Out on February 25th is Cthulhu Lies Dreaming, the next anthology in a series begun in 2014 with Cthulhu Lives!
GWD: What’s the role of an editor in an anthology?
SJ: Well, I can only answer for myself, but I believe this is probably mostly true for other anthology editors. First, it’s the role of curator. So finding and getting the rights to stories. In the case of these two anthologies, that was done mostly through open calls and some invitations to submit. Curation also, in my mind, means organizing the stories into their final order. And then — and this is the part that not all anthology editors do — I also either line edit the stories or oversee the line editing in some way and copy editing. The last part of it is project management. That’s actually the job of most publishing editors. Assigning tasks related to getting a book out on time, keeping tabs on everything, pushing the process ahead as one of the other part finishes up.
GWD: What’s your favourite part of the work?
SJ: I actually really enjoy the whole process. Probably my least favourite part is going through open submissions. It can be amazing, but I really don’t like to turn writers down. I know how it feels to have work rejected and I hate to inflict that feeling on anyone. It’s been a hard lesson for me to learn to put the final quality of the book above anything else. I’m still not quite there yet. I would still give someone a chance if I felt their story could be tweaked up through the editing process. … I’m dodging the question, I guess. I like the parts best that let me collaborate with writers to get the best stories possible, and the best book possible.
GWD: Can you describe a typical day working on an anthology?
SJ: Oh god, a typical day? It really depends on at what point in the process we are. There’s a long section up front that is just reading submissions and making judgement calls. Some stories get ruled out immediately, usually for not being on theme, or because the writing just needs too much work. I try to choose stories where I can see what the issues are and can easily see how they’ll be fixed. I mean, we get a lot of submissions from people who’ve never written a story before. There are “rules” they obviously don’t know about. Things that people have generally agreed are not okay. Like, let’s say, your whole story turns out to be a dream and at the end the dreamer wakes up and the story is pointless. Of course, there are stories that use this and work out, but they have to be strong enough to overcome the negative feeling that this generates in the reader. An obvious example of a story that does this, in movie form, is Jacob’s Ladder. But it’s not something a writer can usually get away with. So that’s the first part. Then there’s a lot of looking at and rating possible stories. I never, or almost never make final decisions about a story on the first round. I want to get the best stories for the book. As more and more stories pass, I start to get a strong feel for what the book is “about,” what it will be like, and the rest of the stories I accept tend to be filtered through the lens of the stories I’ve already accepted. So that’s the any day in the second part of the process. Then there’s a round of contract signing. Then the stories get editing and sent back to their authors for review.
GWD: How much editing do you do on any given story?
SJ: That depends on how much work the story needs. Obviously, I try to accept stories that don’t need much work, but sometimes a story is good enough, in spite of needing work, that I’m willing to take it. I see its potential. I try to help stories live up to their potential.
GWD: How do authors feel about this? Do you ever get objections to edits?
SJ: Of course. It will often happen that a writer will disagree with one or more of the edits. Usually I explain why the edit was made and they’ll change their minds. We try to work with the authors. We want them to be happy.
GWD: Have you ever had a writer walk away due to conflicts about editing?
SJ: Well, yes. I always feel disappointed when this happens, but I feel we can almost always work out our differences if everyone puts aside their personal feelings and tries to think about the outcome as being a better book. That’s hard. The bottom line is that I want the books to be at a level of quality that everyone involved can feel proud of. So if all the writers were professional, experienced short story writers. there would likely be little editing. But because we take a lot of work from new, inexperienced writers, we do a fair amount of work on them. Not without author feedback, of course. God, I sound like a politician now.
GWD: What can you tell us about Cthulhu Lies Dreaming?
SJ: It’s Weird fiction. Some of the stories are quite strange, some are quite gut wrenching. It was definitely like a slow descent into madness, reading the book again when we’d put it all together. I literally, as we like to say in America, felt like I was on some sort of weird drug as I was reading.
GWD: Do you have a favourite story from the book?
SJ: My favourites tend to shift around. I’ll claim one is my fave, and then I’ll keep reading and rediscover another one that I love. I could hazard some guesses as to which ones will be most popular. But sometimes I’m surprised. It’s like having a box of truffles of different flavours. Some people hate maraschino cherries and maple. Some people hate orange. You just don’t know. It’s very individual. I try to see each story on its own terms. That really lets me like them all.
GWD: Anything you’d like to add?
SJ: I did audio interviews with some of the writers. Those are worth checking out if you want to get a better feel for the diversity of this group of writers. And by diversity, I just mean they’re very different from each other in some ways. It’s cool to see why someone might become a Weird fiction writer. Daniel Marc Chant, Yma Johnson, Mike Davis, Pete Rawlik, E.Dane Anderson, A. Leeman Kessler, Lucy Brady, Lynne Hardy. They were all really fun to interview.