Indy Spotlight: Rose Metal Press

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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?

imagesA: When we founded the press in 2006, we noticed the lack of venues for work that does not neatly fit into a single generic category—and because we love to read that kind of work, we wanted to provide a home for it. The big for-profit publishers don’t seem to have a place for anything that blurs genre lines, so we founded Rose Metal Press as a non-profit publisher with the mission to expand the literary publishing field and offer more publishing opportunities for authors doing innovative work.

We also wanted to provide a publishing home for that kind of writing, and to be sure this kind of work had a chance of reaching readers. We don’t want to be printers who publish books nobody knows about—we want to help authors’ works connect with an audience, and thereby expand the literary landscape for readers as well. We think that “experimental” or unconventional work can speak to all kinds of readers, and so we do our best to try to get not just people who already know they like hybrid work to read our authors, but also to get people who are intellectually curious and want to experience something new.

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Letterpress cover for Tiff Holland’s Betty Superman chapbook

And that, perhaps, is one of our biggest challenges: getting each of the three titles we publish annually on the respective radars of book reviewers and readers. In the more than eight years that RMP has been in existence, there’s been a flourishing of new small, independent presses, which is fantastic—we seem to be in a golden age of small press publishing.

But it also means that there are more great titles out there than ever, all striving for attention at a time when traditional review outlets are disappearing left and right. We work hard to reach out to those outlets and also to work with more grassroots and new media publicity sources like literary bloggers, social media, podcasts, and video book trailers.

Q: The design of Rose Metal titles is integral to each book—for example, your most recent release, All Movies Love the Moon by Gregory Robinson, is an amazing conglomeration of fact and fantasy, image and imagination that beautifully evokes the silent film era. Plus there’s a terrific book trailer. Could you describe the process of bringing Robinson’s vision to life?

A: Gregory submitted his manuscript to us in spring 2013, and it stood out immediately for all the reasons you mention—we loved its mix of humor and seriousness, textual and visual, fact and fiction. The way it felt deliberately off-kilter and de-stabilizing was instantly charming. We feel like its hybrid ekphrastic form, which is so fun and inviting, stands to make its readers more curious about watching long-forgotten silent films than a straight-ahead treatise or academic study would.

We worked hard to make AMLTM_200sure that the book’s design elements and its trailer would capture this mood and tone, and would not misrepresent or undersell what the book is actually doing. We chose design elements and typefaces from the silent film era while also using some contemporary book design techniques to visually bridge the gap between the silent film era and what Gregory does with his poems.

We put a lot of focus and effort into designing books as beautiful and unique to experience as the hybrid texts published within the pages. Books are full of words and images that delight and challenge us and spirit us away into other places and emotional states—but they are also tactile objects that many people love to hold and keep. We feel like an engaging book design enhances a reader’s experience of our authors’ work.

falling-water-flw-vi-chuck-kuhnQ: Another new Rose Metal release is Liliane’s Balcony, which tells the true story of Liliane and E.J. Kaufmann, wealthy Pittsburgh merchants who commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to build the famed Fallingwater, interspersing this with fictional accounts of tourists who visit the house decades later. Kelcey Parker’s novella-in-flash replicates the discordant nature of our current culture—where the past continually seeps into our present—while also unlocking the little-known story of Liliane Kaufmann. How do you think this book expands the possibilities for biographical and/or historical fiction?

imgres-3A: We love this description of Kelcey’s book and how it operates, and are glad you asked this question, as it’s one that both we and Kelcey thought a lot about as we worked to get the book ready for publication. At the most recent AWP Conference, Kelcey actually headed a panel called “Mind the Gap: Innovative Approaches to Writing Historical Figures” that spoke directly to these ideas of how biographical and historical fiction can be expanded through the use of unexpected forms and structures.

Kelcey talked about Jessmyn West’s assertion that the past is as much a work of the imagination as the future is, and that’s one of the things that first drew us to Liliane’s Balcony—how it uses the pre-existing material of history as a foundation, but how it also uses Kelcey’s addition of purely fictional elements to give the characters life and the story momentum.

In terms of how it expands the possibilities of both the flash genre and the genre of historical fiction, we think it makes sense, given the fragmented and frequently incomplete or contested nature of history itself, to approach the depiction of historical figures like the Kaufmanns less as a matter of portraiture than of collage—overlaying research with fabrication, and leaving a lot of gaps and whites space. Kelcey’s book invites the reader to engage with the past in an active as opposed to a static way, and to take what a person might think they already know about Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater and see it from a new perspective.

130912171352-01-voyager-story-topWe also have a book coming out as part of our spring 2016 list called The Voyager Record in which author Anthony Michael Morena creates a semi-narrative sequence of prose poems that blend facts and fiction about the Voyager space probes launched in the late 1970s. There are facts, interpretation of facts, and imaginings beyond the facts, and Anthony’s book, like Liliane’s Balcony, works to expose the reader to a little-known historical occurrence while also providing an engaging literary reading experience.

Q: Your latest how-to book—The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash imgres-2Nonfiction, edited by Dinty W. Moore—includes a piece by Maggie McKnight on the power of telling a story through pictures, accompanied by a great graphic essay. Any plans for a field guide that focuses entirely on the graphic form?

A: We love that McKnight essay, but we’re not sure that graphic novels are a hybrid form since the genre is pretty well-established and well-published by large mainstream publishers and independent ones. So we can’t necessarily see RMP doing a Field Guide on those, but we would be up for seeing full-length graphics-based books that tweak the genre in some way.

Unincorporated-TerritoryFor example, in fall 2015, we’ll be publishing a Field-Guide-esque anthology called Family Resemblance: An Anthology and Exploration of Eight Hybrid Literary Genres edited by Marcela Sulak and Jacqueline Kolosov. One of the eight hybrid genre sections included will be called “Pictures Made of Words: The Graphic Text,” and will include excerpts and essays from Andrea Baker’s The Incredibly True Adventures of Me, Jena Osman’s The Network, Craig Santos Perez’s Unincorporated Territory, Miriam Libicki’s Strangers, and Stan Mack’s Janet and Me. These works represent a range of uses and experiments with the graphic form, and we’re thrilled to include them as part of the book, which itself will be an exciting addition to our guides to hybrid forms because it explores the fluidity of the hybrid genre family tree.

Q: As a press that seeks “new forms of expression,” what hybrids or multimedia projects would you hope to see from writers in the future?

A: Given the increasing prevalence of images in our culture, we’re especially excited about writer-artists and writer-artist teams who work with image and text to expand their work beyond one mode of representation.

We’re publishing a story-in-poems-and-images called In the Circus of You by poet Nicelle Davis and visual artist and animator Cheryl Gross in spring 2015, for example, and we’re very excited about the book itself and all the projects, including short animated films, that they’re putting together around it.

And we’re always open to other interpretations of hybrid and what kinds of genres and modes of expression can be combined and re-conceptualized. One of the most interesting things about publishing hybrid and cross-genre work is seeing the amazing tradition-bending/combining work authors are creating and submitting when we have an open reading period. It’s often beyond what we could have imagined, and that’s exactly why we want the rest of the world’s readers to experience it as well.