Q&A with Rose Metal Press founders

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!

PHX: 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 that way.

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 publishing.

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 genres?

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 Redivider.

KR: I’m also a regular visitor to Ron Silliman’s blog, and I like the work of Jim Behrle ( and ). One of my favorite newer publications is Moon Lit and I cannot get enough of the quarterly magazine Cabinet (

-Deirdre Fulton

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