Jennifer Haupt is the editor/curator of Alone Together: Stories of Love, Grief, and Comfort in the Time of COVID-19. Haupt's essays and articles have been published in O, The Oprah Magazine, Parenting, The Rumpus, Spirituality & Health, The Sun and many other publications. She also curates the popular Psychology Today blog, "One True Thing," a collection of essays and interviews for authors and readers.
Her debut novel, In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills was awarded the Foreword Reviews Bronze Indie Award for Historical Fiction. Haupt lives in Seattle, and teaches at Hugo House and elsewhere.
In this post, Haupt shares how she took a situation that was negatively impacting her own book and turned it into an anthology, how that anthology lifted her spirits, and more!
Writing strong first pages requires a great hook, a strong voice, and a clear premise. The first sentence should immediately catch the reader’s attention, while the subsequent text should leave the reader wanting to dive further into the pages of the manuscript. But making the first pages of your story absolutely un-putdownable takes practice, patience, revision, and an eye for detail. Which is why we’re here: to discuss what to do (and not to do) to make your opening pages stand out.
Name: Jennifer Haupt
Title: Alone Together: Stories of Love, Grief, and Comfort in the Time of COVID-19
Publisher: Central Avenue Publishing
Release date: September 1, 2020
Previous titles: In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills
Elevator pitch for the book: In response to the pandemic, Jennifer Haupt rallied 90 authors to contribute their work to an inquiry into our times. This diverse collection of essays, poems, and interviews is a lifeline for negotiating how to connect and thrive during times of isolation and instability, as well as a historical perspective that will remain relevant for years to come.
What prompted you to write this book?
A month after lock-down, the economy was tanking, book deals (including mine) were canceled or put on-hold, and booksellers were closing their doors. I wanted to give back to my community: writers, readers, and booksellers. An anthology to raise money for the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (Binc) was a natural.
Within two weeks of posting a call for submissions on Facebook, 90 authors stepped up to contribute essays, poems, and a handful of interviews about their fears, hopes, and comforts during the pandemic. Every author donated their work, my publisher and the book distributor donated their services, and the trade publications donated ads to spread the word. The support has been incredible!
How long did it take to go from idea to publication?
I put out the submission call in mid-April and by mid-June the book went to the printer!
And did the idea change during the process?
I'm a journalist and a novelist, so my vision was to create not just an anthology, but an inquiry into our times that had a shape to it—an arc, as a novel would. I had no idea what that arc was, I just knew about a dozen authors I wanted to tap into.
Lidia Yuknavitch, who contributed an incredible essay about her love of aloneness. Ada Limón wrote a poem "Not the Saddest Thing in the World," that is heart-wrenching. I interviewed Luis Alberto Urrea about tribalism and connection, Dani Shapiro about self-care, Kwame Alexander about the role of books and reading in shaping identity, David Sheff about grief.
The creative work coming in from authors over six weeks really chronicled the changes the country was going through, and shaped my Lovely Monster, as I came to call this Thing I was creating. After the murder of George Floyd, the pandemic seemed to be an ember that lit a fire under many of us to take action. The essays and poems coming in reflected the changes we were going through as a country and individuals.
Pam Houston wrote about helping to save the life of a premie lamb and the importance of stamina when it comes to compassion. Devi S. Laskar's haunting essay, "State of the Art, State of the Union," speaks to her fractured identity as a brown woman, an American, and an artist. Major Jackson's poem, "Eleutheria" is the perfect ending of both grief and hope.
It wasn't until I had all of the pieces of the book that the sections formed: What Now? Love, Grief, Connections, and Don't Stop!. Michelle Wildgen, content editor for the book, suggested starting with a question and ending with a directive—which was brilliant! There really is a story arc to the pieces.
Were there any surprises in the process of putting together this anthology?
There were so many learning moments! I had never put together an anthology and working with 90 authors isn't something I recommend. There are 69 pieces in the print book and another 22 in the e-book version. It wasn't that I accepted everything that came in, but there was so much great work that I had a hard time saying "no."
I was happily surprised by how many authors I read and admire—as writers and humans—agreed to donate their work to raise money for booksellers. The hardest thing for me was figuring out where each poem and essay belonged in the story arc. I had a huge bulletin board with different colors of note cards representing the different sections, and kept moving them around. It wasn't until I received the very last submission, Amber Flame's poem, "What to Bring to a Die-in" that everything clicked into place.
What do you hope readers will get out of your book?
I hope readers will get comfort and hope, and also a sense of empowerment. There's so much we don't have control over now, and yet there's also a lot we can control. We can keep writing, for one.
If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?
Keep writing. Don't let anyone take away your power.