Indie Spotlight: Ampersand Books

imgresFounded by Jason Cook, Ampersand Books is the epitome of publishing in the twenty-first century—brash, fresh, and aggressive. Ampersand, and its imprint Bloody Fine Chapbooks, have moved at a breakneck pace on a shoestring budget to produce a list of books thick with dark wordplay and wry humor. From the haunting (and haunted) poetry chapbook Ear to the Wall by Carrie Causey, to the clever collection When You Say One Thing But Mean Your Mother by Melissa Broder, to Roberto Montes’ funny and frightening I Don’t Know Do You (just named one of the “best, most original poetry books of the year” by NPR), Ampersand hit the ground running in 2009 and hasn’t looked back. For Ploughshares, Jason Cook divulges a secret or two of Ampersand’s success and what he sees as Ampersand’s place in the literary landscape of the future.

Kate Flaherty: Ampersand’s manuscript submission process—where you only consider manuscripts from authors whose work has appeared in your magazine, Ampersand Review—seems supremely practical. What were the grounds for this process? Does it make Ampersand’s inbox slightly more manageable?

Jason Cook: The inspiration for that process is, essentially, laziness. I knew that if I wound up in a staring match with a stack of unread manuscripts, I’d almost immediately surrender and go play on Facebook for 3 hours. Engaging in a conversation with a writer whose poem or story you just published is a whole different thing than reading yet another query letter, and usually you can give a “nay” or “maybay” before seeing it.

I think it also makes writers feel a little more comfortable about pitching me books that don’t exist yet. I don’t think many indie publishers do that, but I’m having fun shaping these books as they emerge.

KF: While distinctive from one another, Ampersand titles share a certain air of cynicism tinged with nostalgia for a world that never was. Ampersand’s fiction titles are particularly melancholy—for example the wistful snapshots that make up Joseph Riippi’s The Orange Suitcase or the exhausting psychological paralysis of Spencer Dew’s Here Is How It Happens. Explain this Ampersand worldview.

JC: Since the editorial staff is composed of exactly me, I guess that’s just what I like. I like books with a broken heart, but with enough self-awareness to wonder whether it matters.Continue Reading

Indie Spotlight: Queen’s Ferry Press

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Queen’s Ferry Press, based out of Plano, Texas, since 2011, is the brainchild of Erin McKnight. While it’s hardly the first independent press with the lofty goal of printing and promoting the best literary fiction, in just a few short years Queen’s Ferry has managed to attract an impressive stable of writers at the top of their fiction game—Sherrie Flick, Sarah Van Arsdale, and Phong Nguyen to name a few. As Queen’s Ferry has grown its catalog, it has garnered awards and accolades along the way for its wonderfully eclectic range of titles. Queen’s Ferry ventures also include the imprint firthFORTH, which publishes fiction chapbooks, and The Best Small Fictions, an annual anthology compiling the best short fiction in a calendar year. The inaugural collection, to be published in 2015, will be guest edited by Robert Olen ButlerTara L. Masih will serve as series editor.

Publisher Erin McKnight shares with Ploughshares the key to Queen’s Ferry’s success, and what’s in store for readers and writers in the New Year.

Ploughshares: Between Queen’s Ferry and firthFORTH, you’ve published more than two dozen attractively produced and well-received books in the past three years, with no sign of slow-down. Both presses also accept submissions year-round. How do you do it?

Erin McKnight: As trite as it sounds, I enjoy the work. The press is deeply personal, so emotional investment is high; making a manuscript into a book feeds my soul as well as my career ambition. Within the past few months, the masthead has also filled out—we now have marketing, editorial, reading, and social media roles—which has made my job far easier; it took me a long time to accept help, but this assistance was worth the wait.Continue Reading

Indy Spotlight: Hobblebush Books

hobblebushtypecaseHobblebush Books, founded in 1991 by author, editor and publisher Sidney Hall, Jr., is a small press in southern New Hampshire known best for its Granite State Poetry Series and its eclectic list of prose titles. While its poetry series only publishes authors who live in or have a strong connection to New Hampshire—most recent titles are the dark and playful Talismans by Maudelle Driskell and Falling Ashes by James Fowler, a collection primarily of haiku and haibun on “war and love and the rest”—prose offerings are slightly more wide-ranging.

For prose at Hobblebush you’ll find Poor Richard’s Lament, a fascinating novel by Tom PRL_DJFitzgerald exploring the what-if scenario of Benjamin Franklin plunked into the twenty-first century; you’ll discover Creating the Peaceable Classroom by Sandy Bothmer, a wellness guide for educators, parents and students; and finally, you can pick from an assortment of memoirs that take you anywhere from the top of Mount Washington to the ports of New Orleans and Nova Scotia to the plains of East Africa.

For the Ploughshares blog, Sidney Hall, Jr. discusses Hobblebush’s mission, acquisitions, and its increasing public presence in the region (let’s just say they have a reputation for throwing great readings).

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Indy Spotlight: Engine Books

UnknownBased in Indianapolis, Indiana, Engine Books specializes in fiction—novels, novellas, and short-story collections—and the press is also home to the annual Engine Books Novel Prize. Engine Books was founded by publisher and editor Victoria Barrett in 2011, and both she and Andrew Scott, who directs Engine Books’ young adult imprint Lacewing Books, are fiction writers themselves.

Between these two endeavors, Engine Books publishes six titles per year. Recently, the press started an ambitious Indiegogo fundraising campaign with the goal of quadrupling the number of titles published, expanding staff, and establishing salaries for an editorial and marketing team that has essentially worked for free since it all began just a few years ago.

For the Ploughshares blog, editors Barrett and Scott share how the campaign is going, what kinds of manuscripts they’re looking for, and what their vision is for the future of Engine Books.Continue Reading

Indy Spotlight: Paris Press

Muriel Rukeyser

Muriel Rukeyser

During the war, we felt the silence in the policy of the governments of English-speaking countries. That policy was to win the war first, and work out the meanings afterward. The result was, of course, that the meanings were lost. You cannot put these things off. One of the invitations of poetry is to come to the emotional meanings at every moment.

—Muriel Rukeyser, The Life of Poetry

imagesParis Press began almost twenty years ago with the simple mission of resurrecting Muriel Rukeyser’s The Life of Poetry, a collection of essays originally published in 1949 that explore how resistance to poetry is connected to the modern world’s fear of individual thought and emotion, which then lends itself to a world that seems ever more fractured and confusing.

Over the years, Paris Press continued to publish works by Rukeyser as well as other women writers who had “been overlooked by commercial and independent publishers,” and these books immediately began earning attention from national publications including thelifeofpoetry New Yorker and New York Times Book Review, along with features on programs like NPR’s Fresh Air.

Paris Press publishes all genres by women writers from all over the map, but every text—whether poetry, play, or prose—deeply explores and illuminates those “emotional meanings” Rukeyser describes as essential to confronting and defying a world that remains as chaotic and volatile as it was in 1949.

bosniaelegiesToday, Paris Press is on the brink of several new developments: a more comprehensive website and blog launching this summer; a new award for a short story collection that will include publication by Paris Press; and an increased focus on educational outreach. Jan Freeman, poet and Executive Director of Paris Press, shares what’s in store for readers, authors, and educators.

Q: Due to backlog, Paris Press is not currently accepting new manuscripts. When will the press once again be opening the floodgates?

houdiniA: That’s about to change. We are just finishing updating our website for the press, and the new and improved site will be launched by the end of July. With the launch, we’ll be expanding our programming. We’ll include a blog, we’ll start publishing individual works by writers—both contemporary as well as writers from earlier time periods—and we’ll be accepting submissions of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction for our online site. We also will soon begin accepting book-length submissions online, so we’re joining the twenty-first century. The Internet opens things up in an exciting way that Paris Press is now embracing.Continue Reading

Indy Spotlight: Caketrain Press

imgres-2Founded little more than ten years ago in Pittsburgh by Donna Weaver, Amanda Raczkowski, and Joseph Reed, Caketrain Press (still run by editors Raczkowski and Reed) publishes a journal and sponsors a yearly chapbook competition that alternates between poetry and fiction.

The press also puts out about two titles each year in a wide range of genres, from Heidi Lynn Staples’s intriguing illustrated memoir Take Care Fake Bear Torque Cake, to A.T. Grant’s disturbing novella Collecting Alex, to their latest release, Nevers—a collection of keen and funny “fictions” by Megan Martin, ranging from foxes dancing to R. Kelly to the deeper meaning of a Cloroxed shower curtain and anything you might think of in-between.

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Although their list is still rather small, Caketrain’s books are ambitiously experimental and visually arresting, and no genre is off-limits as long as it’s smart and sharp and short. For the Ploughshares blog, assistant editors Tanner Hadfield and Katy Mongeau answer questions about Caketrain Press in complete push-the-boundaries Caketrain style. (All images and videos provided by Caketrain.)Continue Reading

Indy Spotlight: Rose Metal Press

imgresWhen Rose Metal Press entered the book scene in 2006, they quickly established themselves as a go-to publisher for experimental flash and micro work. The range of their list is impressive, from Jim Goar’s Louisiana Purchase, a poetry collection giving a surreal spin to the history of the American West, to Loren Erdrich and Sierra Nelson’s I Take Back the Sponge Cake: A Lyrical Choose Your Own Adventure, a mix of poetry and imgres-1art that offers more clever and thoughtful page-skipping options than the old grade school chapter books. More recently, their fall 2013 release, Liliane’s Balcony, is a fascinating novella-in-flash exploring the story behind Frank Lloyd Wright’s construction of Fallingwater.

In addition to publishing these artfully designed collections, Rose Metal also produces “field guides”—how-to books for flash fiction, prose poetry, and flash nonfiction—that utilize advice and examples by established artists to help writers of all abilities further explore the possibilities of these uniquely modern and fluid
forms.

imgres-4For the Ploughshares blog, Press founders Abigail Beckel and Kathleen Rooney share the origin story of Rose Metal, the titles they’re publishing, and what kinds of work they hope to see in the future.

Q: Plenty of artists recognize the difficulty of finding a platform for experimental work, but most don’t take the risky step of founding a press. What caused you to take the leap with Rose Metal? What’s been your greatest challenge?Continue Reading

Indy Spotlight: Red Hen Press

UnknownIn the past twenty years, Red Hen Press has evolved from a small collective formed by L.A.-based writers to a press with international presence, publishing around 20 titles per year. Red Hen also houses the literary magazine Los Angeles Review, and the press has three imprints—Arktoi, which publishes literary fiction and poetry by lesbian writers; Boreal, which publishes Alaskan literature and art; and Xeno, which puts out experimental work. Finally, the press also shares its love for literature with its Writers in the Schools program; authors teach creative writing and contemporary literature to under-served K-12 students in the area, and Red Hen publishes the students’ writing in a yearly anthology.

In this interview, co-founders Mark Cull and Kate Gale, who serve Red Hen as publisher and managing editor respectively, share more about their vision for Red Hen, the kinds of manuscripts they’re acquiring, and what they’re publishing right now.

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Seven Strange But True Tales about Timothy Schaffert’s The Swan Gondola

tumblr_n0ml6roVFd1r4lhi3o1_500Timothy Schaffert’s latest novel, The Swan Gondola, is a rollicking adventure set during the Omaha World’s Fair of 1898, and starring a romantic and rapscallion cast of vaudevillians, actresses, snake oil salesman, and all around ne’er-do-wells. Inspired in part by The Wizard of Oz, Schaffert’s tale is jam-packed with so much drama, intrigue, and delight that you will finish the book begging for more.

Here, as an exclusive to Ploughshares, Timothy shares further tales of The Swan Gondola, from the weird to the wonderful.

imagesQ: The Swan Gondola has all the elements of a Hollywood blockbuster: action, mystery, romance, and the all-important super-cool period costumes. Who should direct the movie adaptation, and why? Michael Bay or Baz Luhrmann?

A: I think they should both do competing versions. Bay hasn’t done a period film since “Pearl Harbor,” and “The Swan Gondola” would be an opportunity for him to show his softer side while also incorporating his digital expertise in recreating the Fair, and the streets of 1890s Omaha. And the book seems to fit nicely in Luhrmann’s oeuvre, with its fireworks, burlesque theaters, runaway horses, grand mansions and less-grand tenements and garrets. He seems particularly interested in the tensions between the haves and have-nots. And both Bay and Luhrmann could do it in 3D. They have my blessing.

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Six New Tricks Your Dog Can Teach You About Writing

Fans of the PloughsharesWriters and Their Pets” series have probably noticed the majority of those blogs are about writers and their dogs. In my view this is because dogs are the best writing companions. For one thing, they never ask, “What’re you working on? or “Aren’t you done yet?” or “Why don’t you just write books like [insert any best-selling author name here]?” Cats may not ask these questions out loud, but their faces say it all. Makes you wonder how on earth Hemingway managed. More importantly, however, dogs are also terrific writing teachers. Below I’ll illustrate why, with the help of one of my current canine companions, Sadie.

snack1. Go with your gut.

As Karen Shepard so aptly illustrates in this poem from Amy Hempel and Jim Shepard’s Unleashed: Poems by Writer’s Dogs, dogs are often driven by an overwhelming and indiscriminate appetite:

 

Birch

You gonna eat that?
You gonna eat that?
You gonna eat that?

I’ll eat that.Continue Reading