Posted By admin / 27th August 2013
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 Dan Cafaro of Atticus Books.
Monkeybicycle: When was Atticus Books founded? What prompted you to want to start it?
Dan Cafaro: The press started as a “desperately seeking readers” blog. Essentially I was looking for a productive way to avoid the lonesome cruelty of creative writing. The organic concept of publishing other people’s work seemed like a benevolent solution. Being inspired by my attendance at a small press book fair in New York City sealed my fate.
Mb: At the time, why was Atticus—and why is it still—necessary?
DC: Atticus is as necessary as a weathervane in a wind storm. Like all independent presses, our publishing house acts as a rudder, pointing readers in a bold, adventurous direction, imploring them to brave the elements, pay heed to the pattern of the circling sharks. We’re here to help folks avoid the calamity of being wedged and informed solely by the siphon and booming din of popular culture.
Mb: What about Atticus Books are you most proud of?
DC: We don’t compromise our principles to sell books. We don’t base our publishing decisions on the opinions of what others may deem marketable. I embrace and support writers who have carved out a lasting impression with the delicacy of a paring knife, and three pages later, the ferocity of a chainsaw. I’m not concerned with the seeming folly behind my personal investment. I’m concerned with how I can help increase the visibility of writing that deserves attention because of its sheer strength and resonance.
Mb: What do you look for when you’re open for submissions? What makes a project or manuscript worth taking on?
DC: Now that we have a little traction in the indie lit community, I look for familiarity with our press. I have an aversion to indulging folks who submit to us without first attempting to understand our mission and getting acquainted with our work. This isn’t kid play; this is a job interview with no pay and lousy benefits, but the rewards are intrinsic, the perks priceless, the commute exceptional.
If you really want to impress me, tell me why one of our books changed your life. Tell me what blog post or Atticus Review publication so blew you away or so enraged or baffled you that you missed your shift or class and went on a mental holiday or bender because the writing was that good (or terribly misguided). Tell me how you plan to help us change the course of literary history. Tell me why I shouldn’t collect what’s left of my marbles, fold up the press and defect to Switzerland.
Mb: What does “indie” or “small press” mean to you? What do you think of such classifications and distinctions?
DC: It’s a tired conversation because the explanation is likely unnecessary for anyone reading this interview. You don’t need to explain indie music or indie films to people who are fans of such media. Indie lit’s the same deal. We should quit worrying about what distinguishes us from the conglomerates (mostly shallow pockets) and concentrate on what makes us better. As much as we don’t want to admit it, our perspectives are not all that wildly different from anyone with a stake in publishing.
Mb: What sets your books apart from the rest?
DC: I’ve been incredibly fortunate to link our press with cover designer Jamie Keenan from the beginning. He has helped fulfill the vision and establish a brand that follows in the spiritual footsteps of my influential literary mentors, Grove, New Directions and Black Sparrow Press. We also have a killer logo, designed by Mark Munoz and Susannah Fields of RIPE Creative. Managing editor Libby O’Neill has been with me since our debut release (Fight for Your Long Day) and has succeeded to this point in keeping Atticus (and me) from crashing and burning. Publicists Lacey Dunham and Abby Hess have been instrumental in heralding our book titles with the force of Gabriel’s horn. Web master Tracey Holinka of Chaos to Clarity has maintained both the Atticus Books and Atticus Review websites with the precision of a brain surgeon. And, of course, our writers—all 16 of them & counting—are talismanic, both as storytellers and friends of Atticus. I guess what I’m saying is: the talent sets our books apart. If I’m particularly good at anything, it’s finding talented peers who make me look way smarter than I am.
Mb: What’s your favorite part of your job?
DC: It’s really the kinetic thrill I get from making connections with people. That includes readers, writers, other publishers, editors, designers, booksellers, small press junkies, and anybody who makes this wacky subterranean world of indie lit (r)evolve.
Mb: For you, why are books so important?
DC: I guess the predictable reason I find books so important would be for me to equate letters with allotropes and words with oxygen and pages with leaves and bindings with roots, and covers with trees and libraries with the ecosystem, and perhaps, to get metaphorically even punchier, to equate the writer with our supreme creator, but that would be a rather silly, pompous analogy, so scratch that. Books are essential for me because they remind me in their eternal, collective wisdom of my place in the universe; they make it clear that the world doesn’t revolve around me or any one of us, even though it would be so much cooler once in a while if it did.
Mb: What other small presses do you admire? Why?
DC: You’ve put me on the spot, but I’m a glutton for challenges. First, in a shameless plug, many of the literary presses I admire that produce journals are featured in our house’s first non-fiction release, Paper Dreams: Writers and Editors on the American Literary Magazine (Aug. 13, 2013). That covers quite a bit of ground right there, but to focus on mostly fiction houses, let me mention 20 book publishing luminaries (several of whom should go without saying, including the first seven which are non-profits with a far-reaching impact): Coffee House Press, Milkweed Editions, Dzanc Books, Graywolf Press, Red Hen Press, Sarabande Books, C&R Press, Melville House, Tin House, Press 53, Soho Press, Other Press, Curbside Splendor, featherproof books, Publishing Genius Press, Seven Stories Press, Raw Dog Screaming Press, sunnyoutside press, Civil Coping Mechanisms, and Tarpaulin Sky Press.
How’d I do? Oh wait, you want to know why. Why do I admire these presses? OK, here goes: because without their continued presence the world would be a darker, sorrier place.
Mb: Do you have hope for the future of books?
DC: I have nauseatingly high hopes and unbridled enthusiasm for the future of books. Check out the press list above and just look at the volumes of gems that small, independent presses produce daily. Of course we all won’t survive the hellacious economics of publishing titles for such a narrow sect of society, but that doesn’t mean the future is bleak. For every painful death of a press, be it for personal or financial reasons (e.g., J.A. Tyler’s Mud Luscious Press), there is a vibrant upstart sitting in the queue, ready to take his cuts (e.g., Ryan Rivas’ Burrow Press). My confidence will grow when an increasing number of people realize that the Big Six don’t make up the entirety of big league rosters. Technology and changing consumer behaviors have leveled the playing field for small presses. Now we just need to learn how to hit the curve.
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.