Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Putting it Together: Selecting the Stories in Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives by Sarah Weinman

(photo credit: Michael Lionstar)
An anthology may have a great concept or an ideal news hook, but if the stories themselves aren't top-quality, the whole thing falls down. That's why, when Akashic first published Brooklyn Noir all the way back in 2004, it proved to be such a success: there were so many excellent stories set around the borough (where I've lived for the last three years) that it bolstered the very simple idea of short noir fiction rooted to a particular city or urban area. And there's simply no way the publisher could have kept the Noir series going, now dozens of volumes strong, without hundreds of quality stories.

As such, when I began on what is now Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives, I knew I had a lot of work ahead of me. Would I be able to include this fabulous story by one of my favorite writers? Would I be able to find a fabulous story by one of my favorite writers? And could I find an appropriate story at all? Would a tantalizingly brief listing of a story by a possible candidate turn into a blazing gem a new audience could discover anew? There were so many different levels of inquiry I had to balance – and that's sticking solely to matters of content, not finance.

The first order of business was seeing which stories had recently been reprinted in other anthologies. I started with those because they were in print, generally easy to find, listed the relevant rightsholders, and their electronic files were readily available (which would make my publisher happy.) So I must thank Denise Hamilton for including Margaret Millar's stellar “The People Across the Canyon” in LA Noir 2 and Elizabeth George for doing the same with Nedra Tyre's stealth disturber “A Nice Place to Stay” in A Moment on the Edge: 100 Years of Women in Crime Fiction.

It's no fun, though, to repeat too many stories from anthologies past. So in a few instances, I would find a different story by another oft-anthologized author. Shirley Jackson's “Louisa, Please Come Home” and Patricia Highsmith's “The Heroine” were part of respective short story collections, but not reprinted elsewhere for some time. George included stories by Charlotte Armstrong, Dorothy Salisbury Davis and Joyce Harrington, but I ended up going with different ones: “The Splintered Monday”, “Lost Generation” and “The Purple Shroud”, respectively, because they seemed better suited to Troubled Daughters' domestic suspense theme. A different story by Dorothy B. Hughes appeared in Otto Penzler's Best American Noir of the Century,  but I went with “Everybody Needs a Mink”, a lighter-hearted, sly take on suburbia and living beyond one's means.

Other candidate authors required a lot more hunting. It took a long time to find an appropriate story by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, which seemed odd to me, as she was one of the key authors I knew I must include, based on novels like The Blank Wall and The Old Battle-Ax. But it wasn't until I followed some blind alleys to find myself poring through a bound volume of the long-gone American Magazine from the summer of 1949 that I found “The Stranger in the Car” – a novella, yes, but in perfect keeping with my chosen theme. It took almost as long to find something suitable by Vera Caspary, as she did not publish that many short stories, preferring to publish novels or write screenplays (or treatments.) But “Sugar and Spice” fit the bill for its exploration of the deepening jealousy between two women who, frankly, ought to have known better.

That left room for some unexpected surprises. While poring through a stack of old Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine issues last summer, I found “Mortmain” by Miriam Allen deFord, a writer I knew of dimly but not enough to know her reputation in the crime fiction world. I later learned she was better known for her science fiction stories and anthologies, her feminist radicalism and passion for social justice, and for writing true crime, but was also a vastly underrated mystery short story writer – which “Mortmain” demonstrates brilliantly. A similar “aha” moment happened at the Center for Fiction in New York City, where I spent several days poring through numerous old anthologies. In one of the annuals I found “Lavender Lady” by Barbara Callahan, which floored me on a first read and then again when finalizing the lineup.

The final tally of fourteen stories is as good as I could make it. But of course, there were authors I wished I could have included but could not because of suitability issues, publishing good stories too early or too late for my chosen time period, or other reasons. But there were certainly enough writers of domestic suspense to fill several volumes, not merely one. It's up to readers to decide if they wish to see more, though!

Sarah Weinman is the news editor for Publishers Marketplaceand writes the monthly “Crimewave” mystery and suspense column for the National Post. Her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, the New York Observer, Slate, and the New Yorker online, among other publications.  

For more information, check out sarahweinman.com or domesticsuspense.com

One of the most anticipated collections of stories is published today, 27 August 2013.  The collection entitled - Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives: Stories from the Trailblazers of Domestic Suspense.   The collection is edited by crime critic Sarah Weinman and is a salute to the real femmes fatales of the domestic suspense genre—and the deceitful children, deranged husbands, vengeful friends, and murderous wives they unleashed.

Weinman asks: Where would today’s bestselling authors like Gone Girl’s Gillian Flynn, Sue Grafton, or Tana French be without the pioneering women writers who came before them and created the psychological thriller?  In this new anthology, including hair-raising stories by Patricia Highsmith, Shirley Jackson, Vera Caspary, and more, Weinman brings together fourteen tales by women who—from the 1940s through the mid-1970s—took a scalpel to contemporary society and sliced away to reveal its dark essence. 

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