Friday, February 3, 2023

Q&A with Mark Wish and Elizabeth Coffey



Mark Wish and Elizabeth Coffey are the editors of the new collection Coolest American Stories 2023. They also edited the inaugural annual collection, Coolest American Stories 2022. Wish's stories have appeared in a variety of publications, including The Best American Short Stories and Pushcart. Coffey is a design director at Random House. 


Q: This is the second volume of Coolest American Stories—was the process different this time around?


MW: Yes and no. We had a lot more submissions for Coolest 2023 than we’d had for Coolest 2022, and we were also, while responding to and editing those submissions, giving our all to make sure Coolest 2022 reached as many readers as possible, so our days were busier than ever. In fact now that I think about it, we were definitely operating on a lot less sleep.


But we maintained our focus on finding and developing the most interesting stories we could, and it seemed that submitters were more in touch with this goal of ours, and many made it clear they were into this goal as well. So that helped keep us going.


EC: When we started Coolest, Mark and I were operating in a bit of a vacuum—much as we believed in our mission to bring people together with stories that appeal to people from all walks of life, we didn’t *really* know how writers and readers would respond.


As 2022 unfolded, we were gratified to learn that lots of readers and writers—lots more than we’d hoped—were excited about the anthology. We were amazed by the support for Coolest, and this enthusiasm did keep us going all year.


Q: How do this year’s stories fit into the “Coolest” framework?


MW: The stories in Coolest 2023 are as interesting, engaging, and appealing as those in Coolest 2022—or so early reader reviews/ratings on Amazon suggest.


As of this morning (only about two weeks since our official pub date), there are already 22 ratings, all of them five-stars, with readers describing this year’s selections with praise such as “beautifully told and deeply textured,” “uncommonly entertaining and impressively well-written,” “thought-provoking,” “gutsy, funny, sad, exciting, surprising,” “psychologically on the mark,” and “stunning.”


We’re ecstatic that, for two years now, our authors’ storytelling has connected with readers’ hearts so well.


EC: Not to mention we’re already hearing that people are looking forward to 2024! It’s humbling to know that readers are turning to Coolest year after year.


Q: The writer Rebecca Johns said of the book, “Coolest American Stories 2023 will remind you why you fell in love with the short story in the first place: unforgettable characters, memorable plots, and crackling prose. The tension hums on every page.” What do you think of that description?


EC: We love it!


Q: Can you say more about the legacy of Coolest 2022?


MW: It feels a little premature to talk legacy after only two annual volumes, but if reader interest and satisfaction continue to keep us afloat for a good long while, I can see people down the line saying, “Yeah, the editors and authors in that anthology reminded short story writers and publishers to strive to be *interesting* again.”


I mean, it did seem, back in early 2021 when we founded Coolest, that very few readers cared about short stories, that lit mag subscriptions were clearly down (hell, some were even going out of business), and that there were few “buzzy” short stories being discussed publicly—even though there were so many social media outlets that could foster such a buzz.


It seemed almost as if short story writers and editors and publishers were assuming that, simply because a story was published, it was de facto interesting—but, clearly, that assumption was off the mark.


So, yeah, I think, or at least hope, that any legacy Coolest might have someday would be that it reminded writers and gatekeepers: “Hey, don’t take your readers’ time and money for granted—give them something that will wow them and make them feel that reading a short story can be well worthwhile.”


Q: What are you working on now?


EC: Mostly Coolest! Also, we both try to sneak in our own writing. Believe it or not, we both are always working on novels.


Q: Anything else we should know?


MW: Yes. We hope your readers know that Coolest is available not only on Amazon, but also at Barnes and Noble, our indie distributor’s website, and through any independent bookstore. And we’re grateful to all your readers who order Coolest 2023 and help spread the word!


Thank you for buying online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, our indie distributor, or your local bookstore!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Mark Wish.

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