The influence of short stories on my writing life can’t be overestimated. I was a lonely teen in the mid-1970s when my fascination and love for the short story began. Although it is a literary form that has been pretty much overlooked and forgotten in the modern age (from its heyday in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s when publications were devoted to highlighting the art of the short story), the power of the short story endures for me as inspiring and moving as any novel.
All the stories in this collection were based on previous works I had written in my teens or for my college English classes at California State University Long Beach. I updated the stories but worked to maintain as much as I could my original, youthful vision I had attempted decades before. BACK OF THE STATION WAGON, the final story in my collection, is the only work in this book not created from a previous story from my youth. However, it was inspired by a racist incident during my childhood.
The writers that first beguiled me with their stunning short story talents were the science fiction writers Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, and Isaac Asimov, among many others. They told intriguing tales of new worlds and future possibilities, but always illuminated the foibles and darkness of human nature through their powerful stories, told with such brevity and economy. The length of the stories was hardly the point, as their imaginations were unlimited.
Later, in high school and college, I was introduced a wider range of writers, who also explored and enhanced the short story form, such as Shirley Jackson (The Lottery), Willa Cather (Paul’s Case), Dorothy Parker (Big Blonde), John Updike, John Cheever, James Joyce, James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Ernest Hemmingway (Men Without Women), John Steinbeck, Anton Chekov (The Lady With The Dog), Charles Bukowski, Flannery O’Connor, Joyce Carol Oates, O. Henry, and many others. In fact, there are truly too many to mention here. I still feel the impact of their words and stories on me today.
As you could imagine, with such brilliant examples and teachers, I was daunted initially to take a stab at writing my own short stories. Despite some first attempts, many of which are in this book in expanded form, my first actual completed short story was TROUBLES I had written at 17. It was a simple story of a robot who works on an assembly line in the future, has an awakening and leaves the factory on an adventure. I expanded this story into the novella ROBOT TROUBLES, which I recently published. I have included my original short story in this collection as well. In 1980, I sent my short story to my writing hero Isaac Asimov’s science fiction magazine and received my first rejection letter. I have detailed that story in the introduction of ROBOT TROUBLES and won’t do that again here. Suffice to say, I was originally crushed by the rejection, but I continued to write short stories.
I have provided detailed introductions before each story in my collection detailing the origin and inspiration of each story. I won’t do that here either.
Yet I will provide a quick overview. CAR DODGING focuses on a childhood game that turns deadly; the aforementioned TROUBLES is about a robot assembly line worker’s awakening in a dark future; JACK is a story about a robot boxing trainer and the fighter he helps turn into a heavyweight champion; THE NEIGHBOR is about a man finding out his neighbor is from another world; THE ELDERS imagines a space traveler who sleeps for 210 years and finds himself on a new world many lightyears from Earth; BROKEN BARRIERS is a love story across different worlds and civilizations; A DEADLY SPACE focuses on a space shuttle pilot being held hostage by two Russian killer satellites; THE HELLHOLE, PART 1, THE FIRST FIGHT, A BATTLE OF WIZARDS: ANDOLEN’S ARENA SHOWDOWN, THE ADVENTURES OF THE MAGIC SWORD, JONAH’S VICTORY and A SWORD’S EDGE are all fantasy, sword and sorcery stories inspired by my love of the LORD OF THE RINGS and other fantasy books in my youth; THE JOB is about a policeman’s dissatisfaction with his job in the future; ANOTHER CHANCE focuses on a veteran car racer’s comeback journey culminating with a race on the planet Mars; MAKING ORANGE JUICE and A CONVERSATION WITH MOTHER were scene exercises for my college class that I have updated as short stories; STEPS TO NOWHERE was expanded from the A CONVERSATION WITH MOTHER scene into a larger story that explores a young teenager’s growing awkwardness with his mother following his father’s death; THE GARDENER is about a former blues singer who works in a dead-end job as a gardener at a university and reflects on his life; SIDE OF THE ROAD focuses on a man parked on the side of a freeway lamenting his failing marriage, and the previously mentioned BACK OF THE STATION WAGON is based on a racist incident during my youth.
Please note that after much internal debate, I decided to include the racist and offensive language in the story BACK OF THE STATION WAGON as the story is about how silence in the face of racism perpetuates it and that racism exists everywhere, including behind the ugly facade of a so-called neighborhood hero.
The team at Word to Kindle created another impressive cover as well for my digital and paperback version that reflects my title and also my stories’ content. They also created the excellent covers for my previous science fiction novel ROBOT TROUBLES and poetry collection BODY PARTS.
Through looking back at my writing past and reviving these stories, I feel I have recaptured my joy of writing and overcome the fear that used to haunt me as a young, naïve writer. This book has taken a more than 40-year journey to publication. As I have been reminded many times in the past few years, it is never too late to chase your writing dreams.
I hope you enjoy these stories as much as I enjoyed writing them.
Look for more books later this year, including an updated version of the first novel I had hand-written at 15, and another poetry book based on my lyrics.