Stephen King once described short stories as “a quick kiss in the dark from a stranger,” which I used to think was cool and mysterious and romantic and now realize is pretty creepy and stalkerish and actually kind of assault now that I really think about it.
Authorial definitions change, is my point. How we define fiction and our work and ourselves, it’s a constant, frantic, Jarod-from-The–Pretender-which-was-a-really-good-and-underrated-TV-show-in-my-opinion evolution.
Take me. Ten years ago (Jesus, yes, ten fucking years) I was the Short Story Guy. I had a semi-popular short story podcast. I won short story awards. I had short stories in magazines and anthologies and on other podcasts all the time, it felt like. I wrote a short story a week at one point. My first book was a short story collection. I ingested short story mythology both SFF and non-SFF like it would give me short story super powers. It was what I loved to write. Then I found out you need money or you can’t like, buy stuff. So I became the Screenwriter Guy. I wrote a dozen movies that never got made, but for which I received checks that did clear. I wrote some other stuff that did get made, like webseries and TV shows and animated series. I moved out to Los Angeles and wrote more unmade movies and more stuff that did get made like an entertainment show that’s actually on your Apple TV right now.
I still wrote short stories, albeit infrequently, but I didn’t bother with publishing. I didn’t see much point, honestly.
A few years ago I started doing fiction seriously again, and I became the Self-Pub Guy. And I started with short stories, because that’s what I knew and what I largely wrote and I had a bunch of ’em stored up. They did okay, and that led to longer stuff, as it often does. Lately I’ve been the Novella Series Guy. I did a self-pub novella series throughout 2014, now I’m doing my Sin du Jour series as standalone print/e/audiobooks for Tor.com Publishing, and I just had a new one announced with indie publisher From Parts Unknown. It’s an old and new thing and I’m enjoying either rediscovering it or being on the frontier or both (publishing is weird that way).
All of this is to say I am all of these things except for periods when I’m none of these things and who you are and what you do as a writer often depends on whether it’s before lunch or after lunch and I have a new short story Out There for the first time in a while. Two years, in fact, since my last short story was published (“Sundae” on the wonderful YA podcast Cast of Wonders). And three years, I believe, since my last entirely new short story was published (“The Shotokan Masters,” which I released myself as an Amazon single for Kindle).
Today “Small Wars” is up on Tor.com and you can read it right now for free, which is always rad. It’s set in the world of my Sin du Jour books, taking place between the first two and also recounting via flashback how the Stocking & Receiving Department (often referred to in reviews as the “procurement” team) came together. I dig this story for a lot of reasons, the first being I’ve always loved movies and books about elite quasi-military teams tasked with dangerous missions, like Richards Brooks’ The Professionals (one of my all-time favorites) and Walter Hill’s Extreme Prejudice. The procurement team is my nod to that sub-genre, and one of that sub-genre’s staples and my favorite bits in all the movies is the “getting the team together scene/montage.” I finally got to do that in this story, so that’s an achievement unlocked.
“Small Wars” is also based in-part on, or at least inspired, by my essay “The Big and the Small: Confessions of an Irregular American,” which is still my most popular essay and one of my most personal. I wanted the story to be about something, and not strictly an adventure, although it is that and there’s nothing wrong with strictly adventure. In a review Publishers Weekly described “Small Wars” as “slyly poignant” so I suppose I succeeded. You can read it and see if you agree.
I also love, love, phantasmagorically fucking LOVE the artwork Goñi Montes created for the story’s cover. That’s another amazing thing about working for Tor.com, their cover art and illustrations, overseen by the luminous Irene Gallo, are next-level. This one is vying for my favorite cover of all time, and I’ve both seen and had some great covers done for my stuff. Goñi absolutely just nailed capturing the team here (from top to bottom the characters are: Moon, Cindy, Ritter, Hara, and Ryland). It’s my first time seeing any of the characters from these stories illustrated, and it will be an almost impossible act to follow.
Finally, Tor.com is one if not the biggest venue for SFF stories that currently exists, and I’ve been a genuine fan of what they’re doing with their authors, stories, and art for a long time. It’s a serious badge to finally have a story there.
So, yeah. There is nothing not cool about this. Click the link. Read the story. Maybe go buy some of the Sin du Jour books if you like it.
My thanks to Irene, Goñi, Lee Harris, and the rest of the Tor.com crew.
I have a new book out today. It’s called ENVY OF ANGELS. It’s the first in a new series of books I’m writing for Tor.com Publishing called Sin du Jour, about a crew of professional New York City chefs and magic-users who cater events for the underworld of the supernatural. I do my best to make it funny and fucked up and unexpected and about people you care about. I think it’s pretty good. I’m writing at least three more after this one, and I have more planned.
But I’ve talked enough about the book this year, and the truth is if you’re reading this you’ve either already bought it or decided you can’t or won’t.
So that’s what I’m going to write about today. The truth. I’m going to tell you the truth about a few things, and then I’ll tell you what’s important.
Here’s the truth. This book isn’t a big deal, and it’s not going to be. There are more books out there than opinions, and fewer people read this stuff than ever, it seems. Mine is a short book (a novella) being distributed mostly digitally as part of a new line of a new imprint of a massive publisher. The whole thing is an experiment, an untested quantity, and if it’s going to become anything eventually it’ll need time and trial and error to grow. And I have the absolute privilege (no sarcasm) of being a Guinea pig for this new model and new way of publishing SFF books I really truly believe could be cool for readers and beneficial for authors.
BUT. Even if my book was a big hardcover brick-and-mortar kind of book, there are still a bazillion of those, and in the grand scheme of publishing and popular fiction I’m nobody. That’s the truth. I’m a guy who scrapes out a meager living writing any ol’ thing anyone will pay him to write most of the time, who a few thousand people seem to enjoy watching get angry on Twitter, and who a few hundred very dedicated people (on a good day) actually actively seek out and spend money on his original fiction.
Today isn’t going to break records. The book isn’t going to go viral. I’m not going to be surprised and overwhelmed by the results.
Today isn’t a big deal to anyone except me, the folks who worked on the book, people who love me, and a small group of fans who were and are really excited about the book, those dedicated few hundred I just mentioned.
That’s the truth, and those are the people I want to talk to right now.
If you’re one of them? One of those few dedicated hundred? You?
You are the most important person in my career right now.
That is also absolutely, unabashedly, unexaggeratedly true.
Obviously I want you to review and rate it on Amazon and Goodreads and all that crap that’s become so desperately vital (and it does matter), but that’s not why you are important. Not at all.
Here’s what *can* happen *after* today, realistically, and what I’m cautiously optimistic will happen.
You can read the book you’ve been anticipating since I started shilling it ceaselessly earlier this year. And if you like it…*if* you like it as much as I hope you will and you hope you will, if it entertains you and helps you escape (because that’s what this is all about, you being entertained and escaping into your head for a little while)…you can tell people about it.
That’s it. That’s the secret. That’s the key. That’s the whole deal. That is GOD of this process.
At work, you tell people, “I just finished this book and you HAVE to read it, it’s hilarious and fucked up and there’s more coming.” You tell your friends you know would like it. You tell your family. You tell the people who will actually listen to you and buy the book and read it and love it and tell more people.
If you’re someone with a social media platform, and folks who actually follow you and listen to you? Even better. Doesn’t matter how many. It matters that you communicate how you personally dig this book and recommend it. Retweets and shares of my stuff are fantastic and I appreciate it so much, but nothing is more powerful or convincing than you expressing your genuine passion for something.
That’s it. That’s what sells books in the end. Sometimes I think it’s the only thing that actually ever does.
That’s what important.
So, there you go. I’m not asking anyone else to buy the thing right now. I’m asking you who’ve already bought your ticket for the ride to take it and then if you’re satisfied help me grow this little series of weird, funny books into something big. We have a little less than a year and three more books I promise will be just as fun and funny and fucked up and moving as this one. I love this world and these characters and these stories and I want to keep telling them. I’d love to turn this thing into a TV/streaming series myself. And I’m actually working on that. It’s not out of reach if you help me on the book side. This little thing that’s not a big deal can, in reality, be anything we want it to be if we believe in it and work our asses off to make it happen.
Today isn’t a big deal, but tomorrow and Sin du Jour can be.
It’s up to you folks, if you dig it.
In any case, thanks for coming this far with me. Truly. I hope I entertain you for a little while.
I also want to thank my editor, Lee Harris, who championed this book and series for me on day one. I want to thank associate publisher Irene Gallo, who is the kind of publisher this industry needs. Carl Engle-Laird, Mordicai Knode, my copy editor Liana Krissoff, cover designer Peter Lutjen, and anyone else at Tor.com Publishing who helped make this book and this series a real thing.