I wrote my piece, “Apricots,” in a quick burst but shelved the draft to deal with the little things of life: work, family, the usual suspects. Consumed with the day-to-day, my interest in refining the piece waned—until inspiration struck when I happened upon an odd story collection while browsing Google Books.
In researching late 19th and early 20th century women writers, I discovered A House Party, to which Sarah Orne Jewett (as well as Winston Churchill and Booth Tarkington, among others) was invited to contribute. A publisher, presumably as a marketing gimmick, compiled a dozen of their stories and asked readers to play a game: who wrote each piece? You were to detach a coupon and send your best guesses to the publisher, which offered a $1,000 reward for accurately matching authors to stories.
I didn’t have a spare grand to provide similar incentive but sensed there might still be something to the idea. Again and again, I came across people who voiced the same frustration: lacking professional obligations to produce new work, projects remained unfinished, half-formed pieces relegated to a hard drive or the tattered pages of a notebook.
Writing may be a solitary act, but engaging with a community of like-minded artists—if only to commiserate—plays an important part in the creative process. And so, working with my co-conspirator, a literary agent, we set out to throw a house party of our own.
We invited a small group to participate and published a limited run of our collection, a book of about 70 pages, using a print-on-demand service (we opted for Lulu; if you want to stay local, McNally Jackson’s Espresso BookMachine is a good option). Submissions, including fiction, poetry, and graphic art, ran without author credits; contributors received the book a few weeks before the party, and when we gathered to celebrate in my Astoria garden, the guessing game was spirited, with discussion, for example, of whether a piece’s style revealed its writer’s gender. (Verdict: not reliably!)
Cocktails, food, and friends old and new are a reliable recipe for a good time, but the party also provided powerful motivation for all of us to get our work in publishable form—and to hear from a friendly audience what was and wasn’t working. I pulled out my essay and polished it up, pairing it with a few other vignettes on city living.
The references to my neighborhood and the fruit trees in my front yard gave me away near instantly; I may not have maintained the air of mystery I wanted to cultivate, but the get-together forced me to focus on editing my neglected work and helped build a circle of local writers—one that will continue to expand at our second event, which will be held next week.