A.C. Wise Guest Post: An Interview with Julie C. Day
Hello! I am thrilled and honored that Julie invited me to be a guest host today, interviewing her about her exciting new anthology project, Dreams for a Broken World. This is the first time any of us get to view this amazing cover, and I’m here for it! Andy Kehoe is the illustrator and, wow, does it accurately reflect the contents of the book. This incredible anthology is a follow-up to Weird Dream Society, and 100% of the proceeds from sales benefit Rosenberg Fund for Children (https://www.rfc.org/), which aids children whose parents have been targeted as progressive activists. Even better, the anthology is only one in a planned series from Essential Dreams Press, which Julie founded with the express purpose of raising funds to support a wide variety of worthy organizations. As Julie says, “Each book in our Dreams anthology series brings together some of the strongest voices in contemporary fiction while also providing practical help to the vulnerable and disenfranchised.” I’ve always believed that fiction and art have the power to help make the world a better place, and Julie is doing that quite literally with these anthologies. Please enjoy this mini-interview I conducted with Julie about Dreams for a Broken World and her vision for the anthology series.
How did Dreams for a Broken World and its predecessor Weird Dream Society come about?
Julie C. Day: Friendship, enthusiasm, and drive. And in so many varied ways—community. Back in early 2019, a group of us in the Post-Apocalyptic Writers Society (PAWS) critique group wanted to make a statement regarding the Trump administration’s policy of family separation at the southern border and its attempts to prevent migrants from seeking asylum. The starting point of the first book, Weird Dream Society, was as simple as that. And yet there is also a more complicated story to go along with that basic fact that has to do with the genre community, and family history, and discussions and feelings regarding the term “Weird” fiction.
And like the best sort of organic projects, from a seed of an idea, we grew. Twenty-three authors joined our project; Gregory Norman Bossert created Weird Dream Society’s wonderful cover illustration; and I charged forth as editor in chief and de facto publisher with Steve Toase, Carina Bissett, Chip Houser, and Marianne Kirby providing all sorts of assistance and support. Finally, when we hit a snag regarding the need to be under the umbrella of a nonprofit, Michael J. Deluca at Reckoning Press stepped up to act as our nonprofit publisher.
We’ve continued to blossom from those early days, but at its heart the Dreams series remains a collaborative project that attempts to create something powerful while also attempting to do good.
I learned a lot putting together that first book. It was exciting to see how much we could accomplish. And then 2020 arrived, and the world tilted. When you feel overwhelmed, when you feel hopeless, when you can’t see the end of something, it’s hard to take steps forward and take action. And yet throughout the pandemic the most effective movements toward positive change occurred not at the institutional level but by people in different communities unexpectedly coming together. It was restaurants in my own town partnering with the Pioneer Valley Worker Center to get food out to undocumented families unable to access federal resources. It was neighbors pooling resources in attempt to give their kids some sort of educational and social interaction. It was people setting up websites that tracked infection rates and provided real-world testing information on various types of masks. And everywhere there were the Black Lives Matter protestors, just showing up and demanding change.
Systemic racism, systemic anything doesn’t just go away. It requires people to step beyond cultural and institutional barriers and find each other. It requires people to actually do something. Dreams for a Broken World, the second book in the Dreams anthology series, was both my own personal step forward and a way to collaborate with creative folk. The intention of the book is to provide an inspiration for each of us to take action toward something—may things—better. In an attempt to stay true to the project’s focus—breaking down boundaries and bringing people together—I invited Ellen Meeropol to join as guest editor. Ellen is a fantastic, literary fiction writer. Just as importantly she’s an activist with strong ties to the Rosenberg Fund for Children.
All proceeds for the book—all—go to the Rosenberg Fund for Children (https://www.rfc.org/). The RFC is a nonprofit, public foundation that aids children in the U.S. whose parents are targeted, progressive activists. They also assist youth who themselves have been targeted as a result of their activism. Great art and a great cause: to my mind, that makes for a pretty exciting book and a pretty exciting project.
Dreams for a Broken World includes spectacular originals by Innocent Chizarama Ilo, Benjamin Parzybok, Zig Zag Claybourne, Veronica Schanoes, Charles Payseur, Marie Vibbert, and Robert V.S. Redick; all of the stories are attention-grabbing, and all of the stories are unique. In addition to the originals, there are powerhouse stories by people like Sabrina Vourvoulias, Cynthia Robinson Young, JoeAnn Hart, Ava Homa, Aimee Liu, and Nisi Shawl that you might not have stumbled across before, plus work by Sheree Renée Thomas, Usman T. Malik, Jan Maher, Joy Baglio, and so many more. It’s such great book, a powerful book, and none of it would have been possible without the generosity of the authors involved. Editors and authors all volunteered their work and time. It really was a Venn diagram of communities coming together.
What was your philosophy in putting together the anthology in terms of selecting the stories and how you chose to arrange them?
Julie C. Day: Unlike the first book in the series, Dreams for a Broken World is tied thematically rather than stylistically. I wanted to create a cohesive book that brings together groups that are often separated by social or institutional pressures. Broken World, like Weird Dream Society, was by invitation only. The editorial team—myself and Ellen Meeropol along with our assistant editors Carina Bissett and Celia Jeffries—was determined to bring together a wide range of talented writers: style and voice, you’ll find so many strong and strongly individualistic stories in this book. Ellen and I each invited 12 authors. And then we worked as a team with our assistant editors to select which stories to include. There were some stories that, for a variety of reasons that had nothing to do with quality, didn’t quite fit. There were some authors who gave us a number of stories from which to choose. All the authors were so supportive. For the originals, I worked with the authors on developmental edits, which—honestly—is one of my favorite parts of the process. Two of our stories, by Ava Homa and Andrew Altschul, are actually excerpts from their recently published novels. Ellen worked with them to make sure the selections read as the terrific standalone stories they became.
In terms of the order of the stories, for me—today—it ties to the length, the subject matter, and the emotions those stories engender. I’m sure on another day if you asked me about the story order, I’d also throw in something about style and character. Basically, certain stories play well together; they create a rhythm that strengthens each other while also emphasizing aspects readers might not notice if they read the pieces separately. I’m not sure there’s one ideal order as much as a number of different flows that create a stronger whole. As an editorial collaboration, Ellen and worked together on the order. We agreed, we compromised, and in the end, we came up with something that most definitely does the work—I can feel these stories speaking to each other as well as to the reader, and I know Ellen feels the same way.
Were there any themes that emerged as you were putting together the anthology that surprised you?
Julie C. Day: I shouldn’t have been, but I was surprised by the number of dark stories we received. Dreaming beyond the broken state of our current world can be as much about bearing witness and providing small moments of grace as it is about actual communal overcoming. But in 2021, I was hungry for promises of something better and, somehow, that is the lens I brought to the early days of the project.
You’ve spoken about the power of art and fiction to get us through dark times and to help us imagine a better future. Is there a particular piece, or pieces, of fiction (literature, or otherwise) you turn to when you need an injection of hope?
Julie C. Day: I wish there were ampules of hope! I guess books and stories are as close as you can get. For me rereading a book that I’ve read before, an old friend of a book, gives me some sort of breathing room. Reading what I call “comfort books”—Alexis Hall, CG Charles, yes—they are often romances—helps me, as well. Well done space operas, like those written by Ann Leckie and Arkady Martine, or science fiction, like Martha Wells’s Murderbot series, also carries me somewhere calmer. But short fiction, the joy of following well written words on a page and finding I can hold the totality of the experience long after I’ve finished reading, that actually buoys me up, rather than just settling down the ugly inside.
Do you foresee future installments in this anthology series?
Julie C. Day: Oh, yes! Under the new imprint, Essential Dreams Press (https://essentialdreams.press/), I’m planning Dreams: Beyond the Patriarchy, which thrills me no end. I can’t wait to see what sort of stories come out of that project. I also have a fourth anthology in mind that will focus on displacement, including homelessness.
While I’ve been under the umbrella of Reckoning Press since the first book, in many ways I’ve been acting as both publisher and series editor since the beginning: from setting up printing and online portals, to negotiating contracts and hiring the book designer, to managing expenses and making promotional decisions: it’s been very much a learn-as-you-go project. The creation of the Reckoning Press imprint Essential Dreams Press formalizes my role as publisher and editor in chief; it also provides a framework for future projects.
For the press’s next books, I’d like to pay staff and authors for their work. I’d also like to include some slots in the table of contents for open-call submissions. Once Dreams for a Broken World has found its place, we’ll be launching a Kickstarter and submitting grant proposals in order to make all of this a reality. But for now, my focus is on getting Dreams for a Broken World in the hands of readers. It’s a really terrific book. It deserves its moment in the sun.
A.C. Wise is the author of the novels Hooked and Wendy, Darling, and the recent short fiction collection, The Ghost Sequences. Her work has won the Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of Fantastic, and has been a finalist for the Nebula, Stoker, Locus, Aurora, Sunburst, and Lambda Awards. In addition to her fiction, she also contributes regular reviews to Apex Magazine, which made her a finalist for the Ignyte Awards in the Critics category. Find her online at @ac_wise.