How to Make an Anthology Quilt
by Andrea N. Richesin
While at a recent Red Herring magazine reunion
at the Irish Bank—San Francisco’s elixir for the
ex-pat community, I asked a guy sitting on a stool outside
if he were a bouncer and needed to card me. He replied in
his lilting brogue, “No, I’ll level with you.
I’m really a Victoria’s Secret model.” I
should have known this would be the sort of response I could
expect from my evening. A little later, I talked to an old
colleague who had contacted me about giving her cousin some
tips on how to get started on an anthology about ex-strippers.
“Bonnie, how is your cousin’s anthology coming
”Oh, she decided not to do it.”
“Really. Why not? It seemed like a great idea.”
“Well, she did some more research and discovered that
it’s a lot of work, you don’t get paid very much,
and the whole process is kind of a pain in the ass.”
”Exactly. That’s why I’m doing it again.”
Uproarious laughter from everyone.
The truth—I want to tell her, but I can’t because
we’re in a crowded bar- is that editing and compiling
a collection of essays and personal stories, is a ton of work,
but it’s entirely worth it, if you believe in the project
and if you can see the book to fruition as I did with my collection
The May Queen. The anthology took five
long years to publish (three of which were spent finding writers
who were willing to write on spec) yet it introduced me to
the creative side of editing a book. For years, I had worked
as a lowly editorial assistant at various publishing houses
and magazines, but now I finally had an opportunity to create
something I believed in.
I had a difficult time deciding to edit another collection.
The working title for the one I’m currently editing
is What I Would Tell Her: Confessional Stories from Women
Writers about their Mothers and Daughters. It took me
almost a year after the publicity and tour were finally finished,
and the zine editors stopped calling for me to consider doing
another one. When asked I would say, “No, I don’t
think I can take on another project of that magnitude. It’s
too much work.” I finally came to realize that I enjoy
the challenge. Reading stories from almost complete strangers
about their lives is enthralling. I adore having the opportunity
to offer my opinion as a freewheeling, would-be Maxwell Perkins.
Trying to shape stories into a cohesive whole and bringing
order and beauty to them as a complete collection is the part
I love the most.
I liken the experience to creating a quilt, as I did with
my good friend who is a craftswoman and Rhode Island School
of Design graduate, for my sister’s first baby. I am
not at all crafty, but for me, creating an anthology has been
a bit like making a crazy quilt. Although crazy quilts may
appear haphazard they are carefully planned. Hours are spent
making a plan- a sense of what you’re after: you lay
it out (book proposal), assemble the patches (talented contributors),
the batting (their stories) and the thread for stitching,
(an agent, editor, and crack publicity team) and the final
stitches (your website, promotional efforts, and best friend’s
support). Then you are pleasantly surprised when a long-lost
friend recommends a contributor who has a forgotten essay
buried on a hard drive somewhere. She dusts it off, and voilà-
it adds the final touch. I had been concerned all along that
the quilt might not fit together, but it was amazing to see
that somehow magically the pieces all managed to complement
each other to form this collection of crazily fantastic stories.
I have been very fortunate to find people who believe in my
crazy quilt vision. Although I wasn’t able to make a
real quilt and my friend had to stitch (and restitch where
I fumbled it up) the quilt for my niece, she showed me how
to make an anthology quilt.