Thursday, January 5, 2012

Tom Mach - Stories to Enjoy - Guest Post

Guest Post

"How to Form Different Settings Successfully in Writing a Compilation of Short Stories"
by Tom Mach

In writing a novel, an author has time to create and embellish a setting for his characters. She can return to that same setting in another chapter and expand on that setting so well that it becomes one of her characters. Not so with a short story where the author is involved in one particular setting and has to make both the scene and the back-story and the plot and the characters come alive rather quickly.

Each of my sixteen short stories in Stories to Enjoy requires a different setting. In “Burning Faith” a landscaper is on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. In “The Hen Party” three amateur painters are in an artist’s residence in Kansas City. In “Priscilla’s New Word” a grade school child is in a classroom and having a difficult time reading the blackboard. All of these settings are described enough such that the reader can easily fill in her imagination the details of these settings.

For instance, in “Breakfast, Over Easy” a man named Chuck seated at a table at the California Broadway Diner in San Diego. While the diner itself is not described, there are enough elements in the story to enable the reader to “see” this diner. Chuck is seated so that he can see people come into or leaving the diner. There is a large clock on the diner wall that tells Chuck that Larry, a friend he was expecting, is late. Then more description….

Where the hell was Larry today? I tossed my paper on the table and managed to spill the coffee I had left in my cup. I ignored everyone’s fixed gaze at my clumsiness. I wiped the mess I made on the table with as many napkins as my hand could hold.

Notice that it isn’t necessary for me to describe the wallpaper or the size of the table or the number of people in the diner. Those details would only distract the reader from the core of the story itself. In “Doll House” when Leland enters a bar named Johnnie’s he’s met by a brown-and-white English Foxhound who jumps up at him, snapping and growling. Why did I bother describing the dog? Because Leland learns it’s the owner’s robot dog—and that information gives the reader an important clue as to what happens when he goes home to his girlfriend. (Sorry, can’t give you more than that—you’ll have to read the story yourself.) But the point is that while I do describe the bar somewhat—the large crowd, the barstools, the bartender serving drinks—the bar itself is not important to the story. We’ve all been to bars and have a good idea as to what one looks like.

If the setting was an integral part of the story itself, then yes, there would be more description. In “Frozen History”, another story in Stories to Enjoy, Dante is sitting in his apartment balcony overlooking Manhattan. Here I describe three F-15 fighter jets streaking across the blue sky, the shrill blast of an emergency siren, the approach of a helicopter about to land on the roof of Century Bank, and the red, white, and blue lights flashing from a Pepsi sign. All of this is important because in a few minutes incoming missiles from Iran will freeze, as will all of this activity I’ve just described.

Book Summary

This unique collection of 16 short stories written by prize-winner Tom Mach includes stories such as "Real Characters," which is about a writer who gets his wish--that his characters come alive.... "Breakfast, Over Easy" makes you wonder about loyalty in the face of temptation.... "When Kansas Women Were Not Free" takes you to a time when women were less free than former males slaves.... "Son" make you think differently about compassion. One novelist describes STORIES TO ENJOY as "memorable and intriguing, with O. Henry twists that are sure to surprise and entertain."


The professor focused his entire attention on what Ford’s Theater looked like back in April of 1865. He imagined himself to be John Wilkes Booth’s friend and stagehand—Edman Spangler. After a long while he felt himself growing exceedingly tired, and when he opened his eyes he found himself in the real Ford’s Theater. There was no one in the presidential box and Wilson, who now believed he was indeed Mr. Spangler, ran his hand over the balustrade.

“Spangler,” a voice called out to him from below, “are you still working on removing the partition of the box to make room for the President and General Grant?”

It was John Wilkes Booth himself speaking to him!


Tom Mach wrote two successful historical novels, Sissy! and All Parts Together, both of which have won rave reviews and were listed among the 150 best Kansas books in 2011.Sissy! won the J. Donald Coffin Memorial Book Award while All Parts Together was a viable entrant for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize Award. He also wrote a collection of short stories entitled Stories To Enjoy which received positive reviews. Tom’s other novels include: An Innocent Murdered, Advent, and Homer the Roamer.

His poetry collection, The Uni Verse, won the Nelson Poetry Book Award. In addition to several awards for his poetry, Writer’s Digest awarded him ninth place in a field of 3,000 entrants. His website is: He also has a popular blog for writers of both prose and verse at



PLEASE MENTION THE PRIZE THAT THE AUTHOR WILL BE GIVING AWAY (a $25 Amazon gift card to one randomly drawn commenter) and encourage your readers to follow the tour and comment; the more they comment, the better their chances of winning. The tour dates can be found here:


  1. It's great when a writers understands the importance of giving information that helps the story along. If the color of the wallpaper is irrelevant, do we really need to know this?


  2. It sounds as though you really research and know your subjects when you write.

  3. Since you write both historical and contemporary stories, do you find researching a book set in another century more difficult and/or more demanding than a contemporary time period?

  4. So true, you don't have the words to give many of them to description in short stories so actions that include them are essential - as you say, just enough to let the reader build the rest of the picture themselves. I enjoyed your blog. best wishes with your new book.

  5. Sherry Gloag--

    I apologize for my late response but I have been snowed under with projects. Thanks for your comment. I believe in letting the reader build the rest of the picture themselves, although you do have to provide some fascinating features of the character on which readers can built.

  6. Karen H

    Thanks for your comment. I apologize for not getting back to you sooner but I've been innudated with projects. To answer your question, I really enjoy researching eras of the past so for me I don't find it difficult at all. Sometimes I wonder in I'm a 19th century author living in the 21st century!

  7. momjane--

    It's always nice to hear from you. Growing a short story is like growing a rose. It takes patience and care.

  8. Thanks so much for the giveaway! :)