“Claudia: A Novel-in-Stories”

First, what’s a “novel-in-stories”? It’s a form that lies somewhere between the traditional novel and the linked story collection. A linked story collection in turn is a collection loosely linked by place, character(s), or theme. Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio and Gloria Naylor’s The Women of Brewster Place are notable early examples (place); Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson (character) and Self-Help by Lorrie Moore (theme) are more recent examples. The novel-in-stories is more strongly linked, usually by a central character, but differs from the novel in several respects. Though a certain fragmentation of story is characteristic of many modern novels, it is more so with the novel-in-stories, which usually lacks a clear through-line. It is the novel as collage–though decidedly a novel and not a collection of stories, and with a novel’s ‘fullness’ (for lack of a better term). The individual stories ‘talk’ to one another and come together to suggest a larger story, but are intended, as well, to stand alone. It is an up-and-coming form, for both aesthetic and commercial reasons. Aesthetically, it suits the contemporary sense (which we see a lot in movies as well) of truth as elusive and various; there is no one story; one must sneak up on the truth from different angles. And in a time when short story collections have mostly abysmal sales, it’s simply good marketing: readers seem to want to lose themselves in the sweep of a larger story, and the novel-in-stories offers more of that than the traditional story collection. I’ll offer some reviews and reading lists (like this one) as the site evolves.

Claudia began as a stand-alone story. Then the character showed up in a second story, and a third, and was soon demanding a book of her own. (She’s like that.) She was forty-seven in the first story, and, well, dead in the second. When I realized I had a book on my hands, I returned to an offhand reference in the first story to her having grown up with four brothers, and that’s when she really started to come alive for me as a character. I have at least a first draft of eight of a projected eighteen stories. They span a good deal of her life and beyond, and are written from a variety of points-of-view.

“What Matters,” that first childhood story, was published in Gentle Strength Quarterly in 2007 and is included here as a separate page.

In September 2008, the New Short Fiction Series, LA’s ‘live literary magazine,’ presented four of my stories, three of them (“Endings,” “Fuck You Confucius,” and “Marrow“) from Claudia (and all three unpublished at this point).

“Secret World” was originally published in the Winter 2009 Issue #2 of Sotto Voce, a fine online journal that appears to have gone under; I’ve posted the story here as a separate page.

“Head in Bag” was the 2005 Winner of the UCLA Extension Writing Program’s Kirkwood Award. A substantially rewritten version of the story is now in the Winter 2009/Spring 2010 issue of Confrontation. (You can read an excerpt at Confrontation‘s Facebook page.)

Published on May 24, 2008 at 9:13 pm  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Interesting concept, novel in stories; I have been working on a collection of short stories about an ex-pat psychologist living in Mexico City in the mid-1970s. The same key characters kept showing up in different stories I was writing about Mexico City, so I decided to do them as a novel. I agree that the format has appeal, because people get to “finish” a story before moving on to the next, & rediscovering one or more of the characters they’ve “met” before. It’s the way life works, in connected episodes

  2. This has worked for movies (James Bond, Star Wars, Star Trek, Terminator), for television in various forms, for children’s books (many of which are also read by adults, i.e., Harry Potter). People become emotionally attached to the characters in stories, and I agree, it’s a very marketable format as a result. I also have some stories that have begun in somewhat fragmented fashion, one more adult, one with an adult-child level anthropomorphic groundhog storyline. This format might work for them. Thanks.

  3. can u give me pls 10 examples of novel stories

    • Thanks for writing. I have just posted a reply.

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