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Peter Higgins, author of Wolfhound Century

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GUEST POST | Ekaterina Sedia on Anthology Editing

The creation of anthologies have always intrigues me.  Some are definitely better than others and generally if you have an editor who holds to a certain level you'll end up with a quality selection even if you don't love every story.  I've been following Ekaterina Sedia's work for the last couple of years ever since a friend told me about The Secret History of Moscow. Since then Sedia put out the outstanding The Alchemy of Stone and is now working on her third anthology after the World Fantasy Award winning Paper Cities and the just released Running With the Pack.  With all her recent work with anthologies I invited her to discuss her process for selection.  We also discussed a "What is Urban Fantasy" post, which she touches on as well.

All You Need To Do To Get Published is Haunt Your Editor's Dreams

Putting together an anthology is an interesting proposition – and I suspect that methods differ widely from anthologist to another. I, of course, can only talk about my approach. I'm currently working on BEWERE THE NIGHT, another urban fantasy antho I'm doing for Prime. This is my third solo urban fantasy anthology, and I'm starting to feel that I finally have some idea of what I'm doing.

The stories that I select are chosen by a highly idiosyncratic method – if I love it, I buy it; there's no telling in advance of what I'm going to love. Usually, there are more good stories than I have openings, so I retain the stories I like until everything is in, and then make my final selections. Keep in mind that some slots are allocated in advance – to solicited reprints and originals. And the process of selection is just like that – but generally, if I think the story is good, I'll buy it.

Many writers seem to get hung up on irrelevant details though – recently, I've been getting a lot of questions about my formatting requirements, what exactly do I mean by urban fantasy, etc etc. And the thing is – I don't think anyone was ever rejected for wrong font or an extra space after a period, or a summary of the story in the cover letter. All of those things don't matter if the story is good. Also, most editors (I'm guessing, although it is certainly true for me) don't know what they're looking for until they read it. So asking me whether I want ass-kicking chicks-urban fantasy or Charles de Lint-urban fantasy is a tad unnecessary – unless the guidelines specify some very narrow niche, you should just send in anything that you think might fit. Editors know when they cast a wide net – vague guidelines usually is not an oversight that needs to be corrected or clarified but an invitation. I've certainly acquired my share of stories that were neither urban nor particularly fantasy at that. But it's a sin to turn away a great story because it didn't meet some silly limitation, you know?

Now, what makes a story good? Usually, the stories I pick have surprised me somehow. For example, Molly Tanzer's story "In Sheep's Clothing" (from Running with the Pack) surprised me by an ingenious way it fused some very modern concerns with the werewolf myth. Others, like Kaaron Warren's "The Gaze Dogs of Nine Waterfalls" (which will be reprinted in Bewere the Night), delighted and shocked with their very strangeness, with the language and imagery that created an uncanny, dreamlike feel. I even dreamed about the story the night after I read it, and the next day emailed Kaaron asking her for the reprint. See? All you have to do is to haunt editors' dreams.

And since the host of this blog asked, I'd also like to touch on the whole what-is-urban-fantasy thing. The supernatural detective who kicks ass and sleeps with whatever it is she's investigating became as much a cliché (or a convention, if you will) as a magical school or a put-upon orphan who is secretly royalty. None of those are necessarily better or worse than the others. But here again we come against the issue of unnecessary limitation. Why write about vampires when everyone is writing about vampires? Why artificially narrow the genre, which is completely self-described in its own name? Fantastical happenings in (modern) cities are so much richer and more inspiring than whatever the current mold happens to be. It's like people who argue that steampunk has to take place in Victorian England – they are certainly entitled to their opinion but it doesn't mean that everyone else agrees.

So to me, urban fantasy can be pretty much anything, as long as it's somewhat modern day and somewhat fantastical. Same with were-creatures – if there's a change from a human to animal or vice versa, it fits. Genres are really just for the book shelving convenience; don't let anyone tell you that these are scriptures. Too strict adherence to rules can be misguided; adherence to the rules that don't really exist is just puzzling.

Ekaterina Sedia resides in the Pinelands of New Jersey. Her critically acclaimed novels, The Secret History of Moscow and The Alchemy of Stone were published by Prime Books. Her next one,The House of Discarded Dreams, is coming out in November 2010. Her short stories have sold to Analog, Baen's Universe, Dark Wisdom, and Clarkesworld, as well as Haunted Legends and Magic in the Mirrorstone anthologies. She is also an award-winning editor ofPaper Cities anthology, with Running with the Pack just released and Beware the Night coming in 2011.

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Cover Unveiled for The House of Discarded Dreams by Ekaterina Sedia


Anonymous said...

I haven't read a good werewolf book in some time, so I am anxious to read Running With The Pack.