Since I've decided to focus on writing short stories, I've been reading a lot. Yesterday I made a trip to the library and came home with 13 collections of stories---some old, some new. Every time I read a short story, whether it's fantasy, science fiction, supernatural, mystery, crime---I learn something new.
Last night I raced through most of the stories in Joe R. Lansdale's BUMPER CROP collection. His short story "Chompers" was hilarious, twisty (and chilling), and reminded me of those old science fiction shows I used to watch on TV when I was a kid. It taught me that *anything* can be the subject of a short story. Joe is one of my favorite writers because he really GETS that East Texas thing---the language, mannerisms and quirks of the people who live there---and the settings in his stories live and breathe like characters. Each of his stories teaches me something new about writing.
Later, I read from a completely different collection, BLOOD LITE II: OVERBITE (edited by Kevin J. Anderson), humorous horror short stories by HWA members. The "Dead Clown Seance" story, by Christopher Welch, taught me that there's a place for ALL kinds of stories, no matter how crazy. Since my stories tend toward the comedic, I love seeing how horror and comedy can be combined.
I'm also a big fan of Henry Slesar, the author who penned many of the short stories that eventually became Alfred Hitchcock TV episodes. In HAUNTED AMERICA: Star-Spangled Supernatural Stories (selected by Marvin Kaye), I read "The Return of the Moresbys" which was fun and twisty (Slesar was a king of the twisty story). From it, I learned that a crime story can be funny, ironic, and based on an interesting idea like transmigration (where the soul passes from one body or being to another at death).
Reading these stories confirmed to me that there's a place for humor in mysteries and horror and that any subject can be turned into a great short story. And not only that, but after reading these, so many new ideas for stories came to me.
I hope that you'll take time to read some short stories. The cool thing about short stories? They're short. LOL. They don't take a lot of time to read, can be inhaled on a break, or during lunch, or right before bed just before dozing off. There are many authors these days writing lots of excellent short stories--seek them out, read them. And have fun!