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Patricia Flaherty Pagan

Writer of karma fiction in which bad things happen to bad people

In Your Heart, There Are No Small Books

TrailWaysPhoneThink big. Like it or not, I always do. This past year, I had the good fortune to participate in panels and book signings with Houston’s witty and talented Women of Mystery. At an early December book signing at the lovely River Oaks Bookstore, we were discussing upcoming projects. I felt excited about the first few chapters of my new arson novel, Zippo. However, I also had a case of the holiday blues about how far away I was from feeling like either of my novels was finally good enough. Before I could get too lost in the internal radio station of self-doubt that my literary idol Anne Lamott calls “KFKD,” one of my compatriots congratulated me on winning the Houston Writers Guild short story award.

“Thanks. It was an awesome surprise,” I said. “People seem to like ‘Bargaining.’ But it’s been published on-line, so I don’t know what else I want to do with it.”

“Short stories are your thing right now?” Kay Kendall, savvy author of the popular 1960s era mystery Desolation Row asked me, “I’ll tell you what you do. You or that press of yours pulls some of your stories together with the prize-winning story as the anchor. Then boom-you’ve got ‘Bargaining and other stories” out there.”

My mouth fell open. Really. Why didn’t I think of that? I left that festive event determined. The next morning I spread some of my stories out in a fan on my desk. Files on a Mac are fine, but I’m a visual person, so seeing the stories got my mind going. I pulled out “Bargaining,” and then six more shorts that called to me. I’ll pull together a small collection and this project will keep me motivated while I work on my novels. It’ll be a great little, low-budget project. Three of these stories have already been published, how much work could they need? With a smile, I grabbed and old story about EFL teachers I’d met in South Korea negotiating the steep terrain of relationships. It contained strong emotion and too many adverbs. So I started revising “The Wisdom of Oranges.”

By January, with the two employees and two consultants of Spider Road Press on board, I forged a collection. My talented and disciplined Houston Writers Guild critique circle offered helpful feedback on the stories I’d chosen. My patient friend Gay Yellen, (author of the fun romantic suspense tale The Body Business, and it’s even better upcoming follow-up novel) took time out of her own buy, page-filled days to help me work, and rework (and rework) my desired order for the stories. When I edited Up, Do: Flash Fiction by Women Writers, the flash seemed to fall into obvious categories almost organically. With my own work, it was harder, so, so much harder, to keep hold of the silver thread connecting the stories. I chomped down a big piece of coffee cake. Maybe this is a bigger project than I thought.  

I had coffee with the Sci-Fi author E.L. Russell, and he shared his hard-earned knowledge abut e-publishing short stories. You could do it quickly, he assured me, and you could do it well, the key was finding the balance between the two that suited you.

Three and half months and many drafts later, my “small” collection of five stories and a bonus novel chapter, Trail Ways Pilgrims, has come together. Planning sessions with Spider Road folks and the smart, kind marketers at Skipjack Publishing have gone on for many hours. (Just knowing the marketing juggernaut that is SkipJack Publishing, and their driven Going For Kona author Pamela Fagin Hutchins, has been like a Masters in Publishing course for me.) Then I luckily snared helpful, generous beta readers who gave invaluable suggestions.

What did I learn? To me, no project is small. For me, late feedback from an intelligent author was a big red stop sign. “I meant to mention this when I beta read, but…” she said, and her spot-on suggestion of a cut kept me up one night. On a small project, a lot of authors would let a thing like one paragraph that was OK, but not perfect, go. Spider Road has deadlines. I have a life. Call me a neurotic perfectionist, but I want the best fiction on the page that I can muster. So yeah, I called the formatter for a literary Hail Mary play. We cut that offending paragraph. My reader, even of my small 50-page e-collection, deserves my creative best.

Now, as my e-book Trail Ways Pilgrims will be released on this week, and on soon thereafter, I laugh at the idea of any book being small to me. In my mind and heart, every story looms large. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.