Short stories flourish, but don't always pay well

BOOKS & AUTHORS

June 27, 1993|By James H. Bready

How's the short story doing?

The standard answer is, a "renaissance" goes on, fueled by graduates of the writing workshops at, by now, more than 400 colleges. The preferred fiction form there is the short story -- so much easier than the novel to finish, criticize, rework. As for outlets, a few trade publishers have brought out one-author collections; publicists and reviewers, however, find such books hard to handle.

Meanwhile, general-reader story magazines are almost extinct; at the highbrow quarterlies and semi-annuals, perhaps 2,000 stories are submitted for every one published -- "more submissions than subscribers," the saying goes.

Three of the 19 contributors to "About the Short Story," the

current issue of Mississippi Review (University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, Miss. 39406; $12) are Marylanders: John Barth, who looks back at his own apprentice, short-fiction days at Johns Hopkins (but whose next book, "Once Upon a Time," will be another long one); Madison Smartt Bell, the writer-in-residence at Goucher College who finds the short story market in a collapse "analogous to the crash-and-burn of Reaganomics"; and Stephen Dixon, who teaches in the Hopkins Writing Seminars. His 10-page story, "The Fall," will harrow many a parent.

In all this, fashions come and go: minimalism, mannerist realism, authentic realism, etc. Mr. Bell's overview of the short story scene is masterly. Aesthetically (but not financially), he concedes, "maybe things really are better today than they ever were."

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Edgar G. Heyl, who died last month at age 81, set out to be a chemical engineer (Hopkins, '31) but he was also a skilled conjurer. Suddenly, there he was for 35 years an editor and bibliographer at Genealogical Publishing Co. And a collector: tokens and medals, playing cards, books on magic, trade catalogs, business history. He was president of the Baltimore Bibliophiles; then for 14 years he put out its newsletter, a model of good words in good print.

Mr. Heyl was the devoted friend of Eleanor Mason; she, Bill Filby and many other devoted friends mourn him.

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Thomas Cripps' years of movie-going have produced yet another landmark book: "Making Movies Black: The Hollywood Message

Movie From World War II to the Civil Rights Era" (Oxford, $49.95; paper, $18.95). This book follows his 1977 "Slow Fade to Black" in a three-volume series likely to be the definitive history of blacks in Hollywood. Mr. Cripps, now on leave from the faculty of Morgan State University to teach at Harvard, interviewed survivors from that period and combed the files of the Office of War Information and major film studios.

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Prince George's County will soon be making noises about its birthday -- some of them loud, since its residents outnumber every other set of countians in Maryland; some, at this distance, inaudible. But for impact on eye and mind, the celebrants will not easily outdo the book that is this tercentenary's advance agent: "Landmarks of Prince George's County" (Johns Hopkins University Press, $29.95).

The county numbers more than 250 designated historic sites; "Landmarks" portrays several score, in view-camera black and white. You can count the bricks, and trace the floor-board grain, in the architectural photographs of Jack E. Boucher.

The plantation that has been in the same family for nine generations is here, as are a hexagonal summer house, private chapels, a noble ruin, a combination brick meat house and privy, a late-1800s store. Besides growth and change, a third byword in Prince George's is preservation.

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Kal (Kevin Kallaugher) of The Sun and Mike Lane of The Evening Sun are among the cartoonists whose work lights up "Eyes on the President: George Bush" (Chronos, Box 487, Occidental, Calif. 95465; $24.95). This history in essays and cartoons attests to a degree of dissatisfaction with Mr. Bush's conduct of office.

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Eisenhower Library at Hopkins has published a 700-title wish list out-of-print books. Can anyone spare a copy of "Traditional Music in Ireland" by Tomas O'Canainn (1978); "History of American Painting" by Matthew Baigell (1971); "Basic Documents on the Soviet Legal System," W. E. Butler, ed. (1983); "Lucy Stone: Pioneer of Woman's Rights" by Alice Stone Blackwell (1930, 1971)? If so, call Ellen Stiffler at (410) 516-8327.

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It's understood that divorce is hard on all concerned, but, says Constance K. Putzel, it's more difficult as the participants age. Ms. Putzel, a former president of the Women's Bar Association of Maryland and a Towson attorney, has written "Representing the Older Client in Divorce: What the Lawyer Needs to Know" (American Bar Association, paperback). Many older clients, Ms. Putzel writes, find the prospect of divorce terrifying; thus, "the emotional and psychological challenges have been

emphasized."

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Book signings at Mystery Loves Company, the mysteries-only bookstore at 1730 Fleet St. in Fells Point: Mark Zubro ("Political Poison"), today; Parnell Hall ("Actor"), July 10; P.M. Carlson ("Gravestone"), July 11. All signings will be 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.; call (410) 276-6708.

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