This may be either very, very good news for writers, or maybe not.

As I mentioned, in February I read the 2005 Best American Short Stories and did brief reviews on the twenty selected stories here on Spinning.  Last week I decided to read through the 2005 Best American Mystery Stories, something I was looking forward to since my roots are in the genre and I hadn’t read or written mystery in quite a while.  Kind of strange, but I realized that the fifth story in BAMS, Old Boys, Old Girls by Edward P. Jones, was one I had just read in BASS.  When I checked the index, I found Dennis Lehane’s Until Gwen.  This story was also in the BASS collection.

It seems to me that there are so many stories published that it struck me as kind of a really, really amazing coincidence that two different guest editors (BASS, Michael Chabon; BAMS, Joyce Carol Oates) would, out of all those stories, select the same two to include in their separate collections (both are published as part of a Houghton Mifflin series).   When I remembered that Joyce Carol Oates was one of Michael Chabon’s selections in BASS, I checked the BAMS for Chabon and confirmed he was not included.

That both stories qualified is without question; both were good and the mystery genre has been opened up to go beyond typical detective plots as Otto Penzler, series editor of BAMS has stated in his introduction.  But Mr. Penzler has also made this statement:

"It is the role of the series editor for all volumes in Houghton Mifflin’s prestigious Best American series to select the year’s fifty best stories, and then for the guest editor to select the top twenty from that group.

"No mention of the Best American Mystery Stories is complete without genuflecting to  Michele Slung, the fastest and smartest reader in the world, who combs every consumer magazine, every electronic zine, and as many literary journals as we can find.  She scans hundreds–no, let me correct that–thousands of stories to determine which are mysteries."

Mr. Penzler also assures us that there is a mix of both well known and unknown writers, and "it’s not about personal relationships.  And, although the criteria states that "Unpublished stories are not eligible," I was wondering about another statement he made that "Tom Franklin’s first appearance in book form was in the 1999 edition of Best American Mystery Stories."  Also, "Scott Wolven, too, who makes his fourth consecutive appearance in BAMS this year."

Katrina Kenison, series editor of BASS, in her foreword says, "I am a person who grew up, as they used to say, ‘with her nose in the book,’ and who now reads for a living, some three thousand short stories a year…"  Further, that "Michael Chabon cast a wide net as guest editor this year, reading even more stories than I sent him, even though I actually ended up sending him more than the usual 120."  And, "A list of magazines consulted for this volume appears at the back of the book" reveals a listing of in excess of 230 literary journals.  At a low estimate of semi-annual publication, and six stories per issue, this would seem to offer quite a selection from which to pull those twenty final entries in an annual issue.  Of course, many of the journals may not have offered entries, I suppose.

Again, I have no quarrel with the stories selected.  I am just very curious as to how, out of all that’s available, with a total of twenty stories for each, BASS and BAMS, two were duplicates.  I mean, what are the odds?

And of course, what does it mean for writers?  And, as far as that goes, for readers.

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