Writers on Writing

From Short Story to Novel

 by Michael Schiavone

I’ve been writing short stories for over a decade, a pursuit which began in 1994 when I was handed a collection by Raymond Carver during a college-level creative writing class.  Up until that point, I wasn’t really a reader; I only read books if they were assigned.  Carver’s Where I’m Calling From changed my perception of literary fiction.  His stories were deceptively simple and straightforward, a complete departure from many of  the so-called classics I’d been forced to read in high school.  I was amazed and startled that someone could convey such depth, such poignancy, within ten or fifteen pages.  I admired the precision and honesty of the short form—its immediacy.  Most of all, I appreciated its accessibility.  The writing wasn’t murky or lofty or embedded with overt symbolism and tacky metaphors.  Carver’s characters were real and their lives were at stake.

Unlike the novel, there’s no room for digressions in short stories, no place for filler.  Every word counts.  Every sentence matters.  Being a minimalist, short stories appealed to my aesthetic.  I had no interest in writing a novel, primarily because I was intimidated.  So, why did I write a novel when I was so happy (and increasingly successful) in short story land?

While Call Me When You Land is my debut novel, this is not my first attempt at writing a book; I’ve written two in the past—one terrible, one so-so.   That’s how it goes.  It took me over a decade of labor to get my short stories recognized and published.  Novel writing will require the same commitment.  But writing a book is a different animal.  You have more room, more leeway, but that doesn’t give you a license to bore your readers.  Short story or novel, I have to apply a sense of urgency.  I have to stress out my characters.  Ultimately, they have to surprise me.

From a business perspective, I embarked on a novel because this is what the fiction marketplace demands.  I don’t know many agents out there who will sign an author who only has a story collection to offer, even if they’ve been published in respectable literary magazines.  Most agents and publishers demand the novel from new and emerging writers.  So, for the sake of my “career”, I felt I needed to write a novel—I’d gone as far as I could with short stories.  Also, I think I wrote a novel because I craved respect as a writer.  I believed I had to have a published novel under my belt if I was going to be considered a “real author.”  As you can see, my original motivation was a consequence of insecurity and ego, which is kind of pathetic, but the end resul t is Call Me When You, an unexpected and rewarding endeavor for me.

During the year-long writing process, I hit that sweet spot where the characters began to inform me what was going to take place, where the story would lead, the wonderful state of auto-pilot that all authors cherish.  I couldn’t have foreseen this novel until I endured the rigors of actually writing the novel.  As Flannery O’Connor said: “I write to discover what I know.”  And so I’m incredibly grateful for Call Me When You Land because the lives in this book are so real to me—so personal and present—that I hate to think they might never have been born.


Michael Schiavone has been writing professionally since 2000. An accomplished short story writer, his work has appeared in numerous literary magazines and been recognized by dozens of award programs, including multiple wins in the Glimmer Train award series for short fiction.

After graduating from Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, Michael worked as a stockbroker in San Francisco and Boston during the late ‘90’s dot-com boom. Following that bubble’s burst, he tended bar in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Currently Michael works as a day trader and emergency medical technician on Massachusetts’ North Shore. He plans to earn his paramedic license by 2013.

When not writing, Michael practices mixed martial arts and obsessively cleans his house. He lives with his wife, Abbie (an artist), their son, Colton, and three temperamental rescue dogs.

His debut novel, a family drama titled Call Me When You Land, is forthcoming from Permanent Press in September 2011. Michael’s story collection, You’d Be Crazy Not to Love It Here, is represented by Barbara Braun Associates, Inc. He is currently at work on his next novel, Wackers.