Story collections are funny things. Unlike novels, they don't really benefit from any established structural or thematic models on which the writer can rely. They are generally whatever short stories the writer has written since the last collection. Sometimes this makes for a lovely, unified whole, as in the case of some Alice Munro collections (they're all terrific, IMHO, but a few seem more of a piece than others), or perhaps Salinger's Nine Stories, which I still love, perhaps for sentimental reasons.
Some collections are really disguised novels, like Munro's Lives of Girls and Women--which come to think of it used to be officially designated a collection, and is now designated a novel. Her collection The Beggar Maid is just as unified, though, with a recurring character, and that one's still called a collection. Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son is another collection with a recurring character, known only as "Fuckhead." I love that one--it still seems fresh and new to me, after fifteen years.
Anyway, I'm trying to put one together--or rather, I've been putting one together stealthily for ages. Since my novel-in-progress needs a break before I launch into the third draft (Rhian and our neighbor Bob had lots of suggestions), it seems like a good time to take the endeavor more seriously, and see if my agent can drum up come interest in these stories. I like the bunch, and think it reads pretty well, but what do I know? It's what I spent the last five years thinking about, in easily digestible chunks. It's kind of interesting to see what ideas keep occurring to me, after I've forgotten I already wrote about them--shlumpy men married to crazy women who are smarter than they are, is one of them; another is secret rooms. There are a lot of long drives to distant places undertaken on a whim, and the supernatural pops up in one story out of three.
Time will tell if there's even a market for collections anymore--that is, non-first-book collections. It seems like a story collection by an established, and not terribly great-selling, novelist is pretty low on the hipness scale these days. That's a shame, and not just because I've got a collection to sell--I love to see what crazy stuff has been on my favorite writers' minds, stuff they didn't deem worthy of an entire novel. Sometimes these are the best ideas of all.