Laurel Zuckerman is the editor of Best Paris Stories, a new anthology of short stories about our fair city. She is the author of Sorbonne Confidential and Les Rêves Barbares du Professeur Collie. Her essays and interviews have appeared in Le Point, Le Monde, Le Monde de l’Education, The Guardian, The Times, Hommes et Commerces, and Cahiers Pédagogiques as well as on France 24, TF1, RFI, and the BBC. A former logistics IT specialist, she is marshalling new publishing and social media technologies to bring Best Paris Stories to readers worldwide.
Where did the idea for Best Paris Stories come from ?
The challenge of writing about Paris is to keep it fresh. Writers have been writing about this remarkable city and its people for centuries. What’s changed? What’s eternal? What’s the reality below the surface? How to go beyond the beautiful tourist destination many of us know as expats? That was the starting point for Best Paris Stories.
What are the stories about?
All kinds of things!
There is a story about two African immigrants who try to survive by reselling medicines prescribed by French doctors (“Our Pharmacy” by Nafkote Tamirat) and a story about a young British woman who’s attracting so many French men that she begins to wonder what her eyes are up to (“The Way You Looked At Me” by Jane M Handel).
There are funny stories and moving stories. “That Summer With My Dad in Paris” by Jeannine Alter explores a daughter’s journey back towards her father after loss, while in “The Baker of Vaugirard”, Jim Archibald follows a life lived quietly over decades in one small Parisian neighborhood. In “May”, Marie Houzelle plunges us into French academia, while “A Pinch of Tarragon” by Lisa Burkitt takes us back to a time where food meant life. Immigrant Paris offers the setting for Mary Byrne’s “Frank Stands His Ground In Belleville” and “Brazzaville-Belleville Express” by Jo Nguyen.
There is a story about a French woman who is so tired of the demands of the sexual revolution that she joins a club for “heterosexual married women” (“Hortense on Tuesday Night” by Marie Houzelle), and a story about a world-weary man who finally gets a chance to buy a painting from a shop that’s always closed (“My Sunday With God” by Bob Levy).
The Editorial Prize-winning story, a lovely piece by Julia Mary Lichtblau entitled “Désolée, Monsieur”, tells what happens when a man tries to reclaim his family apartment some seven decades after the Vel d’Hiv round-up.
The stories, like the inhabitants of Paris, are extremely diverse and appeal to different sensibilities. I think each reader will find something that speaks to him or her in this collection.
Who are the authors?
They, too, are very different. You can see their biographies here. (http://parisstoriescontest.blogspot.fr/2012/04/best-paris-stories-authors-biographies.html) There is a wide range of ages, origins, professions and nationalities. Some are experienced writers, with multiple books and prestigious awards, while others are just starting out. It’s an exciting mix. Submissions were coded to be anonymous so ED members and Judges saw only the text—never the author. Most live or have lived here in Paris and will participate in the Library event on May 29th.
The stories in the anthology are the winners of the Paris Short Story Competition. How were they selected?
Judging was something we gave a lot of thought to. It’s really interesting to observe how different readers respond to the same story. Some might love a piece, while others hate it or simply shrug with indifference. If you forget for a moment what you are supposed to like and ask yourself instead what you really enjoy, the result can be surprising—and fun. It’s incredibly personal, a reader’s reaction to a story. Brilliant language, characters who are alive, wit, a distinctive voice, emotional resonance and clever plotting can’t hurt, of course. But they alone cannot explain what make readers connect with a story. So, for us, the challenge was to select stories that met certain generally accepted standards while recognizing – and encouraging – a highly personal response.
In this, we were fortunate to benefit from much generous and highly professional assistance from the Paris writing community. In all twenty-four writers, editors, librarians, bookstore owners and agents agreed to serve, either as Editorial Committee members, responsible for reading the initial submissions and singling out the best ones for inclusion on a short list, or as Judges, who were asked to choose—each one individually and with no external influence—which story they liked best from a small packet of shortlisted stories, and to tell us what they liked about it.
It was extremely rewarding to work with such wonderful ED members and Judges, many of whom are acclaimed authors or literary professionals with nothing to prove to anyone. This freed Best Paris Stories from academism and the influences of literary fashion, and accounts, I think, for its refreshing diversity of voices.
Best Paris Stories also held a contest for the design of the cover.
Yes! We invited graphic designers to submit covers, many of which were quite lovely. The winning graphic artist is the very talented Lydia D’Moch, of California. She designed the paperback and ebook cover for Best Paris Stories as well as the Amazon Kindle singles.
What a Kindle single?
It’s a stand-alone short story published on Kindle. The Atlantic Monthly pioneered the idea. It’s a wonderful way to give readers a chance to discover a talented new author for a nominal fee, and at the same time to showcase the very different kind of stories in the collection.
Four stories have been or will be published as singles: “Our Pharmacy” by Nafkote Tamirat, “The Way You Looked At Me” by Jane M. Handel, “Hortense on Tuesday Nights” by Marie Houzelle, and “Désolée, Monsieur” by Julia Mary Lichtblau. The themes and voices in these stories were so different that we wanted to throw a spotlight on them.
We hope to feature other stories elsewhere, notably in the Tale of Three literary magazine.
With all the changes in publishing and reading, do you think the short story has a future?
Absolutely. The changes in the publishing world are, I think, very favorable to forms like the short story. New technologies free publishing oddities like the novella and short story from the financial and physical constraints that made publishing short texts difficult before. The possibility of publishing short extracts for a very low price—or even giving them away for free—is quite liberating. Now it’s up to us to figure out how to use this.
Best Paris Stories is available in ebook and paperback from Amazon and most online book sites as well as on order in bookstores. You can follow Best Paris Stories on Twitter at @parisshortstory
Laurel Zuckerman is the author of Sorbonne Confidential and the Editor of Paris Writers News. http://www.laurelzuckerman.com/paris-writer-news/