There might not be a fourth one.
"In terms of the short stories, that's about as good as it got, I guess," Long said on Tuesday, describing his 1995 story collection "Blue Spruce." Speaking over the phone from his home in Tacoma, Long added, "I'm real happy with the book. But after that, I moved on to novel writing. Since then, my interest is in getting more books on the shelf."
Books as in novels, he means. And strange as it may seem to the layman, Long says that it takes a lot more time to write story collections than it does novels. And time is something that anyone 57 years old, as Long is, tends to think about.
"That book," he said, referring to "Blue Spruce," "represented about seven years worth of work."
In addition to the three story collection, which include 1982's "Home Fires" (Univ. of Illinois Press, 136 pages, $14.95) and 1987's "The Flood of '64" (Ecco Press, 213 pages, $16.95), Long is the author of two novels - 1997's "The Falling Boy" (Plume, 256 pages, $12.95 paper) and 2000's "The Daughters of Simon Lamoreaux" (Scribner, 272 pages, $24).
A third novel, "The Inhabited World," is due in the summer.
"It's actually a ghost story," Long said. "It's the ghost of a suicide. He lives in the house where he committed this act, and he oversees the new residents."
Like a lot of midlist authors, Long scores better with book reviewers that he does book buyers. But in Long's case, the reviews tend to be far better than average.
Library Journal compared "The Falling Boy" ("an honest and unflinching moral examination of marital infidelity") favorably to the work of John Updike. Andrew O'Hehir, writing in the New York Times Books Review, said that "The Daughters of Simon Lamoreaux," "has the propulsive power and mystery of a Gothic romance, but the world it creates is a complicated and contemporary one."
The 12 stories that comprise "Blue Spruce" were received no differently. Don Lee, writing in the fall 1995 edition of the literary journal Ploughshares, talked about the moment in the story "Eggarine" when the character, a "moody, unmarried man with a dead-end job," is told by his mother not to worry that he's disappointed those who love him by not meeting their expectations.
"There's nothing wrong with you, honey," she tells him. "It's not a race."
"Such moments are typical for Long," wrote Lee. "His stories are rangy, complex, wry, and unpredictable, moving toward what one would expect to be a significant revelation, only to present an ironic and opposite pronouncement - an anti-epiphany."
It's an interesting take. It's just not one that Long agrees with.
"I mean, I think you have a job to surprise people," he said, "but I wouldn't call them epiphanies either. I'm not sure what that means, really. You have a moment of insight, a moment when you realize that your life has changed in a significant way. And that happens in the end of just about every story."
He points to the very end of "Eggarine" as an example. The boy's father has made a sandwich, and he assumes the old man is going sit there and eat it front of him.
"And instead," Long said, "the father offers it to him."
Seeking a comparison, Long mentioned "Hamlet."
"That's a revenge story," Long said. "The old king asks his son to do an act of revenge. And I was thinking, 'Well, what would my father want?' Because he's not a vengeful person. And my answer was that he would want to keep doing things for his family. And so, in the end, he offers his son, his despairing son, food. And, you know, that makes sense to me."
Something that doesn't necessarily make sense is how well Long has managed the change in geography from rural Montana to urban western Washington. Born in Boston, he spent the better part of three decades in and around Kalispell, Mont. He moved to Tacoma in 1999 when his wife, a medical librarian, got a new job.
He hasn't wasted any time looking back (his next novel is set in an unnamed city on Puget Sound), though he knows that not everyone would understand.
"This has been a good change for me," he said. "I think my life has taken an opposite shape from a lot of people. You know, they get older and they want to move out of the city. For me, it just worked in reverse. I've discovered that I like being in a city … I like a city landscape. "
Hearing him talk, it's easy to get the feeling that there's more to say.
That's not surprising, though. Long is a novelist now. Every story he tells is bound to have a longer version.