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The Argument for Short Fiction

by Jay Wilburn

Smart money is supposed to be on novels. Smarter money is supposed to be on a series. The smartest money is probably on not writing at all and especially not writing about zombies. We don’t all get accused of being smart every day though. I think there are great things to be found in short fiction. A number of established and newer authors on our tour this time around are making the case for short fiction in the zombie genre. I think it is a case worth being made.

Using the tour as an example, Jessica Gomez is promoting her story in Undead Worlds. Other authors for this tour and tours past are in that one as well. Each author wrote a new short story based in the worlds of their various zombie series. It gives readers a glimpse and serves to explore new aspects of their established zombie worlds.

Jack Wallen is the mastermind behind the Middletown Apocalypse series of anthologies. Each zombie author involved is given the same premise, some shared characters, and a few common details. From there, each author composes their own unique take on the story. This group of anthologies and short stories does more to prove the potential in the zombie story than any other works in recent memory.

Rebecca Besser is well established as a novelist both in and out of the zombie genre. I have been a big fan of her short fiction for some time. She chose to use the 2017 Winter of Zombie tour to promote her story in Treasured Chests. This is a charity anthology of zombie stories designed to help out people in need. My own story, Dead Song, originally appeared in a charity anthology. From there, it was picked up by Best Horror of the Year volume 5 and then spawned the series by the same name.

More broadly, many authors of zombie fiction, other types of horror, and speculative fiction in general cut their teeth and hone their writing skills with short fiction. I and other authors sometimes use short fiction to practice and explore certain concepts before trying them in a novel. Before I wrote Time Eaters, which combines time travel and extreme horror, I wrote several time travel stories exploring the rules I wanted to play with and the potentially dark consequences. Some might think I should have practiced more, but I think it helped. Short fiction also helped me explore new genre and bring those skills across into other writings.

For the zombie genre, I think short fiction may have some of the strongest story potential. Not every story translates as well to novel length. That leaves a lot of stories to be told in a shorter form. You can find sharp, edgy, and weird tales which deliver very well and quite powerfully in short stories. With the tight punch of well-written flash fiction to short stories which approach novella length, there is a range in how these single-sitting stories can be delivered.

I have said before and still believe that there is more which has not yet been done with the zombie story than which has already been accomplished. That leaves a lot of untapped potential. I believe much of that potential is to be unlocked in short fiction. That makes short fiction, collections, and anthologies a great place for fans and readers to explore their beloved genre and the authors doing great work in them.

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Jay Wilburn
Jay Wilburn has a Masters Degree in Education that goes mostly unused since he quit teaching to write about zombies. Jay writes horror because he tends to find the light by facing down the darkness. He finds the journey through life easier by having you join him. Jay is the author of 2 series: The Dead Song Legend and The Great Interruption. He cowrote The Enemy Held Near with Armand Rosamilia. You can also find Jay's work in Best Horror of the Year volume 5 and Dark Moon Digest. Each year Jay has the pleasure of featuring many great authors in the genre through the Summer and Winter of Zombie blog tours on his website.

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  1. Joan MacLeod says:

    I do love some zombie novels but I do agree with your take on short fiction. I buy many of the anthologies and have never been disappointed.

  2. Jessica Gomez says:

    Great article! The Undead Worlds was my first Anthology, but I REALLY enjoyed writing it. Not only did I get to work with other AMAZING authors, but the story seemed to flow easier. Fallen (my book in the anthology) is roughly 5K, so I could get out my main ideas in one sitting. I’ve actually started an outline short stories for some of the characters in the Flash series. People are curious to see how some of the characters came to live at the cave and what took place before they made it.

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