In Praise of Anthologies

An anthology is a published collection of writings (such as poems or short stories) by different authors.
vintage short fiction david madden
[Photo credit: Goodreads]
One of the basic characteristics of anthologies is that the works included are relatively short. They are good for days when focusing for a long time may not be feasible, or when one wants a literary bite before bedtime.


By definition, because anthologies include works by different authors, they include different voices, styles, and maybe genres. If you don’t like one story, move on to the next.


When anthologies draw from previously published sources, the work has already been vetted for quality more than once. Indeed, many anthologies are published annually with titles like The Best X Short Stories of (Year).


Anthologies can be selected by format. Most recent anthologies are available both as physical books and ebooks.


Anthologies are often broad in scope.
100 Great Short Stories by Dover Publications
Great Short Short Stories, edited by Paul Negri
The World’s Greatest Short Stories, edited by James Daley
120 Great Short Stories, by Oldiees Publishing
Doubletakes: Pairs of Contemporary Short Stories, edited by T. C. Boyle et al.
40 Short Stories: A Portable Anthology, edited by Beverly Lawn


40 Short Stories: A Portable Anthology, edited by Beverly Lawn
[Photo credit: Amazon]
Some anthologies are mission driven. A couple of examples of these would be Drumvoices Revue (where my short story “Aunt Fan’s Private Journey” appeared), which celebrates diversity, and the Chrysalis Reader series, which describes itself as “original essays, poetry, and short stories illuminating the world of spirit.” One volume included my story “Solid Line.”
Sometimes they are focused by geographic region.
The Best American Short Stories, published annually by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Great American Short Stories, edited by Wallace and Mary Stegner
The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories, published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
100 Years of The Best American Short Stories, edited by Lorrie Moore and Heidi Pitlor
The Oxford Book of American Short Stories, Oxford University Press


[Photo credit: Amazon]
Themed anthologies are also popular and widely available.  Of course I will start with two mystery anthologies, the two volumes of Virginia Is For Mysteries
The Best American Humorous Short Stories, edited by Alexander Jessup
Sand in My Bra and Other Misadventures, edited by Jennifer L. Leo


Sand in My Bra and Other Misadventures, edited by Jennifer L. Leo
[Photo credit: Amazon]
The Best Werewolf Short Stories 1800-1849: A Classic Werewolf Anthology, edited by Andrew Barger
The Best Horror Short Stories 1800-1849: A Classic Horror Anthology, edited by Andrew Barger
The Year’s Best Science Fiction, published annually by St. Martin’s Press
The Mammoth Book of Erotica, edited by Maxim Jakubowski


The Best Werewolf Short Stories 1800-1849: A Classic Werewolf Anthology, edited by Andrew Barger
[Photo credit: Amazon]
Bottom line: Whatever your heart desires, there’s an anthology for you! All you need to do is look.

Writing to Feed Your Soul

Although some people write to put food on the table, more write to feed their souls.

According to an article by Alison Flood of The Guardian, a 2014 survey revealed that 54% of “traditionally-published” authors and nearly 80% of self-published authors earn less than $1,000 a year. In this same survey, only a minority of respondents listed making money as “extremely important”—around 20% of self-published writers and 25% of traditionally-published authors.Overall, Flood concluded, “Most authors write because they want to share something with the world or gain recognition of some sort.” Clearly, most writers aren’t in it to put food on the table.

The joys of writing to feed one’s soul can be summarized in the word freedom.

  • Free to write on your own schedule.
  • Free from worry about sales covering the advance.
  • Free to write in any genre, not just the one(s) that sell best.
  • Free to ignore industry guidelines/standards for works of a certain genre, such as page length, structure, and language.
  • Free to switch genres or to write in many genres.
  • Free to write a series with a different protagonist.
  • Free to write anything and everything under one name.
Many big-name authors (i.e., those who make a lot of money writing) find themselves limited in the previous three freedoms. The reading public wouldn’t let Arthur Conan Doyle kill off Sherlock Holmes. Many authors write under more than one name. Search online under “famous authors who use multiple pen names” and go from there. Some authors do so to reinvent themselves—e.g.Stephen King/ Richard Bachman, J.K. Rowling/Robert Galbraith. Some use different names for different genres—e.g., Jenna Peterson writes historicals but uses the name Jesse Michaels for erotic romance.  Other multiple-name authors include Dean Koontz, Richard Matheson, Joyce Carol Oates, Agatha Christie, C.S. Lewis, and Isaac Asimov. There are more.

  • Free to mix several genres in the same work.
  • Free to label oneself or not.
diana gabaldon
Diana Gabaldon [Photo credit: Andreas Pavelic]
Diana Gabaldon started off writing to feed her soul—in my opinion! She says that she wrote Outlander for practice, to learn the craft, with no intention of showing it to anyone. Not only did she write an impossibly long book (by industry standards) but she mixed romance, adventure, history, time-travel, and magical elements.

diana gabaldon outlander series
The Outlander series [Photo credit: Tripping Over Books]
For an excellent, thoughtful essay on blending genres, read Joyce Dyer’s “What’s on Your Mind?” recently published in The New York Times.

joyce dyer what's on your mind
You can also read over seventy comments on this piece online. She starts with a discussion of how writers’ brains work and moves on to the limitations of genres.

When you write to feed your soul, the only real requirement is that you write.

Philosophy for the Pop Culture-Minded

I took a couple of philosophy courses in college, and trust me, they didn’t have titles anything like these books! But for your reading pleasure, here are a variety of possibilities:


The Beatles and Philosophy: Popular Culture and Philosophy, edited by Michael & Steven Baur


Sherlock Holmes and Philosophy: The Footprints of a Gigantic Mind, edited by Josef Steiff


Doctor Who and Philosophy: Bigger on the Inside, edited by C. Lewis & P. Smithka
doctor who and philosophy bigger on the inside
[Photo credit: Amazon]
Star Trek and Philosophy: The Wrath of Kant, edited by J.T.Eberl & K.S. Decker
The Grateful Dead and Philosophy: Tetting High Minded About Love and Haight, edited by Steven Gimbel

Pink Floyd and Philosophy: Careful that Axiom, Eugene!, edited by George A. Reisch

Pink Floyd and Philosophy: Careful that Axiom, Eugene!
[Photo credit: Goodreads]
The Wizard of Oz and Philosophy: Wicked Wisdom of the West, edited by R.E. Auxier & P.S. Seng


Baseball and Philosophy: Thinking Outside the Batter’s Box, edited by Eric Bronson


The Walking Dead and Philosophy: Zombie Apocalypse Now, edited by Wayne Yuen


The Walking Dead and Philosophy: Zombie Apocalypse Now
[Photo credit: Goodreads]
Breaking Bad and Philosophy: Badder Living Through Chemistry, edited by D.R. Koepseil & B. Arp


Mr. Monk and Philosophy: The Curious Case of the Defective Detective, edited by D.E. Wittkower


Harry Potter and Philosophy: If Aristotle Ran Hogwarts, edited by D. Baggett & S.E. Klein


Harry Potter and Philosophy: If Aristotle Ran Hogwarts
[Photo credit: Amazon]
Rush and Philosophy: Heart and Mind United, edited by J. Berti & D. Bowman


Movies and the Meaning of Life: Philosophers Take on Hollywood, edited by K.A. Blessing & P.J. Tudico


Dexter and Philosophy: Mind Over Spatter, edited by Richard Greene, et al.


Dexter and Philosophy: Mind Over Spatter
[Photo credit: Amazon]
Led Zeppelin and Philosophy: All Will Be Revealed, edited by Scott Calef


The Rolling Stones and Philosophy: It’s Just A Thought Away, edited by L. Dick and G.A. Reisch


Johnny Cash and Philosophy: The Burning Ring of Truth, edited by J. Huss & D. Werther


Johnny Cash and Philosophy: The Burning Ring of Truth
[Photo credit: Goodreads]
South Park and Philosophy: Bigger, Longer, and More Penetrating, edited by Richard Hanley


Futurama and Philosophy: Bite My Shiny Metal Axiom, edited by C. Lewis & S.P. Young


Battlestar Galactica and Philosophy: Mission Accomplished or Mission Frakked Up?, edited by J. Steiff & T.D. Tamplin
Battlestar Galactica and Philosophy: Mission Accomplished or Mission Frakked Up?
[Photo credit: Amazon]
Superheroes and Philosophy: Truth, Justice, and the Socratic Way, edited by Tom & Matt Morris


Jimmy Buffett and Philosophy: The Porpoise Driven Life, edited by E. McKenna & S.L. Pratt


Dune and Philosophy: Weirding Way of the Mentat, edited by Jeffery Nicholas


Dune and Philosophy: Weirding Way of the Mentat
[Photo credit: Amazon]
Bruce Springsteen and Philosophy: Darkness on the Edge of Truth, edited by R.E. Auxier & D. Anderson


World of Warcraft and Philosophy: Wrath of the Philosopher King, edited by L. Cuddy & J. Nordinger


Bob Dylan and Philosophy: Popular Culture and Philosophy, edited by P. Vernezze & C.J. Porter
Bob Dylan and Philosophy: Popular Culture and Philosophy
[Photo credit: Amazon]
The first and last titles say it all! The various volumes focus on issues of life, love, society, politics, spirituality, personal identity, art, ethics, conflict, community, cosmos, truth, American identity, justice, human fulfillment, meaning-of-life, obesity, animal rights, political correctness, religious tolerance, homophobia, moral responsibility, social justice, patriotism, romantic love, artistic creativity, and class oppression. Here’s a chance to explore the more serious underpinning of popular culture that, possibly, account for the popularity. Check these books out online; there’s something for every reader here!

Help for Writing Magical Realism

Definitions of magical realism abound. Merriam-Webster defines it as “a literary genre or style associated especially with Latin America that incorporates fantastic or mythical elements into otherwise realistic fiction.” Here’s the definition I am using for this blog: supernatural, paranormal, or unexplainable phenomena which are included and accepted as reasonable within a work of fiction. It could be spiritual, or just plain weird.


Charles Hoy Fort [Image is in the public domain]
Charles Hoy Fort is a goldmine for writing magical realism. He was an American writer and researcher into “anomalous phenomena” who combed scientific writing, libraries, and newspapers to find reports of such phenomena. He is best known for four books, still available today: The Book of the Damned (1919), New Lands (1923), Lo! (1931), and Wild Talents  (1932). He doesn’t try to explain the phenomena he reports, nor does he posit theories. He takes a “just-the-facts-ma’am” approach. Each phenomenon gets a few pages, with various instances cited—providing a solid base from which writers can launch into literary magic.
Lo! Charles Hoy Fort
Lo! (1931)
In my opinion, Fort’s reports are timeless. He covers things like showers of frogs and blizzards of snails—many extraordinary, and unexplained, skyfalls. He reports having collected 294 records of showers of living things. He writes of ice images, millions of years old, that are later expressed botanically in an onion. He writes of teleportation, spontaneous fires, ball lightning, unexplained disappearances, and alien abduction. Such phenomena have subsequently been labeled Fortean, and Forteana used to characterize collections of them.
Lo! Charles Hoy Fort
Although I consider Fort’s original works timeless, if you want something more contemporary, check out The Fortean Times magazine, in print since 1973.


Although Charles Hoy Fort has been recognized for his influence on science fiction writing, consider the writings of Fort as a source of inspiration for writing magical realism!

Beach Reads vs. Reading at the Beach

Gone to the Beach lifesaver
Recommendations for great beach reads are everywhere, every year; they start in the spring and are often ongoing. Amazon gives us “Superbly Good Beach Reads” while Barnes and Noble more modestly lists “Beach Reads”—totally disinterested advice from both, of course! Real Simple gives us “The 20 Best New Paperback Beach Reads.” The Huffington Post published other people’s lists, including one from The Oprah Magazine. Refinery 29 has “Beach Read Books.” Bustle has “31 Beach Reads for Summer 2016, Because Vacation Should Be Filled With Incredible Stories.” In 2016, POPSUGAR recommended both “Summer Books 2016” and “Beach Reads for Women.”


Many lists seem to presume that women are the readers, because most of these lists appear in magazines targeted to women: Cosmopolitan, “Beach Reads for Summer 2016”; Redbook, “Best Summer Beach Reads of 2016”; Women’s Day, “28 Summer Beach Reads 2016.”


I’ve always loved the beach and books—but I’ve never bought a “beach read,” and didn’t this year. I’m rereading Diana Gabaldon.


Voyager Drums of Autumn Diana Gabaldon
I finished Voyager and started Drums of Autumn. Given that these are big, fat books, I didn’t take them. I took my Kindle, instead. For the reasons why I chose these reads, see my earlier blog on “Loving Diana Gabaldon.”

Am I alone in reading at the beach without advice?

I recently shared a beach week with 9 other people, ages eight to eighty-five. Some brought multiple books, but none of them brought a book specifically bought for the beach! Here, in no particular order, are their books and their comments on them.


Tim Johnston Descent
“I like macabre books. They hold my attention. I wanted to read The Girl on the Train but this book is better. A girl disappears when her family is on vacation in the Rocky Mountains.”
Lila Marilynne Robinson
“I brought Lila by Marilyn Robinson, a book I bought the last time I was in Denver. She writes with surprising details about surprising events that call attention to the uniqueness of the most ordinary people, their inarticulateness. Yet somehow she brings out the intensity of their inner lives.”
Earth Works Nancy R. Hugo
“I love flowers and Nancy Hugo writes about her gardening experiences in a very down-to-earth, witty way. She makes me feel like I am with her in her garden.”


“I brought Killing Reagan but I was out shopping and found a mystery by a local writer that sounded like a good read, about being set up by a friend with cyberspace and assault rifles and, of course, a woman was involved. The author is Bruce Wilkins and the book is The Count of Cape Hatteras.
The Fiery Cross Diana Gabaldon
“I’m reading The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon. As part of my 2016 Reading Challenge, I am supposed to re-read a book I previously abandoned. I struggled with this, the fifth in the Outlander series, when I started it a few years ago, but my interest was recently renewed by the TV series based on the books. I have found that I am more engaged in the book this time around and I am glad I picked it up again.”


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows J.K. Rowling
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows is the seventh and last book in the Harry Potter series that I started in May, abandoned, and then started back up in late June, because I had nothing new to read. I have noticed that as the books go, it develops a more grown-up sort of writing, and the type of art on the covers changes as well. On the first book the cover is cartoon-y and on the last book it’s much more… ‘Sirius.’”


daily reflections aa members
“The only book I brought was the daily meditations. I gotta keep up with the program, but the beach is for sun and water, not books!”


One True Thing Anna Quindlen
One Time Thing by Anna Quindlon was recommended to me by a friend, I think because it’s about transformation. I like that it starts off with the narrator in her hometown jail and then regresses back to the events leading up to her relaxing gratefully in that cell. The way she illustrates courage, suffering, and everyday acts of love. . . the ingredients for the shifting bond of mother and daughter are beautiful. Anna Quindlon is an excellent storyteller who has managed to hold my attention.”


Italian language learning books
“I brought Buongiorno Italia! in a foolish attempt to learn enough Italian to use it on a trip in September. But really, my motive was because I like languages. Italian is beautiful to speak. I have picked up phrases that I memorized listening to opera records at age twelve or thirteen and didn’t understand. Right now I am working on the auxiliary verbs and verb endings. What fun! I need oral practice and a better memory.”


Young Avengers The Secret Zoo
The Young Avengers is about superheroes. I’m reading The Secret Zoo instead. It’s about a girl named Megan who went missing and her brother and his two friends go looking for her. What’s special about the zoo is that the animals are able to get out of their cages and lead Megan’s brother and friends to a secret part of the zoo. And along the way Megan’s brother finds pages of Megan’s notebook that have clues on them.”


Gentle Yoga with Great Benefits Anna Shapiro
“My yoga teacher had surgery early this summer and won’t be back till September. I just wanted to hold my ground. Does looking at the pictures count as reading? If so, it’s a great read!”
When my younger granddaughter was singing nonsense, her older sister said, “That’s not a song!” The younger one said, “If I sing it, it’s a song!” To paraphrase: if you read it at the beach, it’s a beach read!

Writers Love Toxic Men!

And you needn’t be a female writer to succumb!


Lillian Glass Toxic Men
Toxic Men by Lillian Glass, PhD.
Lillian Glass defines a “Toxic Man” as one who elicits negative emotions from you, behaves badly toward you or doesn’t treat you right, or makes you feel bad about yourself (thus affecting your behavior and lowering your self-esteem). Substitute “your character” for “you” and voila! You have the makings of a great deal of tension in scene after scene and a lot of sympathy for your character.


Glass’s book includes questionnaires to identify specific ways in which the Toxic Man elicits negative emotions.


Under the heading “How Does He Behave Toward You?” there are several subheadings: sadistic behavior, manipulative behavior, dishonest behavior, selfish behavior, non-communicative behavior, critical and judgmental behavior, angry behavior, embarrassing or shaming behavior, controlling behavior, and jealous behavior.


And under the heading “How Does He Make You Feel about Yourself?” the subcategories are: feeling emotional changes (feeling depressed, hopeless, frustrated, anxious or panicky, angry, empty, etc.); feeling afraid or fearful; feelings of self-doubt; physical changes (such as sickness, headache, weight gain or loss); feelings of guilt and shame; or just not feeling like your old self.


The Eleven Toxic Types of Men:

  1. The jealous competitor
  2. The sneaky passive-aggressive silent-but-deadly erupting volcano
  3. The arrogant self-righteous know-it-all
  4. The seductive manipulative cheating liar
  5. The angry bullying control freak
  6. The instigating backstabbing meddler
  7. The self-destructive gloom-and-doom victim
  8. The wishy-washy spineless wimp
  9. The selfish me-myself-and-I narcissist
  10. The emotional refrigerator
  11. The socio-psychopath
Glass’s book is accessible, gripping, and a great read. I recommend it to writers in any genre!
Dr. Lillian Glass
Dr. Lillian Glass
AND REMEMBER: role-reversal is always a great alternative! For every toxic man, there’s a toxic woman!


Want to publish a best-seller? Consider hiring a ghostwriter—or being one! In this blog, I will use as my case in point Tony Schwartz’s ghostwriting of Donald Trump’s memoir, The Art of the Deal.
Book cover of The Art of the Deal
The Art of the Deal
My impression is that most ghost-written books are memoirs, books about people of interest to the public who lack the skill and/or the time to write a book themselves. But there’s no reason that a book of any sort couldn’t be ghostwritten, with the possible exception of textbooks.
Tony Schwartz, Trump’s ghostwriter
Tony Schwartz, Trump’s ghostwriter
Ghostwriting is a recognized profession, and can be lucrative. The Canadian Writers Union sets the minimum fee for ghostwriting a book at $25,000. But it’s an individually negotiated contract, and less experienced writers might be paid $10,000-$15,000. According to Writer’s Digest in 2011, one experienced ghostwriter averaged $15,000-$25,000 for a book of 50,000-75,000 words. Another made $12,000 for a 30,000-word book. A third was paid $22,500 for a 65,000-word book.They say that very successful collaborators earn $30,000-$50,000 per book.
The New Yorker July 2016 cover
Cover of The New Yorker, July 2016
But there are other arrangements. According to Schwartz, in his interview with Jane Mayer for “Trump’s Boswell Speaks” in the July 25th, 2016 issue of The New Yorker, Schwartz earned 50% of the book’s $500,000 advance and half of the royalties. Given that the book spent 48 weeks on the Times best-seller list, that was truly substantial!


Jane Mayer, staff writer for The New Yorker
Money is clearly an upside to ghostwriting. But there are downsides as well. If one’s client doesn’t interview well, you might need a work-around.  Schwartz was virtually joined at the hip with Trump for eighteen months, traveling with him, listening in on his phone calls, etc.


Then, too, check out “The Brutally Honest Truth About Ghostwriting” from 2013. They advise that one does the job, gets paid, and gets out. There can be personality issues, as discussed by Schwartz. And post-best-seller remorse.


The New Yorker July 2016
Mayer’s article about Schwartz and Trump
So maybe ghostwriting isn’t for you, from either side of the contract. But it’s always good to know the options!

Nimrod Lingers… You, Too, Could Benefit!

I’m still working on re-entry. The thing about Nimrod is that there is always something to see. Here is a selection of things you might use as writing prompts:


The frog statue is supposed to be Elvis. You know the story of the princess kissing a frog and turning him into a prince. Who might have kissed The King to turn him into a frog?


elvis frog nimrod hall
Who might have curated these collections, and why are these particular items of interest?
Write your own rules. Or write about a place that would post the ones below. What happens if someone breaks the rules?

What if an uninvited guest drops by?

Notice the edge of a folding chair just visible in the big, hollow sycamore. Write about who might be using that chair, and why.


sycamore tree writing prompt
Or try your hand at writing flash fiction and include all the items from one–or more–of these groups.






And when all is said and done, if you aren’t writing at or about Nimrod, read!


And this really is all till next year!

Nimrod Hall, established in 1783, has been providing summer respite from everyday stress since 1906. It has been operating as an artist and writer colony for over 25 years. The Nimrod Hall Summer Arts Program is a non-competitive, inspirational environment for artists to create without the distractions of everyday life. 

Wrapping Up Nimrod, 2016

 Energy is always high when I arrive at Nimrod on Sunday: getting settled, reuniting with friends, meeting the new writers, and getting the schedule for the week ahead.

 I was in Square House again this year, my favorite room!  It’s downstairs, dim, and I know where my things will fit and how many extension cords I’ll need.


Monday through Thursday at Nimrod is intense: focused writing, talk with fellow writers—who often ask how your work is going, which certainly reinforces that focus and productivity are expected and rewarded—reading every day for workshop, sharing opinions with other readers, then listening to the 8:00 readers after dinner…


All of this happening across varied genres leaves me feeling worn. I suspect others do as well.
flowers nimrod hall
So an open day on Friday was cherished! I walked in sunshine for the first time.


imaginative writing janet burroway
Imaginative Writing by Janet Burroway
It’s also a chance to tie things up. I (finally) turned to to the reference Cathy Hankla had given me on Monday! Unfortunately, I could not send off “Repair or Redecorate?” because my computer went all wonky. The touch-pad didn’t control the cursor. Damn! But at least it’s ready to go. I started packing to leave on Saturday.


Thurday's readers at nimrod hall: Kristy Bell, Ruth Gallogly, Kit Wellford, Jane Shepherd, Judy Bice
Thurday’s readers L-R: Kristy Bell, Ruth Gallogly, Kit Wellford, Jane Shepherd, Judy Bice
I got a photo of Thursday’s readers on Friday evening, in the course of a most entertaining variety show! This was new to my years at Nimrod. Kristy Bell did an incredible job as MC! We had multiple readings of poetry, fiction, memoir, and all the other genre’s represented here, up and down the emotional spectrum. But we also had musical interludes!


Terry Dolson accompanied Judy Bice, Amelia Williams, and Sheri Reynolds while the rest of us joined in as well as we could on such classics as “Country Road” and “Bobbie McGee.” I’m here to tell you, Sheri Williams does a mean Janis Joplin!


Most year I’ve gone to the Jefferson Baths. This year, I mourn missing it. But several of us had accepted a neighbor’s invitation for drinks and a visit to the champion sycamore tree: 10 feet across, 33 feet around. It was good viewing and very good scotch!
Every year we take a group picture. This one came was Saturday morning, just after breakfast.


nimrod hall summer arts program 2016
L-R, kneeling: Foust, Kristy Bell, Nancy Hurrelbrinck,Jennifer Dickinson, Judy Bice, Ruth Gallogly; L-R standing, Terry Dolson, Jane Shepherd, Kit Wellfod, Charlotte Morgan, Cathy Hankla, me, Sheri Reynolds, Molly Todd, David Cooper, Betsy Arnett, Amelia Williams, Frances Burch.
Unfortunately, several people left on Friday. Oh, sigh. Maybe next year!


By 10:00 Saturday morning, Frances Burch and I were on the road. We followed our usual routine: we stopped in Crozet, Virginia for shopping at Over the Moon Bookstore and lunch at Crozet Pizza. For the first time ever, we had their specialty pizza that is a white base, topped with herbs, summer squash, and peanuts! It was excellent.


I was home by 3:00, but Nimrod lingers. There’s always a long re-entry time!


Nimrod Hall, established in 1783, has been providing summer respite from everyday stress since 1906. It has been operating as an artist and writer colony for over 25 years. The Nimrod Hall Summer Arts Program is a non-competitive, inspirational environment for artists to create without the distractions of everyday life.