Today our guest is Helena Maeve, author of the M/M short story The Arrangement, here to talk about puzzling out the short story:
Before I attempted The Arrangement I would have laughed at the suggestion that I could write a complete story in less than five thousand words. Brevity and I are not mates. I like my sentences long, my characters hard to grasp in the first, oh, let’s say ten or so chapters. Regardless of genre, the novels I best enjoy reading involve sequels. But then it’s also true that I enjoy a challenge.
My initial idea for The Arrangement involved a lengthy character arc, multiple parts—none of which were in any way suited to the short story format. Without the luxury of pages and pages of context with which to buy a reader’s goodwill, a short story has only a few lines’ worth to grab the attention. Yet there’s no point in hooking the reader if the characters aren’t sketched out fast enough to reward that indulgence.
I vacillate between writing lengthy backstories for my characters and plunging in with only a vague idea of what they’re about. For The Arrangement, I couldn’t afford the latter. It seems counter-intuitive, but the shorter the story, the more necessary I feel it is to have a clear picture of who does what to whom and why. There’s no time to figure it out in the text, much less to hint at events later on in the story. By the time ‘later’ arrives, we’re already wrapping up.
Setting is equally constrained. A novel can span decades or the breadth of Middle Earth. A short story doesn’t have the luxury of sprawling. I imagine a short story as a theatre play, with one or two changes of décor at the most and with the understanding that whatever happens on stage, it’s conceivably contained within a few days at most. Everything is immediate and of the utmost importance, and reflection is in short supply—conveniently, this lends itself well to characters stumbling into misunderstandings that further the plot.
Yet just as a full-length novel, a short story without a climax and resolution won’t be very satisfying. In The Arrangement, conflict comes to a head almost unilaterally, as Cyril refuses to go away quietly after a breakup with his much older partner. The crisis that sparks said conflict is the breakup itself, but without a character willing to claw his way back into a relationship, the mix-up that sparks the separation might never be resolved.
Short stories are like puzzles. They’re a pain to untangle and they dissuade us from letting our thoughts roam, but as I’m sure my fellow Young Love, Old Hearts authors will agree, it’s so rewarding to figure them out.
Excerpt from The Arrangement:
August was at his desk, dress shirt open at the collar, tie and suit jacket absent. Ruthlessly beautiful. His idea of casual somehow still left him looking powerful and business-like. He plucked his rimless reading glasses off with a smooth gesture, but tension lingered in his expression.
After six months, Cyril could tell when something was wrong.
“Have a seat,” August suggested with strained formality.
Less than an hour ago, he’d been edging Cyril to the brink of climax and back again, relishing his cries like a true sadist.
Their bedroom dynamic was too overwhelming to set aside at a moment’s notice. Cyril complied, annoyed with himself for the meek show of obedience.
“Thought we already debriefed…”
“It’s not about that.” August folded his hands. “It’s about our arrangement.”
Cyril’s heart slid lower into his knees. The wide stretch of a sturdy wooden desk divided them. It was an effective visual barrier; Cyril could pretend he’d been summoned to a supervisor’s office rather than his lover’s. The similarities were striking.
“I’ve enjoyed these past months… I’d like to think that you have, as well.”
“Yes,” Cyril blurted out.
Don’t say it. Please don’t say it.
August pressed his lips into a thin line. “I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to count this week’s fee—”
“You want to end it.”
Young Love, Old Hearts
A Supposed Crimes Anthology
Editor: C. E. Case
Stories by: A. M. Leibowitz, Adrian J. Smith, Erin McRae & Racheline Maltese, Geonn Cannon, Helena Maeve, Kassandra Lea, Lela E. Buis, Ralph Greco Jr., & Stacy O’Steen
Everyone hears “He’s too young for you.” “She’s too old for you.” Not between these pages. This anthology crosses the age gap with nine enchanting stories of cross-generational relationships. Some are sweet, some are sexy, some are heartbreaking. One is downright murderous. The protagonists are gay men or women searching for true love or trying out what’s right in front of them.
“Verso and Recto” by Geonn Cannon
Discovering their mutual love of reading leads a literature student and her professor to take a step neither of them expected.
“A Blizzard’s Blow” by Adrian J. Smith
Lollie dashes from the house in the middle of a blizzard in search of something she’s not sure she’ll find, but she hopes to never again see the same cold, blank stare Kimberley gave her.
“Slice” by Ralph Greco Jr.
When Germane relinquishes her more-than-slight kinky relationship with Lila to begin a new one with younger A.J., she finds a flirty, fun and wholly different “Slice” of life opening up for her.
“That December” by Lela E. Buis
Celia finds that older women and the politics of genetic engineering aren’t what they seem.
“The Arrangement” by Helena Maeve
When he is summoned into his Dom’s study after a mutually satisfying scene, Cyril knows he’s in for something worse than the play they normally get up to.
“New York Minute” by Stacy O’Steen
Stuck in his depressing hometown for far too long, Colton jumps at the chance to return to his beloved New York City. But when some odd coincidences click into place, he needs to find the truth hidden in the lies.
“The Artist as an Old Man” by A. M. Leibowitz
1985 is a big year for Kenny Anderson. Sent to interview artist Aaron Rubenstein, making a grand reappearance after a three-year absence, Kenny digs beneath the surface to understand Aaron’s life—and maybe his own.
“Adjunct Hell” by Erin McRae & Racheline Maltese
Phil may be in his 50s, but he’s still a student, and the fact that Carl—who’s barely 30—is dating him would bad enough even if Carl wasn’t waiting for good news from the tenure committee.
“Say You Do” by Kassandra Lea
Keegan Bancroft is hoping to avoid a complete meltdown before his date. But there’s something he really wants to ask Richard.
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About the Publisher
Supposed Crimes, LLC publishes fiction and poetry primarily featuring lesbian characters and themes. The focus is on genre fiction–Westerns, Science Fiction, Horror, Action–rather than just romance. That’s how we set ourselves apart from our competitors. Our characters happen to love women and kick ass.
“Supposed crimes” refers to the idea that homosexuality is outlawed, and that our authors are being subversive by writing. As times change this becomes more tongue-in-cheek, but can still apply broadly to our culture. Christians writing lesbians and men writing lesbians are also subversive ideas in this industry, and we promote people bending the rules.
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