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Gotta Collect ‘Em All — Short Stories, that is.

Not long ago, I started pulling together my first collection. Okay, I’ve actually been working on it for about six months. A collection is no small undertaking, as I’ve come to realize, especially given my perfectionist tendencies and the performance anxiety that comes with releasing your first anything and wanting people to like it lots. Despite the fact that I have several dozen short stories that I’ve written over the years, I have either:

  • published them in wonderful anthologies or magazines,
  • been unable to find a publisher for them,
  • been too lazy or busy with the day job to find a publisher for them,
  • forgotten I wrote them, or
  • let my perfectionism trap me in revisions ad nauseum.

As a serious writer (which is what I am Most Days™), I cannot just toss a bunch of stories together, smack it on the rump, and call it a collection. It simply doesn’t work that way.

I’ve been agonizing over which stories should go into my first collection. The factors I’m taking into consideration include:

  • the quality of the story
  • the theme of the story
  • the level of darkness of the story

Quality
Yes, quality matters. I want to come out of the gate with my strongest work. And yet, I don’t want to put all my pretty eggs in one basket either. Or do I? Ultimately, what it comes down to is that if I don’t feel the story is worthy of sharing with the public, then it has no business in my collection. The question demands a yes or no answer. Thumb up or thumb down. So, I’ve been revisiting each story, especially those that have not been previously published, looking for ways to boost the quality signal. I’ve joined a writers group of talented and intuitive writers who have also been giving me feedback—excruciatingly helpful and honest feedback—that I’ve been incorporating back into my stories.

I was never a big fan of writers groups. I’d never found one that I clicked with or that included members who knew more about writing than I did. I usually ended up being the one giving all the feedback, and my fellow groupies would just tell me how much they loved my stories. Not so now. This new writers group has been amazing, and I’m so excited to be getting the kind of feedback I need to bring my stories to a whole new level. If you’re reading this, you know who you are, and “Thanks, guys!”

spooner_sample02Theme
Theme also matters. I want a cohesive theme for my collection, one that runs a thick river of blood through all the stories.

I’ve been extremely fortunate to find an illustrator who manages to get an intuitive and intellectual grasp on the theme of each story. He’s even the one who suggested to me (and he was right, even though I hadn’t seen it) that “loneliness” was the theme that all these stories have in common.

His name is Luke A. Spooner. He lives in Britain, so we do all our discussing over email, and it’s been an absolute joy to work with him. He loves dark stories as much as I do, and he has a knack for getting to the heart of a story and illustrating it. I’m beyond delighted to have discovered his work and to have convinced him to work with me on my collection. The images in this post are his (though not from the collection) and give you a good idea of why I chose him for this very important project. Luke is just wonderful, his work evocative and troubling (in a good way). Do check out more of his work at www.carrionhouse.com. Make him rich and famous, please.

Darkness
One thing I’ve realized about myself as I’ve been going back down Memory Lane with my vast treasury of short stories is that I write in lot of different genres. It’s starting to feel like calling myself a Horror writer, as I’ve done for decades, doesn’t quite express the breadth of what I write. I’m beginning to think that I’m more just a Dark Speculative Fiction writer. Nearly all my stories—whether Science Fiction, Fantasy, or Horror—have two elements in common: they’re intellectual, and they’re dark. But they’re not all ghastly dark. Some are humorous. Some have happy endings! (gasp!) Some are even romances. As a matter of fact, I just signed a contract to do a futuristic romance short story for an e-zine. Super psyched about that. It’s been my secret dream since I was in 6th grade to write romances. But, I digress. (More on that later.)

My stories range from the deeply disturbing and gory to light, afternoon fare. The dilemma I face, thus, is how to commingle these stories into a collection.

  • Do I go all very dark?
  • Do I mix dark and light?
  • If I do one collection that’s dark and one that’s light, will my readers pick up the second one, expecting more of the first, and be disappointed?
  • Should I use a pseudonym for my light stuff? For my dark stuff?

GAH!!! Brain convulsing.

So, after much thought and consideration of all angles, and some consulting of those wiser than myself, I’ve decided not to overthink it. I’ve sorted my first round of stories onto three collections. One, very dark. The other, less dark. And the third, humor. And I’ve chosen titles that will, hopefully, express which is which to readers. Phew.

New Stories
In the interest of tying all the stories in a single collection together, I’m writing a brand new story for each. I’ve put a lot of thought into the first one, and it’s coming along quite well. It further ties into the title of the collection and may share its title with the collection. I haven’t decided that yet.

Long story short, the collections are coming along. I can’t wait for you to see the amazing illustrations by L.A. Spooner, and I can’t wait to share all these stories that I’ve worked on so much over the years. I’m a month, maybe two away from completing the first anthology (counting time to send that final story through my shiny new writers group and incorporate their feedback). If all works out, I’ll find a publisher quickly, and this book will be out later this year or early next year.

Wish me luck!

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