Aidan Moher isn’t actually someone I know very well, to be honest. However, he once posted an article on his ultimate decision and reasons why he was going ahead with his publication of TIDE OF SHADOWS and I’ve been hooked ever since. That article was the penultimate reason I decided to begin the process of self-publishing my own collection of short stories, ROGUE COSMOS. That aside, in the short time I’ve known Aidan he has provided nothing but insight into the world of writing with his blog, A Dribble of Ink alongside a kind and professional attitude. Aidan discusses here some of the facets of writing short fiction and I’m honored to give him the floor.
Since announcing my first book, Tide of Shadows and Other Stories, I’ve had a lot of people ask me, “Why a short fiction collection and not a novel?” To find the answer to that, we’ll need to go back a few years to the period in my life right after I’d completed the first draft of my first novel.
My first novel was enthusiastic—it had some good ideas and a big heart, but…it wasn’t very good. Even at the time I could recognized this, but I was so exhausted by the idea of going back and rewriting 70% of it that I decided to take my writing in a different direction: short fiction. It was meant to be a short detour, a palate cleanser, before jumping back into novel-length work. The idea was that I could use short fiction as an agile medium to help me better understand the deficiencies in my writing and storytelling that I’d recognized while writing my novel.
One of the issues in the novel was pacing—everything moved forward with this sense of inevitable momentum that was exhausting. I needed to learn how to create a more natural rhythm in my storytelling. Another issue was in character motivation—sure, cool stuff happened, but the reasons explaining why the characters were behaving in a way that led to those scenarios was thin. I needed to learn how to create cause/effect based on the desires of my characters, rather than plot happening randomly around them. So, I began writing short fiction, keeping these issues in mind, and each story I wrote helped me to address one or more of them. I couldn’t solve every problem in the first go around, but—and this is important—there’s a sense of immediate gratification in writing short fiction that you just can’t get from writing novels. I felt like each story was a success and encouraged me to move onto the next one, to make each story better than the last.
So, even after the next course was served, I was still busy on the aperitif. I kept writing short fiction. Eventually, I decided that it made sense to set some of the short stories in the same world as the new novel I was outlining/developing—some featuring the same protagonist, some not—and that helped me not only keep momentum on the novel-writing front, but also helped me to explore and better understand the world I was creating for my novel. Every time I sat down to write, the stories in my head that spoke loudest were the short stories. So, I listened.
One of short fiction’s most appealing aspects—perhaps its most appealing aspect—is that it encourages flexibility and creativity at every turn. Where writing a novel comes with enormous opportunity costs, particularly time, short stories are small and agile, and taking risks while writing short fiction is easier, less scary. There’s a commercial aspect that novel writing that has an enormous impact on whether a book will sell or not—this isn’t really the case with short fiction. You write, you take chances, and, if it doesn’t work out, you learn lessons that will make the next project smaller, all at the expense of several hours worth of writing, rather than several months or even years. I love this. I love being able to experiment, to set challenges that foster creativity and outside of the box thinking. The lessons I’ve learned writing short fiction will make me more comfortable taking calculated risks when writing novels.
By the time I sold my first story—”A Night for Spirits and Snowflakes” to the Sword & Laser Anthology, edited by Veronica Belmont and Tom Merritt—I had a decent collection of short stories: most of them bad, and some that just wouldn’t shut up, no matter how deep I stuffed them in my Trunk of Forgotten Tales. At this point, I’d also collected enough rejections from pro-paying short fiction markets that I could wallpaper a small condominium building. I think it’s important for aspiring writers to take rejection letters as a rite of passage, a way to build writer’s calluses and learn how to be persistent in your belief of your work.
But, underneath all of that confidence and perseverance, I also began to recognize that I was hanging onto my existing stories, putting more energy into trying to find a home for them than in working on new stories. Five in particular. I wanted to be excited about these stories, to get them into the hands of readers. Even years after writing them, and varying levels of success with pro-paying short fiction markets, these stories were still talking to me, asking when they’d have a chance to fly the coop. So, after a lot of thought, I decided that I’d take on the challenge myself, to assemble a collection of my favourite short stories: Tide of Shadows and Other Stories.
The decision to self-publish is another article in itself, but ultimately it came down to a realization that I have a wonderful group of readers already (through my blog, A Dribble of Ink) and I was ready for a new challenge. I’d spent a lot of time on one side of the publishing industry as a reader and critic, and I was ready to dip my toes into the other end of the pool as publisher and author. Assembling Tide of Shadows and Other Stories was a tremendous learning experience, and I hope it opens the doors for some more projects I have planned.
Lessons were abundant through the entire creation process for the book, and they continue now that the book is out in the wild. I’ve enjoyed letting go of these stories, and I’m hard at work on several new short stories that, with any luck, readers will be able to get their hands on over the next several months. I can’t wait to see how these stories change and evolve in the hands of readers. Before the collection was published, there was only a single version of the stories—now that it’s in the hands of readers, there are a thousand variations, one for each reader, and I’m beyond ecstatic to see how it evolves, how people form relationships with the characters I’ve discovered and the worlds I’ve crafted. Their voices are no longer in my head, replaced, instead, by the screaming, slavering horde of new stories I’m working on, so, now, my attention turns to those, and, one day, letting them free, too.
Aidan Moher is the Hugo Award-winning editor of A Dribble of Ink, and author of Tide of Shadows and Other Stories, a collection of science fiction and fantasy short stories. He lives on an island in British Columbia with his wife and daughter.
About the Book
From Aidan Moher—Hugo Award-winning editor of A Dribble of Ink—comes Tide of Shadows and Other Stories, a collection of five science fiction and fantasy stories spanning adventure, comic whimsy, and powerful drama—from a star-faring military science fiction tale of love and sacrifice, to a romp through the dragon-infested Kingdom of Copperkettle Vale.
“A Night for Spirits and Snowflakes” is the story of a young man reliving the last moments of his fellow soldiers’ lives; “The Girl with Wings of Iron and Down” tells the tale of a broken family and a girl with mechanical wings; “Of Parnassus and Princes, Damsels and Dragons” introduces a typical prince, princess, and dragon—and a not-so-typical love triangle; “The Colour of the Sky on the Day the World Ended” follows a girl and her ghost dog as they search for a bright light in the darkness; and “Tide of Shadows” is about a soldier and his lover, a mother, and planetwide genocide.