Jacob M. Appel is an American author. Awards: Boston Review (1998), New Millennium (2004, 2007, 2008), Faulkner (2004), O. Henry Award (2001). __
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Novels can have pauses and faults: a long story wins by points. A novelette, as Julio Cortazar wrote, needs to win by knock-out. Do you agree?
A wise man neither agrees nor disagrees with Cortazar because one is never certain precisely what one is agreeing to. That being said, many of our most successful short story writers favor the knock-out approach.
This is certainly true of most of the iconic American masterpieces, such as John Cheever's "The Swimmer," Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," Phillip Roth's "The Conversion of the Jews," Ursula LeGuin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," and countless others.
But I do think there is a place for a quiet short story. Katherine Mansfield often wins on points. Alice Munro does too. So I think the shorter form favors the knock-out, but it's not essential.
Is there a literary bias against the short form of fiction?
I don't a bias exists among readers or writers, but rather among editors and publishers. If properly cultivated, the market
for short fiction is enormous; unfortunately, many of the "wise men and women" at the large agencies and publishing houses view the short story as a training ground for future novelists rather than as a distinct art form of its own.
Plot, setting, ideas. What are, in your opinion, the perfect ingredients of a novelette/novella?
Good novellas, like all worthwhile fiction, are character driven. An unusual setting or an intricate plot can often draw the reader along, but they’re not essential. Ideas, in contrast, are absolutely the death knell of a good short story or novella. Nobody wants to read a "short story of ideas"; they want to read a short story of emotion.
You can sometimes get away with ideas in a large novel, as does Tolstoy. But if you want ideas in a short work, you are better off writing tracts or pamphlets and leaving them on automobile windshields.
Would you suggest three must-read novelettes/novellas?
“Ethan Frome” by Edith Wharton
“The Road Through the Wall” by Shirley Jackson
“The Ballad of the Sad Café” by Carson McCullers
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