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!

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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!

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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.

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Small Press Shoutout: SALT Publishing!

Back again with another small press shoutout! This week we hop across the pond to look at Salt Publishing, which for 15 years has been independently dedicated to creating “A New British Fiction Movement.”

Why are they called Salt? Maybe it’s an acronym? Maybe it’s a tribute to the number-one spice? Meat preservation? The taste of sea air? I don’t know. I just know that their books are beautiful, their hearts are in the right place, and they put out 30 books a year, including some fantastic fiction.

But they’re more than just fiction! Salt also puts out poetry, anthologies, poetry for children/teens, literary autobiography, plays, and on and on. Smart books for smart people!

Today, Salt is a privately-owned British company, with editors in the USA, Australia and the UK; a trade publishing business, proudly independent, committed to producing important, beautiful, readable, literary works.

Here’s another exciting development: Proxima, their crime imprint. You may recognize the world-beating classic, Mrs. Darcy versus the Aliens.

These are good, smart folks with a great website, great books, and making a great contribution to the world of letters. Check out their list today!

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Small Press Shoutout: Other Press!

Back again with another small press shoutout! This week we look at Other Press, which focuses on authors with a “passion to discover the limits of knowledge and the imagination.” Oh boy! The editors of Other Press come with some gilded resumes indeed. Here’s an excerpt from Publisher Judith Gurewitch’s bio:

Born in Canada and raised in Belgium, she holds a law degree from Brussels University as well as a master’s of law from Columbia University and a PhD in sociology from Brandeis University. She now resides in Cambridge, MA. Judith is also a Lacanian trained psychoanalyst, practicing part time. She loves to edit, pitch, cook, walk, and swim.

Pitch? As in pitch books? Baseballs? With a Lacanian trained psychoanalyst, one never knows.

Associate publisher Paul Kozlowski is a bit more unassuming:

Bookman, birdman, living under blue skies on borrowed time.

Madame Knowledge, meet Mr. Imagination. Now let’s go find some limits.

Okay, okay, this is all heady stuff – but do they deliver? Indeed they do! Putting out about 25 titles a year, Other Press has a growing list of incredible authors, including Olga Grjasnawa, Jan-Phillip Sendker, and Minae Mizumura. This is the real deal, folks. And one need only read Helen Richard’s blogged tour of independent bookstores to get a sense of their love for books. Bravo, Other Press!

Previous Small Press Shoutouts:

Small Press Shoutout: The Permanent Press!

I’ve decided to return to one of the blog’s most popular features, the Small Press Shoutout. This week we take a look at The Permanent Press, which has been cranking out titles since 1978.  Started by husband-and-wife team Martin and Judith Shepard, their catalog includes several award-winning mysteries and the undersung Icelandic novelist Halldor Laxness (a personal favorite of mine).

The name of the press refers to their policy of keeping their entire backlog in print, which I’m guessing is easier now than it was twenty-five years ago.

These guys love fiction. I found an interesting discussion of this on Mark’s Cockeyed Pessimist blog, which recently addressed the question of why they publish novels “95% of the time”:

My belief is that in any culture, at any age, the vast majority of the great books that are handed down, decade after decade and century after century are fiction. Following  Homer’s The Iliad and his sequel, The Odyssey, came the great novelists of  yesteryear: Dostoyevsky, Chekov, Gogol, Dickens, Chaucer, Jane Austin, Fitzgerald, Boccaccio, Umberto Eco, Dante, Italo Calvino, Rabelais, Hugo, Stendahl, Balzac, Halldor Laxness, Cervantes, Márquez, Kundera, Mark Twain, Faulkner, Hemmingway, Dos Passos, Poe…the list is endless. So if one’s interest lies in discovering novelists who have the talent to write exceptional fiction, why not cultivate and publish them and hope some of them will make a contribution to our culture—which surely needs a lift, given the great decline in fiction in general and the astronomical rise in non-fiction, which includes celebrity bios and countless “How-To” books—how to lose weight, make money, find partners, find serenity, find God, evaluate collectables, write screenplays, prevent aging… this list is endless, as well, and unlikely to survive the test of time.

Bravo! Fiction is important, fiction is necessary, fiction is a testament to what civilization and the human endeavor is all about. Fiction represents – fiction is – us at our finest! Could there be a better attitude for a publisher to have?

Well… let’s look at Judith’s: Continue reading