Contributed by Kayla King
Throughout the life of a book, there are moments meant for celebration. Many writers know these points well. There’s the seedling of an idea, those difficult days when we’re finally able to put words on the page, the finalization of a first draft, etc.
For Pages Penned in Pandemic: A Collective, the milestones were a bit different. There were the early submissions, sending the first acceptance, growing our platform, collecting all the accepted work into one document, finalizing the order of writing, the last two days of line edits, and of course, Publication Day! And these many moments were worth celebrating in different ways. However, organizing an evening filled with many of the family, friends, and authors who helped make this book a reality felt bigger than those other moments.
Perhaps this juxtaposition comes from the many months spent in isolation. Or maybe it was the culmination of all my worlds coexisting in my favorite local bookstore holding real copies of a book I created with my best friend. Whatever the reasons, this evening was special.
It must be said that the success of any published author can be accredited to local bookstores, which open their doors and their shelves. FITZ Books in downtown Buffalo, NY is one such place. Found by coincidence or kismet, this store and its owner, Aaron, hold a special place in the journey of this collective.
During the early days before we had a final cover or any real idea of page count, Aaron offered to let us use the space beside his bookstore for a small release. Everything was contingent on COVID-19 of course, but we realized this book would not exist without the pandemic, and kept our fingers crossed that this release party could happen one day. We remained hopeful that numbers would improve, that we would be able to bring together a small group of people to truly celebrate this book.
Leading up to January 29th, I did find myself absorbed in plans for the space: the antique typewriters from my own collection, posters of the front and back cover for the windows, and of course, print copies of the collective to sell at the release. It wasn’t until the night of the party when everything was done, starting the playlist crafted just for the event by two wonderful friends, fiddling with the vintage marcasite ring I wore for luck and my great-grandma King’s necklace chosen for a bit of love that I found myself ready to actually celebrate all we had accomplished.
Family arrived first. Friends arrived shortly thereafter. Being able to share this collective with the other local authors including J.S. Bowers, A.M. Kelly, and Christy Nolan was something I treasured. And having the opportunity to introduce my writing group, the Lock Keeper Six, to my work friends and my best friend really felt like a merging of worlds that not many people have the opportunity to experience.
My best friend made the trip from Brooklyn and we found ourselves in the somewhat strange position of answering questions about what we would do next, what project would fill our time now that this book was out in the world. We had answers, nothing quite substantial, though we do have ideas. But mostly, we were able to share our love of storytelling, the reason why we heralded this book into existence over the last few months.
We signed books and discussed the poems, stories, and essays we thought each person might enjoy most. As contributors ourselves, we were also able to discuss our own work in the collective, which we were thrilled to include among truly phenomenal writing. Among these poems, was one of my own entitled “Things to Leave on the Mantle, or Lies We Tell the Dark,” which is dedicated to my friend, Tina.
And we talked about isolation and creativity, about the people we were as young writers ourselves, and our hopes for those who might benefit from us donating our proceeds to 826 National. We talked about the pandemic now and what it might mean to future readers ten years from now when they pull this book from their shelves. It was all surreal and lovely.
At one point, I took a step back to observe. Perhaps this is the writer in me, searching for strands of conversations and imagining the stories that could take place in a similar world. It struck me, however, that these are the moments we celebrate. Or rather these are the moments we must celebrate because the days can be dark and the world may seem chaotic, but there are flashes of brightness that will flicker away in ephemeral escape if we’re not there to fully immerse ourselves within them.
And just like that, the night was nearly over. We sold out of the copies of books we brought, though more will be ready for purchase at FITZ Books soon! We packed up and started to make our way out before stopping to discuss stories with the store’s owner. Again, Aaron’s kindness and passion for books struck me. I, too, am a bibliophile, and chatting about narration styles and authenticity and what must be done to help the reader feel connected to the page was something I savored during the last few minutes spent in that space. For this, I am truly grateful.
Throughout my life, I have always thought of myself as a collector. I have my books and my typewriters and my antique teacups. I have journals, both empty and full, jars of seashells and boxes of movie stubs. Now I have this collection of work written during the pandemic. And I have phenomenal people who I’ve had the fortune to collect throughout my life. To them, I owe so much. And to my best friend and editor, I owe these moments of celebration. He continues to be a bright light in my universe, and I know my dreams are never too big as long as he is by my side.
To those near and far who have continued to champion this book over the last few months, please know you were in our thoughts throughout the evening. To the writers who trusted us with their words, please know, you, too, were there during the celebration of our book’s release.
As the editors, our work is done. Now it is up to you, dear readers, to continue stoking the flames of this once tiny spark of an idea. We hope you will share your favorite pieces from this collective with your friends and family. We hope those words keep you connected while the world continues on through uncertain times. We wish nothing more than for you to feel understood, if only for a few pages.