With the recent release of Alternative Alamat from the Filipino community a few months ago, and with my own work with Saymoukda Vongsay to develop the Lao American Speculative Arts Anthology (catchy name still to be determined...) I've wondered a lot about the challenges in putting together an anthology.
I was heartened by a hope from one potential contributor that he'd be able to submit a piece in to the next one. Although I pointed out that we haven't had a general anthology in 11 years, the very slim SatJaDham collection, and this is the first full-length anthology in 40 years since the end of the war. I, too, was hopeful that the anthology might become a regular thing, but given the 4 decades its taken so far, regular may be a relative notion.
I often think: When other writers get involved in the mix, do we owe it to them to ease the way for them into more mainstream professionalism, or do we develop a submission, editing and engagement process that's appropriate to our community's way of doing things. (Or our counter-culture way of doing things, if we feel like being radical on the point.) I find myself at a number of points wondering, how would Alternative Alamat have done it? And are there other interesting approaches we could take?
We're at a point with the Lao American Speculative Arts Anthology where we are asking ourselves: Do we print only the best, in our opinion, or a survey of the types of styles and ideas out there? Do we encourage collaborations? Do we put out specific requests for specific types of stories? Do we include pieces that are only obliquely connected to speculative art just to show how in some cases, writers AREN'T taking on these issues.
Barbara Jane Reyes' remarks on anthologies always stick in my head regarding their politics and what they do and don't do for writers. Still, like a Whitman's Sampler of chocolates, for some readers it can be a good way to carry many of their favorite writers around in one convenient volume. There is the challenge of how do you then convince them to go beyond what's in the anthology and see the full body of a writer's work.
That was one of the issues I was considering as I looked to the Kurodahan Press anthologies for some ideas of how Asian speculative arts anthologies can be done well. Especially the ones responding to H.P. Lovecraft in Japan. It was an enjoyable series but not enough was presented to provide me a context to consider: is this a very influential story or an underrated one? Is this a regular example of the author's writing, or a mysterious one-off. What was its publication history? And is this version different from others?
This last question I consider frequently because I know that several short stories and poems of mine that I've had published will definitely undergo revisions for different formats and mediums. I don't think it will go quite as extreme as the revisions to Leaves of Grass or The Magus, but I think these are some of the interesting questions to consider when you're looking at a piece. As I look at Alternative Alamat, I can definitely appreciate some of the questions they, too, were trying to address.
Saymoukda Vongsay and I are also wondering if we should simply excerpt some pieces, or allow in more creative non-fiction works. A story should be more than just a regular story set in the world followed by "and a robot wheeled by." The fantastic elements should definitely have a purpose within the narrative, one that changes the way characters respond and interact. The way they think.
Do we include alternate history pieces that take a controversial stance or opt for those which work a more nuanced sense of international relations? When we watch a film like Uncle Boonmee and see characters referring to Lao as 'smelly' and 'lazy' we're going to take umbrage. But that doesn't mean the proper turn is to print stories that sling those invectives back at people.
Do we keep it family friendly? It seems the polite thing to do, but then again, on any given afternoon our readers children will be going off to lay waste to the Ork and zombie hordes, or doing any number of misanthropic things while committing grand theft. So, why bother shying away from that? As always, the mantra I hear from other editors is: "Is it in the service of the story?" We don't have to present gratuitous sex and violence, but the original Grimm's Fairy Tales were also some pretty dark works too.
What are some of the other issues you like to consider when putting together an anthology? What do you expect to see, what do you reject, what do you wish you saw more of?