From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Interview: Patrice Caldwell

Patrice Caldwell is a graduate of Wellesley College and the founder of People of Color in Publishing—a grassroots organization dedicated to supporting, empowering, and uplifting racially and ethnically marginalized members of the book publishing industry. Born and raised in Texas, Patrice was a children’s book editor before becoming a literary agent. She’s been named to Forbes’s “30 Under 30” media list, a Publishers Weekly Star Watch honoree, and featured on Bustle’s inaugural “Lit List” as one of ten women changing the book world. Patrice is the editor of two anthologies published by Viking Children’s Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House, A Phoenix First Must Burn: Sixteen Stories of Black Girl Magic, Resistance, and Hope and Eternally Yours: Fifteen Stories of Paranormal Love. Her debut novel, Where Shadows Reign—the first in a YA fantasy duology—will be published by Wednesday Books, an imprint of Macmillan.

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How did you first get into reading speculative fiction, and what were some of the works you read back then that stand out as important to you?

I started reading as a young girl. Some of my earliest memories are of me in a purple bean-bag chair in the corner of my room, just reading for hours. My parents would joke that nothing could get my attention when I was reading a book. And they were the reason I became a reader and fell in love with speculative fiction. They introduced me to hugely influential media like Alien and Blade and Star Trek and Star Wars and The Twilight Zone—I fell in love and started to consume all things SFF, which led me to discovering what was out there in books. The first fantasy series I remember reading and loving was The Lord of the Rings—I was immediately obsessed (love the films, too; I can pretty much quote them . . . haven’t yet watched the new series, too nervous to do so, but I’m sure I will soon). I read Octavia Butler’s work from a young age, too, and to see myself represented in the pages of her worlds was everything. And then, there was Anne Rice. Her books changed my life. I developed a deep love for vampires (and witches), and if a show or book or film had them in it, I inhaled it. I love how she combines romance and horror and suspense and soaks her work in these wonderfully crafted gothic and sometimes erotic worlds. She has inspired me to write so much of what I write now.

What, for you, is important about fantasy and science fiction? What does genre fiction do that is different from other types of literature?

For me, it’s all about the escape. I love getting to explore new worlds, to fall in love with characters who become real to me, and be moved by the words on the page. Genre fiction got me through the height of the pandemic, and it’s also gotten me through so many times when I felt unmoored. Just being able to dive into a world, to for a moment be somewhere else, it’s the best gift. I talk about this in my introduction to Eternally Yours, but I felt so out of place growing up. I knew I was queer from a very young age, and I grew up in an environment where that wasn’t accepted, so I tried to hide it for years. I felt monstrous, like I had this terrible secret. And, in the pages of the books I loved so much, being a monster wasn’t necessarily a bad thing—being a monster didn’t always mean you couldn’t find acceptance and love.

Back in 2020, you published groundbreaking anthology A Phoenix First Must Burn, “Sixteen stories of Black girl magic, resistance, and hope.” Now you have Eternally Yours, an anthology of stories which “imagine worlds where the only thing more powerful than the supernatural, is love.” What was the journey to conceiving and publishing Phoenix like? What were the important moments or factors, and was the journey for Eternally similar or different in significant ways?

Following up A Phoenix First Must Burn was definitely hard. When I was asked by my publisher if I wanted to do another anthology, at first, I didn’t know what could follow it up. It hadn’t even published when we began having this conversation, and it had already received amazing reviews, it meant so much to me personally, and I worked with a stellar list of authors who I think would be hard to get together now, due to their own publishing and schedules. At first I thought I wanted to do a companion to Phoenix, like a volume two, with the next generation of YA Black speculative authors, but this was 2019 and there wasn’t the robust catalog of Black YA SFF authors then as there is now, so I ended up pitching Eternally Yours. I wasn’t even sure my publisher would go for it because I also work in the industry, and when paranormal romance comes up, people typically say “it’s dead,” i.e., the time for that has passed and it’s very hard to break new authors into the genre. But my argument has always been that it was declared dead before marginalized authors really got a chance to write their own stories. So I told my publisher that I could get together a contributor list just as strong as Phoenix. They said yes, and then . . . haha, I had to deliver on my promise.

The hardest thing about working on Eternally Yours was honestly the pandemic. 2020 was a rough year for me, as it was for so many, and I honestly didn’t have the motivation to work on it. I’m very grateful that my publisher allowed me the time to get into a better headspace about it because, whew, when the stories started coming in . . . they were epic.

I would guess that the stories in Eternally Yours were solicited. What was your process behind deciding which authors to invite?

The same as it was for Phoenix: I approached it as a fangirl first and foremost. I asked myself, whose books do I love that I felt had paranormal elements in their works or maybe people who had never written paranormal, but 1. I loved their books and 2. I knew were fans of the genre? For example, Alexis Henderson had this tweet about how she wanted to “bring back paranormal romance angels,” but not some hot dude with wings but of the cosmic horror variety . . . I reached out to her and was like, please write this story for my anthology, and she said yes. The story is so good!! Her own work is gothically drenched and the vibes are immaculate; it reminds me so much of my love for Anne Rice (if you have not read The Year of the Witching, please do . . . I cannot wait for her next book, House of Hunger. That’s out soon).

The contributor list came together very smoothly. We had a couple people bow out, which is pretty normal for anthologies (even without a pandemic, they take a while to come together and people’s schedules change), but it worked out great because I then had the opportunity to ask Chloe Gong and Kalynn Bayron, two authors who hadn’t yet debuted when I sold this anthology, but I’m a big fan of their work and their stories are just as amazing as I thought they’d be.

Were there pieces you had hoped to include in Eternally Yours, that just couldn’t be included for one reason or another?

The only piece missing that was promised from the beginning was my own. I wrote a short story in Phoenix about this girl who meets a vampire at her local library. I fell in love with the characters I created, and I thought about doing something in the same world, but I basically came up with an entire book idea instead of a short story (haven’t even tried to sell it; maybe one day!) and by then I had signed a contract for my own novel, so I decided instead to focus on just editing these stories instead of also writing my own. It was so much fun; with Phoenix every time I edited a story, I was even more stressed about mine (which I didn’t write until the very end) because everyone’s was so good. So, this took the pressure off, and I just got to be in the moment and, along with the editor who acquired the book for Penguin Teen, Dana Leydig, push these stories to be as best as we could.

For folks who loved Phoenix, and are excited about Eternally, what are the notable similarities between the two books, and what are the important differences?

The obvious difference is that Phoenix has Black women and nonbinary contributors—it focuses on the diversity and multitudes within the “Black experience” across SFF, whereas with Eternally Yours I didn’t limit it by race. That was purposefully done, because I wanted to expand who I could work with. I’m a reader first and foremost, and I am a fan of every single author in Eternally Yours—as a former book publishing editor, getting to edit someone’s work is an honor and requires a great deal of trust. I’m so grateful the contributors to these anthologies trusted me with their words. But both anthologies are very queer—there’s a range of sexualities and experiences throughout. The stories approach storytelling in different ways, mashing up genres and playing with format (most notably, in A Phoenix First Must Burn, Charlotte Nicole Davis’s story is in second person . . . in Eternally Yours, Anna-Marie McLemore writes in verse and then Sarah Gailey’s is an interview transcript). And at the core of each book is hope and love. I am a big believer in taking your characters through a journey, and throwing obstacles their way, but my favorite stories end on notes of hope—our world is bleak enough, in my opinion, our fiction doesn’t have to be—and centers the idea that love, in its many varieties, can be life affirming and saving and changing . . . both anthologies represent these beliefs as well.

Both anthologies are published by Penguin Teen imprint Viking Books for Young Readers. Are there challenges specific to putting together anthologies for younger readers?

To go back to my point about hope and love, for me I feel that’s the challenge or, the honor, of writing for teens. I don’t believe in shying away from bleakness, from horrors, from sadness, but I do believe that hope and love—whether it’s a love triangle (I love a good love triangle!), platonic love for a friend or family, love for yourself—should be present. This is my personal philosophy. I’m also a literary agent, and this is what I look for in the works of the people I sign as clients, in the books I write, and in the stories within these anthologies. For both anthologies, I gave the contributors some guidelines and for Phoenix, I asked that the stories, no matter how dark, end in a note of hope, and in Eternally Yours, since it’s (paranormal) romance, I asked for them to end in happily ever after (or happily for now) for their characters. I want teens to be able to read these books and know that no matter what, you’re going to feel good by the end as, again, so much of why I first fell in love with reading was because of getting to escape, feeling like it would all work out for me in the end, just like it did my favorite characters.

Which, for you, are some of the most important pieces in this book, and why?

They’re all important, in different ways. They really are. They all come from a group of incredibly talented and hardworking writers. That’s the beautiful thing about anthologies: you might not love every story, but there’s probably one for you. With Eternally Yours, you can read it from start to finish, or you can start with your favorite author or trope or paranormal creature (the anthology has these stories back-to-back, so if you love vampires, both vampire stories are grouped, if you love angels, those are as well . . . now, it’s a very different type of angel in each story, for example, but that’s what makes it fun).

Do you see this book as standing in conversation with other books, or with the publishing industry? Or is this project more about just having a fun book for readers to enjoy?

I definitely don’t start out thinking about what I’m in conversation with and what am I trying to say, but as I wrote my introduction for Eternally Yours, after all the stories were fully edited, I realized I did have something in mind. I wanted to show the multitudes of paranormal romance. I love the genre, but it is so white and straight. I’d love to see full-blown novels based on the stories the contributors wrote published (I happen to know of a couple in the works). I want paranormal to come back (slowly, it is) but way more diverse. I hope that this book can be one of many, a fun book for readers to enjoy that also allows more people to feel seen.

You are also a fiction writer. You have at least a couple of short stories out (I know of “Letting the Right One In” in Phoenix and “Elsinore” in Dahlia Adler’s anthology That Way Madness Lies) as well as book one of your forthcoming YA duology, Where Shadows Reign. Has editing anthologies influenced or informed your fiction writing in any way?

Editing (and writing) short stories taught me so many things—knowing how to plot and build a world and craft characters in a short space is a skill that has served me well as I’ve been revising my novel. But most of all, editing these anthologies has given me back my love for writing. I had so much fun working on these anthologies and with their contributors. Both of my anthologies are the very things I wanted to find on the shelves of the public libraries I frequented as a teen. I always say that writing is a craft, whereas publishing is a business, and sometimes in the midst of all the ups and downs that are this business, I forget why I started writing to begin with. Copies of my anthologies are on a shelf right next to my desk, and they remind me, every time I sit down to write, that first I’m doing this for me, that my younger self would be so proud, and to have fun.

Do you have any advice for folks who might be inspired to put together an anthology?

I highly recommend reading Dahlia Adler’s “So You Want to Edit a YA Anthology?” It’s a blog post in which she speaks from her experience editing YA anthologies, but it’s very helpful for anyone. Dahlia, along with Elsie Chapman, Dhonielle Clayton, and Ibi Zoboi (all editors of amazing anthologies), was one of the main people who gave me advice when I first got the idea for A Phoenix First Must Burn.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about Eternally YoursA Phoenix First Must Burn, or about any of your other work or projects? What’s next for you?

Yes, please buy my books, rent them from the library, and recommend them! Eternally Yours and A Phoenix First Must Burn are books of my heart, and I’m so excited that Eternally Yours is going to be in the world so very soon (read it and come talk to me online about your favorite stories)! As for what’s next, I’m working on edits for Where Shadows Reign, the first in my YA fantasy duology that’s very gothic and queer. It is set just after the end of a long war between vampires, humans, and the gods that created them both, and it follows three characters: a vampire princess who undertakes a journey to bring her best friend back from the underworld; a young seer who only sees death and, for reasons, accompanies the princess; and a fallen angel who is hellbent on awakening her beloved, their world’s first vampire and the most bloodthirsty one who lived, who is entombed in this underworld. It’s not up for preorder yet, but you can add it on Goodreads and of course follow me on Instagram and Twitter for updates about all the things!

Arley Sorg

Arley Sorg is a 2021 and a 2022 World Fantasy Award Finalist as well as a 2022 Locus Award Finalist for his work as co-Editor-in-Chief at Fantasy Magazine. Arley is a 2022 recipient of SFWA’s Kate Wilhelm Solstice Award. He is also a finalist for two 2022 Ignyte Awards: for his work as a critic as well as for his creative nonfiction. Arley is a senior editor at Locus Magazine, associate editor at both Lightspeed & Nightmare, and a columnist for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. He takes on multiple roles, including slush reader, movie reviewer, and book reviewer, and conducts interviews for multiple venues, including Clarkesworld Magazine and his own site: arleysorg.com. He has taught classes, run workshops, and been a guest for Clarion West, the Odyssey Writing Workshop, Cascade Writers, Augur Magazine, and more. Arley grew up in England, Hawaii, and Colorado, and studied Asian Religions at Pitzer College. He lives in the SF Bay Area and writes in local coffee shops when he can. Find him on Twitter @arleysorg. Arley is a 2014 Odyssey Writing Workshop graduate.