What Do Editors Look for In an Anthology?

Sep 6, 2023 | 2023 Articles, Mysteryrat's Maze

by Wendy Dingwall,Barbara Ryan &
Martha Reed

In July, the Florida Gulf Coast Sisters in Crime released Paradise is Deadly, an anthology of 19 short stories from FLGC SinC member authors. Writers know all about following submission guidelines. We asked the Paradise is Deadly editors: What do you look for in a short story when making your selection?

Editor Wendy Dingwall
As an editor, what I was looking for in the Paradise is Deadly short stories, was some scenes seriously grounded in a Florida setting, an unusual protagonist in an unusual circumstance, a strong opening that grabs the reader, and tension that held up throughout the middle with a surprise ending. Additionally, I always appreciate it when an author writes suspense, adding a bit of humor to give that roller-coaster ride feeling to the story.

A great example of this was Monica Myers, “The Purse Detective.” She gets an A+ for hitting all the above criteria.

Another story that added well-known quirkiness and excellent scene setting to their mystery was Teresa Michael’s “Big Foot,” where the mystery was centered around evidence that the murderer was the elusive Big Foot. She pulled off the surprise ending, still leaving Big Foot’s presence the mysterious phenomena that it remains today.

Going back in time to a historical Florida setting was the eerie “Maddie Tate Built a Tabby Wall,” by Martha Reed. This unusual story, with unusual circumstances woven in with issues of slavery and of male domination over women during the mid-1800s, keeps the reader riveted until the very end when a surprise twist sees that all who deserved it were served their just desserts.

Editor Martha Reed
I look for two main things when reading story submissions. One, I love a great descriptive setting that makes me feel like I’m exploring a new space. Two, I look for a strong and interesting narrative voice. I don’t need to like the protagonist, but I need to be interested in them and in what they’re trying to do. It’s a bonus if the story surprises me with a twist or two that I didn’t see coming.

Editor Barbara Ryan
The Call for Submissions stated that the story setting must be in Florida or surrounding waters. That was it, except the title Paradise is Deadly. The sponsoring group, Sisters in Crime, indicated death, injury, or crime would be included in some form. Florida is a crazy, mixed-up state offering a wide range of possibilities for short story writing, and this anthology is delightful in the field of quirky tales it contains. One such story, “Accidents Happen,” by B.W.W. Roark, covers strange deaths from iguanas, gators, and amoebas.

I look for sly humor in a story, like the examples of Florida writers and actual crime headlines Margo Hammond gives us in “How to Get Away with Murder in Florida.” Another story is told at a steady and repetitive pace, where you know with creeping dread what’s coming without being told (“Small Craft Advisory” by Jenna Kernan).

I particularly like Schadenfreude endings, where self-satisfaction comes from witnessing the failures, humiliation, or even death of another who deserves their fate. In my story, “Do You Believe in Monsters?” (Barbara Ryan), bullies are repaid, and in “Roses and Oleanders: A Gardening Tale” (Mary Bell), the catty narrator is thus rewarded.

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