Yesterday, I made a giant leap with my linked short story collection. I had been getting strong glimmers of how to arrange the book and yesterday, I decided to try it. Story by story, I built the book. While some of the stories will still need some revision to fit together, I now know the order. And even better, I know that they can fit together.
I had worried that all of my stories had administrators dealing with student complaints--and I worried that maybe it was the same complaint. I've been writing these stories for years, so it wouldn't have surprised me to find out that I used the same material from my real life. Happily, I did not.
I placed the stories with administrators and complaining students far enough away from each other that I hope that no reader will toss the book across the room saying, "Ugh. I just can't take it anymore." I hope that discerning readers and literary critics will see a larger purpose to the repetition. I am making a point that much of the life of an administrator revolves around complaints, many of them similar, many of them groundless.
Right now, the collection is 49,717 words, 184 pages. I have a story I'm still working on that I'll include, and there's still revision that will add words. But I've laid to rest my worries about the collection being too short.
Let me also record my process of the past 9 months, in case I find it important later. For years, I wrote the stories knowing that I was working towards a collection, knowing what connected the stories (characters all working at the same for-profit art school), but that didn't help me figure out how to arrange the stories. In the fall, I worked on a story that had the school closing, so that helped me with the narrative arc.
Once I had the arc, there were clearly some stories that belonged earlier, stories that gave no sense that the school was floundering, and stories that belonged near the end, stories that gave foreshadowing of the crises to come, stories that showed the crisis in action. To be more specific, one story revolves around a corporate person who comes to the campus to assess, and one story revolves around a contentious campus meeting. There's also a story that shows a RIF (Reduction in Force) happening.
My goal for the coming year is to send out these stories to see if I can find a home for them. They do all stand on their own. But I think they are stronger together. So I'll also spend the coming year polishing the collection.