Four Star Funerals: An Anthology About Death
How 10 Writers Produced Our First Collective Ebook
When author Debra Deur died in a car crash in 2003, the members of her critique group felt the loss deeply. Also about that same time, we endured a slew of other deaths, almost more than we could count, or bear: We lost parents, husbands, children, siblings, aunts, in-laws, neighbors and other friends who, like Debra, were as close to us as our blood relations.
One evening over a meal—if memory serves, it was after Hans Wilhelm spoke at our annual SCBWI chapter conference—some of us got to telling “tales from the crypt,” about our experiences attending, and arranging, funerals. Inevitably, somebody said: “Y’all should write a book.”
And so Four Star Funerals was born. Ten members of the Four Star (aka Tuesday) Critique Group opened their veins and bled on their keyboards, producing deeply-felt personal essays and memoirs, poems, and short stories about death and its aftershocks.
We originally looked upon the project as a kind of (writers) group therapy. But the pieces we produced were so powerful—emotionally raw, searing, but also uplifting, philosophical, profound, mystical, and in some cases hysterically funny—we knew we had produced work that should be published, for the benefit of others whose emotions had been upended, by their experiences of death, in ways they couldn’t have anticipated.
Being a bunch of (mainly, not exclusively) children’s writers, we didn’t know where to market an anthology of this sort. (Several of the pieces are not suitable for young children. Since the collection has a “PG 13” rating, some of the contributors adopted pen names for this publication, to avoid confusion with the picture books and other works for the very young that come out under their better-known bylines.) We sent our manuscript out a few times, got nowhere, and back-burnered it while our other writings moved ahead into the forefront of our lives.
Then came the e-publishing revolution, which some say is the equivalent of Gutenberg inventing the printing press. Digital publishing has “rocked the ivory towers of traditional publishing like a hurricane,” to quote literary agent Laurie McLean.
Among the first on our block to venture into this brave new world was David Davis, who published his excellent collection, Travels With Grandpaw, at Smashwords.com.
We immediately realized that our Funerals anthology was perfect for an ebook. Many professional writers are e-publishing their shorter works and other personal kinds of writing—pieces that can be hard to place elsewhere. Laurie McLean, an agent with Larsen Pomada, said she was “incorporating self-publishing into every one of my clients’ career plans for backlist titles, experimental fiction, shorter works, and more.”
In the true spirit of cooperative publishing, we drew on the talents and interests of our Four Star members to produce our book: David Davis designed the cover, I assigned the book an ISBN number from among those I control under the Seven Rivers Publishing imprint, Patricia Holland wrote a Preface that ties it all together, all of us threw ourselves behind the effort, and voila: We have our first collective ebook: Four Star Funerals.
From the Preface
Anguish, joy, anger, relief, regret, sadness, numbness, fear, guilt, greed, indifference—so many ways to feel about a death. Maybe you reach for a touch of humor to lighten your heart. Whatever your response to the end of a life, know that you are not alone.
FOUR STAR FUNERALS is a collection drawn from the personal experiences of the Four Star Writers. Death has not merely touched our group, it has hammered us in recent years. We’ve lost children, husbands, parents, siblings, close friends. We’ve lost one of our own, a beloved member of our close-knit group.
Our individual responses to our bereavements show a universe of emotions. You never know how you’ll react until you’ve been there. If you’ve been there, if you’ve lost someone important to you, maybe you’ve been surprised—even shocked—by your reaction. Perhaps you have felt that your emotions are inappropriate.
Maybe it will help you to know that one of us, in our small but diverse writers’ group, has felt much as you have. In our essays, anecdotes, poems, and stories, we hope you find a measure of comfort. You are not alone, nor are we.