Piscataqua_River_Bridge_01Piscataqua Press is a unique publishing project operating out of RiverRun Bookstore in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. RiverRun Bookstore, managed by Tom Holbrook, is a hub of the literary community north of Boston, hosting at least a hundred readings and events each year; Piscataqua Press, also managed by Holbrook, utilizes the latest print-on-demand technology to publish a variety of titles.

Along with a small selection of titles that were published via the traditional editorial process, such as Denis Lipman’s Striking Terror, a YA thriller set in the Middle East, and The Unquiet Daughter, a fascinating memoir by Danielle Flood, “a New York journalist, born of the true wartime love triangle that inspired the one in Graham Greene’s novel, The Quiet American,” Piscataqua also publishes a handful of classics, plus “pay to publish” titles that run the gamut from children’s books to poetry to a wide range of fiction and nonfiction. In addition, Piscataqua operates a book prize that changes genre yearly—in 2016 the press accepted entries for novels—with a reading fee of $50.

For Ploughshares, Tom Holbrook shares his motivation for beginning the press, how selections are made, and what he thinks are the editorial responsibilities of working with “pay to publish” titles.

Kate Flaherty: Running an independent bookstore alone is tricky enough financially. What made you decide to begin a press as well? And how do you think print-on-demand technology has changed the financial picture for publishers as well as bookstores?

Tom Holbrook: I think most indie bookstores that are surviving are doing something in addition to selling books. Either they have cafes, or sell a lot of card and gift products, etc. For me, the publishing fit my skill set better (I’m NOT a good gift/card buyer!!). We had a good friend of the store who was familiar with this kind of publishing, turned us onto it, and it has worked out well. It’s particularly nice in the off-season here to have something constructive to work on when you’re not shoveling snow. New technologies make it possible to get into this business with a very low capital investment.

KF: Although there are plenty of success stories regarding self-published authors, there remains a stubborn stigma about the literary quality of “pay to publish” books. What are your thoughts on Piscataqua’s role in this type of publishing?

TH: This stigma exists mostly with literary fiction, and I don’t expect it to go away anytime soon. We are snobs, and we want it to say Knopf on the spine or to be reviewed in the NYT Book Review. But there are a lot of independent authors doing very well in genre fiction and other niche markets. Folks who read heavily in this area have always felt marginalized, and they don’t mind taking a chance on a book that has good Amazon or Goodreads reviews, even if it’s from an unknown publisher. Plus, a lot of what we do is truly what has been called “vanity” publishing—a family memoir or regional cookbook that is never going to be marketable, but is important to the person creating it. We make them a great-looking book without ripping them off. They are grateful, and we make money that we can use to support the bookstore and to publish other things we are excited about.

KF: You have no masthead for the press. What’s the editorial process for selecting manuscripts at Piscataqua? Who screens prize entries? How do you make your final decisions?

TH: Right now it’s all me. As we grow, that will likely change. I have some in-house help with design, and occasionally will hire an outside editor, but all the final decisions are mine. I say “We” a lot because it makes us seem bigger than we are, and it makes me feel not so alone. . .

KF: Along with publishing classics like James Joyce’s Dubliners and Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, Piscataqua also publishes the local classic Among the Isles of Shoals by Celia Thaxter. Do you see the press publishing more local titles like this? What else should readers expect from Piscataqua in the near future?

TH: We started that originally to keep our hand in the publishing between paid contracts, and recently we’ve been way too busy to get back to it. That said, I’d like to do Sarah Orne Jewett and a few other local greats. I’m also interested in doing more local history and photography if the opportunity is right. This entire endeavor has been unscripted, unplanned, and surprising. Add to that the fact that the technology keeps evolving, and who knows what we will be up to next. That’s part of the fun.

portland-head-light

Islandport Press of Yarmouth, Maine was founded by Dean Lunt in 1999 with the goal of publishing books that “capture and explore the grit, heart, beauty, and infectious spirit of the region by telling tales, real and imagined, rooted in the sense and sensibilities of New England.”

In the past fifteen years, Islandport has produced an impressive range of titles, from memoir to mystery, humor to travel, cooking, children’s books, and young adult novels. In addition to breadth, Islandport books have depth. Their authors include John Ford, Sr., whose books Suddenly the Cider Didn’t Taste So Good andThis Cider Still Tastes Funny are collections of funny, heart-warming, and sometimes heart-breaking tales of his experiences as a Maine game warden and sheriff; Kate Christensen, whose How to Cook a Moose, winner of the Maine Literary Award for Memoir, is a mouth-watering and thought-provoking story of the culinary challenges and discoveries she faced when moving to Maine from Brooklyn; and photojournalist David Hill, who gathered stories and photos of the beautiful old beaten-up cars and trucks scattered through the northern woods of New England for his Full Service: Notes from the Rearview Mirror.

After sixteen years, Islandport has more than a hundred titles in print, all of which are carefully designed and handsomely produced. For Ploughshares, publisher Dean Lunt shares the inspiration behind Islandport Press, the qualities specific to an Islandport author, and what readers and writers can look for in the near future.

Kate Flaherty: There are other presses in New England publishing regional literature, memoir, humor and the like, so I have to ask what your motivation was for starting Islandport? What was the marketplace missing that you wanted Islandport to provide?

Dean Lunt: At the time, I didn’t necessarily think anything was missing, but I did feel there was room for more quality regional books. I felt given my heritage as a Maine island native and a journalist, as well as someone with a keen interest in the heritage and history of Maine, that I could help bring an authentic literary voice to marketplace and find people with real and compelling stories that weren’t being told. Even though we were a small press, we also focused on excellent design from the beginning to help establish a quality look and feel to our books.

Click here to read the rest.

My latest up at Ploughshares:

BkMk

In 1971, BkMk Press was founded by Dan Jaffe, English professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and Roy Fox, head librarian of the Johnson County Library system in Kansas. Jaffe headed the press for 25 years, overseeing its transition from publishing only chapbooks to building a list with full-length collections of poetry, short fiction, creative essays, and a smattering of anthologies. Upon Jaffe’s retirement, James McKinley became executive editor, and now BkMk Press is helmed by executive editor Robert Stewart and managing editor Ben Furnish.

BkMk runs two annual contests, the G.S. Sharat Chandra Prize for Short Fiction and the John Ciardi Prize for Poetry, both of which award $1,000 and publication of a book-length manuscript, and they also considerunsolicited submissions from Feb 1 through June 30 via snail mail only.

Housed at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, BkMk is affiliated with New Letters, a literary magazine with a long history of publishing a remarkable range of notable writers that is also edited by Robert Stewart, as well as the radio program “New Letters on the Air,” which features writers reading and discussing their work and is the longest continuously running national literary radio series.

BkMk has a commitment to regional writers, in part through its Target Series for Midwestern writers, but their list includes writers from all over the United States and abroad. Just a few of their award-winning titles are Lauren Cobb’s Boulevard Women, an engaging book of linked stories set in Athens, Georgia about female friends who span generations yet come together over their all-too-similar challenges, Tongue of War by Tony Barnstone, an ambitious and affecting collection of poems “inspired by historical situations and accounts, letters, oral histories, and news reports of individuals from both sides of the Pacific theater of World War II,” and, most recently, Gary Gildner’s delightful and sweet short fiction collection The Capital of Kansas City, stories of love in its messy and myriad incarnations.

For readers and writers, Robert Stewart and Ben Furnish share what drives their editorial decisions and what’s in store at BkMk and New Letters in the foreseeable future.

KF: In an interview with South Carolina Review, you discuss how you prefer writing that “offers hope,” which seems like both a wonderful and difficult mission for an editor. How would you describe the process of discovering “hope” in a manuscript you’ve published?

Click here to read the rest.

My latest up at Ploughshares:

Indie Spotlight: Sarabande Books

sarabande 

Founded in 1994 in Louisville, Kentucky by Sarah Gorham and Jeffrey Skinner, Sarabande Books began with a mission to publish and distribute with “diligence and integrity” books of poetry, short fiction and essays. Their first two titles appeared 20 years ago as winners of the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction and theKathryn A. Morton Prize in Poetry (this year’s reading period for both prizes opens March 15). Now Sarabande publishes 10 to 12 titles per year and has added two regional prizes—The Linda Bruckheimer Series in Kentucky Literature and The Flo Gault Poetry Prize for Kentucky Undergraduates.

Even the shortest selection of Sarabande’s most recent titles shows the press’s impact on contemporary American literature. Kerry Howley’s collection of essays on the lives of two cage fighters, Thrown, made at least a half-dozen “best of” lists in 2014, Caitlin Horrocks‘ collection of stories This Is Not Your City earned a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers distinction in 2011, and Amy Gustine’s collected stories You Should Pity Us Instead with a hot-off-the-press February 2016 publication date is already piling up a year’s worth of accolades.

Adding to their award-winning offerings in fiction, poetry, and nonfiction, Sarabande has published a varied and valuable collection of anthologies as well as their Quarternote Chapbooks, a remarkable series of titles from contemporary American poets including Stephen Dunn, Louise Glück, C.K. Williams, and James Tate.

Sarabande’s careful expansion over the years extends beyond book publication. The press produces the online resource Sarabande in Education, which provides reading guides and interactive material for educators, runs a writers’ residency program at Bernheim Arboretum and Research forest near Louisville, and operatesSarabande Writing Labs, which delivers arts education to underserved communities in Kentucky.

For Ploughshares, Editor-in-Chief Sarah Gorham shares her insights on Sarabande’s place in independent publishing today, and gives readers and writers a preview of where the press is headed in the immediate future.

Click here to read the rest.

small beer press

My latest up at the Ploughshares blog:

Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant, a writing and editing superduo based in western Massachusetts, began Small Beer Press in 2000, and immediately built a list of titles that garnered a number of awards for science fiction, fantasy, and horror and also landed on a variety of “best of” lists from publications as varied as Time, Salon,Booklist, and The Village Voice. Small Beer books defy genre while also celebrating it; their titles are wondrous and fantastical, blurring the line between the speculative and the concrete in ways that are sometimes dark, sometimes delightful, and altogether original.

Small Beer and its imprint Big Mouth (which publishes fiction for readers 10 and up) have quite the stable of authors, not least of which is Kelly Link herself. Joan Aiken, Holly Black, Peter Dickinson, Lydia Millet, Ursula K. Le Guin, Delia Sherman, and Howard Waldrop are just a few of their notable names.

New discoveries, like Ayize Jama-Everett, author of a trio of Small Beer novels featuring Chabi, a half-Mongolian, half-black female martial arts expert, and flash and short story writer Mary Rickert, whose collection You Have Never Been Here was published by Small Beer this fall, are just beginning to rack up the awards and notoriety to continue Small Beer’s quickly established legacy. Rickert’s book in particular is an excellent embodiment of the dance with genre that exemplifies a Small Beer book. You Have Never Been Hereis full of fairy tales and ghost stories, otherworldly and gothic, but Rickert’s stories are also as frighteningly familiar as the nightly news headlines or the small town “strange but true” tales that get passed around at the beauty shop or the bar.

What might be most remarkable is that Small Beer Press still accepts unsolicited submissions the old-fashioned way; they ask writers to submit the first 10-20 pages via snail mail with a forever-stamped SASE to their PO Box in Easthampton, Massachusetts.

For Ploughshares, Gavin J. Grant and Kelly Link and share what goes on behind the curtain at Small Beer, what prospective authors need to know, and what surprises they have in store for readers in the new year.

Click here to read the rest.

My latest up at Ploughshares:

Indie Spotlight: Stillhouse Press

stillhouse press

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 aHelen86_Final Cover.inddwonderfully 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. Click here to read more–

My latest up at Ploughshares:

Indie Spotlight: The Backwaters Press

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Eighteen years ago, The Backwaters Press was established by poet Greg Kosmicki in Omaha, Nebraska, and immediately made its presence known with the anthology Times of Sorrow, Times of Grace: Writing by Women of the Great Plains/High Plains, which won two Nebraska Book Awards in 2003. The Backwaters Press has continued to produce illuminating anthologies celebrating the work of writers living and working in the Great Plains/High Plains, including Road Trip, a collection of interviews with Nebraska poets, as well as anthologies of personal reminiscences about unsung, brilliant writers Weldon Kees and Thomas McGrath. In addition to these titles, The Backwaters Press also has published literary fiction and nonfiction, but the bulk of its books are collections of poetry.

The Backwaters Press remains loyal to its Great Plains roots by publishing poets such as William Kloefkorn, Marjorie Saiser, Twyla Hansen and Mark Sanders, and the press also celebrates the work of poets around the globe through its annual Backwaters Press Prize. A small sample of The Backwaters titles include To Live in Autumn by Lebanese poet Zeina Hashem Beck, We Grow Old by Taiwanese poet Yu-Han Chao, and Bulrushes, by New York native Michael Madonick.

Current Backwaters Press titles are Only the Dead Are Forgiven, by renowned poet Greg Kuzma, and Wakpá Wanági: Ghost River by Trevino L. Brings Plenty, a collection described by Joy Harjo as “poems of a hardcore rez visionary,” that was recently named Book of the Month by the radio program “Native American Calling.”

Having made its mark in the Great Plains and beyond, The Backwaters Press’s current editor Jim Cihlar shares with Ploughshares what’s on the horizon as Backwaters Press closes in on publishing its 100th title.

Click here to read more: The Backwaters Press

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted links to my Indie Press features up at Ploughshares. Guess I’ve been busy reading indie press books. There are so many great presses out there publishing remarkable, exquisite books. Take a look!

imgresFirst is Tupelo Press out of Western Mass, publisher of poetry & prose and the online “Million Line Poem.”

Tupelo Press

imgres-1McPherson & Co has been around a few decades, and has earned plenty of accolades, including a National Book Award thanks to Jaimy Gordon’s Lord of Misrule.

McPherson & Co

imgresStill fairly new, Etruscan Press publishes poetry and prose, experimental, multimedia, and otherwise, and will be putting out its first flash fiction book this fall.

Etruscan Press

Dika Eckersley, 1939-2015

February 28, 2015

imgresIn the summer of 1995 in downtown Lincoln, Nebraska, Hilda Raz and I met with a few friends for lunch, one of whom was Dika Eckersley. It was my birthday, and I was being treated by the lovely collection of women who produced the literary magazine, Prairie Schooner, where I worked as Managing Editor. Hilda, the magazine’s editor, and I shared office space at the University of Nebraska English Department, but the production team worked at the University of Nebraska Press across town, so Hilda established the birthday lunch tradition, ensuring we’d all get together at least a few times each year. Outside the restaurant that bright day in August, Dika handed me a red clay pot with a newspaper laid flat on top.

“Open it,” she told me with a mischievous smile, so I lifted up the newspaper. I laughed in surprise as out flew a monarch butterfly; attached to a twig inside the pot was what remained of its chrysalis. “I’d been watching it outside my kitchen window,” Dika said, “and I thought it would make the perfect gift.” Indeed it did.FullSizeRender-1

This is the story that came to mind when I heard that Dika had died at home in Lincoln this week, at age 75. Her designs for Prairie Schooner and the University of Nebraska Press were so like that gift, so like the person Dika was: lovely, full of delight, and wrapped in layers of meaning.

Four times a year, Dika collaborated with Hilda to create the cover of Prairie Schooner, and watching them work was one of the best parts of my job. Sometimes Hilda, Dika and I trekked to the Sheldon Art Gallery where the director would let us go into the cool, dry rooms and sift through the terrific breadth of images they had in storage. Other times we’d visit a local studio or meet with an artist in our offices, but more often than not Dika would just create cover art using one of her own photographs or images or using another favorite medium—the copy machine—and the result was always remarkable.

Once we visited local artist Kate Brooke, intending to choose one of her woodblock prints, Dika instead picking a page from Kate’s journal for the cover, littered with scraps of poems and tiny animals that she had reproduced in silver. Another time, Hilda brought in a collection FullSizeRender-2of her own childhood photographs, and she and I selected two perfect images of Hilda at three, smiling beatifically at the camera as she held her older brother’s hand. For the cover, however, Dika picked a photo slightly out of focus where Hilda’s brother has had his head unceremoniously cut off. Of course, Hilda and I immediately realized it as the ideal image to reflect that issue’s particularly troubling stories and poems. For Dika was a designer, but she also was a reader, and she recognized the intimate connection that a magazine’s cover should have with the narrative created from the stories, essays, and poems within. In Dika’s world, books should—and could be—judged by their covers.

One of my proudest moments at Prairie Schooner was when we celebrated the magazine’s 75th anniversary in the fall of 2001. Writers came from around the country to give readings and lectures about the magazine’s impact on American literature in the 20th century, and in conjunction with the conference, Sheldon Museum director Daniel Siedell curated a gallery exhibition, “The Visual Culture of Prairie Schooner.” At that point, Dika had been designing Prairie Schooner covers for about twenty years, and walking through the gallery opening, no one could ignore that it was her designs dominating FullSizeRenderthe show. Dika, however firm she was in her vision, was also modest in accepting praise, and I was so glad that for a time her work shared equal space in the Sheldon with Rothko, Warhol, Hopper, et al, where she absolutely belonged. Dika was a wonderful designer and a good friend, and while her designs will live on, she will be missed by many.

I’ll leave you with this excerpt from Daniel Siedell’s essay that accompanied the Sheldon Exhibition; his praise is more eloquent than mine:

Raz and Eckersley both understood the significance of material and visual culture and used it, through a visual politics of the cover, to “represent” or “image” the shifting focus of the Prairie Schooner. . . . Moreover, Raz’s and Eckersley’s aggressive aesthetic is intended to communicate the significance of the written word within a culture saturated by visual imagery. These cover designs illustrate the significant relationship between the word and image that intertwine the histories of modern literature and art. “The Visual Culture of Prairie Schooner” suggests that if we isolate word from image, literature from art, we do so to the impoverishment of our appreciation of the beauty and complexity of the world of culture.

My latest on the Ploughshares blog:

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 byJames 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).

Click here to keep reading. . .