It all started with ‘autochthonous.’ Every year I read the articles about the Scripps Spelling Bee and what the winning word was. When I saw ‘autochthonous’ I was left dumbfounded. I had no idea how to pronounce the word, much less use it in a sentence. Then I saw the sentence that was given to the speller as part of the competition:
"The autochthonous fauna of Australia is the kangaroo."
I was actually offended at this sentence. Yes, it uses the word correctly; ‘autochthonous’ means ‘originating where it is found’ and what better animals do that than the isolated creatures of Oceania? But still! This was a horrible sentence.
It reminded me of the sentences we all tried to write in grade school vocabulary: “This sentence has the word autochthonous in it.”
It made me go back and look at the last ten year’s or so of winning words. I was surprised to see how many words I did not know. Going back into the years we find lots of words like semaphore, knack, sanitarium, narcolypsey, etc. words that I recognized and could use in a sentence; words I could even use in an everyday conversation.
But the most recent winning words didn’t fall into that category. I kept coming back to the sentence that aided the student in spelling ‘autochthonous.’ I felt that there was something better that could be done with these words.
I put out an call for submissions for my speculative fiction magazine Electric Velocipede on a message board. I listed (at the time) the ten most recent words, and gave a link to a list of all the winning words. I challenged the writers to write a story around one of the winning words. I wanted to see what creative people could do with a difficult word.
I got a number of submissions and published two of the stories in issue #9 of the magazine.
But the idea stayed with me. I felt like it was a good idea, something that would inspire writers. The two stories I published—Hal Duncan’s “The Chiaroscurist” and Neil Williamson’s “The Euonymist”—were complete opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of style. And both were amazing stories.
I decided that this idea could be expanded into an anthology. At the 2005 World Fantasy convention in Madison, WI, I started asking authors if they would be interested in writing a story for me if I sold the book to a publisher. Almost every writer I talked to liked the idea a lot. I soon had a formidable list of talent that was interested in the project.
A few months later in January 2006, I was in New York at the KGB Bar for their monthly ‘Readings of the Fantastic’ reading. At dinner after the reading I found myself sitting next to Bantam Spectra senior editor Juliet Ulman. I started talking to her about the anthology idea and she stopped me mid-sentence.
She said, “Send me a proposal tomorrow.”
A few weeks later I had an offer from Juliet to buy the book. I think of this process as ‘Hollywood publishing’ as this is how the process would be shown in a movie. Typically things don’t work this quickly and succinctly.
We got contracts signed and got the ball rolling in March of 2006. The book came out in May of 2007 so that it coincided with the Spelling Bee.
That’s extraordinarily fast for a book to be published, considering that only two of twenty-one stories were written at the time of signing contracts. Normally when a book is sold (at least for the first book on a contract) it’s already written. IN this case, we had nothing. The book was written, edited, copyedited, proofread, printed, marketed, etc. in little more than a year.
On top of that, my wife gave birth to our first child in March 2006, I finished my Master’s degree, and we moved to Iowa, all while editing and working on the book. People thought I was crazy, but I just stayed organized and kept up with deadlines.
The stories in the anthology range from mainstream fiction, like Leslie What's “Tsuris”—about a woman who is questioning her marriage—to straightforward science fiction, like Neil Williamson's “The Euonymist”—about a human who is part of an interplanetary team that names new objects on new planets—to “squicky” horror, like Paolo Bacigalupi's “Softer”—which discusses the murder of a spouse. Jeff VanderMeer used all of the other contributor’s words to create his story: “Appoggiatura,” a tour-de-force series of interconnected tales.
There’s something for everyone here.
JOHN KLIMA has previously worked at Asimov's, Analog, and Tor Books before returning to school to earn his Master's in Library and Information Science. He now works full time as a librarian. When he is not conquering the world of indexing, John edits and publishes the acclaimed genre zine Electric Velocipede, through which he has published authors such as: Jeffrey Ford, Catherynne M. Valente, Hal Duncan, Liz Williams, Jeff VanderMeer, and many others. John and his family recently escaped the hustle and bustle of the East Coast by moving to the Midwest.