Short Fiction Appreciation by Ursula Vernon

by on Nov 10, 2015 in Blog | 0 comments

There’s a phenomenon well known to artists where the people who paint the weirdest, darkest, most demon-riddled work frequently tend to be absolutely lovely, mild-mannered individuals with gentle senses of humor. When artists get together and laugh about this phenomenon, someone always says “It’s the people who do the cute art that you have to look out for!” and then all eyes turn and I go “Whaaaaat?”

Well, I do not have any bodies buried in the garden, other than a few unfortunate frogs left slain by neighborhood cats. But possibly because I am a children’s book author in what I’d call my “day job,” where I write cheerful, upbeat, funny books, and draw little dragons with big eyes and hamsters with swords, I am often drawn to dark and weird reading material. (Yes, there are many dark and weird books for kids. No, those aren’t the kind I write.)

I have found something to love in all of Stephen King’s collections, and I am a great fan of the weird fiction of China Mieville. His anthology Looking for Jake has been out for a decade now, but still delights me. It sits on the shelf with Lovecraft and King as one of the few anthologies I re-read when the mood takes me. Since he’s got a new collection out now, it’s worth praising this one, if you’ve read it and are looking for more.

“Reports of Certain Events in London”, for example, details a secret society tracking “wild streets” that appear and disappear, devouring each other, breeding and giving birth to alleys. I loved that. It was fairly short, but it spun out a thousand ideas, and I wanted to chase those ideas over the horizon. I wanted novels in that world. I wanted more.

And there’s “Different Skies”, which has an almost Lovecraftian premise (or at least a Derlethian one) of a window that sees into different worlds. But the horrors on the other side aren’t oozing tentacled or eldritch, but other humans—and possibly more terrifying as a result.

That’s probably what I love most in short stories—something that creates an entire world in a handful of paragraphs, and gives me a glimpse of it. In horror, often that other world is lying alongside our own, close enough to touch, and at any moment we could stumble and fall through.

There are stories that are perfect, neatly self-contained, and leave you satisfied, and stories that are tantalizing and leave you hungry. I like them both, in different moods.

Now, I am quite content with my place in this world—I’ve got a good life and I really do enjoy writing funny and upbeat stories for kids. Possibly the appeal is to make sure that the dark bits are covered. When I read about terrible worlds colliding with our own, about monsters in mirrors and wild streets, I can rest assured that other authors have that well in hand, and I don’t need to try to write it myself. (Not that I haven’t written the occasional unsettling story—and in the pages of Apex, no less!)

I do love a happy ending, I admit—in novels, I pretty much insist on one—but for a short story, I’m willing to have a dark and unsettling ending. Particularly if it comes with a glimpse of that different world.


Apex Magazine has had the pleasure of publishing two of Ursula Vernon’s short stories, the Nebula Award winning “Jackalope Wives” and “Pocosin.” A third story “Razorback” will appear in Apex Magazine Issue 80.

Help us unlock a new novelette by Ursula Vernon during the Apex Magazine subscription drive! The subscription drive runs until this Friday, November 13th!

Read an excerpt of Ursula’s novelette “The Tomato Thief.”

To find out more about Ursula Vernon, check out her website.

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