Brushing Away Sawdust

I’ve received a few questions about my submission call for Fears of a Clown, both while drafting it and afterwards. I added the ones clarifying the call to the call itself, but wanted to share some of my process in drafting the call for anyone who wanted to try compiling an anthology themselves or was curious about the inside of my mind.

The Barker Beckons
©Jack LawrenceCC BY 2.0

What inspired you to choose ‘things that scare clowns’ as a seed?

Just after Misha Burnett posted his challenge to publish an anthology, he posted a humorous theme generator to “help” people who were having difficulties thinking of a theme for their anthology.

My random seed was “horror noir clowns on the run”.

Clowns on the run immediately conjured an image of a comedy thriller; similar to Some Like It Hot but centred around pretending to be part of a circus rather than female impersonation. Which produced the slight chuckle that Misha admitted had been his aim in posting the generator.

However, horror and noir are two of my favourite flavours of story, so the result seemed a little too relevant to my interests to just ignore. Which prompted me to wonder how a gritty, scary tale of clowns running away would work.

An entire anthology of people in greasepaint waddling their way down mean streets to escape a killer or a monster felt a touch restrictive. However, it did inspire the thought that in modern media (fiction and less so) it’s usually the clown that is the killer or monster.

In the hour following that, I had three ideas for very distinct stories, confirming it was worth putting out there to see where other people took it.

Why such a broad range of word counts?

Both I and other short-story writers of my acquaintance have encountered calls that are perfect—apart from the word-count requirement. Either our story is too long or it’s too short; and—while a little judicious rewriting can ease something over the line—there’s only so much one can add or remove without losing the voice and ideas that make the story that specific story.

So, I decided to create a window that would both give space for a story to properly get going and remove the need to hide crisp lines behind padding

Why isn’t the call open immediately?

My swift—and entirely unscientific—survey of short-story writers, strongly identified 3 months as long enough to hear about a call and still have time to craft a submission, but short enough that authors who submitted early weren’t left in limbo for an interminable period before discovering if their story had been accepted.

However, there was also a significant minority of authors who find their best ideas come if they’re compelled to wait for a bit rather than being able to submit straight away. So, as no one indicated they wrote so fast they’d forget to submit a story if they had to wait a little while to submit, I created a three-month writing window with the first month blocked off to force people to let their unconscious get to work.

Stories sent the day submissions close will get the same consideration as those sent on the day they open. However, I did realise after posting the call that the gap does allow people who don’t like submitting later in the window more chance to hear about the call in advance.

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