INterview with series editor of the Dream of Things Anthologies Mike O'Mary

Mike O’Mary is series editor of the Dream of Things anthologies including Saying Goodbye, an anthology of true stories about people saying goodbye to the people, places and things in our lives with grace, dignity and good humor. He is founder of Dream of Things, a book publisher and online retailer. He is also author of The Note, a book about the power of appreciation, and Wise Men and Other Stories, a collection of holiday-related essays. For more information, visit www.goodbyebook.com.

Q: Welcome to The Writer's Life, Mike. Can you tell us how long you’ve been writing and how your journey led to your latest book, Saying Goodbye?

I’ve been writing for 20 years and have had essays published in the Sunday magazines of the Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun, the Denver Post and other major papers. But Saying Goodbye is a departure for me. About a year ago, I started Dream of Things (dreamofthings.com) to be a writers’ community and to publish anthologies of short, literary creative nonfiction. I’m serving as publisher and series editor for the anthologies, and Saying Goodbye is our first anthology.

Q: I love your title! Can you tell us why you chose it?

When I started Dream of Things, I put out a call for submissions for anthologies on fourteen topics. But "saying goodbye" was not one of the initial topics. The idea for "saying goodbye" as a topic didn't come to me until I received a story from Stephen Parrish. I am a fan of Stephen's writing, and he had been very supportive of what I was trying to do with Dream of Things. He sent me a story called "Bridget" about his experience as a young boy with the death of a classmate. I liked the story, but it didn't fit neatly into any of the existing anthology topics. So I created a new anthology for stories about "saying goodbye." The amazing thing is that this topic really struck a chord with writers. I ended up with submissions from all around the world, and Saying Goodbye ended up being the first anthology from Dream of Things, even though the topic wasn't one of the original topics. And I think there's a reason for the popularity of the topic. Stories about saying goodbye are incredibly powerful and moving, but there aren't many outlets for such stories. Terri Elders, one of the contributors, sums it up by quoting Shakespeare: "Parting is such sweet sorrow." I think Terri and other writers were glad to have a place for their stories of "sweet sorrow."


Q: Why did you believe your book should be published?

At first, I wasn’t sure it should be published. I was worried that it would be too much of a downer to read a book full of stories about saying goodbye. But people have told me that Saying Goodbye is actually a very uplifting book…that reading the stories is cathartic. We asked contributors for stories about all aspects of saying goodbye, so we ended up with stories about saying goodbye not just to people, but also to the places and things in our lives. So we have stories about saying goodbye to old homes, old relationships, the past…even about saying goodbye to an old couch and to a favorite jogging suit. The result is a nice mix of stories that blend sorrow with humor.


Q: We all know that publishers can’t do all of the publicity and that some lies on the author. What have you and your contributors done so far to publicize the book?

Publishing an anthology is great because instead of working with one author, I’m working with thirty-one. And Dream of Things is the only publisher I know of that pays anthology contributors a royalty (rather than a flat fee), so if the book takes off, the contributors will share in the success. So we’ve been working together to spread the word. I’m trying to get reviews, which isn’t easy to do with an anthology, but we’ve had a few. And I’m trying to get media interviews. Meantime, the book is being featured in a blog tour, and Saying Goodbye was featured in a newsletter to 6,000 book club members because I think it would be a great topic for book groups to discuss. I’ve also reached out to hospice services, funeral homes and hospital gift shops because as I said, people have told me that it’s cathartic to read Saying Goodbye. Meantime, the contributors have been busy spreading the word to family and friends any way they can…via word of mouth, their websites, blogs and social media…and they are asking their friends to do the same. Several contributors have also had readings in their home towns. It’s been great.


Q: What book on the market can it compare to? How is it different? What makes your book special?

I launched Dream of Things with the intent of publishing anthologies of creative nonfiction that will fill the gap between popular anthologies (like Chicken Soup and Cup of Comfort) that publish stories I regard as “short and sweet”—sometimes so saccharine-sweet they are hard to swallow—and the Best American Essays series, which I love, but which tends to have writing that is quite a bit longer. So the goal for Dream of Things anthologies is to be not short and sweet, but short and deep. With depth comes authenticity. The result is stories that are easier to swallow because they are authentic, and easier to digest because they average 1,250 words in length. The Saying Goodbye anthology is an example of what we’re trying to do at Dream of Things.

Q: Open to a random page in your book. Can you tell us what is happening?

I just opened the book to a story by Ruth Schiffmann called “The Evolution of Your Goodbyes.” It’s a story about her interactions with her father as he slowly slips into dementia. Here is one of the passages: “One warm spring day as you sit together in the living room listening to an Elvis CD, you suggest going for a walk. He’s on his feet in an instant, following you to the coat closet, eager and excited. As you lead his arm into the sleeve of his sweatshirt he reaches out for you. A hug? you wonder. But then you realize, he is dancing. With you. And it doesn’t matter that you are not that kind of family. A family that dances. Because he is smiling and holding your hand and enjoying the music. So you forget about the sweatshirt, and the walk. You take his other hand and dance.”

Q: Do you plan subsequent books?

Yes. Dream of Things is currently seeking submissions for anthologies of creative nonfiction on a variety of topics, including stories of forgiveness, coffee shop stories, travel, Internet dating, holiday stories and others. I plan to publish three of those anthologies in 2011.


Q: Thank you for your interview, Mike. Do you have any final words?

For all the writers out there, keep at it. I believe that e-books and other recent developments in publishing are going to lead to even more publishing opportunities for authors. Just realize going in that writing is only half the battle. You also have to be prepared to do everything you can to help promote your work. And for all the readers out there, thank you, thank you, thank you. You could spend your time watching TV or playing video games or surfing the Internet, but you choose to read books. Thank you!
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