Today I’m talking to Steve Rossiter, editor of the Australian Literary Review about the new integrated short story collection The Life and Times of Chester Lewis.
Sharon: How did you come up with the concept for The Life and Times of Chester Lewis?Steve: I came up with the initial concept of an integrated short story collection spanning the 100 year lifespan of the main character via a story leading up to the character’s birth then one story per decade in the character’s life.
I asked Michael White (internationally bestselling and major-award-winning author of thirty something books) to write the first story. Michael developed Chester’s parents, a British couple living in Beijing in 1931 for Chester’s father’s career with a multi-national company, and established the circumstances in which Chester would be born in Perth in 1932. Michael’s story was bookended a scene set in 2032 with Chester about to turn 100. This gave Bernadette Kelly (children’s fiction author who was awarded the May Gibbs Fellowship for Children’s Literature in 2010) a lot of material to draw from for her story about Chester at eight years of age in Perth in 1940. The characters and the life story of Chester Lewis evolved as Lia Weston (whose first novel was published by Simon & Schuster in 2010), Kerry Brown (author of three children’s picture books), and each subsequent author read the previous stories and added their own.
Sharon: Tell us a bit about the process of putting the integrated short story collection together?
Steve: My role was developing the initial concept for the book, selecting contributing authors (which involved reading each story as it came in and choosing an author who I would thought would do a good job of writing the following story), ensuring consistency from story to story, editing, and writing the final story.
Sharon: How did you choose the contributors?
Steve: I chose contributors whose fiction I had some familiarity with and who I thought would suit a particular part of the book. For example, I thought Michael White would bring his historical and scientific interests to create a starting point with a lot of interesting things subsequent authors could pick up and build on, I thought Bernadette Kelly would do a good job of writing an endearing childhood Chester in an original way, I thought Lia Weston would do good job of creating a lively adolescence for Chester and showing the emergence of strong personality heading toward adulthood, and so on.
I had also interviewed a number of the authors previously or had become familiar with their work through short story competitions I had run.
Sharon: What were your thoughts as you saw the story come to life with each author’s contribution?
Steve: From the first story, I saw a character and life story emerging which was original and epic-yet-personal. The contributing authors did a great job of building on what was there while also bringing their own style and unique contribution to the character and life story of Chester Lewis.
When I was recently interviewed by Kelly Inglis, she asked me what makes a compelling character and I responded that it is a combination of purpose and personality. This is what each contributing author brought to the characters in their story.
Sharon: Without giving too much away, tell us a bit about what readers can expect from The Life and Times of Chester Lewis?
Steve: Readers can expect a journey of just over 100 years through the life of Chester Lewis, from the 1930s to the 2030s, taking in locations including Perth, the Whitsunday islands, Prevelly Beach (near Margaret River in Western Australia), England and Shanghai.
When Chester’s mother flees Shanghai amidst the pre-WW2 Japanese invasion she makes a new start in Perth, where, from humble beginnings, she builds a business which will play a major role in the future of Chester, the Lewis family and humanity.
There is family, love, ambition, responsibility, betrayal, secrets, successes, great deeds and great misdeeds.
Sharon: Fan fiction is definitely a growing force in literature. Tell us a bit about the Chester Lewis fan fiction competition?
Steve: The fan fiction competition (and the book itself) is part of an effort to help fiction writers in Australia and beyond to develop their skills. Readers can enter their 2000-4000 word stories set in the story-world of The Life and Times of Chester Lewis for a chance at official recognition as a Top Ten or Top Three finalist and the 1st Prize of $2000.
Entry is $10. This also gains the entrant access to a private Chester Lewis Fan Fiction Group on Facebook, where they can meet like-minded fiction writers, discuss story ideas and their writing with other entrants, receive fiction writing tips and where contributing authors from the book and some of their publishing industry friends will drop by from time to time.
Sharon: What’s next for The Australian Literature Review?
Steve: More interviews with fiction authors, publishers, editors, etc; more articles on fiction writing; more short story competitions; and more initiatives to help fiction writers develop their skills and connect with readers.
I also have several novel writing sites which will be launching or getting a major make-over from Jan 1st. Writing Novels in Australia has an Australian focus, whereas Writing Teen Novels and Writing Historical Novels have a global focus (primarily North America, the UK/Europe, Australasia and India for 2013). This recent blog tour post on Jo Hart’s author site, The Graceful Doe, has more details on the novel writing sites.