writing for anthologies

I’ve mentioned before that being one of your own publishers get to be a bit much at times. I normally spend five hours a day writing (or rewriting) fiction. That is my passion, and it is my work. When I have to set aside time for formatting books, making covers, and following up the other minutia that goes with the self publishing part of my life, it gets up my ass. I want to be working on the next story.

As part of the solution, I am doing a fair amount of work with other publishers. The short story A SHORT CAMBODIAN AFFAIR came out in an anthology of that same name.


In the past few months I have submitted four short stories to upcoming anthologies. Actually, I don’t mind that as a strategy. If they are accepted, it helps build the audience. If they aren’t accepted, I edit them again and publish them myself.

I do find it interesting that when I write short stories, my tendency is to automatically (that is, I don’t pay attention to the length until the story is written and edited) write stories in the 5,000 to 7,000 range, and most of the anthologies I’ve submitted to are looking for stories between 2,000 and 4,000 words. It isn’t a bad exercise to whittle a 6,000 word story down to meet those requirements, although it can be a lot of work. It makes me curious if they know something I don’t, however. Or are their targets as arbitrary as my proclivity to write longer.

This situation amuses me, because for a number of years, everything I wrote was short. Perhaps I read too much Hemingway, but I struggled to find length. I learned, somewhere along the line, that this was because of the psychic distance I had from the story. I tended to see what they now refer to as the metastory, and write that. All of my attention was on a few characters and the main plot line. That meant I was leaving out a lot in terms of subplots and texture. Sure, I put in local color and atmosphere, but the minor characters were more foils than characters.

You can err by going too far in the opposite direction. Subplots and characters can distract so much that the reader has trouble keeping the thread of the story in mind. So part of the writer’s job is to find a balance.

In erotica, it is easy to let detailed sex dominate. The sex is presented at a different psychic distance than the rest (by the way, if you disagree or don’t like that term, I suggest you simply think of it as the level of personal involvement of the writer at each point in the story.). That jars. It also makes for bad storytelling. There are times when things need to be compressed or expanded, and the level of detail changed, but the story itself should dictate that, not the type of scene being written.

There doesn’t seem to be a good formula for this balance, other than what Hemingway (yes! him again) and Robert Heinlein both referred to, each in his own words, as a good shit detector. I don’t think that is something we are born with, but we can cultivate it. That means being acutely aware of what we are writing, and the intended effect on the reader. If you don’t know that, you can’t know if it works.



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