“Art is salvation in the worst of times.” –Stephanie Raffelock
Creating an Anthology
An interview with Stephanie Raffelock by B. Lynn Goodwin
Art In The Time of Unbearable Crisis, written by the women that SheWrites Press has published, offers experiences, insights, and heart-to-heart moments that will help all readers feel less alone as we experience and process the many crises taking place right now—from the war in Ukraine to the war against COVID. Filled with personal prose and poetry, this is a collage of experiences lifted from our time.
As I read Ms. Raffelock’s prologue for the book, these words stood out: “The great poet Jonas Mekas said, ‘In the very end, civilizations perish because they listen to their politicians and not to their poets.’ I take his words as a warning to be daunted by the power-hungry, to instead find a way to share what is both painful and beautiful in the human condition.” Art In The Time of Unbearable Crisis does exactly that. In this interview she talks about the process of compiling an anthology and much more.
BLG: Tell us briefly about your writing background.
SR: Growing up, I was a terrible student, except that I loved writing. Owning my identity as a writer, however, was a slow process fraught with insecurity and self doubt. I gained momentum in my sixties when I began to seriously study story structure. Around the same time, I had my first paid writing job with a Super-Market give-away, The Rogue Valley Messenger, writing mostly lifestyle pieces. I was proud of that little job and among other things that I learned, was the value of working under deadline. To this day, I keep an editorial calendar, and I work under deadline. I grow as a writer each time I complete what I start. Note, that’s not carved in granite, but it’s a good light to guide the way.
I’m the author of two books of non-fiction, A Delightful Little Book on Aging and Creatrix Rising, Unlocking the Power of Midlife Women. And I’m the editor of an anthology, Art In The Time of Unbearable Crisis. I love the power of words and their ability to express and evoke the beauty and the sorrow of the human condition.
BLG: Why did you decide to create this anthology and how did you proceed?
SR: This anthology was born in passion and executed in cluelessness. I initiated a conversation with my publisher a couple of weeks after the war in Ukraine started. I told her about a set of drawings that had belonged to my father. He’d brought them back from WWII. They were beautiful, pastoral scenes of deer grazing in the forest, and sheep on a wind blown hill.
I wondered, how in the face of so much atrocity could these have been created? The realization that I eventually came to is that art is salvation in the worst of times. Art makes us feel when we’ve grown numb. Throughout the Ukraine war we’ve seen this play out — a string quartet plays against the backdrop of rubble, or actors put on a play in the subway, while the fighting continues above ground.
My idea was that I wanted a book in which women would address the theme of art in times of crisis. And thus the title, Art In The Time of Unbearable Crisis. Though it took a little convincing, the publisher ran with the idea, and we decided together that royalties should go to World Central Kitchens, who at the time was feeding hundreds of thousands of refuges on the Polish border.
The altruistic nature of the project became a platform for women who not only wanted to contribute their writing but wanted to help elevate suffering in some way.
BLG: What did you expect from your writers in terms of content, length, and deadlines?
SR: The content was to address art amid crisis, be it COVID, the Ukraine War, or personal loss. The length was 1,000 words and deadlines (there’s that word again) were the hardest. Most writers adhered to parameters, but there were several that I had to chase down regarding due date and changes. The nuts and bolts of putting together an anthology, even one with a lofty motivation felt a lot like juggling cats.
BLG: How did you organize your submissions and how much editing was required?
SR: I was not prepared for the pace or the logistics of this project. This was a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants experience for me. Mostly, I took direction from Brooke Warner, the publisher, and learned as I went.
I’m still trying to figure out how I organized submissions – a lot of different folders, for sure. A lot of back and forth. A fair amount of hand-holding and communication with the individual writers. Eighty of them. I came away with a greater appreciation for what publishers do.
The “edited by” designation on the cover of the anthology, is really a “curated by” credit. The word editing, as it’s used in this regard is a gathering and culling process. It’s not how we usually think of editing, in terms of line or copy editing. Those types of edits were done by She Writes Press.
BLG: What role did SheWrites Press play in bringing this collection to the public?
SR: She Writes Press brought the book out in record time. . . just over three months from conception to publication.
Brooke Warner was a supportive task master, and we bonded over the idea that the proceeds for this book were going to be utilized to help World Central Kitchens. Similarly, the editing team at She Writes went above and beyond, and for that I will be forever grateful. So many woman, with a single vision came together as a community and made a positive difference in the world. That’s the essence of what the anthology experience was for me.
BLG: What writing and publishing advice do you have for personal essays authors?
SR: The personal essay is the little black dress of the writing world. It’s a classic that will ever go out of style. There will always be places that need and want content in this form. For many writers, the personal essay is where our writing life begins. One of my favorite authors is Nora Ephron. Her career took off when she wrote essays for Esquire Magazine, before moving into the novel and screenplay format. Like Ms. Ephron, in my quest to become a better writer, I have written essays, novels, screenplays and non-fiction. By trying to write everything, I have learned where my strengths and weakness lie. I don’t think, however, that Ms. Ephron had any weaknesses. She was one of those authors who really could write everything and do it well.
BLG: Where can writers find anthologies seeking contributors?
SR: Gotta love Google for answers to life’s pressing questions! Check out Literarium’s offerings. They have a great list: https://literarium.net/collection/anthology
SR: Be able to articulate the purpose and the passion of your project. Part of the pitch should include where your contributors will come from – in the case of Art in the Time of Unbearable Crisis, all of the contributors were She Writes Press Authors. Find a solid theme and stick with it.
One of the things that I learned in the process of bringing forth the anthology is just how hard it is to say “no.” Some pieces were from good writers who just weren’t on theme with the project. But as a writer who knows what rejection feels like, saying “no” was not my favorite part of the process. And finally, write an introduction that will pull all of the pieces together into a cohesive answer as to why this anthology is important.
BLG: What else would you like readers to know, what are you working on now, and where can they learn more about you?
SR: Currently, I’m in the copyedit stage of a suspense novel entitled All The Right Lies. The book is about a post Roe world in which abortion has become a federal crime. When the President’s sixteen year old daughter discovers that she’s pregnant, she tries to take matters into her own hands, and sets into motion a perilous run toward what she hopes will be a sanctuary.
I continue to do voiceover work in Austin, Texas and I teach the occasional class on Writing, Mythology and the Divine.
- You can find out more about me at: https://www.BylineStephanie.com
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/byline.stephanie/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/StephanieRaffelock/
Many thanks for sharing your story and the story of Art in the Time of Unbearable Crisis. You can pick up a copy of the book online and in bookstores, and if you want to find out how people are coping, this is a great way to do so.
Bragging Isn’t Always Bad
An interview with Marla J. Albertie by B. Lynn Goodwin
Journaling matters. I know this first hand. Not sure what to say when faced with a blank page? Marla J. Albertie’s book, The Ultimate Brag Book About Yourself can help. The title appealed to me and so do the subjects. If you start with her lists, you’ll soon find yourself adding more and more reasoning and you’ll be journaling before you know it. I found this book through a review opportunity at WOW: Women on Writing. In the interview below Ms. Albertie gives lots of inspiration. See what she has to say and how it can affect you.
BLG: Tell us how you became a Life-Harmonizing Strategist and what that means.
MJA: This is a great question. A life-harmonizing strategist is a term I made-up of course . I coined this term because I had to deal with a lot of ups and downs and difficulties in my life all while still doing the everyday hustle and bustle of working, being a parent, being a woman, and everything that falls in between. There is a lie we’ve been told about work life balance, that it exists. Well guess what? It doesn’t! There is no such thing as work life balance. However, we can harmonize all areas of our lives and I coach women to do just that. This is not a journey that ends, it is an everyday task that you must intentionally be involved in
BLG: What role does journaling play in strategizing for a harmonized life?
MJA: A huge role. Journaling is one of the key factors of harmonizing your life. Yes, the brain can hold a lot of information, science has told us this. However, science has also told us that we are more effective if we write those thoughts down. Journaling is not only therapeutic, it is calming and allows you to tell your story to yourself and no one else has to know. Journaling helps you to write about areas of your life the way you would like them to be. Journaling allows you to use your imagination and go wherever you want to go.
BLG: What advice would you give to someone who says she has no answers for your questions?
MJA: With me being a coach I would turn around and ask her why does she think that way? Why does she think that she does not have the answers? As a coach I have to believe in each client. Therefore I would ask her to give me an example of one of the questions that she thinks she could not answer. Everything starts in our mindset. I will start there and dig deeper with her.
BLG: How did you figure out what subjects you’d address? Did you have help coming up with all these categories?
MJA: No, I did not have help with these categories. The subjects came to mind as a part of life experiences that my acquaintances and I have had. We all want to have some type of fun and why not write it down and make a plan to go do it?
BLG: What will people be able to do if they answer your questions and fill in your lists?
MJA: I have had people tell me from these lists they have come up with ideas for their careers, self-care, vacations, family time and much more. They just never sat down and took the time to write it out and they were happy they did so.
BLG: How should people stay away from the downside of bragging or is there a down side?
MJA: The word “bragging” gets such a negative connotation, I don’t think there is a downside to bragging on yourself. If you don’t believe in your own possibilities and who you are, who else will?
This book is all about pulling out the greatness in yourself. This is not about saying you’re greater than anyone else, that’s where the ego comes into play. People may think that, however bragging on yourself is about realizing you are good at something, and you deserve to be rewarded for whatever that. Society wants us to constantly get better at something. What about what we’re already great at? That’s what this book is about.
BLG: What have you done to market this book and what recommendations do you have for marketing self-help and how to books?
MJA: I have done many things such as this blog tour, networking with other awesome women groups and writers, selling and promoting at conventions and conferences, advertising on social media, selling to friends and family, and using many other avenues. The best thing I can think about when it comes to marketing self-help books is the “why.” People want to understand why do I need this book. Be able to explain that.
BLG: How is marketing a book like marketing yourself as an author?
MJA: This is such a great question. I think as authors we become a piece of the book because we are the one writing the book. The book is within us. This book along with any other I write, shows the world a piece of who I am and hey, people may just think maybe she’s a fun person who thinks highly of herself and she wants other people to think highly of themselves. I want everyone to win .
BLG: How can writing free the mind from negativity?
MJA: This goes back to the journaling. Writing is so freeing as you and I both know. When you write you are allowed to go places you’ve never been before. The imagination is a powerful thing. When a woman writes, she allows herself to do what she thought she couldn’t do… the mind does not know the difference. For example, if you write that you are a queen, then your mind believes that you are.
BLG: What are you working on now and how can people learn more about you?
MJA: Another great question, I giggle because of what am I not working on! I’m currently in school for my PhD in I/O Psychology (they study of human behavior in the workplace), I am set to graduate in June of 2023. I just started a nonprofit to teach teenagers the principals of I/O Psychology (www.ioforteens.org). I am a certified coach, which is one of the loves of my life. Therefore, I am normally working with a client on helping them harmonize their life.
In my spare time, I’m either cruising, at a comedy show, concert or hanging with my family and friends. People can contact me via my website and please feel free to sign up for their free harmonizing workbook at www.truthspeakscoaching.com
BLG: Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts here.