Book reviews, new books, publishing news, book giveaways, and author interviews

Interview: Steve Rossiter on editing an anthology spanning a hundred years of a characters life

 Interview: Steve Rossiter on editing an anthology spanning a hundred years of a characters life


The Life and Times of Chester Lewis is one of two recently released Australian anthologies edited by Steve Rossiter, the other being Possessing Freedom, about which I chatted to Steve earlier this week.

Like Possessing Freedom, The Life and Times of Chester Lewis comprises a series of interlinked stories—in this instance, all of them relating to some part of the life of titular character Chester Lewis.

The initial concept was that a range of authors would each tell a story set in a different decade of the main character’s 100 year lifespan, beginning with the lead up to the main character’s birth,” says Steve.

The anthology was written sequentially by eleven authors, with each reading the preceding stories before adding their own.

This method meant that authors naturally fit their story into the preceding stories,” he says.

It was a method that worked well, so the contributing authors largely had free reign to take the story where they liked: Steve saw no need to apply a heavy editorial hand during the creative process.

Given that the book spans a characters entire life span over the space of eleven stories, its fair to say that Chester Lewis must lead an adventurous life—and Steve agrees.

The book concept is a little unusual and is a concept which might intrigue readers,” he says of Chesters adventures.

In eleven stories spread across just over 100 years, we learn a lot about Chester and the Lewis family, and a full story is played out for readers. But there is still more for readers to ponder about Chester and the Lewis family.”

Steve admits that there was a challenge involved in taking on a project where half of the stories followed a character in his senior years in life, which is something that many readers might not be used to.

Some of the stories have different narrators who are younger than Chester. It mixes it up so that theres plenty to keep readers of various ages engaged in the story as Chester grows older.”

This is true of Steves own contribution, the final story in the anthology, and which is told not from Chesters viewpoint, but from that of Chesters granddaughter.

The obvious choice might have been to tell the story from Chester’s POV to tie up loose ends and conclude his life with his reflections on the past 100 years and what legacy he might leave after his death.”

Without giving away too much, he says, the final story provides closure in one sense and a new beginning in another sense.

Although the stories are interlinked, they do stand alone, so readers who prefer to dip in and of anthologies can do so without feeling disoriented. That said, Steve notes that when read chronologically, the anthology does offer a cohesive, novel-like experience that should appeal to the majority of readers who prefer to read straight through.

Its curious that a short story anthology might be described as novel-like, but Steve is aware that novels traditionally tend to be more popular with readers than short story collections, and wants to ensure that The Life and Times of Chester Lewis reaches a wide audience.

The anthology provides an integrated novel-length experience. Some may consider the book to be a collaborative novel. I’ve gone with the term integrated short story collection to be upfront about what the book is.”

In this way readers can decide for themselves how much the anthology is like a novel, and how much it’s like a short story collection.

In the interests of reaching out to readers, Steve has worked to ensure that there is both a print and ebook edition of the anthology, with the latter being significantly chapter.

The price difference and instant delivery of the ebook edition may encourage more readers to give the book a go.”

The books boundaries dont end with its pages, however: there are various online extras available to help immerse readers into the world of Chester Lewis. Readers can enter their own story in a specially created fan fiction competition and join an online group to discuss stories with other entrants. They can also follow the book on Facebook to discover things like author interviews, articles and fiction writing tips.

Although Steve doesnt necessarily think that digital distribution will lead to resurgence in the popularity of short fiction, he does think that our increasingly digital, time-poor lives might encourage this to a degree.

The point of the project, however, wasnt to encourage a renaissance of short fiction, but rather to raise awareness about upcoming Australian authors and to provide an opportunity to challenge them to take on larger-scale projects.

It was more about bringing together a range of writers to create a novel-length project and attracting short fiction writers to work on their skills so they are better prepared to take on larger projects in the future,” says Steve.

This sort of thinking is echoed in the aforementioned fan fiction competition, which can be accessed through the anthologys website. Steve hopes that readers who enjoyed the anthology will be encouraged to put together something of their own relating to the life of Chester Lewis.

The competition is designed not only to promote the book, but also to provide an opportunity for writers to gain recognition and new readersand a cash prize to help them develop their fiction writing careers.

Hopefully, those who would write a short story based the book will also be people who have enjoyed reading the book,” says Steve.

Whether people think of it as a fan fiction competition or a short story competition is not an issue for me. I’d just like to uncover some good stories and writers, and get the work of the Chester Lewis contributors out to readers.”

As a reader, editor and writer himself, Steve knows the value of support when it comes to crossing that formidable barrier from reader over to writer. In addition to contributing stories to The Life and Times of Chester Lewis and Possessing Freedom, Steve is presently at work on a novel set in Poland that he hopes to release in 2014.

The story is set in Poland in 1939, around the time Nazi Germany invaded, and tells the story of a fictional teenager set in western Poland in 1939.”

Its a story thats focused on daily life during these times, so Steves research has involved exhaustive reading about the local landscape, family structures, food and resource allocation, the resistance to the German invasion, and the German administration of occupied local areas to name a few.

It is just as important to get the German characters right, and portray them as realistic peoplenot as generic bad guys or simply extensions of their jobsas it is to get the Polish characters right.”

Steve is actively piecing together a sense of place from a variety of sources including maps, photos, academic books, archival footage, novels, and expert on the topic; he is also considering a research trip to Poland.

All these things will come together in how I achieve a sense of place in the novel.”

Steves awareness of people, place, and history and how each help reshape and influence the other has played an important role in both this project and also in The Life and Times of Chester Lewis, and he hopes that readers will enjoy the resulting product.

 Interview: Steve Rossiter on editing an anthology spanning a hundred years of a characters life

The Life and Times of Chester Lewis charts the 100 year lifespan of the title character, Chester Lewis, from the 1930s to the 2030s – from Perth and the Margaret River region of Western Australia, to the Whitsunday Islands in Queensland, to England, and Shanghai.

The book is a collection of 11 short stories, written in sequential order by 11 Australian authors with each author reading the preceding stories.

The journey starts in 1931 Shanghai, China, where the British parents of the unborn Chester have moved to build Chester’s father’s career. When events take an unexpected turn, the future of Chester and the Lewis family is profoundly altered. Chester is born the following year in Perth, Australia, and so begins a century of great deeds and misdeeds, as we follow the life of Chester Lewis.

Visit the Chester Lewis website

Visit Steve’s website

One comment

  1. Interview: Steve Rossiter on editing an anthology spanning a hundred years of a characters life

Comments make us happy! Do say hello!

Follow us on Blog Lovin' Follow on Bloglovin