Last week I threw the spotlight on the upcoming release of Many Genres, One Craft. This week, we’ll go behind the scenes to talk to the co-editors, Dr. Michael A. Arnzen and Heidi Ruby Miller.
Q: How did you guys come up with the idea/premise for Many Genres?
Miller: A group of us went to see Grindhouse, then for dinner afterward. Mike mentioned an idea he had had for several years and asked me if I would be interested in working with him on it. And, who wouldn’t want to work with Mike?
Arnzen: Grindhouse films always inspire me! But seriously: it seemed a natural thing to do, really. Our writing program at Seton Hill has such a unique focus on genre writing and working on novels for the mass market, that it just made sense to try to capture that focus in a how-to book. Our students read a lot of those kinds of writer’s guides in the program, but so many of those books are targeted too specifically on one genre, or too generally focused on the craft of writing…and they’re typically aiming at rank beginners. Our book transcends those limits by looking at how the craft cuts across all genres, while also sharing lessons from one genre to another. Everyone approached it as a professional, talking to pre-professionals, just like the faculty do in our program…
Working with Heidi was a no-brainer, too. I think it just makes sense for the book – which reflects our community at Seton Hill – to be a collaborative project, with a happy balance between old pros and young bloods, faculty and successful students. Heidi has always been so connected to writers and energized about the alumnae that she was a natural to work with me on this book premise. I often go out and talk shop with her and her husband Jason about the writing business, and once we started imagining what a book like this might look like if we worked together on it, she really contributed a lot to the development of the idea, and we realized we could have an amazing concept on our hands…and an imminently useful book for writers, something that only we could really do. So we did.
2. How did collaboration work?
Miller: Emails, emails, emails. And phone calls! And dinner and coffee when we could find the time. Long rides to Morgantown to meet with the publisher. It took us years to put all of this together. Thankfully, our contributors were patient, and their enthusiasm never waned. To say how smoothly this process worked with 65 contributors is a credit to their professionalism and amiability.
Arnzen: Heidi is right: an enormous amount of communication and work…and sheer commitment to the idea that this book is a great one that people really need to read. Collaborative editing is a little different than collaborative writing. Throughout the process, we met about once a month for coffee and every time we talked we’d take stock of where we were on the book project, sort out what still needed to be done, divvy up responsibilities as fairly as we could, and – my favorite part – brainstorm together over a sheet of paper about everything from publicity ideas to cover art concepts to figuring out what parts of the book still needed to be developed. The process was the perfect balance of organic development and strategic planning, and I think our skills complemented each other in a nice harmony. I’m not as good at the marketing and promotion as Heidi is, so she took charge of that side of things, and really played communications manager. My strength is probably my experience in the industry and manuscript critiquing, and while Heidi did a lot of the editorial work too, I suppose my role was more “visioning” and editing related. But the truth is that, as collaborative editors, we both worked together on every speck of text that ended up in the final product as equally as we could, conscious of workload. Two pairs of eyes really are better than one, and the book is really the work of the entire contributor list, not just us two.
3. Why did you decide on the format – similar to the structure of the residency workshop?
Arnzen: I’ve been teaching in our writing program at SHU for over a decade now, and I’ve come to realize that one of the biggest (and to most students, unexpected) outcomes is the learning we get from not only writers in our genre, but also from writers outside of it. Our program lets writers of all kinds put their heads together with a common purpose. So the title says it all: there are many genres, but one craft that is common to us, and this gave us a great focus for the book. Besides, since all the contributors and editors have already worked together in this way, this project really carried that workshop spirit into the anthology. It’s a collaboration of advice and shared wisdom, just like we approach it in our college residency, and the tone of the book is as supportive and helpful as it is professional and wise. I think writers are really going to get a lot out of it.
Thanks so much for answering my questions, Dr. Arnzen and Heidi! I have my book on pre-order, to be released next week. I can’t wait to get it autographed!