Joanne Merriam is the publisher of Upper Rubber Boot Books, a fantastic independent publisher who has brought you amazing books such as Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation and Choose Wisely: 35 Women Up to No Good. Now Joanne is running a Kickstarter to get two new anthologies off the ground. Broad Knowledge features a story by my good friend and Clarion classmate Vida Cruz, as well as stories by Wendy Nikel and Aimee Ogden, two authors I've been lucky enough to work with through World Weaver Press. Sharp and Sugar Tooth looks pretty awesome too, featuring some familiar names that always deliver amazing stories: Catherynne M. Valente, Alyssa Wong, Damien Angelica Walters, Caroline M. Yoachim, and many others.
Check out my interview with Joanne Merriam, and then support the Kickstarter here:
Sarena Ulibarri: Your description for these anthologies says they focus “on ‘bad’ women, and ‘good’ women who just haven’t been caught yet.” This reminds me of that famous quote about “well-behaved women rarely make history.” What made you want to publish stories about this kind of character?
Joanne Merriam: That description is defining ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in reference to what we expect women to be, and I’m really fascinated by social expectations and how people structure their lives to adhere to or challenge them. The women in these anthologies appear to be doing everything ‘right’ while getting their own way, or decide they won’t be held back by others’ expectations, or, tragically, try to adhere to or challenge expectations and pay a terrible price for it.
I hope that the breadth of stories will collectively show different ways of being, and open up a mental space for thinking about their own options for our readers (whether or not they’re women), in addition to entertaining them.
SU: Can you give a couple of teasers about some of the stories we’ll find in BROAD KNOWLEDGE and SHARP & SUGAR TOOTH?
JM: Broad Knowledge includes a scientific paper written by a researcher who contracts Innsmouth Fish-man Syndrome, an article for biblical scholars on a seraph’s visit to Earth, an in-depth ethical discussion for journalists covering a woman who has been quarantined on a military base so her ideas don’t spread to the general population, and a series of newspaper headlines and excerpts covering the invention of time travel—but the story that’s probably the most fun, and also possibly the darkest, is “Mary in the Looking Glass,” about the legendary horror figure Mary Whales, and her ex-lover.
Sharp & Sugar Tooth features the ritual consumption of funerary meat, poison as a replacement for war, chefs who heal society one meal at a time, alien biomes which entirely consume their hosts, and women turning into chocolate, honey, pastry, fish food, and apple-bearing trees. I’m particularly taken with Jasmyne J. Harris’ “What the Bees Know About Discarded Girlish Organs,” in which part of romance is being eaten by your partner, and what happens when people split up before the process is completed. It’s really haunting.
SU: You are editing BROAD KNOWLEDGE, while SHARP & SUGAR TOOTH is being edited by Octavia Cade. Did the two of you take different approaches to curating these books?
JM: Yes, I think so. Octavia is quite brilliant! She struck me as very deliberate and careful and thoughtful about how she structured the book, both in selecting stories and in ordering them, to fit a kind of overall narrative arc. I took a more topic-oriented approach to ordering, and am perhaps not as smart, but I’m always saved by the amazing writers who send in their stories and make me look really good as an editor.
SU: How do these two anthologies differ from CHOOSE WISELY, the first anthology you did of “Women Up to No Good”?
JM: The main difference is the theme, of course: Choose Wisely is all about choices, while Broad Knowledge is about (you guessed it) knowledge, and Sharp & Sugar Tooth about food and consumption. They are also more diverse: Choose Wisely has more white authors, and more Americans, than either of these anthologies, and that’s reflected in the stories in these anthologies being more varied and reflecting more of our world.
SU: You have some excellent writers lined up in these two anthologies. As an editor/anthologist, how do you go about reaching out to writers to ensure a diverse table of contents?
JM: I use social media extensively to reach communities I’m not a part of. For calls for submissions, I post, where appropriate, on the FB groups Call For Submissions; Calls for Submissions (Poetry, Fiction, Art); Open Call: Science Fiction, Fantasy & Pulp Markets; Open Submission Calls for Horror/Paranormal/Mystery/SciFi Writers; Call For Submissions : QUILTBAG; Asian Science Fiction & Fantasy; Feminist Science Fiction; The State of Black Science Fiction; Women of Color Writers' Community; and WOMPO (Women's Poetry Listserv). I also tag writers who I’m interested in seeing work from, and post using hashtags like #diversesff on Twitter and Tumblr, and note the call for submissions in my emailed newsletter, which goes out 2-3 times/year. I’m also on Duotrope, so people who use that to search for markets will find our listings.
When I’m selecting stories, I try to read blind by saving all of the stories under their titles and removing author identities. Of course, it’s never entirely blind because I can recognize some writers’ voices, but I make the attempt, which means that I have to address diversity in my submissions pool before I get to that largely-blind selection stage. Midway through my submissions period, I’ll go quickly through the submissions I’ve received to get a sense of who is submitting, just looking at names, and faces where gmail has included a photo, so I can see if I need to work harder to get the word out to certain communities. It’s necessarily an incomplete and uncertain process, so I try to err on the side of assuming I need to do more work. I try to do this at least a month and preferably longer before submissions close, so people have time to respond to renewed calls for submissions.
SU: What's the process a story goes through between the time it is accepted and the time it is published in an Upper Rubber Boot Books anthology?
JM: External editors have their own editorial processes, but for me there’s editing and proofreading with an outside proofreader, and then there’s all the stuff that goes into making the books themselves. So I go through any edits with the authors (reading closely, sending suggestions for changes), and possibly rewrites if they’re required, and then I figure out what order the stories should go in (usually I try a bunch of different orders until I settle on something that feels right), then create an html file of the stories, which will eventually be part of the ebook (I make the html file first then create the print book file from it so that any errors in the html will get caught). Then I do the formatting for the print files, then send those to the authors to double-check.
Check out some excerpts from these anthologies below, and support the Kickstarter until June 30, 2018 by clicking here.