Guest Post by Dale Lehman

You know I do not give over my blog to anyone. However, this author has amused and entertained me with many of his books and when he offered – well I said YES! Enjoy this guest post and stay tuned for tomorrow when I will blog my review of this short story collection.

Stories of Every Flavor

by Dale E. Lehman

What’s your favorite ice cream? Mine is mint chocolate chip. Or moose tracks. Or the best of both worlds, mint moose tracks. Tin roof is awfully good, too, and even plain old vanilla covered in chocolate and caramel syrup. As a boy, I was never too fond of strawberry. It was my father’s favorite, though, and today I quite enjoy it. Turns out dad had good taste!

Now, what does that have to do with reading and writing?

Just this: genres are flavors of literary ice cream. Tone and mood are syrups. We may all have our favorites, but we enjoy variety. So too with stories. On the menu: science fiction and fantasy; history and science; mystery and thrillers; biography and nature; westerns and romances and even plain old mainstream with a topping of humor or suspense or social relevance. Favorites notwithstanding, avid readers devour them all.

 Nor do writers deal in single flavors. Oh sure, we might learn to mix our stories with limited ingredients. For many years, I wrote science fiction and pretty much only science fiction. But in time I ventured into fantasy, mystery, and other genres. Nonfiction, too. I wrote essays for Sky and Telesope, technical articles for an online programming journal, and articles on writing for Medium.com. For a decade I ran a website on my religion, the Baha’i Faith, stocking its shelves with enough articles to fill three collections.

How does a writer manage so much variety? First, it’s totally natural and healthy. Diversity is good for us, whether in our physical or literary diet, whether in our flower gardens or institutions. But as to the technical aspects of writing: good story is good story no matter the genre. Consider the many literary and film adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays. They’ve donned cowboy hats and boots and six-shooters, slipped into modern dress, and teleported themselves into science fiction worlds. Genre doesn’t matter when you have a good story.

So what does?

Strong characters.

Meaningful conflicts.

Satisfying resolutions.

I once heard a puffed-up writer say in a radio interview that “dark fiction” (his moniker for mainstream) is about serving the characters, while genre fiction is about serving the rules of the genre. Apparently he never tried mint moose tracks! There are very few rules in genre fiction. In fact, I’d suggest the “rules” are merely definitions of genres and subgenres. Historical fiction is set in the past; science fiction in a future or alternate present; fantasy in a world where magic or mythology are real. Mystery takes as its main plot the investigation of a crime, while in a romance it’s, well, a budding romance. As for actual rules? There are but two. In mystery, the crime should be solved. (Martha Grimes once left one unsolved, and fans howled.) In romance, the relationship must pan out. Aside from that, anything goes, although subgenre may dictate some of the content. A hard-boiled detective story is distinct from a cozy mystery; a “sweet” romance reads one way, a “steamy” romance another.

But even within these constraints, story is story, whether mainstream or genre.

Witness my new short story collection, The Realm of Tiny Giants. In this realm you’ll find thirty one short stories, some flash fiction and some longer, some mystery, some science fiction, some fantasy, some western, some mainstream, even a couple mashups. But they all have (I hope!) strong characters, meaningful conflicts, and satisfying resolutions. No matter their length, they all have beginnings, middles, and ends. They are all, in a word, stories, just as every flavor of ice cream is ice cream.

By the by, thirty-one stories has no connection whatsoever with Baskin-Robbins’ famous thirty-one flavors. I only realized the coincidence while writing this!

Which is another ingredient common to all good stories. They surprise us. I hope you’ll be suitably surprised and delighted by the variety I’ve dished up. Have a scoop or three. Sample all the flavors. Enjoy!

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