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

Books Good for Giving

bookLike most voracious readers, I have to be frugal with my purchases—so while most of the books I buy as gifts are new, most of the books I buy for myself are used. I enjoy the idea that these books have lived several lives, moving from one place and one person to another before they get to me.

Even better is when I feel I sort of know my virtual reading family thanks to names written on flyleaves or bookplates—Kindrick Dyer, Joni Dakon, Syvia H. Malcolm, Art Flynn—these mysterious people and many more have shared their books with me  over the years (and often their marginal notes too). On the other hand, finding a book with a personal inscription can be unsettling. “To Sheila, Christmas 1974, Love, Mom.” “5/5/66—To Jim with Love, Bette.” Like going to a rummage sale and discovering a donated photo album with all the family pictures intact, it’s a mystery that leaves me a little lost.sheila

It made me wonder how many of the books I’d inscribed and gifted now fill the shelves of various thrift stores on the eastern seaboard. I’ve given hundreds of books over the years, most with notes of heartfelt sentiment, and while I hardly expect every recipient to hang onto these books forever, I thought that this year I’d think a little harder about my choices. What books could I give that won’t end up tossed into the Goodwill bin a week into the New Year? Or even better—what book could I give a friend that she’d then pass on to another friend, like an ever-mobile library where we all are paying it forward with books?

imagesI decided to poll friends and family over which books they’ve given (or plan to give) as gifts, as well as the all-important why. I had only one rule—I wouldn’t ask the opinion of any writers, simply because we love books with an intensity that can become a little myopic when it comes to recommendations. I ended up with a delightfully broad selection of books from a delightfully broad cast of characters. I hope you’ll find something below to share with someone this season or to read yourselves. If not, please make your own recommendations in the comments!

And finally, remember that no matter what books you might choose to buy, everything goes better with a Ploughshares subscription . . .

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The Life and Poetry of Ted Kooser

Unknown“I farm a little plot of things to say, with not much frontage on the busy road.”

—Ted Kooser journal entry, December 7, 1972

quoted in The Life and Poetry of Ted Kooser by Mary K. Stillwell

A lot’s happened for Ted Kooser since he wrote those lines more than forty years ago—earning the Pulitzer Prize and being named U.S. Poet Laureate, to list just a couple of accolades—but the sentiment still holds. Despite his firm standing in the world of contemporary poetry and his continuing commitment to promote poetry as a living and vital art for all, Ted Kooser prefers to limit his “frontage on the busy road,“ by remaining under the radar at his rural Nebraska home.

I lived in Lincoln many years ago and was lucky to know Ted when I worked at the literary magazine Prairie Schooner. I found him to be much like his poems—insightful and wry, but oh so careful with his words. Look at any picture of him and you’llUnknown-2 see what I mean—he’s got that genial and open smile, but like any good Midwesterner you can tell that smile holds a secret or two. So I admit I was considerably curious to read the first full-length critical biography about Ted, The Life and Poetry of Ted Kooser, published this fall by University of Nebraska Press.

The biography, by Mary K. Stillwell, doesn’t disappoint. It’s an intimate portrait rich with details of how family history and life on the Plains influenced Kooser’s early world vision, and then how Kooser juggled his creative ambitions as a poet, publisher and “Sunday painter,” along with his obligations as husband, father, and 9-5 insurance executive.

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Stillwell superbly illustrates the challenges an artist faces when he connects with artists in the academy but is not part of the academy, and who connects with the pull of bohemia, but who never quits his day job. And while the biography closely examines these elements and others surfacing in Kooser’s poetry, Stillwell also provides a charming and down-to-earth portrait of the poet as an everyman grappling with relationships and mortality and, on the day he’s asked to become U.S. Poet Laureate, having to drop by Bern’s Body Shop because he’s absent-mindedly knocked the side mirror off his Dodge sedan.
Stillwell’s biography is engagingly thorough, but I couldn’t help but have a few more questions, which I’m grateful she agreed to answer here.
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