Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Putting an anthology together

Once you decide what stories to include in an anthology, then comes the decision about the order in which those stories should appear. I decided to focus on a fantasy theme for the first anthology I'm putting together and that made the decision of what stories to include easy. To get 70,000 words, I needed to include all my Sword & Sorcery pieces.

But now for the order of the stories! From what I understand it is especially important to have a very strong story up front, and to end with another especially strong story. This issue is complicated for me at the beginning because I have both serious and humorous Sword & Sorcery pieces. Which should I start with.

I decided that starting with a humorous story would set a tone I didn't particularly like. Most of the stories aren't humorous so I don't want to give the impression with the first piece that the collection is light hearted. Once I decided to go with a serious piece, I faced another issue. Six of the serious stories I have feature the same character, Thal Kyrin. This makes up over a third of the collection and raises several questions. Should I run all the Thal stories back to back? Should I put these stories in chronological order in relationship to Thal's life? Or should I put them in the order that I wrote them?

I decided against chronological order in relationship to Thal's life because I wouldn't have the strongest story up front then. I also didn't put them in the order I wrote them for similar reasons, although I'm going back and revising early stories to take out the worst bumps from my inexperience at the time.

Anyway, these are some of the issues I'm dealing with as I start this project. More on the process as I continue, and I hope at least a few folks are getting something of interest from this.


BernardL said...

I'm very interested in the process. I also hope this project has a happy ending for you.

Randy Johnson said...

Am looking forward to the collection. I hope you find it a home quickly.
And, I too, am fascinated by the process of setting them up. All valid criteria and, though I hadn't thought of them in that manner, I think I would have if I'd set down to consider it all.
Nice bit of insight. thanks!

Lana Gramlich said...

I don't envy you the process, but I'm sure you'll make only the best decisions. Not that I'm biased or anything...

Voidwalker said...

I've never tried to piece together a work of my own short stories. Looking at this post, I could see how it would be difficult to line it up appropriately. Good luck on it. We are all rooting for you :)

Richard Prosch said...

Good questions. I'd put all the Thal Kyrin stories first, in the order you wrote them, with a little intro blurb for each as to how they came about, which provides a kind of continuity that the actual stories may not. Dan Simmons makes good use of that kind of intro in a few of his anthologies. Would enjoy reading these. Are any currently online?

Bernita said...

Sometimes writing seems to be more about decisions than anything else.
I'm very interested in how you select the order, in case I ever complete an arc for my Annals bits.

Heather said...

What an exciting project! I'm interested to see how it plays out. Maybe you should enlist an outside eye for input?

j said...

As I was reading, you questioned starting with a humorous story. I thought "No, don't do that." And in the next paragraph you said the same thing. This will be the only time I will be able to say in reference to you...

"Great minds think alike."

It's OK if you just shuddered :) Ha!

Best of luck creating just the right order for your stories Charles.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy reading about these kinds of things, so keep doing it. I'm not going to make any suggestions. I just don't feel up to it. It sounds like you are going through the steps to figure it out and will make your way. Ultimately, it will be a collection of your stories and that can't be bad.

SQT said...

Putting the linked stories together-- or not-- is a conundrum. My instinct would be to put them together but I can see the value of spacing them out. I like including a humorous story. One of my favorite Stephen King short stories was one based on his brother. I loved that he included a back-story on how his brother inspired him to write it.

David Cranmer said...

I'm having fun (if that's the right word) playing around with the order of stories for the BEAT to a PULP anthology. And I'm sure stories will continue to rotate as more come in.

I know Sword & Sorcery pieces will be a hit. When will it be coming out?

ivan said...


Wonderful project, and way beyond ambitious, 'cause I know you finish things, and successful people finish things.
Not always so for yours truly.

Just when I thought of myself putting ananthology together, I realized the collation and enviable organization skills one needs and Charles has got and I hve lost, But durn, whenever I get organized, something immediately gets in the way. Like how do you find your old material when afer a series of disastrous relationships, entire scrapbooks of my old plrinted short stories and journalism went AWOL because of unpaid rent and angry girlfriends seizing assets (including copies of all your stories, poetry and journalism), your guitars, Smith-Coronas and, hey, even jocksrap.
Jeeez, they do get mad, don't they?

Living in a car afterwards, I did not, of course bring with me my private library.
Happily, the libraries still have some stories on file, though these books and magazines can only be read right there at reference libraries, and can not be loaned out. I am not smart enough to access all that back material, save for actually visiting the Toronto Reference Library.
One particular story about real people that I miss is "Singleman is the New Hero", printed in the Toronto SUN in l975, and unfortunately lost (lest I bother the SUN and that research now costs money).For my prospective anthology, it would have been a great way to start--yes, start with humour-- especially the Andy Donato cartoon that Andy of the SUN drew for me-- of a balding middle-aged potbellied Superduperman changing into his money-stuffed tights at a Toronto phone booth. Singleman now has cape, flying ability and big bucks after Palimony divorce settlement. Start with humour!

But there was more that I had lost.
A Chekhovian story about an adulterer and a whole whack of poetry. Also a whole comic book set of frames for a Superhero I'd invented, sort of like Frank Nomad out of old Steve Canyon, whom I'm sure nobody rememers.
Ah but then good luck sometimes follows bad. A small publiher has decided after years and years that he will not do my short stories and has (right now?) decided to send them back....All is not lost, but what a way of getting some of the stories back!
Lord, comebacks are so hard.
Three million words in print and I can hardly access seventy per cent of any of it.
Maybe there's tao to it all.
Start over.
But durn, I've been turning over a new leaf so often that the other side is getting tattered and worn as well.
Fok it. I am going to start on a new novel.
...I can't wait for the sure f*ck-up to happen.
(Lil Al Capp character with the rain cloud and thuderbolt over his head. All his encounters, even the most innocent ones ending in sure disaster).
Ah well. Roadrunner and Coyote.
I'm going to Beep-Beep y'r ass, one day!

nephite blood spartan heart said...

I really want to read this-once you get the order figured out-how soon until it could be available?

Charles Gramlich said...

Bernardl, I've got several more posts on the topic, I think. It's been a thinking experience so far.

Randy, yeah, there's more to consider than you'd think at first.

Lana, you are sweet anyway.

Voidwalker, thanks. I appreciate that.

Richard, Most of them were first published in the early 90s. Only one was ever online, but the link doesn't work anymore for that one. I did decide to put all the Thal stories together and so far have done a kind of intro to them in a preface, although I might go with an entry right in front of the stories.

Bernita, yes. Even the writing involves a decision tree as you go through a piece. And this requires much the same thing.

H.E., that's a good idea. I probably will bring it up to my writing group at some point as I get further into it.

Jennifer, yes, I think opening with a humorous piece would not work considering most of the pieces are serious. Great minds or some kind of minds anyway! :)

Jack, thanks. I may second guess myself plenty before it's done.

SQT, that's something I was wanting to do for at least some stories, is include a blurb about how they came to be. I like when authors do that.

David, I'm hoping to finish putting it together over the Christmas break. After that who knows what will happen.

Ivan, in the last couple of years I've been doing more promoting of my work than writing new stuff, and it has paid off, to at least some extent.

David J. West,
I'm guessing it couldn't be out earlier than next summer but I never like to count my chickens before they are hatched, er published. :)

cs harris said...

Huh. Never thought about the logistics but I can see how critical it is, like songs on an album.

Steve Malley said...

I'd go in life-order with the episodic stories, but maybe scatter them a bit throughout...

ANd yes, this is much fun, the reading!

G. B. Miller said...

Interesting post.

I would think that it would make a some sense to put those particular group of stories (Thal Kyrin) in some time of chronological order.

Not necessarily as showing how they relate to his life in one block, but perhaps sprinkled among other similar themed stories.

laughingwolf said...

good thoughts so far, charles... hope to read it when published....

X. Dell said...

Maybe an aleatory approach might help. inding some way to put the stories at random might give you some idea of how to better put them together as a whole in a way that you might not thought of before.

jodi said...

Charles, You know of course, that I am in no position to give any feedback other than my personal opinion. I always prefer chronological order to themes as well as characters. Just me!

Charles Gramlich said...

Candy, pretty much, I think.

Steve Malley, I wrote those stories fairly far apart. At least in some cases, so I've gotta read through them and figure out exactly what order they 'are' in Thal's life.

G, right now I'm leaning toward putting them all together in part of the book. I'm wondering about doing a Part 1, part 2 kind of thing.

laughingwolf, thankee, my friend.

X. Dell, after I reread through them all I'll probably make changes to my current order. I've already done that to some extent as I've started to go through them.

jodi, the Robert E. Howard Conan stories have been published in both ways, chronoligcally by the time line of the character, and as Howard wrote them. There's merit in each approach.

Anonymous said...

Always fascinating to hear how writers work. Interesting to know that so much thought goes into editing. Hope to read them too one day :)

Anndi said...

What a wonderful project! I know you'll find the right flow. Good luck!

Erik Donald France said...

Fascinating decisions. It sounds a lot like how to lay out a music album, really, at least before iTunes shattered the concept.

sage said...

Interesting decisions you have... when all else fails, flip a coin! :)

Merisi said...

Congratulations and good luck!

Greg said...

that's a tough process. I agree with you about not starting with a humorous story -- I think readers would definitely expect more of the same after that.

good luck with all the editing. seems to me like that part's harder than actually writing the stories.

the walking man said...

Put them in the order you want them in and then get someone who knows you just a bit to put them in the order they think they belong in, then start the discussion (debate)that's what I did for STINK.

I think the Girls of Sunday Night made it stronger with their input and throughput.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Welcome to the world of editing!

Actually, this is my very favorite part of the process, deciding what goes where (in my case, other people's poems in a little mag), how they work off each other, or contrast, etc.

I like Richard's idea of a little intro. To me, definitely a serious very strong story first. Maybe then another a humorous one, then the Kyrin stories altogether. Order them the way you think it will make sense to the reader, not to yourself. If that isn't chronological, don't do it chronologically.

This is exciting - I can't wait to read more about how you proceed.

Hemingway put together a book of short stories in which he linked the whole with little sections of another overall story before every few stories, so when you were done reading the collection, you also had finished another story. What was great about this was that the story also happened to be wonderful.

Good luck

Vesper said...

Very interesting, Charles. I'm looking forward to your next posts on this.
Have all these stories been published before?

Unknown said...

I've often wondered how anthologies were put together; the decision process must be agonizing but think of what you'll have in the end.

Charles Gramlich said...

Cinnamon, It's actually pretty interesting to go back and read my own older work, too. Sometimes in a good way, sometimes not. :)

Anndi, thankee. It's kind of fun.

Erik, too true. How long will it be before the kids don't know what an "album" is?

sage, I may be constitutionally unable to make a decision so easily!

Merisi, thankee.

Greg Schwartz, sometimes it is harder, although in the end it's probably more rewarding. But the editing is the hardest work, I think.

Mark, that's a good idea. I will give that a spin.

Don, I did the Hemingway riff with COld in the light. I had opening poetry pieces to each chapter, which over the length of the book told another and different story. It was a lot of fun. Yes, it is fun to work out the order too.

Vesper, all but two of them have been published before. I do want to have some brand new stuff as well as stuff that is hard to find.

Gaston Studio, it's a challenge, but almost endlessly fascinating too.

Cloudia said...

This is great:
You are giving us free info (teaching us stuff)
AND developing interest in your Anth.

Good Work!

Aloha, Friend & GO Saints

Comfort Spiral

JR's Thumbprints said...

If it were me, I'd try to organize each story according to thematic structure with the strongest story first.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I always like chronological, so you can see where the trail leads.

Tom Bailey said...

I have a very creative friend that writes books that set an alarm clock for 2:00 am and writes down the answers that pop into her mind that she has on a pad on the nighstand. Whatever answers pop in those are the ones she goes with. What do you think?

Best of luck,
Tom Bailey

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Amazing - I just took a gander at "Cold in the Light" in amazon preview and see what you have indeed done with the Hemingway take. Excellent, Charles - I've always loved that idea.

I'm sure this project will all come together and be very interesting, indeed.

Charles Gramlich said...

Cloudia, I think I'm mostly teaching myself some stuff. But it's good to develop interest in one's stuff.

JR, I definitely want a very strong story first. I'm debating whether to do the humorous ones together or spread out.

pattinase, that's a good quality, for sure. There are probably many different ways of orgnazing the things. Ahh, Choice!

Tom Bailey, I've never tried that, although I've written down poems and snatches of songs that I've dreamed. Many of those turn out to be mostly gibberish the next morning. But hey, if it works for someone then power to 'em.

Don, of the folks that have read Cold in the Light, only a couple seem to have noticed that. But it was fun putting it together that way.