I’ve been fortunate enough to participate in my fair share of anthologies (with several more yet to come: Never After in a couple of weeks, Inked at the beginning of the 2010, and several more that will probably be released toward the middle or end of 2010). I enjoy writing shorter works, though they’re not any easier than crafting a novel. You just suffer through fewer words, that’s all. Actually, that probably makes it harder. You have to say more with less.
I never thought about it from the publishing side of things, though; specifically, what goes on behind the scenes—from conception to publication—when creating a short fiction anthology. This 3-part series from SF Signal, however, aims to explain exactly that (found via Lou Anders’ blog):
From Jay Lake in Part 1:
I may be very wrong about this, but I suspect that the various ways anthologies get put together are a lot more similar than the various ways that stories get written. Nothing a writer says surprises me anymore, not even if Jeff VanderMeer told me he did his first drafts while dangling naked upside from a coconut palm, writing in squid ink through the hollowed fingerbone of William S. Burroughs. (I’ve seen his handwriting, this might actually be true.) Writers are constrained only by their creativity and the necessity of ultimately producing an intelligible manuscript. Editors, on the other hand, are constrained by a much larger set of requirements and assumptions embedded in the publishing process.
Some words of wisdom from Jetse de Vries in Part 2:
These are two telling examples that the utmost majority of today’s SF writers do not want, or cannot write near-future, upbeat SF stories. Also the excuse that ‘editors don’t want optimistic SF’ is nonsense (see also Patrick Nielsen Hayden’s effort mentioned above). Lou Anders asked me at Anticipation: “Jetse, tell me how to get authors to write more exuberant fiction.” Sheila Williams wrote in the July 2009 Asimov’s editorial: “I know that it will be hard for writers to resist turning inwards and that there is great value in holding a mirror up to our lives, but I’d also like to see stories that uplift us, show us some way out of our current circumstances, and offer us some grand new vistas of the future.” Gardner Dozois wrote in the July 2009 Locus: “…although I like a well-crafted dystopian story as well as anyone else, the balance has swung too far in that direction, and nihilism, gloom, and black despair about the future have become so standard in the genre that it’s almost become stylized, and almost default setting, with few writers bothering to try to imagine viable human futures that somebody might actually want to live in.” So editors most certainly want to see more optimistic SF: most writers simply aren’t delivering it.
But mostly it’s the way that I approach my own anthologies, which is as a vehicle for engaging in the shared, ongoing dialogue that I believe makes speculative fiction such a unique genre. By shining a spotlight on emerging trends or asking a group of authors to tackle a question head-on that I personally think needs addressing, the anthology can be positioned as a part of the conversation that occurs at the vanguard of short form sf&f. If I don’t feel like the topic has the potential to contribute to the future advancement of the field, then it isn’t for me…
But lately I’ve been thinking about how to expand the readership for the field in general, how to reach younger/newer readers, how to move beyond genre walls, etc… etc… I’ve also reversed my long-held bias against media tie-ins and become interested in the “convergence of media” that I think may define 21st century fandom. I’ve also been thrilled with the quality of superhero narrative appearing in film, television, and games. The result is the anthology I’ve just handed in to Pocket, With Great Power***, an anthology of superhero prose fiction in which the majority of the contributors are regular writers for DC and Marvel comics. It’s not like anything I’ve done before, and I’m very curious to see how it is received both inside and outside of SF&F. I’m also thrilled to be debuting a few writers who have never worked in prose before!
Meanwhile, I’ve also been pondering whether the really exciting, relevant work—the work that engages our current times head on—and the “cutting edge” of our field, isn’t being charted outside of SF entirely and occurring instead in the “new fantasy” that’s all the rage right now (and with which, perhaps not coincidentally, my employer Pyr books has been having great success lately). I find myself interested in fantasy in a way I haven’t been in decades, as the post-Tolkien epic variety of fantasy seems to give sway to the post-GRRM variety of moral ambiguity, gritty realism, complex politics. It seems a swords & sorcery sensibility is on the rise, and that the pendulum is swinging away from Tolkien and Brooks towards Moorcock and Leiber.
***I’d like to add that I’m actually in this anthology, with a story titled Call Her Savage.