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Black Static


Ten Writers Question Their Editor

17th Jul, 2009

Author: Peter Tennant

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D. F. Lewis needs no introduction. Having published more than 1500 short stories in a wide variety of publications, in the new millennium Des took on the mantle of publisher, but bringing to that activity his own unique and iconoclastic outlook.

Nemonymous One appeared in 2001, containing a selection of stories without bylines, the names of the authors kept a closely guarded secret until the publication of Nemonymous Two six months later, the intention being that readers should be able to experience the work free from such extraneous material as the authors' identities, with their attendant expectations. Further volumes followed, each one larger and more substantial than its predecessor, with the original concept slightly modified - in future the names of the authors would be made public ab initio, but attached to their particular stories at a later date, a system of 'late labelling' that allowed both the benefits of anonymity to the reader and the advantages of name recognition for the publisher.

The 2008 volume, Nemonymous Eight: Cone Zero, is in contention for the British Fantasy Award for Best Anthology. 

I thought it would be fun and appropriate to attempt something different with Des, and so what follows is an interview with questions posed by some of the contributors to Cone Zero, ten authors interrogating their editor. Each contributor's name is shown, with the title of their story in brackets.

Jeff Holland ('To Let'): What made you choose the format of anonymous authors for the original Nemonymous and the similar formats for the following anthologies up to Cone Zero?

DFL: The specific reason in 2001, I seem to recall, was as an experiment following my long-term interest in authorial intentions and name prejudice, and then to see what turned up.  And, as a separate objective, to create an identifiable 'gimmick' for a new Small Press publication.  Many other reasons have emerged in hindsight over the years, in connection with reviews and the fact that a set of anonymous multi-authored stories actually seem to create an overall blend (gestalt) or to 'connect' more easily ... and simply to read 'differently'. Many authors have given their own reasons in hindsight for wanting to be published anonymously, and indeed to have their stories chosen for publication while the editor does not know who wrote them.

Colleen Anderson ('The Fathomless World'): Do you notice a difference or discernible style, through all these "anthologies", between US, Canadian and British (and other) writers?

DFL: I usually know whether a story is British or North American by the spelling.  I can't say I have consciously differentiated on style ... and at the 'choosing' stage this seems to put too much weight on a story's background in an un-nemonymous way even to think about it. My instinct is to say that there is no differentiation to discover even if one were seeking it.

David M Fitzpatrick ('Cone Zero, Sphere Zero'): Cone Zero contains a wide array of genres and styles -- mainstream, science fiction, fantasy, horror, etc.  Did you consciously strive for a balance in genres and styles when you chose the stories, or did you merely assemble the stories that struck you as your favorites?

DFL: I must say it is probably the 'favorites' aspect you identify.  I think, as sole proprietor of Nemonymous, it should reflect my tastes but over-ridden I hope by a clinical editorial decision-making as to what would make a good blend.  My own tastes, by the way, are a subtle blend of eclectic and catholic but with horror-genre and literary tendencies, which is reflected, I suppose, in the first half of your question.

Kek-W ('Cone Zero page 33'): I was wondering if Nemonymous had a particular mission statement - or perhaps something a bit more flexible-sounding, such as an underlying set of guiding principles and what they might be?

DFL: A mission statement? Let me formulate one right now for the future: "To provide essentially entertaining story-anthologies of visionary and/or philosophical power, while combining serendipitously mutual cohesion with provoking separateness, all of which stand in front of their authors not behind."

Eric Schaller ('Going Back For What Got left Behind'): How did you arrive at the order of stories in the anthology?

DFL: Well, the process seems to be by gut instinct, once I've chosen the stories to be included.  I also believe in synchronised shards of random truth and fiction.  I also like to start and end with a shorter-sized story than some  of the others. In Cone Zero, 'The Fathomless World' at the beginning seems to shape the rest into that 'visionary and/or philosophical power' I mentioned above. And 'To Let' at the end of the book (a story that I previously heard read aloud at a writer's group) seemed a beautifully simple downbeat ending for the then developing 'credit crunch'.  I think all anthologies should end with a touching mundane moment tending towards downbeat.

Stephen Bacon ('Cone Zero page 147'): Your Nemonymous series, as well as your own fiction, is famous for its blurring of the edges of genre. Are there any particular themes or ideas that appeal to you, both as an editor and as a writer?

DFL: Yes, I like the interstitial quality of the stories I choose. Downbeat, but visionary. A definite story of action or mood, but philosophical or absurdist. Dimmer-switch controlled identities. Tabula Rasa.  Serendipity and chaos contrasted. Non-didactic stories are generally better for me than didactic ones. A literary feel, if not necessarily a literary prose style in all cases. But it's impossible to pin down.  I also like to include shockers, i.e. of body and mind horror, as wake-up calls during the 'gestalt' process of any individual Nemonymous edition.

John Grant ('Always More Than You Know'): Outside of hardcore fantasy readers -- and really only British hardcore fantasy readers at that -- and despite regularly receiving rave reviews, the Nemonymous series must be one of the best-kept secrets in modern publishing. Obviously that's because it's a small-press publication. Do you ever feel the temptation to take it to one of the bigger houses, or -- as a kind of halfway stage -- to flog the mass-market-paperback rights?

DFL: Well, I genuinely don't believe anyone would be interested in the Nemonymous idea in that way ... although, having said that, I have been in contact, for mutually beneficial reasons, with a big publisher recently regading their publication ANONthology. But Nemonymous is not something I can keep to myself. Anyone can produce anonymous fiction. I've not patented the name but I don't think anyone would want to use it.  With regard to the first part of your question, my Achilles' heel is distribution and publicity.  But Nemonymous would not be Nemonymous without my weaknesses as well as my strengths.

Dominy Clements ('Angel Zero'): You have edited the Nemonymous series, including Cone Zero, for many years. Regular readers will usually come to recognise a particular genre or style preferred by an editor, but the selections for your books seem to possess an intangibility, a quasi-musical defiance of characterisation and categorisation (beyond vague subjective allusions such as 'fiction' or possibly 'fantasy' or even 'horror') which keeps us readers (and writers) very much on our toes. Is the fascination of never quite knowing what material you will be presented with part of the reason you keep going? Maybe you have never even considered this question, but is this elusive aspect of the end product an important element of your creative contribution, or is it something which you find is an automatic part of the germination process of such volumes?

DFL: The simple answer to the two questions is Yes and Yes.  But what a question! It has my answer already embodied in the whole of what you say, but expressed better than I probably could manage for such a personal thing (i.e. it is all too close to me to fathom and then express properly).  I would only add that music is very important to me and at least part of me, I guess, shapes each Nemonymous like a symphony or sonata (not that I am technically proficient in music). It is also why I keep talking about 'leitmotifs' with regard to fiction collections, i.e. when I've been carrying out real-time reviews of books recently.

Bob Lock ('The Cone Zero Ultimatum'): In a couple of the Nemonymous books you have a story or two by someone who remains unidentified, can you confirm or deny that one such anonymous author is none other than J.K.Rowling?  

DFL: I am obliged by contractual agreement to neither confirm nor deny. 

A.J. Kirby ('How To Kill An Hour'):  Some of the stories in Cone Zero are obviously filmic - and I'm thinking a Dreamworks adaptation of 'The Cone Zero Ultimatum' here or a Kubrick-esque version of 'The Point of Oswald Masters'. With this in mind, would you ever consider a future Nemonymous anthology which contains short films as well as short stories? Perhaps a Nemonymous gallery, with real or imagined installations and films showing all over the place... A Nemonymous world, if you will?

DFL: Your story in Cone Zero would make a good film, too. I'm not an expert on the cinema and rarely watch films these days (except Death in Venice) but your ideas sound wonderful. I'd need help, though.

Many say I need help, full stop.




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