Wednesday, January 17, 2018

12 or 20 (small press) questions with Kate Angus on Augury Books

Augury Books is an independent press based in Brooklyn, New York. Committed to publishing innovative work from emerging and established writers, Augury Books seeks to reaffirm the diversity of the reading public. Our authors have received awards such as the O. Henry Prize for short fiction, the Great Lakes Colleges Association’s “Discover” Award for creative nonfiction, and the Tony Quagliano International Poetry Award. Our authors have also been nominated for the CLMP Firecracker Award, the Lambda Literary Arts Award, and have been featured on the Poetry Society of America and the Academy of American Poets’ websites. Founded in 2010, Augury Books has published and continues to publish outstanding poetry, nonfiction, and fiction by a diverse range of voices. In late 2017, Augury Books became an imprint of Brooklyn Arts Press. We are a proud member of CLMP, the Community of Literary Magazines and Presses. Our titles are distributed by Small Press Distribution (SPD). Our editorial board is dedicated to fairness and quality of work.

Kate Angus is a founding editor of Augury Books and the author of So Late to the Party (Negative Capability Press, 2016). Her poetry and nonfiction have appeared in The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, The Academy of American Poets’ “Poem-a-Day” newsletter, Best New Poets 2010 and Best New Poets 2014. She is the Creative Writing Advisor for the Mayapple Center for Arts and Humanities at Sarah Lawrence College.

1 – When did Augury Books first start? How have your original goals as a publisher shifted since you started, if at all? And what have you learned through the process?
Augury Books was founded in 2010 with an eye towards publishing innovative and exciting work from new and emerging writers. That hasn’t changed. But we have expanded! We started off only publishing poetry, but in 2014 we opened up to short story collections and creative nonfiction titles. We’ve also had some editorial board turnover. A few early-days editors (Christine Kanownik and Matthew Cunha) stepped down due to time constraints, but since 2012-2013 we’ve had a pretty stable editorial board of myself, Associate Editor Kimberly Steele, and Assistant Editor Nicolas Amara. And this past November, Augury became an imprint of Brooklyn Arts Press so now Joe Pan/BAP is our publisher. 

I’ve learned so much! We all had to pick up various business skills (accounting, marketing, organizing, etc.) on the fly, but what I’m most aware of is how my approach to editing has evolved. When Augury was a young press, I think I had the arrogance of youth and felt more inclined to try to impose my aesthetics on the manuscripts we published; as the press and I have both aged, I find myself gravitating more towards collaboration, specifically the kind of collaboration where editorial conversations focus on how to best help our authors shape their words into the strongest version of what they want to say, rather than filtering their vision through my personal aesthetic preferences.

2 – What first brought you to publishing?
Meghan O’Rourke, one of my MFA teachers at The New School, asked me to be her Poetry Reader at The Paris Review and I also applied to be a fiction reader for A Public Space. Because of my experiences reading through the slush pile and learning from editors at both magazines, I felt like I had some small grasp of how publishing worked. Of course, even though I learned quite a lot at TPR and APS, I wasn’t even remotely prepared for indie book publishing, but it was a great start.

3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?
I think the role of small press publishers is to find, amplify, and nurture writers who for whatever reason the bigger publishing houses have overlooked.

4 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is?
I don’t think there’s anything we’re doing that no one else is. There are so many great small and micro-presses out there and they are all doing amazing work.

5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new books out into the world?
I don’t really have a good answer—we are constantly revising our strategies for how to best launch our books so that they can find a wider audience. I think it has to be a collaboration between author and press. An author can’t carry the weight of launching their book on their own, but neither can publishers do very much for authors who won’t reach out to whatever connections they might have. Publishers need to develop and maintain relationships with reviewers, reading series curators, institutions, etc., and keep an active presence in the lit world, but authors also need to do this work as well. I say this as both an editor and a writer: writers will always be their own best advocate. No matter how much your publisher loves and believes in your work, you have to go to bat for yourself over and over again.

Authors can help by publishing work in multiple genres, for instance, to widen their readership or doing group interviews or podcasts or writing guest posts for literary blogs or speaking on panels or guest teaching—really anything that helps put you and your words in front of a wide variety of people. Doing readings helps, both conventional readings as well as those in less conventional spaces. And collaborating with people in other art forms also.

6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?
Both I think. I certainly take deep dives into the manuscripts we publish, doing line edits and such, but I offer my edits in the spirit of collaboration, of conversation, and I believe with the same goal shared by the author: that the final version of the book is the best possible articulation of their vision. I hope the writers whose work Augury has published would agree with my assessment of this process, but you’d have to ask them. 

7 – How do your books get distributed? What are your usual print runs?
Our books are all distributed by SPD (Small Press Distribution) so they’re available at many bookstores, as well as online. We do print on demand now so our print runs vary based on demand.

8 – How many other people are involved with editing or production? Do you work with other editors, and if so, how effective do you find it? What are the benefits, drawbacks?
Augury is my baby in many ways, but also absolutely a group effort. Over the years, I’ve relied on our Assistant Editor Nicolas Amara and Associate Editor Kimberly Steele to do much of the production work and help make many decisions. We have also been blessed in the past with some wonderful design people—Mike Miller who has done many of our covers, and Isabella Giancarlo who did our most recent interior work. We’ve also had many great interns along the way. And now that we are BAP’s imprint, we have a fantastic new publisher: Joe Pan. This press would not exist without all of these people and the amazing selfless work they have done over the years and, in many cases, continue to do.

9– How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?
I don’t know that it’s changed how I think about my own writing, but it has made me much more sanguine about how and when and if my writing gets published. I know firsthand now how much goes into deciding which manuscripts are chosen and that quality of work is absolutely paramount but also other things do factor in: for example, how does this work fit into the press’s overall catalog, how many books can we afford to publish at this time, is this book too similar in some ways to something else we have recently published or, conversely, is it too dissonant with the rest of our catalog, etc. My role at Augury has allowed me to accept my own rejections more easily, and not flagellate myself as much. I now understand better that often a “No” doesn’t mean the work is bad—often it just isn’t right for that press at that time or for that issue of a journal.

10– How do you approach the idea of publishing your own writing? Some, such as Gary Geddes when he still ran Cormorant, refused such, yet various Coach House Press’ editors had titles during their tenures as editors for the press, including Victor Coleman and bpNichol. What do you think of the arguments for or against, or do you see the whole question as irrelevant?
I guess for me it’s irrelevant. I understand the arguments for it and against it and I think it’s a choice every editor/publisher needs to make for themselves and there aren’t any wrong answers—it’s just individual preference. Before my first book was published, I wanted it to come out on someone else’s press—both to have their support and structure, as well as their editorial input, and also I guess to have a kind of outside seal of approval, a feeling of validation from another editor and press that said “Yes, we believe in you and your work.” And I got all those things and so much more with Sue Walker at Negative Capability Press. For me it was important to have that experience of being published by someone else and I will always be grateful to Sue and Megan and the other folks at Negative Capability Press for believing in me and in So Late to the Party. But I don’t know how I will feel when my second book is done—I might, at that point, want to maintain control over the rights to my book, the distribution, being able to make e-books, etc. instead. All of that is so far away right now: I just want to concentrate on writing my next book rather than trying to predict what model of publication I’ll want to follow once it is written.

11– How do you see Augury Books evolving?
Well, we just made a really big change a few months ago. This past fall, we became an imprint of Brooklyn Arts Press. The transition from being fully-independent into being nurtured as a small wing of a larger press has been very smooth and we all (Augury and BAP) are really excited about our future collaborations with the books we’ll be publishing!

12– What, as a publisher, are you most proud of accomplishing? What do you think people have overlooked about your publications? What is your biggest frustration?
I am so proud of all the books we have brought out into the world. My biggest frustration is figuring out how to find a wider audience for our authors. 

13– Who were your early publishing models when starting out?
We definitely admire Wave Books, Slope Editions, Octopus Books, Flood Editions and Milkweed Editions, Ugly Duckling Presse, Four Way Books, Alice James Books, and others like them. I don’t know that we modeled ourselves on any of them precisely; rather, we loved the work they were publishing and felt inspired to—like them—help bring beautiful books out into the world.

14– How does Augury Books work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see Augury Books in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?
I don’t know that I see us as being in any specific dialogue, although I guess on a certain level all presses and journals are engaged in a larger conversation with each other and with writers and readers. We do seek to support and collaborate with other presses, and with writers and editors we aren’t formally affiliated with. I think the most obvious example of this is our new affiliation with Brooklyn Arts Press—as BAP’s imprint, we are collaborating with them through conversations, through sharing resources and ideas and networks and events, and through sharing table space at AWP and other conferences. We’ll also be participating in an offsite reading at AWP this year organized by Switchback Books that also involves BAP, Saturnalia, and Black Ocean. And Augury Books is also part of the Small Press Union, a wonderful resource-sharing  and support network created by Lynne DeSilva-Johnson of The Operating System. I think that it’s an absolute imperative for small presses to be supportive of each other, and there are many ways of doing this: we can be supportive of each other by organizing and/or attending events, by purchasing each other’s books, by helping publicize things (events, publications, reading periods, fund raisers, etc.) for each other and by offering practical help by working tables for each other or doing shipping or paying more of the table costs if we’re not able to be there in person. There are a lot of ways of being part of the literary community—we’re all in this together, although we all also have our own individual responsibilities and constraints so we may not be able to be in it together in exactly the same ways.

15– Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?
We definitely hold launch parties for all of our new titles and we try to do readings occasionally for other things as well—collaborative readings offsite at AWP and the occasional showcase reading when we have enough Augury authors in the same place at the same time. I love launch parties: they’re like a wedding or a baby shower—a wonderful way of celebrating something new and beautiful and welcoming it to the world. While I do like public readings both to hear work in the author’s own voice and also as a social occasion, I admit I engage more deeply when I’m reading a book alone as a silent solitary act rather than being in a crowd where the work is read aloud to me.

16– How do you utilize the internet, if at all, to further your goals?
Our titles can be purchased online so the Internet is part of our distribution. And we accept only accept submissions online so the Internet is also how we find new books to publish.

17– Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?
Yes we do! In fact, we have an open reading period during January this year. We aren’t able to accept anthologies or works in translation, for various business reasons, nor do we accept novels (I love novels but don’t feel qualified to edit or market one), but other than that we are open to submissions from writers at any stage of their career.

18– Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.
It’s hard to narrow down our catalog to just three books, but I’ll talk about a recent title in each of the three genres that we publish.

Poetry: Arisa White’s You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened, a Lambda Literary Award Finalist for Lesbian Poetry, is one of our titles dearest to my heart. I’ll quote Christopher Soto’s lovely review of this collection for Lamba Literary where he calls this book “a love letter to our shared queer of color community” and notes that “titles of many poems in the collection are literal translations of the word gay. Many of the original words, before being translated, are derogatory in their original language. Thus, Arisa White repurposes that pain and inscribes it with love, tenderness, poetry. ‘You’ becomes witness to the beauty held in what was once called derogatory. ‘You’ is able to witness the act of reclaiming language.”

Fiction: Sara Schaff’s Say Something Nice About Me, a finalist for CLMP’s Firecracker Award for Fiction, is a fantastic collection. Sara’s prose is luminous and sharp, and the stories in the collection explore the risks taken—and illusions created—by her characters at turning points in their lives, trying to grapple with how to live in the unknown. I’ll quote Dan Choan’s assessment of her work her, as he says “The stories…intertwine in complex and fascinating patterns. They are all explorations of the meaning of human connection…Say Something Nice About me is a thoughtful and provoking book, the beginning to a great career!”

Creative Nonfiction: Randall Horton’s Hook, the winner of the Great Lakes Colleges Association’s (GLCA) 2016 “Discover” Prize for Creative Nonfiction, is a gripping story of transformation. This memoir by the poet, musician (Heroes Are Gang Leaders) and educator Randall Horton charts his early years as an unassuming Howard University student turned homeless drug addict, international cocaine smuggler, and incarcerated felon, and the redemption he found through writing. The book is structured as a multilayered narrative bridging both past and present through Horton’s memories, as well as his correspondence in letters with the anonymous Lxxxx, a Latina woman awaiting trial. To quote the GLCA judges, “Randall Horton delivers careful rough-hewn, poetically-charged language at the service of a memoir that runs against the grain of a typical ‘recovery’ narrative. What results is searing commentary, social critique under the guise of a memoir within a memoir…[T]his text has the potential to speak to people for generations.”

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Victoria Chang, Barbie Chang

Barbie Chang can’t stop watching
      the Ellen Pao trial

while the rest of the world wonders
     about a plane crash in

the Alps helping Ellen Pao is not an
      option Barbie Chang

opted out but never really severed
      ties with the people in

the office she kept quiet because by
      speaking she would

become a victim something projected
      upon like the canvas (“BARBIE CHANG CAN’T STOP WATCHING”)

The first thing that struck me about Southern California poet Victoria Chang’s fourth full-length poetry collection, Barbie Chang (Copper Canyon Press, 2017) [see my review of her prior collection here], is how it is reminiscent, structurally, of Toronto poet Shannon Bramer’s second collections, scarf (Exile Editions, 2001), both of which are accumulative character-studies heavy on interiority, wrapped around a central image/character. Whereas the image and story of a scarf provides Bramer’s character Vera her narrative through-line, Victoria Chang writes her character and central figure “Barbie Chang” as a “perpetual outsider,” writing her character’s feeling of disconnect against the loaded cultural figure of “Barbie.” What makes the connection stronger is in how Chang doesn’t need to present information any more than the name itself, and her main character isn’t mentioned once without her full name: “Barbie Chang.”

Chang (Victoria, I mean) also adds the figure of “Mr. Darcy” as a side-character, referencing the character of Fitzwilliam Darcy from Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice (1813), through Barbie Chang’s “romantic misadventures with Mr. Darcy,” as she writes, to open the poem “MR. DARCY LEANS”:

Mr. Darcy leans into Barbie Chang again
      weans her from his lean

then leans again his face doesn’t reach
      her face but she can feel

its heat soldering her to him his shoulder
      lacks flesh but she still

wishes for it when he says cheese she
      shows her teeth and

wonders when she will believe in the
      idea of which space again

Barbie Chang is a hefty and complicated character study, as we watch Chang’s (Victoria, I mean) protagonist deal with parental health issues, heartbreak, racism and anxiety while attempting to maneuver the potential minefield of social engagement, as she writes to open the poem “BARBIE CHANG GOT HER HAIR DONE”:

Barbie Chang got her hair done for
      the school auction

she was afraid sick of the Circle since
      she heard of their

shopping for matching dresses so out
      of the nest she flew

into the auction thinking she could
      outmaneuver her

loneliness thinking she could overcome
      being classified thinking

I find her rhythms of her poems fascinating, wondering how her lines are meant to be heard or read, with the jagged, staggered meanings and collision of phrase. I find the rhythms jarring, but am fascinated by how they are meant to sound, and meant to flow, reading instead a kind of uneven ground meant to keep the reader slightly unsettled. The effect requires a slowness, but aloud would be quite different to hear at higher speeds. How am I to read these? How does she, I wonder?

Monday, January 15, 2018

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Martin West

Martin West was born in Victoria and spent his youth working and living in the Canadian west. He has been published in magazines across the nation, twice in the Journey Prize Anthology as well as Best Canadian Stories. His first collection, Cretacea was published in 2016 and received the gold IPPY award. His novel Long Ride Yellow arrived in the fall of 2017 from Anvil Press. 

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My hand writing changed. Throughout all of my unpublished and professional life, I printed back hand. Probably some sort of neurosis. After the first book came out, I started writing forehand like everyone else. It really is a lot easier. As far as later works is concerned, they have gotten longer. Could be a good thing, might be bad.

2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?
Fiction came to me. My grade school disciplinary record shows as much. I had been banished to the back row with a classmate who ate erasers and the box arrived. Don’t do this. Do not open that box, a voice said to me. No such luck.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
Decades. Eons. All of the past. Anything that has hurt for years. Then finally the story erupts, the first draft spews out and I spend the next fifty months cleaning the mess up off the floor.

4 - Where does work of prose usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
In conflict. In the paradox of eroticism, patriotism and pantheism-- or whatever the human place in the cosmos is now called. If our passions are controllable, then they’re not worth having. Everything begins there.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
The last time I did a reading my publisher suggested beta-blockers, so that pretty much sums up the situation.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
Gravity. Mass. Angle of attack and self-censorship. Getting the reader from one page to the last without them realizing they are as perturbed as the author.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
To write great novels. The novel itself defines the known from unknown, the living from the dead. Anything else is a distraction, a weakness and probably a lie.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I’ve always got along very well with my outside editors. It’s the inside editor I have an issue with.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Don’t. Try something else. Run away. Get a day job. The armed forces are apparently hiring. But nobody listens to that. Tell the truth. There’s nothing but the truth. You’ll be a fool, but in the end the truth is all the writer has.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (short stories to the novel)? What do you see as the appeal?
Part of the Canadian condition is the right of passage through short stories so many of us were conscripted through that route to get novels published. Moi aussi.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
The first draft is like showing up for parade: plan large chunks of time off. Get up sober. Go to the office first thing. Dress for the occasion. Know always there is someone on the other side of the desk listening to every word and perfectly willing to call you a liar. Write all day. Repeat.

12&14 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration? (David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?)
White frost on black trees. Women in latex. Liquor. The issue of Schrödinger's cat and modernist painting. If the story isn’t coming out like a rocket ship, then do something else. There’s no point staring at a blank page.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Given my vintage, I grew up with intense dislike for the PC curriculum in Canadian lit classes and was lured towards the deviant crowd instead.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Own my own boat. Cure insomnia. Give up guilt.  

17 & 18- What made you write, as opposed to doing something else? If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
Probably a failed intelligence officer. The writer writes because he has too. There is no choice. To not write would lead to insanity, suicide or both. Fortunately, along the way I’ve had good jobs which aren’t usually associated with the writing life. The strategy paid off. Without those experiences I would never have written anything worthwhile. As ugly, duplicitous and derelict as the human condition may be, living in the beast’s gut is the only way to see its face.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Dirt cheap and desperate. 86’ed. Dan Fante.

20 - What are you currently working on?
1981 Recession Vancouver. B&E artistry. Professional domination in halcyon days. Folks who believe their parents are insects. Pretty standard fare for this strange nation.