Monday, May 1, 2017

The Long Road to Short Fiction, by Catherine Dilts

Welcome guest author Catherine Dilts! A mystery novelist, Catherine offered to share her experience writing short fiction. (If you would like a guest spot on this blog, leave a comment.) Here's Catherine:

The Long Road to Short Fiction

One tidbit thrown into the avalanche of advice given to new writers is, “Write and publish a short story to draw attention to your long fiction.” As though short fiction is a stepping stone to the ultimate goal, the novel.

My journey to short fiction began precisely in that manner. I was seeking an agent and/or publisher for my novel-length fiction. I had cranked out half a dozen horrible novels up to that point, and had finally written something I had hope would be publishable.

There came that advice again. The pearls of wisdom I’d ignored years ago. Write a short story, get it published, and agents and editors will notice you. THEN you can get your novel published.

But I wasn’t interested in short stories. I liked reading, and writing, novels. I finally decided to heed the advice when it came from a successful short story author. I was concerned about taking time away from my novel-length writing, but I could at least test the waters.

I attempted writing several 700 word short mysteries for a women’s magazine, Woman’s World. They were all rejected, but I learned several valuable lessons.

Writing short is hard! Mark Twain is attributed with saying, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Writing a successful short story, as opposed to a novel, turned out to be nearly as time consuming, and considerably more difficult.

Writing short stories is liberating! When writing a novel, or a novel series, you are tied into a setting and characters for a long time. Perhaps years. Short stories offer more opportunity for creativity and spontaneity. You can play with off-the-wall characters, different points of view, noir, humor, or whatever strikes your fancy.

Writing short stories is rewarding! If you are a small press, Indy, or self-pubbed author, kudos if you’re turning out a novel a year, and even more so if you’re making a profit. In a recent article, one multi-published short story author spelled out in cold, hard numbers the financial aspects of writing short. For some of us, writing short fiction may be just as financially rewarding as writing novels.

Short fiction is a thriving art form! From traditional magazines, to e-zines, to anthologies, short stories are enjoying a revitalized status in the fiction world. I have listed below some of the current outlets. In order to write short, you need to read short. Treat yourself to a steady diet of short fiction, and I’ll just bet you become addicted.

I no longer see short stories as a stepping stone to that loftier goal, the novel. Writing short stories taught me how to be concise. How to make every word count. How to write a coherent plot that drives to a logical conclusion.

After several false starts and failed attempts, my first fiction sale was to Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine in 2013. I have since had five more published by AHMM, including "Unrepentant Sinner," appearing in the May/June 2017 issue on sale now. My story "The Chemistry of Heroes" is a Derringer finalist.

If you are one of those writers who believes you can’t write short, I challenge you to give it a try. I didn’t think I could, or wanted to, write short stories. Now short fiction is my personal success story.

Mystery Short Story outlets:

Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine
Mystery Weekly
Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine
The Strand
King’s River Life - mystery section - novel reviews and short stories
Women’s World - a short mystery in each issue
Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine
​Bouchercon - annual anthology
Flash and Bang - annual anthology by SMFS

Catherine Dilts is the author of the amateur sleuth Rock Shop Mystery series, set in the Colorado mountains. Her short story “The Chemistry of Heroes” (May 2016 - Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine) is a Derringer Award finalist. Watch for her story “Unrepentant Sinner” in the AHMM May/June 2017 issue, on sale now. Catherine has a day job as an environmental regulatory compliance specialist. You can learn more about Catherine at


  1. Chris, thank you for having me on your blog today!

  2. Short stories and novels are different beasts, as you say. Lots to learn from either of them, and your experience with AHMM is terrific! You must be doing a great many things right.

  3. Hi Cathy,

    There are benefits to writing both short and long fiction.

  4. I started out writing short stories and haven't strayed far from them. Whether I'm writing them or reading stories by other writers, I like the variety in characters and settings.