San Cicaro is now closed. We’re heads down, working our way through a slush pile of more than fifty submissions. Diving into these tales, Andrew and I find a number of intriguing patterns regarding the setting.

Please keep in mind that some of these patterns are unique to the issues of San Cicaro. But they’re still worth discussion.

World Building vs World Control:

This has been the biggest issue Andrew and I discovered in the rejections thus far. In our submission guidelines, we mention that the collection’s stories will be part of a shared world. Many authors fired off their tales without concern for how they would fit inside a “bigger picture.” Some examples include:

  • The Federal government getting involved, instead of city or perhaps the state-level authorities
  • Widespread, public disturbances occurring across entire neighborhoods
  • Constructing large and elaborate underground magical societies
  • Hate groups seizing control of San Cicaro and ruling it with an iron fist

Our complaints about all of this stem from one of the oldest problems to plague speculative fiction. Classification. How do you define what you’re looking for? The system is not perfect. Both Blade Runner and The Matrix are considered cyberpunk films, but there’s a world of difference between them. Even when we said “Urban Fantasy,” that was just the biggest umbrella that fits.

Step back. Stories don’t always have to be huge.

An Unwillingness to Develop:

The other side of the coin were people who were unwilling to really try and develop San Cicaro itself. They just avoided it. There were quite a few suburban stories, which often reside more on the outskirts. Some yarns take place on the highways just around San Cicaro. Others spent as minimal time there as possible inside the city limits. Whenever folks reference the city’s mysteries, they often parroted the submission guidelines verbatim instead of suggesting other unique ideas.

The setting is there to be built upon, to be enhanced. If another project like this ever happens again, don’t ignore this.

This Porridge Was Just Right:

We’ve covered those submissions that over and under develop. Hence I always loathed rejecting stories that actually picked a corner of San Cicaro, and made something with it. Adherence to the setting’s vision is a very strong factor in this anthology. So careful stagecraft makes us very forgiving of other issues.

San Cicaro is an exercise in how to build a curious puzzle. Each author is crafting a piece that thematically fits into a larger, enigmatic image. Unusual in that writing is often a solitary profession, but someday these authors can look at the finished result and say, “We built this.” 

It’s ironic that what we really want is a good mystery, yet what we want is no mystery at all.

Photo by Robin Röcker on Unsplash.