Norman Partridge is an accomplished short story writer with credits ranging from Cemetery Dance and Grue Magazine to multiple anthology appearances in places like The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror, Best New Horror, Joe R. Lansdale’s Retro Pulp Tales and Peter Straub’s Ghosts, just to name a few. He’s got five collections devoted to his work, and a sixth one – Johnny Halloween: Tales of the Dark Season – is due from Cemetery Dance later this year.
Partridge is no slouch when it comes to longer page counts, either. His debut novel, Slippin’ Into Darkness, came out in 1994, and he’s published five more since then. His most recent novel, Dark Harvest, has been hailed by many as an instant Halloween classic, and landed on the Publishers Weekly 100 Best Books of 2006 list, among other accolades.
In today’s installment of Interview 5.5.5., Partridge discusses his approach to writing short stories and novels, as well as some of his favorite works in both categories.
BG: Do you have a preference in writing short stories or novels?
NP: I’ve got two short story collections coming out this year – Lesser Demons and Johnny Halloween – so I guess I have to plead guilty to loving the short stuff. My favorite writers as a kid were Ray Bradbury and Robert Bloch, both masters of the form. And selling shorts was the way to break into the business when I got my start, so that was my focus.
Other than that, one of the great things about writing shorts is that you’re in and out in a couple weeks. You can try drastically different effects and styles as you move from one piece to the next. Writing a short story isn’t the long haul battle a novel can be. But lately my ideas keep expanding, so I’m moving in the longer direction now. As the saying goes: I guess I’d better pack a lunch.
How does your approach to each differ?
It really doesn’t. One thing that holds true in all my fiction is I try to write as lean and mean as possible. I don’t like to waste the reader’s time. My stories are compact, and they get down to business. I learned a lot of that reading crime writers, but what I’m after was actually best expressed by Bruce Lee when talking about his style of martial arts. Lee once said he wanted a maximum of anguish with a minimum of movement. In a way, that’s what I’m trying to do with words.
Do you know starting out “This is going to be a short story” – or does the story dictate the length as you go along?
I don’t outline much when I’m starting a piece – generally, I just give an idea a test-drive and see if it takes off – so I’m an awful judge of length at the beginning. I originally thought Dark Harvest would be a short story. If I’d written it ten years ago, it probably would have been. But I saw other possibilities as I was writing, and before I knew it I had a story with dual protagonists. That’s one of my favorite components of the story, and I found it through writing, not planning. Of course, you can paint yourself into a corner working that way, but sometimes that’s the only way to find the really good stuff.
What’s your favorite short story that you’ve written? Novel?
The novel is easy: Dark Harvest. It’s my love letter to storytelling and Halloween, and I wouldn’t change anything about it. Favorite short story is a tougher call. In Lesser Demons, I pretty much love them all. When it comes to older stuff, I think of pieces where I really found my voice: “The Bars on Satan’s Jailhouse” and “Red Right Hand” come to mind. In Johnny Halloween, there’s a tale about a wounded veteran looking for his lost love with the aid of a magic prosthetic hand. It’s called “Three Doors,” and I think it’s one of the best things I’ve written so far.
What’s your favorite short story by another author? Novel?
Oh, man. We’ll be here all day. I won’t pick individual stories, but when it comes to the old guard I still love King and Lansdale. I love Tom Piccirilli’s noirellas, too. Jeff Ford’s great, as are Andy Duncan, Tim Pratt and Laird Barron. My wife, Tia V. Travis, is another favorite – she just needs to write more!
Novels? King’s ’Salem’s Lot and The Dark Half. Matheson’s I Am Legend. McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove. Portis’ True Grit. Dan J. Marlowe’s One Endless Hour. For favorite series I’d have to pick Westlake’s Richard Stark novels. I really could go on, but I’ll save some virtual ink for tomorrow’s entry.
Coming on Day Three: Dark Harvest