June 11, 2014 § 1 Comment
Stephanie G’Schwind, editor of Man in the Moon: Essays on Fathers & Fatherhood, discusses the challenges and creativity involved in assembling a coherent anthology:
A little over a year ago, I decided to venture into anthology land.
I was pretty sure I knew how to do it; I’d been working in publishing for more than twenty years and have a firm handle on both editorial and production matters. An AWP-Boston panel on the subject confirmed I was on the right track. But better yet, I prevailed upon my good friend Hattie Fletcher, of Creative Nonfiction fame, and got tons of great anthology-building advice from her. And in short order, Man in the Moon: Essays on Fathers & Fatherhood began to take form.
I put out a call last spring to fellow literary-magazine editors asking for essays on fathers/fatherhood they’d published in their magazines. Throughout the summer, three of my nonfiction editors and I read the essays we’d received, then winnowed them down to seventeen: five from Colorado Review and twelve from other publications.
We typeset and proofread the five from CR first, simply because we already had those files, then set and proofed the others in the order of when we received them from the other editors. When at last, in February of this year, they’d all been typeset and proofread—by our staff and the authors—I printed out the whole collection, knowing I’d need to determine some kind of more thoughtful arrangement before sending it off to the printer.
But how? This was one question I’d neglected to research, though it had quietly nagged at me all along. A procrastinator at heart, I ignored it until the very end, hoping the solution would be magically delivered to me, perhaps in a dream or a fortune cookie.
Alphabetical by author, though perhaps not the most innovative choice, is always an option—simultaneously orderly and random—but not for this anthology: I already knew that the title essay, Bill Capossere’s “Man in the Moon,” would lead, while Dan Beachy-Quick’s pivotal and tentatively hopeful “Puzzle and Music Box” would conclude the collection.
The only, and ultimately obvious, answer was that the essays themselves would determine the order.
Though attached to my computer and all manner of iThings, I knew I couldn’t do this on-screen. I needed to see all the essays at once, in both bird’s- and worm’s-eye view, and most of all, to touch them, move them around, put them back. So I arranged the seventeen essays on my office floor.
The considerations that emerged were emotional heaviness of the essay (including, where applicable, whether the father was alive or not) and author gender. To keep track of these things, I turned to one of the editor’s best friends: sticky notes. First I applied blue notes to the essays written by men and—yes—pink notes to those by women. Then on those stickies I made notes along the lines of “heavy/alive,” “medium/not alive,” etc, so as not to put the reader through the emotional toll of reading several heartbreakers in a row (though even the heartbreakers might have moments of levity), while trying to achieve the best distribution of male and female writers.
Is it a perfect arrangement? Maybe not. Three of the essays feature ICU scenes, and I see only now that one immediately follows another. But not everyone reads an anthology in order anyway, so even the best laid plans, well, you know. Still, in whatever order one encounters Man in the Moon, it’s an amazing collection of stories and voices.