interview /// A Cloth House by Joseph Riippi

Posted By jatyler - 2nd July 2012

As the inaugural novella from Housefire Publishing, Joseph Riippi’s A Cloth House has much to live up to: Housefire is known for wild and wooly writing, some of the most lividly honest literature appearing online, and now they’ve jumped the fence to print ventures, first releasing the anthology Nouns of Assemblage which was immediately lauded as a bright star in a newly formed sky. So A Cloth House sets our expectations for where Housefire Publishing can go with single-author titles, what it can do, how smartly it can burn. And Riippi’s writing does live up to these expectations, absolutely and with gusto, and he is kind enough here to let us take some questioning stabs at his authorly presence.

MB: I’m sure our audience would love to know how it was working with Housefire Publishing – what was the editorial process like, how much did the manuscript change from acceptance to publication, and so far, how has the release been for A Cloth House?

JR: The Houseburners are a spectacular group, and working with them has been an absolute pleasure. They’re smart, passionate, creative—everything you want in a publisher.

A Cloth House was solicited by Riley Michael Parker about 14 months before its release, as one of what was set to be a series of Housefire novellas. I’d had a story in Housefire’s first print release, the anthology Nouns of Assemblage, and Riley sent me a few prompts to see if I’d be interested in doing something longer. Prompts are a big part of how Housefire does things—each month Lindsay Allison Ruoff and Robert Duncan Gray put up new submission guidelines for the online journal, typically a title and a few accompanying form/content challenges. For the book, I had a few title choices (none of which were A Cloth House) and a few rules (none of which weren’t somehow broken in the final piece). But the prompts got me going. Which I think is the point.

Little changed in the edits. I got a little adverb happy in places, yes, and there were chronology issues I definitely needed another reader to sort out. That sort of thing. The substantial change of note came from Kira Clark, who did the bulk of the editing. She suggested fleshing out the childhood friend of the narrator. At the time he was only half-mentioned in a kind of list of remembered things. Two of my favorite stanzas in the book came out of that suggestion, and I’m forever grateful to Kira for that.

As for how the release has been so far, it’s been delightful. I’m looking forward to getting the electronic version ready this summer, and we’re already looking at a third printing, which wholly exceeded my expectations.

MB: In a previous work like The Orange Suitcase, the writing was based more in a vein of realism – chronological, detailed, narrative driven – but with A Cloth House surrealism takes hold, creating an image laden story. Was this a conscious decision, to turn / twist your style in this way? And was it difficult or easy to follow this style through A Cloth House?

JR: It’s funny, because while I completely understand that this book’s much different from The Orange Suitcase, but it came very much from the same memory-y place. The difference, I think, is that the Suitcase used a kind of “realism” that was mostly straightforward sentences and a disdain for adverbs. I wanted hard, tangible descriptions of memories in that book. But with A Cloth House I wanted a voice actively remembering, a language more fluid rather than chiseled. And I think the result, though still built on a simple, straightforward story, works much more like memory does, scattered and surreally, with a lot of adverbs.

I’m not certain of why I wanted to do that. But yes, it was a conscious change from one to the next. And while it was an easy decision, it’s been hard to do. In the next book I’ve been trying to push it in even further, to find a narrator who can make memory malleable, mold it, re-remember.

MB: And if I’m not mistaken, you’ve been hitting towns far and wide to promote this novella. Where have you gone so far, and where can people find you in the coming months if they want to hear some live readings of A Cloth House?

JR: When I first started writing seriously, my highest goal—the “if I can do that, I’ve made it” goal—was to have a book in the window of Powell’s City of Books in Portland, Oregon. I not only got to see that with The Orange Suitcase this past March, but got to read at the podium there. (Thank you, Kevin Sampsell, for giving me that). In terms of travelling, I made a Seattle/Portland trip just after AWP in Chicago, and then did a few readings in New York City this spring, including the amazing Franklin Park Reading Series, which I’ve wanted to do for a couple years now. (Thank you, too, Penina Roth, for including me). Just recently I was in Hudson, NY at Chloe Caldwell’s series, and will be at Le Poisson Rouge in NYC with InDigest Magazine on June 13.

I did a lot more travelling for The Orange Suitcase, but haven’t had quite so much time off work this year to do the same. Hopefully for the next book.

MB: You’ve also recently released a new chapbook called Treesisters from Carl Annarummo’s amazing Greying Ghost Press. Can you tell us a little about this?

JR: I love Greying Ghost Press. The books are hand-made artifacts that, when you order one (at bargain prices) you not only get the book you ordered, but also any of a number of pamphlets and other print ephemera. It’s really something.

Treesisters came about as a rather long poem I wrote for Melissa Broder’s reading series here in New York. Ten readers were each assigned a song from Radiohead’s Kid A, and I drew “Treefingers.” I decided the best way to write something based on an instrumental song was to write about sisters in a tree doing sign language.

Greying Ghost’s submission period started a couple weeks after the reading, so off it went, and a year later, I got a box of letter-pressed beauties in the mail.

MB: What else is on the horizon for you? What new projects are you working on and where can we get a taste of them?

JR: The book after A Cloth House has been done for a bit now, called Research: A Novel for Performance. It’s a simultaneous translation—half the script of an off-off-broadway play that ran in New York last year, and half the prose “translation” of the script. My agent and I worked on it for a while and it’s just gone out to a few publishing houses—I’m hoping to find an editor as excited about formal translation as I am.

After that, there’s Because, a short novel I just finished—I think—last week. I’ve been buried in it for a couple months so it’s hard to speak about it at all well.

Lastly, I’ve been trying to write a big ol’ war novel for a while. I started it before The Orange Suitcase, actually. But each time I get into it I go for about ten or twenty thousand words before I have to start over. Maybe I’m not cut out for writing a hundred thousand words. But someday I’ll finish it, and in the meantime a few pieces of it have trickled out: here and here

A Cloth House is really a phenomenal read, a tight and interwoven novella that not only proves the worth and future value of Housefire Publishing but also gives Joseph Riippi an even broader hold in our contemporary lit scene, and should widen his already large readership. But don’t take our word for it – get yourself a copy of A Cloth House here, & read more from / about Joseph Riippi here.


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