Years and years ago I wrote a controversial essay about novellas. I liked the form, but at the time a lot of small presses were doing deluxe books containing one novella. Prices were thirty dollars, forty, fifty, sometimes even more. The stories themselves were sometimes not worthy of such royal treatment. The idea was to get a piece by a recognized name in the industry, or a hot new up-and-comer!, and slap it into a lavish edition.

That trend has slowed down, but we have another novella situation at hand.

Now novellas are the length du jour. I see more novellas coming out than any other form. I like a lot of novellas, but all-too-often I find them lacking. Allow me to cite a few examples.

Everyone gushes over Chad Lutze's Of Foster Homes and Flies. I bought it and read it. I thought, not bad. Nice outline, now where's the rest of the story? I wanted more detail. I felt the piece was rushed and incomplete.

One of my very favorite writers is Richard Chizmar. I buy everything the man publishes and I am very rarely disappointed. He did a novella a while back called The Girl on the Porch. I liked it, a lot, but again, I felt that it needed more. Surely not a seven-hundred page monstrosity, but double its 156 page length would have been a much more satisfying experience for me. There was a big disclosure about one of the secondary characters at the end of The Girl on the Porch, but it didn't mean a lot to me. I knew very little about the character. More background would have given the revelation a lot more weight.

I recently read Brian Keene's vampire novella, With Fangs. People are calling it a return to form for Brian, and I agree. It feels like something from his Leisure era. Brian excels in depictions of working class personalities, and the hardscrabble denizens of the depressed community in the story are completely credible. His lead protagonist is skillfully executed, but I had trouble differentiating the secondary characters from one another. I would have liked more detail about the vampires, too.

I hope these writers do not take this as too harshly critical. I don't want less from them. I crave more.

I am currently reading Stephen King's It for the third time. I always loved this novel, and I am enjoying the hell out of it this time. But now my analytical mind sees a lot of areas where editing would tighten up the story. Not that I would change a single comma from It. I adore all the intimate detail. The endless observations, the humorous asides, the shrewd glimpses into human and inhuman nature.

I certainly don't think every story warrants a five-hundred page book, but the vast majority of novellas I read need more meat to the stories. My cynical side suspects the authors of cranking out a quickie for a fast paycheck. Or perhaps they are merely writing toward current trends in the market.

I miss the days when horror novels were usually long affairs. People complained about them at the time, but I loved it. Many championed the sacredness of the short story, but I don't agree. I do not feel that any length is inherently superior to any other. I only know what my own favorites are.

There's nothing like losing myself over the course of numerous days and living inside a story. When I know the characters intimately, when I am acutely aware of the story's town and its history, when a plot slowly unfolds--that's when I really, really love reading the most.

Written by Mark Sieber

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