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Collection Time

There is a conversation about short story collections and when they should, or perhaps shouldn't, be put together that is also talking about new authors getting too much credit and acclaim early on. It began here, in the comments of Jeff VanderMeer's blog, but has grown to here, which is Jason Erik Lundaberg's blog, and now, I suppose, it has also here.

On collections, I tend to think it's best to wait until you can create a collection that isn't a mixed lolly bag. You know the type: you get them at Halloween or at fairs and they have maybe one or two lollies that you want to eat in them, but the rest run that range of mediocre to shit. There's no set time frame for that, of course, but just because you can get published doesn't necessarily make you an interesting writer. Publishing from story to story doesn't, at least to me, make you very interesting at all, but when you consider your work, and it occurs to you that you're creating a body of work, with themes and concerns and styles, then you're at least starting to become slightly interesting.

I also do think that you can give an author too much early on. It's rather like when you find a child who is a genius, and you tell them, day in and day out, that they are a genius. Soon, they're going to believe that they are a genius, and the results from that are mostly damaging, I believe. You can't think that everything will come naturally, that everyone should love what you do, that you'll never encounter any resistance, and expect to be interesting. And that doesn't even begin to approach that fact that there isn't any real kind of genius, especially in authors. Being able to write one way doesn't necessarily mean that you can write the other way. Can you write a good fantasy novel and then a biography? A lot of authors would tell you they've no interest, but there are different skills to learn for writing each. So, yes, I do think you can give a new author too much, too early. A little bit of struggle is good for the head, I reckon.

Comments

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(Deleted comment)
benpeek
Nov. 1st, 2005 12:21 am (UTC)
nah, i don't reckon it is the same as saying there are too many mediocre things published. part of it is that complaint, i guess, but the formation of a collection is something that comes from a body of work--and i think it's born more from the question of when in a body of work is it substantial enough.

course, it's probably all in hour you look at it. might be as you say.
(Deleted comment)
benpeek
Nov. 1st, 2005 12:29 am (UTC)
there is that as a valid point.

i think the original point had also to do with the mindset of the author when approaching a collection, too.
(Anonymous)
Nov. 1st, 2005 12:49 am (UTC)
Should author's not submit first novels either?
benpeek
Nov. 1st, 2005 12:56 am (UTC)
i don't think anyone is saying you should or shouldn't submit anything. if you've a first novel, submit it. if you've a collection, submit it. doug's right in that if a publisher sees merit, they'll buy it.

but it is also true that publication is not 'one collection' or 'one novel'. it's the work after that as well, the way in which an author grows. getting everything easy can make growth harder, i guess. or maybe not. there are always exceptions and examples of difference.
(Deleted comment)
benpeek
Nov. 1st, 2005 12:29 am (UTC)
gosh, but you are a genius ;)
(Deleted comment)
benpeek
Nov. 2nd, 2005 01:52 am (UTC)
well, he's not one of mine, that's all i know.

my class spent a good fifteen minutes critiquing his play, though. heh.
punkrocker1991
Oct. 31st, 2005 11:56 pm (UTC)
I've felt for a while that publishing a collection too early isn't healthy for most writers, especially in Australia. It captures a snapshot of the writer at a point, sometimes not at their best, and then when they go on to produce bigger, better, stronger stories they've blown their chance for a while. Case in point: Sean Williams collection NEW ADVENTURES IN SCI-FI in 1999 caught Sean at his peak as his short fiction production had dropped away but his later stories were among his best. Had another publisher put out a collection in 1995 or 96, it would have missed those stronger stories and would certainly have discouraged another publisher from doing a collection for any more years.
benpeek
Nov. 1st, 2005 12:31 am (UTC)
how do you see the chapbook that mirrordanse did in that? it's not a collection, granted, but it was published pretty early into sean's career, i believe.
angriest
Nov. 1st, 2005 01:22 am (UTC)
I love short story collections - the more the merrier. I think that forcing writers to wait until they've got an enormous body of work smacks of cultural elitism.
benpeek
Nov. 1st, 2005 09:19 am (UTC)
well, i'm not saying that they should wait until they have an enormous body of work. i simply think that pushing out collections when you're still learning what kind of writer you are isn't perhaps the best of ideas.

(btw: congrats on the marriage.)
punkrocker1991
Nov. 1st, 2005 02:05 pm (UTC)
It's not so much waiting for the writer to build up an enormous body of work, more of waiting for them to build up a substantial body of quality work worth collecting. There's no point bringing out a collection that needs to be padded by minor pieces, not at an early point of a writer's career. The complete collected works can wait...
punkrocker1991
Nov. 1st, 2005 02:02 pm (UTC)
There's a large difference between a three-story chapbook and a full collection. If they weren't so damn hard to sell, the chapbook is probably the ideal compromise in providing a good glimpse of a young writer. Had Mirrordanse done a collection at that point I really think it would have been on the weak sideand would certainly have made me think twice about doing New Adventures.
benpeek
Nov. 1st, 2005 10:05 pm (UTC)
yeah, that's what i thought.

it is a shame chapbooks don't sell more easily, i agree. i'd like for there to be a market of novella chapbooks.
ex_benpayne119
Nov. 1st, 2005 03:01 am (UTC)
I guess one question is, what is the role of the short story collection?

Is it supposed to serve primarily as a retrospective on the author's previous work; a chance for fans of that author to get all those stories in the one place? Or is it supposed to serve as an artistic object in its own right, aimed at picking up new fans?

I'd suspect a little of both, which kind of makes it hard to answer.

To be honest, if I get to the point where I'm willing to buy a single-author collection (and they're not a friend), then chances are that it's because I'm a fan. In which case I'd rather it be an all-inclusive kind of deal, best, worst, the crap they published the very first time they got published, all of it. It's interesting, if you really like an author, to chart their history.

Most of the time if I don't know an author I won't buy a collection by them... I'll buy anthologies of multiple authors to find out who I like.

On the odd occasion where I do buy a single-author collection by an author who I have little knowledge of, then yeah, it would probably be better if it was "all the very best", although even then, who knows if their "best" is gonna be my "best"? They could cut out the story that would have made me love them.

So in general, I guess I feel it's never too early, because my own book-buying habits tend to view single-author collections as all-encompassing collectibles and I'd rather those collections be complete.
benpeek
Nov. 1st, 2005 09:23 am (UTC)
see, for me, the all-encompassing collectibles side of it is something that authors with long careers and huge bodies of work do. for them, there is a career worth charting. (the ellison retrospective is a good example of that, i think.) that kind of attitude from a early author is, i think, not entirely healthy. chart everything when you're starting and you're just charged the bottom, while you've yet to work into any top. it's more damaging than good, i think.
(Deleted comment)
benpeek
Nov. 1st, 2005 09:26 am (UTC)
Re: Cities and a sense of place
hey lily--

i've read the ackroyd book. it's not a bad thing, though i must admit i read it in peices, since it's a bit of a chunk upfront.

as for sydney, well, this is where my family (both friends and blood) are. this is home. they make the city important to me. they give it its blood and heart. without them, it'd just be a place i was visiting, no matter how much it fascinated me.
(Deleted comment)
benpeek
Nov. 2nd, 2005 02:01 am (UTC)
they were critquing his play in relation to his attitude. the general belief was that he thought a little to highly of himself, and his work was somewhat derivative.
(Deleted comment)
benpeek
Nov. 2nd, 2005 02:16 am (UTC)
i thought he needed a cute hat.

you coming along today? i have props.
(Deleted comment)
benpeek
Nov. 2nd, 2005 03:26 am (UTC)
tsk. you're going to miss my, 'what is the different between me publishing in 1995 and me in 2005?'

i have examples.

anyhow, hope the mood improves. myself, i feel ike burning kittens.
(Deleted comment)
benpeek
Nov. 2nd, 2005 03:35 am (UTC)
Ahh well, I'm not that good a writer so my shit won't be published and if it were I'd die of embarassment so it's completely irrelevent to me :)

this is all about ME, 'ness. ME.

anyway, you should ignore the people who tell you you're shit. i do.

It'll get better just have to wait it out a bit, listen to some agressive music or something. I always thought kittens were over rated myself....

i have abrown sack of 'em. drown and burn. drown and burn.
(Deleted comment)
benpeek
Nov. 2nd, 2005 03:44 am (UTC)
Aw yeah, sorry it's your gig.

that's right. who will hear my opinions now? (maybe i'll blog some of it tonight to annoy people.)

I don't really show my work around, I'm over opinions. I tend to write for myself. I took these classes to learn more techniques, even submitting a portfolio makes me feel fucking sick to the pit of my stomach.

you so lie about writing for yourself. i know wyou want to do more than that. i used my magic third eye, i did. but the trick is just to leanr how to reduce the opinions of others to not meaning very much if they are negative. and once you get into a pattern of submission/rejection/who cares, you simply won't give a shit about anyone or anything.

viva la revolution.

(could i have made less sense?)

poor kitties, they were only born at the wrong place drowned at the wrong time...

i blame god for not making everything right for me.

(Deleted comment)
benpeek
Nov. 2nd, 2005 03:54 am (UTC)
The regulars will be there :)

yes, all five of them.

Yeah blog it, it'll be great. I'm feeling sorry I didn't get off my ass and go now. Just not in the mood like I said.

well that i can understand. i, however, have got to go and do this thing now.

Well true, I mean some of these stories I would like others to read, but yeah I guess it's a question of experience.

experience is over rated.

I blame god for EVERYTHING

if only i believed in him.
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