When I was a kid, I loved movies. I still love movies, but when I was younger I watched them obsessively. It was a discovery period—everything I watched seemed new and exciting; I wasn’t yet so jaded that every movie that came out felt like a rehash of something I’d just seen. And I could test my wannabe film-critic skills in the school paper, waxing snobby and pretending I was a critic for EW or the New York Times as I prattled on about cinematography and camera angles. I especially liked trying to identify and articulate directors’ individual aesthetics. I kept thinking it would be super cool if Hollywood tried an experiment where they gave the same script, budget, and cast to, say, five different directors and let them each make the same movie, just to see how the finished products would differ—and if viewers could guess who’d directed which version.
I feel like Sight Unseen has been my chance to play that game, in a way. Five authors given the same prompt: write a story in a genre that’s outside your comfort zone, or at least different from your usual fare, and see if readers can guess who wrote what. The anthology poses a fun challenge for readers and writers alike. As authors, we’re pushing our boundaries and challenging ourselves—but there’s also an incredible sense of freedom in that challenge.
I know that when I’m writing one of the things I have to watch out for is getting too comfortable. I try to keep experimenting with different genres and styles, but it’s easy to get locked into certain habits, or to favor a certain type of story. With Sight Unseen, we all had the chance to take advantage of anonymity and write without the weight of expectations. Without the self-consciousness of “Okay, I’ve never been a sci fi writer before, what if no one takes me seriously when I try to publish this space opera?” All five of us, for the purpose of this project, could be whoever we wanted to be.
And now we get to see how much of ourselves comes through, even when we’re trying to cloak our identities. Whether people recognize our aesthetics, our quirks, our voices. When I told my roommate about the project, he asked what elements of my writing I thought might give me away. I listed a few, but was surprised by how hard it was to articulate my own style. Like how I know a Coen brothers movie when I see one, but I can’t always describe what makes a Coen brothers movie a Coen brothers movie. (Not that I’m comparing myself to the Coen brothers, but there’s that same sense of “there’s something that makes my voice my voice, even when I’m doing something that feels unusual for me.”) So it felt like the project could go either way—either it would be dead obvious which story I’d written, or nearly impossible to tell. And even though I’d heard some of the involved authors’ ideas via an email thread early in the project, by the time I read the final anthology, I couldn’t be at all sure who had written what.
I’m excited to see if readers find it just as challenging.
Sight Unseen: A Collection of Five Anonymous Novellas is out now: order here. Then use the hashtag #SUwho on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook and tag Open Ink Press, to let us know your guesses as to who wrote what!
J.A. Rock is the author of queer romance and suspense novels, including By His Rules, Take the Long Way Home, and, with Lisa Henry, The Good Boy and When All The World Sleeps. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Alabama and a BA in theater from Case Western Reserve University. J.A. also writes queer fiction and essays under the name Jill Smith. Raised in Ohio and West Virginia, she now lives in Chicago with her dog, Professor Anne Studebaker.