I love short stories. When I was a kid, I remember falling in love with Ray Bradbury’s “Sound of Thunder” and Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” I remember staying up all night reading Stephen King’s first short story collection, “Night Shift.” Staying up first to read it, and then, when I had finished, because there was just no way in Hell I was going to be able to sleep. And Clive Barker’s Books of Blood remain some of the best, most original horror tales ever written.
I think short stories are a good way for readers to be introduced to a writer’s work. They’re the literary equivalent of a peep show: they give you little glimpses of a writer’s style and let you decide if you want to pay to see more. And, even if you don’t like everything on display in a collection, you can usually find something to suit your taste. I know that, after reading those tales by Bradbury, Jackson, King and Barker, I then went on to read their longer works and novels.
This is why I am so happy that Seventh Star Press is making my first short story collection, Skull Full of Kisses, available again. And I am even more pleased that, because it will be available on more formats than ever before—softcover, Kindle, Nook, Kobo, etc—it will now be available to a larger audience, an audience who may not be familiar with my other work, an audience that might be discovering me for the very first time.
Skull Full of Kisses is a retrospective of my career up to the date it was published, February 14th, 2010, but there are two new stories in it: “Einstein’s Slingshot,” which is about a group of people trying to survive a natural disaster while being stalked by something unnatural, and “Sanctuary,” which is set in Tibet during the Chinese invasion.
In the beginning, I wrote a lot of short stories simply because that’s what sold. Then, after editors became familiar with my work, I began to get invitations to write for various anthologies and magazines. And the more I wrote, the more invitations I got. Soon, I had enough short fiction to put out a collection of my own work, and the success of that led to my book deals. Now that I’m putting out two novels a year, my time is more limited, and I’ve had to say no to several short fiction projects, but it’s hard to say no when you get to be in the same table of contents with Ramsey Campbell and Joe Lansdale, so I still put out a few shorts a year.
Writing a short story requires an entirely different skill set from novel writing. You have a lot less real estate to work with in a short story, first of all, so you have to develop your characters quickly. You have to get the action rolling and build up speed to the climax as fast as you can, like a plane running out of runway. With a novel, you have much more room to explore character motivations and themes. That said, it is far easier to kill off all your characters in a short story, because the reader has so much less time invested in them. If you kill off the main character at the end of your three hundred page novel, you get hate mail. Lots of hate mail.
People often ask me which of these stories is my favorite. I don’t know that I could single one out, but there are a few that I’m most proud of: “Jiki,” my ode to Asian Horror; “To Know How to See,” my first real stab at Sci-fi Horror; and “Goodnight,” which was named Best Horror Short Story of 2005 in the annual P& E Readers Poll. Those stories hold special places in my heart.
And I hope that now, with the re-issue of Skull Full of Kisses, they will find a special place in the hearts of others as well.