Reading forward through a short-story collection, a reader hopes to be moved uniquely by each piece, but also to arrive at book's end having undergone a singular experience. Writer Chaya Bhuvaneswar's White Dancing Elephants, described by author Jimin Han (A Small Revolution) as a "daring mix of ancient, contemporary, and dystopic stories," provides such a cumulative read.
The author told Spine she wrote most of the stories as stand-alone pieces, only making connections after they were complete. "It was a fun experience to not be really writing toward anything, but to write each story completely on its own," she said.
Several years before Bhuvaneswar's short stories landed with Dzanc Books, publishers reached out to her, wondering if she had anything they might want to publish. She decided she didn't; she wanted more time to write and to work. (Bhuvaneswar is both a full-time writer and a full-time psychiatrist.)
"I found that it meant something to me to not only gain some practice experience as a physician before diving into this new world, but also to take more time with my writing and editing. I can't recommend enough how liberating it is to really give yourself time, versus ever feeling like you're writing to anyone else's expectation of when something 'should' be finished.
"I think the notion of time is so important for writers, maybe for artists generally, because it is critical to how we can assert our independence. The work itself defines its own 'time frame.' I think all the stories in the collection are better for having simmered."
Round about 2015, Bhuvaneswar decided she was done "slow cooking" and went on a submissions binge, sending her short stories and poems and essays to journals and to contests. Several of her pieces were published, and she won one of those contests, Dzanc's Short Story Collection Prize, an honor that included publication.
Enlisting the help of Dzanc Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Michelle Dotter, she began to gather and to winnow, to rework and to revise, moving for the first time towards a cohesive book. "Only by January 2018, a few months after the prize was announced, did I think a lot about the collection," she said. She pulled stories in, she dropped stories out and, hunkered down at the MacDowell Colony, she even wrote a new story specifically for the collection.
Once she'd solidified the set, Bhuvaneswar worked with Dotter on edits and is now on the tail end of publicity, which began before the book's launch in October. Publishing with an independent press, without a marketing or promotions department, offered her a whirlwind, learning-by-doing lesson in book publicity. "There was a lot we had to do to be creative. I learned so much from that process."
Bhuvaneswar is now looking forward to going through the submission (and hopefully publication!) process with her second book. Readers are encouraged to follow her on Twitter at @chayab77 for updates.
Read Chronicle of a Marriage Foretold, the story Bhuvaneswar wrote for the collection while at the MacDowell Colony, at Literary Hub.
Spine Authors Editor Susanna Baird grew up inhaling paperbacks in Central Massachusetts, and now lives and works in Salem. Her writing has appeared in a variety of publications, including Boston Magazine, BANG!, Failbetter, and Publishers Weekly. She's the founder of the Salem Longform Writers' Group, and serves on the Salem Literary Festival committee. When not wrangling words, she spends time with her family, mostly trying to pry the cat's head out of the dog's mouth, and helps lead The Clothing Connection, a small Salem-based nonprofit dedicated to getting clothes to kids who need them. Online, you can find her at susannabaird.com and on Twitter @SusannaBaird.