Assistant professor of English Andrew Scott edited the anthology 24 Bar Blues: Two Dozen Tales of Bars, Booze, and the Blues, which was published in March 2013. For an inside look at 24 Bar Blues, read the interview below conducted by English department intern Daniel Brount.
1. What was the inspiration for “24 Bar Blues”?
I play bass guitar—badly. One of the most popular chord progressions in music is called 12-bar blues. I became obsessed with the name of that progression, all three components, around the time I finished undergrad at Purdue. Not long after, I had the idea to edit an anthology of twelve stories set in bars. In my reading of contemporary short stories, it seemed that writers of all stripes were interested in telling stories at least partly set in bars. Oh, sure, the stories might refer to them as roadhouses, blues clubs, pubs, honky-tonks, dives, or even country clubs, but at the end of the day, bars are bars.
I shared my idea with the editor of an anthology I admired. She liked the idea, too, but thought twelve stories wasn’t enough for an anthology. I agreed, but as it turns out, 24-bar blues is a chord progression, too, so I just doubled my original idea.
2. How did you go about finding contributors for the book?
Originally, I thought I would choose stories like James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues,” with its incredibly moving ending, or “Dancing After Hours” by Andre Dubus. One difference between the 1999-me who first had the idea and the 2012-me who finally pitched the idea to a publisher is that I understand how reprint rights and royalties work. Anthologies are often difficult to sell to publishers because most anthologies do not make money. As such, the biggest publishers are less interested in anthologies.
Another major difference between then and now is that I wanted to honor not just contemporary writers, but living writers—at least some of the writers whose stories ended up in the book may be new to readers. No one needs me to tell them that James Baldwin and Andre Dubus are worth reading.
3. What was the editing process like?
I selected stories with which I was already familiar and approached the authors to ask if I could include them, except for in a few cases when I reached out to authors with the hope that they might have a story that fit the anthology’s theme. One selection was also suggested by the publisher. Usually, the authors held control of the reprint rights. If not—if the author’s book contract tied up such rights, for instance—the author referred me to their publisher to negotiate the reprint rights.
4. How did you go about finding a publisher?
Press 53 published my story collection, Naked Summer, in 2011. After my book had been out for a while, I asked the publisher if he might be interested in publishing an anthology. He expressed his concerns, which I’ve talked about already, but asked me to send a few ideas. One of those ideas was 24 Bar Blues. The publisher is a former songwriter who lived in Nashville. He understood the appeal of this anthology.
5. What was the publicizing process like? How was the work divided between you, the publisher, and others involved in the project?
I selected the stories and contracted the reprint rights. Once everything was together, the publisher typeset and produced the book. The authors and I proofread the galleys, but because most of the stories—maybe all of them, actually—had already appeared in literary journals or books, it was a fairly efficient process. I didn’t have a call for submissions, for instance, which would have generated hundreds of stories to read. This was like making a mixtape for a friend. That’s how I think of the process now.
6. What have you been working on since finishing the book?
I’m working on a couple of book-length prose projects, but a lot of my focus has been on writing comic books.