Don’t Be Discouraged: You Are New!

Editor’s Note: In honor of springtime, I thought I’d rerun this post from last year, which remains one of the most popular posts we’ve had. Hope wins!

In an interview with Tinhouse’s J.C. Hallman, Walter Kirn refers to a common anxiety among writers:

J.C. Hallman: Do creative writers have an obligation to act as critics, to offer up alternatives to traditional critical methodologies and assumptions?

Walter Kirn: Creative writers have no obligation do anything, including their own creative work.  That’s what makes them “creative” in the first place, not merely productive.  That being said, a novel or a short story is an implicit piece of criticism.  It suggests that the job – some job; that of telling a story, say, or representing reality with language, or torturing reality with language – can be done better, or at least differently, than it has been done before.

Kirn’s right, of course – but at the same time, we all know how paralyzing this can be. There have been so many authors! Every story has been told! Everything’s been said! Blogging’s one thing, but who am I to presume that I can enter the world of writing a book that belongs on a bookshelf with all those authors I love and respect and admire?

Even the great Dr. Johnson suffered from a version of this internal narrative, giving up on writing poetry out of a belief that Alexander Pope had perfected the art, not to be surpassed.

(Ack, I hope I haven’t misremembered this – I can’t find the quote. In any case, I think the point still stands. Moving on…)

So what to do? You write spooky supernatural tales – good lord, there’s Stephen King dominating the field. You write historical novels set at sea during the Napoleonic Wars – but how can you top Patrick O’Brian? You feel drawn to write a story set in Dublin on a single day – well, hello there, Mr. Joyce! And on and on and on.

But guess what? Poetry didn’t end with Pope and Dryden. Spooky supernatural books don’t begin and end with Stephen King. There’s plenty of room for new stories, new books, new voices. And that’s where you come in: you can add your creative skills to the mix. And find your readers! They’re waiting for you.

Don’t internalize the gatekeepers. Break on through!

Small Press Shout-Out: Les Figues Press!

Okay! We’re back from our foray into the world of B-Corporation small presses and are in the more familiar world of nonprofit small presses. This week: Les Figues Press!

Les Figues Logo

The first thing that jumped out at me on their website is that they have a link for membership. Become a member? Of a small press? Hmmm. Something’s going on here. Something about this press must personally resonate with people.

And indeed it does! Les Figues has a clear mission:

Based in Los Angeles, our mission is to create aesthetic conversations between readers, writers, and artists. Les Figues Press publishes five to seven books a year and favors projects which push the boundaries of genre, form, and general acceptability. We also curate and host literary events, including readings, conversations, performances, and art salons.

Excellent! Now I now why membership makes sense. The press is only part of a larger drive toward building a community of like-minded, forward-thinking people.

How does that translate into the works they publish?

Les Figues Press embraces a feminist criticality and editorial vision. We are interested in work that is aware of itself as a textual body within a history and culture marked (like physical bodies) by constructs of gender, race, class, and sexuality.

Cool! I read a ton of books and essays like this in college, and I’m glad I did. Although I admittedly have gotten away from works like that since then, I wish I’d known about Les Figues, out there fighting the good fight, surrounding intellectually challenging works with context and community.

This is what small presses can do! They can slide themselves into society, helping to make the world a better place. All this in addition to helping writers get heard. And of course, impacting readers. Bravo, Les Figues!

Here’s the other thing that jumps out at me from their website: the size of their books. Take a look at +|me’S-pace by Christine Wertheim:

That’s a 9.25″ x 4.25″ cover! (And yes, I’m noticing these things because of my own recent experience in trying to get a book out there.)

Here’s another one, the cover for By Kelman out of Pessoa by Doug Nufer, which stands proudly and invitingly on the page, like a tall, cool glass of something fun to drink:

“By Kelman out of Pessoa”? Not sure exactly what that means, but I know I like Pessoa! I’m intrigued!

Suffice it to say, there’s a lot going on over at Les Figues. You can keep up with their announcements here. And of course, check out their full catalog.

You can check out my own adventures in small pressing, or indie publishing, or whatever it should be called, by picking up a copy of The Race: A Novella, now available in paperback, or my latest e-book, The Promotion! And do give Little Pickle Press (our last shoutout) a little love as well!

Previous Small Press Shout-Outs:

Small Press Shout-Out: Little Pickle Press!

Here we go, people. Ask and ye shall receive. We were looking for a small press brave and bold enough to venture into B Corporation* waters.

*A fuller explanation of a B Corporation is here. The nutshell version is that it’s a legal entity that enables a company to adopt a broader mandate than the traditional for-profit corporation. Whereas traditional corporations are required by law to maximize profits for their shareholders, a B Corporation is allowed to include goals such as giving back to a community or helping the environment.

And now we have it!

Striving to be the change it seeks, Little Pickle Press has proudly become a B Corporation.

Awesome! And what are they planning to do with the power that the B Corporation affords them?

Little Pickle Press is a 21st Century publisher dedicated to helping parents and educators cultivate conscious, responsible little people by stimulating explorations of the meaningful topics of their generation through a variety of media, technologies, and techniques.

In an effort to reduce our impact, we print and distribute our materials in an environmentally-friendly manner, using recycled paper, soy inks, and green packaging.

Got it? So when you’re reading Spaghetti is NOT a Finger Food (and other life lessons)  or What Does It Mean To Be Green?, you can be happy knowing that there’s more behind the cool artwork and sound message than some corporate behemoth looking to prey on your do-gooder tendencies. There’s actually a do-gooder corporation behind it! With real people! Doing good!

Naturally, Little Pickle is as excited as I am about the promise of the B Corp, proudly describing their B Corp community on their website (which is beautiful, by the way):

B Corps are certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.

Today, there is a growing community of more than 600 Certified B Corps from 15 countries and 60 industries working together toward one unifying goal: to redefine success in business.

And how’s it working out for you, Little Pickle?

We are thrilled to announce that for the second year in a row, Little Pickle Press has been named among the “Best for the World” B Corporations. The second annual “Best for the World” list recognized 66 companies across 20 countries and 25 industries, and we are honored to share this distinction with other dynamic, socially-responsible companies.

Spectacular news. Good luck to you, Little Pickle! Thanks for helping to save America!

You can check out my own adventures in small pressing, or indie publishing, or whatever it should be called, by picking up a copy of The Race: A Novella, now available in paperback, or the latest e-book, The Promotion!

Previous Small Press Shout-Outs:

Small Press Shout-Out: Black Balloon Publishing!

Okay, today’s small press is definitely on the quirkier side. How quirky? Quirkier than that. It just might be the quirkiest of any of our small press shout-outs thus far.

First things first. Black Balloon’s website is gorgeous. Not very quirky! Just elegant and beautiful. But then there’s this motto:

We champion the weird, the unwieldy, and the unclassifiable.

The gauntlet has been thrown! Let’s see some freak flags flying!

Hang on, hang on…weird and unwieldy and unclassifiable are easy words to throw around, but what exactly do they mean? In Black Ballon’s case, they mean this:

Black Balloon books are risky but not gimmicky, whimsical but never light, intelligent but not precious. We cater to writers who kick conventions curbside, who provoke without sentiment, who make the despicable somehow appealing. We blur lines between disciplines—think an autobiographical account of an identity broken, then rebuilt, scene by scene, via the perspectives of loved ones. Think recipes sung word-for-word and packaged inside a collaborative, illustrated cookbook. Think a quixotic coming-of-age novel told through inside jokes.

We’re partial to paradoxical characters—hermit architects, pill-popping priests, lacquered dandies with night terrors. We take delight very seriously. We are not offended by the hokey, necessarily. We crave simplicity and elegance and have no idea what that means. We enjoy a nice narrative slap with our breakfast tea.

Sounds good…but this is still a little intangible. Let’s see some examples, Black Balloon!

How about Nine Rabbits by Bulgarian author Virginia Zaharieva, which continues Black Balloon’s mini-tradition of bringing out “exceptional English language translation[s] of literary fiction from an underrepresented country fraught with political and social instability”?

Very specific, sure, but is that unclassifiable? I don’t think so! Come on, Black Balloon. Give us the quirky!

Okay, how about their Clementine Classics, a series in which classic works of literature (e.g., Sister Carrie, The Age of Innocence) are annotated by a hedgehog?

Now we’re getting somewhere!

Or there’s this one:

Maverick Jetpants in the City of Quality by Bill Peters

Rochester, New York, 1999: An arsonist is loose on the streets of a city in decline. Gone are the days of Rioting in the Vomit Cruiser, searching for a possible Tokyo Rocking Horse.

Ah yes. Who among us hasn’t felt a little nostalgic for those lost days of Rioting in the Vomit Cruiser? Now it’s just fading photographs and listening to the Springsteen songs Oh No Tokyo (My Lil’ Rocking Horse) and Got My Gas Tank Full and My Vomit Cruiser Ready to Roll. 

But there’s more!

In this hilarious, wildly original debut novel, Nathan Gray and best friend Necro live by the code of Joke Royalty, a system of in-jokes known only to a select few. But as the reality of full-time employment, possible spouses, and Neo-Nazis encroaches, their friendship unravels, threatening their dreams of becoming Kodak Park Winjas.

Among the gravest Hellstacheries: Necro’s strangely vicious drawings and his sudden interest in a group of weapons enthusiasts who may or may not be responsible for the fires erupting through downtown. With no Holy Grail Points left to his name, Nate ventures into Rochester’s strangest corners to find out if his best friend is a domestic terrorist Pinning Bow Ties on the Dead or simply Maverick Jetpantsing on with his life—perhaps even beyond The City of Quality.

Weird, unwieldy, unclassifiable…Black Balloon Publishing, I think we hit the trifecta!

Everyone (freaks and curious onlookers alike) should head over to Black Balloon to see what they’ve got on their sidewalk display. It will be worth your time! You can see the results of my own small press efforts by checking out the paperback edition of The Race.

Previous Small Press Shout-Outs:

Small Press Shout-Out: Akashic Books!

Here we go! Back to Brooklyn for another small press shout-out. This week, we look at Akashic Books, which describes itself as

a Brooklyn-based independent company dedicated to publishing urban literary fiction and political nonfiction by authors who are either ignored by the mainstream, or who have no interest in working within the ever-consolidating ranks of the major corporate publishers.

They have at least one blockbuster you no doubt have heard of – the megahit Go the F*** to Sleep and the G-rated version Seriously, Just Go to Sleep.

Detective and crime aficionados will want to take a look at their Noir series, which is edited by luminaries like George Pelecanos and Joyce Carol Oates, and which includes titles like Brooklyn Noir and Cape Cod Noir (and D.C. and Detroit and Dallas and Dublin and Delhi and London and New Jersey and the Midwest and Mumbai and New Orleans and Moscow and… oh, just go look at the whole page, they all look great.

And oh, good lord: Ziggy Marley wrote a children’s book!? Apparently so, and apparently it’s called I Love You TooWell, of course it is. Those of us who spent much of the late-80s blasting Tomorrow People from the boombox will be smiling along with me, I’m sure.

Did I hallucinate this, or did I see Ziggy Marley twice in concert? I seem to recall going to see Ziggy Marley, Cheap Trick, and INXS – and also seeing Ziggy Marley opening for Stevie Nicks on another tour. Could that be? And were the Sugarcubes part of the latter? Ah, the 80s. Tripping on Mountain Dew… it’s all such a bright, colorful blur…

Final note: if you’re like me and you tend to see a good book listed somewhere, then you wander over to Amazon to save a few bucks, fear not! Akashic Books offers 25% off every book, every day. So you can buy from their website. Good luck, Akashic Books! I love you too!

Previous Small Press Shout-Outs:

Small Press Shout-Out: Ugly Duckling Presse!

A presse! We’re obviously big fans of the extra e here at the Jacke blog. But there’s more than just creative spelling going on over at Ugly Duckling. There’s the logo (Toyota-like in its ability to combine the presse’s letters into a recognizable symbol).

But none of that matters as much as the catalog. And it’s here the presse’s eclectic devotion shines through. They put out more than 25 titles per year of poetry books and chapbooks, printing and binding many of them by hand at the “UDP workshop,” which sounds like a place I’d like to spend some time in. There’s also an Eastern European Poets Series, a “Lost Literature” series (dedicated to salvaging forgotten 20th-century gems), and a Dossier Series.

Could there be a more intriguing description of a small-press series than this?

UDP’s Dossier Series was founded in 2008 to expand the formal scope of the press. Dossier publications don’t share a single genre or form—poetry, essay, criticism, interview, artist book, polemical text—but rather an investigative impulse.

Before investigating further, I tried to guess what that might look like. Crime in America? The history of the don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy? Healthcare and mental illness? School lunch programs? Auto safety?

Hmm. Was I close? I’m not actually sure. I think I know what Ed Steck is going for with The Garden: Synthetic Environment for Analysis and Simulation, but what about Simone White’s Unrest? Or Vanessa Place’s Boycott? What’s the investigative impulse behind Arielle Greenberg’s Shake Her or Cecilia Vicuna’s Spit Temple?

In the end I’m not sure it matters. Something is going on here; the people running Ugly Duckling Presse are smart enough to trust that it’s worth digging into further. Let me know if you have any recommendations!

Previous Small Press Shoutouts:

Small Press Shout-Out: OR Books!

A refuge for renegades, OR Books was founded by John Oakes and Colin Robinson (the O and the R), who together have published an impressive roster of authors in their careers, including Tariq Ali, Andrei Codrescu, Noam Chomsky, Alexander Cockburn, R. Crumb, Cory Doctorow, Andrea Dworkin, Eric Hobsbawm, Abbie Hoffman, Lewis Lapham, Gordon Lish, Rigoberta Menchú, Harvey Pekar, Matt Taibbi, John Waters, Jann Wenner, and Edmund White. They describe OR as “a new type of publishing company [that] embraces progressive change in politics, culture, and the way we do business.” They go into more detail about their past (and plans for the future) on their website.

Here’s what’s interesting: these longtime industry stalwarts (if “stalwarts” is the right word for two guys who always seem to have been on the cutting-edge side of what is sometimes a stodgy old business) believe that contemporary book publishing is in “crisis” and OR Books will do things differently.

Putting out just one or two books a month, OR makes the most of their opportunities. Who’s smart and nimble enough to bring out an anthology of Russian love Stories (Gay Propaganda) in time for the Sochi Olympics? OR Books!

This is the kind of small press that can bring out a book by Julian Assange, a graphic account of the trial of Chelsea Manning, a book of “exercises” and drawings by Yoko Ono, and a “passionate and persuasive case for the relevance of Ernest Hemingway to readers today.”

Eclectic? Check. Passionate? Check. Relevant and important and fascinating? Check check check.

Worth checking out their catalog? Check. And mate.

Previous Small Press Shoutouts: