The power of an anthology: how to find your writing clan

Shawn Anderson anthologies.jpg

I always knew that I wanted to be a writer, but it took me a long time to discover what I actually wanted to write. When I first started this journey, I thought I was a horror guy. Then sci-fi. No, maybe fantasy. Nah, mystery/suspense. Yeah, maybe that.

Wrong! I started stories and they always fell a little flat. Something just wasn’t right.

When my twin boys were born, I instantly became enamored with the picture books. As a shiny, new parent, I wanted to write and illustrate my own.

Wrong again! I tried; I failed, and I quickly learned two important things about myself and those adorable 32-page-ish stories:

1. I have just enough artistic ability to be a danger to myself and any picture-book project that I touch. I have taken a blood vow to leave all illustrations to the professionals, the illustrators.

2. Picture books, though short, are extremely hard.

Again, the writing was coming up short. I wrote this hilarious Vermont cow book, but people just didn’t find it as funny as I did. That draft went into the drawer with all the other abandoned manuscripts. I have recently gone back to picture books. I love writing them, but that cow book is still in the drawer.

One of the great things about having children is getting to read all those amazing story books from your childhood again. As I read and reconnected to my forever faves through the twins, and later through my other children (I'm a proud dad of four), we moved from picture books to chapter books and onto novels—THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, OZMA OF OZ, THE WESTING GAME, HOLES, SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS, and of course, HARRY POTTER.

It was great to revisit my old favorites, and discover new favorites along the way. Soon I was reading and re-reading these books well after the children had drifted off to dreamland. I gravitated toward darker books, DIVERGENT, HUNGER GAMES, and beyond.

I started writing different stories, longer ones. The plots became more sophisticated. The character development and world building grew more complex and colorful. I wasn’t completely sure where I was going, but it was sure fun writing my way there.

 A few of my favorite anthologies and collections of short stories 

A few of my favorite anthologies and collections of short stories 

I wholeheartedly believe that you need to submerge yourself into a genre to effectively write it, so one rainy day I was poking around the teen section of my favorite bookstore, "doing research." That’s where this anthology caught my eye. The hardcover had a sleek black jacket with the words, ZOMBIES VS. UNICORNS on it.

I love both of those things, so I was already 200% in!

It had an interesting structure. The authors would go toe to toe, alternating pro-zombie stories with pro-unicorn selections. The debate was "moderated" by the editors. Justine Larbalestier was pro-zombie and Holly Black was pro-unicorn. I had heard of some of the authors and I was familiar with Holly Black’s middle-grade SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES, but I hadn’t read much of this “young adult” stuff.

As I thumbed through the pages, the jacket slipped off revealing this lush and disturbing mural of all-out zombie-versus-unicorn carnage. Now this book had to come home with me.

 Under the slipcover of ZOMBIES VS. UNICORNS

Under the slipcover of ZOMBIES VS. UNICORNS

As I started to read the stories, I fell in love with this group of writers, the world they created, and this magical new world of everything YA. I followed as many of the writers that I could find on Twitter. Carrie Ryan, Cassandra Clare, Maureen Johnson, Libba Bray, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Margo Lanagan, and many more… I had found my clan. I wanted to write this stuff. Confession: the fantasy manuscript that I'm working on is technically upper middle-grade, but it was originally written as young adult.

 Team Unicorn vs. Team Zombie authors

Team Unicorn vs. Team Zombie authors

It sparked a reading—and writing—storm.

The kids have grown, I went through a painful divorce, and I’ve had to rebuild and reimagine my life, a process that somewhat mimicked the evolution of my writing. Again, the big question: where do I want to go from here?

That’s when I came out. 

Life events definitely oozed into my writing. I have a complete NaNoWriMo draft that was fueled by anger and navigating deception; “it” hit the fan on an October 30, right before NaNo kickoff. I easily hit my 50K-word goal, and the revisions for this manuscript continue to be fueled by hope, rebuilding, and finding my place. The result, this story has strong LGBTQ elements, but I struggled because I was too new to this community and culture to really write about it. I'm finding my way through writing. I read books written by LGBTQ authors, studying them so that I could better understand my writing, and myself.

Then I heard about this wonderful anthology on Jennifer Laughran’s Literaticast podcast (BTW, every episode is an informative look into the world of kidlit publishing) when she interviewed the editor, Saundra Mitchell. It opened the door to a whole new troop of writers to read.

 New favorite anthology — ALL OUT, edited by Saundra Mitchell

New favorite anthology — ALL OUT, edited by Saundra Mitchell

From dueling magicians by Shaun David Hutchinson to an interesting twist on Robin Hood by Elliot Wake, ALL OUT: THE NO LONGER SECRET STORIES OF QUEER TEENS THROUGHOUT THE AGES is an amazing book. I’m not completely through all the stories, but the book is like magic. I’ve loved every story that I have read.

 The authors featured in ALL OUT — an instant reading list

The authors featured in ALL OUT — an instant reading list

Whether it’s diving into steampunk or exploring superhero fiction or gothic suspense or horror, anthologies are a great way to quickly sample a genre and find a collection of authors to guide your study. These collections of stories were such important tools to helping me find my targeted place on the bookshelf. They are also great resources for learning how to write short stories.

 A little steampunk, some gothic tales, a tribute to Ray Bradbury, assortments from Kelly Link and Neil Gaiman — here are some go-to anthologies and short-story collections.

A little steampunk, some gothic tales, a tribute to Ray Bradbury, assortments from Kelly Link and Neil Gaiman — here are some go-to anthologies and short-story collections.

Do you read anthologies? What are your favorite anthologies and collections of short stories?

Happy reading & writing!

 

The book links in this post go to BEAR POND BOOKS in Montpelier, Vermont. Please support your local indie bookstores. They are an important community resource.