Patricia Walkow is an award-winning author whose editing skills (as well as fiction and nonfiction contributions) have shaped dozens of anthologies including Corrales Writing Group’s Kale is a Four Letter Word (2020). Pat’s most recent editing project is New Mexico Remembers 9/11 (Artemesia Publishing, October 2020), an anthology of memoir and poetry from two dozen contributors living in The Land of Enchantment. You’ll find Pat on Facebook and her Amazon author page.
What would you like readers to know about New Mexico Remembers 9/11?
September 11, 2001 is seared into America’s collective memory. Although New Mexico is two thousand miles from the sites of destruction in Manhattan, the Pentagon near Washington D.C., and a verdant field in rural western Pennsylvania, on that day, our “home” was attacked, regardless of how many miles away from New Mexico those attacks occurred. As curator and editor of New Mexico Remembers 9/11, I wanted to create a body of work that enshrines the connectedness New Mexico has to the rest of the country.
One of the things I learned during the process was the extent to which the contributors—young and older—were affected, and how those wounds are not fully closed. It is my hope their poems and stories helped them make sense of it all. My wish is their evocative poems and prose will help readers who, to this day, still grieve.
What were you looking for in a submission to the anthology?
I was looking for prose and poetry. Happily, I received both. There were two requirements for submitting work: 1) the writer had to be currently living in New Mexico, even if they were not New Mexico residents on 9/11/2001, and 2) the submitter had to be a writer. That is why I opened up submissions to some local writers’ groups.
A few of the contributors were children or young adults on 9/11/2001. I wanted to hear their experiences and perspectives, and include them. As with any set of submissions, there is considerable variety in styles and abilities of writers. In the case of this particular anthology, the differences were related more to style than ability. As a result, I didn’t need to reject any of the submissions. However, I standardized some technical aspects, such as the use of dashes, fonts, indenting, etc. I read each story multiple times and provided a critique to the writer, identifying what was working well, what was confusing, or what was a problem. Using that approach, each story became more polished.
Although New Mexico Remembers 9/11 is not a SouthWest Writers publication, I approached this work with the spirit of SWW as a driving factor—writers helping writers—providing a publishing opportunity for those who submitted. Local publisher Artemesia Publishing (from Tijeras, New Mexico) took on the project. If that had not happened, I was fully prepared to release the book through KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing).
Tell us how the book came together.
I had the idea of a 9/11 anthology in my mind for a few years. I had co-authored a story with my husband, Walter, about our own 9/11 experiences. We had been separated by distance and wrote an account of our days from 9/11 until I finally arrived home on 9/14. Certainly, there are thousands of stories about those days. They needed to be written. Originally, I pitched the idea to my own critique group, but that didn’t go very far. So, I figured I’d suggest the idea to SouthWest Writers, opening it up to them, and also to New Mexico Press Women.
The entire book took about eighteen months from initiation to publication set for October 13, 2020. Originally, I thought I’d wait to publish it until 2021 on the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Instead, I opted to publish it in 2020 and give myself through 2021 to market the book. Each submission was originally written by the author, reviewed and critiqued by me, revised by the author, then reviewed and critiqued again by me. A few required a longer cycle. The publisher had someone do the cover design, but I did legwork ahead of time. The flowing New Mexico flag is something I found and wanted on the front cover. The cover design process was easy and quick, since the publisher and I were pretty much on the same page about it.
Why were you the perfect editor for this project?
I can’t admit to being the perfect editor for this project. However, I’ve edited several anthologies, and most of them have won awards for editing. I used a couple of beta readers to help with the 9/11 anthology. In addition, publisher Geoff Habiger and I made a good go of it, but we did find some additional errors and had to make more changes. Editing is an iterative process, and over the years I’ve learned that what an editor sees on the screen is often seen differently in print. I always print a manuscript to edit it, mark it up, and only then make changes on the electronic copy of the manuscript. It uses a lot of ink, but so does printing a book with lots of errors in it. Often, I use Word’s voice feature to read the text aloud. That can catch errors the eye no longer sees.
What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
There are twenty-five contributors to the anthology. That is a larger set of writers to work with than I am used to, and the review process was quite intense for a while. One of the challenges I had was writers wanting to keep certain punctuation or phrasing I thought was more confusing than illuminating, and some of them just not right. For example, some used dashes inappropriately, or left double or triple blank lines as breaks…in general, a lack of consistency. But as editor, I considered it my job to create the consistency. Any anthology I curate and edit will have a polished, consistent look. Reading the stories, I noted discrepancies between “facts” about the events and documented facts. Each fact in a story was verified, and these verified facts were used, instead. Had a writer not agreed to this consistent look or had been adamant about using an incorrect “fact,” it would have been a deal breaker for including that piece in the anthology. Fortunately, that did not happen.
Do you have favorite quotes from the book that you’d like to share?
There are so many. Here are a few:
The ability of the human spirit to surmount the tragedy of 9/11 is not forgotten in New Mexico. ~ Elaine Carson Montague
We need to know we are something together which we are not and cannot be apart. ~ Ryan P. Freeman
…spirits dropping from the sky – no way to unremember… ~ Sylvia Ramos Cruz
before the trajectory of history
took an unexpected turn.
~ Janet Ruth
What was the best part of putting this project together?
I got to know some writers in a deeper way than I had beforehand. The fact they entrusted me with some of their deepest feelings and beliefs is very humbling. It has been my honor to work with them.
What did you learn in editing/publishing New Mexico Remembers 9/11 that you can apply to future projects?
Know what you want the final product to look like and stick to that vision.
Do you prefer the creating, editing or researching aspect of a writing project?
Researching is fun. Writing is fun, but researching still continues as you write. Editing is not “fun” but it is part of the process. I prefer the writing part.
How has your experience writing nonfiction benefited your other writing?
Facts are important whether you are writing nonfiction or fiction. To make fiction “real,” I think you have to use real facts in stories, whether you’re talking about a sailboat, or a murder investigation. Some fiction I write requires a good amount of research. If you’re writing complete fantasy and create your own world…well, more power to you.
What advice do you have for beginning or discouraged writers?
Understand why you write. To express yourself? To heal wounds? To make money? To tell a great story? I don’t write for money (which is a good thing, I’ve come to realize). Most importantly: WRITE. Be brave enough to have people read what you write. What you think you are saying may not be the way it reads. Join or start a critique group. It’s a huge help.
What writing projects are you working on now?
Fellow SouthWest Writers member Chris Allen and I are working on a murder/mystery novel with a bit of romance. It is set in hills and mountains of southeastern New Mexico, Lincoln County. We are on our second draft and haven’t killed each other. Yet. (We work quite well together, actually). The book has a working title of Lake Fortuna.
I am also considering curating another anthology for publication in late 2022. There are several topics in mind, and if I do pursue this project, I will open submissions to members of SouthWest Writers and other writing groups.
Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
The first word in my 1st grade reader was “LOOK.” I am still looking with my eyes, with my heart, with my mind. It is an endless source of writing inspiration.
KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.