Gordon Haber

Writer, publisher, mediocre guitarist

(Once Again) What Is a Novella?

The Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, Florence, Italy. (Photo by C.K.H., via Flickr.)

The Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, Florence, Italy. (Photo by C.K.H., via Flickr.)


[Reposting this because I got the question again the other day.]

I’ve had good luck with novellas lately. I recently published one as a Kindle Single and I had another one accepted (although I don’t have a pub date yet).

Anyway, it got me thinking: what is a novella?

Of course it’s an issue of length. A novella is longer than a short story and shorter than a novel. But how much longer? How much shorter?

A little Internet research turned up the rules for the Nebulas, a science fiction award. Here’s their criteria:

  1. Short Story: less than 7,500 words;
  2. Novelette: at least 7,500 words but less than 17,500 words;
  3. Novella: at least 17,500 words but less than 40,000 words
  4. Novel: 40,000 words of more.

Note the category for “novelettes,” which strikes me as a little fussy. But it does make sense for the judges: it doesn’t seem right to put an 8,000-word story in the same category as a 17,000-word one.

Rules aside, I found a lot of interesting stuff about novellas—interesting because there’s a certain defensiveness about them.

In the New Yorker, Ian McEwan calls the novella “the perfect form of prose fiction.” But only after mentioning that the critics gave him a hard time after he published one.

More recently, in the Millions, Nick Ripatrazone proclaimed that “Writers of novellas have nothing to be sorry about.” Which is the kind of thing you say after someone expects you to be sorry about something.

The defensiveness is justified. When Julian Barnes won the 2011 Booker Prize with a 150-page book, the Guardian published a dubious piece about novellas.

Personally, though, I don’t feel the need to defend the genre. A story suggests its own form. You make it as long as it needs to be. It’s very hard to publish novellas, but it’s hard to publish anything.

The Corrosive Effects of Other People’s Success



New fiction from Alex Kudera.

Roger Frade is a famous writer who sends mixed signals to vulnerable women like Ellen Malone. Ellen’s friend Alan hates Frade even as he struggles with his own work and romance. A touching, funny story about the corrosive effects of other people’s success.

To buy the e-book (and learn more about its publisher, Dutch Kills Press), click here.



If Hemingway Was Funny


New fiction from David Samuel Levinson.

Bernadette used to love Colin. And now Colin wonders why he ever let her go.

Imagine Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” with a sense of humor, and a diminutive Australian named Boris. $1.99.

To buy the e-book (and learn more about its publisher, Dutch Kills Press), click here.

The Quiet Desperation of Rhode Islanders


New fiction from Mike Heppner.​ Professor Munch, a cranky widower, wants to live out his days in peace. But his middle-aged daughter has returned with her ludicrously diffident boyfriend, and they keep having loud sex. A disturbing, funny, penetrating novella. Only $2.99. To buy the e-book (and learn more about its publisher, Dutch Kills Press), click here.

The Greatest Writer Who Never Wrote


New fiction from Dan Friedman. A fixture in postwar Paris, M. Blanc left only these letters behind. The Complete Letters of M. Blanc is an epistolary novella with echoes of Borges and a Nabokovian flair. $2.99. To buy the e-book (and learn more about its publisher, Dutch Kills Press), click here.

Take Another Look at Modernism


Amy Park is a visual artist who draws inspiration from architecture. Her e-book, A Short History of Modernist Architecture and Interiors, is a fascinating collection of 36 pen and ink drawings. To buy the book (and learn more about its publisher, Dutch Kills Press), click here.

I Have Figured Out How to Pay Writers

She is happy because she wants writers to get paid. Photo: evoo73 via Flickr

Photo: evoo73 via Flickr

Not much, maybe, but something.

That’s the idea behind Dutch Kills Press, LLC.

It’s the company I started to publish e-books.

Each contributor earns 50% of the profit from his or her e-book.

So if a contributor doesn’t earn much, neither does the company.

The summer list is up.

Check out the website.

If you don’t have a Kindle or whatever, you can find
 a very easy way to peruse, purchase and
read our e-books here

The 20 Best Novellas in the History of Mankind

Video: “How do peasants die?” On the life and death of Tolstoy, famous vegetarian.

I love me some novels and short stories. But I am particularly attracted to novellas. (Here’s mine! Buy them!) I was reminded of this after re-reading one that blew me away (see #20). So I thought I’d revisit my own list.

Again, this is not intended to be a definitive list and it’s in no particular order, save for # 1, which you should read (or-read) immediately. Okay, novellas. Here goes:

1. Death of Ivan Illyich, Leo Tolstoy
The best novella ever, if not the high point of world literature.

2. The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka
When reading “The Trial” to his buddy Max Brod, Kafka laughed his ass off. Read “The Metamorphosis” again and think of Kafka laughing.

3. What Kind of Day Did You Have, Saul Bellow
Immensely rewarding and bristling with life. A portrait of an aging “intellectual captain” and his clumsy, appealing mistress.

4. Bartleby the Scrivener, Herman Melville
Weird, brilliant, prescient and also surprisingly funny.

5. Death in Venice, Thomas Mann
Sublime creepiness.

6. Animal Farm, George Orwell
Many people will disagree about this one because they associate it with high school. Read it again.

7. The Gambler, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Ah, Fedya. If only you always wrote this short.

8. Notes from the Underground, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
See #7.

9. Daisy Miller, Henry James
Ah, Henry. If only you always wrote this short.

10. War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells
Wonderfully imaginative and a fast read.

11. The Dead, James Joyce
I read this so long ago that I can’t remember a thing about it, but it’s James Joyce, so it has to be here.

12. Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
If you haven’t read this, shame on you.

13. No One Writes to the Colonel, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Simultaneously fascinating and frightening.

14. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
This one made a strong impression on me in high school.

15. Billy Budd, Herman Melville
Fills the reader with a kind of epic futility.

16. The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway
Ludicrous dialogue: “I fear both the Tigers of Detroit and the Indians of Cleveland.” But a great story nevertheless.

17. The Aspern Papers, Henry James
Astonishing to say this about anything by him, but: it’s fun.

18. Goodbye Columbus, Philip Roth
Dissecting the foibles and petty snobbery of suburban Jews. It pissed off almost everyone in my parents’ generation, so I was almost obliged to love it.

19. Him With His Foot in His Mouth, Saul Bellow
Actually the collection of that name is my favorite book.

20. A Love Child, Doris Lessing
I find this story absolutely brilliant and truly frightening. In fact, I’m going to read it again as soon as I am done with this post.

Bonus: Three Famous Ones That I Have Mixed Feelings About

 1. Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
The first time I read this (in my lonely apartment in Warsaw) I thought it was genius. The second time I picked it up, I couldn’t get past page 8.

2. The Turn of the Screw, Henry James
I have tried and failed to read this story more times than I can remember.

3. Seize the Day, Saul Bellow
Marvelous writing, but not nearly as affecting as it thinks it is.

Did I miss anything? Send me an email and let me know.


A Writer’s Manifesto (Once Again)

We should introduce this guy to Eraserhead. Photo by Drew Coffman, via Flickr.

We should introduce this guy to Eraserhead. Photo by Drew Coffman, via Flickr.


(N.B. I originally posted this last year; reposting and sticking it at the top of my blog to remember that there is a way to navigate the ridiculousness of writing with dignity and integrity.)

1. I will use social media wisely. If I have work to share, I will share it. But I will never blog/tweet/Facebook about how hard writing is or how many words I wrote today. Nobody cares! And every time I get caught humblebragging (“I am overwhelmed by all the talent here at Yaddo!”) I will donate $10 to PEN.

2. I will not be a dick. Given the following conditions, I will always help other writers: (a) the other writer is deserving of help, that is, not a dick and talented; (b) the request is reasonable; and (c) the request does not greatly infringe upon my own time.

3. I will not surrender my autonomy to gatekeepers. I will not wait around for some magic agent or editor to magically make my career magical, especially when I can be writing, submitting and networking for myself. Nor will I ever (and this is really important) assume that anyone in the publishing business will put my needs above his or her own.

4. I will learn how to say no. I will politely decline unpleasant social obligations whenever possible, especially if they interfere with my writing schedule.

5. I will learn how to say yes. Like most writers, I have a day job. So I don’t have much time. However, I will still allow time for rewarding relationships (friends, family, etc.). I will just be clear about my boundaries.

6. I will stay off the Internet when I’m writing. No more, “I’ll just look this up quickly for research.” If necessary, I will download Internet blocking software or take pen and paper to the park.

7. I will value my work. I will not write for “exposure.” I will write for money. If there are exceptions, they will be exceptions that I can live with, for example if it’s a short story that I’m happy to get off my desk, or I have something to promote.

8. I will keep to a schedule. I will write regularly, even when I don’t have a lot of time, for two reasons: (a) so I can actually get some work done; and (b) so that I don’t always feel like I should be writing. If all I have is my lunch hour, that’s fine, because a few weeks of lunch hours will add up to a draft of a short story or a couple of poems. And then when I’m not writing I can be fully present for my kids or friends or significant other.

9. I will strive for graciousness. “Envy is the central fact of American life,” wrote Gore Vidal. But I will not make it the central fact of my life. The best way to avoid the corrosive effects of envy is, counter-intuitively, to accept it: “I am feeling really envious right now, and that’s fine.” I will try to be outwardly gracious and share the truly venomous feelings only with my journal or my best friend or my spouse. I will also remember that it is possible to feel happy for people.

10. I will value myself. I am not worthless because [check whichever applies:] I haven’t yet published. Because I haven’t been paid for a story. Because I don’t have a book. Because my book didn’t go into paperback or it’s not a bestseller or I didn’t sell the movie rights and so on. I will acknowledge and accept my disappointment. But I will try not let it reinforce a sense of worthlessness. I will instead earn my self-worth through self-discipline and sustaining healthy relationships.

An Open Letter to Steven B. Long, Esq. Who Cuts UNC Programs for Capitalism

Dear Mr. Long,

Greetings from New York City, land of liberals and lattes!

I read that the Board of Governors of the UNC System voted to discontinue 46 degree programs. I am sure that you know all about that, because, as the Vice-Chairman of the Planning Committee, you voted for the cuts.

I am writing because I was disturbed to read that you said, in regard to the cuts, “We’re capitalists, and we have to look at what the demand is, and we have to respond to the demand.”

I strongly disagree with this statement. In fact, I believe that the assumptions behind this statement have ruined higher education in America. No, that’s not strong enough. The assumptions behind this statement may actually lead to the ruination of America, period.

This letter will explain why. I hope you will believe me when I tell you that I write not to attack you personally. I am going to go out on a limb and say that you are a religious man. Me too! And my religion (which is Judaism! I’m a Jew!) teaches that it is wrong to embarrass people. So while I may seem harsh, please take it in the spirit of the Judeo-Christian ethic, or something, I am less and less clear on what that means, but that’s a letter for another time.

Anyway. Allow me to take a moment and discuss the UNC’s Board of Governors itself, which, according to my desultory research, doesn’t seem to have UNC students’ best interests at heart. This is just a guess, but I think it’s a solid one. Why? Because it seems that patronage, and not competence, has a lot to do with who gets on the Board in the first place. Candidates for the board (or their family members) donate up to tens of thousands to the politicians who appoint the board. Call me cynical, but that smells bad.

You may argue, Mr. Long, that the board members work in the public interest. I doubt it, as the board doesn’t (how should I put this?) reflect the public. In a state whose population is over 20% African-American and presumably 50% female, the board is (surprise!) overwhelmingly white and male. I am not going to dwell on this too long, as I felt really icky staring at tiny pictures of the Board of Governors and counting black people.

I will say that you, Mr. Long, seem to be confusing ideology with public service. Let’s be honest here. You were a board member of the Civitas Institute, which is the kind of place that makes my Brooklyn friends tremble with rage over their craft beers. My personal favorite indication of your political proclivities, Mr. Long, was when you kvetched about the UNC Center for Civil Rights. For focusing too much on racial equality. As opposed to “other civil rights,” like freedoms of religion and the right to bear arms. In North Carolina.

That one, Mr. Long, deserves some kind of award.

All that said, the most telling thing was when the Daily Tarheel quoted you as saying, and I think it bears repeating, “We’re capitalists, and we have to look at what the demand is, and we have to respond to the demand.”

Now here you and I are going to have a big disagreement. Which is a shame, because I believe that capitalism is grand. Seriously. I’m not a liberal. Nor am I a conservative, really, but again, that’s an issue for another time.

The issue, Mr. Long, is your assumption that the market solves everything, that the market is everything, that there is no question of ethics or inequality that cannot be addressed by the free market. Because if we are to be intellectually honest (and face up to things like “evidence” and “history”) then we should agree that although capitalism solves lots of things and economic freedom is indeed a crucial element of liberty, it is an egregious oversimplification to believe that everything must work according to supply and demand.

If it makes sense to cut the jazz major from North Carolina Central University, by all means do so. I love jazz, I love the arts, but if there’s a budget crunch and only two kids signed up for the major and one of them doesn’t seem very serious, well then, cut away, you can use my scissors. This is a non-partisan opinion, Mr. Long; I’d say the same thing about a major in Wiccan Studies or the Awesomeness of President Reagan.

But when I look at what kinds of majors are also being “discontinued”, I see disproportionate cuts to programs in elementary and secondary education. (See below.) That’s really disappointing, Mr. Long, considering how desperately North Carolina needs good teachers.

Imagine, Mr. Long, that you’re a student commuting to UNC-Greensboro or UNC-Charolotte or Appalachian State University and you really, really want to be a teacher. But that’s going to be tough because you can’t afford to go away to school and your nearby study options have been severely curtailed and anyway the pay for teachers in North Carolina is so bad that they’re being poached by Houston area schools.

(Wait a minute. The job fairs mentioned in the link above—the ones where Houston schools came to North Carolina and said, “Come work for us, you’ll be able to eat”—those job fairs were held in Greensboro, which lost 5 programs for secondary education. This is a coincidence, right? Because wouldn’t interfering with the students of Greenboro’s ability to make a decent living be interfering with capitalism?)

(Come to think of it, since you’re a tax lawyer and a libertarian you might like this idea: grant serious tax breaks to NC teachers so that their net income approaches their Texan colleagues’.)

Let me get to the point, Mr. Long. The reason I am writing this instead of (say) doing something that actually will earn me money is because I care about education very much. And while of course you need to act within budget constraints, I’ll send $50 to this North Carolina charity for homeless children—which surely we can agree is a worthy cause—if you can prove to me that you actually give a rat’s ass about improving (a) access to education and (b) education itself for the many, many poor people (or even middle-class people!) in your beautiful state.

Mr. Long, as you know, the goal of capitalism is to make money. The nice thing about it is that (while trickle-down is nonsense) a rising tide does seem to lift all boats, or at least many boats, or at least some boats. But that’s a nice unintended consequence. The capitalist doesn’t care about lifting boats. The capitalist cares about making money. Which is fine, I don’t care. All I am saying is that it’s a dumb idea to conflate the goals of education with the goals of capitalism.

So what is the goal of education? You might say, “Helping students get jobs.” Whereas I say, “Sure, help them get jobs, and teach them to read and write, and a little something about the world, and how to be well informed citizens, because unless they acquire some critical thinking skills, then it becomes real easy to impinge upon their liberty, I mean really impinge upon it, in a ‘the NSA-is-listening way.'”

If you’re really concerned about liberty, Mr. Long, you’d be doing everything possible to improve the fucked-up mess that is education in your fine state.

If you want to look at it purely from a budgetary perspective, why aren’t you concerned about easing administrative bloat—one crucial factor in tuition hikes? I am always curious why free-market types, who are all about efficiency and lowering overhead, don’t fire a shitload of deans. Admittedly, this may not be under your purview. But don’t you find it at all disturbing how tuition keeps rising?

When you graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1982, Mr. Long, the cost of attendance was $2512. That’s somewhere between $5k and $6k in today’s money. The current cost of attendance is $24,120. Today’s students do not have access to the same quality, affordable education that you did. Are you cool with that?

I am not trying to put words in your mouth. But your own comments suggest that you ascribe to these assumptions. If I am incorrect, please let me know. Please, let me know if you feel tar-heeled with the same brush (get it?).

Because I suspect that you support an educational system that does not exist to help its students acquire basic skills and even learn something beautiful but financially useless. I suspect that you support an educational system that exists only to make good little workers—which sounds a lot like Communism.


Gordon Haber


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