Vanilla Heart Publishing’s Kimberlee Williams on the Changing Face of Publishing

In the final day of the Independent & Small Press Month Celebration, Kimberlee Williams of Vanilla Heart Publishing wanted to discuss the changing face of the industry.  Her publishing firm is based in Washington state and has a full title lineup of books for publication through the Summer 2011.

In addition to the ebook catalog and the Kindle lineup of books, the publisher Website also lists events with its authors.  Please do take some time to explore the events and check them out if you are in the area.  Without further ado, please welcome Kimberlee.

Happy Small Press and Independent’s Month! My name is Kimberlee Williams, Managing Editor/Chief Cook and Bottle Washer at Vanilla Heart Publishing, and I would like to talk to you today about the changing face of publishing and why small and independent presses are so much a part of those changes.

I’m certain that you have all heard the amazing story of Amanda Hocking, about Borders not paying their vendor/suppliers and filing bankruptcy, (Borders UK went bust last year), bookstores closing right and left, on and on ad nauseum . . . well, at least it makes many of my colleagues and publishing friends nauseous. What is the good news?

The good news is that ebook sales are skyrocketing, more and more fabulous venues for book sales and book promotion are springing up each day, and the big one – authors are writing beautiful books, engaging books, in record numbers. Even better news is that if a publisher can hang in through the rough economic times, grow and develop even during the rough times, we are able to see amazing changes and progression into the new age of publishing.

How does a small publisher thrive in times like these? By taking risks. By persevering. By adapting. By learning new technology, software, and techniques. By promoting and developing great authors and great novels. By expanding their publishing house. Yes, all those things are what make for a delightful adventure, instead of a frightening future.

A few of my publisher cohorts aren’t able to adapt, or aren’t willing to accept that “the times they are a changin’”. Most are more than willing and capable of doing whatever it takes to get through the rough patch and make it work for both themselves and their authors. That is the way to go, if you ask me!

Thanks, Kimberlee, for participating in the celebration!

About the Publisher:

Vanilla Heart Publishing is an independent publisher, providing traditional publishing services to the authors we select. Vanilla Heart Publishing will never charge a fee to any author.

Since our beginnings in late 2006, we’ve had the pleasure of working with a select group of authors, growing our title list from the initial three books to over 80 by late 2010, and expecting an even hundred fabulous novels in our catalog by mid-summer 2011.

Vanilla Heart Publishing does not accept all manuscripts we receive, in fact, we publish only a small percentage of submitted manuscripts to maintain a title list of the highest caliber, but we will respond to all queries and all requested manuscript submissions.

All Vanilla Heart Publishing’s books are professionally edited, proofed, and formatted to both electronic formats and print, and provided with a professional and attractive color cover.

We contract with independent contractors for some of our ‘pieces of the puzzle’, but staying on the small side has allowed Kimberlee Williams, Managing Editor and CFO of VHP, to maintain intimate contact with and provide support to our core group of amazing authors, as well as pursue further education and training in graphic design, industry changes, and new technology, the things that make Vanilla Heart Publishing a long-term player in the industry, even with so many changes happening every day.

I hope that everyone enjoyed the month of celebrating small and indie presses from poetry to ebook publishers.

In celebrating these publishers, I’ve learned a great deal about the various opportunities for writers to get their work in the hands of readers, but also the publishers that I haven’t been introduced to and how they struggle against the big publishing houses in a labor of love.

If we can all show them a little love and support them online and in our book purchases, I think we can expose ourselves and other readers to new voices and unique stories.

Thanks everyone for participating, celebrating, and commenting.

Next month, beginning April 1, is the National Poetry Month Blog Tour event, so do expect a plethora of poetry, poets, and fun.

Guest Poet: Tightrope Books’ Halli Villegas Talks About the Fun of Small Press Publishing

Welcome to a post from Tightrope Books‘ Publisher Halli Villegas.  She’s going to talk about the fun behind publishing at a small press.  This small press offers a number of poetry books for poetry lovers like me, including one I recently reviewed, Open Slowly by Dayle Furlong (check out my review).

Without further ado, please welcome Halli:

Independent Publishing for Fun and Absolutely No Profit

Whatever possessed me? I often ask myself that, especially on days when the bills have piled up on the desk and authors are asking me if they can move the comma on their bio over one pica after the proofs have all ready gone to the printer, and the intern has lost the debit card for the fourth time somewhere between the post office three blocks away and the Kinko’s a block further, and I want to put my head down and have a good cry.

A real love of writing and reading, a frisson of excitement at the act of selling something I had been part of making, seeing a writer’s face when they first hold their book in their hands and knowing this was the closest I would ever get to making someone’s dream come true, this is what motivated me to start a press. Was it enough to build a life around?

It isn’t easy. No matter how many times you hear that from those who have published their own chapbooks, or some writing group that has put together an anthology of their own work; publishing professionally, more then a one off book for friends and family’s delectation, is not something that can be fit in between a full time job, family and socializing. The publishing itself becomes all those things and more. And it doesn’t pay. Not if you want to try to avoid publishing books such as The Seven Healing Crystals: Losing Weight the New Age Way and Five Minute Snacks for Feisty Kids. Which have their place and their market, but were never of interest to me.

So I juggle payments and bills, put money in that I earn at temp jobs, each dollar representing a latte made for some CEO, an endless afternoon answering phones in an office without windows and ask myself again: Whatever possessed me?

But then the day comes when the books are back from the printers, and the author and I open the box, breathing in the smell of new paper and ink. The author runs their hand across the cover of their book, as if touching the face of a long lost friend and turns to me and says, “Thank you, its beautiful.”

Thanks, Halli, for participating and celebrating independent and small presses.

About Tightrope Books:

Tightrope Books was established in January 2005 to bring a fresh take to Canadian literature by juxtaposing new and established writers, genres, and cultures to build an inclusive list that represents the vitality of current Canadian literature.  For more information, please visit the Web site.  Also visit the Tightrope Books Blog.

Interview With Fred Ramey of Unbridled Books

I didn’t have as much time to prepare for the Celebration of Indie & Small Presses as I had hoped, but I did manage to snag another interview.  This time, we’re going to hear from Fred Ramey of Unbridled Books, which has a large focus on literary fiction.

Some of their books have been reviewed here on the blog, including (click links for my reviews) Safe From the Sea by Peter Geye, Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel, The Wonder Singer by George Rabasa, and many others.

1. Unbridled Books is a renewal of your partnership with Greg Michalson, and you both seem dedicated to the promotion of good literary fiction in a time dominated by reality TV and pop culture. Has this environment made it more difficult to get readers’ attention or how have you navigated the obstacles it has presented?

The obstacles to what we do are wider than the reality TV and pop culture aspects. They include the loss of mainstream review coverage for independent presses, the shrinking shelf space for all but celebrity books, and, of course, the economy as a whole. But we publish with conviction, Greg and I. The conviction that carries us is that—in a world in which the Big Houses are forced by fiscal pressures to focus on the Big Book—a great many readers will find reward in novels and nonfiction that engage them. We believe in books that lie outside of formulas and high concepts. The novels that most excite us are tales that we connect with emotionally and intellectually. That connection, and the conviction that other readers feel the same, can carry an editor through lean times. We’ve reached a point here where we truly need serious review attention and lively word of mouth, but I can feel the growing hunger of the culture for the kinds of unfamiliar stories that our authors weave. It is a difficult time for us as for all small presses, but with some good fortune, we’ll weather it.

2. What inspired you to enter independent publishing and what characteristics do you look for in your authors and staff that make the model worth while?

In the 1990s—after a long run of teaching and freelance editing, among other things—I was directing a tiny press called MacMurray & Beck, which had a fairly eclectic non-fiction list. Soon after my arrival there, the opportunity arose to publish fiction and I leapt at it. I asked Greg, whom I’d long known, to join the effort. The successes we had early on encouraged us to devote as much of our efforts to good fiction as we could. The authors we have chosen to publish over these many years are authors we are proud to publish. The books in our list are truly varied, but each one takes us somewhere we’ve never been. Many of them are downright beautiful. All, I think, are in one way or another eye-opening. And each one tells a story we haven’t heard before. We try to indicate all this to readers by giving our books the best designs—and long marketing efforts—which we believe are the trace of our enthusiasm for the authors and the books.

Here at Unbridled, we are de-centralized; that is, our employees are all over the country, and beyond. And we have an extraordinary staff of dedicated people who take these books personally. Greg and I often say that our egos are behind every book we publish. It’s clear to me that our team feels the same way.

I should say, too, that Greg and I, along with Caitlin Hamilton Summie, had a stint at Putnam which ended when Phyllis Grann left. What we learned there is that the richness of the books we are dedicated to is better served in an independent context. Working in an independent house, we can afford the patience, not only to support a book for a year and more, but to support an author—like Rick Collignon, Timothy Schaffert, Emily St. John Mandel, Frederick Reuss, Masha Hamilton—over many books in their careers. Our goal is to work with the best authors while they are finding their readers, while their readers are finding them. In this world, that’s easier to do independently.

3. At just about 8 years old, Unbridled Books has published a number of well-loved author debut novels, like Peter Geye’s Safe From the Sea, and others. What goes into the selection process and about how many of the manuscripts you receive are selected for publication? How is this process different from when you both were at Putnam? How is it the same?

As I imagine you suspect, we publish a tiny fraction of what we receive. Greg and I go through hundreds and hundreds of submissions each year. We publish only 10 or so. The process is discussion. Each of us can bring a manuscript into the discussion, and our analyzing what makes the manuscript work, whether it needs to be revised and how, whether it is a match for our profile and our future—that discussion—often goes on for hours, sometimes in more than one session over several days. We publish only what we truly believe in, what we believe is fresh and strong, with a full voice and a rich sense of place. Greg and I began our discussion of what makes a novel successful in the late-1970s; our editorial discussions are an extension of that. And they were exactly the same when we were at BlueHen/Putnam.

4. Relationships with booksellers must be key for an Indie/small press’ survival among large NYC publishing houses and big box stores. Is this relationship reciprocal and how so?

We have always said that independent booksellers are our natural allies. It is difficult for us to generate a situation where the potential readers of Unbridled books will enter a store looking for our frontlist. And so we need to have dedicated booksellers who are genuinely curating their stores to champion our books. We send many ARCs to those booksellers—and we try to know them personally so that we can sense what in our list each of them might be drawn to. We don’t want to bombard them indiscriminately.

We remain convinced that folks who read our books will recommend them: readers to readers, booksellers to their customers. When booksellers are drawn to one of our books, that’s where the seeds of our success settle. This was the case, for instance, with The Pirate’s Daughter by Margaret Cezair-Thompson, In Hovering Flight by Joyce Hinnefeld, and Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel. The booksellers championed each of these. As I said, we hope to publish our authors’ full careers. If the booksellers can support our authors with enthusiastic hand-selling, we will bring more books by those authors. It’s an old-fashioned concept that damping forces like BookScan threaten to make obsolete, but we believe that with bookseller support and the good attention of reviewers, an author’s audience can grow.

5. Many of the Unbridled Books I’ve read seem to have poetic elements to the prose. Is this intentional? Have you thought about expanding beyond fiction into publishing poetry?

I appreciate the compliment. We’re trying to expand our non-fiction list these days; I don’t think we have room to step into poetry, though both Greg and I are poetry readers. I think that what you’re responding to is the imagistic nature of the writing. We do love work that enables us to see as well as to feel. I’m drawn to precise language, too. And it seems to me that the characters in a novel are richest when the authors can see them move through a tactile world. I think that our authors are some of the most gifted writers at work today.

6. What advice would you give to amateur writers shopping around their first novel, particularly about approaching a small/indie press? Would this advice differ from the advice you would give them if they were looking into larger publishers?

Well, what one writes, in this rapidly changing publishing world, will likely dictate where the book will land. The Big House needs the Big Book; this is a matter of economics. (And it’s why one needs an agent to enter the lists of the conglomerate publishers.) But the country is full of independent presses, each of which has an editorial profile and, likely, a loyal market—folks who are looking for their next catalog. We publish micro-histories, memoirs, and what I call commercial literature. By this I mean well-turned works with a wide appeal. My advice to authors who choose to address traditional publishing (as opposed to self-publishing) is to match their work with a house that handles such work. Sending Unbridled a fantasy novel won’t be productive.

7. Unbridled Books and other small presses seemed focused on creating a community of readers and writers through their relationships and connections. Name some of the benefits of these symbiotic relationships and some of the drawbacks, especially when it comes to editing manuscripts or selecting book covers and marketing strategies.

As mainstream review inches and bookshelf space (particularly at the chains) have grown harder to secure for small presses, many of us have found great value in social media relations. This is not to say that we’re only talking to folks online; we call when we can (worried about overburdening our friends), and we attend as many trade shows and other gatherings as we can. All of this is, as you say, to create a community of readers—websites will be salons…. I believe Richard Eoin Nash’s Cursor will actually engage readers in the process by asking them to enter the discussion while a manuscript is being written. We don’t go that far, but our relationships with readers and booksellers are absolutely essential to our future as a publisher. As we develop marketing strategies for an individual title, we ask for early reactions from readers groups. We try to understand what books are the best match for the members of readers organizations. Each book we publish has a constituency, and knowing where those readers are is a tremendous marketing asset. And, as those ARCs go out, we quickly learn which covers are successful and which are not. Is there a drawback to any of that? I don’t think so. The reading world changes weekly; the stronger our relationships with a book-loving community, the better we can respond to those changes.

Thanks, Fred, for answering my questions about Unbridled Books and for participating in the celebration!

Guest Post: A.J. Odasso Talks About Her Experience With a Small Publisher

Today’s guest post is from poet A. J. Odasso.  She’s kindly offered to talk about her submission experiences with small presses as part of the March celebration of small and indie publishers.

As small and independent poetry presses go, the publishers of my chapbook and my collection—Maverick Duck Press and Flipped Eye Publishing respectively—are success stories, and I’m both pleased and proud to be working with them. Fortunate, too, as it seems that where larger, more commercial publishers have been particularly hard-hit by the recent global economic chaos, smaller presses have been better situated to weather these difficult times because they’re more likely to have made cautious financial decisions from the outset. That’s not to say that small and independent presses have it easy right now. I don’t think anyone does.

However, security wasn’t first and foremost on the list of qualities I was seeking in publishers when I first started submitting poetry manuscripts in earnest. From 2005 through 2007 (my first two years of submitting work for publication, period), my poetry and short fiction had met with reasonable success in magazines and anthologies, both online and in print. By early 2007, I had accrued enough poetry to assemble the earliest version of what is now my first collection, Lost Books. I aimed high in the first few rounds of submitting it to publishers; any high-profile US or UK operation open to unsolicited poetry manuscripts at the time doubtless got my query letter and a sample of the manuscript. I spent a little over two years receiving responses that were split between the form-letter “Sorry, this isn’t for us right now” and “Hey, we like your sample, would you please send the whole thing,” only to eventually meet with rejection. During that time, I continued to write, and my list of magazine and anthology credits grew. It was sometime during late 2008 when I decided to assemble a chapbook-length manuscript made up of some newer work, Devil’s Road Down, and submit it to Maverick Duck Press, with which I was familiar thanks to a friend who had been published there. I sent it off and promptly forgot about it.

In February 2009, I received an invitation from a colleague in London (at the time, I was living in York, although I’m now a Londoner myself) to read as part of a line-up of poets being billed as The Sad Poets’ Society at the Last Tuesday Society‘s Valentine’s Day Ball. The event itself was lavish, chaotic, and decidedly alcoholic, as most of the masked and costumed crowd didn’t pay the slightest bit of attention to us as we took the spotlight one by one. We were paying attention to each other, though, as after we’d all read, I somehow became engaged in a conversation with one of the other poets whose work I’d thoroughly enjoyed, Nii Ayikwei Parkes. I was delighted to hear that his work was available in print, and that’s the point at which I got the same question in turn: so, do you have a collection? Having to give the answer “Yes, but it’s not published yet, and I’ve been sending it out for months” had always been incredibly frustrating, but, much to my dismay, Nii produced a business card and told me to send him the manuscript. Not only was he a poet, but he was a publisher. If it turned out not to be a good fit for Flipped Eye, he said he’d certainly be able to give me advice as to other places I might look into. Nii’s kindness and forthrightness are, I don’t doubt, just two of the many reasons that Flipped Eye has managed to build such an excellent reputation amongst UK independent publishers.

It took me a week or so to work up the nerve to send the manuscript. In the two or three weeks that I spent waiting for Nii to respond, I heard from Kendall A. Bell at Maverick Duck Press, who said he’d like to publish Devil’s Road Down in autumn 2009. Kendall is a responsive, enthusiastic editor whose endeavors at Maverick Duck truly are a labor of love. The chapbooks he publishes are only available through Maverick Duck’s website, although the back-catalogue of titles (stretching back as far as 2003) is both varied and impressive. Although based in the US, Maverick Duck publishes poets from around the globe. Kendall’s eye for distinct voices and unique, memorable viewpoints has, no doubt, ensured the press’s consistent standard of excellence.

A week or so later, word came back from Nii: Lost Books had the green light, and I’d be joining the Flipped Eye family in early 2010. Along with his small team of co-editors, Nii works tirelessly to ensure that Flipped Eye poets and writers have regular opportunities to perform in and around London (and beyond, as I’ve been part of events in Leeds, Manchester, and York). I’ve met and become friends with many of the other writers represented by Flipped Eye, as well as become familiar with their work (I particularly recommend Malika Booker, Inua Ellams, Agnes Meadows, Niall O’Sullivan, and a forthcoming collection of short stories from Leila Segal). When I call Flipped Eye a family, I mean it in the truest sense of the term. Ultimately, if I’d been successful with one of the larger publishers, I would’ve missed out on being part of the tight-knit community dynamic that small and independent presses foster.

Thanks, Adrienne, for taking part in March’s celebration.

About the Poet:

A. J. Odasso is currently completing her Ph.D. in English at the University of York (UK). Her poetry has appeared in a number of publications on both sides of the Atlantic, including Strong Verse, Aesthetica, Sybil’s Garage, Succour, Farrago’s Wainscot, The Liberal, Mythic Delirium, Jabberwocky, Cabinet des Fées, Midnight Echo, and Not One of Us—with new work forthcoming in Illumen, Dreams & Nightmares, Orbis, and others. Her first full poetry collection, Lost Books, is forthcoming from Flipped Eye Publishing in April 2010.  Her first print chapbook, Devil’s Road Down, is currently available from Maverick Duck Press.

Guest Post: Candlemark & Gleam’s Kate Sullivan Talks About Payment and Distribution Models

Candlemark & Gleam‘s Kate Sullivan is our guest today, and she’s going to talk about the different distribution and payment models used by small and indie publishers today.

Her press focuses on fantastika, which includes not only fantasy, but science fiction and punk. Check out the new and old ideas the industry is considering or using.

Greetings from the wild and wooly realm of small-press indie publishing! I’m Kate, mastermind behind Candlemark & Gleam, a niche press specializing in fantastika – science fiction, fantasy, *punk, and whatever else you can throw at us – and I’ll be your guide on this little trip into the bleeding edge of publishing adventures.

The digital revolution, even as it has scared the pants off the Big Six publishers, has had a great effect on the publishing world as a whole:  It’s easier than ever to produce books and distribute them, and that means that there’s been a small press revolution in the last couple of years. And small presses, while lacking much of the marketing muscle of the big boys, have a number of distinct advantages. Chief among these is nimbleness:  Small presses have less overhead and are less bogged down in the status quo, so we’re able to experiment with things that the larger publishers might not be able to, even if they want to.

Many small publishers, including Candlemark & Gleam, are trying out different distribution and payment models, many of which are based on old ideas. Personally, I think this is one of the most exciting developments in publishing today – that we’re looking back at the golden age of publishing (which I consider to be the Victorian era), when there were scads of very active publishers on the scene, all competing in an extremely book-hungry marketplace.

What are some of these old ideas? Glad you asked! Let’s take a look at a couple:

1. Cheap books. Prior to the mid-1800s, even though mechanical printing had been around for quite some time (thank you, Johann Gutenberg), books were still the province of the elite. They were expensive to produce, usually hand-bound to order, and had to be painstakingly slit and separated with book knives. All that changed with the paperback, the penny dreadful, and the pulp novel. From the 1830s through the 1950s, every average Joe was able to afford to delve into fantastical exploits and tales of derring-do, weird happenings, or horrible crime, depending on his (or her) tastes. From a shilling per book (twelve pennies, a goodly amount for a working-class stiff), prices dropped to, say, a single penny. This made books-as-mass-entertainment possible, and made our current publishing environment viable.

Today, small publishers are experimenting with price points in a similar way. While there’s not a whole lot we can do to drop the price of a paperback, we CAN play around with seeing what the “sweet spot” is for eBooks. Many self-publishers are putting out Kindle editions for 99 cents or $2.99, figuring that they’ll make up on volume what they lose in percentage. Small presses, given that we tend to have to support ourselves as well as the author, often charge more – from $4.99 to $9.99 seems to be the average for a small press eBook. At Candlemark & Gleam, we’re playing around with dropping our prices to see if we make up revenue on volume. It’s important, though, to remember the authors – is 99 cents really a fair price for a novel that someone’s poured perhaps years into creating? I think the sweet spot for a well-formatted, well-edited, finely crafted digital novel is going to end up being somewhere around $3 to $5 – cheap enough for the average Joe to grab without thinking twice, but still enough to support the author.

2. Serials. This is a fascinating concept – splitting up a novel into chapters or installments, and asking the reader to buy each. Charles Dickens wrote serial novels, and serial novels were common in the 1930s pulp magazines. They died out as fiction magazines went the way of the dodo, but the time to revive them is now. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer recently had an article about the resurgence of serials, noting that luminaries like Stephen King have tried it, and pointing out the Huffington Post’s experiment. At Candlemark & Gleam, we’re about to release our first serial, Hickey of the Beast, a YA fantasy novel in 30 parts. We’ll be pairing that serial experiment with some more of that “playing with prices” thing – the first two chapters will be free to try, while you’ll then have the option to buy each chapter individually, or to buy a subscription at one of several prices that entitles you to a finished eBook at the end, plus some extras. Which brings us to our next new-old idea…

3. Bundles. Pulp fiction often included several novellas in one book, or packaged a short story along with a novel. Why the heck don’t we do this anymore? Sure, the Big Six have been putting “teaser” chapters in the back of novels in a series for awhile, and you can sometimes find author interviews at the back of a paperback, but what about extra goodies in a bundle? Small publishers are starting to take this idea and run with it. Have you bought the paperback of a novel? Here, have a download code for a copy of the eBook version. Why not have a set of bundles or packages at different price points? At the low end of the spectrum, you get a plain-jane eBook with no complex formatting or graphic hyperbole (a lot like the bare-bones books you often get for 99c on Kindle, self-published). For a few bucks more, you get a fancy eBook with lovely formatting and layout, plus an exclusive short story. Step up from there, and perhaps you get all of the above, plus an autographed poster of the book cover. Feel like shelling out $25 for the eBook? Get all of the above, plus something really special, like a custom-made action figure of your favourite character from the book. Makes a great gift, don’t you think? The sky’s the limit here, and small publishers, with their lower overhead and ability to move quickly, are in a great position to really experiment with this idea.

And that’s just the beginning. Licensing models that offer book-library subscriptions to readers, free back catalogues, enhanced eBooks – there’s a lot going on in the small publishing realm these days, and there will only be more coming up. It’s exciting and awesome, and as a small-press mastermind, I can’t tell you how cool it is to be able to try to put some of these ideas to use, and see what holds up to the test of time . . . the second time around.

Thanks, Kate, for participating in today’s Celebration of Small & Indie Presses!

About the publisher:

Candlemark & Gleam is an experiment in publishing, specializing in fantastika and genre-bending fiction written by new authors. We consider ourselves modern anachronists – creative types dedicated to preserving the beauty and individuality of age-old publishing forms while adapting them for the digital era. It’s time to go back to the future of publishing – won’t you join us?

Follow them on Twitter.

Guest Review: 200 Nights and One Day by Margaret Rozga

Some of you have been following the Celebration of Indie and Small Press Month on the blog for sometime now, and you’ll probably recognize today’s guest reviewer, Sara from Wordy Evidence of the Fact, because she reviewed Confederate Streets by Erin Tocknell earlier in the month.

Today, she’s brought us a review of another Benu Press publication, which is poetry, 200 Nights and One Day by Margaret Rozga.  Enjoy.

Title: 200 Nights and One Day

Author: Margaret Rozga

Publisher: Benu Press

Year of Publication: 2009

I received this book from the publisher packaged with the proofs of my friend Erin E. Tocknell’s book Confederate Streets.  I was thrilled to get this unsolicited copy because I love to read poetry, especially new voices.  This collection also had promise because it was from Benu Press, so the thematic material would likely be something I was interested in.  Benu Press is an indie publisher committed to “inspiring and thought-provoking books about the practical dimensions of social justice and equity.” Unfortunately, the one-sentence review of this book is not altogether favorable: I’m glad to have read it, but the poetry was not terribly good.

The life material this collection is based upon is truly inspiring.  These poems revolve around the open housing movement in Milwaukee, WI in the 60s, with particular focus on the events of 1967 and 1968.  Though I consider myself well-versed in the Civil Rights movement, I was ignorant of this strand of protests and found the collection to be informative and revealing.

The collection opens with a foreword from Dick Gregory, which provides a little background.  There is also a chronology of the movement and some fascinating photographs.  I was immediately intrigued by the images of Father James Groppi, the white priest who provided much of the visible leadership for this movement.  The photos show him in sunglasses, holding a bullhorn on a bus hood, in the back of a police wagon.  He is a fascinating character, the very picture of incongruence: rebellion in religious vestments.

The poems tell the story of the movement, fragmented among several voices.  We hear from Pam, Shirley, Curley, Lawrence, Mary, and even the US Supreme Court.  Rozga (known as Peggy) includes only a few poems from her perspective; the rest attempt to channel the voices of her African-American counterparts in the movement.  Let this be said: I do not doubt Rozga’s commitment to the movement, and I admire her willingness to get involved in a difficult fight where she was a member of the racial minority.  However, I take some issue with her poetic rendering of these other voices.  They simply sound too much the same.  Creating memorable characters in a novel or short story is certainly difficult; to do so in a poem is to do the same difficult work on a much smaller scale.  She tries to tell their stories, but when the poems don’t distinguish themselves, when you have to look at the titles to identify the narrator, when you finish the poem and realize it doesn’t matter what name is on the top – these things add up to a amalgam of poems that don’t do justice to the people they are intended to honor.

A few of the poems were lovely.  “City Limits” does a good job of conveying the conflict while doing the work of rendering vivid details about the neighborhood and the neighbors.  I like the image of Mr. Stanisch cutting his grass, “as he did every other day, / alternating with setting out the sprinklers to water the lawn.” The normalcy of tending to the suburban lawn provides a nice contrast to the abnormal conflicts that were broiling in their neighborhoods.  I also thought “On the Bridge” was a strong piece.  Ironically, this poem is the most tangential to the history.  The overlap appears to be merely the celebration to open the James E. Groppi Unity Bridge, so thematically it’s a stretch, but the final two lines carry a thoughtful emotional weight:  “I relish this moment there, there, where time / had space, where boys had hope and almost stood still.”

Too many of the other poems read like first drafts, like she was forcing the history into a form, into a collection that didn’t suit it.  In fact, in the epilogue, Rozga tells the reader that when she got stuck she would turn to a traditional poetic structure (such as sonnet or ballade) to get things moving.  She explains “What the open housing marches did for set territorial boundaries in Milwaukee these poems do with traditional poetic forms.  The old boundaries are questioned, rearranged, expanded, and maybe abandoned.” I want to believe her; however, the poems indicate less intention.  Doing the hard work of making your efforts sing within the structure is what makes the structure so powerful.  When you read a stunning villanelle or sonnet, for example, you are struck by what the form contributes to the poem and how the poem spins within that structure in seemingly effortless fashion.  If your construction of the poem is actually effortless, it won’t spin at all.

Only once does Rozga identify the poetic structure in the title, and it is in that poem where the most egregious disregard for structure lies.  “Vel’s Villanelle” is not in fact a villanelle.  A villanelle is a 19-line poem made up of 5 triplets and 1 quatrain, and there is a beautifully cyclic repetition of line and rhyme that creates a breath-taking effect when done well.  This poem is 25 lines long – it has two additional triplets – and it does not adhere to the repetition or rhyme scheme intended in a villanelle.  Without the repetition, the poem loses the strength as well as the mystery of how the same words can convey such different meanings.  Beyond working within this difficult scheme, the poet must also craft those repeated lines with precision.  They have to do more than some 80’s pop song chorus.  In Theodore Roethke’s “The Waking” (a shining example of villanelle), the opening line is “I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.” That is no casual dashing off of words; that is craft.  And a villanelle demands such a love affair with craft to be successful.  “Vel’s Villanelle” begins “Henry issued a proclamation forbidding marches.”   A direct statement can certainly have a quiet strength, but in this form, these words were inadequately prepared for the job they needed to do.  Rozga’s villanelle indicates to me that her primary purpose was conveying the truth of a history, her secondary purpose was putting together a book, and craft was only a subsidiary to these two goals.  A poem cannot breathe within such a hierarchy.  Or at least, for this reader, it cannot.

All that said, if telling this story was her purpose, Rozga’s book is a success.  I learned about the movement through the book, and I’m glad to have done so.  I was informed about a slice of history that I would not otherwise have known of.  Thanks to Benu Press for representing these voices; and thanks to Serena for the chance to celebrate Benu and their authors this month.  It has been an honor.

Thanks, Sara, for providing a review for the Indie & Small Press Celebration!

Guest Interview: Jennifer Flescher Talks With Adam Deutsch of Cooper Dillon Books

Jennifer Flescher, the editor of Tuesday; An Art Project, kindly volunteered to participate in the Celebration of Indie & Small Press Month with an interview of Adam Deutsch of Cooper Dillon Books.  This press is based in San Diego and has a number of books headed to the market, including Pretty Rooster by Clay Matthews.

Without further ado, please welcome Jennifer and Adam.

This is a great blog project – it is important to celebrate small presses and the very exciting projects they produce! I’m not, on the other hand, a writer of reviews . . . I was trained as a journalist and prefer to keep my opinions out of the conversation – I think by exploring motivations and stories we have a better in road to discovering new experiences and voices.

Cooper Dillon Books, a new poetry press out of San Diego, and their book, Pretty, Rooster, are just the kind of projects worth talking about. The book, third out of five titles for the press, is a collection of sonnets, interspersed with cartoons, including a flip-book of a clucking rooster. I was interested to hear about what the motivation behind this endeavor of the traditional and non-traditional.

So I offer for you an interview with the editor/publisher of Cooper Dillon Books, Adam Deutsch.

JSF: It’s a very cool book — tell me a little bit about how you see the creation of this book in relation to the creation of the press, if that makes sense . . .

AD: Clay Matthews’ Pretty, Rooster is very much a reflection of he intention that helped create the press.  We decided, before we even had our first title, that we would approach artists for covers rather than use stock art, or work in the public domain.  We never wanted to see an image from one of our books also printed on a copy of a coffee table book, or on a billboard for an erectile dysfunction drug.  Just as the press involved a number of like minds coming together, so does this particular title–poems by Matthews, comics by Shannon Wheeler and Micah Farritor, a flipbook and section breaks designed by Max Xiantu, and a cover photograph by Misha M. Johnson of a sculpture by Spencer Little.  The press was developed with the idea of art and community in mind, and Pretty, Rooster is a communal effort.

JSF: How important was the art to you?

AD: Working on the art was great fun. Clay had mentioned that, because it was a collection of sonnets, it might be fun to add something that could interact with the 14-line shape on every page.  He had a chapbook that came out with a little horse in the corner.  He told us he loved that horse.  Max was in a flippy mood, and made the strutting bird to put in the corner. Meanwhile, I know Micah Farritor (The Living and the Dead) from days in the Midwest, and had just met Shannon Wheeler at ComicCon, and got to talking with him because I use a Too Much Coffee Man Lunchbox.  It didn’t take much to talk either one into picking a sonnet and drawing a little 2-page comic.  Their styles are so different, and they chose poems with such different energy, and they worked beautifully as end caps to the collection.  The cover was just the topper–Taylor Katz keeps a wire rooster sculpture from Spencer Little in her kitchen, and Misha Johnson photographed it in front of a fence in their yard.  Considering the flipbook and the larger section breaks, we didn’t feel the need to have another entire rooster on the cover, so we just decided to show a little leg.

Art is always important.  The cliche about judging a book by a cover is just a poor philosophy if you’re trying to draw people to a book that is supposed to share art. Any publisher is taking a collection of poems they have fallen in love with; why dress it up in rags?  The idea is to make a cover interesting, inviting, and have it visually capture something that relates to the atmosphere inside the collection.  So many collection of poetry come out every year with covers that are poorly designed–sometimes straight ugly–and we’re not sure why this happens.  I leave the visual design to Max (a successful artist) because he understands details about composition and color and the process of printing color that I’m only just learning.  We also don’t print a single thing unless the poet love the way his or her own book looks.

JSF: How do you see those elements fitting together with a collection of sonnets?

AD: Jason Schneiderman (Striking Surface) writes, “The sonnet was invented as a vehicle for self-examination, and Matthews takes that literally, driving each one like it had a manual transmission.”  The sonnets are full of scenes and living things in motion.  But it’s a book for form, and with form comes a shape on the page that doesn’t vary much over the course of 72 pages. For Pretty, Rooster, the art is somewhat of a companion while you travel through the pages.

JSF: How did you choose the manuscript — was it solicited? did you fall in love at first pass?

AD:  It was kind of solicited, but not really.  In our first reading period, Clay had sent in a full-length manuscript, and it really kicked us, but something about it didn’t knock us over. I’d seen his work around in journals for years, and told him that I’d love to see something else, and didn’t hear anything until the next reading period.  He could have just emailed me with an attachment, but Clay Matthews is such a humble guy, so respectful and easy going, he simply submitted according to the guidelines the next year with Pretty, Rooster.

And I did fall in love at first pass. I read through it, and immediately emailed, asking if anyone else was considering it.  I wanted to take some time with it, but I also knew that it was a magical collection, and I didn’t want it to slip through our fingers.  Turns out he’d sent it to Cooper Dillon, exclusively.  I must have read it 5 times in a few days, then made an offer.

JSF: How has it been received?

AD:  We release our books, typically, in the fall/winter, so AWP becomes something of a coming-out party for our titles. People were drawn Pretty, Rooster, and once they saw the comics, they got really excited.  People are enjoying it.  We don’t set out to make giant splashes with our books–we believe the poems we’re publishing are timeless.  With that in mind, we like to let the buzz swell in its own time.  When people are excited about a book, they tell their friends, and they share it with classmates and loved ones, and that’s a process that needs to breathe.  Some presses insist that their authors line up readings, and use a lot of resources to get the word out. Sometimes it can be pretty forceful.  But we don’t demand anything from our authors. We just want them to love their own books.

Besides, we don’t do contents.  We don’t want $25 dollars from anyone to read a manuscript in the reading period, and we hope we can take two full-length books, and two chapbooks each year.  Rather, we ask poets who submit to buy a book (or pay $10) as a reading fee.  I think a number of people who are excited to pick up Pretty, Rooster, or any of our other books, are waiting for that submission period to open on April 1st, so they can order the book, and send us their manuscript.

JSF:  What did Matthews think of all the animation?

AD:  He loved the flipbook.  The little bird has made a lot of friends.

JSF: What did you learn from this book?

AD:  If you would have asked me when we started the press if we’d be interested in a collection of sonnets, I would have politely smiled and thought, probably not.  Every book that’s come in and really excited us has been something that’s challenged my perception of what I think I love in poem.  Each one has shown me something I didn’t think would do anything for me.  It’s like when I discovered the chocolate shake, only about a year and a half ago.  I had tried one as a kid, and didn’t like it, so I thought I didn’t like chocolate milkshakes.  Then I had one down at Hodad’s in Ocean Beach, and thought, “Holy cow!”  I’ve learned to fall in love with the sonnet–all over again, really–because of Pretty, Rooster.

It’s a healthy thing to let your mind change, and to discover new joys, and to let go of what we think we know.  Some of us insist that we won’t be interested this or that.  In poetry, I’ve heard people say, “I hate form,” and “I hate prose poems!”  They use the word “hate.”  They almost build an identity around the insistence and resistance to the decisions some artists make.  Not only does it keep them away from so many wonderful pieces of beauty and art, but it stifles their growth as writers because they aggressively fight against trying new things, and experimenting with their own creativity.

JSF: Why did you want to start a poetry press?

Cooper Dillon Books came from the same inspiration as many small presses do–we read all these books, and we’re always searching for a kind of craft or experience or event, but there are small voids out there.  It seemed like the poems I wanted to read weren’t available to me.  I wanted to produce books of poems that embraced certain values that I found when reading some of my favorite contemporary poets, but, more so, turned toward a certain transcendentalism.  We (Colleen Ryor, Max Xiantu, and I) boiled those values down to “joy in aesthetic, beauty, honesty, and intimacy.”  We also felt that there is always room in the community for people looking to make positive contributions, and we’ve been embraced by so many good people.

Cooper Dillon does not receive grants, government funding, endowments, or donations. We do not publish (select, print, advertise, etc.) at the expense of our authors. We earn money by selling books we believe in, in service of art and community. To buy Pretty, Rooster and to look at other titles please visit the website CooperDillon.com

About Tuesday: An Art Project Publisher/Editor:

Jennifer S. Flescher is publisher/editor of Tuesday: An Art Project. Her publications include Lit, The Harvard Review, Jubilat, Agni-online and The Boston Globe. She has an MFA in poetry and an MsJ in journalism. She teaches writing and editing to college students.

About the Publisher/Editor of Cooper Dillon Books:

Adam Deutsch was born on Long Island, New York and has his M.A. from Hofstra University (2005) and M.F.A. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (2008). He’s been on the editorial staff of a number of presses and journals, including Ninth Letter and Barn Owl Review. He presently teaches at community college, and keeps a fairly active blog over atadamdeutsch.blogspot.com. He lives in San Diego.

About the Author of Pretty, Rooster:

Clay Matthews has published two previous full-length collections: Superfecta (Ghost Road Press, 2008) and Runoff (BlazeVox Books, 2009). He’s also published a couple chapbooks, and a handful of poems and etc. in journals such as The American Poetry Review, Willow Springs, Black Warrior Review, Gulf Coast, New Orleans Review, and elsewhere. He completed his Ph.D. in creative writing at Oklahoma State in 2008, and he’s now teaching at Tusculum College outside of Greeneville, TN, where he also edits poetry for The Tusculum Review. He’s got some poems floating around out there in the internet he’d love for you to look up and introduce yourself to, and he always enjoys hearing from folks.


Thanks to Jennifer and Adam for participating in this month’s celebration of Indie & Small Presses.

Guest Review: Delights & Shadows by Ted Kooser

Today’s guest review of Ted Kooser’s Delights & Shadows is by a good friend and blogging pal of mine, Anna from Diary of an Eccentric.  It didn’t take too much arm twisting to get her to participate in Celebrating Indie & Small Press Month; All I had to do was give her a book to read.  She also gets to count this one for the Fearless Poetry Reading Challenge I’m hosting . . . see how diabolical I am?!

Ok, on with the review:

Former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser won the Pulitzer Prize for Delights & Shadows, which was published by Copper Canyon Press in 2004. Kooser’s poetry is what one would call “accessible” because it doesn’t take much deciphering or pondering to get at least a surface understanding, though some of his poems go much deeper.

Delights & Shadows is a collection of quiet poems touching upon such themes as memory, aging, death, and nature. Kooser obviously spends a lot of time observing his surroundings, and many of his poems bring ordinary objects or simple moments to life. When Kooser looks at the world, he sees things that many of us would miss, and the descriptions of what he sees are fascinating. In “Tattoo,” Kooser describes an old man browsing a yard sale and contemplates his past after he sees a tough-guy tattoo on his arm. In “A Rainy Morning,” he compares a woman pushing herself in a wheelchair to a pianist, writing “So expertly she plays the chords/of this difficult music she has mastered” (page 15).

Kooser manages to say so much in just a line or two. In “Father,” in remembering his father’s illness, he writes “you have been gone for twenty years,/and I am glad for all of us, although/I miss you every day” (page 36). In “Horse,” he calls a horse “the 19th century” (page 56), which calls to mind civilization’s past dependence on the animal. Other poems compare a pegboard to ancient cave drawings, describe the moment in which a bike rider pedals off, and use a spiral notebook to conjure memories of the past.

Delights & Shadows also includes a couple of narrative poems, poems that tell a story in verse. In “Pearl,” Kooser talks about visiting his mother’s childhood playmate to tell her that his mother has died. My favorite poem in the collection is “The Beaded Purse,” about a man taking home the coffin containing the body of his daughter, who’d left home to pursue an acting career and hadn’t been home in years.

Kooser is a master of quiet observation and finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. In Delights & Shadows, he describes the delights in these simple things, as well as the shadows of the past that these objects and observations conjure up.

Delights & Shadows was published by Copper Canyon Press, which was founded in 1972 and publishes only poetry. The company’s pressmark is the Chinese character for poetry, which stands for “word” and “temple.”

Disclosure: I borrowed Delights & Shadows from Serena to review for Independent and Small Press Month. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon affiliate.

Thanks, Anna, for participating in Celebrate! Indie & Small Press Month!  Seems to me that you really enjoyed this collection.  What other Kooser books will you be reading?

Guest Post: Libby Sternberg Talks about Istoria Books

Istoria Books is an e-press publisher with a focus on digitally printing the best possible books at rates readers want to pay.  They have a range of titles in the literary, science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, women’s fiction, and other categories.  It’s a relatively new press begun in 2010 that hopes to make its mark in the e-press arena to help readers choose “good reads.”

Libby Sternberg is with us today to discuss the press and its mission.


Thanks for having me as a guest to talk about a new publishing venture, Istoria Books.

Istoria Books is a new digital press dedicated to releasing “eBooks You Want to Read at Prices You Want to Pay.”

We’re in the start-up phase right now, but we’re excited to announce we’ve acquired digital rights to a page-turning Vietnam novel (written by Vietnam veteran Gary Alexander) called Dragon Lady and the backlist to award-winning romance author Jerri Corgiat, whose five books in the Love Finds a Home series were originally published by Penguin’s Signet imprint. We also offer some of my own backlist (I’m an Edgar-nominated author). And we’re open to submissions–even from unagented authors.

We started Istoria Books because we saw real opportunity in the expanding ebook world and because we’re committed to the idea that good stories, well-told can find an audience. Digital publishing, in fact, enhances the possibility that such stories will find readers because the books never “go out of print.”

The big print publishers have to deal with tremendous marketing pressures that smaller presses and digital publishers do not face (we have a different set of challenges!). Because print publishers have more money on the line–more overhead, usually larger advances, more production costs–they try to spend their dollars on manuscripts that can be considered sure things. So, when they see books like the Da Vinci Code selling like hotcakes, they look for similar tales.

This is why you see so many books about vampires, Tudor ladies, and Knights Templar receiving a great deal of space at bookstores.

I’ve nothing against these books or the success of their authors–bravo for their hard work! But I want to see other stories succeed, too, stories that might be overlooked in the quest for these “sure things” or might not be given enough time to catch on with readers before books are sent back from bookstores to publishers.

If you don’t write that kind of story–the “sure thing”–if your muse whispers a different kind of tale in your ear, what are you to do? Can you find an editor wiling to take a chance on you?

Sometimes you can find that editor in the big publishing houses, and the results are often breathtaking when a “different” kind of story grabs the reading public’s attention. Think of books such as The Help, The Secret Life of Bees, The Life of Pi, Water for Elephants. None of these stories takes a cookie-cutter, imitative approach. None of them shares elements with a “trend” except the trend of good storytelling. At least one of them — Water for Elephants — was published by a house outside of New York, Algonquin Books, after being rejected by a big house. Unfortunately, I think it’s becoming harder and harder, in this difficult economy, for other authors writing those kinds of stories to find homes.

Istoria Books, like all small publishing houses, has more freedom to offer those kinds of reads. Because we’re a digital press, we don’t have the overhead associated with print and distribution. Our only questions as we consider manuscripts are: Do I want to keep reading this story, and do I want to keep hearing this author tell it to me? We want good stories, well-told

As we say in our submission guidelines, if your romance is told from the hero’s POV, we’ll still look at it. If your young adult novel features a college-age protagonist, we’ll consider it. If your women’s fiction book puts romance way on the back burner, we’re open to it. If your inspirational involves a sinning protagonist, we’ll still take a look. And if your literary novel is a quirky memoir-like offering set in Saigon 1965, we’ll be very happy to read it (and publish it–see below).

Istoria Books is a selective publisher–not a vanity press or self-publisher. While we don’t pay advances, we split royalties and do not ask authors to “earn out” expenses associated with release of the book (editing, ISBN registration, formatting, marketing, cover art, etc.). We are currently exploring print options or partnerships.

We hope authors will check out our submission guidelines, at the “About Us” page on our website. We hope readers will check out our offerings and get on our mailing list by signing up at our website or blog. Freebies and discounts will be available at various time to our subscribers.


Istoria Books will publish Gary Alexander’s literary novel Dragon Lady in April 2011. Set in 1965 Saigon, Dragon Lady tells the story of Joe, a young draftee, who becomes obsessed with a Vietnam girl named Mai, his own “Dragon Lady” from his beloved Terry and the Pirates cartoon strips that his mother still sends him. As he pursues a relationship with her, Saigon churns with intrigue and rumors–will the U.S. become more involved with the Vietnamese struggle? What’s going on with a special unit that’s bringing in all sorts of (for the time) high tech equipment? Will the U.S. make Vietnam the 51st state and bomb aggressors to oblivion? But for Joe, the soldier, the big question is–does Mai love him or will she betray more than just his heart? Gary’s intelligent voice, filled with dry wit, and his own experiences give this story a sharp sense of truth, recounting the horror and absurdity of war. Reminiscent of books such as Catch-22, Dragon Lady serves up equal measures of outrageous humor and poignant remembrance. Gary served in Vietnam in ’65. When he arrived, he joined 17,000 GIs. When he left, 75,000 were in country.

Gary Alexander also writes mystery; his three mystery novels in the Buster Hightower series are published or under contract to be published by print publisher Five Star/Cengage. A Vietnam vet himself, Gary lives in Seattle.

Thanks, Libby, for sharing with us your mission and goals.

Don’t I wish I had an e-reader now for that digital copy of Dragon Lady?!  Vietnam War literature is right up this gal’s alley.  Now to convince someone to print it out and bind it for me?!

Guest Post: Lou Aronica on Running a Small vs. Big Press

You’re in for a real treat today because Story Plant publisher Lou Aronica has worked in big publishing houses and small ones, so he’s got a unique perspective on the whole issue.

Story Plant publishes a number of fiction novels, including those reviewed here on the blog:  When You Went Away and The Journey Home by Michael Baron (click his name to find guest post from the author about his path to publication and his writing space.)

Without further ado, let’s turn over the stage to Lou:

I spent the first twenty years of my career at big New York publishing houses. I was Deputy Publisher at Bantam, then Publisher of Berkley, and finally Publisher of Avon. When I switched my focus to writing, I always had in the back of my mind that I would go back to publishing at some point. However, I didn’t imagine myself ever going back to a large corporate entity. The scale was too big, and I found that the operation of a company was much less interesting to me than the development of writers and publishing programs. This is a reality of any big organization: if you want to have any level of influence, you need to spend a huge percentage of your time simply keeping the organization running.

When I finally did get back into publishing, I decided to do it at a much smaller scale than anything I’d been involved with before. Literary manager Peter Miller and I started The Story Plant, an independent house dedicated to developing commercial novelists. There have been things I’ve missed about having a large publisher behind me – the financial resources, for example, or the collegiality of a big staff, or having an IT department to address my latest computer malfunction. However, a small imprint has allowed me to concentrate on the books. Sure, I’m spending time on the kind of clerical work I haven’t done since my entry-level days, but I’m not spending my time in budget meetings, forty-person planning sessions, or dealing with myriad personnel issues. I see this as a net gain. The majority of the time I spend on The Story Plant is time spent directly affecting the books on our list.

There’s no question that I felt at a competitive disadvantage for the first few years. The big houses were getting all of the display and we had no muscle. However, the considerable digital shifts in the business have made the playing field more level.  I now feel that, if we can provide high editorial quality and do an effective job of drawing attention to our books, we can compete very effectively. Perhaps the biggest advantage of being a small house is that we can stick longer with writers we believe in. Big houses need to walk away quickly from writers that fail to immediately achieve certain sales because those houses need to keep the machine humming. Small houses can seek new ways to introduce good writers to the world if the first approach doesn’t work. This is beginning to bear fruit for us.

I think it’s a good time to be a small publisher. Scale is beginning to matter less in this business, and that hews to the benefit of the little guys. More than it has been in a long time, our business is all about the books. As a small publisher, I can maintain my focus on our titles and worry much, much less about our operation.

Thanks, Lou, for sharing your unique perspective with my readers.  Please check out this interview with Lou.

About the Publisher:

Lou Aronica, Publisher, spent twenty years at publishing houses, serving as Deputy Publisher at Bantam before becoming Publisher at Berkley and Avon. During this time, he edited and published numerous New York Times bestsellers. A New York Times bestselling author himself, Aronica has written two pseudonymous novels and coauthored eight works of nonfiction.

Guest Post: Victor Volkman Talks About Small Presses in the Modern Era

We’re almost midway through the month, and today’s guest post is from Loving Healing Press Inc.‘s Victor Volkman.  The press has been in operations since 2003, and is located in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  The press also has a number of imprints, one of which — Modern History Press — published two volumes of Sweta Vikram‘s poetry, which I’ve reviewed and whom I’ve interviewed on the blog (click the links to read the reviews or interview).

I hope you enjoy today’s guest post from Victor.

Small Presses in the Modern Era: Loving Healing Press Inc.

My name is Victor R. Volkman and I am the president of Loving Healing Press Inc., which encompasses self-help and personal growth books as well as additional imprints like Modern History Press, which focuses on stories about the struggle for identity in contemporary times. Today I would like to address the question: “Why continue to struggle against mass market producers?”

That is a very good question and one which is germane to the reason why I founded LHP and its imprints. Specifically, there are important healing methods to expose and important stories to tell that are ignored by mainstream media. Specifically, there is only so much you can do with a website and if you want to engage someone in a meaningful discourse as opposed to topical news, opinion, or gossip, the longer format of the book is still the best way to go. In this guest post, I’ll highlight some specific books and why we continue to fight against the tide.

LHP addresses some very difficult topics that are rarely heard in the mainstream media, except with the perception that they are “terrible and nothing can be done about it”. This all started in 2003 with my first book at LHP, Beyond Trauma: Conversations on Traumatic Incident Reduction (TIR), which highlights a brief therapy that can bring tremendous relief to sufferers of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) regardless of its source: combat, motor vehicle accident, domestic violence, rape, and so on. Best of all, it can be learned and applied effectively in a matter of a few weeks training. This is something the world needs now more than ever!

Getting further into trauma, we have a series of books about sexual abuse recovery from just such a survivor Margie McKinnon who has gone on to found a worldwide network of peer-support groups called “The Lamplighters.” Margie has written books for us which highlight a specific, seven-stage program called R.E.P.A.I.R. in different editions for adult survivors, children and adolescents, and even toddlers. Again, Margie’s vision of hope and recovery runs counter to the culture’s manifestation of victims being “scarred for life” with little chance of normal relationships.

Switching gears to our Modern History Press, we focus on books from people who have no access to ordinary media and are telling stories that you aren’t going to hear on the nightly news. For example, Issam Jameel’s Iraq Through a Bullet Hole: A Civilian Wikileaks is a highly documented factual account of his attempt to return to Iraq to resume a normal life after years of exile and the sheer chaos and mayhem of the new normal in Iraq. Shaila Abdullah’s Saffron Dreams (click for Savvy Verse & Wit review) tells the fictional story of a Muslim-American woman in the aftermath of 9/11 trying to make a new life while grieving her husband who as lost in the destruction of the World Trade Center itself. There’s a story you won’t find anywhere else! MHP’s “World Voices” series is focusing on English-speaking writers from around the world, including Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. MHP includes not only biography but also fiction and poetry as well. We’re anticipating the launch of new chapbooks by South African poet Nick Purdon and African-American poet Regina Jemison this spring.

Returning to the question, why struggle against mass-market producers? Because there is a whole world of stories out there to tell and with it the possibility of change for the better. Finally, with the mass-market acceptance of the eBook platform’s we’re seeing the last barriers fall between us and the conglomerates because the eBook has created a level playing field where no one may claim the “home court advantage!”

Thanks, Victor, for providing your thoughts on small presses in the modern era for the Indie & Small Press Celebration!

About Victor Volkman:

Victor Volkman is a Senior Software Engineer at UGS in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He writes for CodeGuru.com other print/online publications. Former part-time instructor at Washtenaw Community College, now serving on CIS Faculty Advisory Board.

He’s also webmaster for the Traumatic Incident Reduction Association (TIR.ORG) and the editor of Beyond Trauma: Conversations on Traumatic Incident Reduction and several other books on TIR.  And is a features editor for TIR Association quarterly newsletter.

He’s the owner of Loving Healing Press.  Check out this interview with Victor.

Interview With Margaret C. Sullivan, Author of The Jane Austen Handbook

I recently read and reviewed The Jane Austen Handbook by Margaret C. Sullivan (check out my review) by Quirk Books and adored the set up, the illustrations, and the information within its pages about the Regency period in England and the instances it plays a pivotal role in Jane Austen’s novels.

Author and Jane Austen blogger, Margaret C. Sullivan kindly agreed to answer a few questions about her book and her writing.  I’m happy to have this interview as part of the Celebration of Indie & Small Presses this month, and I hope you enjoy it.

1.  When did you begin to fall in love with Jane Austen and her writing and why?

I didn’t read Jane Austen’s novels until I was in my late 20s, and even then it took me a few years to work my way through them. I read Emma and Pride and Prejudice a year or so apart and liked them well enough to keep going. The third of her novels I read was Persuasion and I fell in love, hard. I loved the language and the dark humor and the intensity of feeling, not to mention the best love letter in the history of Western literature. “You pierce my soul.” All these years later those four words still make my toes curl.

2.  When did this love of Austen transform itself into more than just a hobby and into a passion with its own blog and other books?

Not long after I started becoming really enthusiastic about Austen’s work, we had the mid-1990s rush of film adaptations—first Sense and Sensibility, then Persuasion, then Emma (it actually took me a couple of years to get around to watching the 1995 Pride and Prejudice—I didn’t have cable, and was really intimidated by the idea of renting six videotapes). Around the same time there was a big rush of Austen biographies, and it was easy to feed the beast. Things calmed down around 1999, and then in early 2004 it started up again—a new film version of P&P was being planned, the producers were trying to get financing for Becoming Jane—and there was very little information, so rumors were being passed around as fact. I thought the fandom needed a news site, like the Harry Potter fandom site The Leaky Cauldron, dedicated to news about Jane Austen in popular culture, and I started AustenBlog. There is still a lot of interest in Austen-related films, despite the generally disappointing nature of the recent batch of films (in my opinion, which is not widely shared).

3.  Explain your thoughts on the phenomenon or retellings, sequels, and mashups with zombies that now attach themselves to Jane Austen’s novels?

I’ve been writing Austen fan fiction, some of which I have published, for more than ten years, so obviously I’m quite open to the idea in general. However, some of the quality of these productions is not good. Some are very well-written, but I personally prefer those that adhere more to the originals. There are some books that have been very popular that go far afield of the originals, but they are not to my own taste unless they are doing it for satire and humor.

Speaking of far-out satire, I thought the idea of the first monster mashup, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, was really funny, and I still do—and funny on many levels, not just the whole crazy juxtaposition of Austen and zombies, but the idea of repressed 19th-century British gentry being “zombies” like the suburbanites in the Living Dead movies. I also liked the presentation of the book as an edited “classic” novel—that kind of humor is very much to my taste, and I think would have been to Jane Austen’s taste as well, as she was a gifted satirist and understood a subtle, straight-faced approach to humor.

I had no idea it was going to be such a big hit, and I had no idea that it would create such a really nasty backlash against Jane Austen. The hipsters who hated being forced to read her books in school now had an excuse to trash her, and sometimes in a manner that showed the critics distressingly ignorant of the actual novels (“they’re all bonnets and tea-drinking!”). I realize Austen’s books are not to everyone’s taste, but she took the novel and dragged it into its modern form from a morass of 18th-century melodrama and overwritten romance (in the literary sense, meaning not reflecting real life) and showed that it was okay and even interesting to write about everyday people and events. A lot of the “rules” we now follow for writing fiction can be found in the way Austen shaped her books differently from her predecessors—write what you know, concentrate on your hero’s story, and leave out stuff that doesn’t move the plot along, however amusing or interesting. You don’t have to like or even read her books, but I submit that all those writing fiction today owe her a debt. We can draw a line in the development of the novel from Richardson, Burney, Radcliffe, and Fielding through Jane Austen to Dickens, Eliot, James, right up to the present. I doubt that in 2011 we would be writing 12-volume epistolary romances if Austen hadn’t published, but I think literature would be poorer for the loss.

4.  Do you have a retelling, sequel, or film adaptation?  Why do you enjoy those particular ones over others?

I don’t know if I have one over-arching item that stands out, but certainly within the individual categories I have favorites.

My favorite retelling is Colonel Brandon’s Diary by Amanda Grange. Brandon has a really romantic, dramatic backstory, and it’s all right there in Sense and Sensibility if you look carefully! But Grange did a great job not making it overly melodramatic and unAustenish. When Eliza died in Brandon’s arms, I cried; being on the train at the time, it was kind of embarrassing. But if you ever thought Marianne Dashwood should not have married Brandon because he was a boring old guy in a flannel waistcoat, read his backstory, because it’s as romantic as she could ever have wished. I mean, he fights a duel, for crying out loud!

A sequel I read a long time ago and then re-read quite recently for my Jane Austen book group is Pemberley Shades by D.A. Bonavia-Hunt. It is a really charming sequel to P&P, about four years after the Darcys are married. Lizzy is witty and amusing, just as she ought, and it’s fun to watch Darcy not only take her teasing but actually enjoy it and tease her back—clearly he has learned! Bonavia-Hunt obviously read J.E. Austen-Leigh’s Memoir of his aunt, in which he passed on some tidbits Jane herself let drop about the lives of her characters after the novel ended, and some whimsical bits in her letters about Mrs. Darcy’s and Mrs. Bingley’s favorite colors.

My favorite film adaptation is the 1995 Persuasion (which is also my favorite Austen novel). While not a perfect adaptation, it is beautiful and romantic and feels very real, and the cast is just marvelous. It’s the only adaptation of Persuasion that doesn’t mess up Captain Wentworth’s gorgeous letter to Anne. Also it makes me want to drink tea, and tea is good for you. They are forever drinking tea in that movie.

Some other books and films I’ve enjoyed that are not directly in those categories are The Jane Austen Book Club (both book and film), Michael Thomas Ford’s book Jane Bites Back, which is a hilarious sort of spoof of the worst excesses of Janeitism that I think Jane herself would have loved, and Laurie Viera Rigler’s books Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict and Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict. The thing all these have in common is that they celebrate our love of Jane Austen without being twee or overly sentimental.

5.  Beyond reading Austen-related materials, what other books have you read recently and would recommend to others?

Unfortunately I haven’t had much time to read non-Austen-related stuff lately! I read a lot of classics, but in many cases they are books that Austen would have read, so that makes them kind of Austen-related. However, I do recommend them on their own: anything by Fanny Burney, The Mysteries of Udolpho by Anne Radcliffe, and the rest of the “horrid novels” named in Northanger Abbey.

I’m a big fan of Elizabeth Gaskell’s work and there’s a Gaskell Blog that is running a reading challenge for 2011. Austen fans should check it out—I think they would like Gaskell’s work.

My favorite modern book that I’ve read in the last year or so was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. What a charming, thoroughly delightful book, sweet and romantic and heartbreaking. I just loved it. It’s not a very recent book, but I recommend it highly!

6.  Please describe your ideal writing space versus your current writing space or if you currently have your ideal writing space, please describe it (you can also include a few photos of your favorite aspects of that room).

I think my ideal writing space is in my head more than a physical place. It’s hard for me to write when I am busy and stressed out—there is too much furniture up there (as Gandalf said of Barliman Butterbur in The Lord of the Rings, my mind is like a lumber-room: thing wanted always buried). So anywhere where I am left alone and have time and space to clear out my head and concentrate on my task works for me. That can be anything from a busy coffee shop to the balcony of my apartment on a warm spring day. Lately I’ve been getting a lot done by getting up very early (5 a.m.). If I went to bed early and am well-rested, that’s the best time of day for me to write.

7.  What projects are you working on now? Could you provide my readers with a few hints?

A few years ago, I wrote a novella for the Jane Austen Centre at Bath’s online magazine, a sequel to Northanger Abbey called There Must Be Murder. It was serialized over a year. I had some requests for hard copy publication, so recently I published it as a paperback, and it’s also available as a free ebook—I’m very enthusiastic about ebooks and have four ebook readers, plus my smartphone! I also have a short story in an anthology being published by Ballantine later this year called Jane Austen Made Me Do It, edited by my friend and fellow Jane Austen blogger Laurel Ann Nattress. My story is a tidbit of backstory from Persuasion, inspired by my love for Age of Sail novels such as the Hornblower series.

I’m also working on a couple of things off and on, some Austen-related and some not. I don’t like to talk too much about stuff in progress, though, in case it goes pear-shaped, as it so often does. I have lots of concepts but they don’t often develop into actual plots. 😉

Thanks for having me! This was fun.

Thank you, Margaret, for being part of the March Celebration of Indie & Small Presses.

About Quirk Books:

An independent publisher from Philadelphia, Pa., Quirk Books/Classics blends the work of classic literary masters with new scenes of horrific creatures and gruesome action. The publisher strives to mesh class literature with pop culture with the hope of creating literary cult-classics.

Also from a publisher letter: “Quirk Books isn’t just a creative publishing company, it’s also a place where dreams come true (especially the ones involving monkeys), where there are no stupid ideas, where words and pictures live together in ironic bliss, and where bills are paid, invoices are sent, and numbers are crunched. In Quirk, you’ll find a publisher of impractical reference and irreverent nonfiction (probably the first ever). You’ll find a publisher of humor books, of pop culture books, of gift books, of reference books, and of hybrid books that cross over from market to market and genre to genre.”