How to Organize a Short Story Collection

the-throes-of-crime-finalWorking on my short story collection THE THROES OF CRIME, one of the things I didn’t think much about at first was the order the stories would appear in. I only started paying attention as the publication date grew close.

I tried to put the stories in a sensible order, considering things like theme, pacing, setting, and recurring characters. Whether or not I succeeded is, of course, up to each reader to decide, but here are some of the resources I consulted to at least develop a strategy.

Storyville: Tips on Putting Together a Short Story Collection by Richard Thomas

How Should You Order A Short Story Collection? by Nathan S. McNamara

Ten Tips for Organizing a Short Story Collection by John Fox

Organising a Story Collection by Tim Love

How Dillon Samuelson Created the Cover Image for The Throes of Crime

the-throes-of-crime-finalArtist Dillon Samuelson (website, Tumblr, Behance) and I first collaborated on the comic book FORTUNE. (You can get a copy of FORTUNE — print, electronic, or free PDF — here.)

Next, Dillon produced an amazing cover for my short story ALL ALONE.

Now he’s created an incredible image for the cover of my first book, a short story collection titled THE THROES OF CRIME.

Dillon and I went through several cover ideas before arriving at the final version. I enjoyed the process; collaborating with Dillon is always a great experience. I recently talked to him about the techniques he used to develop the cover for THE THROES OF CRIME.

Let’s start with the final image. What kind of materials did you use to create it?

The final image ended up being a mixture of relief print and drawing done primarily with black and white ink and acrylic paint, with bits of pen for the colors in the bullet and tear.

ChalkBody1Originally, I thought I wanted a woodcut version of a chalk body outline. You did some work on that, but pretty quickly I decided that image was too simple. Did you agree?

I liked the idea of a body outline primarily because of its simplicity to make: when you pitched the idea I figured it would be relatively quick and an easy subject to draw. I don’t mind simple iconic images for covers, but I agree just the body outline started to feel boring next to some of the other possibilities.

Next, we tried to add some details to the chalk body outline — woodcut-style designs inside the outline, some blood, etc. What did you think of those ideas?

I was not a fan of the abstract patterns we considered, but I liked the idea of incorporating another image into the outline and think the layering of images had an interesting effect.


What materials did you use to create those early images?

The preliminary drawings were done with ink. Sometimes just a pen sketch, but often I would also go into black areas of ink with a whiteout pen to recreate the reductive process of carving a woodblock.

ChalkBody3One of the images was a skull behind the chalk body outline with blood coming out of the skull’s eye — which happened to be where the body’s chest was. That was too busy, I think, but it got us to focus on the skull instead of the chalk outline. Were you happy with the move from the chalk outline to the skull?

That particular idea was my favorite from the preliminary pieces, but I agree with it being too busy. It lost the graphic punch of a single icon and became confusing from a distance – and may have become even more so as a carving.

The skull — with great input from you and my wife — then evolved to “smile” a little more, get the gold bullet tooth, and have the blood take the form of a teardrop. Are you pleased with the final image?

I am pleased. This is the first relief print I’ve made in years, and while it ended up being more a mixed-media drawing, it was fun experimenting with the medium again. The addition of the bullet and tear give it a good pop of color and add some uniqueness to the classic skull.








THE THROES OF CRIME is now available in ebook and paperback.

The Throes of Crime – Available Now

the-throes-of-crime-finalThe paperback version of THE THROES OF CRIME is now available! (The ebook is coming soon.)

UPDATE (10/17): The ebook is out now, too!

It includes 26 short stories and six true-crime essays. The stories collected here have been published by places like Thuglit, Needle, Otto Penzler’s Kwik Krimes, Akashic Books’ Mondays Are Murder, and Mary Higgins Clark Mystery Magazine. There are also seven brand new stories!

Here’s what some great folks have said about THE THROES OF CRIME:

“Dark, depraved and wickedly funny, THE THROES OF CRIME is a showcase for Erik Arneson’s remarkable versatility. Equally at home in dusty western saloons and gritty Cold War Leningrad as he is among crooked present-day politicians, hapless cons, and the occasional murderous orangutan, Arneson’s snappy, clever tales are enriched immeasurably by his keen eye for detail and atmosphere. A thoroughly enjoyable read.” ~OWEN LAUKKANEN, author of THE WATCHER IN THE WALL

“These stories are bite-sized, delicious, and full of surprises. Bitter, sweet, sometimes even salty, you never know what you’re going to get. But unlike life, this anthology never disappoints. And unlike a box of chocolates, there are no jellies.” ~JON McGORAN, author of DEAD OUT

“These stories cover the gamut from subtle and thought-provoking to action-packed and jaw-breaking, but all are told with elegance and served with Arneson’s signature satisfying, often disturbing twists. If you have a wickedly dark sense of humor and an appreciation for the deeply ironic, these stories are for you.” ~MERRY JONES, author of THE TROUBLE WITH CHARLIE

It’s not a crime I care if my friend falls. Blow out the candle so I won’t have to look at this thing at all. Who would’ve guessed when my partner Harry Evans penned this lyric, that 25 years later our friend Erik Arneson would inject titles of some of our tunes into his mini masterpieces. We are humbled. Sun shines over cloudy worlds.” ~BILL CAMPBELL, lead singer of THE THROES

“I play drums. I write songs. I consider myself to be a hack at best. But somehow I have inspired Erik to write truly good stories. This collection is impressive and compelling and I am honored that I had some small part in its creation. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.” ~HARRY EVANS, drummer for THE THROES

All proceeds from THE THROES OF CRIME benefit the James & Jeanne Arneson Memorial Scholarship Fund, which provides financial support to graduates of Wilmot High School in Wilmot, South Dakota, who display an aptitude in creative writing by authoring a short story. The goal of the scholarship is to encourage students from Wilmot to continue writing fiction well beyond high school, to tell the stories that only they can tell. Powerful stories and funny stories and magical stories – stories the world is waiting for, even if it doesn’t realize it just yet.

I hope you enjoy the book!


By the way, the incredible cover art was created by Dillon Samuelson. I’ll post an interview with Dillon, discussing the process that led to this illustration, soon.

Close to the Boneyard – New Anthology

Close to the BoneyardCLOSE TO THE BONEYARD, a new anthology featuring stories from the website Near to the Knuckle, is now available.

My short story “Swing and a Miss,” which was published by Near to the Knuckle in 2012, is part of the collection along with stories by the likes of Eric Beetner, Paul D. Brazill, Joe Clifford, Bill Baber, and many more. It’s a great lineup.

“Swing and a Miss” is also available in Spanish.

Discussing FORTUNE on The Comics Panel

I recently appeared on The Comics Panel, a YouTube show produced locally that takes on all sorts of comic-related topics.

The gang was kind enough to let me talk about FORTUNE, the comic book I created with Dillon Samuelson. We also talked about the true-crime essays I’ve written for the back of THE BLACK HOOD comic book.

Many thanks to the entire Comics Panel team! I had a great time.

If you’d like to read FORTUNE, it’s available here:

“A Decent Hand” in Spanish

Cuentos En EspanolMy short story “A Decent Hand” — about a Poker player in Wilmot, South Dakota, in February 1884 — is now available in Spanish.

In fact, this is the first publication anywhere for “A Decent Hand” since it has not yet been published in English. (It was accepted, but the publication ended operations before “A Decent Hand” was published.)

Read it here: Una Mano Decente

Translation by Carolina Maria Russo-Holding. “A Decent Hand” is my 16th story available in Spanish. All of the translations are available here.

May is Short Story Month

Art by Dillon SamuelsonMay is International Short Story Month.

And to help celebrate, the Short Mystery Fiction Society is highlighting stories written by its members. Today, they were kind enough to highlight my story “Not My Gun,” originally published by the Flash Fiction Offensive at Out of the Gutter Online.

(Here’s a bit more about “Not My Gun.”)

Follow the SMFS blog, or follow the SMFS on Twitter or Facebook, to read a great story (or more!) for free every day this month.

Free Comic Book Day 2016

Fortune - CoverToday is Free Comic Book Day! I’ll be visiting my local shop, Comics and Paperbacks Plus in Palmyra, PA, to grab a few of the free issues being made available by Marvel, DC, Archie, Image, Dark Horse, Dynamite, and many other great publishers.

If you can make it to a local comic book store today, it’s well worth a visit.

If not, here’s a free comic book you can download right now: FORTUNE. It introduces two hard-working entrepreneurs in the field of recycling used cooking oil. The only problem? They don’t have the permission of the restaurants where they’re getting the oil…

Chris Holm called it “a gritty, morbidly funny tale about the folks scraping the bottom of the barrel to survive,” while Merry Jones called it “a comic with a tight, timely story, complex characters, humor, and suspense.” Other great people have also said nice things.

I wrote FORTUNE and Dillon Samuelson provided the incredible art. It’s based on a short story of the same title that was published by Shotgun Honey and included in Otto Penzler’s Kwik Krimes anthology.

This special free edition of FORTUNE includes the complete 12-page full-color comic, four pages of Dillon’s black-and-white sketches, my script, and the original short story. All told, it’s 27 pages of greasy goodness. Enjoy!