What happens to old stories once the magazines that first presented them are being used to line the cat tray?
The answer, I’m afraid, is not a lot: no legions of devoted publishers queuing up for reprint rights, no fans camping on your lawn, no accolades, awards or marriage proposals. Old stories die. That’s it. No-one reads them, and they die. This happens faster than it used to. Changes in publishing and public taste, and competition from the newer entertainment media, have left the poor short story with a lifespan that would make a mayfly squirm. That’s a pity, because short fiction does certain things extremely well. It cuts right to the heart, without all the encumbrance of the novel. It’s focused, selective, targeting a single situation or idea. SF and fantasy have been especially well served by it, and I’d even argue it’s the genre’s quintessential medium: think Borges, Ballard, early Bradbury, just to name some Bs.
In the long run, the short story may go the way of poetry, a minority interest, rarely seen outside the classroom. For the moment it persists. In the UK, the independent press has done much to keep the form alive, particularly in genre fiction. There’s precious little money there, worse luck, but plenty of enthusiasm, which is almost as good, at least until the rent falls due.
So where do old stories go? They go on the world wide web, and this site is an attempt to keep my own work alive, whether it deserves it or not. Frankly, I can’t look at any of my old stuff without wanting to make changes; nothing’s ever finished. At the same time, I’m fond of all these pieces, both for the work that went into them and the fragments of myself they represent – since even the most fantastic is in some ways autobiographical. These are exactly the wrong reasons to like a story, of course, and explain why writers are such rotten judges of their own work. That’s your job. If you’re visiting here, I hope you find something you like. More will be added soon, and stories continue to appear in a variety of publications (or are temporarily restricted by contract from posting here). Move to the sidebar, right. Dip in, take a look. It’s free.
In closing, I’d like to thank the editors and publishers who first allowed these pieces into print. That, I regard as real life; this, a kind of afterlife. I’m keen to see which one proves more significant.