Laurel Zuckerman is the author of the bestselling Sorbonne Confidential, which is available in both French and English, and Les Rêves Barbares du professeur Collie. She has long been an advocate for writers here in Paris. In addition to posting information about upcoming readings, writing conferences, and calls for submissions to literary magazines and contests, she has organized a reading series, interviewed authors on her blog, and spoken about writing and publishing at colleges and writing conferences. Today, I am excited to talk to her about her new role as the editor of the Best Paris Stories anthology.
How did you decide to launch the Best Paris Stories competition and anthology?
There is so much writing talent in Paris, I wanted for years to find some way to showcase it. Until recently, the project looked too daunting. If I finally took the step it’s thanks to recent changes in the publishing industry that make it possible to distribute a book like this worldwide. Also, I had a lot of help and support from writers in the Paris community; without that, I never would have had the courage to launch the contest.
Were you surprised at how many entries you received?
It was like throwing a message in a bottle out to the sea. I had no idea who might respond, but I thought is was important to reach out to writers far from France and the USA—in Asia, North Africa, the Gulf states, Australia—to favor a diversity of voices. In the end we had hundreds of submissions, enough to guarantee quality in the shortlist without overwhelming us entirely.
Anonymity was really key. Submissions were centralized and coded before going to Editorial Committee members, and later Judges. First-time authors were read with the same respect for the text as established veterans.
What have been some of the challenges and rewards of the process?
Discovering new writers! That was definitely one of the great rewards of the process. Another was viewing submissions from the editor’s point of view and observing the selection process (I had no input into selection, but watched and coordinated the 24 members of the Editorial Committee and the Finalist Judges) Every writer should see submissions from the other side at least once. There are many lessons to be learned from this. In fact, this strikes me as such an important experience for a writer that I asked two excellent Editorial Committee members, Thirza Vallois and Mary Ellen Gallagher to write about this for Paris Writers News (to be published later this month).
The cover design contest was amazing, too. We had no idea what the result would be, no preconceived idea of what we wanted. The submissions were all so original and different, we are really grateful to the artists who participated. In the end, after astonishingly contradictory input from the Editorial Committee, Lydia D’Moch’s cover, which featured an evocative, moody photograph of Paris with the authors’ names on blue and red bands top and bottom, emerged as the winner. Lydia is a graphic designer based in California, and we liked working with her so much that we asked her to design the paperback and the kindle singles as well.
One of the most interesting aspects of launch the Best Paris Stories anthology was finding a way to communicate about the stories worldwide. Here we have eleven really talented writers, each very different: in age, background, education, profession, interests, etc. How to let each one shine? Fortunately terrific literary magazines like Her Royal Majesty and Tale of Three, as well as literary blogs (such as yours!) have gotten excited about the anthology, featuring interviews or excepts.
We hope that Paris publications, travel writers and bloggers will also find the Best Paris Stories of interest for their readers, and that book reviewers will like it, too. We have no advertising budget so mainly, of course, it’s up to the readers. If they like the anthology, we hope they will tell their friends!
In this respect, the publication of Best Paris Stories has also been an occasion to discover (again) the incredible power of social media. Sites like twitter and facebook break through physical and financial barriers to enable any reader interested in our stories to, we hope, find us. At least, that’s a challenge we’ve set for ourselves.
Did you have a favorite story?
Oh, of course. But that means nothing. I was very glad not to be a Judge—it’s incredibly difficult to select a story because as readers we react to a story on so many different levels. How to distinguish a “good” story from the one we like best? Reading is such an intimate, personal action. Perhaps the only one we have left.
I am sure that it has been a lot of work and coordination with the judges and writers. Would you do it again? What’s next?
I’m pretty focused on the present right now: getting everything ready for the event at the American Library in Paris on May 29th, making sure the paperback gets to where it needs to be, etc.
But, I will admit, when I reread the stories, which I do with increasing pleasure each time, I think: but why not a story about working at EuroDisney? Or a “manifestation”. Or elderly French women. on hot dates. Or…
There is no end to what can be said about Paris…