The average adult attention span equals eight seconds, according to Time. No wonder, as our fingers connect us to a mesmerizing map of colorful stimuli, rendering us useless for extended concentration. As people learn to binge bursts of episodic content on Netflix, why not do the same with books?
Brevity can be a writer’s best friend. In some cases, well-written short-form renders critics more impressed than lengthier versions. Crafting depth of meaning in succinct pages often proves more challenging than spreading plot across larger megabytes.
From the eclectic writings of Flannery O’Connor, Katherine Anne Porter, and William Faulkner short pieces, to the multi-faceted cross-genre works of Eudora Welty, the history of Southern Literature documents excellent short form. Perhaps the Southern inclination to short story dates to a time long before the flat screen became the focal point of the modern living room when families used to gather and tell stories. Our Southern writing heroes took that practice a step further, recording and editing their best tales for the enjoyment of future generations.
Emerging from the natural kaleidoscope of the Appalachia, Evan Williams’ One Apple at a Time reminds readers of the golden age of Southern short fiction. Though technically a memoir, One Apple at a Time masterfully weaves four generations of the Williams family into a charming, easy-to-follow narrative. Williams’ approach imitates how a good novella cuts the fat and keeps the meat of the story.
Using the backdrop of the never-ending work involved in running their family orchard, the book translates as an epic tribute to the accomplishments of his grandfather, Glenn “Pa” Williams. Pa represents the sturdy tree trunk on which the family and business find their foundations. One Apple at a Time asks readers to enter a simple world, where boys happily sat at their grandpa’s feet and reveled in folksy fairytales of a life well lived.
A forest of information about the apple farming tradition resides in these pages, but the author smartly keeps these lessons brief so as not to bore the reader. Bouncing from one short anecdote to the next, the book reads more like a series of fond recollections than a traditional. Thus, short form suits it better because longer pieces often need more of a plot arc to maintain interest.
Yet plot arc can exist and often does exist in the novella, as well as the fast-paced flash fiction subgenre. Phyllis A. Duncan produces flashes of light with the sharpness of a laser pointer. Prolific barely begins to describe her, with a veritable library of novellas and short stories that she has penned, including such titles as The Yellow Scarf, Spy Flash, and Blood Vengeance. As a graduate of Madison College (now James Madison University) with degrees in history and political science, Duncan incorporates elements of realism into the work that allude lesser writers.
Though her settings rarely cross under the Mason- Dixon line, Duncan’s roots as a Virginia native give her work richness that might not otherwise exist. Her suspense thriller The Yellow Scarf deals with the tumultuous lives of a husband and wife spy team dodging snipers, terrorists, and doubt in the Balkans. The story opens with Alexei Bukharin attempting to rescue his pregnant wife from the clutches of a terrorist planning to take her baby and then dispose of her. This theme of stolen motherhood reverberates throughout the piece and creates a somber resonance. Short-form aids in the piece’s immediacy, making Duncan’s usage of the form an astute choice.
It appears the novella has purchased permanent real-estate in the publishing realm. With the ever-present giant that is the Ebook reinventing the meaning of publication, many publishers find themselves all too eager to scale back pages.