So you’ve had a bunch of stories of stories published over the years. Perhaps they were written for themed anthologies – Cthulhu psychogeographical whodunits, alien babysitters, werebuildings and psychic waterfalls? Maybe you can already see patterns emerging from this scattershot back catalogue, or maybe not. In any case, those stories have been adding up to a substantial body of work.
Then one of your publishers stops its operations or the limited-edition anthologies where some of your favourite stories reside have sold out. The tales that absorbed so much thought and time are going out of print and likely to fade from the public eye. And perhaps you’re also thinking it would be good to see them gathered in one place.
Yes, it could be time for that first collection. I’ve just completed mine, Resonance & Revolt. While I don’t claim to be an expert after my first outing, I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve learned so far.
I initially thought that producing a collection would be more straightforward than writing a whole new book, but the process has its own complexities. First thing I learned – don’t delay! It was a good few years ago when friends urged me to put a collection together. “But I don’t have enough stories!” I protested. I was assured I had plenty, but it didn’t seem like a lot to me.
And then I had a busy spell of short fiction-writing over 2013-15. When rights to the published stories reverted to me, I thought ah-ha… now it’s time for that collection. I took on board advice to look at themes rather than chucking things into some ‘this is what I’ve done’ assortment. So I found ‘resonance’ in many senses of the word – emotional, musical and even in an extremely debased quantum physics sort of way. And there’s a lot of rebellion and connections between moments of revolt in the past, present and future.
I also thought about placement: a lighter, seemingly less substantial piece can be just what you need between two intense historical 10,000-word novelettes. And yes, that 2000-word vignette could have a job to do too.
I made a provisional selection and experienced a heart-stopping moment after I added up the word counts… almost 150,000 words, and that didn’t include any new stories. At least two collection’s worth – perhaps three. Decisions had to be made.
For example, I had a sequence of three stories that shared common characters; I considered these among my best. But when I discussed the collection with members of my writers group, they suggested that this group of stories needed more space if they appear together and more than one new piece to plug in some gaps. Would it be an idea to hold these back for my next collection?
At the same time, one of those stories felt like a key to Resonance, and I realised that Resonance just wouldn’t resonate without “In the Pines”. Perhaps that story could go into Resonance and a very altered version will appear within a sequence in my next collection. I discussed these questions with my editor, the intrepid David Rix. We made a list of pros and cons and decided that holding the other two pieces back made the most sense.
At the same time, I can’t deny that I felt a certain twinge when several people asked after ‘that 7/7 story from Conflicts‘ that I brought to Milford in 2009.
This brings us to the question of how stories age… or shall we say ‘mature’? Most of the stories in Resonance appeared between 2005 to 2016. Since I arranged my stories by theme rather than date, I had old pieces and newer ones side by side. So the eternal question raised its head: shall I leave the stories be or tweak the shit out of them some more?
Well, there’s that ‘near-future’ segment that’s now near-past… Something’s got to be done to that. But even in less overt cases I always see ways to improve a piece even if it’s been published.
At the same time, I want to avoid the ‘enormous condescension of posterity’. This phrase comes from EP Thompson, who was discussing the way historians approach movements of the past – for example, the Luddites, or the free-loving medieval dissidents or the student occupiers of 2010 that appear in my book. I try to ask myself: what was going on when I wrote this? What was I thinking when I made those writerly decisions? Here my editor was able to provide a fresher perspective than my somewhat jaded outlook.
When I was immersed in these considerations along with a mountain of proofreading, one thing put it all in perspective: the fantastic and moving introduction written by Linda E Rucker – friend, fellow writer, critic and editor. After reading the intro I was able to look up from all the nitpicking details and remember why I set out to do this collection in the first place.
Though introductions are not compulsory, I’d recommend one for any collection. Find another writer, an editor or a critic or a friend who has appreciated your work. A perceptive preface will introduce new readers to your writing, and it will also be a great boost for you as you begin to bring your first collection into the world.
Rosanne Rabinowitz’s collection Resonance & Revolt is published by Eibonvale Press and her novella Helen’s Story , nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award in 2013, is available from Aqueduct Press. She lives in South London, where she engages in a variety of occupations including care work, copywriting and freelance editing. She spends a lot of time drinking coffee – sometimes whisky – and listening to loud music while looking out her tenth-floor window.