Over the past few years, I have published a number of stories in literary journals. I didn’t intend to write around a central theme, but I realized that many focused on the vagaries of women’s lives. They seemed to belong together in a collection, organized according to a chronology of the protagonists, as the characters varied in age from very young to very old. Taking seven of my previously published stories and adding seven new ones, I decided to seek publication.
Typically, agents don’t sign early fiction writers unless they have a novel to sell. Authors with short stories look for small presses, which thrive on finding new talent. As Frank Kearns, editor at Los Nietos Press, said: “I am constantly in awe of the stories people have to tell… There is so much power in [them]; each helps us understand ourselves and where we live. I love the magic that happens every time a book is born, and these stories can be shared in such tangible ways.
In March 2020 – the same week the state of California ordered a pandemic lockdown – I interviewed Los Nietos. According to Kearns, “Our press is particularly interested in the people and place that unfold east and south of Los Angeles, away from the glitz and glamor of the coast, in the vibrant work communities of East LA. in Long Beach, and more to the historic towns of the Empire of the Interior. Since the stories in my collection are all focused on Southern California, I thought this was a good fit.
Soon we started the process of editing the book. We struggled to choose a title, ultimately choosing “Acts of Contrition,” a nod to the thematic links between the stories. The cover of the book, too, has changed. Beginning with a snake-wrapped nine-sword tarot card, it ended with an image of the Sacred Heart by Claremont artist Aleta Jacobson. Three wonderful writers – Susan Straight, Cati Porter, and John Brantingham – wrote back cover texts while the edits were finalized. Things move quickly. The collection could have been ready for the 2020 Christmas gift season. And yet, we thought we might wait for the pandemic.
March 15, 2021 seemed like a good release target. As the date approached, it became clear that the state was not yet ready for large gatherings. Most people still did not have access to vaccines. We would launch without celebration. There was a bit of sadness for me, the absence of a cake with a frozen image of the book cover in its center.
While expectations changed during the pandemic, the availability of the now ubiquitous Zoom brought us together. In June, hosted by the Inlandia Institute and the Riverside Public Library, author Marg Charlier and I discussed our books, both focusing on rebellious women. For this Inlandia at Home gathering, I read the story “The Bitten Woman” and answered questions from participants online. It looked a lot like the launch I had hoped for.
Finally, on June 26, myself and other authors of the 2020 releases received as a gift an In-Person Gathering, Multi-Author Book Launch at the California Imagism Gallery in Ontario, hosted by owners John and Ann Brantingham. I was scared to go, even though COVID-19 was not my problem. Instead, I felt the old self-doubt: would someone come and hear me read, get their previously purchased book signed? Should I bring books to sell or risk being humiliated if no one buys them?
Fortunately, I gathered the courage to attend, bringing a few dishes for the authors’ potluck. Once I arrived, I felt at home. I have met many members of the local writing community. And, yes, friends have come over to hear me read. People brought their books for signatures; others were buying books while we chatted. The pandemic period has been difficult for me. Although no close friends or relatives have been swept away by COVID, four close family members have died from other causes, including my two parents.
Now, for the first time in over a year, I found myself in a large group of people with similar goals, which took me out of my grief and got me into my aspirations.
As I was seated at my table with copies of my books, a man approached me with his outstretched hand. He sounded familiar to me, but I had never met him. “I’m Frank Kearns,” he said before introducing his wife, Carol. It’s strange. In this crazy time, I hadn’t met the people who worked to help me get my stories to their audiences. How glorious that I could have done it now.
Victoria Waddle’s collection of short fiction films, “Acts of Contrition”, is available online at Librairie.org, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and publisher, Los Nietos Press. She is the editor-in-chief of Inlandia’s online literary journal.