17 October 2023

Daddy, Where Do Anthologies Come From?

“Daddy, where do anthologies come from?”

“Did you ask Mommy?”

“She told me to ask you.”

“Sigh. I knew you would ask this question someday, Little Writer, but I really hoped you’d be older. What happens is that a would-be editor spends alone time wrestling with his muse—”

“Like you and Mommy wrestle sometimes?”

“Not…exactly. We’ll discuss that kind of wrestling when you’re much, much older. Anyway, one day, about nine months after the would-be editor wrestles with his muse, the Stork of Inspiration arrives with a diaper in its beak, and inside the diaper is a nascent anthology: a concept, a catchy title, or something more.”

“Why does it arrive in a diaper?”

“Because sometimes the ideas are shi—aren’t very good and must be disposed of in the file of ideas-never-to-be-used.”

“But the good ones, the healthy ones, what happens to them?”

“That’s when the would-be editor starts feeding the anthology.”

“What does an anthology eat?”

“Writers, usually a dozen or more before it’s fully grown and is released to find its way in the world.”

“Can I edit an anthology someday, Daddy?”

“Oh, Little Writer, not everyone is experienced enough or responsible enough to edit an anthology, and that’s why you should always use protection when wrestling with some muse you pick up in the bar at a conference, especially when it’s likely to be a one-idea stand. But maybe someday, when you’re ready and you’ve developed a long-term relationship with your muse, you, too, can edit an anthology.”

“Oh, Daddy, I think I would like that.”


Prohibition Peepers: Private Eyes During the Noble Experiment (Down & Out Books, released September 2023) was a twinkle in my eye long before the Stork of Inspiration delivered an anthology diaper to my doorstep.

Anthology editors sometimes ask writers to commit to a concept before they pitch the concept to a publisher, and a great many years ago—so long ago I no longer have the original dated email, but likely in the mid-2000s based on some sketchy notes I made at the time—Robert J. Randisi asked if I would contribute to Club Noir, an anthology “to feature stories of night clubs in their heyday. Think of Nick & Nora Charles, martini glasses, hat check girls, cigarette girls, band singers like Frank Sinatra and Helen Morgan… and crime.”

After I told him I was quite interested, I wrote most of an opening scene featuring a cigarette girl and a private eye, made some additional notes, and stuck everything into a file to await word from Randisi that the anthology was a go.

Word never came.

In the late 2010s, while cruising through my idea file, I stumbled upon the barely started manuscript of “Cigarette Girl,” liked what I read, and started noodling with it. I completed the story in April 2020, sent it out to and, by late 2021, received it back from the two top short mystery fiction markets.

By then I had edited a handful of anthologies for Down & Out Books, so I pitched Prohibition Peepers: Private Eyes During the Noble Experiment, an anthology of private eye stories set during and just after the end of prohibition. (This is only the second time I have created an anthology specifically to utilize one of my own stories. The first was Small Crimes [Betancourt & Company, 2004], which included my story “Dreams Unborn,” a story that was my first to be included in the Other Distinguished list of The Best American Mystery Stories.)

I invited several writers with whom I had previously worked and a few I knew but with whom I’d not previously worked to contribute and, well-fed by fourteen writers, Prohibition Peepers was released to the world last month.

Contributors include Susanna Calkins, David Dean, Jim Doherty, John M. Floyd, Nils Gilbertson, Richard Helms, Hugh Lessig, Steve Liskow, Leigh Lundin, Adam Meyer, Penny Mickelbury, Joseph S. Walker, Stacy Woodson, and me.

Leigh Lundin created a cool book trailer for Prohibition Peepers. If you’ve been following his SleuthSayers posts, you know all about it. If not, watch it here:



  1. So *that's* where anthologies come from.

    Great post, Michael. Thanks for letting me take part in this project. Looking forward to reading all the stories.

  2. Got a kick out of your intro, Michael! I thought the stork brought them - grin. Am ordering... Melodie

  3. Love the post, Michael. --Susan Oleksiw

  4. I always wanted to know if the stork brought them or they were found in the cabbage patch. Thanks!

  5. Rumor has it Netflix found an anthology wrapped in swaddling clothes on its doorstep. A DNA test implicated a famous author. The wee child grew up to be a miniseries. (With apologies to Harlan Coben.)

    Funny introduction to anthologies, Michael, and congratulations for a great concept. If you do Depression Peepers, let me know.

  6. Grandma said my editor would tell me what I need to know when I sign the contract. LOVE this piece -- and the background on the new anthology! A sloe (bathtub) gin fizz for you!

  7. Great post, Michael! Thrilled to be part of Prohibition Peepers and happy to know where anthologies come from (at last)

  8. I’m putting together my second anthology and wondering why it seemed like a good idea so this article explained a lot, lol.

  9. Thanks for including my story, Michael! I'm thrilled to be with such a great line-up and appreciate your work here.

  10. OMG that intro--loved it! Congrats on the anthology!

  11. I'm so glad you included those needed warnings to Little Writer! And congratulations on making it through, yourself, with such success.


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