An Interview with David D. Horowitz of Rose Alley Press

David D. Horowitz

Founded by David D. Horowitz in November 1995, Rose Alley Press publishes rhymed and metered poetry, cultural commentary, and an annually updated booklet about writing and publication.

Ed Battistella: How did Rose Alley Press get started? The name Rose Alley has a special connection to John Dryden. Can you tell us a bit about that?

David D. Horowitz: I founded Rose Alley Press on November 17, 1995. Dissident Nigerian playwright Ken Saro-Wiwa had just been executed, and Israeli politician Yitzhak Rabin had just been assassinated. I was also upset after four years of less-than-favorable involvement with some religious groups. By 1995, I had articulated and wanted to publicize a form of freethinking deism based on the twin ideals of consideration and vitality—as opposed to faith in a messiah, absolute allegiance to a holy book, surreptitious curtailment of basic individual rights by tribalistic authority, and presumed divine sanction for appropriating land and political power. I had founded and managed two small presses before: Urban Hiker Press, 1979 through 1981; and Lyceum Press, 1988 through 1990. Those two enterprises never amounted to more than self-publishing operations. This time, I wanted to publish not only my own work but that of other writers. I had a long-standing commitment to rhymed metrical poetry, so I wanted that to be a twin pillar of my new publishing company.

I had felt harassed and hounded in the late eighties and early nineties. This is a long story, the details of which I’d rather not discuss at this time. I sympathetically identified with John Dryden because of the December 18th, 1679, attack in Rose Alley, London, that nearly cost him his life but didn’t stifle his poetic voice. As my landlord’s surname was Rose, and I lived in an alley, I thought the name “Rose Alley Press” appropriate. I also loved the way “Rose” and “Alley” suggested poetry could be about both the esoteric and mundane, the beautiful and the plain. Therefore, I called my new company “Rose Alley Press.”

The first two books I published were my own eclectic collection of essays and epigrams, Strength and Sympathy, and a fine chapbook of poems, Rain Psalm, by my friend and fellow poet, Victoria Ford. This was the spring of 1996. The books sold credibly, and I enjoyed promoting them, so I decided to publish a third book. I asked my primary literary mentor, William Dunlop, a University of Washington English professor, if he would consider submitting his poems to me for possible publication. He had turned me down in 1990, but this time he agreed. A native of Britain, William wrote primarily in rhymed metrics and with Philip Larkin-esque descriptive precision. I loved William’s under-appreciated work! Nine months later, on June 17th, 1997, and after much scrupulous editing, William Dunlop’s collection, Caruso for the Children, & Other Poems, was published. Measured by poetry book standards, it was a “hit.” In my free time, away from my day job, I was running around town fulfilling bookstore orders, planning and promoting readings featuring William. To date, the book has sold 750 copies, which is quite good for poetry. It was the first book I’d published that genuinely sold well–400 copies in its first six months–and which was fairly widely reviewed and publicized. I was hooked!

A succession of poetry collections followed: Michael Spence’s Adam Chooses; my own Streetlamp, Treetop, Star; Douglas Schuder’s To Enter the Stillness; Joannie Stangeland’s Weathered Steps; Donald Kentop’s On Paper Wings; and several more of my own collections. My own work was written almost exclusively in rhymed metrics, and at least half of the poems in the other collections were in rhymed metrics. Sales were solid, well into the hundreds for each title. Readings were increasingly well-attended and often at fine venues like Elliott Bay Book Company, University Bookstore, Powell’s on Hawthorne, the Frye Art Museum, and Bumbershoot Arts Festival, among other venues. Still more poetry collections followed, focused on rhymed metrics. These included two Pacific Northwest anthologies I’d edited: Limbs of the Pine, Peaks of the Range (2007) and Many Trails to the Summit (2010). Rose Alley Press was becoming a respected, fairly reputable name in the Seattle-area literary scene–and so it remains to this day. I claim no fantastic fame or financial success–but an earned respect, yes, and I’m glad for that.

EB: Tell us a little about your background. How did you become a publisher?

DH: I was born in New York City in 1955. My father was a sociology professor who frequently moved from job to job. Indeed, when I was two, we moved from New York City to Waltham, Massachusetts; and then to Barrytown, New York; Annandale, New York; Geneva, New York; and University City, Missouri–just outside of St. Louis. That was only by the time I was seven. I lived in University City from 1963 to 1971. My parents divorced in 1964, and my father eventually returned to New Jersey to teach at Rutgers. I got along far better with my mother than with my father, so when she earned her Ph.D. in political science from Washington University in St. Louis and got a job teaching political philosophy for the political science department at the University of Washington, I moved with her to Seattle.

My mother helped create a home environment devoted to free, honest inquiry, which was perfect for me. In 1973 I graduated from Seattle’s Lincoln High School and attended the University of Washington, majoring in philosophy. Early during my UW years, I began keeping a poetry journal. I’d scribble all manner of banality during and after long walks and bike rides to Ballard, Magnolia, Carkeek Park, or downtown. But one warm summer evening in 1974 I felt entranced and haunted by the beauty of the sunset. I couldn’t quite describe the color, but I felt impelled to try. For three consecutive weeks that August I gazed at the Olympic Mountains at twilight, backed by a fabulous mix of peachy reddish colors. I struggled to describe the colors, but finally one evening it struck me: salmon! That was the color! Not red-orange-purple-pink, but salmon! And the word was so rich in Northwest connotation, too! Well, that was it. I derived such intense pleasure from finding that right word, that essential bit of description, that I cultivated my poetry journal habit.

My emerging love of poetry prompted me to seriously pursue writing as my primary avocation. My last quarter as a philosophy major undergraduate at the UW, I decided to take an introductory poetry composition class. My teacher was British: William Dunlop. He was brilliant. And he loved rhyme as much as I did. He introduced me to the work of several influential contemporary poets, including Richard Hugo, Denise Levertov, Elizabeth Bishop, and probably his favorite (then) contemporary poet: Philip Larkin. I loved that Larkin wrote rhymed metrical poetry. I read Larkin’s The Whitsun Weddings virtually every day in 1978, my first year out of school. I would also occasionally visit Dunlop in his office. We chatted. I got to know him a bit better. I read some of the verse he’d published in various journals over the years: journals such as TLS, Poetry Northwest, Encounter, The New Statesman, and some much lesser known. Some of his poems were brilliant. And yet he was a virtual unknown seemingly without a published collection who confided to me that he did not write much verse anymore. He once said to me in his dusk-darkened office, after a long pause: “There are worse things to be than an honest failure.” This moved me. I felt some instinctive anger that the literary world often rewarded writers for reasons of fame and fashionable political commitments, not genuine artistry.

My sense that Dunlop had been slighted is the seed that yielded Rose Alley Press. I founded a small press in 1979 called Urban Hiker Press and through it published my own chapbook, Something New and Daily. I worked at Seattle Public Library but re-enrolled at the UW to complete the course work necessary to obtain a B.A. in English. I earned my B.A. in English in 1981 and in 1983 went to graduate school at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. There I studied under Donald Davie, who I came to learn had been Dunlop’s teacher at Cambridge and was largely responsible for his getting a job at the UW. Academic life and I had our disagreements, so, despite having grown greatly during my four years there, I left Vanderbilt in 1987 and returned to Seattle. I soon founded another small press, Lyceum Press, and published my second collection of verse and a few bookmarks. I was about to begin publishing an anthology of eighteenth-century verse when, for various reasons, my life collapsed. I ended Lyceum Press and never wanted to publish another syllable again.

Through all manner of fateful convolutions I wound up in 1991 teaching and tutoring English at Seattle Central Community College and, to a lesser extent, Shoreline Community College. I began studying math and science at Seattle Central, but my commitment wasn’t deep, and I kept writing poetry. Well, as I indicated earlier I founded Rose Alley Press in November 1995, published William Dunlop’s collection in 1997, and, primarily funded by my job as a conference room attendant at a Seattle law firm, I’ve kept Rose Alley Press going. It’s just about twenty-two years old now, and I’m working on the seventeenth Rose Alley Press book, our third Northwest poetry anthology. I recently retired from my job, so I have some more time now to devote to publishing. There’s so much more to tell, but this is enough. I’ll trust you get some sense of what my motivations and history are.

EB: Rose Alley specializes in poetry and is very selective. What do you look for in a book and in an author? Does Seattle have a particularly thriving poetry community?

DH: I primarily publish books featuring contemporary Pacific Northwest rhymed metrical poetry. Poetry for me is the intersection of language and music, and skillfully employed rhymed metrics deepen resonant engagement with the language. A good formal poem is a community of words, a snowflake in words–but only if its formal elements are realized skillfully, and often with just the right mix of the earthy and esoteric, the conversational and courtly, the humorous and respectful. I like formal verse that shows facility and familiarity with an occasional complex rhyme scheme; diverse forms and tones; enjambment; felicitous melding of subject and form; less-than-obvious but convincing rhymes consistent with a poem’s level of diction; and no gratuitous syllables or cloying rhymes just to fill out a pattern. I also look for the ability to set a scene through distinctively worded images and line breaks hinting at double and triple meanings. I like radical concision: poems without one wasted word. And I like to see familiarity with the great world tradition of poetry. And there we begin to touch on issues of character, beginning with the humble awareness the poet’s own (lack of) fame is not the only issue currently on the planet. I like to deal with a poet well-read in the tradition; with strong aesthetic opinions AND the patience to respectfully consider diverse perspectives. I certainly also prefer poets who can consider editorial suggestions without construing every suggestion as a personal slight. In short, I like someone who can understand and work with me to bring his or her poems to perfection prior to publication. And after publication, I like a poet who will help publicize his or her book through numerous readings, signings, launch parties, and conference teaching gigs. A good set of journal publications is always nice, but more important is the desire and social skill necessary to sell the book directly to people. And, yes, there are many such poets in the Seattle area. I’ve been lucky enough to meet, hear, and publish the work of many of them.

Indeed, I’d happily claim Seattle DOES have a particularly thriving poetry community. We’ve got fine writing programs and instructors at the UW, Seattle University, Seattle Pacific, and numerous other colleges in the area. Excellent bookstores and reading venues remain plentiful, and the talent level is high. And I think, as well, many of the poets are friends in the best sense: there for each other, thoughtfully honest, and committed to excelling the craft. Are improvements possible? Yes. One too rarely sees students from the university writing programs and English classes attend and participate in the smaller venue readings and open mics. And Seattle generally suffers from excessive political correctness, and this can lead to some prematurely dismissive attitudes towards anything perceived as culturally conservative (e.g., rhyme and meter). But… I’d rather emphasize the good. Our fine city boasts numerous excellent poets and performance venues, and I’m glad to be here, right in the thick of it.

EB: How does poetry change people? Or does it?

DH: “or the sun’s/ Faint friendliness on the wall some lonely/ Rain-ceased midsummer evening.” — Philip Larkin

“We slowed again,/ And as the tightened brakes took hold, there swelled/ A sense of falling, like an arrow-shower/ Sent out of sight, somewhere becoming rain.” — Philip Larkin

“In friendship false, implacable in hate;/ Resolv’d to ruin or to rule the State.” — John Dryden

“The grave’s a fine and private place,/ But none, I think, do there embrace.” — Andrew Marvell

“The ides of March are come.” “Ay, Caesar, but not gone.” — William Shakespeare

These and many other eloquent, thematically rich poetic offerings inspired me to study poetry, to stay up until 4 a.m. to refine a poem, to refresh my spirit in another’s talent to develop my own. Yes, poetry can change a person! It inspires, captivates, maddens, titillates, deepens, challenges, educates, enriches, emboldens, and refines. I cite some of my early favorite lines from the great tradition, but I read widely, and poets of both genders and from diverse international regions have changed my world view and improved my craft. And, of course, millions of people can attest to poetry’s power! Their choice of favorite poets and lines would undoubtedly differ from mine, but we share the common experience of being moved by words: indeed, the right words in the right order in the right rhythm. And sometimes you never forget ’em.

EB: What advice have you got for poets?

DH: I’m guessing you would prefer I practice the concision I so eagerly preach. I will try, then, to restrain my pedagogic tendencies. There is too much to say, but… here are a dozen suggestions:

1) Read widely in diverse traditions.

2) Don’t stray too far from sincerity, but don’t preach.

3) Poetry is the intersection of language and music. Consider, then, the relationship between rhythm and resonance.

4) Master punctuation, so if you break a rule you understand why and can do so to intelligent effect. Do not dismiss knowledge of punctuation, grammar, and syntax as pedantry.

5) Distinguish urbanity from snobbery and earthiness from crudity.

6) Write many dramatic monologues–or “persona poems,” if you prefer that term. Cultivate empathy; enrich your voice.

7) Refine your skill to render a scene through imagery–precisely phrased physical imagery that evokes a scene. An old-fashioned skill and none the worse for it.

8) Browse through a dictionary for at least fifteen minutes weekly. And study the etymologies of words… Soak in their poetry.

9) Try hard to avoid blaming others for your not being internationally famous by the time you are twenty-five. Organize readings, volunteer at book fairs, host open mics, and post links to others’ websites on your own. Link with kindred spirits, and make your own fate! Blame is toxic. It’s not always wrong to blame, but it poisons the soul and work of many a poet. Try hard not to go there, although I understand you might have good reason to be angry with the literati. But… try to stay positive.

10) Try to get your work published by focusing on journals other than The New Yorker, Poetry, The Paris Review, and The Atlantic. Look for editors and journals that share your perspectives and publish at least one poem per hundred submitted. Fame will come eventually if you are talented and persistent. Build up your confidence and literary resume with real publications and performances, not fantasies of prestige readings before thousands. Focus on the gritty, unglamorous details of real career-building, if you are indeed ambitious.

11) Memorize at least six of your favorite poems of fourteen or fewer lines.

12) Distinguish absolutism from principle, skepticism from nihilism, and enlightened self-interest from narcissism. And don’t forget to have fun!

EB: Do you have some favorite poets?

DH: Yes. Let me list some of them:

Philip Larkin
W. H. Auden
W. B. Yeats
Geoffrey Chaucer
William Shakespeare
Ben Jonson
Andrew Marvell
John Dryden
Matthew Prior
Alexander Pope
Jonathan Swift
Oliver Goldsmith
A. E. Stallings
Gail White
Alison Joseph
Marilyn Nelson
Belle Randall
Rafael Campo
David Mason
William Dunlop
Michael Spence
Tu Fu
Heinrich Heine
Homer
Martial
Ovid
Catullus
Richard Wakefield

and dozens and dozens more (Please forgive me, my friends, if any of you feel slighted by not mentioning you! I’m lucky to know so many fine poets, and I can list only so many here!)

EB: Where can readers get Rose Alley Press books?

DH: I’m working to make books available for sale directly through my website: www.rosealleypress.com. That’s not ready yet, so contact me directly via email: rosealleypress@juno.com. Also, the following Seattle-area bookstores should either stock requested Rose Alley Press titles or be able to order them: University Book Store, Open Books, Elliott Bay Book Company, BookTree Kirkland, or Edmonds Bookshop. Island Books and Queen Anne Avenue Books likely could also special order them, and I do fulfill orders from my wholesaler, Baker & Taylor. I’ll have a booth, too, at the Ashland Literary Arts Festival at Hannon Library on October 28th. Come by and introduce yourself. I’ll be reading my poetry at the festival, too, so I hope to see you there–and, yes, I’ll have Rose Alley Press books for sale at my table.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

DH: Thank you, Ed, for relating such a thoughtful, challenging set of questions. I hope my answers are of use to you.

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An Interview with Vyvyan Evans

Vyvyan Evans

Vyvyan Evans received his PhD in Linguistics from Georgetown University, Washington DC., and has taught at the University of Sussex, Brighton University and Bangor University. He has published 14 books on language, meaning, mind, and digital communication, including The Crucible of Language: How Language and Mind Create Meaning (2015); and The Language Myth: Why Language is Not an Instinct (2014). His writing has been featured in CNN Style, The New York Post, The Guardian, The Conversation, Nautilus Magazine, Newsweek, New Scientist, and Psychology Today.

His latest book is The Emoji Code: The Linguistics Behind Smiley Faces and Scaredy Cats.

Ed Battistella: How did you get interested in the emoji?

Vyvyan Evans:It was January 2015, and an editor from The Guardian newspaper, in London, contacted me. She was looking for a language expert to write an article about the world’s first alleged emoji terror threat: a teenager from Brooklyn, NY, had just been arrested under anti-terrorism 9/11 statues, for threatening the NYPD using emojis. The case made headlines, but the problem was, back in 2015, there was no one with expertise in how Emoji works as a system of communication; Emoji was still such a new global phenomenon. I took on the writing assignment, somewhat sceptically. But as I conducted the research for the piece, I began to see how Emoji as a communicative system, parallels aspects of the way in which language achieves its communicative functions. A couple of months later, a London-based telecoms company, TalkTalk, commissioned me to undertake research into Emoji usage in the UK. And from there I was hooked. I set aside the book I was working on, and began work on what became The Emoji Code, instead.

EB: What exactly are emojis?

VE: Emojis are the single character pictographic glyphs, the yellow smileys, winks, and so on, that populate the electronic keyboards of our smartphones and mobile computing devices. They were originally developed in Japan in the late 1990s for the world’s first commercially available mobile internet system on early smartphones. And since their incorporation as standard, on iPhones in 2011, they have become a global phenomenon. Since 2010, emojis have been regulated by Unicode, a California-based consortium of primarily multinational tech companies, that sets the international standard for computer fonts and displays. Unicode carefully vets proposals for new emojis, with rules as to what can and can’t be an emoji: branding is forbidden, as are emojis for persons living or dead and deities. While anyone can propose an emoji, the whole emoji vetting process takes around 18 months, before a new emoji is likely to pass muster, and make it from the drawing board to a smartphone near you or me. In 1999, when they were first introduced in Japan there were 176 emojis. As of June 2017, with the latest Unicode update, there are 2,666 officially-sanctioned emojis.

EB: I was fascinated to learn some of the intricacies of emojis, such as the fact that the images show up differently on different platforms. What other interesting facts did you uncover?

VE: Around 3.2 billion people, well over 40% of the world’s population, has regular internet access, and around 92% of those internet users regularly send emojis. On Messenger alone, Facebook’s messaging app, over 5 billion emojis are sent on a daily basis. Emoji is now a central feature of social media. Indeed, today the average person, during their lifetime, will spend over three years updating social media, compared to 12 months in a pub, and 235 days waiting in a queue. In the industrialised world, communicating virtually is increasingly replacing aspects of face-to-face and phone interaction. For instance, in the UK, under 25s now spend an average of 27 hours a week on-line, while even over 45s spend an average of 20 hours per week on the internet, which represents about double, in both cases, from a decade earlier. The world’s first arrest for an emoji-related terroristic threat took place in 2015, and in 2016 a French man was sentenced to three months in prison for using an emoji to issue a death threat. The world’s first political interview, conducted via emojis, involved the Australian minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, and in 2015 Finland became the world’s first country to brand itself using bespoke emojis, the same year that Oxford Dictionaries, the world’s leading arbiter of English language usage, dubbed the ‘face with tears of joy’ emoji its word of the year.

EB: What surprised you most doing the research for The Emoji Code?

VE: The prejudice against emoji usage. Many otherwise educated and liberal commentators often seem to view Emoji as a joke, the communicative equivalent to an adolescent grunt. But this amounts to prejudiced cultural elitism, and fundamentally misunderstands the nature of communication. Emoji is more than a mere splash of juvenile colour. The fact that Emoji can and will be used in a court of law against you is testament to that.

EB: In The Emoji Code, you mention that emojis are like paralanguage? What does that mean?

VE: In our everyday face-to-face spoken interactions, much of communication is effected not via language, but through nonverbal cues. For instance, according to one estimate, as much as 70% of our emotional expression may come from non-verbal cues. Paralanguage relates to the non-linguistic signals arising from the medium that conveys language. In spoken language, these include the rise and fall of our pitch contours, such as intonation. Paralanguage also includes involuntary aspects of the spoken modality, such as laughter, or a voice cracked from emotion. These non-verbal cues provide important information that complement, nuance and even change the meaning of our words. For instance, when you or I say “I love you” with falling pitch, as when making a statement, this is a declaration of undying love. But now try saying it with rising pitch, as if asking a question. It now becomes an ironic counterblast that lays someone low, and is probably best not said to your nearest if you wish to keep them your dearest. In similar fashion, Emoji serves a paralinguistic function in digital textspeak. Emojis helps nuance and complement the meaning of our otherwise, seemingly emotionally arid abbreviated digital messages. They help add tone of voice, and better enable us to nuance what our texted words actually mean. For instance, a text message that reads “Hey, so I tripped and banged my head on the kitchen cupboard”, becomes a plea for sympathy if followed by a crying face emoji. But with a laughing face, we are inviting our addressee to acknowledge our clumsy buffoonery. Either way, the emoji helps clarify what we mean by the words, much as tone of voice does in face-to-face interaction.

EB: You also point out that we “see” emotions. How so?

VE: Humans are primarily visual creatures; vision is our dominant sense. With the eyes open, two thirds of the brain’s neural activity relates to vision, while 40% of the brain’s nerve fibres are connected to the retina. And it takes just 100 milliseconds for a human to recognise an object. Moreover, we are extremely adept at using our visual smarts to read how someone is feeling, their emotional state, from their facial expressions. Indeed, humans use 43 facial muscles to make over 10,000 distinct expressions: these are reflexes of our undulating emotional selves. And many of these we use to interpret what others mean by their words, or how they are responding to and feel about ours. In digital textspeak, the large array of yellow emoji faces help us convey, and figure out the meaning behind our words. Around 70% of the world’s daily emoji usage relates to emotion, emphasising, or nuancing the meaning of our words. They provide powerful visual cues that convey emotional states, and can help highlight the meaning behind the words, from an eye-roll emoji, to signal that I’m being ironic, to the ubiquitous wink emoji, to tone down an otherwise face-threatening remark.

EB: It seemed to me that your book was about more than just emojis. It was an introduction to linguistics concepts using emojis. Was that part of your goal in writing The Emoji Code? What are some of the key linguistic ideas you explore?

VE: The rapid adoption of Emoji, in just a few years, makes it a rich (and well-recorded) case through which to explore the nature of human communication, including the nature and functions of language, and other nonverbal aspects of communication. Accordingly, my exploration of Emoji, as a system of communication, represents an opportunity to delve into a wide range of related issues. These include grammar prescriptivism, the evolutionary origins of language, the social and cultural factors that govern language use, language change and its development, as well as the nature and organisation of language, and what it reveals about the nature of the human mind, and how meaning arises when we communicate. My central thesis is that far from being some passing fad, Emoji reflects, and thereby reveals, fundamental elements of communication; and in turn, this all shines a light on what it means to be human.

EB: How do you think emojis will evolve?

VE: The future is notoriously difficult to predict. For instance, in one scene from the cult classic sci-fi movie Blade Runner, the main character, Deckard, played by Harrison Ford is in a bar. He makes a phone call to Rachel, with whom he’s falling in love, and invites her to join him for a drink. But while the future Los Angeles involves off-world colonies, cyborgs, or ‘replicants’ as they are termed, and hover cars, Deckard, in the film, places the call from a hard-wired phone, on the wall. Apparently, foreseeing the invention of mobile phones was a step too far for the 1982 movie.

This issue is even thornier when considering human communication. From the perspective of technological innovation, we are living in a digital age: technology is transforming the ways we communicate with one another, and interact with the world around us. But while the creative directors of Blade Runner inhabited an era before cell phones, texting, and now mobile internet-based computing have changed the way we communicate. Moreover, other technological pipe dreams that were once only the preserve of science fiction are now becoming reality. For instance, John Anderton, the character played by Tom Cruise in the 2002 movie Minority Report – originally a book by Philip K. Dick, as was Blade Runner – wears a data glove, providing a sophisticated gesture-based interface system. But touch-based computing is now de rigeur, with the pinch, pull and swipe features of Apple iPads and iPhones having led the way in the 2000s. In terms of computer gaming the Wii, in 2006, and later, Microsoft Kinect consoles developed similar ways of interacting and controlling virtual characters and actions. Devices such as these are surely but a prelude of what is to come.

We might speculate on how Emoji will develop—in the short term, animated, avatar-like emojis might be one way in which textspeak can be further enhanced by multimodal cues. Facial expressions and gestures are what make us who we are: let’s see it, and not be afraid of seeing it, in Emoji! But whatever the next stage in the evolution of Emoji, the driver is, ultimately, the cooperative intelligence that makes us the embodied communicators we are. And in this regard, Emoji makes us more effective communication in our 21st century world of communication.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

VE: My pleasure.

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An Interview with Jessica Pistole by Nicole Cardoza

Jessica Pistole

Get to know the SOU Softball Head Coach Jessica Pistole, her coaching journey, her thoughts on this past season, and what to expect this upcoming season.

Before coming to SOU, head softball coach, Coach Jessica Pistole knew what it took to not only be a part of, but to create a successful softball program. In her collegiate career she played volleyball and softball for Biola University. At Biola, she was a three time All-American and received a Bachelor of Arts in health psychology. After finishing school, she became Biola’s head softball coach and was extremely successful in her first year of coaching, leading the Eagles to a 51-46 record in two seasons, and a 26-19 record in her last season there.

She then took over the head coaching position for William Jessup’s volleyball team and shortly after, Pistole decided to build a softball team there from the ground up. In her second season, she led the Warriors to the 2011 California Pacific Conference championship and earned the Cal Pac Coach of the Year award. Pistole left the warriors with a 56-38 record. After briefly coaching at Utah State as an assistant coach, she moved on to coach a high school team in Twin Falls. In both seasons her team won the District 4 title and Pistole was named Great Basin Athletic Conference Coach of the Year.

She then set her sights on our Southern Oregon University softball team and the team has been making a lot of noise since she arrived. The Raiders had their most successful season yet. They broke SOU softball history and were ranked No. 6 in the postseason by the NAIA Top 25 poll. The Raiders were No. 20 after winning the Cascade Collegiate Conference tournament and made it to Florida before losing to Oklahoma City. They ended their season with a 46-15 record. There are high expectations for the SOU softball team this year, and Head Coach Jessica Pistole is ready to lead her new team into another successful season.

Nicole Cardoza has a BA degree in English from Southern Oregon University. She was the co-caption of the 2016-2017 Raider softball team that participated for the first time in the NAIA World Series.

Nicole Cardoza: What were some of the difficulties you had to overcome in creating William Jessup’s first ever softball program?

Jessica Pistole: There were several challenging aspects of starting the program at William Jessup that included raising all of the money to operate for the year, recruiting a team of 20 student-athletes to come play just 4 months before school started, and finding a coaching staff of good people who were on board to volunteer their time as well. But all of those things came together and it was a very rewarding experience.

Nicole Cardoza:Why did you choose to come to SOU?

Jessica Pistole: Prior to coaching here at SOU, I was coaching a high school team in Twin Falls, Idaho. As a family, we knew we were leaving Idaho after the season for various reasons to head back towards the West Coast but it wasn’t until after coming to SOU for an interview, that our energy completely shifted to Ashland and joining the SOU community. I was already familiar with the Cascade Conference and knew I could run a good softball program here, but it was definitely the people in the Athletic Department and all that SOU had to offer that solidified the decision for us.

Nicole Cardoza: What were some things you knew that had to change right off that bat?

Jessica Pistole: I didn’t come in here thinking I had to change anything specific. I only knew one way to run a program and I knew the culture I wanted to create and be a part of. So, I started from the bottom and began to implement the little things that I believed would get us there.

Nicole Cardoza: Coming into this softball program, were you intimidated or nervous by all that was going to have to be done in order to turn SOU softball into a successful program?

Jessica Pistole: It wasn’t intimidating to me because my experiences as a coach up to this point had prepared me. I have been a part of starting a program or taking over programs in several places so I felt like I knew what I needed to do in order to be successful. I had the motivation to return to coaching at the college level and now had the experience of coaching at the high school level as well so I felt well equipped.

Nicole Cardoza: When did you feel like there was some serious progress happening?

Jessica Pistole: I felt like we began to make progress from the very beginning with my first group in 2014. Everyone was eager to work hard and wanted to be a part of a championship program. After the difficulty of the fit tests and the first couple weeks of challenges, those that remained were on board and jumped in with both feet. Since then, each year, we have a new group that is ready to commit to the little things we do on and off the field on a daily basis and if we are getting just 1% better each day, we are continuing to make progress.

Nicole Cardoza: What were some challenges or bumps in the road?

Jessica Pistole: Every season has its challenges and every year has brought different types of adversity that we’ve navigated as it’s come. One thing I’ve realized is how important it is to have a group that is committed to the big picture and willing to do the little things (and make the sacrifices) it will take to get there. It’s a long year and it’s challenging to start and kindle the fire so that it can become strong enough to take us through those difficult patches along the way and hopefully be at our best to get us all the way through May.

Nicole Cardoza: How do you keep players motivated and excited?

Jessica Pistole: Ultimately, the motivation has to come from within each person but I try to do my best to help each person find that. It’s also very important for me to model that motivation in my own life. Being a wife and mother of 4, balance is very important for me to be able to be the best coach I can be. I try to mix things up and we do creative team activities often, but those are only tools to help guide them. I am a firm believer in our preparation being tough so that when we hit our season of competition, we can trust that we are ready.

Nicole Cardoza: This year was the first time ever in SOU softball history that we have made it to the World Series. How does that feel and what did it take to get your team in that position?

IMG_8183.JPGJessica Pistole: I think our trip to Mississippi was something really special for our team. Our journey to the World Series was exciting and very rewarding to see the fruit of all the hard work we put in over the course of the year. Making it to the World Series was a great accomplishment for our program, but I believe we are capable of not merely making it, but winning it.

Nicole Cardoza: We didn’t win the whole thing, but we are all very proud of the success and eager to see how far SOU softball will make it this upcoming season. How are you getting your new team ready for this upcoming season?

Jessica Pistole: The hunger for our returners started when we got back from Florida. We got a little taste of playing for the championship and we came back knowing that we have the ability to do it. As for our incoming group, they are a talented, eager group that are ready to come in and help take our program even further.

Nicole Cardoza: Is there anything you’d do differently this year?

IMG_7965.JPGJessica Pistole: Each year, our group is different and we need to be ready to adapt in some areas to what works best for that team. That will definitely be the case this year. However, there are values and expectations that don’t change from year to year. This upcoming season, we have a big group of incoming players but we also have a group of returners who have been around and bought into the process. I will rely heavily on our returning leadership to guide and show the new players what it means to be a part of SOU Softball.

Nicole Cardoza: Who can we expect to be big game changers on the field this year?

Jessica Pistole: Shortstop Kelsey Randall is a four-time All-Conference/All-American that has been a big contributor for us every year. Harlee Donovan, a JC transfer from last season will continue to be an impact player in our offensive line-up and behind the plate. Also, we have two returning sophomore pitchers, Karlee Coughlin and Gabby Sandoval, who both had a great first year here as freshmen and we have a strong core of players that were contributors all year for us last year both offensively and defensively.

Nicole Cardoza: Any incoming freshmen to watch out for?

Jessica Pistole: We have 4 hard working pitchers and a good combination of speed and power in both the infield and outfield in our incoming group of players. I am really looking forward to getting started and watching them bring their gifts and eagerness to SOU Softball this fall.

Nicole Cardoza: If you only had a couple sentences, how would describe SOU softball?

Jessica Pistole: I think a good way to describe SOU Softball is that we want to be better. Regardless of the successes we have accomplished in the past or the mistakes we have made, I want to be a group of people that is in constant pursuit of a better “us”. We want to become better in all areas of our lives and hold each other to that standard on a daily basis. Softball is definitely something we spend our time doing, but it’s really about trying to become better students, better friends, better teammates, and better human beings.

Nicole Cardoza: What are you most proud of in your coaching career?

Jessica Pistole: I am proud of the relationships that I have built in my journey as a coach. I have coached several different teams and have many former players and coaches that I still keep in contact with and now get the joy of watching thrive in their lives after softball. I have learned the importance of staying true to the values that I believe in and knowing what I won’t change in my program. Yet at the same time, I have also learned how important change can be and when it is time to adapt to something new.

Nicole Cardoza: Well I wish you and your team the best of luck and I hope you guys take it all the way this year!

Jessica Pistole: Thank you!

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An Interview with Sarah E. Stevens, author of Waxing Moon

Sarah E. Stevens is fan of all fantasy, paranormal, and science fiction. She lives and works in Evansville, Indiana. Waxing Moon is her second book, a sequel to Dark Moon Wolf (profiled here).

You can learn more at her website sarahestevens.com and Twitter feed @sessiesarah.

Ed Battistella: Congratulations on Waxing Moon, part two of the Calling the Moon series. Your protagonist is back in southern Oregon. What happens?

Sarah E. Stevens: Thanks! Yes, the entirety of Waxing Moon takes place in southern Oregon. The book opens with Julie’s house burning down in the middle of the night. She and Carson are trapped in the fire. After they manage to escape, a huge, black wolf appears in the darkness and Julie realizes she has an unknown enemy—or perhaps, many enemies. The whole crew assembles to help: Julie, Sheila, Eliza, and Tim, along with some interesting new allies.

EB: I was intrigued by the relationships in the book, but also by the salamanders. Who are they? What’s their role in the story?

SS: Salamanders are a new paranormal race created in this series. Just as Werewolves draw on the moon for their abilities, ’Manders are linked to the sun and its powers. Werewolves and Salamanders exist in an uneasy yin-yang relationship, vying for position in the paranormal world. As you might remember from Dark Moon Wolf, the first book in this series, my Werewolves are quite different than the traditional mythos. Salamanders serve as their complement.

EB: As a writer, how do you manage the task of a second book in a series? How much backstory is necessary and how much is too much?

SS: It’s hard to hit the sweet spot where you reveal enough to catch up new readers, but you don’t indulge in an obvious info dump. I tried to bring up the relevant background as it became necessary to the new plot and the characters, so that readers get the information bit by bit. If I remember correctly, I edited quite a bit of the backstory out during revisions. Hopefully, I’ve left just enough to fill in the gaps and not so much that it’s boring or redundant.

EB: Have you noticed any changes in your writing from book 1 to book 2—from Dark Moon Rising to Waxing Moon?

SS: I think my pacing is tighter in Waxing Moon. The book really drives to a finish and many of my readers talked about how well the suspense and plotting work, that they couldn’t put the book down. I also think the book has some great moments of character development. My writing is very character-centered, with a focus on relationships, choices, and their consequences.

EB: There is a book 3 coming—what can we expect in Rising Wolf?

SS: I anticipate Rising Wolf will be the final book of this series. Waxing Moon leaves several large questions hanging over Julie’s head, even as the plot resolves. You’ll see how her relationships with the Weres and the Salamanders develop. You’ll also meet a new paranormal threat, of course.

EB: What’s your author experience been like? What some of reader feedback have you gotten?

SS: I’ve had fantastic feedback and reviews. One of my favorite reviews of Dark Moon Wolf was on the blog “Fangs for the Fantasy,” because they really understood the issues of gender, diversity, and social justice that I’ve wrapped into my books. They’ll be reviewing Waxing Moon soon and I look forward to hearing their thoughts. I’ve been very conscious to include a diverse group of characters—in terms of race, ethnicity, and sexuality—and the themes of equity and inclusion are even stronger in this second novel. I really wanted to dispel the Werewolf mythos that involves brutal alpha males and center my stories on strong women.

Over the last six months, I’ve sold my books at several local conventions and signings. I’ve had a lot of fun meeting readers, signing books, and getting to know other authors. Since these books are published with a small press (The Wild Rose Press), I think the most difficult thing for me has been figuring out promotion and publicity. Without the power of a large press and distributor, I’ve done a lot of self-promotion on social media, my blog, other blogs, etc. I’d love to reach a wider audience, because I believe in my books.

EB: How do you learn about werewolves and other paranormal phenomena? Are there standard texts?

SS: I’d love to believe in paranormal creatures, but since they aren’t actually real, we don’t have textbooks. I’m a voracious reader of all things fantasy and I’ve read a lot of more traditional Werewolf fiction, as well as newer urban fantasy about Weres. When I reinvented Weres for my books, I did some research on cross-cultural associations of the moon.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

SS: Thanks so much for having me!

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An Interview with Abbey Gaterud of Ooligan Press

Abbey Gaterud directs Portland State University’s Ooligan Press, which is part of its unique master’s in book publishing program. She is a PSU alum and a book designer and was recognized by Publisher’s Weekly in 2015 as a Star Watch honoree.

Ed Battistella: How did Ooligan press get started?

Abbey Gaterud: The book publishing program at PSU was launched in the Fall of 2001 and as part of the curriculum, Ooligan Press was born.

EB: Ooligan is a teaching press. How does that process work?

AG: Ooligan Press is part of the master’s in book publishing program. As such, it’s the place where students put into practice the theory and skills they are learning in their other classes (like editing, design, marketing, digital). We consider Ooligan to be the central component to the experiential education that the master’s degree provides.

EB: At the press, what do the students have responsibility for and what do the faculty have responsibility for?

AG: The students are responsible for everything. As the only faculty member dedicated to Ooligan, I serve as the publisher and that really means I make sure that we are on the right track with schedules, funds, the boring logistical stuff. The students get to be in charge of all the fun stuff: they work directly with our authors to edit the books; they are in charge of the design of the book, from cover to cover; they design and implement the marketing and sales strategies that we use to get the books into the hands of readers; and they tackle the always-changing digital publishing world of ebooks, websites, and whatever else is happening now. Students run the show.

EB: What does Ooligan look for in a book and in an author?

AG: We publish books with a Pacific Northwest connection. That can come from the author, the subject matter, the story itself. We look for authors who want to work with an ambitious group of young professionals and authors who respect the process of practice as learning. We look for authors who are not afraid to work with a large team, because that’s what we are at Ooligan: a big team of really excited young professionals.

EB: Ooligan seems to have a wide-variety of titles. Is there any particular publishing niche that the press is aiming for?

AG: Our backlist is certainly more eclectic than our current publishing mission. We have focused much more in the last five years on staying true to our regional roots. We have the most success with books that live in the Pacific Northwest and with books that tell stories not usually taken on by larger publishers. As part of the master’s curriculum, we have a bit more leeway in choosing books for their subject merits rather than their profitability. Our books support themselves (we don’t have any standing funding for the production of our books from PSU), but they don’t have to support the operations of a publishing house in terms of salaries, rents, or any of those real costs for more traditional publishers. That said, the books do have to support themselves, so their viability in the marketplace is certainly a factor when we acquire a title.

EB: Where can readers get your books?

AG: Anywhere you buy books. We encourage supporting your local bookstore and library, but our books are available worldwide via all the major retailers.

EB: Tell us a little about your own background and what you hope to accomplish at Ooligan?

AG: I have a background in design and production, but I’ve been at PSU for ten years now and it feels like my focus is all about collaboration, creative problem solving, and constantly asking what we can do better. My main goal at Ooligan is to be a constant, fixed foundation from which our students and graduates can launch themselves into the publishing world—in whatever way that suits them best. I want our students to excel in the literary world and I want them to be able to not just adapt to the changing publishing and reading ecosystem, but to lead that change. I want our graduates to have the confidence and skill to question the changes that are coming and to put them in context, so that we make good decisions as an industry when facing the challenges of a new media landscape.

What that means for Ooligan is that we take each project as a new platform for experimentation. Whether that’s a technical change in the way we edit, code, or design the books, or something bigger like a total revamping of the means of production, we question the process each time we take on a new project. This makes publishing a book not just a series of the same old steps, over and over again, but a chance to make up the steps as we go. We’re not afraid to try something new and that makes this the most exciting place for publishing professionals to get their start.

EB: What excites you the most about the publishing trade and working with students?

AG: Right now we’re in the middle of a huge change in the way we read and the way we publish. It’s amazing to be in a place where there’s no clinging to the past and the way this have always been done. Students are always up for hard work and are constantly excited about their projects—these are the first books they’ve published and the enthusiasm and passion for the projects carries an amazing amount of energy along with it. So for me, I get to be carried along with that energy, rather than feeling like I’ve been working in the same place for ten years. It’s something new and exciting every term, every year, and that keeps everyone busy and engaged.

EB: Thanks for talking with us!

AG: Thanks for having me. Our websites have a huge amount of information and I’d encourage people who want to know more about the publishing process to check our Write to Publish, our annual conference dedicated to demystifying publishing for writers. More info here: https://ooligan.pdx.edu/events/writetopublish/

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An Interview with Bruce Rutledge, publisher of Chin Music Press

Chin Music Press was founded by Bruce Rutledge and Yuko Enomoto in 2002. Their mission is create “literary objects” — books that are a pleasure to touch as well as read. NPR describes them as “a triumphant kick in the pants for anyone who doubts the future of paper-and-ink books.” In 2014, Chin Music opened a bookstore in the Pike’s Place Market. You can read what Publisher’s Weekly said here. Publisher Bruce Rutledge sat down online for an interview about Chin Music Press.

Ed Battistella: How did Chin Music get started? You’ve been around for quite some time.

Bruce Rutledge: My wife Yuko Enomoto and I formed the company in 2002 while working with designer Craig Mod, who was finishing up his undergraduate degree at the University of Pennsylvania. As soon as he graduated, we hired him and sent him to Japan (I still don’t know how we managed to get him a work visa, but we did). Yuko and I had just returned to the States after working as journalists in Tokyo during the 1990s, and we were eager to publish books about Japan. Back then, we even printed in Japan, so having a production person there made sense. Plus, Craig was inspired on a daily basis by what he saw, which helped make our books keepsakes.

EB: How did you choose the name Chin Music?

BR: I loved that phrase since growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, listening to Mudcat Grant announce Indians games. He’d use that phrase every time a pitcher would throw a high-and-tight one at the batter. Then I came across it in Mark Twain’s writing. In Roughing It, a rube corners the parson and asks him to “jerk a little chin music for us” because one of their buddies has died and they want to give him a proper send-off. I did a little research and was thrilled to find how many different meanings “chin music” has had during its lifetime. It’s a phrase that evolves and stays relevant from age to age. Today, rappers use the phrase as does Shawn Michaels of the WWE with his “sweet chin music” knockout kick. Who knows what’s next.

EB: Tell us a little about your background.

BR: I grew up in Cleveland, went to Kenyon College, where I developed a lifelong love of literature, and then went to Japan on a lark to teach English for a year, thinking I’d come back and get a job with a newspaper. This was the mid 1980s. My dream was to be a foreign correspondent. Well, one year in Japan led to 17. While in Japan, I was like a white-collar Louis L’amour, dabbling in all sorts of media jobs. I copyedited, was a stringer for wire services, even did some TV and radio work, and later did translation and interpreting work. While I loved that life, it was meant for a young person, and as I got older, I knew I wanted to work in longer forms. Setting up an independent press seemed like the next logical step.

EB: In 2014, you opened a bookstore in the Pike’s Place Market. What prompted you to do that?

BR: I had always wanted to combine the press with a store, but it never made economic sense until 2014. Our store is less a Chin Music Press store than it is a celebration of indie press in the Pacific Northwest. For me, it’s all about creating places online and in the physical world where people can gather and share ideas and stories. These spaces are so necessary.

I also noticed that many presses had the same idea around the same time as us. It’s interesting to see presses like Melville House, Milkweed, Two Dollar Radio and others branch out with these physical spaces. It’s a bit of a trend, and I think it’s because so much of our communal space has been gutted by gentrification and other forces.

EB: Chin Music Press publishes some beautiful books. What do you look for in a book and how do you work with authors to convert a book into a work of art?

BR: We are more open to books with visual components than most literary presses. But it is not something we look for or try to force into a narrative. We approach every book we publish organically. We discuss what is the best way to physically present the story. And usually, we come up with something unique and lasting. I think it boils down to taking the time to consider each title and not relying on a cookie-cutter approach.

Over the years, we’ve tended to attract authors who are looking for their book to be beautifully rendered. Authors who have published with large houses come to us because they want one objet in their oeuvre. We’ve gained a reputation for being able to do that.

EB: What do you look for in an author?

BR: Patience and an understanding that what we are attempting to do is very, very hard and often doesn’t make money. Also, a willingness to hustle. The author becomes part of our family for at least a year or so and sometimes for a lifetime. They need to work as hard as we do at getting their book in front of people.

EB: Let me ask about independent publishing more generally–what you call the publishing ecosystem. What’s the role of independent publishers like Chin Music in American book culture?

BR: We’re the risk takers. For example, our first two books were hardbacks without jackets in 2005. In 2010, The Guardian wrote about this “new fashion for going without wrappers.” Well, between 2005 and 2010, indie presses created that trend. We took the risk. That happens over and over. Without indie presses, the literary landscape would be arid.

EB: You have been publishing for awhile. What have you learned since beginning your press?

BR: I’ve learned to be a fluid thinker. Some of our best successes have come when we have broken from our original game plan. We did several books about New Orleans after Katrina that sold very well. That wasn’t in the game plan. We’ve also done design and editorial work for hire to stabilize our bottom line. I wasn’t expecting that to be a revenue source. You have to think and act like an entrepreneur but with no end game where a venture capitalist funds you. It’s eternal hardscrabble.


EB:
What advice have you got for potential authors?

BR: Research the press you are pitching to. Show a willingness to help with sales and marketing. Show an understanding of the industry, or if you don’t have that, at least show empathy for what we do. Understand that going with an indie press to publish your book is in no way like going with a big NY firm. The economics are completely different as is the culture.

EB: Are there some forthcoming books you can highlight for us?

BR: We’re about to publish Timber Curtain, a collection of poetry about Richard Hugo and the Richard Hugo House, by Frances McCue. It is so timely and eloquent. It is coming out in tandem with a documentary about the Richard Hugo House called Where the House Was. Well, actually, the book will come out first, and I imagine the documentary will be ready early next year. Frances experiments with erasures, and that posed an interesting design challenge for us. I think our designer, Dan Shafer, handled it with aplomb. Timber Curtain will be out in late September.

Soon after that, on Nov. 1, we’ll be doing our first co-publishing project with Mercuria Press of Portland. Mercuria Press is run by Carla Girard, who is the designer behind some of our most beautiful books. We’ll be co-publishing a series of books that explore aspects of Japan, and the first one is Kaibyo: The Supernatural Cats of Japan. It’s filled with woodblock prints depicting these supernatural cats and writing by Zack Davisson that helps us understand Japan’s relationship with cats. It’s a gorgeous book that will attract both Japanophiles and cat lovers. For Japanophiles who also love cats, it may simply be too much!

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

BR: Thanks for doing what you do, Ed.

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An Interview with Jessica Powers of Catalyst Press

Jessica Powers is the publisher and editor of Catalyst Press, founded in 2017, which seeks “to publish books that reveal the world from different perspectives, tilting or reversing or tweaking our own understanding of what’s real, true, necessary, or beautiful.” She is also the co-founder of Story Press Africa with Jive Media Africa. Jessica is also a publicist for Cinco Puntos Press . She writes under the name J.L. Powers and her author websites include www.jlpowers.net and www.powerssquared.com.

Ed Battistella: This Catalyst Press’s inaugural year. How did your press get started?

Jessica Powers: I’ve worked in publishing for a long time, for Cinco Puntos Press (www.cincopuntos.com), an independent press that operates out of my hometown—El Paso, Texas. I knew I wanted to publish my own “stuff,” so to speak, a long time ago. But I also knew I wanted to write, and I loved African history, so I wasn’t sure how it would all come together, especially when I started a Ph.D. program in African history at Stanford University. Getting a Ph.D. prepares you for one type of career—in academia—and I wasn’t at all sure I wanted that career, but I did love the subject. My first novel, The Confessional, was published two years into the graduate program, and I think that propelled me out of the program faster than any eject button could have done. I realized I couldn’t write the kinds of things I wanted to write and continue in academia, or at least, I couldn’t do it all at the same time. I would have to give up one or the other for a period of time and I simply wasn’t ready to give up writing. So I left academia and started to teach part time and write. Eventually, I realized I wanted to publish too, and because I was obsessed with African literature, I realized that I wanted to publish African writers and/or African-based literature. Also, as I was looking for African-related books for my child (he is turning 7 this fall), I realized anew the absolute dearth of historically-based books for children that deal with Africans’ experience and stories. That got me started on this journey.

EB: Can you tell us a little about your own professional background?

JP: I started out earning a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. I was twenty-five when I graduated, with 3 years of teaching experience, some writing skills, and not a lot of knowledge or life experience with which to offer my books gravitas and real meaning. So I went on to earn a master’s in African history. Then I came back to my hometown in El Paso, Texas, where I worked for Cinco Puntos Press as a publicist. But small presses allow you to do a lot of everything, so one of the things I did there was urge Cinco Puntos to start publishing young adult literature—something they are now renowned for. I continued to teach and eventually left to start a Ph.D. in African History from Stanford. I did not finish that degree because my writing career started and I felt trapped by the expectations of academia. When you have a real passion for research and writing academic articles and books, then those expectations don’t feel like a burden—but for me, they were a burden. I was grateful for my time there and very grateful for the mentors I had, but I felt freed upon leaving—freed to do what I am really called to do in life, which is to write, and also to help others write.

So here I am, cobbling together a living as a writer, publisher, publicist for Cinco Puntos Press, and a teacher. (I teach writing for Skyline College in California’s Bay Area).

EB: The name Catalyst suggests a particular mission. What’s the intention of “catalyst?”

JP: My passion for books is life-long. When I was a child, and immersed in a world of fear—fear of spiritual entities, demons, Satan, etc.—books were the thing that saved me from both the fear and from losing my mind. They became a lifelong companion. Books are my friends, my mentors, my spiritual advisors and my spiritual practice, my intellectual stimulation, my downtime. I believe strongly in the power of books to change individuals and, by changing individuals, to change communities and institutions and perhaps even nations. So I do see my books as a “catalyst for change,” specifically, change in mindset, values, and understandings of North Americans & Europeans towards Africa and Africans. It is an important part of my mission to publish books that are accessible to Africans and distributed within Africa (or at least, the country where they are set), but my primary purpose, as an American publishing in North America, is to introduce authentic and varied stories of Africa to a public that doesn’t yet understand how important they are. Perhaps more than any other place on earth, Africa has been denigrated and oppressed by western domination—but there is so much more to the continent than that story. I want to open hearts and minds to one of the most beautiful places with the most beautiful people.

EB: Along the same lines, how do you see the role of small independent presses? Are they a catalyst of new ideas and new voices?

JP: I have actually become political speaking out about the importance of small independent presses. So many writers are still oriented towards the so-called “Big 5” of New York publishing—those conglomerates and amalgamations of publishing companies that have coalesced into a small number and which dominate publishing. And I would be hesitant to say that they don’t publish good books because they do! And I am very grateful for the good books they have published and will publish. But much of what they publish carries a sameness to it in look, in vision, in scope, in style, in ideas. And so much of it is pure, utter crap. Certainly, they aren’t out there risking the publishing of truly marginal voices, not until small independent publishers have some success with somebody and then they swoop in, like vultures, and take them away.

All publishers are dominated, to some extent, by the need to be profitable. But small publishers are much more willing to risk our capital on books we believe in, and sometimes we make the choice to take a loss because we realize the book is that important. We have strong ideals and those tend to be more important to us than the possible money we might make (or lose). There are many good people in publishing in New York but they are hampered by the corporate agendas of their overlords—those who actually run the company. A small press doesn’t have those kinds of constraints. At Catalyst, it’s just me and my part-time colleagues. It doesn’t get any more streamlined than that.

EB: Your debut list features both adult and YA novels focused on Africa. Is that a particular emphasis for Catalyst?

JP: I want to feature voices that have been excluded and marginalized throughout history. I’m starting with African voices and African-based literature because that is a particular love and passion of mine, but I hope to expand in the future to also publish indigenous voices from other parts of the world—First Nations in North America, for example, or Maori writers from New Zealand, etc.

EB: Do you have some favorite African authors?

JP: Yes! I really really love Andrew Brown, a crime writer who also happens to be a part-time police officer and a lawyer in Cape Town. I love his layered, complex plots that reveal a South Africa we don’t often see or expect. He also has a lovely novel set in Rwanda, and a couple of memoirs about the culture of being a police officer. He was an anti-apartheid activist who actually spent time in prison for his activities and he joined the police force in post-apartheid South Africa so that he could effect change from the inside. I love his perspective as an outsider now on the inside, trying to make a difference. He brings that understanding to all of his books.

I also am a big fan of Niq Mhlongo, a novelist who writes about Soweto and who, I’ve heard, has an unusual way of making sure Sowetans have access to his books: by pedaling his books on the streets of Soweto much the same way somebody might sell ice-cream out of mobile freezers in parks and on beaches in the U.S.

And I love love love Sifiso Mzobe’s book Young Blood. It’s an astonishing novel about a young man growing up in a township outside of Durban, South Africa, a township where all the young men learn early the skills of being a car thief.

EB: What do you look for in a book? And in an author?

JP: I look for characters and ideas that touch me, for writing that elevates my spirit, and for plots that I find exciting and compelling. I want to publish and read books that are fast reads, on the one hand, but layered with multiple and complex meanings.

EB: I see that you also have a novel coming out soon called Broken Circle. What’s that about?

JP: Broken Circle is a young adult novel that explores western culture’s fear of death. It does so in sort of a humorous, dark way. Fifteen-year-old Adam is terrified of dying and believes that his death is imminent. Then he discovers that in fact his father is the Grim Reaper and he’s about to inherit the family business. This astonishes and terrifies him but propels him on a journey that is unlike any you can imagine. Kirkus called it a “gripping philosophical paranormal thriller” and I like that it is both gripping AND philosophical! I co-wrote it with my brother, and we both knew we wanted to think about death, and the ways that Americans avoid thinking about or talking about death—even though it is something we all, eventually, must do. We treat death as a failure, a personal failure—“I didn’t beat cancer” etc—but why is it a failure if it’s something we all eventually do? We are afraid of it. I’m afraid of it. But I want to be less afraid of death and more willing to see change in this world, even if it puts me in personal danger. I want to be fearless. So I’m exploring this fear of death in a novel…..

EB: Thanks for talking with us. Good luck with Catalyst Press.

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An Interview with Kirsten Johanna Allen of Torrey House Press

Kirsten Johanna Allen is the publisher and editorial director of Torrey House Press, based in Salt Lake City, Utah. Torrey House Press is an independent nonprofit publisher dedicated to publishing diverse voices with transformative stories of the American West and developing literary resources for the conservation movement.

Ed Battistella: How did Torrey House Press get started?

Kirsten Johanna Allen: Mark Bailey and I have long loved writers like Wallace Stegner, Terry Tempest Williams, Rachel Carson, Ed Abbey, and as we got more familiar with the degradation of the West’s mountains and deserts due to public land management problems, we realized one of the best ways we could help is by publishing the works of the next Stegner and Carson. We founded the press as co-publishers in October 2010 and published our first title the following summer. Mark has stepped back from day-to-day operations and I am now publisher.

EB: Torrey House is unique in that it has not just a regional mission but is organized as a non-profit. How did you decide on that model?

KJA: Creative work always has to be subsidized because it doesn’t pay for itself. Big publishers subsidize their economically risky fiction and creative nonfiction with blockbusters, and many terrific hybrid publishers share the financial risk with their authors. We’ve admired the work of independent literary presses such as Milkweed Editions and Coffee House Press, and, as it typical for them, Torrey House Press book sales revenues cover only about 50% of expenses so contributions are critical to publishing the books that fulfill our mission to promote conservation through literature. We became a nonprofit so donations could be tax-deductible for our contributors and so we could apply for grants.

EB: Tell us a little about your background?

KJA: I first fell in love with the outdoors as a child visiting my grandparents’ ranch in eastern Nevada, and I think I’ve always loved books. I combined the two in college, writing a thesis on Wallace Stegner’s use of landscape. My education and professional background includes a master’s in public health from the University of Utah School of Medicine and a bachelor’s in English from Westminster College; 25 years of private piano instruction, 25 years of freelance editing experience, and five years teaching college English composition; board membership with nonprofits; and a lifetime passion for the West’s fantastic landscapes.

EB: Torrey House publishes both fiction and non-fiction. What do you look for in a book?

KJA: In both fiction and nonfiction, I want a book that draws me in transparently. I want to not realize I’m reading, to be engrossed in the story without distractions. I find that often it’s common errors that trip up the writing, especially repetition, multiple verb phrases, and thinker attributives like realized/thought/remembered.

EB: What do you look for in an author?

KJA: Because Torrey House Press is small—we’re two unpaid staff and two part-time paid staff—deciding to work with an author is adding a new family member so we want to be sure we’re a good fit. We care deeply about every title—each one feels like a new baby we’ve midwifed—so writers get our whole hearts as well as our expertise. Authors who sign with Torey House Press need to believe in our mission to promote conservation through literature as much as we do, and need to demonstrate their commitment to working as partners with us in the all-important work of developing a readership for their book.

EB: You been involved in the campaign to save the Bear Ears and have a books out called EDGE OF MORNING: Native Voices Speak for the Bears Ears and RED ROCK STORIES: Three Generations of Writers Speak on Behalf of Utah’s Public Lands. Can you tell us a bit about those books and some of the events surrounding them?

KJA: RED ROCK STORIES was first printed as a limited edition, art-as-advocacy chapbook, Red Rock Testimony, and editor Stephen Trimble and I went to Washington, D.C. took copies to Obama Administration officials in June 2016. Chapbooks were also sent to every member of Congress as decision-makers deliberated between a destructive public lands bill and a national monument proposed by the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition. On December 28, 2016, President Obama established Bears Ears National Monument, and in June 2017, this historic collection was expanded and published as a trade book, RED ROCK STORIES, in celebration of protecting exquisite and sacred landscapes. I first started looking for an editor for EDGE OF MORNING in August 2015, contracting with Navajo/Yankton Dakota journalist Jacqueline Keeler in January 2016. Jackie contacted Native writers, activists, leaders, and poets, and the collection she developed speaks to the power of sacred landscape and the importance of Native sovereignty for Native and non-Native Americans alike. The book has anchored events and conferences including the White Privilege Conference where Jackie was a keynote speaker. She is now working on a book exploring sovereignty and sacred lands through the the 2016 standoffs at Standing Rock and the Malheur Refuge.

EB: Let me ask about independent publishing more generally. What’s the role of independent publishers like Torrey House in American book culture?

KJA: Independent publishing brings a variety of thought, stories, and authors that keep our culture lively, rich, and diverse. Just as a healthy meadow or riparian area requires both dominant plants and animals and a host of less dominant flora and fauna to function successfully, the world of books and ideas needs both big and small publishers to expand human thought and experience.

EB: What have you learned since beginning your press?

KJA: That it’s difficult and expensive to sell books. And that the best thing about publishing is the people—from authors and readers to librarians and booksellers and other publishers, the community is comprised of the most interesting and generous folks on the planet.

EB: What advice have you got for potential authors?

KJA: Workshop your book with other authors or editors many, many times before considering submitting it to a publisher or agent. When querying an agent or publisher, remember that your pitch needs to be about them not you. Understand what that particular agent or publisher is looking for and show how you and your book fit with their needs and culture.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

KJA: Thank you for all you do for books and ideas!

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An Interview with Laura Stanfill, publisher of Forest Avenue Press

Portland’s Forest Avenue Press has a unique community mission aimed at empowering authors and publishing page-turning literary fiction. Publisher Laura Stanfill serves on the PubWest Board of Directors and on the advisory board of Atelier26.

EB: How did Forest Avenue Press get started? And what have you learned in the last few years?

LS: I founded the press in 2012 to publish and promote Oregon writers, then opened to national submissions in 2014.

In the past five years, I’ve learned a lot about the industry and have dedicated myself to teaching and mentoring other publishers and writers through volunteer work, speaking gigs, and PubWest, where I serve on the board.

One of my biggest passion topics is distribution. How a press gets its books into the marketplace matters because of visibility and sales. Some distribution models are more effective and far-reaching than others. If authors go into a publishing contract truly understanding how their books will be sent into the world, they’ll be more effective advocates for their art.

I spent two years selling books out of the back of my car—and toting boxes to bookstores for consignment—before signing with Legato Publishers Group, an affiliate of distributor-heavyweight PGW, now owned by Ingram. We have sales conferences and reps that sell our books in across the U.S., which makes our marketing and publicity efforts even more crucial, because the risk is higher. But the potential reward is higher, too.

EB: Is Portland especially hospitable to independent publishers and writers?

LS: I don’t think I would have decided to start a press in another city. Portland’s literary community inspired me to build one more home for novelists, and its publishers made me believe that I could actually do it through their examples, advice, and encouragement. We celebrate each other, honor others’ accomplishments, connect and turn out in huge numbers for book events.

We also have incredibly dedicated booksellers who write excellent shelf talkers and hand-sell local titles to browsers. When I showed up as a new publisher, I found friends and allies in the indie bookstore world because I had been buying books and attending events for a decade. My mission with Forest Avenue was to urge in-person conversations about literature, so I created an events-based marketing plan that I still use today. My whole business model is centered on independent bookstores. I support bookstores; bookstores support our authors. It sounds obvious, but it’s important. Essential.

I should add that I just found out I’m a Publishers Weekly Star Watch Top 45 honoree; Rosanne Parry, a local author and Annie Bloom’s bookseller, nominated me for the award, which recognizes up-and-coming publishers. She took the time away from her own writing, bookselling, and family life to ask the panel to consider me. I’m so grateful. Moments like this continue to motivate me to do my part to uplift and amplify others in the literary community.

EB: Tell us a little about your background?

LS: My background is in community journalism; before transitioning to publishing, I was managing editor of a weekly on the Oregon coast, covering education and business beats and managing a five-person newsroom. I’ve won numerous journalism awards, including the Consumer Issues Reporting Award from the Oregon Department of Justice. I also worked in public relations and manuscript editing.

EB: Forest Avenue Press is also the home of the Main Street Writers Movement. What that?

LS: It’s a movement geared to encouraging writers to build community at the local level by supporting each other, their indie bookstores, and local presses and magazines. If we can create these invested hubs of community goodness, then the whole national literary ecosystem will become stronger. And touring writers will be able to activate Main Street communities in the places they travel.

It’s easy to join. Take the pledge—http://www.forestavenuepress.com/take-the-pledge—and then look around and see what you can do to genuinely support the authors in your community. We use #mainstreetwriters as our hashtag to help members find each other.

Being genuine is an important piece of this movement; if a friend’s book isn’t to your taste, don’t write a chirpy false review. You can still support your friend in genuine ways: show up at an event, share a link to an interview, or take a few photos to share on social media. I run a not-quite-monthly newsletter with links and information about community building, and signing the pledge will add you to that list.

EB: Many of your book seem to have a Portland connection, like City of Weird and A Simplified Map of the Real World by Stevan Allred. What do you look for in a book?

LS: When we signed with Legato and went national with submissions, I knew I wanted to continue promoting Northwest writers, so our catalog is a blend of regional writers and national ones; we have books set in Portland, Seattle, and Alaska, but also the Philippines, New Orleans, and Delaware.

I have a committee help me choose titles when we’re open for submissions; we love literary language, page-turning plots, and diversity, and we’re also partial to magical realism. There’s often a joyous, ebullient quality to our titles, whether due to the playfulness of the language or the wild ride of the story itself. Our tagline is “Literary fiction on a joyride.”

EB: What do you look for in an author?

LS: I look for someone who has been actively building community, because it’s really hard to sell books by authors who are only invested in promoting their own work. Debut authors are a favorite, because so many of them have spent years honing their craft, and it’s a huge honor to launch an author’s first title.

I love working with authors who have a strong sense of their own craft and want to work together with our team to get the book to reach its full potential. That kind of collaborative spirit is essential.

EB: Let me ask about independent publishing more generally. How do you see the role of independent publishers like Forest Avenue in American book culture? What does the future hold?

LS: There are many amazing presses doing great work, putting out worthy titles that deserve a place on the shelf. I visited the giant Ingram warehouse in Tennessee last fall, and instead of panicking at the number of books, I left feeling ever-so-satisfied and a bit giddy. Publishers are making books, and readers are choosing them, and that allows us to make more books.

As far as the future of the industry, margins are tight in this business, and that’s a concern. So many people tell me, “I don’t have time to read,” because of busy lives and/or choosing other forms of entertainment. There’s a gap between the number of people out there hoping to find a publisher and the number of readers actually buying books. Writers have to be readers too for this system to succeed, for existing presses to flourish and for new ones to get a strong start. That’s really why I’m so invested in community building.

EB: What advice have you got for potential authors?

LS: Read widely. Show up on the local literary scene by attending events and buying books from indies. Checking titles out from the library—or requesting a title that isn’t in the system yet—are wonderful ways to support the publishers you hope may publish you. Build a brand and a social media presence, but not at the expense of the work. The work—the words—must come first. And when you have a book deal, and are making that leap from potential to actual product, find other writers with similar projects or pub dates, and befriend them. You’ll celebrate together and commiserate together, as needed. My authors Renee Macalino Rutledge and Michael Shou-Yung Shum are both in the ’17 Scribes, an international debut author collective that’s been doing impressive work promoting 2017 debut novels.

EB: Where can readers get your books?

LS: At independent bookstores across the country. If a backlist title isn’t in stock any more, you can ask a bookseller to order it. You can find them online as well, but we’re strongly commmitted to having our readers support their local indies.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

LS: Thank you for the opportunity.

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An Interview with John McWhorter, author of Talking Back, Talking Black

photo by Eileen Barroso

John McWhorter teaches linguistics, Western civilization, music history, and American studies at Columbia University. A New York Times best-selling author and TED speaker, he is a columnist for Time and regular contributor to the Atlantic, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post and the host of Slate’s Lexicon Valley. His books on language include The Power of Babel, Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, What Language Is, The Language Hoax, and Words on the Move.

John McWhorter earned his B.A. from Rutgers University, his M.A. from New York University, and his Ph.D. in Linguistics from Stanford University.

We talk about his latest book, Talking Back, Talking Black: Truths About America’s Lingua Franca.

EB: Thanks for writing this book. You’ve managed to show both the complexity of African American Vernacular and the complexity of the issues surrounding public attitudes about vernacular language and correctness. As writer, how did you choose the material to discuss—which goes far beyond the usual textbook treatment?

JM: What moved me was two things – 1) that I don’t think we linguists have made a dent in the public’s reception of the dialect in pointing out that it is systematic in its grammar (and I really mean “we,” as I wrote a book on Black English in the 90s and have written on it fairly often since), and 2) that I don’t think racism is the only thing keeping people from understanding.

So, I decided to approach Black English from the perspective I have seen laymen to have, rather than trying to give them a kind of “Linguistics 101,” which is the foundation of the “systematicity” argument – you’ve taken some phonology and syntax and you want to talk about GRAMMAR, but the public hasn’t had those courses and can’t hear what you’re saying in any real way. I gathered the kinds of questions the public usually has and frankly, the misimpressions they often so earnestly insist upon (that Black is “minstrel,” that there’s no such thing as a black “sound” except that black men have deep voices, and so on) and address them head on. That meant showing how the dialect is COMPLICATED, not just “systematic,” addressing what minstrel speech actually was and how there was a delicate, but real, intersection between that and how black people in the nineteenth century actually spoke, and also getting at something that we linguists can forget that the general public in America does not readily understand: diglossia. Most laymen think you speak one way, and that how you talk in your kitchen signifies how you talk when giving a speech. I’m not sure there is a pop source that teaches the public what diglossia is and how common – even universal – it is in how people speak. I tried to help out with that.

EB: I was particularly fascinated by the intimacy marker up, as in your example “We was sittin’ up at Tony’,” which I had heard used but never understood before. When did you first figure out the nuance to that?

JM: I’m not sure when that occurred to me, actually – sometime in the 90s, I think – probably in 1999 when the person I mentioned said “There was buck naked people up in my house.” That person was, as it happens, a white guy doing a fond kind of imitation of black speech (in the vein today often called appropriation although, as I have written, I find that analysis strained when it comes to speech). I was struck that his mimicking was good enough that he used that “up” – it struck me as especially authentic and then the “linguist hat” goes on and I thought “He is using that UP spontaneously but really, what is the function of it?”

I always have my ear cocked to vernacular constructions and am always trying to figure them out – I think it’s part of my being first, hardwired to be a linguist sort and second, black, such that I grew up hearing a certain variety of speech styles. An example would be that, as I describe in the book, when I was a kid and heard my cousins using the narrative HAD, my natural impulse was to quietly try to figure out how that usage made SENSE, rather than just dismissing it as “slang” that “they” use.

EB: What the significance of the title? I have to admit, when I mention the book to people I have to stop and think about the order of the words BACK and BLACK.

JM: Honestly the publisher thought that one up and I have rarely given it much thought! I had a different title – “How Do You Sound Black and Why?” That probably wasn’t good enough – book titles don’t come easily to me.

EB: You also describe Black English as America’s Lingua Franca. What do you mean by that?

JM: That since the nineties especially, ASPECTS of Black English have become a part of the speech repertoire of people beyond black America. First, Latinos, but now even many Asians and finally whites, especially young men. Pragmatic markers (yo, naw for no, etc.), aspects of inflection, and associated gestures are now so embraced by such a wide variety of people that to many young people the idea of Black English as specifically “black” sounds off. Now, as a linguist I specify that it isn’t that people beyond blacks (and Latinos) are actually using the full blown phonology and syntax of Black English. However, a lot of white kids, using a certain amount of the slang and intonation, consider themselves to be using “Black English,” which was all but unheard of until the 90s. It’s been part of the browning of the culture, as some have called it.

EB: Why do you think Black English is so difficult for Americans—Black and White—to wrap their heads around? Because of the complexity of race or the obscurity of linguistics, or both?

JM: Obviously both, but I honestly believe that the linguistic aspect dominates. It rankles some for me to say that – our moment encourages academics to stress racism over all, and at times that’s necessary. But the general public finds rural white Southern speech quite absurd, often, as well, and if there had ever been a push to use it as a teaching tool Fox News would have had a grand old time with that as well. Americans, because English is RELATIVELY homogenous here compared to England where it has had longer to differentiate, have a hard time processing that English can come in assorted flavors and still be legitimate. There is also an Anglophone First World bourgeois obsession with grammatical “correctness” in general – people are quite vicious about supposed grammatical errors. Does the viciousness step up some when black speech is involved? Perhaps, the race part is, in itself, just one part.

EB: Are there some common misconceptions about Black English shared by Black and White speakers?

JM: Certainly. Most people think Black English means slang, which makes any discussion of its “legitimacy” seem absurd. Linguists talk about the grammar of the dialect, but to laymen, “grammar” is a matter of things people do WRONG, not all of the complex ways that we put words together otherwise. So Black English seems to be slang and mistakes to most.

EB: You mention the Blaccent, as your call it, and that there are several different levels of the African American accent. Can you tell our readers a little about that?

JM: Most black Americans have vowel colorings that are subtly different than other Americans’, which is much of what we hear as the “black sound.” Then, some black people do not have those colorings, but still produce their speech with a slightly different “timbre,” in the sense we usually use re singers, than others. That signals another aspect of the black “sound.” These differences are internalized quite subconsciously from infancy on, and have nothing to do with right or wrong, anymore than the different vocal “placement” of British English is. I was struck by how absent from public writings this interesting aspect of black speech is beyond a certain point, and one of the things I most wanted to get across in this book was that there IS a such thing as sounding black and that there’s nothing wrong with it in any way. If the book leaves any shred of difference in public perception I hope it is that.

EB: Thanks for talking with us. Congratulations on a fine book.

JM: Thank you!

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