2017 Goals #2: Do More Recreational Reading

child_with_red_hair_readingIn my goal setting post last January, my third goal was to do more recreational reading. And that is a goal I can definitely say I accomplished. The primary reason for that success was that I discovered the fun and convenience of reading short stories.

While I have written short stories—about minor characters from my Victorian San Francisco mystery series––and I have even written about why I like to write short stories in this blog post, I hadn’t actually read many short stories for years…maybe decades.

In fact, except for a number of years in my youth when I found the time to read the New Yorker from cover to cover (including the short stories), I don’t really remember when I ever chose short stories for my recreational reading––certainly not mystery and science fiction short stories.

So, what caused the change in my reading habits in 2016?

First, ever since I retired from teaching and started writing full-time, I stopped finding the time to read for pleasure. I read non-fiction as research, other authors’ works as a beta reader, but not fiction for the pure joy of it.

Trying to figure out why, I determined that one of the reasons for this is that I have never liked to start reading a story when I know I won’t have the time to finish it right away. I am not one of those readers who is content to spend weeks slowly making my way through a novel.

I solved this problem when I was a busy history professor by binge reading fiction over holidays and summer vacations and during the rare days I was too sick to go into work. However, once I started my second career as a writer, things like holidays and summer vacations became irrelevant, and I started working seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. (The reason for that is for another post!)

In short, without really even thinking about it, I began avoiding novel that weren’t directly related to my writing because that would mean a couple of days when I wasn’t making progress on the newest manuscript or working away at my long marketing to-do list. As a result, I got out of the habit of reading strictly for pleasure.

But then in 2015, I discovered the Future Chronicles, a series of science fiction/fantasy anthologies published by Samuel Peralta. Peralta had expressed interest in publishing an anthology of short stories in the Paradisi Chronicles series, the open-source science fiction world I helped create that year. It only seemed sensible to read some of the anthologies he’d published to see if this felt like a good fit for those of us writing in the Paradisi World. (Here is a blog post about this series and the subsequent Chronicle Worlds: Paradisi anthology Peralta published.)

While this decision was work related, what I hadn’t expected is how much I would enjoy these short stories. And rather than just reading one or two stories in a couple of the anthologies, I went on during the rest of 2016 to read all of the stories in twelve of the anthologies. And in the process I discovered that I had solved my problem of how to continue to read fiction for pleasure because with a short story, I could start and finish the story in one sitting.

So simple, but up until then, I stupidly thought of short stories as something you found in print magazines (I am showing my age here). And, when I had a small window of time to read, the only magazine in our house with fiction in it was the New Yorker. And I had stopped enjoying their stories decades ago.

This is where ebooks and my Kindle came into play in changing my reading habits.

I have blogged about why I like having a Kindle so much—but frankly recently I was primarily using it to read novels the four or so times a year I was traveling to see my daughter and grandchildren (or got a bad cold.) So my foray into reading Future Chronicles anthologies was the first time I used my Kindle to read short stories by other authors.

And lo and behold, I started reading these short stories in those short windows of time: you know––the twenty minutes or so I was sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, while I ate lunch, when my husband is watching the news (and I had had enough news for the day), and during the hour of insomnia that seems to be accompanying my aging process with distressing regularity.

And over the past year, with just finding one or two of these short intervals of time a day, I have read 144 short stories in the Future Chronicles, a fun bundle of Christmas short stories, and the stories in two issues of the Fiction River: An Original Anthology Magazine. Oh, and I also read all of the Paradisi Chronicle short stories that ended up in the anthology Peralta published for us.

And, like priming a pump, reading these short stories in the science fiction genre has actually encouraged me to take more time off to read full-length novels. As a result, this past year, I have also re-read through the entire William Gibson canon, read all three books in Ilona Andrews’ Innkeeper Chronicles, all eight books in Lindsay Buroker’s Fallen Empire series, and all the books in Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s Diving Universe series.

Now you will notice the preponderance of science fiction in my recreational reading, which reflects the fact that this year I have been primarily writing in that genre: including my own short story, “Aelwyd: Home,” for Chronicle Worlds: Paradisi, the novella, The Stars are Red Tonight, that I co-wrote with my daughter in the Paradisi Chronicles series, and my current WIP, Under Two Moons, which is the sequel to the full-length Paradisi novel, Between Mountain and Sea, I published in 2015.

Reading other science fiction work has been a great source of inspiration for my own writing, while also bringing me a good deal of joy as a reader.

But by late this spring I will be back doing the research for my next book in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series. So time to branch out.

I would therefore love to hear some recommendations for short story collections of historical fiction or mysteries, since I am ready to make 2017 and even greater year for recreational reading!

M. Louisa Locke, January 19, 2017

6 thoughts on “2017 Goals #2: Do More Recreational Reading

  1. Dear Ms. Locke,

    I enjoy and have read all your novels. I have spread your blog through my writing friends in Lake Forest and Iowa who are also aspiring writers. Your transparency about the process, both creative and business, is invaluable. I am a lawyer in private practice who had most of a graduate degree in creative writing and literature done before economics sent me to law school. I have completed one book of historical fiction of a series I have planned based on my 18 years of research on my own family on three continents, and have about two thirds of another done.

    I heed Stephen King’s and John Adams’ words, “if you would write, read”. Read King’s memoir, “On writing”, published about 8-9 years ago. A phenomenal writer of mystery and horror, a high school English teacher in his first life, he describes his “writing life” as part writing and part reading. He recommends all of Poe and William James as the place to start with short stories in the genre, as they were the beginning of the genre. My graduate school literature classes recommended the same thing.

    Bernard Malamud, best known as a novelist for his books, The Natural and The Fixer, winner of the Pulitzer and National Book awards, was a phenomenal and prolific short story writer, as well as a literature professor. Short stories like “The Mourners” and “The Magic Barrel” (the title of one of his short story collections), have insights once touted as significant to the mid twentieth century. Today they are recognized as applicable to a new generation of immigrant Americans with great historical perspective. Flannery O’Connor, Philip Roth, Saul Bellow (who did Malamud’s eulogy in 1980) were all great short story writers as well, and regarded Malamud as one of the greats.

    Alice Munro, a Canadian by birth, took a Nobel prize for literature in 2013, and has made dozens of her hundreds of stories available on the web for free. She is considered one of the best of the genre.

    I hope this is of some value. I am delighted to be able to continue to share your insights on the writing life.
    Sincerely, Beth Miller

    • Dear Beth,

      Thanks so much for your suggestions. It’s been probably forty years since I read the stories of Poe and James, a good reminder, although at this point in my life I find I am enjoying reading contemporary writers since so much of my reading for research is in 19th century literature.

      Mary Louisa

  2. I’m answering your request for short story collections. Sisters in Crime Guppy chapter has an anthology called Fish or Cut Bait, with each mystery centered around a character making a decision (for either good or evil). Actually, my short story is included, but it isn’t the best of the lot. My favorite one to read is about a robotic fish. There’s a big variety, all mysteries.

    I’m a big fan of both your mysteries and, surprisingly, since I don’t usually read SF, the Paradisi Chronicles which I found through you.

  3. Interesting – 2016 was the year I read short stories as well, not so much as a conscious effort to immerse myself in the genre but as a direct result of discovering the BBC Sherlock series. Other than the obligatory reading of The Red-Headed League in high school, I had never read Doyle, but after binge-watching three seasons of the BBC series, I loaded Doyle’s entire canon onto my kindle and read it start to finish over a few months, 15 minutes here, 20 minutes there.

    Reading all of Doyle’s work in sequence was a fascinating look at a writer’s growth. He was a pretty clunky writer in his first couple dozen stories – I kept wondering “How on earth did this guy ever get published?” I nearly abandoned the effort, but persevered, and it eventually paid off.

    Kathleen Dexter

    • Dear Kathleen,

      What fun, like Agatha Christie, Doyle is someone I read in my youth, but how interesting to think about going back and seeing a writer’s growing craft.

      Mary Louisa

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