Growing local

Columbus Creative Co-op picks Best of Ohio Short Stories: Volume II

By Brittany Erwin

Photo: Columbus Creative Co-op presents a rich mix of work in Best of Ohio Short Stories: Volume II

“Whatever you need, this book is here for you.” So promises Brad Pauquette, founder and director of Columbus Creative Cooperative (CCC), in the introduction to CCC’s Best of Ohio Short Stories: Volume II, for which he also served as developmental editor.

In a clever comparison to tomatoes—which is, Pauquette notes, Ohio’s state fruit—he writes, “You can pick out which stories are sweet, which are tart, which belong in the juicer, which a salsa, and which ones should go straight to the compost.” A fitting metaphor for the bounty of stories found within the pages of Volume II.

The common seed that sprouted these stories? According to Emily Hitchcock, deputy director of CCC, “To qualify for publication authors had to have ties to Ohio—whether you were born here, went to school here, or lived in the state for a consecutive number of years.” These broad parameters enriched the quality of work, Hitchcock confirms, adding, “It’s a collection of stories that vary in genre, but are uniform in their outstanding quality—truly the best of Ohio.” These talented writers were brought together, or sought out by CCC, with Paquette, Emily Hitchcock, and Heather Sinclair Shaw co-editing the collection’s engaging and entertaining mix of works.

Without the CCC, such a collection of Ohio’s finest writers and stories might not exist. Recognizing this was a missing niche, as well as the need for a connective space for Ohio writers and readers, Pauquette founded Columbus Creative Cooperative in 2010. Its website states its mission simply: “Connecting local writers with local readers.” Hitchcock elaborates, “[CCC] solicits short stories from Ohio’s most prestigious institutions and also welcomes work from writers of all skill and experience levels in an open, egalitarian submission process.” To date, they have published 10 anthologies of short stories—including a Volume I—and show no signs of slowing down.

Hitchcock (who moved to Columbus in 2012 and was looking to connect with local writers, discovered CCC and started as a workshop coordinator before assuming her current role in the organization) has a featured story in the collection, “S. 18th St.” One of the shorter pieces in the anthology, it packs a gritty, yet heart-warming, punch. This may have been the author’s intent.  In describing the story Hitchock says, “‘S. 18th St.’ is a piece of creative non-fiction I wrote on my porch one evening with a bottle of wine. The inspiration…comes from the complicated love of my former neighborhood in Olde Towne East.” Hitchcock’s ambivalence lends a certain immediacy and animation to the story—a true slice of Ohio life.

She explains that though the piece was not written for the collection, once she heard about Volume II, she began reworking the story, hoping it would be included. Lest anyone think favoritism played a role in Hitchcock’s selection, she clarifies the selection process. “After I submitted my story, it was blindly reviewed by our writer members and from there was selected by a CCC editor to be included in the book,” she explains. “It’s a great feeling to open a book like this and see your name in the table of contents.”

Brenda Layman—a CCC member whose story “Kentucky Wonder Beans” appears in Volume II—affirms the competitive selection process:

“The call for submittals went out and the stories poured in,” she says. “I understand there were hundreds of them.  Then, CCC members were invited to participate in the selection process by reading and rating a selection…names of the authors were not included, so the works were judged on merit alone.” This is key, especially for previously-unpublished authors. Layman explains, “[CCC] provides emerging writers with the fellowship and support of fellow creatives, but I think the biggest service it provides is the opportunity to be published when you are a complete unknown…Having that first published work transforms an aspiring author into a published author, and that’s quite a transformation.”

Like Hitchcock, Layman’s story was not written with this anthology in mind, but she felt its Appalachian setting would resonate. “I grew up in southeastern Kentucky, so I have a very deep sense of the character of that place and the people who make their homes there,” she says. Indeed, the story feels authentic and true to its roots.

These are just two standouts in Volume II. Pieces range from Brooks Rexroats’ reminder that our neighbors contain multitudes in his “Miss Ellen Told Me” to the affecting “How You Were Born,” wherein Sara Ross Witt recounts a mother’s fierce love and creative survivalism in the darkest of times (in this case, an unspecified Holocaust-ian era). There is also G.L. Mislin’s sentimental “Nikos the Barber,” which conjures the sights, sounds, smells, and customs of an old Greek village and one man’s nostalgia for a lost love. Readers will also discover Tom Barlow’s quirky “Second-Hand Monkey,” about an aging man’s complicated relationship with his daughter and his monkey. Because Brad Pauquette and the CCC recognize and continue bringing together established and emerging Ohio writers, readers have the opportunity to encounter work they may not have otherwise, and writers have the opportunity to publish and transform their careers. With Ohio serving as inspiration for planting the story’s seed or being home for the author, readers—Ohio readers, in particular—will find much to savor in these pages.

 

For more information on Best of Ohio Short Stories: Vol. II or Columbus Creative Cooperative, please visit ColumbusCoOp.org.

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Brittany Erwin
Reach DCP freelance writer Brittany Erwin at BrittanyErwin@DaytonCityPaper.om

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