Tuesday, August 13, 2013

An Interview with Shawn Proctor about Short Stories... Yes, Some of Us Like to Write Those

Today's guest is Shawn Proctor, a fellow author of short stories who is published in the latest anthology from Elephant's Bookshelf Press alongside myself. Shawn's writing resides at the intersection where the traditions of literature and pulp fiction meet. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Rosemont College and is the book editor for Nerd Caliber. His work has been nominated for Best New American Voices and published in several literary journals and anthologies, including Apiary, Anthology Philly, Schuylkill Valley Journal and Summer's Edge. "The Whipsaw Napalm," a prequel short story to his superhero-novel-in-progress, is forthcoming from This Mutant Life.

Short stories aren't easy to write, and - if we're being honest - even harder to get published. So with a fellow short-scribbler to jaw with, I asked Shawn a few questions.

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Do you find writing short stories to be harder or easier than writing novel length projects?

I started by writing short stories because I believed the power of storytelling went back to mythology and fantasy and horror stories, rooted in the oral tradition. They were the kind of tales that kept you awake. They were short and haunting.

Over time, I realized that novels have the same potential, but they immerse the reader more than a short story. The end goal is still to create a lasting impression. I have less experience writing novels, so crafting a longer yet focused story is an exciting challenge.

Do you tend to work in the same genre with shorts as you do with novels, or do you feel free to dabble a bit more?

In the last two years I have been writing more superhero fiction, including a novel and a prequel short story that's coming out next month from This Mutant Life. However, I tend to be much more experimental in shorter pieces and write fiction that straddles two or three genres, mostly because there's less plot to manage. I worry less about what to call the genre and more about telling a knock-you-on-your-butt story.

What has your experience of publishing with an Indie been like?

Generally, I have had positive experiences with Indies. As an author, you are your own best advocate though. Keep your head. Read the contract. Understand what could happen if things don't work out. In short: hope for the best, prepare for the worst.

Matt Sinclair at Elephant's Bookshelf has been awesome. He communicates all of the details very well and is a great partner in all phases of the publishing process. Matt's gets it. He wants writers he works with to succeed. Better yet, he's a guy I could imagine talking with over a beer.

As a reader, have you ever discovered a new writer or genre that you like through an anthology?

Absolutely. I always read the "best of" anthologies that come out each year, including Best American Short Stories and the Pushcart. You get to see the new work from familiar names along with emerging authors.   

Indie anthologies are the center of publishing right now and for good reason. There are fewer journals and many of the ones left either running endless contests or charge for submitting, which I ethically oppose. Anthologies fill the gap where literary journals used to shine. They are where you're going to find the stars of tomorrow.

EBP's seasonal anthologies all fall under a theme. Did you write your short story "Just A Perfect Day" to fit the theme, or was this a story that already existed and it was a good fit for submitting?

This was a very odd horror story called "Leaving the American Sector" that I wrote a few years ago after a trip to Germany. I believed in the concept, but was never sure how to make the love-gone-awry beginning mesh with the Lovecraftian turn in the end. It turned out that by cutting the supernatural elements it became a surreal story about love tainted by delusion. 

"Just A Perfect Day" is about a relationship that is supposed to be working, but it's not. Do you think it's human nature to resent it when others fall short of our expectations?

We're fixed in our own point-of-view and that means even when we say in the moment, "It's not your fault, it's me," we mean, "It's totally your fault." It takes time to realize that maybe those failings weren't as monumental as they seemed. It takes perspective to consider that perhaps my expectations were unfair. 

What's next for you, as a writer?

I'm finishing up a revision of my novel Stand-In Heroes, which is a story in which two people receive half of a fallen superhero's powers. They have to learn to quickly learn to use their abilities because the man who killed the hero is coming for them next.

Tales of capes and costumes are obviously exciting, but the novel also examines the lives and relationships of two people who must find extraordinary courage to oppose a threat to the entire city.


Matt Sinclair said...

I love getting some background on Shawn's story! It definitely had the opening line I most remembered out of all the stories that were submitted this time.

And a beer sounds great, Shawn ;-)

estetik drew said...


Debra McKellan said...

That sounds cool. I need to get back into short stories.