When I agreed to serve as creative director for Stone Skin Press, one of my challenges to myself was to always treat writers as I would want to be treated. This is simpler to say than to live up to.
For example, I don’t want people having to write on spec for us, especially since our anthology themes can be quite specific. Sure, if I made an open call for action-oriented Cthulhu mythos stories, the writers of good pieces that didn’t make the cut could eventually place them elsewhere. But it might not be so easy to place an iconic hero tale or a modern fable.
For this reason, I set up the process to invite people I knew I wanted in the books, if they were available and willing. Part of the Stone Skin mandate is to cross the streams of various creative scenes, bringing together talents you wouldn’t normally see on the same table of contents. As we go along, we’ve been able to expand our range quite a bit. By the fourth book, The Lion and the Aardvark, you'll be seeing not only names from our gaming home team and its adjacent S/SF world, but also contributors from comics, YA, journalism, film and literary fiction. The invitation process becomes akin to casting a play, where the objective is to look not only at the individual contributions but the overall mixture of tones and traditions.
For this to work, I did need an advance indication of what each writer planned to submit, to avoid overlap. Some Lion and the Aardvark stories concern the Internet, as you might expect from the modern fable concept—or from looking at the titular animals on the cover and notice what they’re tapping away on. Two different writers toyed with the idea of a story featuring the legendary white squirrel of Toronto’s Trinity-Bellwoods park. (Alas for fans of Whitey McRedeyes, he made himself elusive and will not be making an appearance in the final book.)
Even with me keeping an eye on story ideas this, it turns out that an anthology has a life of its own, and that certain themes and motifs were determined to worm their way in. When writers diverged from their pitches, they often moved in the same direction. I’ve come to think of this as Shub-Niggurath syndrome: for Shotguns v. Cthulhu, it seemed like every second story wanted to be about that particular Lovecraftian anti-deity. For the fables book, I had to steer contributors away from meta-pieces about the writing life, a subject John Kovalic already has hilarious dibs on.
A recurring motif made its way into the two New Hero books, too. That one’s a little spoilery, so that's all I’ll say for now. I’m wondering if it will be as apparent to readers as it became to me.
I’m sure a Shub-Niggurath Syndrome will manifest in the next book we commission, and am just as positive that its exact nature will come as an odd surprise.
Pre-order some or all of the first four Stone Skin Press books, in various permutations, with or without cupcakes for the London office, by taking part in the Kickstarter for our launch.