Wednesday, February 21, 2018

A Conversation With E.A. Aymar and Sarah M. Chen, Editors of The Night of the Flood

The Night of the Flood is one of the more eagerly anticipated anthologies to come out in some time, dropping early next month from Down & Out Books. With contributors including E.A. Aymar, Rob Brunet, Sarah M. Chen, Angel Luis Col√≥n, Hilary Davidson, Mark Edwards, Gwen Florio, Elizabeth Heiter, J.J. Hensley, Jennifer Hillier, Shannon Kirk, Jenny Milchman, Alan Orloff, and Wendy Tyson, it’s a…well, let’s just have the two driving forces behind it tell you about it: the editors, Sarah M. Chen and E.A. Aymar

One Bite at a Time: Tell us about The Night of the Flood.
Sarah M. Chen: It’s a novel-in-stories told from fourteen different perspectives that centers around one night of chaos in Everton, a small fictional Pennsylvania town. It all begins when the first female in modern times is executed in Pennsylvania. This sets off a group of passionate female activists to blow up the town’s dam in protest. What follows is an opportunity for crooks and killers to wreak havoc on the town while with some folks, it’s all about survival.
E.A. Aymar: Sarah couldn’t be more wrong. < Reviews her answer> Oh no, that’s right. She’s right.

And that, my friends, was a live example of how Sarah and I work together as editors. Ta-da.

OBAAT: As a Pennsylvania native myself, I have to ask: Why Pennsylvania? And what part of Pennsylvania is Everton in?
SMC: I was brought in after Pennsylvania was decided upon so had no say in it (because I would have definitely championed SoCal!). Then when I was trying to plan my character's route as she drives from New Jersey to Indiana (she's a reluctant truck driver), I needed more of an exact location so I could name specific highways and interstates. This was central to my story. We settled on a small town south of Pittsburgh near the Monongahela River. I wrote New Eagle in my notes after Ed and I had our first phone pow wow so that must be the town. I never argue with my notes.
EAA: We picked Pennsylvania because we needed the worst state we could think of and Ohio was taken. Ha ha, just kidding; obviously, Arizona is the worst state. On a serious note, Pennsylvania made sense both logistically and artistically – J.J. Hensley and Wendy Tyson both lived in PA (as does Tom Sweterlitsch, who was originally going to be involved), and the state is close to a number of the other contributors. That was important for local familiarity and if we wanted to do some sort of launch event in PA. And Pennsylvania is one of those states like New York or Virginia, where you have that discordant mix of urban and rural, and that environment gave us the freedom to draw from any number of approaches for our characters.

But SoCal was never an option.

OBAAT: How did you two get together on The Night of the Flood? Who had the idea first?
EAA: Actually, JJ. Hensley had the idea first. J.J. works with a bunch of us on ITW’s The Thrill Begins, and he had the idea of everyone putting together a shared-theme anthology. We screwed around with the concept and it eventually turned into The Night of the Flood. Then we needed to make the project a bit longer, so we brought in some friends.
SMC: I was brought in later by Ed. Thanks, Ed!

OBAAT: “We screwed around with the concept and it eventually turned into The Night of the Flood” is kind of vague. What sort of iterations did it go through?
SMC: Dana is totally looking right at you, Ed.

EAA: J.J.'s original suggestion incorporated characters from each writer's work, sort of similar in concept to the Match Up anthology that ITW published. But there were contractual concerns with that, as well as issues like not every writer has a series (in the end, I think J.J. and Angel Luis Colon were the only writers to incorporate characters who have appeared in their other work). I liked the idea of a cataclysmic event that every writer has to respond to and, when this book was discussed, Trumpism was on the rise and anger in the country was palpable. We ended up tapping into that anger, specifically in the town's riots and, conversely, (although this was well ahead of the Women's March and the #MeToo movement) in the sense that a group of women have simply been pushed too far. We had a firm sense of the novel's conflict, and an intentionally soft approach to how each writer was going to address it. We didn't dictate how the flood and riots would play out – that happened organically. And Jennifer Hillier's epilogue does a fantastic job of wrapping the story up.

OBAAT: That’s an impressive roster of contributors. How did you decide who to ask?
EAA: We had nine from The Thrill Begins, and when we decided to ask more, we just
E.A. Aymar (Photo courtesy of E.A. Aymar)
tossed some names around. Sarah was the first person we asked – everyone in TTB knows her and likes her personally, and respects her writing tons. And the four others (Alan Orloff, Hilary Davidson, Angel Luis Colon and Mark Edwards) each has something unique in their voice and varied in their style. Not everyone knew everyone, but we got a good sense of each other through collaboration.
SMC: It was a collaborative effort amongst all of us. <> Awww, OK, Ed’s answer is way better. Mine sucks. Get rid of it.

OBAAT: Given the caliber of writers involved in The Night of the Flood, how did you decide who got which part of the night? Was there any pushback from writers who wanted a different slot? How much direction did each writer receive about their slot?
SMC: There was a Google doc we all shared and worked off of. Each writer chose an hour on the timeline and sketched in their story idea. There were a few of us who couldn’t make up their mind between 4am and 11pm. (OK, maybe that was just me.)
E.A. Aymar arriving at interview site.
EAA: And, to be honest, a lot of it was luck. Nobody’s story was problematic. Everyone did what they wanted, and it ended up working perfectly. People played off each other really well. For me and Sarah, that made our job a lot easier.

OBAAT: So what exactly was your job? Fourteen talented writers write fourteen stories around a common theme. I’m sure discerning readers want to know, what does an editor do in a situation like this?
SMC: Ed and I talked at length over the phone after reading all the stories. This was our first round of edits. We wanted to be sure all the stories were consistent across the board in terms of landmarks, business names, how high the water had risen at what time, whether it was a full moon or half moon, and character names / descriptions if they appeared in more than one story. Stuff like that. We also went over things like confusing plot points or if something needed more development which wasn't really as much of an issue. Mostly, we needed to ensure that we were all on the same page with setting and story concept set-up. And of course, my favorite: proofreading! Seriously, I love proofreading.
EAA: I'd just add that Sarah has a ferocious memory for detail and that was so important when it came to things like street names, landmarks, and characters. I think Sarah and I did a good job of catching things the other might have missed, which is really the necessity of a good editor for an integrated anthology. Chris Rhatigan, who edited the book for Down and Out, was also a tremendous help and we're all indebted to him. But, truthfully, the benefit of working with good writers is that they're hard on themselves and catch a lot of their own errors. We lucked out with this group.

On the way out, Sarah pulled away to make the following comment:
I really enjoyed working with Ed. I think we make a good team. The same goes for everyone involved in this anthology. I feel so lucky and grateful that this talented group of writers brought me on board. They're awesome to work with and I've had a blast. Also, the Down & Out crew has been fantastic as well. They do so much for us.

I guess that was three things I added. Thanks, Dana!

And then Ed returned her dog unharmed.


pattinase (abbott) said...

What a great concept for an anthology. Sounds terrific.

Alan Orloff said...

Pretty much everything Sarah said here is right; everything Ed recounted is, well, not right. And after this project, I don't think any of the contributors is speaking to the others. Ha, just kidding. After this experience, we plan to get together at conventions and all go curling, just one big happy. I mean, yes, it was a fantastic project!