It’s been a weird week—one that started with receiving our The Weird: A Compendium of Strange & Dark Stories and also having my wisdom teeth removed, even as we continued to post a lot of content at our new site Weirdfictionreview.com. Painkillers have left me floaty, drifty, and susceptible to highs and lows, which is only intensified by The Weird itself. This is a project, clocking in at 750,000 words (TOC here), that has consumed our lives for two years. It’s drained us, exhilarated us, left us for dead in pits of despair, energized us, and now it’s real and out in the world. I’ve learned more from compiling this anthology with Ann than any other book we’ve done, and perversely it’s both delayed some of my fiction writing simply because of the work involved and been essential to inspiring other pieces of fiction.
There is also, for the anthologist, and in this particular case especially, the overlay of ghosts as we flip through the pages of The Weird. We remember with intensity every hard-fought struggle for permissions, every obsessed tunneling through mountains of material to find what we sought. The moments of discovery and equally wrenching moments of feeling we were all-in and working on something that was rising claustrophobic around us in the form of stacks and stacks of books from the last century… which we would never see the end of. The frustration of thinking we wouldn’t get a particular story only to keep pushing against a brick wall and have it give way. The endless end-arounds to supposed dead-ends that wound up working out. Those moments of being in contact with people who shared our enthusiasm and passion…and those other moments when we’re fairly sure our ravings as we emerged from our self-imposed exile to interact with the world came off as incoherent babblings.
There’s been nothing to compare with the unnerving, ecstatic, and at times truly horrifying nature of this project—not a book I’ve ever done that came close to the kind of endurance required, and even so, sometimes we’re not entirely sure we came out the other end. Doing a book like this in the amount of time we had, ranging as widely as we did, leaves scars. You wonder sometimes if you’ve been strengthened by it or irrevocably weakened by it. is this the beginning of something or the end? Are we now in a kind of afterlife?
This no doubt sounds like melodrama, and I wish that on some level it were melodrama…but when you’re in the middle of living it day to day this is just the reality of such a large and various project, one rarely attempted in the history of the genre. The secret history of acquiring these stories, of daily imposing one’s will to overcome the inertia of the sheer staggering scope of it all, cannot even be told, of dealing with over one hundred negotiations across two editions of the anthology and print and ebook formats. There is still a question in our minds, and always will be, of whether The Weird was worth the strain it put on our lives and our friendships…but there is too in flipping through the anthology an overwhelmingly strong sense of pride and accomplishment. Together, Ann and I created an anthology that represents everything we love about literature and the book is out in the world. It is being read. It is being appreciated. It will be of use to new generations of writers and readers. It will continue to enrich our lives through everything we learned, all of that knowledge enhancing our future projects.
And when I flip through Gio Clairval’s new translation of Bernanos’ “The Other Side of the Mountain” or re-read her note-perfect translation of Cortazar’s “Axolotl”—akin to experiencing a perfect symphony playing the perfect piece of music—I am transported into a reverie I can’t really describe. Seeing Ben Okri next to James Tiptree Jr. and Elizabeth Hand. Daphne Du Maurier. Leena Krohn. Clive Barker. All of these stories that have meant so much over the years. Just as I remember picking up Alberto Manguel’s Black Ice anthology in one of those magical moments that you know will change your life forever, we hope The Weird will have something of the same effect. Also, too, Weirdfictionreview.com would have been impossible without The Weird anthology, and working on the website has been an absolute joy and pleasure. It promises to be a nexus for our activities for several years to come, a place that coalesces and concentrates our enthusiasms.
In all of this, Ann has been my partner, and I hers. There is no one I would’ve rather survived it with, and if there is one unambiguous aspect of the struggle to make this anthology all it could be, it has been sharing the journey, the joys and the low points, with her. Even to the point that if the opportunity arises to do another massive book, of say international fantasy, I’d do it.