“An intriguing and rich tapestry of fiction.” – River Phillips, author & blogger
“A moving & thought-provoking collection with strong characters.” – Ivy Ngeow, author
“I love a shocking ending that gives you a jolt where you exclaim, I didn’t see that coming! It’s rare to find such depth of connection to the characters in short stories.” – Gina Rae Mitchell, book blogger
The reviews have been a solace, as have the new friendships I’ve made with like-minded authors while marketing And Then We Vanish over the past year. Three of those authors – Ivy Ngeow, David Arrowsmith, and David T. Wilby – are from across the pond in England, where my novel, Then Came Darkness, has found an unexpected second life. But selling a short story collection is hard, far harder than selling a novel. I knew that going in. What I didn’t know was how the world was going to be turned on its head, making the launch of the collection seem even more insignificant in the grand scheme of things than it already was.
When I planned the title and the release date for my short story collection, I had no idea it would be at the start of the worst global pandemic in over a century. I hoped And Then We Vanish would not end up prophetic. Yet most of us continue to weather on more than a year later. We remain the lucky ones…who did not vanish. And these stories from before the pandemic stand still to remind us of life before COVID19, and how many of the challenges and struggles – finding oneself, leaving a mark, staying connected, or wanting to disconnect – remain the same.
The ideas for these stories organically grew from real life experiences, many of them while traveling, which I can’t wait to get back to once the pandemic is over. Past trips – that seem now like a lifetime ago – to Ireland, the Outer Banks, and Niagara Falls leant me location specific muses, while other mundane occurrences, like a weekend visiting a friend in NYC where we walked past a high-profile murder scene, or an awkward conversation between strangers overheard at a bar in Philly during a snowstorm, whispered strange details to grab my attention.
So-called writing experts or teachers might tell you, “Write what you know,” but I prefer to think of it as, “Write what you hear or see…or what makes you want to learn more.” If something pops to mind after an experience in the real world that makes you think, “Hmm…wouldn’t it be interesting if…” which in turn spurs you to do more research or imagine what might’ve happened to lead up to a specific moment, that’s what I consider to be the secret sauce to writing. One of the biggest joys of being a writer is that ideas can spring from anywhere, even from the most mundane moments or conversations. You just have to be open to receiving the idea.
Some of the stories in the collection are specific to time…the 1980’s of my childhood, or the 1940’s of my maternal grandmother’s young adulthood. But in the wake of the pandemic, even the contemporary stories feel like period pieces. They are not the same stories now as when I originally wrote them. The world is not the same. But the stories are still here, trying to tell us something.
We are nothing if not the stories that make up our lives, and though the stories in And Then We Vanish are fictional, there are elements of real life in each one, and I hope that readers find moments of truth they can relate to when reading them.
You can read further about each story’s inspiration in my #SundayStories series.
You can purchase And Then We Vanish (paperback, ebook, or through Kindle Unlimited) here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0858T5SYK/
As I said before, I really enjoyed this collection. It had some great stories in there that took unexpected twists and was overall a satisfying read. I too know the pain of marketing a short story collection. I have two under my belt, neither of which sold very well, and I’m working on a third one right now. I’m editing the final three stories and hope to have it out sometime in late-summer or early fall.
I agree that “Write what you know” is overused advice. I’ve also used personal experiences as jumping-off points for my stories. A story I’m editing now takes place at U2’s PopMart show at Franklin Field in 1997, which was my first concert. My third novel, October and Everything After, is a fictional take on my sophomore year of high school (1993-1994) where I mix things that really happened to me (my best fried moving away, my first girlfriend breaking up with me) along with news stories of the time (Phillies World Series run in ’93, the ice storms in early ’94, and Kurt Cobain’s suicide) with fictional events.
I also enjoy researching things that I have no experience with that can be used to help my stories, and that can lead to some interesting research. For my second novel, I did extensive research on guns, knives, prom dresses, and manicures. Also, for the novel I put out in the summer (Take the Long Way), I watched several YouTube videos about what you need to know to live in a college dorm (I went to a commuter school, so I have no dorm experience). Ultimately, I cut that segment out of the book, but those were fun watches regardless.
I don’t think I’ve fully processed living in the age of COVID yet, so everything I’m writing now takes place pre-pandemic. I know it’ll take several years for me to finally be able to speak about it in a creative work. That’s why I applaud some of the TV writers out there who’ve had to include it in their shows, since their characters would understandably come into contact with it. I can’t imagine it was an easy assignment for those writers to take on.
And I too look forward to travelling once again. At this point, I consider a trip to Target an adventure!
Thanks, Chris! I hear you on writing about (and in) the age of COVID. I was about 50 pages into my next novel (the one that would finally be my “Great American Novel” haha) that had multiple timelines (the main one being present day) when the pandemic hit and forced me to rethink the trajectory of many of the characters and events. There was no way I couldn’t write about COVID and what happened with the November election…but to be honest, I haven’t been able to “go there” just yet. Luckily there are enough other timelines to write…but it’s been hard to get back into it no matter what timeline I’m working on. I’ve outlined a lot…but have written very little.
My other ideas during the pandemic have been all over the map. I actually started to write a psycho-truck-driver novella (my favorite sub-genre of movie haha) until I realized…I have no idea how to do that. I thought it would be a fun diversion, but not so much.