Founded in January 2014, Stillhouse Press has one book out of the hopper, five more slated for publication in 2016, and the press is poised to take the literary scene by storm. Stillhouse was founded by novelist Dallas Hudgens, who also began Stillhouse’s sister imprint, Relegation Books, and the press operates as a collaboration between Northern Virginia’s Fall for the Book festival and students from George Mason University’s creative writing programs.
Stillhouse’s first book, Helen on 86th Street and Other Stories, is a wonderfully sardonic collection of stories by the late Wendi Kaufman, author and professional champion of authors through her work with Alan Cheuse’s NPR show “The Sound of Writing.” The title story of Kaufman’s collection appeared in the New Yorker, and the rest of her book is equally as strong, with a terrific cast of women narrating their navigations through the modern world at various stages of life. Stillhouse’s other titles, which are slated for release throughout 2016, look to be an exciting mix of poetry and prose by new and established authors.
Currently, Stillhouse accepts submissions of poetry, literary fiction, and creative nonfiction, asking a mere $5 reading fee through Submittable. Stillhouse also awards the Mary Roberts Rinehart prize—$1,000 plus publication; the Rinehart prize alternates between nonfiction and fiction each year for a literary manuscript of 60,000-90,000 words. The 2015 winner is Jacqueline Kolosov, whose manuscript Motherhood, and the Places Between, will be published in September of 2016.
For Ploughshares, Editor-in-Chief Marcos L. Martínez elaborates on the genesis of Stillhouse and shares the essentials of what readers and writers need to know about this exciting new press.
Kate Flaherty: Your website describes Stillhouse as a craft publishing venture, “combining traditional print methods with new technologies and working closely with our authors to develop and promote their work.” Could you explain this in more detail? What’s the benefit of having writers more involved in the process of shaping a book with your editors?
Marcos L. Martínez: Just as craft distilleries and breweries are know for the care they take in making unique batches of libations, we aim to deliver the unique Stillhouse Press voice to readers. The concept of “craft publishing” really stems from this idea of taking our time, working closely with our authors on everything from narrative structure, flow, developmental opportunities, and line edits to font selection, cover design, marketing, and promotional campaigns. We plan to publish 4-6 books a year, which allows us to truly nurture each book project.
We are also thrilled to work closely on long-term projects developing select manuscripts that we think have a lot of potential—authors whose voices deserve a space in the literary conversation. Dallas started Relegation Books with the sense that there should be a publisher for authors who have failed to find the support they deserve with larger houses, and we aim to further that effort while also bringing emerging authors to the fore. So in addition to our five forthcoming titles, we have a handful of promising manuscripts in the pipeline that we are working to hone and shape into the books we know they have the potential to be.
KF: Stillhouse collaborates with George Mason University to provide creative writing students with an opportunity to learn small press publishing hands on. How does this play out in your offices? What skills do you hope students will develop as writers and editors? How does this contribute to the books and authors you publish?
MLM: As an MFA fiction student, I was thrilled when alumnus Dallas Hudgens and our MFA Program Director William Miller approached us with the opportunity to start a new press and learn publishing from the inside out. What better way for creative writing students to learn the business we strive to flourish in? As graduate students, my colleague Meghan McNamara (Director of Media & Communications) and I have had the privilege of building a press from the ground up, doing outreach, and training other GMU students. We consider ourselves so fortunate to be associated with George Mason’s MFA and BFA creative writing programs: while we don’t receive any funding from the university, we do have access to a wealth of really talented literary minds.
The benefits we offer our Interns are three-part: on the editorial end, students have the opportunity to serve as Managing Editors on individual projects and see a book from acquisition through publication; students learn what it takes to make their manuscripts saleable, arming them with the tools they need to be successful self-marketers in a competitive publishing environment; and we also give students hands-on experience developing business plans and managing budgets. In the modern publishing industry, these skills will help our writers shape their own literary success.
By mentoring readers and editors, we are graced with having a variety of literary tastes debating, negotiating, and modeling what the “voice” of a Stillhouse Press book looks like. Our prose and poetry students collaborate on all our projects, so that nonfiction students offer insights into poetry manuscripts as much as poets provide guidance on memoirs and story collections: writers nurturing writers.
KF: Helen on 86th Street and Other Stories, by Wendi Kaufman, is a remarkable first publication for a fledgling press. Explain how this came to be.
MLM: Thank you, Kate! All first-borns are unique, but Helen feels especially dear to us. Wendi was a dear friend of Dallas’s. In fact, both belonged to the same writing group, which they formed while students in George Mason’s MFA program in the late ‘90s. As a long-time supporter and mentor of emerging authors, Wendi was really enthused by Stillhouse Press and saw what we are trying to achieve as a great endeavor to nurture literary talent. When Dallas offered us a draft of Kaufman’s collection, her stories left us breathless: what a wonder! Our situation was unique in that Wendi was very sick when we took her project on, but the closer we got to publication, the more energized Wendi became, and we feel so lucky to have had the chance to bring such a talented writer’s work into the public sphere. I am so grateful that Wendi graciously trusted us with her work.
KF: Stillhouse is so new that most of its titles have yet to be released, so it may be difficult for writers who are thinking of submitting their work. What advice can you share?
MLM: We look for voice, promise, and important literary and cultural conversations. I think the authors we have selected thus far speak for themselves: read their excerpts, previous publications, our press release descriptions, and our Facebook/Twitter feeds.
But also keep in mind that, as writers, we know how important it is to give thorough consideration to all of our submitters. We promise to give your work the attention it deserves. Should writers choose to submit, we have a very rigorous reading process, wherein a minimum of 3 readers are assigned to evaluate each manuscript, with 4-10 additional readers assigned for second and final editorial reads. For manuscripts we feel have significant potential, we also provide detailed editorial feedback.
KF: Stillhouse began with such a big bang and an established mission, it’s difficult to think there’s more on the horizon, but what are your plans moving forward? What are you most excited about?
MLM: We focused 2015 on outreach: promoting Wendi Kaufman’s book, recruiting students, refining our management structure, and seeking out authors whose manuscripts we hope to publish. As a result, 2016 is going to be a busy year for us and we can’t wait! We have a range of books forthcoming, from our Rinehart prize-winner Jacqueline Kolosov’s Motherhood, and the Places Between (Sept. 2016), to our first two books of poetry, Bryan Borland’s DIG (Sept. 2016) and Christina Olson’s Terminal Human Velocity (Dec. 2016), to two debut authors: Mark Polanzak (POP! a hybrid of memoir and fiction, March 2016) and Matthew Fogarty (Maybe Mermaids & Robots Are Lonely: Stories, Sept. 2016).
Now, as a GMU alumnus, I am thrilled to further develop Stillhouse’s long-term goals while mentoring former classmates and incoming creative writing students. We are working with several authors on manuscripts that show a lot of promise. For 2017, we are passionately developing two unique memoirs that delve into legacy: from growing up in the space age, to unraveling the mysteries and horrors of a family’s ice cream dynasty. My editors and I also see a couple of amazing poetry collections on the near-horizon for 2017-2018. Our nonfiction contest was an embarrassment of riches, giving us a handful of manuscripts to mine over the next few years. And I am still actively seeking our first novel. Helen on 86th Street and Other Stories gave us a lot of momentum and we’re running with it, so stay tuned!