Three years ago, I decided to write a short story that could serve as a prequel to my soon-to-be-released novel Necessary Lies in the hope the story would whet the my readers’ appetites for the book. I was not a short story writer, having written only one short story in the past, but I took a look at the finished manuscript for Necessary Lies and picked out an event I wanted to know more about (the night Mary Ella gave birth to Baby William, for those of you familiar with Necessary Lies. I loved writing the short story, which I called ‘The First Lie’. It gave me a chance to explore a dramatic event in my characters’ lives that hadn’t fit neatly into the book itself. I was also able to drop a (hopefully) tantalizing hint of what would come in the novel. It was so much fun that I wrote another short story (‘The Broken String’) for my next novel, The Silent Sister.
Since that time, many other authors have started writing prequel short stories. Most readers seem to love these stories now that they’ve caught onto them. At first, some readers were upset that the stories were, well, short and they complained about that fact in their reviews. I’ve tried now to make it very clear that these stories are between forty and fifty pages, about one tenth the length of my novels. They sell for 99¢ in the United States and the equivalent in other countries and are only available in digital format. A few readers also complained that the stories weren’t free. One reader wrote on my Facebook page “I refuse to pay money even for a novella; why should I pay for a short story?” I’m usually quite unflappable on Facebook, but her comment did prompt me to reply “Authors do have to eat!” I mean, really? A two hundred page novella can take many months to write. It takes me close to a month to come up with the idea for a short story and to flesh it out in my mind and another couple of weeks of solid writing to complete it. Then there’s the editing process and the cover creation, etc. All of that is followed, I hope, by the reader’s enjoyment. I think it’s worth 99¢, (though I’d love to know what you think.)
My most recent short story is ‘The Dance Begins’, which is a prequel to my upcoming novel Pretending to Dance. This was a tough one to write because I couldn’t figure out the story that should be the focus. Initially, I had a great idea . . . until I realized it gave away some of the major revelations in the book. As a matter of fact, every idea I came up with gave away something that I wanted to be a surprise for the reader of Pretending to Dance, so I really struggled with my storyline. I read through the book manuscript several times searching for inspiration. Then I noticed one sentence in the book. Fourteen-year-old Molly tells her friend, “I broke my arm on the Hill from Hell…” What if I wrote about the day she broke her arm?
I began thinking about how to flesh out that story. I made Molly six years old and her Dad, Graham, who has become one of my all-time favorite characters, (I picture him looking like a young Jeremy Irons) is coping with Multiple Sclerosis at a far earlier stage than he is in Pretending to Dance. While the book is written from Molly’s point of view, the short story is written from Graham’s and I loved being inside his head for a change. Oh, he’s a complicated man! It was fun to hint at things to come in the novel. I worried, as I always do, that my readers would not be engaged by the story. When I received my copy-edited manuscript, though, and the copy editor had written ‘Beautiful story!’ at the end, I knew I’d hit the mark.
So far, my readers seem to love ‘The Dance Begins’ and no one has complained that it’s short (47 pages). One reviewer said my short stories are ‘integral to the novels’ without being necessary to them. I love it! That’s exactly my goal.
So how about you? Do you read short story prequels and if so, do you enjoy that early taste of a novel? Saturday morning at 10 EST, I’ll use a random number generator to pick one of you to win a gift certificate to the online bookstore of your choice. Doesn’t matter where you live. Good luck!