By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
‘Stories That Are Part of the Cultural Conversation’
The Amazon Publishing imprint Amazon Original Stories today (October 30) has released a new series of seven short works, a collection of climate fiction, cli-fi, called Warmer. Original Stories is the second-newest of the “APub” imprints, the most recently added being Topple Books with Jill Soloway.
In an exchange with Publishing Perspectives, Original Stories’ editorial director Julia Sommerfeld says that the socially significant nature of the new work is no accident.
“Our editorial team loves cli-fi novels,” Sommerfeld says, “like Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior and Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy, and [the team] wanted to create another entry point for readers—short cli-fi stories that people can read or listen to in a single sitting.”
Included in the new Warmer collection:
- “The Way the World Ends” by Jess Walter in which a crazy ice storm lays waste to the South
- “Boca Raton” by Lauren Groff surveys relentlessly rising seas that put not only the planet but the imagination under pressure
- “Controller” by Jesse Kellerman examines how a few degrees make all the difference in a mother-son story of terror
- “There’s No Place Like Home” by Edan Lepucki looks at a girl growing up amid global catastrophe and personal chaos in a climate-ravaged future
- “Falls the Shadow” by Skip Horack sees a North Carolina combat veteran on the front lines of an environmental battle
- “At the Bottom of New Lake” by Sonya Larson gives us a on Cape Cod exploring the collectible debris of a once-perfect world she’s too young to remember
- “The Hillside” by Jane Smiley envisions a time when the age of humans is over and a “tender and tragic cautionary fable ensues
Those descriptive lines are from Plympton, a digital publishing company started in 2011 as the collaboration of writer-entrepreneurs Jennifer 8. Lee and Yael Goldstein Love. Sommerfeld says Plympton is a good fit for what she sees Original Stories producing.
‘A Variety of Societal Issues’
“Amazon Original Stories creates powerful, memorable stories that expand readers’ horizons,”Sommerfeld tells us, “whether that’s by helping them to find a new writer they’ll love or trying a different genre than they usually gravitate to, or thinking about important issues from new perspectives.
“Our authors are telling stories that are part of the cultural conversation.”
And that concept already has been borne out in some of the new imprint’s earliest efforts in nonfiction.
“Our nonfiction collections have already been dealing with a variety of societal issues,” Sommerfeld says. “Southside, a collaboration with The Marshall Project, told stories of the fight for justice in Chicago. In The Real Thing collection, writer Samantha Allen shared an unforgettable essay of falling in love while undergoing gender transformation surgery, and in the Missing collection, writer Claudia Rowe shared the story of a boyhood suspended in prison.
“Bloodlands echoed many current themes in its exploration of historical crimes that defined their times.”
In terms of fiction, however, Sommerfeld is leading her team on a promising departure.
“Warmer is our first collection of topical fiction,” she says, “an area where we plan to keep expanding next year with collections of socially-attuned suspense stories, tales of dating after #MeToo, and more.
“But some of our standalone stories are also quit tied to today’s most pressing themes,” she says.
“Earlier this year, Amazon Original Stories published Susan Straight’s The Princess of Valencia the all-too resonant story about a mother’s grief after a school shooting.”
Sommerfeld describes a welcome concept for the best thinking of modern writers: “As part of Amazon Publishing,” she says, “a big focus for us is innovating on behalf of writers.
“Having a speedier process for publishing shorter works helps authors launch their ideas while they’re most relevant. The single-sitting length of these stories also allows busy readers to take a chance on something new.”
And in bringing the Warmer collection to market, Sommerfeld says, the collaboration with Plympton was a matter of “providing authors we admire with a simple prompt: tell us a story inspired by climate change. The range of what they came up just blew us away.
“Lauren Groff’s story, Boca Raton, is a devastating look at how a mother is crushed by the uncertainty of it all, while Jess Walter’s The Way the World Ends has a sideways humor that leaves you laughing and, most importantly, hoping. Jesse Kellerman’s Controller is a psychological thriller about a power struggle over a thermostat.”
‘The Existential Crisis of Our Era’
If you’re noticing that the roster of authors on the Warmer project, like the sound of the writings, gravitates less toward sci-fi or fantasy, you’re on the right track.
Living up to Lee’s classification of it as a “literary studio,” Plympton in recent years has been behind several interesting projects with which Publishing Perspectives readers are familiar.
For example, Lee was executive producer on the Lincoln in the Bardo excursion into “virtual reality film” made by The New York Times with screenwriter Graham Sack, based on George Saunders’ Booker Prize-winning novel. Our coverage is here.
In addition, Plympton projects have involved:
- Las Vegas writing residency (2016 to the present)
- FBI files famous dead writers from MIT Press (2018)
- Reanimation, a 7-part animated series for the 200th anniversary of Frankenstein (2018)
Modestly, Lee refers to all this as “generally innovative projects that are self-sustaining.”
And she hands off to her business partner, Goldstein Love, for a statement of how they see the character of the Warmer collection now available from Amazon Original Stories: “We conceived and pitched this cli-fi short-story project as a way of giving fiction writers a collective voice around the existential crisis of our era—and found the writers we approached eager to join this global conversation.”
She and Lee are hoping, Lee says, to see more collaborative and socially relevant efforts with Sommerfeld’s team at Original Stories. Needless to say, the Plympton startup’s original work with what was at the time Kindle Serials now stands them in good stead, as does their experience in short-form content in the Rooster app.
For now, the good news for readers and for authors, as Lee frames it, is that “thematic originals are a way for fiction writers to create stories that feel highly relevant.”
In terms of fiction on the pressing issues of our time, Amazon Original Stories’ approach—and Plympton’s work with writers—is one example of publishing’s service to its consumers getting Warmer.