We’re excited to host a whole week featuring My Baby Rides the Short Bus, a terrific anthology co-edited by Jennifer Silverman, Yantra Bertelli and Sarah Talbot that Maximum Rock and Roll says, “will make you cry with laughter, empathy and solidarity.” We reached out to Jen, who helped us connect with her c0-editors Yantra and Sarah, to talk about how the book came to be. Whether you’re a wannabe writer or a book worm, we thought you’d be interested in learning what goes into crafting a book that has many authors.
Can you tell us how the anthology came about? Whose idea was it and how did she come up with it? How did she find the other editors and invite them along?
We became friends on the on-line community hipmama.com. In 2004 some individuals from that community put together a conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota and we all attended that conference and led a workshop for parents raising children with special needs. From that experience we put together a one-time zine, and from the zine ideas for the book flourished. Though the process was a shared venture, Jen Silverman was the one that said, “Hey, lets do this!” and pushed us along. (Yantra)
The zine was a good experience, but it felt like we had more stories to tell and so many more voices to hear from, and a book was the best way to reach a larger audience. (Jennifer)
How did you find the contributors?
We all were part of a writing community and knew individuals from all over that we could ask to write for the book. We also put out a call for submissions on special needs listservs, hipmama.com, and other writing email lists. We asked the people we knew to spread the word. We were lucky to receive great submissions. (Yantra)
What was the hardest thing about choosing the essays? Can you tell us some about the process?
Having enough essays to select from was our first concern. We called writers that we knew and friends of friends and asked them to write pieces for the anthology. We also approached individuals who already had an on-line presence that one or more of us were familiar with. We put out a call for submissions and extended the deadline a couple of times to widen the pool. In some ways Autism brought us together the first time around and we had to keep this in mind so our anthology didn’t focus on the autism voice too much. We worked with many of our authors to help edit and develop their original drafts to highlight differing experiences. (Yantra)
Can you also talk some about editing together? Were their times where one of you was championing a specific essay?
Initially we read all the contributions and decided together which ones we wanted to accept, which ones we would ask for rewrites from, and we collectively identified the essays thatdid not work for us. After this process we divided up the groups and we each took a section of the essays to work with the authors on editing. We decided on the final groups of essays to present to the publisher. Then we divided the essays up again into chapters and we each took chapters, wrote the introductions of those chapters, and worked on the final edits with our authors. We did have a couple of essays that we discussed a lot and some we decided to let go of, some we asked the authors if they were up to submitting something totally different, and others we ended up keeping in the anthology. In the end we were all happy with the final collection. (Yantra and Sarah)
We worked on the project, from initial query to finished product for almost three years, though the bulk of the work was in the last year and a half. All of our shared editing work took place over email or phone calls with plenty of background noise between the three of us. The book was truly collaborative and we each developed relationships with the authors we were working with directly, which was a bonus. (Jennifer)
How did you find your agent and/or a publisher? What were some specific challenges you had in this?
We didn’t have an agent, and were very lucky that we know some great people who were willing to help us along the way. I had queried a publisher I knew through some activist work I had done about the book, and while he didn’t publish us he helped with the process of putting a substantial book proposal together. The proposal went to a handful of places, maybe three, and although they rejected it, the feedback we got was very encouraging. After a few months it sitting on the shelf, a friend of mine mentioned the book proposal to a bookstore owner we knew, who passed it on to PM Press, which was just starting up and acquiring titles. They offered to publish it, and we happily accepted. Now I know how fortunate we really were to have had such an easy time finding a publisher, but I think that also speaks to the void in parenting literature that we were trying to fill. (Jennifer)
What has the response been like? Have you experienced any criticism for having an irreverent point of view?
The book has been well received. We have not heard much criticism. I don’t think we realized just how much parents and professionals working with individuals with special needs had been waiting for a book like ours until we interacted with the audiences. There is a lot of what-you-should-be-doing or what-you-should-have-done literature out there. Caring for all children takes a good deal of work, but it also seems to foster irreverence. Seeing disability through humor humanizes the experiences of disabled people and their caregivers. The parents we’ve come into contact with seem to appreciate that the books addresses a whole complex picture. It aims for humor and does not gloss over grief. (Yantra and Sarah)
Speaking of irreverence, can you talk about the taboos around writing about and talking about your experiences parenting a child with disabilities?
Many of our contributors struggled with telling their children’s stories. We’ve asked if this is our place. Are we some how taking away our kid’s own unique voices? And some of us are raising children who struggle with communication, who will probably never relay their stories to us, their parents, let alone to individuals outside our worlds. However, when it really comes down to it, we are not telling our children’s stories, we are telling our own. We can only really explore how our children’s realities influence us. (Yantra)
We talk in the foreword about being put on pedestals, and how there was a need to break down that stereotype of special needs parenting. It’s incredibly hard work to raise a kid with disabilities, and a lot of the time it feels like people want to simply see us as saints or talk about how strong we are without acknowledging that we’re human, fallible, and often at loose ends. I think that the unique voices of the contributors in the book contribute to breaking the notion that we’re destined for sainthood. (Jennifer)
What’s in the works for you all now?
We’re beginning to consider a follow-up anthology. We’re interested in the unique challenges of taking care of older and adult children with disabilities, and of the perspectives of parents whose children have died. My Baby Rides the Short Bus had a lot more essays about parenting small children than it did older ones, and as medicine changes, many more children with disabilities are living longer, fuller lives. We’re interested in what that means for their parents. We’re also interested in what it means to be the parent of a child who is no longer living – especially when caring for that child was complicated and involved due to their disability. (Sarah)
I contributed an essay to an anthology called Moms Gone Mad (Demeter Press, 2011) about the disproportionate burden of caregiving placed on mothers of kids with disabilities. Like Sarah said, we’re thinking about whether we can pull this off again with another book—people have been asking about a sequel. (Jennifer)
Thanks to HortenseJones on flickr for the shot we used on the front page for this article!
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