Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Challenge of the Theme

Like most writers I’m a walking contradiction. For example, I hate writing short stories because I find them difficult to craft, but I love a writing challenge.

That’s how I end up in anthologies. They generally have a theme that establishes some commonality among the stories. For the last two years I’ve contributed to the annual Wolfmont Press collection of crime stories related to the winter holidays. I loved this year’s title: Dying in a Winter Wonderland. I also placed a story in the Echelon Press anthology Heat of the Moment. Published to benefit the victims of last year’s California wildfires, all those stories had a fire-related theme. Each time, the theme was a hook on which to hang an idea, and I really loved that extra challenge.

Recently, fellow author John French invited me to contribute to an anthology to be entitled, “BAD COP, NO DONUT.” This is slated to be a collection of stories about police behaving badly. This one comes with an extra helping of challenges.

First, and most obviously, one of the primary characters has to be a cop doing wrong. Since I’m generally positive about the police this calls for thinking outside the box.

Then there is the fact that John, aside from being a fine writer, is also a full time crime scene supervisor for the Baltimore Police Department. That means I can’t play fast and loose with the forensics or police procedure.

And then there is the matter of deadline. All the stories have to be in by a certain time for the book to go to print on schedule.

One reason I love being a novelist is the freedom it gives you. You can tell whatever story comes to mind, and tell it however you choose, in any voice, almost any length, at your own pace. But sometimes there is a weird appeal to having restrictions. That’s why I write in a specific genre that has its own conventions and comes with a set of reader expectations. And that’s why I always accept the challenge of writing to a theme for an anthology.

Wish me luck.

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