Since my college years my focus has been on writing novels. My first effort was an essay, my second a short story, and thereafter I wrote longer works. Still, between longer projects I write the occasional short story. I discovered the character Anita Ray through a short story, and by now I have about twenty published and unpublished Anita Ray stories. It seems about time to put together a collection of some of these, and that has become my end-of-year project.
Building a collection of short fiction is a separate skill. Work is enhanced or diminished by the order in which it appears, and figuring out that order can be a challenge. During the life of The Larcom Review, I was surprised but pleased that most of the work submitted fell into certain thematic categories without our requesting them. This made it relatively easy to find a sufficient number of works that went well together. The Review published poetry, short fiction (all genres), essays, book reviews, and interviews, along with black-and-white art. Selecting and arranging individual pieces has remained one of the great pleasures of my writing life. The work is both tactile and intellectual, and as I stood over the eight-foot table with stacks of paper at my fingertips I could imagine many different versions of the issue I was working on until my choices narrowed the possibilities, and I was left with the one we published.
The same question of an effective arrangement appeared in the Level Best Books anthologies, which I along with two colleagues, Kate Flora and Skye Alexander, later replaced by Ruth McCarty, published for about seven years. Kate did the honors in those volumes, and I noticed as I read how astutely she had matched one story with another.
Now as I set out to arrange a dozen Anita Ray stories into a collection that won't run beyond seventy thousand words I think about variations in tone and setting, types of crime and recurring characters, foreign and native suspects and victims, and any other qualities that will reduce the level of sameness in stories focused on a main character. I'm looking for an arrangement that will enhance the contrasts.
During a recent discussion in the Short Mystery Fiction Society list, several contributors shared their experiences with publishing collections or compilations, noting that a grouping of stories widely diverse in genre can undermine the book's appeal, and a little over sixty thousand words seems to be the sweet spot for length. I keep these points in mind as I continue to select and arrange.
Another aspect is the cover. I now use my own photographs of India for the reprints of the Anita Ray novels as well as the individual short stories I've posted on Amazon. I intend to do the same with the collection. The photograph must fulfill certain requirements, such as indicating at once the setting readers have come to know through the Anita Ray mystery novels as well as drawing the eye of new readers.
This is my final project for 2015, and it will carry a 2016 pub date.
To read two of the Anita Ray stories to be included, go to the links below.