I may know art, but I don’t know what I like.

I’ve always liked the absurd way that sounds.

I have an aunt who is an educated artist. She has spent many years of her adult life taking courses in art at a major university. She has studied all mediums including sculpture, painting, and drawing. She spends most of her time with stained glass, (which, I am proud to say, I introduced her to the medium), and has produced many strikingly beautiful pieces. Each masterpiece is placed artistically in the appropriate window of her home to take advantage of the available ambient or direct sunlight.

My aunt can tell you that there a characteristics to art that make it good or bad. And that when artists hear people standing before their work and repeat that immortal phrase that I so consistently twist, their backs arch and the word ‘peasant’ comes to mind. But, just because the picture of the dogs playing poker makes us laugh, it doesn’t make it good art. Or, just because we think the idea of dogs playing poker is moronic, doesn’t mean it is not good art.

Like art, a short story has characteristics that make it a good piece of writing, or a bad one. We spend much of our time identifying what makes a good story and what makes a bad one. As a reader of short stories, (I’m one of the guys that has to read the stories submitted to Flagship for inclusion in our eReader publication), I don’t dissect a story as I read it. I don’t think, “Is this character believable?”, “Is his motivation plausible?”, “Is there a hook or conflict?”

I look for stories that are easy to read, that grab me from the beginning and compel me to stay with it to the end. I look for stories that make me want to ‘hang out’ with the characters and learn more about them, or cheer them along in their challenges. I look for stories that flow and take logical consistent steps forward, and don’t wander around with thick and distracting exposition.

In the end, I want to find stories that, whether you know what makes them good or not, when you pick up your Kindle, or your In the end, I want to find stories that, whether you know what makes them good or not, when you pick up your Kindle, or your iPhone, or read it on your desktop in Stanza or as a .pdf, you will be absorbed into the stories and be satisfied with the price you paid for them.

5 Comments

  • Arlene says:

    Like art, your opinion of what makes a great short story for you, is not the same content that will please all.
    I love some modern art, but others seem to be unfinished to my eyes. Sculpter of all kinds makes me stop and sigh, even while I try to figure out what it is. FIP is your baby, you have every right to publish what you choose, but do not expect my taste to concur with yours. I don’t always like the books I buy and sometimes give them away after the first chapter. If we all agreed on what makes a good story then why have different genres or POVs or Stephen King and Mary Renault. You have just told us that FIP is going to be filled with stories that you like……but maybe not what I like. As per your first issue.

  • pcarroll says:

    That is why we have five editors that all have voice about what we put in. Our tastes vary radically.

    I’m afraid I do become confusing as I blather. The point I tried to ineffectively make was that with art and writing there are characteristics that make one piece good and another not. If those characteristics are in place, we will be able to read and enjoy a piece comfortably, (or uncomfortably, if that is what the author intended) and without excessive analysis and distraction by weak writing elements.

    I’m sorry you didn’t like our first issue.

  • I am sorry I was in a hurry when I posted the earlier comment. I meant to say that not all the pieces in the first issue were to my taste. There were several that were,one that was outstanding (but I do not write like that author nor do I like everything that person writes) and some that were not.

    Now back to art, as well as a “good short story”. You are still using your values to judge. I can make a bet that if I stood in the middle of an art museum, modern or otherwise (all the art there judged the best of it’s kind by many other much more ‘art intellectual’ than I) with you and the committee on FIP that we would all say that at least one of the pieces would not be what we, individually,would choose to put in that museum. But it is not only my taste that counts.

    To be more specific, what your committee found to suggest to make changes to my story were the very aspects that drew others to it.

    I agree that my story may not be what you wanted for your emagazine. And that is fine. But it was not because I could not write, it was because the committee did not like the story. It is not a “Dogs playing poker” story, if you must compare it to a painting, it could be a Bruegel. Not to everyone’s liking but my favorite artists (both the father and the son).

    My story is going on to become an Apple app, done by a publisher in London. She asked me for it and now I have my erights back so it all worked out. She liked it just the way it is. Different tastes for different folks.

    I think it could have been handled differently, but am not going to make suggestions. Your committee needs to handle this. Discuss and debate.

    You may not make any changes to your process and that is your right! FIP is yours and I admire you all (I really do!) for putting it together and trying to make a go of it! I look forward to your next issue.

  • Scott Roche says:

    Arlene, just out of curiosity, where do you get that we expect your taste to coincide with ours or that we at FIP even all have the same tastes or approach to deciding what’s good? The wonderful thing about the publishing world is the great variety out there.

    FIP is going to be filled with stories that some of us like (hopefully all of us). That’s certainly not going to tickle everyone’s fancy, but I know my hope as one of the editors is that out of every issue there’s at least two stories that someone will like. We take and publish a wide variety of stories.

    If there’s something specific about issue one or any of the stories in there that you liked or didn’t like we’d love for you to share that with us. We’ve already received some great feedback both positive and negative and we want to use both to make us better.

  • I am writing this as a statement to say to anyone and everyone who reads this blog, that I am wholeheartedly in favor of and support this adventure of Flying Island Press.

    Something in the original blog caused my ire to raise, maybe a misconceived idea of the judgement of what is “good art” on my part. The first issue of FIP was a very good example of different styles.

    I was taking your response to my entry in account when I rushed in to respond to the blog.

    I am glad there are five of you who read the stories before they are cleared and assume the majority wins,which could not be more fair. I accept that wholeheartedly. But I do ask one thing, be very careful when you respond to an author’s entry. I received back suggestions that were not expected and if followed, I believe, would have changed my story into something that was not in my heart, for that story. I suggest that in the future that you simply accept or reject and if rejected ask the author if they would like to know why. Then the author can respond if they wish. And if yes, the author would be supplied with a professional list of reasons, not the “I would like it better if you changed this.” That email was filled with ‘I’ references and suggestions that I assumed was coming from only one person who was judging my entry.
    And so ends the cycle of responses from me to this blog. (Of course I am a woman and reserve the right to change my mind on this!)

    I will assume that I will find at least one story an issue that makes me think and reread several times to enjoy the flow of words and ideas, as happened with several stories in the last issue. I would never be able to undertake such an adventure as yours without the committee idea. Go for it Flying Island Press and take with you all my wishes to do well.

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