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[IRTF] The Order of the Stories: A Question

So, as most of you are probably already aware, Apex Books will be publishing my short story collection I Remember the Future: The Award-Nominated Stories of Michael A. Burstein in September. The cover has already been put together; my new user icon is a miniature version of the cover, which I'll probably try to use for book-related posts.

Pretty soon, we're going to have an announcement about pre-ordering the book, including a special possibility for people who pre-order the autographed hardcover edition. In the meantime, though, I've been thinking about some of the mechanics of the book, and I thought I'd throw out my question to the world and see if anyone wanted to share their thoughts.

The book will consist of 15 stories, thirteen previously published ones and two new ones. Here's the list, in chronological order:

1. "TeleAbsence" (Analog, July 1995)
2. "Broken Symmetry" (Analog, February 1997)
3. "Cosmic Corkscrew" (Analog, June 1998)
4. "Absent Friends" (Analog, September 1998)
5. "Reality Check" (Analog, November 1999)
6. "Kaddish for the Last Survivor" (Analog, November 2000)
7. "Spaceships" (Analog, June 2001)
8. "Paying It Forward" (Analog, September 2003)
9. "Decisions" (Analog, January/February 2004)
10. "Time Ablaze" (Analog, June 2004)
11. "Seventy-Five Years" (Analog, January/February 2005)
12. "TelePresence" (Analog, July/August 2005)
13. "Sanctuary" (Analog, September 2005)
14. Empty Spaces (original to the book)
15. I Remember the Future (original to the book)

Now here's the question. How should I order the stories?

One school of thought suggests that I should set the Table of Contents to be chronological. That way, people reading the book from beginning to end could track my growth (or possible lack thereof) as a writer.

But another school of thought suggests grouping the stories more thematically. For example, "Empty Spaces" is the fourth story in the "Broken Symmetry" series, and it might make sense to place it directly after "Absent Friends" and "Reality Check" (and to move "Cosmic Corkscrew"). And how should I open and end the book? I could bookend the collection with "TeleAbsence" and "TelePresence," since they are a story and a sequel that represent my first ten years in Analog. Or I could open the book with "Kaddish for the Last Survivor" and close with "Paying It Forward," which seem to be my most popular stories.

At the moment, I'm leaning towards keeping the chronological order, especially since I'm writing an original Afterword for each story. But the thematic grouping calls to me as well.


I vote for thematic grouping, provided that you provide original publication date (year) for each story, either in the table of contents or on the first page of each story or both. Or with the Afterword for each story. Whatever. Somewhere.
Just what I was thinking! If you include the dates, those drawn to chronology can read them in publication order fairly easily, while it is much more difficult to do a thematic grouping before reading the stories.
I like this too
I like the Stephen King method -- assign each one a number, and start picking cards. Since you have fifteen stories, maybe pick them out of a hat. Entropy forever!
Alphabetical order by publication date.

Will you be including author's intros to each story?
I'll be doing afterwords instead of intros. I'd rather people approach the book by reading each story first before reading my comments on it.
FWIW, I vote for thematic and opening and closing with "Kaddish" and "Paying it Forward". The original publication dates can easily be listed in the TOC or on the rights page, but having read a ton of anthologies at this point, I think you want to open strong, close strong, and give people a sense of continuity between linked stories, so they don't have to keep shifting gears as they read.

This is all so exciting!
If I close with both "Kaddish" and "Paying It Forward," with what story or stories would you suggest I open the book?
I'd start with TeleAbsence & TelePresence. I think that would kick things off beautifully.
I agree with "open strong" and "close strong".

Note that you can have continuity between linked stories without actually dividing the book into thematic sections. (Look at what the Talmud does... :-)
Not chronological. I think very few readers are interested (or even aware) of the concept of a writer's growth. They assume we were born shiny *g*.

I did one collection thematically, even naming the themes in the table of contents, and the other I was more concerned about pacing and style. I didn't want two similarly styled stories back to back. We moved one story because the opening line mirrored too closely the opening line of the story before it. We didn't want two first person narratives back to back. We didn't want two depressing stories back to back. So, we went for the story we thought was the most instantly grabbing as the lead off and a story that seemed to say "the end" as the conclusion.

But whoever posted above about picking from a hat might give you just as good of an order. Good luck with the book.
Not chronological. I think very few readers are interested (or even aware) of the concept of a writer's growth. They assume we were born shiny *g*.

Actually, I've had at least one review of my collection (which is ordered chronologically) state that they could watch my skills improve over the course of the book.
That might be a good reason for me to avoid a chronological order... :-)
LOL! You may have a point there. But then again, there's something nice about having someone reach the end of a book and feel like each story was better than the one before it.
I had a reviewer once point out that my stories had improved over time based on their publication date chronology, but the stories were not written in that order. The one she said showed the most maturity (clearly learned by writing the previous ones) was a story that I'd written very early in my career. It just hadn't sold for a while.

Surely a writer grows as he continues to write, but sometimes that growth looks like a step back from the outside.

I think your idea of grouping stories that take place in the same worlds or have those kinds of textual links is a good one.
One school of thought suggests that I should set the Table of Contents to be chronological. That way, people reading the book from beginning to end could track my growth (or possible lack thereof) as a writer.

That's what I did myself, but I didn't have thematic groups that I could use since none of my stories take place in the same universe. So I'm of no use to you ;)
Nomi tends to think that the theme of almost all my stories is the same one: how the future will remember us. So that would mean that they could all go together in one theme.

I was thinking more along the lines that four of the stories are all part of the same series, and two more stories are set in the same world (with one of the same characters in both stories). So that's already six stories whose groupings are predetermined out of a book of 15 stories.
Unlike your other commenters, I actually like the idea of a chronology. The combination of watching a writer develop as a writer and seeing what themes interested him when is a great draw to me. Especially if, as in this case, there will be afterwords discussing what was happening in the author's life as the time as well as how he wrote the story.
Just my two cents!
When NESFA puts together a collection, it sometimes uses the rule:
1. Best Story First
2. Second Best Story Last
3. Rest in chronological or logical order (pub date or internal story date or group like stories)
I once jokingly asked Tony if NESFA Press might one day do a collection of my stories. He said I had to wait until I was dead. :-)
I think a chronology will be more interesting to people who are already fans, but I presume that you hope most of your readers will be people who aren't already hooked, and for them you need to start strong, end strong, and make it easy to follow multi-story stories.

I will now say something that might be contradictory (don't know; haven't read all the published stories yet). When I put together an album (granted, I'm no expert, but I have done it a few times), I start strong and make sure the first three songs are different from each other somehow. (For example: funny singable song, then something serious with nice harmonies, then something instrumental.) My goal in doing this is to draw people in with variety. It's possible that I should group things more, but if a dealer is playing the CD, I don't want people to think we only have one trick. Does this sort of consideration apply to written media? I'm not sure. If you can, I think I would start with your strongest stand-alone story, then go to another stand-alone, and then start your first thematic group. Save a strong stand-alone for the end.

It's possible that all of this matters much, much less if you expect most of your sales to be over the net. I'm postulating a customer picking up the book and looking at it before deciding to buy. I don't know if that's relevant or "quaint".

By the way, will I be able to get an autographed paperback? It's not that I'm cheap; it's that hardbacks are heavier and since I have to hold the book up to my face to read, I much prefer paper. A nice trade PB is fine (IIRC you mentioned that possibility).
The book is being released simultaneously in trade paperback as well as hardcover, but only the pre-ordered hardcovers come pre-autographed. I will gladly sign any copy of the book, but if you buy the trade paperback, we'll have to figure something else out. (My plan is to do autographing sessions at a bunch of conventions in 2009.)
I'd vote for chronological. I think it is interesting to see how a writer's style develops. But even if not, I don't think I would put all the B.S. stories together because I think it's more fun to have a variety.
I thought about splitting up the Broken Symmetry stories, perhaps putting one story in between each of them, but for some reason that just doesn't appeal to me.
You want to put those at the end, then, so it won't be jarring to come to the end of that group and switch back into another "world." (Aside from the real one, I mean...)

December 2016

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