I’m happy to welcome author guest and critique partner, LJ Cohen to Between the Sheets. LJ has recently completed a speculative fiction anthology for charity with an array of highly talented authors. Anthologies seem to be more and more popular these days and I was curious about the ins and outs of pulling one together. So below, Lisa explains how this project evolved.PENULTIMATE has already received shout outs from such big names as Margaret Atwood and Chuck Wendig.
Take it away, LJ!
Once upon a time, I participated in a wonderful local workshop geared to writers of science fiction and fantasy, called the Ultimate SF&F Writing Workshop. (Hence the title of our collection.) I was thrilled to find such a guided workshop, because most offerings of this kind don’t have that specific focus. While I’m a firm believer in ‘writing is writing’ and that you can learn from any genre, there are specific tropes and concerns to be aware of when you find yourself drawn to writing the fantastic. It was definitely appealing to know I’d be working with well-respected, multi-published SF&F writers. (Shout out to Jeffrey A. Carver and Craig Shaw Gardner!)
Once a week, for several months, Jeff and Craig put us through our paces, analyzing successful short stories from the SF&F oeuvre and giving us writing prompts to craft our own. Part of the process was peer review and commentary and our teachers gave us great examples to follow in terms of how to offer critique in the most helpful ways. Many of went on to a part two of the workshop process—a more advanced series of sessions for longer-form writing. After the formal workshops ended, many of us stayed in touch, both through smaller, more informal critique groups and through a listserve Jeff and Craig set up, so all the ‘alumni’ of their workshops could connect. We also met at both Readercon and Boskone for a reunion dinner every year.
Last year, at Readercon 2012, I was struck by how much our group had grown and by how much incredible talent it encompassed. I thought how amazing it would be to see an anthology of stories by group members. Well, I have this problem. It’s that I have faulty brain-to-mouth filters and what I thought was a private musing, was actually something I said aloud. My neighbors at the dinner table immediately perked up at the idea and started talking about it with the whole table. Then everyone turned to me and said they’d be on board and when did I want to start. Gulp. But that’s in line with the kind of person I am. While I don’t see myself as any sort of real risk taker (that’s my husband, whose mid-life crisis was driving race cars), I am the sort of person who tries out a new recipe for company, or analyzes a problem and automatically assumes she can figure it out. I had already independently published a novel and done layout for print and eBook formats for folks as a side job. I’ve always been told I have strong developmental editing skills. So I figured, how hard could this be? Part of my brain must have known the truth, because I recruited a co-editor from the group. (Waves to Talib!)
Over the course of a full year, from July of 2012 to July of 2013, we went from initial brainstorming of ideas to soliciting story submissions, to coming up with a process to assess those stories, to editing edit them, to a finished, polished collection. Along the way, we decided that we would honor the workshop process the brought us all together and included a workshop component to the submissions. We also decided that figuring out how to split any revenue more than a dozen ways would have been a nightmare. So instead, we all decided that the SFWA Medical Emergency Fund was a worthy cause that would receive 100% of the proceeds. Add an amazing cover, created by one of our members, the multi-talented writer/artist Chris Howard, and foreword and afterword by our wonderful mentors, Jeff and Craig, and hundreds of hours of work and PEN-ULTIMATE became a reality.
It was an honor and a privilege to work on this project and I am grateful for the trust my fellow workshop members placed in me. I hope they still feel the same way knowing how much we invented as we went along. Shh. Let’s not tell them, okay?
Information about PEN-ULTIMATE, along with links to purchase it through multiple venues can be found HERE.
ABOUT LJ COHEN
LJCohen is the internet incarnation of Lisa Janice Cohen, poet and novelist. Lisa has completed 8 novels, in severalres, including YA, urban fantasy, fantasy, SF, and speculative fiction. She is represented by Nephele Tempest of The Knight Agency.