Archive for April, 2013

Small Press Interview: Scrambler Books

In this interview series, Monkeybicycle intern David Cotrone will introduce you to a variety of small press editors and publishers.

This interview was conducted with Jeremy Spencer of Scrambler Books.

 


 

Monkeybicycle: When was Scrambler Books founded? What prompted you to want to start it?

Jeremy Spencer: I started Scrambler Books in 2008. But before, I started The Scrambler zine in 2002 and originally the first 5 issues were just that- a print zine that I handmade about twice a year. I really enjoyed doing that- getting contributors and cover art together, laying each issue out, printing it and then binding it. I probably did about 50-100 of each issue and then I just gave them away for free. In 2006, I moved it to an online only format and started to do monthly issues. By 2008, my desire to want to work with print again kicked in and I decided to start Scrambler Books to be focused on publishing poetry and short fiction books. I started with a book of poetry by Bay Area poet Trevor Calvert and each year since 2008, I have been able to publish more and more.

Mb: At the time, why was Scrambler–and why is it still–necessary?

JS: I don’t think necessary is a good word to use to describe it. I think of Scrambler Books more as something that I started because I wanted to. If I did not like doing the things associated with running a micro press, then I would stop doing it.

Mb: What about Scrambler Books are you most proud of?

JS: Probably when a reader or reviewer gets in touch with me or shares something somewhere regarding one of our books that has made them glad that they read that particular book. I know when I read a book that I like, or even a sentence that I like, it can give me a feeling of enjoyment. Sentences can be exciting. Books can be exciting. And when someone shares that experience with others, when a sentence or story or poem can impact positively how the next hour of your afternoon goes, then that is a pretty cool thing.

Mb: What do you look for when you’re open for submissions? What makes a project or manuscript worth taking on?

JS: Submissions for Scrambler Books are always open. And I try to respond as quickly as possible but the last year and a half has seen my response time slow way down for various reasons- increase in submissions, computer virus, etc… As for what I look for in a manuscript submission, I am not really sure. I think I have pretty eclectic tastes regarding style and types of writing with what we publish. I wish I could say, “A, B and C are what I like and I will not look at anything that does not fall into those categories.” But I can’t because I like so many different types of writing and writers. I know that doesn’t really answer the question, but I don’t want to start limiting or only receiving certain types of manuscripts in the future.

Mb: What does “indie” or “small press” mean to you? What do you think of such classifications and distinctions?

JS: I consider Scrambler Books an “indie” micro press. I think “indie” in regards to micro or “small” presses at its most basic level means that it is run independently of anything else. An “indie” press is something that is independent of any other kind of business or corporation. I think I call Scrambler Books a micro press because the most books we have published in one year is 4. As compared to New Directions which I would consider a small press and that publishes about 30 titles a year according to their website. But it all depends on your definition of “small” in “small press” I guess. “Indie” and “small presses” and micro presses have usually been started and continue to be run by one person or a small group of people that maybe sort of just started doing it because they wanted to do it and/or because they like books or are writers themselves. I think usually with “indie” presses, the majority of the time they start out as a labor of love. I think the classifications “indie” and “small press” are fine and probably even useful.

Mb: What sets your books apart from the rest?

JS: I like to think that the books that we publish are considered interesting, innovative and unique.

Mb: What’s your favorite part of your job?

JS: Working on a book with a writer. Most times the writer and I will be interacting constantly and daily at least during the last 1-2 months before the book is published. And it has been a pleasure to get to know and work with the writers that I have published so far. I would consider all of them friends and some of them good friends after having worked together on a book. The process of publishing a book is fun and creative. Working with the writer and taking all of these related elements- manuscript, cover, design, layout, etc… and putting them together to make the finished product is the best part of running Scrambler Books.

Mb: For you, why are books so important?

JS: For many reasons. As a means to disseminate information. As a tradition. The way a book feels in a hand. How a cover looks. The idea that something you are about to read will possibly make you think about life, about your own private world a little differently than you did before you read it.

Mb: What other small presses do you admire? Why?

JS: There are a lot. There are some that were started a long time ago and are no longer around at least in the small independent press way that they were when they started. And there are some others that were started more recently and are going strong. Some presses that I admire in no particular order are:

Hogarth Press. Started by Virginia Woolf and her husband, it allowed Ms. Woolf to publish her own work worry free. And they first published Eliot’s The Waste Land in the UK within a few months of it first being printed in the USA. Started as a micro press then sold to a bigger press many years later. But those first 15 years are pretty impressive.

City Lights Publishing. Most everyone knows this story of Mr. Ferlinghetti and how valuable he and City Lights have been to independent publishing. Standing up for Ginsberg’s Howl and helping the writers known as and associated with the Beats get published. He basically helped them become more legitimate to the literary and larger world. But they also publish many other American and International writers that are very good.

Black Sparrow. John Martin started this press in 1966 by selling all of his first editions of modernist writers and then using that money to dedicating this press to publishing Charles Bukowski. How many publishers would do that today? Sell off their most valuable possessions and then say I am going to sink or swim with this one writer. Even though Bukowski was pretty well known in 1966 in the underground literary scene, he had not ever had published and or tried to sell full length books before, so this was a definite risk back then.

New Directions. Started by James Laughlin as a small press and is still considered one today. Started because Ezra Pound told Mr. Laughlin that he should “do ‘something’ useful” after he graduated from college. They still publish great American and International writers, most recently with the new translations into English of the great Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector.

Grove Press. When Barney Rossett bought it in 1951 and for the next 35 years made it one of the most respected independent small publishers in the world.

The rest of the presses that I will mention were all started in the twenty first century and continue to publish and distribute high quality writers following in the footsteps of the 5 presses mentioned previously. They also are innovative and publish writing that adds to the culture in a good way. They are finding new ways to publish books. They are (also in no particular order): Publishing Genius Press, Mud Luscious Press, Wave Books, Dancing Girl Press, Octopus Books, No Tell Books, Melville House, Magic Helicopter Press, MuuMuu House, Tiny Hardcore Press, Two Dollar Radio, Emily Books, Featherproof Books, Dalkey Archive Press, Black Ocean Press.

Mb: Do you have hope for the future of books?

JS: Definitely. Although everyone knows that the book industry is changing, I think that independent small presses are actually in a very good position to fill in the holes from all of these big publishers merging together. Scrambler Books has gotten more popular in every year of its existence since 2008. We plan to publish in 2013 more books than we ever have in any other of our years. Also, the way that independent small publishers are approaching publishing is definitely looking good for the future of books. By which I mean we are all thinking about e-content yes, but also there are more special print editions, or limited print editions and other types of the book as an art object going on. Look at Featherproof Books and what they do with the design of their books. It is amazing. I think that books even for the younger “Digital Native” generation(s) still hold importance and relevance and will continue to do so. Although I really enjoy thinking about the future of books and coming up with new ideas for the books that Scrambler Books publishes, I also enjoy the tradition associated with books and think that it is definitely still respected. And the headache of digital provenance and storing digital data with so many changing systems and formats has yet to be solved to a satisfactory level in libraries and archives. At the moment, books and paper are still a stronger way to keep information alive for a long time. I am a book optimist.

Mb: Please share anything else you would like to say.

JS: Use a library once in a while.

 
 
 


David Cotrone is from Plymouth, MA. His writing appears in Fifty-Two Stories, The Rumpus, PANK, Paper Darts, Necessary Fiction, Thought Catalog, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and elsewhere. You can find him at www.davidcotrone.com.

 

Know Your Bookstore: Parnassus Books (Nashville)

In this new interview series, Monkeybicycle intern David Cotrone will be introducing you to a variety of independent booksellers and store owners.

Parnassus Books is located in Nashville, TN. This interview was conducted with Karen Hayes of the Parnassus Books staff.

 


 

Monkeybicycle: When was your bookstore founded? What prompted you to want to sell books?

Karen Hayes: We opened November 16th, 2011. I fell into the book business by accident, when I started working at a book distributor in 1978. I could not have found a better career. Before opening the store, I worked at Random House as a sales rep for 18 years, most of that time calling on independent bookstores. When the main bookstore in town, Davis-Kidd announced they were declaring chapter 11 bankruptcy and closing, I started exploring the idea of opening a store. I knew that part of the problem Davis-Kidd had was that it gotten too big for today market, 30,000 square feet. I had seen that the majority of independents that have survived for decades did so by staying small and grounded in their local neighborhood. So that is what I set out to do. Two months into formulating a plan for the opening a store, my employer Random House offered early retirement to employees over 50, which I took advantage of, allowing me to not have to draw a salary from the store until well into the first year. Then a couple months later I met Ann Patchett, who became my business partner in the bookstore. I know that I was extremely lucky on both these counts and that the store may not have happened without them.

Mb: What about your bookstore are you most proud of?

KH: That we concentrate on the printed book. We have very few sidelines. The book inventory is what matters. It reflects the reading habits of our customers and features the local authors in our community.

Mb: Does your location influence your store? If so, how?

KH: It does. We are in what is considered the best shopping district in town. Because of that we get a lot of people into the store that are in the area visiting other shops, restaurants, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. The rents in this popular shopping area are naturally high, so we have to be careful about the size of the store. We need to make sure the sales per square foot are healthy when compared to the rent per square foot. We still have a few customers that would like to see us in a space bigger than our 3100 square feet. We are doing our best to explain that we cannot compete with Amazon on breadth of selection and that this is the size that will hopefully allow us to be around for a long time.

Mb: What sets your bookstore apart from the rest?

KH: (see: what we are most proud of) Also we have a piano in the store and we have regular music events. We are in Music City after all.

Mb: What’s your favorite part of your job?

KH: Seeing happy kids, customers, authors and booksellers in the store. The store is a very positive place to spend time in.

Mb: For you, why are books so important?

KH: They open up avenues for seeing the world in new ways.

Mb: Personally, why do you read?

KH: Ditto on above, and then there is also just pure escapism.

Mb: Do you host readings at your bookstore? If so, who’s given your most memorable one?

KH: We had around 200 events last year. Not all were at our store, because of size limitations. It is impossible to say which one was most memorable, so I will just mention one that we had last week with Luis Alberto Urrea. We had about sixty people who were thoroughly entertained by the stories of his family and how they influenced his books, Hummingbird’s Daughter and Queen of America. There are great writers and there are great oral storytellers, and it is such a pleasure when the two coincide.

Mb: What and who are some of your favorite titles and authors?

KH: Having been a reader for a few decades now, I know the answer to this question will change every few months, so I’ll just mention three authors and books from the past year. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain, Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller and Round House by Louise Erdrich.

Mb: Do you have hope for the future of books?

KH: YES!

Mb: Please share anything else you would like to say.

KH: Support your local bookstore. It matters to your community.

 
 
 


David Cotrone is from Plymouth, MA. His writing appears in Fifty-Two Stories, The Rumpus, PANK, Paper Darts, Necessary Fiction, Thought Catalog, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and elsewhere. You can find him at www.davidcotrone.com.

 

Contributor News

Hey everyone, Monkeybicycle7 contributor Aaron Gilbreath has a new digital essay out through the fine folks at Thought Catalog. It’s called The Stoned Age, and here’s the lowdown:

A story about being young and compulsive, “The Stoned Age” follows a twenty-something narrator’s attempt to quit smoking pot and clear his head. Living in funky Tucson, Arizona, his multiple attempts at sobriety fail, so he enrolls in a drug treatment group and discovers his other problem: cultural perceptions. As a fellow rehab patient tells Dave Chappelle’s character in the movie Half Baked: “You in here ’cuz of marijuana? …Man, this is some bullshit!” Which is exactly the author’s dilemma: if cannabis sativa is so harmless, why can’t he quit smoking it?

Sounds great, right? It is. And it’s only $2.99, so grab a copy now. You can get it here. And check out more of Aaron’s work on his website.

 
 

That’s it for now. If you’re a Monkeybicycle contributor and have a new project you’d like us to mention, drop us a line.

 

Small Press Interview: Aqueous Books

In this interview series, Monkeybicycle intern David Cotrone will introduce you to a variety of small press editors and publishers.

This interview was conducted with Cynthia Reeser of Aqueous Books.

 


 

Monkeybicycle: When was Aqueous Books founded? What prompted you to want to start it?

Cynthia Reeser: I started Aqueous Books in January 2010 in part as a response to the overflow of long-form fiction I received at Prick of the Spindle (at that time we were accepting up to novella-length work for the online edition of the journal), which made me realize how many deserving manuscripts go unpublished in part because of the publisher : manuscript ratio. There are only so many publishers, and so many, many more manuscripts. I was reading a lot about publishing at the time and where it was headed because I was intrigued by it and I was also writing a book on publishing, and I knew that literary agents and publishers were flooded with manuscripts, many of which they had to turn away, even though deserving, because one company or agent can only take on so much work. (Ironically, Aqueous Books closed to submissions rather quickly after opening its doors, and we are now booked out with manuscripts–publishing one book per month–through 2016.) Because Prick of the Spindle is founded on the principle that deserving work should be published regardless of its author’s credentials or experience or affiliation or prior publications, it seemed only natural to create a venue for those longer-form manuscripts. Aqueous Books publishes novellas, short stories, memoirs, essay collections, and novels. It is also true that the idea for Aqueous Books hit me out of the clear blue sky; I had considered before, in passing, starting a publishing company, but had no real plans to do so, but then the entire package of the idea for the company fell on me all at once, right down to the details of the logo, so I knew it was time to make it happen. I felt I had an obligation to myself and to others to do it.

Mb: At the time, why was Aqueous–and why is it still–necessary?

CR: For all the reasons I mention above; we provide an avenue of publication for any manuscript, regardless of whether its author is a high school dropout digging ditches for a living or an Ivy League graduate making six figures a year working for a Fortune 500 company. All we care about is the quality of the work. We also produce a high quality product for every one of our books and afford them all the same value.

Mb: What about Aqueous Books are you most proud of?

CR: The fact that I started it from absolutely nothing as a single mother of two during one of the hardest times of my life. I had a computer, an internet connection, and the balls of Annie Oakley. Not to mention some editing and graphic design know-how under my hat. So with that and little else, I made it work, and now, a lot of our books are being reviewed by Publishers Weekly and ForeWord Reviews. I couldn’t be prouder.

Mb: What do you look for when you’re open for submissions? What makes a project or manuscript worth taking on?

CR: My answer to both of those questions is simple: potential. That can mean that a book has potential but needs a little editing help, but in the end, the result is a quality piece of writing that lives up to its author’s vision.

Mb: What does “indie” or “small press” mean to you? What do you think of such classifications and distinctions?

CR: To many, “indie” and “small press” are one in the same. However, I think of indie as just what it means–independent. Someone or several running a press by their own hard work and dedication. We’re a small press too, but not all small presses are indie. Some small presses are affiliated with institutions like colleges or universities or writing centers or other programs, and receive their funding through those sources. As far as what I think about such classifications and distinctions, labels and categories will always be there, regardless, and to an extent, they are useful, like genus and species are useful in the naming of things.

Mb: What sets your books apart from the rest?

CR: All of our books are edited to be their very best, and all are literary. We produce quality literature. I don’t think every publisher of fiction can say that. I don’t take on anything that is too commercial or just because I think it will sell, only books that have strong literary value.

Mb: What’s your favorite part of your job?

CR: Probably the graphic/cover design. I love to make art…that’s the fun part. Editing is more of a chore, but I do it as my profession, so it feels like work, but it’s also second nature.

Mb: For you, why are books so important?

CR: Books are a record of humanity and the human experience. I like to think that they will still live on as a record of our present experiences for future generations. Whether those future generations are thousands of years apart from us, I like to picture people of a different time and cultural experience imagining themselves in our now, and also learning from their past, which is our present. Books in that sense are records, timekeepers. A collective cultural history.

Mb: What other small presses do you admire? Why?

CR: Graywolf for their dedication to literature, even though they may be more of a mid-sized publisher. Sunnyoutside for their production values and their beautiful books which are sometimes like art objects. There are others but those are the two that stand out.

Mb: Do you have hope for the future of books?

CR: Absolutely, insofar as I have hope for the human race.

 
 
 


David Cotrone is from Plymouth, MA. His writing appears in Fifty-Two Stories, The Rumpus, PANK, Paper Darts, Necessary Fiction, Thought Catalog, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and elsewhere. You can find him at www.davidcotrone.com.