Short fiction will always be my first true literary love. I write far fewer stories now that I'm focusing on my novels. But besides the poem, I can't think of a more pure, exhilarating form of writing than the short story.
Here is an old story called Brownie's Blues. I've always loved James Baldwin's story Sonny's Blues, and I wanted to write my own, distorted version of it. Somehow the story found itself in Arcata, CA with jazz trumpeter Clifford Brown and the first Gulf War serving as prominent themes.
Another older story that has the distinction of being my first (though not last) work of fiction to take place in Portland, OR. When I began She's with Bobby years ago, I was obsessed by the Jill Carroll kidnapping. The Bobby Driscoll stuff emerged later. The tale took a more horrific turn than I had originally envisioned, but this seemed the direction the story wanted me to follow. So I did.
Writing the Balloon proudly wears its Neil Gaiman influence on its gingham sleeve. Whether you will agree or not, I think of it as my first successful fantasy story. The narrator's voice is intoxicating to me, and I found I couldn't (and can't) get the cadences of her speech out of my head. Perhaps she's due more than just a short story. Time will tell.