It was only a matter of time before writers began producing Covid-19 fiction in response to living during a global pandemic. Several coronavirus-related picture books have already landed in the marketplace. Now, Delacorte Press has a fiction collection due out, an anthology for YA readers. Together, Apart (Oct. 20) is a compilation of original short fiction by nine authors about characters finding love in unexpected ways during an unprecedented time such as we currently are experiencing. The book will be published in trade paper and e-book formats about seven months after its conception.
According to Wendy Loggia, senior executive editor at Delacorte, the idea of publishing an anthology inspired by the pandemic emerged during a virtual editorial meeting that included publisher Beverly Horowitz, associate editor Hannah Allaman, and Loggia shortly after the pandemic caused a national lockdown. “I’m not sure who had the idea,” Loggia said. “A suggestion was made to publish a short story collection that would be upbeat, positive—something bright for these dark days. It’s such a difficult time; we’re all looking for happiness.”
“We wanted to recognize that children are missing out on a lot. They’re not seeing their friends—it’s hard on them,” Allaman said. “We wanted to recognize how difficult this moment is by creating something that doesn’t shy away from the stress or anxiety, but at the same time there’s the happy ending we all want right now.”
Allaman, who joined Delacorte in late March, was put in charge of the project, assisted by Loggia and editor Kelsey Horton. The three brainstormed “pie-in-the-sky” authors to approach, Allaman recalled, ending up with a mix of authors already published by Delacorte and others not affiliated with the house “whom we love and wanted to work with; this seemed to be a great opportunity to connect with them.”
Most of the authors they contacted “were into it” immediately, Loggia noted, recalling that many said they were eager to write something that would “get them out of the rut” they felt they were in due to the pandemic and lockdown.
The quick responses by the authors they approached made it possible to turn around the project quickly. “We got great ideas right off the bat,” Allaman said. “We asked the authors to run with their ideas and the stories came together in about two months.”
The collection tackles life during lockdown from diverse perspectives: Erin A. Craig’s story involves a cute pizza delivery boy; Auriane Desombre captures a girl trying to impress her crush on TikTok; Bill Konigsberg features two boys taking walks at the same time; Erin Hahn’s tale is about a girl launching a mask-making business; Sajni Patel contributes a music-inspired meet-cute; Jennifer Yen’s romance begins outside a hospital; and Natasha Preston tells a story about a girl meeting the boy next door in a spreading oak tree.
One of the contributors to Together, Apart, Rachael Lippincott, is an old hand at weaving tales about teens finding love while social distancing: her 2018 novel, Five Feet Apart, is about two teens with cystic fibrosis who meet in a hospital and become attracted to one another, but have to stay at least five feet apart so as to prevent passing along an infection. In her latest tale, two roommates turned enemies become something more after being forced to hunker down together. “This was an entirely new story for me,” Lippincott said, noting that the idea of writing a story about two roommates who had a rocky relationship had percolated “for a few months.” When Delacorte approached her “when things were crazy” this spring as the coronavirus spread, “the idea of two roommates stuck together during the pandemic, harboring feelings for one another, and confessing their feelings over a frozen dinner” came together quickly. Lippincott added that working under tight deadlines on the story was not a problem, due to the lack of distractions while under lockdown in Pittsburgh, where she lives, and also being “used to the whole college thing when you cram before an exam.”
Brittney Morris, who recently moved to the Philadelphia area from Seattle, wrote a tale of two Black teens who meet cute while tending their balcony herb gardens. “I thought it was a great blend of the two books that I have—Slay, first of all, and then The Cost of Knowing, coming out in March. Slay centers on Black femininity, it lifts up Black women. But I don’t have a lot of great examples of Black men who are young. And then The Cost of Knowing completely centers Black men and it talks about their relationship with their mental health.”
The story begins with each teen’s therapist suggesting they start an herb garden. “It gives a great example of a Black boy who is very much his own person, but who also prioritizes his love interest, which is interesting. It’s also set during the pandemic, so it’s relatable. I just wanted something light and happy, something that reaches over and gives all the Black kids stuck at home a virtual hug.”
In honor of the book’s publication, Delacorte will make a donation to Active Minds, a nonprofit organization dedicated to mental health education, research, and advocacy for young adults ages 14 to 25. “This organization works with teens who have mental health issues,” Loggia said. “And so many of our authors touched upon mental health issues in their stories in Together, Apart. This donation is an important component that all of the authors are excited about,” she added. “It’s the perfect partnership; it ties everything together.”