Mark Wish is the editor, with Elizabeth Coffey, of the new anthology Coolest America Stories 2022. His other books, written under the name Mark Wisniewski, include the novel Watch Me Go, and his work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The Antioch Review and TriQuarterly.
Q: How did the two of you come up with the idea for this book?
A: It happened last year, on the morning after the insurrection on January 6. We were taking a walk. It was icy outside and cold, and everyone, or most everyone in our neighborhood, was worried about Covid, and we were worried about all the political hatred in the air on top of that.
And I said to Elizabeth something like, "Wouldn't it be great if we could publish an annual antho of stories that all different kinds of people--from all walks of life, from every political persuasion--could enjoy, making for something they could not hate each other over?" And she said, "Yes."
Q: How would you define "coolest," and how did you choose the stories to include?
A: To us for Coolest American Stories 2022 (which is out now and being loved by most every customer reviewer who's read it so far--Coolest American Stories 2022: Mark Wish, Elizabeth Coffey: 9781737573906: Amazon.com: Books), "cool" meant "interesting, compelling, and appealing to people from all walks of life."
We don't think we're the arbiters of cool, though. We like reading reviews, by reviewers in the media and customer reviewers, because we like hearing what everyone else out there thinks is a cool story and what's not.
That's part of Coolest American Stories's task of bringing out the coolest stories every year--knowing what our wide audience craves currently.
Q: What do you see as the difference between your collection and other anthologies of short stories?
A: One major difference is we don't require the short stories we publish to have been published previously. This means bolder, more candid, more daring stories--many of which are therefore the most interesting short stories written nowadays--can make it into our anthology even though they've been rejected and even snubbed rudely elsewhere.
(And such rejection and snubbing was the case with respect to several of the stories we published in Coolest 2022; in fact, it was the case with several of the stories our readers are now calling their favorites and describing with words such as "perfect.")
We also don't accept grants, donations, or funding of any sort (not from our parents, not from friends, not from any government of corporate entities, not from the parents of young writers who've been known to buy publication for their offspring by "helping" a given publishing venue financially), so we're not beholden to anyone. In other words, we don't need to worry about anyone saying, "How dare you publish a story like that!"
So when we sense strongly, in our hearts and in our guts, that a story will be interesting in the hearts and guts of people from all walks of life, we publish that story and promote it without reserve.
Q: Liz Prato writes in the Washington Independent Review of Books, "The 13 stories in this anthology edited by Mark Wish and Elizabeth Coffey are brimming with characters who don’t quite fit into their own social milieu, leaving you to more or less root for them." What do you think of that description?
A: E and I both think it's a fine one. We hadn't quite thought of that--the notion of misfit characters--as we chose the stories for Coolest 2022; we simply knew, as down-to-earth people, when a story was extraordinarily interesting and said to each other, "This is a COOLEST story," and the story went in.
But that's an excellent point Liz made in that review. She also said, "And that's pretty darn cool: hanging out with folks doing interesting things and wanting to stay with them for days afterward." We considered this high praise, and we're grateful for it.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Reading submissions for Coolest 2023. And already, just this morning, playing around with possible line-edit suggestions for one we imagine many readers will adore. The grind never ends!
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Yes. For any and all writers out there, and by this we mean writers from all walks of life, whether they have MFAs or not, whether they've gone to college or not, whether they've been published before or not (by the way, we do not ask for bios with submitted stories--we decide what are the most extraordinary stories by merely reading the stories and nothing else), we pay $100 per signed story upon publication.
And writers can submit by clicking the Submittable link here: submit - Coolest American Stories.
And for readers who want to read Coolest 2022 but who prefer to order from an indie distributor rather than Amazon: Coolest American Stories 2022 - Itasca Books.
Oh, and one last thing: Thank you!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Mark Wish.