PUBLISHING


by Christopher Bowen

 “The publisher has sole discretion as to the design and appearance of the book after receiving input from the author.”

 This was the fifth item in the contract I shared with authors as publisher of Burning River’s line of chapbooks. It came from a document given to me by a pro-bono arts lawyer from Toledo. Look closely, in fact, look in the mirror or at your own contract.

My experiences in publishing and working with people making chapbooks was more than just an experiment to me, it was a lesson in how to treat people, and how, definitely, to create something beautiful.

Want, Wound

Every cover and manuscript of a Burning River title (the press is now defunct and functioning only as my personal blog) carried with it more than literary stories and poems, it carried a tapestry of conversations, cooperation, and a story unto itself. There was, of course, the designer. There was the printer, the author, the reader. And then there was the me.

I want to give some advice, with little expectation, that yes, as an author you should try to invest as much control into the design of your book as you did the writing. But also, that this is very much a capable endeavor. You are a capable person.

The pulp…

naturalhabitatcover

All the covers for the titles from the press came on the heels of images the authors not only recommended, but sought. A photograph from an old, major periodical for a cover? No problem. You will find a refreshed image from a 1970′s Economist as the cover to Burning River’s second chapbook, Michelle Reale’s Natural Habitat.

As a librarian and my friend, Michelle sought the original U.K. photographer out, as I was unfamiliar with international copyright and, yes, he granted rights to the original photo.

There were more than a couple books I sent small token payments, as well as copies, to the photographer or the artist. But more importantly than this, you have to understand that if you can or do decide to take a hand in helping design your book, that humans are social creatures. They want to be involved, but also, they want to communicate.

There were times where I digressed. The author digressed. The designer digressed. But in the end, I truly feel (speaking as an author) there is nothing more enjoyable or fulfilling than taking some reins in the production of your working book.

The search…

If you are at a loss of finding an image based on a google search and contacting the creator, there are many services out there that will grant you rights. They literally sell stock photos. Shutter Stock is an example. Another example may be found in an image I used for a small book trailer for Nancy Flynn’s A Coal’s Throw, as I wanted to test the form. It was a government poster of a Pennsylvania miner. Because government work is already in the public domain, Wikimedia Commons had it listed on their site. Pair that with a right to fair use of a soundtrack from the musician Moby, and I was able to put together a small, thirty second trailer for about five bucks through Animoto.

Lastly, and many authors do this, turn to the people you know, the artists and photographers already in your life or already inside you. Just be willing to give ground, if and when the time comes, for the sake of the project.

There were many times I had to take heed of the designer or the author. Even in the dimensions of the books themselves. Even, sometimes, in their price points.

This is some of what I’ve learned as a small press publisher. I’m sure there could’ve been more, and there certainly is, but then I wouldn’t be as satisfied in my new skin as simply an author.

_____________

Bowen

Christopher Bowen is an Ohio author and culinary chef. His recently released personal fiction chapbook, We Were Giants, is available from the publisher, Sunnyoutside Press. He blogs at burningriver.info.

by Bonnie ZoBell 

Mike Young

Mike Young is the author of Look! Look! Feathers (stories), We Are All Good If They Try Hard Enough (poems), Sprezzatura (poems), and Who Can Make It (chapbook of poems). He edits NOÖ Journal, runs Magic Helicopter Press, and writes for HTMLGIANT. He lives in Northampton, MA.

Bonnie ZoBell:  Hey, Mike. Thanks for agreeing to give our readers some information about fiction chapbooks. Love what you say on your site about how your “paper books are collectible art items, not unlike Dale Earnhardt commemorative plates. Our ebooks are not paper books melted onto the screen but books aware of their digital space.” I’d love to hear you talk a little more about that. How are your paper books collectible art items? How are your ebooks aware of their digital space?

Mike Young: Thanks for asking me to give some info! The paper books being collectible art items is actually half tongue-in-cheek. As someone who is not a crafty person at all, someone who appreciates really messy fried potatoes way more than lime tarts, I have always felt a little skeptical about the preciousness of book art as a reaction to the evaporation of the paper book as a mass market commodity. But I respect it. Sewn bindings, hot metal plates. Our paper books aren’t really commemorative plates, but they do—I hope—look good. I just don’t want to forget that everything is transient, that the china is always one elbow away from losing its spot and cracking up.

The ebooks thing is more serious. I like thinking about how we move around in digital spaces. It’s different than paper. Our eyes even, the F-shaped text scans. Richard Chiem and Ana C’s oh no everything is wet now is maybe our most successful stab at this so far. I really want to publish something like this, though: http://www.secrettechnology.com/madethis/enemy6.html.

BZ: Do you make all your paper fiction chapbooks into ebooks? Or are they two separate animals?

MY: Separate! So far, I haven’t got my act together on the regular ebook train. When I think of ebooks, I think of something far weirder than just what you can read on your Kindle/Nook. But I don’t have anything against those things. I just like not forgetting that materials are strange, all screens are strange, whether they’re plastic or dead tree bark.

BZ: Does Magic Helicopter Press have a philosophy?

MY: I have two philosophies maybe. One about how I think the whole thing works, then a list of how to make it work.

The first is something I told my friend Pete Jurmu when he asked me a similar question a while back: “I wanted to start a press probably for the same reason I reacted to my favorite computer games as a kid by saying: cool, how do I make one? That itch-to-make plus the impulse to share, to say “hey, you gotta read this” to my friends. An invisible friendship model is how I think of writing/reading and definitely publishing. Our earliest projects were Mary Miller’s chapbook Less Shiny and Benjamin Buchholz’s chapbook Thirteen Stares, both of which I thought were doing startling things within their chosen forms, and both of which made me think of very specific potential readers.”

The second is a list I thought of when Melissa Burton asked me if I had any tips for starting a press: “Give a lot of stuff away, but don’t give everything away. Ask for help and use help wisely. Talk to everybody and then talk to more people. Do the best job possible for the fewest projects, not a Swiss cheese job for a lot of projects. Remember that it’s sometimes about the tenderness of the hands you get things into and other times it’s about getting as many hands as possible and usually it’s both, which is fine and not a paradox. Be transparent and forthright and honest about everything and ask the same of others. Find the good stuff people like Roxane Gay and Reb Livingston have written about presses. Have an aesthetic philosophy, but have it work like sculpture—you know, that whole the-statue-is-under-the-clay shit. It’s about working toward. Make sure you have kickass design. Don’t pay too much for printing. Realize the handful of things you’re really good at and gear the whole kitten toward those; creatively minimize your need for the shit you’re bad at. Don’t be a codger or a stooge or a blowhard. Try to sleep as little as humanly possible.”

BZ: What would you say your press is looking for in the way of fiction chapbook submissions?

MY: Anyone who has submitted to NOÖ can submit a manuscript to Magic Helicopter, so I guess I’m looking for a longer form version of anything in there. Anybody who’s in NOÖ, I can pretty much imagine poking their work and seeing it unfurl into a larger manuscript.

BZ: Name a few writers whose fiction chapbooks Magic Helicopter Press has published and tell us a few words about them.

MY: Well, it’s interesting, because we have published maybe three chapbooks I’d say are strictly fiction: Less Shiny by Mary Miller,  Back Tuck by Jen Gann, and Range of Motion by Meagan Cass, which is our newest! And it’s the second in the Gobble Editions, which is to reflect the fact that Tyler Gobble is actually my go-to guy for editing most of the chapbooks now, as I have started focusing more on the books. But I still design the chapbooks, exterior and interior for the most part.

Less Shiny was our first, and I learned a lot from it. Like not to do paste-on covers. It’s still maybe our most popular release, right up there with The Drunk Sonnets by Daniel Bailey. I’m proud of the fact I was the first person to ask Mary to do a chapbook (I think), way back in 2007, and now she’s got a novel out with Norton. Her stories are unlike anybody else’s. They stare at you until you stop bullshitting.

Back Tuck by Jen Gann is like if Joy Williams wrote fairy tales while relaxing in a YMCA shower room all by herself at an abandoned YMCA in a rice field. They know which clouds are listening and why.

Range of Motion is interesting to me because usually when we think of magic we think of certain moods to go along with it, but Range of Motion does this really rare thing where the magic bits of its stories make an amber light; they make the real sad realer instead of whimsical. Plus there’s foosball and Soloflex machines and greyhounds and table tennis. It’s like you don’t even need to do push-ups!

So back to what I said earlier: other chapbooks that are prose but not maybe strictly fiction are Typewriter by Jimmy Chen, We Were Eternal and Gigantic by Evelyn Hampton (a mixture of prose and poems!) and Thirteen Stares by Benjamin Buchholz, which I guess is kind of prose poems. The thing I’m saying is that the only genre I believe in is breakfast, and I could eat that all night.

BZ: Talk a little about the production of Magic Helicopter Press’s fiction chapbooks. What size are they? How are they made? Perfect bound, stapled, or? How much color do you use? What is the page range of most of them?

MY: Our chapbooks tend to be printed at a local place humbly called Paradise Copies. They are saddle stitched (AKA stapled) with full color covers, nice thick 60# interior stock, and colored endpapers. I have gone through love/hate phases with Paradise Copies, but currently I am very fond of them. There’s a curly-headed dude there who seems like a funny stoner from a 90s movie (I wrote 70s, then I wrote 80s, before finally settling on 90s), and there is a chill baseball cap wearer who reminds me of my quietly creative college friends. There used to be a great person named Candace who worked there, but I think she became a farmer and then a world traveler, which seems like the right trajectory for a great person.

BZ: Is Magic Helicopter Press interested in fiction chapbooks from new writers who haven’t had books or chapbooks published before?

MY: Sure, definitely! Anyone who has published in NOÖ! So if you’re interested in having a chapbook or book through us, send me something for NOÖ when it’s open.

BZ: How many stories in the chapbooks submitted to you do you like to see already published?

MY: It really doesn’t matter to me at all. I like compendiums, sort of best-ofs from people who have published a lot, and I also like putting a totally new thing into the world.

BZ: Is there anything you’d like to say to fiction chapbook writers that I haven’t asked you here?

MY: Fiction readers and writers should embrace the chapbook as a form the way poets have. A fiction chapbook might not be the world’s best curated candy box the way a poetry chapbook is, but it’s something like one of those mini-hamburger appetizers. And we’re always eating boxes of those, so why not boxes of fiction chapbooks?

BZ: Thanks so much for all this, Mike. Did anyone ever tell you you’re a good writer?

 ___________

BZoBell

Bonnie ZoBell’s new connected collection with Press 53, What Happened Here, is on pre-order here, where it will then go on regular sale. Her fiction chapbook, The Whack-Job Girls, was published by Monkey Puzzle Press in March 2013. She’s received an NEA fellowship, the Capricorn Novel Award, and others and is currently working on a novel. Visit her at www.bonniezobell.com.

 

by Bonnie ZoBell

This is the second installment of a round-up in which I’ve asked fiction writers how they go about constructing collections of their stories. Part One appeared on February 13 and contained personal descriptions of the process from: xTx, Robert Vaughan, Amber Sparks, Ethel Rohan, Kristine Ong Muslim, Sean Lovelace, and Cynthia Litz.

Read on!

***

Kim Henderson, author of The Kind of Girl, Winner of the Seventh Annual Rose Metal
Press Short Short Chapbook Contest

kim henderson

As I created my chapbook, The Kind of Girl, I learned that making a chapbook is not so different from writing, revising, and polishing a single story. It takes time and patience, micro-thinking and macro-thinking, and knowing when to shut down your brain and simply listen to the rhythm of the work. Unfortunately, the saying “Kill all your darlings” holds true for creating a chapbook, too (although at least those pieces left out can be published individually).

Creating a chapbook requires careful attention to structure and arc. For The Kind of Girl, the structure and arc finally worked when I let the material lead the way, when I stopped trying to control the chapbook and started listening to it. It eventually became clear that I had a set of stories pondering the ways girls and women find themselves defined —by circumstance and environment, by others, by their own hand. Once I figured that out, I built the chapbook in three sections loosely following the thematic arc (from girls who have very little choice in how they are defined to women who define themselves), which also coincided for the most part with age, development, and environment.

The most important lesson I learned when creating a chapbook is the lesson I always seem to learn—to trust the material and my unconscious to find the way, and to do my best to be patient.

 

Kyle Hemmings, author of Zin! and Séance

I’m no expert in this subject as this question kept running through my mind both during and after my completed chapbooks. And I can’t speak for everyone. Many of my chapbooks are full of hybrid work, not just flash fiction. I like to think of order as a building up of tension and intensity, maybe starting with some medium tension to get the reader’s interest, building steady, with a drop here and there to let the reader catch his or her breath. For me, personally I like to add a piece here and there to give different perspectives of a character or situation or a thematic variation. Then, I try to put my most intense piece(s) towards the end, kind of similar to the climax in a novel. It’s not an art I have mastered, but that’s how I like to think of it.

 

Casey Hannan, author of Mother Ghost

My story collection, Mother Ghost, is short. Every story in there is short. The book itself is physically short. Squat. What a hateful little word. Well, I’ll tell you something I tried to do with the book, and who knows if it meant squat to anyone but me, but I tried to turn the book into one long story. Not a novel, no. But even down to the title. Those two words connect all the stories. Some string of misery ties them. So I pulled on that chain. A gay boy comes out of the closet. He moves. He loves. He loses. He loves more. He dies. That’s the order, which is not to say you should order a collection of stories like a human life, but more to say I did, and at least one reader recognized that’s what I did. He said I was a devil for it.


Beverlyn Elliott, author of How Blue Can You Get?

When I first began to look at the flash fiction and shorts I’d written over the years, I thought it was a hodgepodge of stories that were too dissimilar in theme to group into a cohesive collection. I decided at one point to just continue to send the stories out for publication in e-zines and literary magazines. However, my job became much more demanding and I didn’t have the time I’d once had to devote to submissions. I just barely had time to write. This made me sad to the point that I was really blue about the whole thing. That’s when it struck me that while these stories were diverse, the thread that made them work together was the fact that they all had the blues, or their situations could be characterized as the blues.

Then I remembered the old B.B. King song “How Blue Can You Get?” which was mentioned in one of the stories, and I decided my collection would embody the blues. My decision to arrange the stories the way they are in the book had more to do with the size and subject matter than anything. I wanted to vary the placement of the stories by length, and the stories with more intense subject matter for later in the book. So, that is how the stories in my collection were arranged, the manner in which they were published.

 

Peter Cherches, author of Lift Your Right Arm

The question of organization is paramount to my writing as much of my work consists of sequences of related short prose pieces (some call them flash fiction, some call them prose poems). Each sequence tends to have 25-30 individual pieces, kind of chapbook length themselves. In fact, the first of these I did, “Bagatelles,” was published originally as a chapbook in 1981 and is now in my collection Lift Your Right Arm, which consists of five sequences written over a 32-year period. For this book I faced the problem not only of organization within each section, but of the organization of those five sequences into a coherent collection.

How to order one’s pieces for a chapbook is both a challenge and an opportunity. The opportunity is to conceive of the chapbook as something greater than the sum of the parts, and that’s where sequencing is of utmost importance. It’s all about the ebb and flow, and it’s worth considerable attention.

Every writer will find her own solution, a sequence that presents the individual pieces in the best light as well as makes the reader feel that the whole collection adds up to something beyond a vessel for a bunch of unrelated pieces. The best analogies for what I do come from music. Think of your chapbook as a suite. The individual pieces can stand alone, but how do they best resonate with each other?

Of course you want to start with something really strong that will draw the reader in, make him want more, and you want to end with something that will keep your work in the reader’s mind. Think of your first piece as a kind of overture; choose something that perhaps represents a number of themes, concerns, or stylistic devices that appear throughout the book. Then think of how you can sequence the other pieces so that one can almost feel the inevitability of the implicit transitions. I mentioned ebb and flow above. Think of varying the tone of adjacent pieces in a way that will provide variety but won’t feel like jarring juxtapositions. Perhaps some pieces that are thematically related but stylistically different, or vice versa, will work well together. Think of the kind of “narrative arc” you want the whole collection to have, then try out various combinations. Don’t minimize the importance of shuffling pieces with purpose, then re-reading your work in each potential sequence until you hit your eureka moment. It’s great to have readers choose favorite pieces, but ultimately you want the reader to have been gripped by the whole collection, to have a respect for the whole range of the work. I think a good closing piece would be one of the strongest, but also the most open-ended, i.e. something that will spark questions that will keep the reader thinking about your chapbook…and looking forward to your next one.

 

 

Daniel Chacón, author of Hotel Juarez: Stories, Rooms and Loops, Unending Rooms, and the shadows took him: A Novel

When I put together a collection of short fiction, I like to think of it as a structure, a building or a complex with many units in which people can enter. One of the most rewarding things about reading a novel is the act of entering into it. In fact, you could even say that the aesthetic phenomenon when it comes to a novel is that point wherein you forget you’re reading, and you are completely inside the world that you are co-creating, as a reader, with the author. You feel like you’re there.

When I put together my latest book of flash fiction (Hotel Juarez, Stories, Rooms and Loops) I ordered the stories in such a way that the experience would be like entering into a hotel. You walk into the entrance and there should be lots of light, a place people would want to linger for a while, stay for a few days. But the hotel that I envision is a little bit dark, somewhat scary, and as you go down the hallways, you can hear noises coming from the rooms, and you know beyond each door (each title), in every room there’s a story going on, some of them quite dark.

In my previous book of short stories, most of them flash fiction (Unending Rooms), I imagined the book was a house, one of those old white houses you used to walk by on your way to school. It has at least two stories, and probably an attic, with a round window with a cross hair frame. You don’t know who lives there, except sometimes you see an old lady sitting near a window, and you think the house is haunted. It scares you, but it also captures your imagination and you want to enter into it. Again, the first story should have lots of light, invite you into the house, but it gets darker and more creepy the further you enter into it.

A collection of stories is, like a novel, an entire experience. The “rooms” are not arbitrarily ordered. They create the entire experience of the book. Although you can enter any structure or complex from the side or the back or through a window, they are built, i.e. ordered in such a way that the experience gets deeper and deeper, and you get to know the place more and more the further you go inside, the further you enter into it. Flash fiction stories as a collection should be the same experience as a novel, in that sense. The deeper you go into it, the more understanding you have about the structure, i.e. the book itself.

 

Rusty Barnes, author of I Am Not Ariel, Mostly Redneck, and Breaking it Down

Ordering my book of flashes, Breaking it Down, was actually easy. I expected it to be a bit of a hard sell, so I included some of the longest stories at the beginning and at the end to give the lull of familiarity, and tried in the middle to keep a variety of styles, in as much as I write varieties of stories, which I really don’t. My idea was to start strong and end strong and, uh, to keep a strong middle. The book may be confused by all of my back-thinking about order, but too late for that now.

If I were to do it again, I would start strong and then let the pencil shavings fly where they were needed. At the same time I think it’s always a good idea to vary length of stories throughout a manuscript. I did also try to keep the stories with graphic sex separated, since there were more than a few. The book is still selling [a few copies here and there], so something clicked. I just wish I know what it was.

***

I don’t know about you, but this makes me feel hopeful about the prospect of collecting more of my work. It might even be fun to try out these different methods.

We’d love to hear from you, too, about any ingenious ways you know of to show collected works of fiction in their best possible light.

___________

Bonnie ZoBell’s new connected collection with Press 53 is on pre-order here—What Happened Here, where it will then go on regular sale. Her fiction chapbook, The Whack-Job Girls, was published by Monkey Puzzle Press in March 2013. She’s received an NEA fellowship, the Capricorn Novel Award, and others and is currently working on a novel. Visit her at www.bonniezobell.com.

by Jim Harrington

jimharrington2

Markets Added

 

New Interview

 

Contests

Tethered By Letters’ Summer Literary Contest

We are currently accepting submissions for our short story contest (2,000 to 7,500 words, open genre), flash fiction contest (55, 250, or 500 words), and poetry contest (max of three pages per poem). TBL strives to publish writers with engaging stories, vivid characters, and fresh writing styles. All winners will be published in Tethered By Letters’ Summer Quarterly Journal and finalists will be considered for later publication (after working with one of our Senior Editors). The prizes are $250 (USDA) for the short story winner, $50 (USDA) for the flash fiction winner, and $100 (USDA) for the poetry winner. International submissions are welcome. Good luck to all our authors!

Tethered By Letters’ Summer Short Story Contest

Tethered By Letters’ Summer Flash Fiction Contest

Tethered By Letters’ Summer Poetry Contest

 

New Resource

The 30-Day Writing Challenge by Sara Crawford

This book encourages beginner and advanced writers alike to stretch their writing muscles and create or enhance a daily writing habit. Each day, a new writing exercise/prompt is presented in an inventive collection that focuses on technique, inspiration, and craft by taking a comprehensive look across multiple forms and genres of writing.

 

View the complete markets list here. http://www.everydayfiction.com/flashfictionblog/flash-markets-2/

View the complete resources page here. http://www.everydayfiction.com/flashfictionblog/resources/

______________________

Jim Harrington began writing fiction in 2007 and has agonized over the form ever since. His stories have appeared in Every Day Fiction, Liquid Imagination, Ink Sweat and Tears,  Near to the Knuckle, Flashes in the Dark, and others. He serves as the Managing Editor for Flash Fiction Chronicles. Jim’s Six Questions For . . . blog provides editors and publishers a place to “tell it like it is.” You can read more of his stories at http://jpharrington.blogspot.com.

by Bonnie ZoBell

One of the main things I hear writers talk about, whether they already have collections out or are thinking of putting one together, is how in the world do you decide which story goes where? What kind of stories should be close together or far apart? Is there some magical way to do this that everybody knows but you?

As you will see below in the intriguing responses writers reported organizing their work, there definitely isn’t one way. In fact the variety of answers is fascinating. There are metaphysical ways, metaphorical ways, musical ways, architectural ways, from-the-gut ways, instinctive ways, and physical ways.

All of the following authors write flash fiction. Many are talking about organizing flash fiction chapbooks, and some are talking about books that merely have some flash fiction in them.

Pay attention!

***

 xTx, author of Billie the Bull

To me, chapbooks are like little gifts. They are a mix tape. They are a bouquet. They are a basket of treats. Considered, prepared and arranged with certain emotions and presented for highest impact. Or not. Maybe instead of a punch to the gut they deliver a caress to the cheek. A fistful of daises rather than a crystal vase overflowing with roses. In putting together a chapbook, you first need to decide what you want your receiver to experience and move forward from there.

When I build a chapbook, I need it to be a gift that keeps on giving. I need to give the reader the most bang for their buck. Chapbooks are usually tiny things, so I feel they need to be more than they are, like one of those fake cans of nuts that explode into giant snakes when you open them. In putting my chapbooks together, I don’t necessarily require an overall cohesion, although I try to keep that in mind. What I’m usually looking for is a concentrated variety. A nice mixture of length, of feel, of style of strength. There cannot be any “throw away” pieces, no “clutter,” only pieces with 10-inch dicks. Each one can be different, but each one has to MATTER. It’s important to me that each piece gives the reader something to chew on and something that chews back. Something that will make them keep that tiny gift close by because they need to keep picking it up and picking it up and picking it up. I want the reader to love it so much they leave it sitting on their desk in full bloom, Mylar balloons antennaed from it so everyone who comes into their office has to ask where it came from and they excitedly smile and say, “xTx!”

Robert Vaughan

 

Robert Vaughan, author of Addicts & Basements, Diptychs + Triptychs + Lipsticks + DipshitsMicrotones

A suggestion that worked for me was to print each piece and lay them out on the floor of a large room, like a giant puzzle. Your opener, the first piece, ought to be an attention grabber, one that either has an attention-grabbing opening line or entire paragraph. (To get an idea, select three short fiction collections right now and try opening them up to their first lines). Or pretend you are in the corner of a packed room. Which piece would be the most exciting guy or gal to approach and say “HEY!” As for the last piece, I try not to over-think it. This, for me, usually comes, well, last. I might switch this one several times, and in the case of my second chap, Diptychs + Triptychs, I added it long after the manuscript was accepted. The last piece could be your personal favorite, or perhaps one you’ve been told by other readers resonates or simmers long after they read it. Another approach is to try to look for the arc or overall themes and see how they are presented in the last perspective piece.

As far as the consecutive order, I would say this is part trust and part gut instinct. Pay close attention to order with every story or poetry collection you read. Some recommendations are to follow the shade or overarching tone of one piece, with a different tone, rather like movements of a symphony. Consider tempo, pacing, dynamics. Perhaps place a sadder or intensely dramatic piece, following a whimsical, more absurd or quieter, internal piece. Also check whether your piece is told in first, second or third person, or varying points-of-view. Try to mix the overall lengths of your pieces. Keep your reader interested in whatever ways you can. Of course, your editors and publishers might have suggestions about the layout, design and overall content. Bear them all in mind, too. Don’t be afraid to take risks! Each book is collaboration (unless you are self-publishing, and even still it might be!), so take whatever you learn from each project, and apply it toward your next publishing adventure.

 

Amber Sparks, author of May We Shed These Human Bodies and Desert Places (with Robert Kloss)

I’ve sold one and a half short fiction collections, so I’m no expert – this is just what works, I think, for me. I find putting together the collection a strange, mystical sort of process – and I think you may find the same thing. A lot of it is just experimental, messing around with order, reading and rereading – and it just feels, or doesn’t feel right. You’ll know it when you see it, right? That sounds incredibly vague, and if you need something more concrete, let me instead suggest this: frontload the sucker.

Put your best story right up front. (Unless it’s super long or dense – start a little bit easy, and work them into your tougher stuff. Get them hooked first.) Once you’ve got a winner up front? Then stick another winner behind. And then another. And then another. It should be hard to decide because they’re all so good. Close with a killer story.

I’m not one that believes your stories all need to be connected, but I do think there should be at least a very vague, overarching theme. If there isn’t, see if you can construct one. What do all the stories have in common? Once you’ve got that theme (and don’t share it with anyone else – it’s just for you), cut stories that don’t fit. Since the editors reading your collection will be likely reading it all in a sitting, or a few sittings, it’s good for it to have a sense of unity, a certain tone that pervades. And readers appreciate that, too, I think.

 

EthelRohan Ethel Rohan, author of Goodnight NobodyCut Through the BoneHard to Say, and the short e-book memoir, His Heartbeat in My Hand, forthcoming from Shebooks later this year.

My ultimate criteria for compiling work is centered on the rhythm of the prose—phonetically, poetically, and emotionally—from the book’s first word to its last. Initially, I ordered the pieces in each book according to a subjective and instinctual checklist, trying to vary the work in terms of tone, theme, length, pacing, momentum, and the protagonists’ age, gender, and central conflict. Once I’d compiled the collection into an order I felt worked—and again this sense of the order “working” hinged largely on variety, pacing, and instinct—I read the book aloud from beginning to end. I find it instructive, indeed critical, to read every “finished” work aloud.

As I read out loud, the work needs to build on the levels of timing, flow, and emotion. Nothing should sound jarring, dragging, flat, convoluted, repetitious, or out of kilter. There also needs to be a sense of post-climax satisfaction at the close of the book. If all the latter criteria aren’t met, then I reorder the collection until each part of the whole beats to the right rhythms and delivers a meaningful emotional thrust. When all of the aforementioned criteria are met, the work feels complete. It moves and sates me. In a nutshell, if the collection read aloud sounds as seamless, climbs as climatically, and impacts as much as the great songs, then I know I’ve done my best by the book’s compilation.

 

Kristine Ong Muslim, author of We Bury the Landscape

When I organized the 100 flash fictions and prose poems for my book, We Bury the Landscape, I experimented with different arrangements—there’s the organic look, a.k.a. the random mess, and then there’s the sequential approach where I grouped the thematically congruent pieces together. Mostly, I settled on the general mood of the piece as the main ordering scheme. The angry-sounding pieces together, the meditative ones together, and so on. The resulting arrangement I framed at both ends—the first and the final stories—with my two most favorite pieces.

 

Sean Lovelace, author of They Could No Longer Contain Themselves and Fog Gorgeous Stag

Before MP3, iTunes, shuffle, on and on, we had a novel idea—the album. The Wall, Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. These albums were more than an aggregation of individual songs. Each song often told its own story, yes, but together they conveyed a larger story, in scope and breadth. (Rumours, by Fleetwood Mac, is a devastating [in a good way] example.) These albums were more than a sum of their parts. They were artifacts. They were a concept.

This is what I attempt when ordering a flash collection. Like the songs of heartbreak in Rumours, each text needs to talk to its neighbor(s). The members of Fleetwood Mac were undergoing great interpersonal turmoil within the band, and each talked to the other through song. Every text within a collection should likewise have some relationship (though not necessarily strife!) with their fellow texts. If they do not, then why are they even in the same book? How might texts relate to one another? In many, many potential ways. Might be subject. Might be tone. Might be structural interests. Might be repetition of these ideas, like a recurring chorus in a hit song. Maybe the author is weaving certain motifs, and their reoccurrence becomes a sort of unifying thread. On and on. My point is that ordering a collection involves a great deal of intent. It is actually an art in itself, much like ordering words, ideas, and concepts within an individual work of art. Form is function. Or to use Yeats’s dictum: “How can we know the dancer from the dance?” In a fully realized collection, we cannot. The art is micro, and macro, and therefore rewarding.

 

Cynthia Litz, author of Imprints

Imprints is a collection of  twenty-eight flashes written over several years, many of them informed by the human body in image, youth, illness, and aging. The order of the pieces creates a life arc by age and world view of the narrator or characters–the youthful getting to go first.

I also worked to place the pieces so that their musicality, when read aloud, flowed well from one to the next. This, along with the arc of aging, hopefully makes the collection have movement for the reader.

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This is Part 1 of a Two-Part Article – Come back on February 20  to read about the captivating ways Kim Henderson, Kyle Hemmings, Casey Hannan, Beverlyn Elliott,  Peter Cherches, Daniel Chacon, and Rusty Barnes have experimented with putting their collections together.

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BZoBell

Bonnie ZoBell’s new connected collection with Press 53 is on pre-order here—What Happened Here, where it will then go on regular sale. Her fiction chapbook, The Whack-Job Girls, was published by Monkey Puzzle Press in March 2013. She’s received an NEA fellowship, the Capricorn Novel Award, and others and is currently working on a novel. Visit her at www.bonniezobell.com.

 

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