Judith of Binge on Books and Open Ink Press emailed me February of last year and told me about an unusual project she was planning. The aim of the Sight Unseen anthology is to have known authors write stories of a kind that they aren’t known for, in time periods, sub genres, and subject matters that they would like to but haven’t had the opportunity to explore.
Even better, the authors’ names would be on the cover, but their stories would be presented anonymously. And then readers can make a game of guessing who wrote what.
I didn’t need to think long or hard before I said yes. I didn’t have anything I’d been “afraid to write up until this point”, per Judith’s original wording—I’ve always written what I wanted to write. But by joining the anthology, I would gain a deadline.
In a professional writer’s life, projects that come with a hard deadlines attached take precedence over those that do not, i.e., stuff written on spec. I have a bunch of first pages—sometimes first paragraphs—of unfinished stories sitting on the hard drive. All of those bits and pieces are interesting to me. Some of them fascinating, even. But they also tend to be a little off-kilter. Or maybe they are in subgenres that have limited readership—or just subgenres I have no idea how to market. (If anybody knows how to sell the heck out of a pseud0-harem-ish erotic romance with undertones of political intrigue—set in space—tweet me!)
So these projects stay on the backburner for years—decades, even. And a deadline makes all the difference. Because a deadline means someone is waiting for it. It means instead of working on the story when I’m not busy with other things, it becomes the thing I’m busy with.
And a deadline that comes because a publisher wants something unusual? That just about never happens. Normally I have to justify something being different—or I have to be willing to eat it in terms of sales.
So huge kudos to Judith for investing in this project. For wanting to push the boundary of creativity. For being interested in the otherwise invisible facets of our work.
With regard to the anonymity aspect of this anthology, I’m reminded of an anecdote I’d read about Nabokov. He considered publishing Lolita anonymously, as the subject was so controversial, but in the end decided against it, because he didn’t want people to think that he was writing a roman à clef drawn from personal experiences. So he put his own name on it to emphasize that it was one hundred percent fiction!
Obviously we aren’t dealing with that here. I’m sure each and every author of this anthology would be proud to put her name to her story. I know I am. I love my contribution and will be delighted to claim it as mine, when the three-month mystery period is up.
But I am also very curious as to how readers will decide—if they can decide at all—which author penned which story. This is the great thing about such a project. Lots of readers might be encountering an author’s work for the first time. And even for readers familiar with prior works of the participating authors, they must approach these stories on their own merits. Whatever readers associate with an author’s name, whether positive or negative, is left behind with the turning of the first page.
It’s as close to a blind tasting as we can achieve, for works of fiction.
As for me, it’s been a year or two since I last wrote a straight-up romance. My novella is definitely a Romance with a capital R. And the experience was so enjoyable I’m now contemplating a full-length historical more seriously than I have in a long time. I have the characters. I have their first meeting. I have the internal conflict. So as usual, I’m waiting on the plot to click into place.
So really, participating in this anthology has been an all-around win for me. Now here’s hoping it will work for all the readers. Thank you for your curiosity and adventurousness!
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What stories would you tell if you could? Where would your mind take you, if you let it? Five of the top voices in romance dare you to explore the most distant corners of their imaginations as they test the limits of storytelling and break the boundaries of what even they thought possible, teasing and tormenting you shamelessly as they go.
But there’s a twist—the author of each story is a secret at the time of release. They’re each plumbing the depths of the human heart and mind in ways they’ve never attempted before. Taking you high, bringing you low, until you will be hardpressed to guess who wrote what. Can you tell? Want us to?
Too bad our lips are sealed . . . for now.