I never saw the value of this until I actually started enjoying reading an ebook. I’ll shut up now.

  7. Great news, meanwhile: Edwidge Danticat, Mavis Gallant and Anthony Doerr have all signed up stories with Storyville.

  8. Really interesting development, Alexander. My cell phone is more or less antidiluvian, but it maybe this is a good excuse to upgrade. I really like Wells Tower’s collection. And Mary Gaitskill, too.

  9. Great news. I don’t have a Kindle but I do have Kindle for iPhone, and have purchased a few short stories as well as some anthologies and e-books (all because that was the only way I could access them, otherwise I’d have chosen paper). I’ve found that the short stories are ones I’ve actually read in full, while the longer works, even the good ones, I tend to lose interest–or rather, my finger loses interest in scrolling over so many times. Maybe it’s different for those with proper e-book readers but my point was, a short story is a perfect length. And to find fellow short story fans. Which reminds me that I have Bummer by Janice Shapiro, which I bought last month, waiting for me to start.

  10. Great stuff Alexander!

    Though it’s a sentiment that tends to draw dirty looks from writers, I’ve always felt that the 200-page bound collection was the worst thing to happen to the short story form. I’m hoping apps like this will prove me right, but I’m not holding my breath.

    I’ve also thought it a shame that literary magazines can too often turn into graveyards for great stories that don’t get anthologized. For years I’ve wondered if somebody might start an online entity that would reprint those great one-off stories (especially from emerging writers). Sounds like Storyville might take that idea a step further…

    Thanks for this post. There’s a lot of us that can use your help navigating these new technologies.

  11. Marni Grossman says:

    Any suggestions on not-to-be-missed short stories?

  12. Great stuff, Alexander, loved the article.

    I’m a fan of Gaitskill too. If you haven’t checked out DADDY’S by Lindsay Hunter and/or THE PHYSICS OF IMAGINARY OBJECTS by Tina May Hall, do so, you’ll probably enjoy them. I have reviews up here at TNB for both, if you want a taste.

    I think this is a great time for the short story, and the way that we will get those stories (online, ereader, print, postcar, etc.) will certainly evolve and change, but the ability to get great prose in smaller doses makes these venues all the more exciting and potentially successful, I think.

    Storyville sounds cool. Hell, just the name alone draws me in. Best of luck with it.

  13. […] several hours with a collection are often pleased to read a single story online or to subscribe to a story a week on their phone. While many long short stories are still published online (sometimes as printable PDF’s but […]

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