I seem to be running into more and more anthologies these days. Name a publisher and I can show you a long list of anthologies they have published in just this year alone. I am not sure what is driving this trend. Are authors writing more short stories? Do publishers find it easier to publish short stories in an anthology rather than release them on their own? Torquere Press has their Torquere Sips. Dreamspinner Press has Nap-sized Dreams but is now only accepting stories under 15,000 words for use in their anthologies alone. For the most part, I look to find short stories in anthologies these days.
What is an anthology? An anthology is a collection of short stories by various authors that is usually grouped together by a common theme. I have seen anthologies where the stories all occurred in the same city, that was the common thread. Or different stories about a group of friends, each having their own tale in the anthology. Think Hearts From The Ashes from Samhain Press, a favorite of mine, for an anthology along these lines. And the number of authors found in each anthology can be anywhere from three to thirty! An anthology is quite the diverse creature.
So why all the mixed feelings with regard to anthologies? For some readers, its because they prefer a much longer story. They want a novel. These are readers who revel in the long view, jump with joy over complex characterizations and equally complicated story lines. And for the most part, those can only be found in the novel or novella form. Think banquet versus amuse-bouche (a one bite appetizer). Some readers get frustrated with anthologies or short stories because they feel they just get engaged with the characters and plot only to have them end abruptly. I understand that but often feel that is due to the quality of the short story being read. A well done short story should leave a reader satisfied in every way, an increasingly rare occasion these days (see Scattered Thoughts Looks A Short Story Writing).
I think we need to look at anthologies a bit differently than we do with novels or novellas. And perhaps with a different expectation as well. We all have our preset notions when it comes to novels we like. And when we finish a novel, after having invested a certain amount of time and emotion, if it does not meet those expectations, than we are disappointed and frustrated with book and author alike. But an anthology can represent, should we choose to look at it this way, a chance to look at a compilation as something quite different. And rightly so, because there is a different expectation in the amount of time invested because of the shorter length as well as large quantity of stories involved.
Perhaps an anthology becomes a daunting proposal when you think of reading multiple stories one right after the other. I get that as some of these collections are quite huge. I used to just plow through the collection, one right after the other, only to find the stories running together towards the middle, a method that never seemed to do the authors or their tales justice. Now I try to read them in short bursts and that has made it easier for me when not only reading but reviewing the anthology. These are short stories, not a run on novel and they should be read as such. I think we forget that at times because they have been grouped together in one volume. But that fact doesn’t change the actuality that these are short stories, separate from each other except for an artificial grouping made by a publisher.
For me, an anthology is often a smorgasbord or even a Tapas Bar. A series of small plates or appetizers, instead of a formal banquet of a novel. There will often be something familiar, maybe a well-known or well-loved author or two. And there will be surprises, new writers or authors never heard of before. Or just maybe there will be a story from an author whose literary works you don’t normally connect with for whatever reason but here you find a story from them that just blows you away, giving you a new perspective on this author you normally pass on. All those reasons and more make the anthology a format to be looked at with anticipation and with affection. Think your goody bag at the end of the evening on Halloween. How did you approach it? Did you dump it all out at once or pick through the candies left inside the bag? For me, the anthology is the Halloween goody bag. There will be some apples, or a banana, along with Twix, or Mounds Bar to go with the Reese’s Pieces and Hershey Kisses at the end of the night. You can read it all at once or pick through it, reading it a little at a time. Like some, love some, pass on others.
I have come to love anthologies for the jewels I have found inside, authors and stories alike. Inside anthologies I have discovered the joys of a sloth shifter (Charlie Cochrane for Lashings of Sauce) or the grief of love lost and found again (Two Tickets To Paradise). Give them a try, they will undoubtedly surprise you. And let me know, anthologies, do you love them or leave them?
Here are some of the anthologies I have reviewed: