So Where’s the Novel? (by Joseph S. Walker)

I made my first professional fiction sale in 2011, at the age of forty-one. The story was called “The Penthouse View,” and, as it happens, the market that I sold it to was Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine (it appeared in the Jan/Feb 2012 issue).  The fact that I would have a story in one of the two magazines that had enthralled me since I was in high school (the other being, of course, Ellery Queen) was stunning. I felt victorious; even if I never sold another story, I had succeeded in my lifetime goal of being that most exalted of beings, a published writer.

I rushed to share the news with friends and family, both live and via social media, and the outpouring of congratulations was highly gratifying. Some people went on to ask what must have seemed like a natural question: so now are you going to write a novel?

Cut to twelve years later. “Moving Day,” in the March/April 2023 AHMM, is my sixth appearance in the magazine.  I’ve also had three stories published in Ellery Queen. By my count, I’ve had eighty-one stories accepted for publication in various magazines and anthologies.  I’ve been nominated for a handful of awards (including, to my astonishment, an Edgar, for “Etta at the End of the World” in the May/June 2020 AHMM) and won a couple of them.  I’ve been to crime writing conventions where I’ve met and chatted with many of my favorite writers.  I’ve had, in other words, more success than I had any reason to expect when I sold that first story.

And still, it’s a rare month when I don’t get asked that question, in one way or another: so when’s the novel coming?

Implicit in the question is the assumption that this is the natural step to take, that the short stories are only meaningful as warm-up exercises, that it must be every writer’s destiny and desire to write a novel.

Implicit is the assumption that real writers, invariably, write novels.

Not true, of course. There have been plenty of hugely successful writers, both in and beyond the crime field, who wrote short fiction exclusively, or almost exclusively. Conversely, there are any number of novelists who never wrote shorts, and even profess to be incapable of doing so. And then there are the writers who have the unbelievable gall to be good at both forms, and seem to switch back and forth effortlessly, but the less said about them, the better.  They get quite enough attention, thank you very much.

So the question isn’t when I’m going to get to that novel.  The question is what kind of writer I actually am.  The graduate-to-novels kind?  The short-story-specialist kind?

And the answer is: I have no idea.

I know that right now, I’m having the time of my life writing short stories.  It fits well with the demanding schedule of my real job, but more than that, it’s just plain fun.  Whatever I’m working on at any given time, I’ll likely be working on something completely different in a couple of weeks.  My writing naturally tends to the hardboiled end of the crime fiction spectrum, but I’ve dabbled in cozies.  I’ve written Sherlock Holmes pastiches, a story guest-starring the Marx Brothers, and a tribute to Cornell Woolrich.  I’ve written stories for themed anthologies inspired by Johnny Cash, Pink Floyd, the Allman Brothers, and Roy Orbison.  I’ve written about con men and car thieves, cops and mob enforcers, and a whole lot of normal people who never saw it coming.

Given my typical writing pace, even a relatively short novel would take me, I estimate, six months to write.  Mind you, that’s the first draft.  Add another few months, at minimum, for revision.  Then there’s the hunt for an agent, where you need to get very lucky, and then for a publisher, where you need to get even luckier.  Then editing.  Cover design.  If you continue your lucky streak, the novel might be published the year after the contract is signed.  I think about the number of short stories I could write in that time, and the choice seems easy.

Maybe I just have a short story mind. It’s true that I often have the experience, when reading a novel, of feeling like it should have been a short story (in fact, many novels really are short stories in disguise, with extra incidents and characters and subplots welded on in more or less elegant ways).

Then again, maybe what I have is a short attention span.

So before I forget, let me mention again that “Moving Day” appears in the March/April AHMM.  The story is (very) loosely based on something that happened to a friend of mine, which is a good illustration of the perils of being friends with a writer.  I hope you enjoy it.  I promise you, it was written by a real writer.

I’ve got promotional bookmarks and everything.

Joseph S. Walker lives in Indiana and teaches college literature and composition courses.  His short fiction has appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Mystery Weekly, Tough, and a number of other magazines and anthologies.  He has been nominated for the Edgar Award and the Derringer Award and has won the Bill Crider Prize for Short Fiction. He also won the Al Blanchard Award in 2019 and 2021.  Follow him on Twitter @JSWalkerAuthor and visit his website at   


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7 responses to “So Where’s the Novel? (by Joseph S. Walker)

  1. Considering your success in writing short fiction, those of us who write both long and short would much prefer you to remain in your category of shorts. We have enough competition as it is. You’d wipe us out of the business. ;-)) Congrats, Joseph. I love your stories and look forward to reading more of them.

  2. Kathleen Kalb

    Amazing piece. You don’t need me to tell you that you’re a terrific and accomplished writer — but I will — and point out that it says much more about the people making those comments than about your work. There are always folks who just don’t get it!

  3. N. M. Cedeño

    My first short story was published in Analog in the June 2012 issue. I did decide to progress to the expected next step: the novel. In fact, I wrote four. And I discovered I prefer the shorter format. So in 2020, I decided to focus on short stories again. I won’t say I’ll never write another novel, but, right now, I’d rather not. People ask me all the time, “When are you going to write another novel?” I tell them I’m focusing on short stories.
    Congrats on your story. I look forward to reading it.

  4. Nice post, I’ll have to read some of your shorts

  5. I write long and short fiction, and short fiction is much harder. By the way, I loved, loved, loved “Etta at the End of the World.”

  6. I am in awe of short story writers. I can write nonfiction essays, short personal narrative, journalistic narrative, but short fiction is an art. Write on, short story writer!

  7. Thanks for the post here, Joseph — a question I get often (and grapple with internally as well). Some great perspectives here, and good plan to keep on keeping on with the short stories and your great track record!

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