…From Dark Places
From Dark Places is the debut short story anthology from the wonderfully talented and slightly twisted mind of Emma Newman (E.J. Newman). It is also the debut short story anthology for eMergent Publishing, one of those brilliant literary morsels that drop into your lap when you’re not actually looking for it (and I should add – they are the best kind!)
My decision to go over to an iPhone last February was made in part by the release of the original eBook version of From Dark Places. I’d been a lurker, enjoying Em’s work on a sporadic basis and had been blown away by “Heartache” the story she wrote from Chinese Whisperings: Red Book… so I took out the iPhone contract and downloaded From Dark Places to read during my short lived ‘short story for a day for a year’ challenge. To me it was wins all around.
The original 11 stories lived up to my expectations: twisting, dark fiction that when collected together in the one place, feed off each other in the most amazing ways. When I expected something supernatural to happen, it turned out to be a straight up literary piece which gave the ending a double whammy of a surprise. It’s one way to in advertently amp up expectation… by truly never knowing what’s coming next.
I commented at the time to Dave, that Em put the realism into magical realism… because her magical/supernatural narratives are so bloody realistic and believeable… there is never a moment when the reader is asked to suspend logic to truly enjoy the stories. I used Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 100 Year of Solitude as a juxtaposition, where I had to tell myself as a reader, that ahh… it was okay for a magic carpet to be flying past a window in the background of a scene. When you read Em’s work there is never that jarring moment between reality and an alternate, fantastical world. They coexist in the most harmonious of fashions. As do her perfectly fractured characters.
The other comment I made, was it was disappointing Em wouldn’t hand her stories over for editing, because with a little spit and polish by a 3rd party, her stories would go from being 9 ½ out of 10 to 11 out of 10 (which is the highest form of compliment in our household – and a bit of an old standard joke as well!) Em’s a friend though, and I knew how she felt about handing over her fiction and why, and I respected her for that, having been down a similar road.
So nine months later, when I got an excited Twitter DM from Em (only Em can inject excitement into a DM) I was immediately intrigued by the idea she wanted to pitch to me. And as the fates would have it, we were both awake at the same time (no mean feat on a Friday night/Saturday morning time junction between our two time zones).
What transpired from our very first Skype session, other than a revelling in being able to talk in real time, was a proposal for me to take to Paul, my business partner at eMergent, to publish Em’s new and extended version of From Dark Places under the eMergent label, with me as the editor.
Em said she skipped around the house for several days, and I think there was much gleeful movement to be held in our home. It was one of those moment’s Dave talks about, where I get a twinkle in my eye and I glow. It’s not every day you get to work with one of your living, breathing literary heroes. It was an extended ‘oh my god, I have the best job in the world’ moment.
Then we got down to work… and there was a little less skipping to be had, as we worked through the hard slog of revising, editing and rewriting 25 stories.
Editing is a serious business, especially when you are entrusted with someone else’s project. Up until November I’d only ever edited my projects – that is Chinese Whisperings, or issues of Down to Birth, where I was working, with others, to produce a certain literary vision (mine!) This time I was entrusted with helping to create someone else’s literary vision… and not just anyone, someone who is a much loved friend. In the back of my head I worried about this all going very wrong, because I very much didn’t want it to go wrong.
At the same time I was editing Em’s stories (with a ridiculously gruelling deadline, in hindsight), I was trying to bash out 2000 words a day of an historical sci-fi novel for NaNo. This is what happens when you set aside the month just to write – your dream project pops up on Twitter!
I went in delicately with the stories, which for the most part, needed little ‘hard’ editing. I wanted to get the process right. I wanted the experience of editing to be a positive and as enjoyable experience for both of us.
Given the keys to the kingdom, I got the opportunity to see what else was lurking in the shadows of Em’s story and to be able to say, “Hey look what’s there, do you see it too?” From Dark Places (the opening story of the anthology) is probably the best example of it.
The most memorable part, for me, was choosing several stories: one to be recorded and entered into a competition, the other to bring down the curtain on the anthology. Among 25 tight and unique narratives, it is hard to pick a ‘favourite’, especially when you’ve invested time and energy into every story – you feel warm and fuzzy toward most of them. However Em quickly got a feel for which stories were my (unspoken) favourites, “Getting Fixed” and “Everything in its Place” were those stories! “Getting Fixed” is perfect in its dark, comedic timing and complimented by Em’s turn of phrase. I laugh every time I read it – still! We agreed the anthology would benefit from ending with an upbeat note, so “Getting Fixed” it was. Em recorded “Everything in it’s Place” after discussions about what story would be best – and what story did I really like! Everything in its Place wooed me compliments of the main character Harry, who reminds me so much of the Audrey Niffeneggers’ Martin in Her Fearful Symmetry. I’m not sure why I find characters with life-debilitating OCD so charming and engaging, but I do – especially when they are written with precise, authenticity. And the bit at the end, well I’ve had that moment time and time again – only there were far less interesting things in the depth of that particular white good in our home as a kid.
Of course Em didn’t have to take my advice, she didn’t have to place my favourite stories in those locations, but she did. And it’s the kind of acknowledge which is so subtle but profound… and so very Em! Or of course, I’m just talking out of my bum and have it all wrong!!
It was fun – but not all plain sailing, and I’m hoping I can talk Em into coming back later on in the month, as we hit the final stretch of the alphabet to share some background about one particular story and if I smile nicely – she might release the recording of that particular story… as I’ve experienced, with the arrival of the proof copy of 100 Stories for Queensland, the exact same magic Em spoke about, after she’d recorded this particular story.
From Dark Places isn’t the hardest gig I’ve done, but it’s possibly the project with which I have invested the upmost care. Of really needing to get it spot on perfect. Throughout the editing and layout I was hyperaware of not wanting, but needing to do a stellar job, of turning out the best possible version of Em’s stories and making it as painless for her.
Tomorrow is Em’s London launch at the Pitcher and Piano in Holborn. I believe there will be a gathering of eMergent associated writers there to cheer her on, as well as lots of other interested parties, and not for the first time in the last six weeks, I’m frustrated I can’t be there to enjoy in the spoils of publication… and spoilt is what Em deserves, thrice over… because writing is only part of it (and if you follow Em’s blog, you will know that). Thank you Em for letting me be part of it all.
You can read extended reviews of From Dark Places at Alan Baxter’s blog and also on the Goodreads page. You can follow what’s going on at From Dark Places’ Facebook page and most importantly – you can buy it, as an eBook or a paperback (Em will sign a copy and personally pop it in the post for you) here. And of course, there’s a try before you buy sample of two stories including the story from which the anthology derives its name from.
To celebrate, I’m giving away a copy of From Dark Places. In the spirit of Harry from “Everything in its Place” the book will go to the reader who shares the quirkiest, weirdest or down right bizarre true-life habit . It doesn’t have to be yours, you don’t have to admit it as yours, but you do have to put it down there in the comments section if you want to go in the running to win.
As a little laugh on bizarre habits… here is the lotto ticket I bought the weekend before Em’s first launch in Manchester (I never buy lotto tickets!) When I bought it, I said to the Universe that I wanted to win so I could fly to England and surprise Em at the launch. I’m big on stating intents and ‘putting it out there’. I obviously was not quite specific enough in my request!