Please welcome my guest, Rachel Kramer Bussel! Rachel and I met almost a decade back, when we were both reading our stories from Best Lesbian Erotica at Bluestockings in New York City. She graciously consented to answer some questions I had about the process of editing and her latest anthology, Passion: Erotic Romance for Women.
How do you choose a focus for an anthology? How did you choose the focus of Passion?
I try to look at what readers might want to read, what I’m interested in, and what would be fun to work on. I like having a theme but it’s tricky because you don’t want the stories to be too similar to each other, so a theme like passion and erotic romance is wide enough that there’s room for plenty of variety.
I’ve done a lot of kinky anthologies and wanted to try something a little sweeter and more romantic, though there is definitely kink in it. I was surprised to find that it was a challenge to write my own story, “Five Senses,” but it also brought me to a range of new authors who work in the erotic romance field, something I’m looking forward to continuing with 2011’s Obsessed anthology, and another erotic romance book to follow.
How does your original idea for an anthology translate into the call for submissions, and into the stories you eventually choose?
Sometimes it’s a more exact match than others, and that process has gotten refined over time. I put out very detailed calls in terms of what they should look like but regarding content try to leave plenty of room to allow authors to come up with whatever strikes their fancy.
To me the beauty of editing an anthology is that so much of it is based on the writers’ creativity; they always come up with a cool take on my original idea that I never could have foreseen. One great example of that in Passion is Jacqueline Applebee’s story “My Dark Knight.” I know nothing about Renaissance Fair type of play but I didn’t need to to appreciate her story, which also touches on the uncertainty of new relationships, especially where you really like someone and aren’t sure exactly how they feel about you. I look for stories that have a real-life nuance to them, where even if the plot is outlandish, there’s relatable emotion between the characters.
What’s the hardest part of choosing stories? The most fun?
The hardest part is rejecting stories. I hate that, and sometimes it makes me want to quit editing anthologies because it’s not fun at all, but I also know I’ll always be working on new anthologies so I can pass along those calls for submissions.
The most fun part is finding a story that just nails the theme perfectly and is so wonderful I want to read it to everyone I know. Those are the gems and make the very time-consuming process of reading submissions a joy.
How do you choose the order in which stories appear? What input does the publisher have into the final product?
I tend to select the first and last stories as ones that will, respectively, suck the reader in and leave the reader satisfied but maybe wanting a little more, and beyond that, I don’t have a highly scientific ordering process. I add stories as I go over a few months of editing, and at the end may move them around. I like to build up to the more intense stories, but a lot of it, for me, is actually pretty random.
Cleis Press rarely alters the order of the stories, though they do have final approval of manuscripts and sometimes stories get cut for space or if they aren’t quite a fit with the book. I appreciate this attention to detail and think it makes the books truly beautiful, inside and out. They find outstanding cover photographs and work hard to create quality, memorable books.
What was the first anthology you edited? How did that come about?
I co-edited the anthology Up All Night: True Lesbian Sex Stories, and was brought on board by co-editor Stacy Bias. She asked me to help and that book includes stories by Tristan Taormino and L. Elise Bland. That came out in 2004 and then soon after I started editing anthologies on my own, like Glamour Girls: Femme/Femme Erotica and Naughty Spanking Stories from A to Z.
Thanks, Rachel! I’m looking forward to the anthology!