Evolution of an idea

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Give me a writer who knows exactly where they’re going and I’ll give you – and them – a round of applause. Any writer I’ve ever met, be they published or yet-to-be-published, may have an inkling, or even an ambition, but that’s about it.

In a sense, that’s part of the joy of writing. You never know quite where it will lead, either on the page or off it.

So if you’re sitting comfortably, I’d like to tell you the story of a story. Two stories, actually.

Once upon a time, David French and I created As Above So Below magazine – a satirical take on all things ‘alternative’, along with anything else that took our fancy. In Issue 13, I wrote a piece, The Daily Grind, about an imagined encounter with a new age luminary in a San Diego coffee house. It included new choices for a modern generation:

Crappuccino – with a laxative for colonic health.
Mocha Shocker – with a battery in it to jumpstart your day.
Americano – with oil dashes.
Bratte – with a mild sedative for children.
Depresso – with serontonin for that extra lift.

As you might have guessed, I’m not a coffee drinker. At all.
Wind forward some considerable time and a jaunt through Craigslist brought me to a competition to get a story / piece of writing in a coffee themed anthology. Naturally, having read the rules, I thought of modifying Daily Grind. And spookily, the indie publisher was based in San Diego. Fate, huh? Ish.
Good news: they liked the piece and said it was funny. Fortunately, the editor-in-chief had spent time in the UK and enjoyed British humour. 

Complicated news: the prizes were vouchers for coffee houses and they planned to sell the anthologies there. Consequently, my anti-coffee piece wasn’t quite the ticket, but if I wanted to write something else they would consider it favourably. 
I took a different tack next time and wrote a short story with a serious motif, Diner, about domestic abuse. They accepted the story for print.
Wind forward a couple of months or so and I’m on the anthology editorial team, as well as helping out with administration and posting on the site. Pretty soon I am officially the go-to guy* for new projects in indie publishing house A Word with You Press.
Four of us edit the book in chunks. The paperback comes out and is well received by those who bought it. However, it did not sell well, partly because the price point was too high (the editor-in-chief wanted to include every writer who submitted something, to give them a start in print) and partly because our distribution chain wasn’t up to the job. We were learning on the fly, and my, how we learned – often at the e-i-c’s expense.
Wind forward a little more time and AWwYP has several books on the go, and one or two in the pipeline. Coffee Shop Chronicles Vol 1 will hopefully become a collector’s item, as there are plans afoot to bring out a smaller version instead, containing just 50 entries (we like to think of it as the espresso version). It will give us the price point we need to make the book cost-effective.
My point though (because you’ve probably been wondering by now) is that the first stepping stone to CSC Vol 1, and my association with AWwYP, was writing a piece for a magazine that hardly anybody read. So few, in fact, that AASB magazine hasn’t had an issue out for over two years. If there is a moral here, it’s that a good idea is never wasted – not unless we forget it or refuse to act on it.
I’m proud of CSC Vol 1 for many reasons: the cover, my story being in it, the way that four editors worked so well in our respective cities, the fact that 100 writers were given a little floor space by Thorn Sully, and that it’s a real, live paperback. And a little bit shiny.
AWwYP recently vacated its premises, and the e-i-c is going on a book tour and considering what the future of AWwYP will look like. It’s an uncertain adventure (but all the best ones are) and I look forward to the next chapter. 
Get it while it’s hot.

* Project Development Director – all writers love a good title!


  1. Chloe says:

    I am intrigued how finding an editor who liked British humour led to you writing a story about domestic abuse. I wouldn't have thought that was a particularly funny subject…

    Goes to show you should always return to old work if you believe in it! Sounds like quite an adventure.

  2. Deb says:

    Great post, Derek. See, you never know quite where this game will take you. What's equally important here, I think, is the fact that having been on the editorial side of the fence, you have a better appreciation of why commissioning editors have to turn down projects, which helps enormously as a writer.

  3. Derek says:

    Hi, Chloe. I ought to have clarified. By taking a different tack, I meant not writing a comedic story in Diner. I've updated the post.

  4. Derek says:

    Yes, editing your own work can be grim, but editing other people's – or editing to see whether their work goes forward to some sort of publication – can be a difficult seat to fill.

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