Short Stories’ Time

  • By Art Taylor
  • May 11, 2015

The genre’s resurgence is no mystery

Short Stories’ Time

Two weekends ago in Bethesda, Maryland, at the Malice Domestic convention — one of the most important events of the year for mystery writers and readers — I found myself struck more than ever by the important role that anthologies play in the crime-writing community: their prevalence and popularity both for readers and writers.

Part of this may be personal: On the eve of Malice, I finished making selections for an anthology I’m guest editing — Murder Under the Oaks, which will be published this fall in conjunction with Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention — and while at Malice, I found myself purchasing one anthology after another in the book dealers’ room.

But I kept hearing the same thoughts from others, too, about both our genre’s abiding interest in the short story and the growing importance of the anthology alongside those interests.

Barb Goffman, whose story “The Shadow Knows” has been named a finalist for both the Agatha and the Anthony Award this year, talked during a short-story panel at Malice about what makes anthologies so popular with readers.

“Anthologies provide readers a great opportunity to sample authors they haven't heard of before or had the chance to read,” she said. “You might buy an anthology because it has stories from a favorite author or two of yours, but then you'll have the chance to read stories from a dozen other people. You might just find a new favorite from that bunch.”

For mystery writers trying to find an audience and a following, this is great news. And she's got a point. At the Malice conference, I purchased four anthologies just on the first day, and ended up with more than 60 authors in my bag.

But it's not just me who seems to love short-fiction collections. The finalists in the short-story category for three of this year’s major mystery awards (Edgar, Agatha, and Anthony) have leaned heavily toward anthologies.

Two of the Edgar-nominated stories were from anthologies, including Gillian Flynn’s winning story, “What Do You Do?” from Rogues, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois (it’s worth mentioning that when I helped judge the Edgars a couple years back, my committee sent two stories from an earlier Martin/Dozois anthology to the finalists).

Three of this year’s Agatha finalists were from anthologies, including Barb’s story and my own “Premonition,” from Chesapeake Crimes: Homicidal Holidays. And not only were two of the Anthony-nominated stories from anthologies, but the Bouchercon awards committee also instituted a new anthology/collection category this year — a cool development.

Sisters in Crime, a group whose mission is to “promote the ongoing advancement, recognition and professional development of women crime writers,” has been particularly good at widening the short-story market with the various anthologies published by its chapters. A conversation I had at Malice with Martha Reed, chapter liaison for SinC, put the success and growth of those anthologies in a different perspective — a writer’s.

“This is a terrific opportunity to walk new-member authors through the publishing process from soup to nuts," Martha said. "They submit their story to a panel of judges, and if the story is selected, they need to sign an author agreement, and then they work with an editor on revisions. Sometimes, they work with a graphic designer on cover art.

"They also plan the promotion and marketing efforts. Some create their own author web pages. The best part, for me, is that these stories are the first publishing credit for some authors. For instance, with the Pittsburgh chapter's anthology, Lucky Charms, four of the 12 stories were first writing credits.”

Finally, from a publisher’s perspective, anthologies like this can provide a boost, as well.

“They are a niche that the small press serves better than large publishers — especially for regional collections,” said John Betancourt, whose Wildside Press, based in Maryland, publishes both the Chesapeake Crimes series and the Anthony-nominated Carolina Crimes anthology, among others.

This sort of book doesn't have the national appeal that larger publishers demand, but micro-selling into local markets is one of our strengths.”

I don’t want to delve into that controversy from a couple of years back about whether the short story is or isn’t enjoying a boom in the larger literary world. But in the mystery world, I’m pleased to see that it’s not just alive and well, but in many ways thriving — for writers both new and established — with readers reaping the rewards.

I’ve said several times, and repeated it on that Malice panel two weekends ago, that the mystery community is ultimately a small one, and the short-story community within it even smaller — points I make to emphasize how all of us know one another, are supportive of one another, are cheering each other on.

But there’s another side to that, too: While that community is small, it’s also growing, and maybe there’s even more to cheer for in that news.  

Art Taylor won this year’s Agatha Award for Best Short Story at Malice Domestic for “The Odds Are Against Us,” a story also named a finalist for the upcoming Anthony Award. His first book, On the Road with Del and Louise: A Novel in Stories, will be published in September by Henery Press. He teaches at George Mason University.

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