Edith here, loving summer! I’m also loving that I have a new collection of short stories to dive into. Author and editor Judy Penz Sheluk is here to talk about how she decided on the order of the stories in the just-released Moonlight & Misadventure.
Take it away, Judy.
The Natural Order of Things
Before I became a magazine editor and journalist, and eventually, an author, I spent the better part of thirty years working in the corporate world as a Credit Manager and other accounting-related positions. As a result, I have a better-than-average knowledge of Excel, which came in handy when, as Senior Editor, I was managing the freelance budget for New England Antiques Journal, and I’ve used it for my own bookkeeping records. Even so, I never thought I’d use it as a tool to help me determine the order of the short stories in my Superior Shores Anthologies. But that’s exactly what I did. Even better, it works like a charm.
Let’s take my most recent multi-author anthology, Moonlight & Misadventure: 20 Stories of Mystery & Suspense, released on June 18th. Admittedly, much of the heavy lifting lies in culling down the 93 submissions to a manageable number but turning the selected stories into a cohesive collection isn’t quite as simple as it might seem on the surface. That’s where my handy-dandy spreadsheet comes in. Here’s a step-by-step look at how it works:
- Set up five columns: Order (1-20), author name, title, word count, and comments.
- Select which story will be first and mark that as number 1 under the Order column. I spend a lot of time deciding what story will be first, because that sets the stage for the rest of the collection. In the case of Moonlight & Misadventure, I selected Joseph S. Walker’s ‘Crown Jewel,’ the story of a vinyl collector obsessed with The Beatles White Album. At 5,417 words, it’s one of the longest in the anthology, which isn’t necessarily ideal (there’s a theory that the first story should be relatively short, creating a quick intro), but the unique premise and Walker’s skill as a storyteller convinced me this one had to be the leader of the pack.
- Mark ‘Strawberry Moon,’ my story, as number 20, the last entry. Set in Northern Ontario, at 1,419 words, it’s the shortest in the collection.
- Select #19: the lead-in to the final story. Preferably long, and completely different in every way. In this case, I selected M.H. Callway’s ‘The Moon God of Broadmoor,’ the story of an eccentric middle-aged man (Thoth, the Moon God) and a civil service worker who has been charged with cleaning up a literal mess at Broadmoor Apartments.
- Sort the remainder of the stories by word count. In this way, I can begin to vary the order by story length, i.e., long, medium, short, long, medium, short, and so on.
- Of course, just sorting by length isn’t enough. That’s where my Comments column, where I’ve entered a one-sentence reminder about the content, comes in. It wouldn’t do, for example, to have two stories that take place in Hollywood appear one after the other, even though Buzz Dixon’s ‘Not a Cruel Man’ features the murder of a 1960s Hollywood producer, and Robert Weibezahl’s ‘Just Like Peg Entwistle’ takes place in 1932. It’s also important that a light-hearted or humorous story is wedged between something dark.
- Tinker with the order until it’s right. Sort, re-sort. Re-read the intro of each story until I’m finally satisfied it’s as good as it’s going to get.
The process took several hours over the course of three days, but it’s all about achieving balance and what should seem, to the reader, to be the natural order of things. And so, when one early reviewer wrote: “These individual stories flow so nicely together. They are notes in a phrase of music. And to tap into your moonlight theme, when I read the stories of these authors, I thought of Claude Debussy’s Clair de Lune,” it truly was music to my ears.
Readers: Have you ever thought about the order of short stories in a collection? What’s your favorite piece short crime fiction (until now)?
About the book
Whether it’s vintage Hollywood, the Florida everglades, the Atlantic City boardwalk, or a farmhouse in Western Canada, the twenty authors represented in this collection of mystery and suspense interpret the overarching theme of “moonlight and misadventure” in their own inimitable style where only one thing is assured: Waxing, waning, gibbous, or full, the moon is always there, illuminating things better left in the dark.
Featuring stories by K.L. Abrahamson, Sharon Hart Addy, C.W. Blackwell, Clark Boyd, M.H. Callway, Michael A. Clark, Susan Daly, Buzz Dixon, Jeanne DuBois, Elizabeth Elwood, Tracy Falenwolfe, Kate Fellowes, John M. Floyd, Billy Houston, Bethany Maines, Judy Penz Sheluk, KM Rockwood, Joseph S. Walker, Robert Weibezahl, and Susan Jane Wright.
About the editor
A former journalist and magazine editor, Judy Penz Sheluk is the author of two mystery series: The Glass Dolphin Mysteries and the Marketville Mysteries. Her short crime fiction appears in several collections, including The Best Laid Plans, Heartbreaks & Half-truths, and Moonlight & Misadventure, which she also edited.
Judy is a member of Sisters in Crime National, Toronto, and Guppy Chapters, International Thriller Writers, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Crime Writers of Canada, where she serves as Chair on the Board of Directors.
Find the Book: https://books2read.com/u/47NPkj