On the Shelf: Let’s Talk Anthologies!

One of my favorite things to read is a good anthology. An entire book full of short, self-contained works, anthologies fit really well in a busy reading schedule, and they are a terrific way, in my opinion, to find new writers to fall in love with. Also, as someone who counts a number of authors among my circle of friends, I find that many of them place their short fiction in these volumes, and so it’s a win-win to support their work.

My favorite genres of anthology tend to be genres and sub-genres that I normally wouldn’t read an entire book in. I love horror short stories–short form fiction is my absolutely most favorite way to consume the genre. But then, I also dig steampunk and mysteries and science fiction, and I’ll happily sit down and read a whole bunch of novels and anthologies that fall in those categories.

There’s just something that’s so elegant about a well-crafted short story. The ability to gather up a reader within a few paragraphs and carry them along to the end is a skill and talent that must be honed and refined. (I remark this as both a reader and as an editor who has read soooo… many… short story submissions.) And the end of a short story–to write one that is powerful, impactful, and that wraps up just enough to satisfy the reader and not too much to become pedantic, well, those are the sorts of stories that I return to again and again.

For this week, I have chosen a couple of anthologies almost at random. If I tried to fit my entire shelf into this post, it would be too long and I’d never finish writing it, let alone get around to publishing it. Instead, I picked up a couple of volumes that reached out to me when I was perusing the shelves. Perhaps one of them will speak to you!

Editor: Ed McBain. Transgressions, A Forge Book, NY, 2005.

I can’t quite remember when I picked up this collection of ten novellas for four bucks at the Barnes & Noble bargain bin. I thought I remembered reading this much earlier in the decade than 2005, perhaps because a number of the stories were set in a world immediately after the events of 9/11. This might be because, while all the novellas in the anthology are terrific, from a bunch of top-notch authors such as Joyce Carol Oates and Lawrence Block, the story that stayed with me all this time was “The Things They Left Behind,” by Stephen King. I’ve always enjoyed King’s short stories the most of all his work, and in this story, he is at the top of his writing game. I don’t want to say too much about it, but this story rips my heart out and kicks me in the soul every time I read it. I highly recommend the experience.

Shadow Show
Editors: Sam Weller and Mort Castle. Shadow Show: All-New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury, William Morrow, NY, 2012.

Ray Bradbury is one of my most favorite authors of all time, and so I decided to give this anthology a shot, see what authors such as Neil Gaiman and Margaret Atwood and Joe Hill could come up with. Turns out, they came up with some pretty solid tales. I read this book cover to cover when I first purchased it, and now that I’m flipping through it to write this blog post, I kind of want to read them all over again. Not every story in here hits up that Bradbury blend of humanity and fear and sadness and hope, but a great many do, and they are all entertaining in their own way. I’m going to go put this one back on my to-read shelf, because I think I need some of this right now.

Editor: Charles L. Grant. Shadows Volume 1, Playboy Books, NY, 1978.

Given that this anthology was published the year I was born, I did not happen by it on a shelf in a bookstore as I did the previous two titles. Rather, I found this series of anthologies mentioned in the survey of horror literature Paperbacks from Hell, and decided to take a chance. This was the first volume of a series of horror anthologies with stories that epitomized what Grant referred to as “quiet horror.” The horror in the stories comes from human actions and emotions, and the terrible capacity we as a species have for committing evil on each other. When I was preparing to start up Crone Girls Press, I read through this volume–and plan to pick up and read the entire series–finding in its pages a model of the horror and dark fiction I would like to publish.

Black Magic Women
Editor: Sumiko Saulson. Black Magic Women: Terrifying Tales by Scary Sisters, Mocha Memoirs Press, Winston-Salem, NC, 2018.

I buy a lot of anthologies at conventions. I’ll be frank–I buy a lot of books at conventions. And I usually go for the anthologies, because they always contain at least one or two gems that make discovering that new author worth the cost of the book. And THIS anthology was worth the cost of several new books, because the stories, mostly by authors whose work I hadn’t encountered before, kept me rapt from page one to the end. Some of my particular faves include “Dark Moon’s Curse” by Delizhia Jenkins, and “Labor Pains” by Kenya Moss-Dyme. The stories in this volume delve into themes of love, loss, terror, revenge, and the implicit context of experiencing these things as a person of color. As the blurb states: “Imagine horror where black characters aren’t all tropes and the first to die; imagine a world written by black sisters where black women and femmes are in the starring roles.” That world is deep and rich and intense, and it’s right here in this book. Do yourself a favor, and pick up a copy.

What We’ve Unlearned
Editor-in-Chief: Carol Gyzander. What We’ve Unlearned: English Class Goes Punk, Writerpunk Press, 2017.

Okay, full disclosure–this one is a little self-promoting, because I helped out as an assistant editor, and this volume contains my dieselpunk take on Beowulf. But bear with me… Writerpunk Press is a slightly anarchic collective that began as a Facebook group of writers who really enjoyed punk in all its literary incarnations: steampunk, dieselpunk, cyberpunk, atompunk, etc. (Ah, who am I kidding, slightly anarchic–ha!) Anyway, several years ago, we all got together and said: Hey, let’s do an anthology where we take classic works of literature, namely Shakespeare, and punk ’em out? Oh, and in the process, send money to the PAWS charity? Several volumes later, here we are, punking English class. This volume, dedicated to the memory of Robin Williams, contains stories like Michelle Cornwell-Jordan’s mythpunk take on “The Little Mermaid,” entitled “Muddy Water Promises,” or Jeffrey Cook and Katherine Perkins’s “Consolidated Scrooge,” a steam-,tesla-, and cyberpunk riff on Dickens’s famous Christmas tale… Check out these stories, and then check out some of the other categories we’ve punked: Edgar Allan Poe, horror, more Shakespeare, and the upcoming myth volume. They are an entertaining read, if I may be forgiven for saying so myself.

Coppice & Brake
Editor: Rachel A. Brune. Coppice & Brake: A Dark Fiction Anthology, Crone Girls Press, Seaside, CA, 2020.

Yeah … I went full-out promotions in this one. On the other hand, I figured if you made it this far, you’re probable the sort who would indulge a moment of self-promotion or two. And honestly, the fact that I love this book so much is not because I really did anything other than find the authors–it’s that the caliber of authors who entrusted me with their works was kind of astounding. There are stories in here that will punch you in the soul and leave you processing all sorts of emotions you didn’t know you had. There were stories in here I had to re-read four or five times just to dull the senses so I could give them a good edit. As I mentioned above, I am an avid reader of anthologies, and I wanted to create a volume of the sort that I would pick off the shelf and read, cover to cover, and then think about for several weeks after. I won’t be so immodest as to claim that’s what this will be for you… but I am proud of what we put together, and so figured it wouldn’t hurt to share this in a post about the anthologies on my bookshelf. Enjoy!

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One Response to On the Shelf: Let’s Talk Anthologies!

  1. Delighted to have the Writerpunk Press anthology among some really great choices in here!

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