In this week's Portland Phoenix, I review the latest offering from Boston-based Rose Metal Press: A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness: four chapbooks of short short fiction by four women, by Amy L. Clark, Elizabeth Ellen, Kathy Fish, and Claudia Smith. (You can find the review here, once it's posted online.)
I also got the chance to interview Kathleen Rooney and Abby Beckel, the founders (both in their late 20s, and graduates of Emerson College grad school) of Rose Metal. An edited version of the interview is in the paper; I'm pubishing it in its entirety here, along with links to some of the literary influences / blogs / journals that the women cite as favorites. Enjoy!
What was the impetus behind launching the press?
AB: Well, truthfully I
had been dreaming of starting a publishing company since I was a teenager. I
think it was being a yearbook editor in high school that really solidified my
ideal of combining my love of reading with producing something tangible for
other people to read and enjoy. It just felt so great to see people carrying
around, poring over, and enjoying a publication I had helped create (even if it
was rife with horrible high school mug shots and an overuse of clip art).
The more linear answer is that Kathy and I were in grad school at
Emerson College together and ended up working closely on the journal Redivider — her as the editor-in-chief
and me as the managing editor. We found that we worked extremely well together,
while also having a lot of fun. So when we graduated, we looked at the
publishing scene, saw a need for someone to champion and publish innovative
works in hybrid genres, and decided that it was time to start a press. We
founded Rose Metal in January 2006.
KR: As Abby said,
there were a number of reasons why it seemed like the right time to start Rose
Metal — a lifelong love of literature, a desire to make beautiful books, an
interest in helping talented authors get their work into the hands of an
appreciative audience, a fascination with hybrid forms, and an ever-deepening
sense of disappointment and disillusionment with the increasing lack of vision
and risk-taking in the mainstream publishing industry.
PHX: RMP has been around
for about two years. What have been the biggest challenges so far? What are you
most proud of?
KR: It’s been going
well. The biggest challenges are probably two-pronged and not that unusual to
anyone who runs an independent press: that we could always use more money (who
couldn’t?) and more time (since we both work nine-to-five day jobs). That said,
our first two and a half years have been great, and we’re psyched about the
books we’ve got in the works. One of the things I’m most proud of is our
authors, who in addition to being talented producers of the kind of work we
like to see in print, are also consistently nice, thoughtful, fun, and
hard-working, and very much team players in terms of helping us to promote
their and their fellow authors’ work.
AB: I agree with Kathy
that working with our authors and seeing their work get out to a wider audience
has been super rewarding and a lot of fun. I’m also proud of the way our books
look and of our designers and cover artists for helping us present the work in
interesting ways that reflect the innovativeness of the writing. Our first
chapbook contest winner The Sky Is a Well
and Other Shorts, by Claudia Smith, was included in the New England Book
Show this spring, and we felt honored to have one of our books recognized in
PHX: What are your
thoughts on the current state of publishing?
KR: I guess it depends
on what kind of publishing. I’ve come to have a certain amount of skepticism
regarding large commercial publishing houses and the trade publishing industry.
So often, individuals who work in this world — agents, editors, publicity and
marketing people, etc. — say things like, “The market being what it is, I can
only afford to get behind projects I really love,”
when all too often what they seem to mean is “I can only be bothered with
projects I think will appeal broadly to the widest possible demographic
thereby.” This risk aversion, though it is a matter of self-preservation, seems
to shut the door to a lot of potentially exciting and original new work.
But then if you consider the state of independent publishing,
things seem much more promising. University and independent presses seem to be
able to take more risks in what they publish, and also to be viable with books
that can sell modestly to a sort of smaller, more targeted audience (instead of
having to constantly hunt for huge runaway best-sellers). There’s a lot more
room for diversity, idiosyncrasy, and originality in the books being published
by independent presses. And there are so many indie presses, and more springing
up every year, so if you don’t happen to like the books published by one,
there’s no problem because there are dozens if not hundreds more to look into.
It’s a super-exciting time to be working in (or reading books produced by) independent
AB: Publishing is a
hard business economically. It’s tough for even the biggest mainstream
publishers to turn a profit on a book after the cuts the printer, author,
distributor, and bookstores take, so I don’t begrudge them their desire for
bestsellers. But I do worry a lot about the conglomeration of many of the
mainstream publishers and bookstores because as a writer, I hate to see the
options for publication in that arena narrowing, and as a reader, I’d rather
not have all my information coming from a few sources. That’s what makes
independent and not-for-profit literary publishing so important culturally.
Small presses form the springboard for new voices and innovative styles to be
heard and read. And the best part is that we get to make relatively
uncompromised decisions about what to publish.
PHX: Who/what are some of
your professional/literary influences and inspirations?
AB: I think I can say
that both Kathy and I admire anyone who has started a small press or
publication and really tried to make a go of it. It’s not easy, and the longer
we work on Rose Metal, the more inspired I am by the vitality and creativity of
the independent literary publishing community and the dedication the people who
work within it have to broadening the field of literature. That said, I
particularly admire the way that Chase Twitchell of Ausable Press and Martha
Rhodes of Four Way Books have grown and developed their small presses.
As far as literary influences for Rose Metal go, we owe a debt of
gratitude to fiction writer and Emerson College professor Pamela Painter for
encouraging us to make short short fiction one of our flagship genres.
KR: I agree with Abby
— there are so many that if I tried to list them all, I’d surely leave some
out. But just off the top of my head, Kelly Link and Gavin Grant of Small Beer
Press are two of my indie publishing heroes, plus Kelly Link is an amazing
writer in her own right. I am also consistently impressed by the work being
published by (and the professionalism of the people working at) Wave Books,
Action Books, Featherproof Books, dancing girl press, Kitchen Press, Black
Ocean, Future Tense Books, Red Morning Press, Switchback Books, Dzanc Books,
Akashic Books, Ahsahta Press and on and on.
PHX: What makes short shorts
or flash fiction special? What role do these types of stories play among the
KR: It’s partly
because their role among the genres isn’t totally clear or established that
short shorts are so compelling, at least to us. Short shorts — they have the
economy of a poem, and often the linguistic and syntactic richness, but so too
do they incorporate the elements of narrative and prose fiction — are
intelligible to a wide readership because of these similarities to other forms,
but they also have their own distinct character, in much the same way that a
sonnet or a haiku has a distinct character.
AB: As Kathy
mentioned, we’ve found that short short fiction appeals to a wider audience
than many other literary forms — not because it’s easy, but because it captures
what’s essential and packages it with precision. And reading short shorts is
often a fascinatingly interactive experience: when they are well written they
automatically beg questions like “What does this mean?” or “How does this story
work?” and leave the reader pondering the characters or situation presented so
fleetingly yet vividly. They stick in the mind — we hear from readers all the
time that they like short shorts because they find themselves thinking about
the stories again long after they’ve read them.
PHX: How often do you two
talk? How do you divide up responsibilities?
KR: This is like The Newlywed Game or something, where we
might give hilariously different answers. But, barring unusual obstacles or
circumstances, we usually talk at least 3-4 times a week, and sometimes every
or every other day, both about press stuff and normal
friends-who-don’t-live-in-the-same-city-anymore stuff. I guess, if you wanted
to oversimplify a bit, Abby handles more of the layout/design and
business/budget side of the press than I do, and I probably handle more of the
author correspondence, slush pile, and promotional side of the press than she
does, but honestly, we both have a hand in every aspect, and we make even the
smallest decisions jointly. We are extremely fortunate in that we seem to have
skill-sets and personality traits that complement each other, and in that we
are able to be very good friends and effective business partners at the same
time, which is probably kind of lucky and rare.
AB: I think this is
the part where I’m supposed to hold up the sign that says “10 times a day” and
the laugh track rolls, but Kathy described our work style the same way I would.
We communicate via multiple e-mails most days, and then talk a couple of nights
a week and on the weekends. It’s a challenge to have the majority of our
meetings over the phone, but we’ve gotten good at communicating productively
that way. And as she said, although she does a lot more query reading and I do
a lot more number crunching, we work very closely and collaboratively on each
book: editing the manuscripts separately and then discussing and combining our
edits; reviewing cover art and page designs together; proofreading page proofs,
etc. We have come to realize that the work we do together tends to be better
quality than the work we do apart, so I would say that at least 90 percent of
the work we do as a press is a true joint effort of the two of us.
PHX: What are some of your
favorite book blogs and literary publications?
KR & AB: This list,
too, could easily get out of hand, but to name a few: Bookslut, Boston Review, DIAGRAM, Quick Fiction, Smokelong Quarterly,
Double Room, Open Letters Monthly, Octopus (especially the reviews), elimae, Bookforum, sawbuck, Poetry Daily, and
KR: I’m also a regular visitor to Ron
Silliman’s blog, and I like the work of Jim Behrle (http://americanpoetry.biz
). One of my favorite newer publications is Moon
Lit and I cannot get enough of the quarterly magazine Cabinet (http://www.cabinetmagazine.org).