Interviews

What’s Your Poison? (an interview with Karen Lillis)

Karen Lillis selling books at her pop-up bookstand, Small Press Pittsburgh. Photo credit: Laura Zurowski

Karen Lillis selling books at her pop-up bookstand, Small Press Pittsburgh. Photo credit: Laura Zurowski

Last month I brought news of Small Press Roulette, a new service designed by Karen Lillis to add the element of chance to the business of connecting readers with small press books and journals. Personally, I love the idea. Confronted with the wide range of indie offerings that the 21st-century publishing world has to offer, it’s almost impossible to decide what to read next. Sure, it’s a bit of a gamble, but playing Small Press Roulette means I don’t have choose, which is a big deal for me because I’m the poster-child for indecision. Curious about Small Press Roulette, I placed an order (reviews to come!) and emailed Karen with a few questions…

How would you describe Small Press Pittsburgh?

Small Press Pittsburgh is an evolving small press showcase. It’s a bookstore that started out as a web resource. Right now it is four things: a pop-up street bookstand (in Pittsburgh) selling indie press books, zines, and journals; a curated bookstore service (“Small Press Roulette”) for small press readers everywhere; a web directory for literary Pittsburgh; and a Facebook page for Pittsburgh literary announcements.

The bookstand has a heavy emphasis on Pittsburgh authors and publishers, and browsers so far have been most excited by discovering Pittsburgh authors. With the bookstand, I’m interested in bringing the larger indie lit world to Pittsburgh, while also making Pittsburgh’s emerging authors (and publishers) better known to Pittsburgh readers (especially outside the lit scene). With the bookselling service, Small Press Roulette, I want to introduce the best of the underground small press to readers who aren’t over-familiar with the authors I’m sending them. There are more great writers than the ones who are getting all the hype. Or, sometimes a writer is getting the hype, but not in a wide enough area—they’re some city’s local celebrity while remaining a national secret.

The mission of Small Press Pittsburgh (in any form) has always been to promote small and micro- presses and make them more visible—easier to find for anyone who’s looking. It started with the web directory, creating listings for all the indie publishers of Pittsburgh. Now I guess I’m getting impatient—it’s not enough to passively promote. Now I’m willing to stand on the street with all those indie publishers’ books and talk to people until they buy one. “We’ve got fiction! We’ve got poetry! We’ve got graphic novels! What’s your poison?” I’m like a carnival barker once I smell a passerby who’s genuinely curious about the books.

Small Press Pittsburgh has also been interested in cross-fertilization from the start. One big aim of the website is to help writers and publishers from outside Pittsburgh who are planning book tours and readings—I want to demystify Pittsburgh’s reading venues and bookstores in order to bring outside readers here. Now I get to cross-fertilize readers and writers through the bookstand and the roulette bookselling. I get to sell Baltimore zines to New Orleans, Pittsburgh memoirs to New Jersey, Pittsburgh graphic novels to San Diego, and San Francisco fiction to Pittsburgh. And so on.

How long has it been in operation?

The website started in 2008, and expanded a few times. The Facebook announcement page has been around for a couple of years. The pop-up bookstand started in early July 2013, and Small Press Roulette began in late July 2013.

What gave you the idea to do it?

The website came about because I came to Pittsburgh and saw a small but vibrant, dedicated but balkanized literary scene. It seemed like the academics kept their distance from the underground writers, and the “literary” writers didn’t always associate with the zinesters or the slam poets. I was in library school when I created the website for a cataloging class. Thinking as a librarian, I wanted to show what a healthy literary scene Pittsburgh had by democratizing each facet. To a librarian, each of those literary scenes is equal. Whereas the people inside the scenes can be blinded by concerns of the ego: Worrying whether their scene has enough clout or convinced that their scene is so much better than the others.  As an outsider, I thought it would create a point of strength just to show how much was going on in Pittsburgh, to record it all in one place.

Evolving into the pop-up bookstand happened much more recently. I was inspired by a few different sources. I was following Mellow Pages Library really closely, a new small press library in Brooklyn. And I kept organizing Pittsburgh’s small presses to give me copies of their books, and I’d send them as library donations en masse. I’d label the packages “from Small Press Pittsburgh.” Next the Polish Hill Arts Fest was coming up, a street fair here where I had tabled as an author the previous year. The organizers were asking me to come back, but I wasn’t convinced it was worth it to sit there with my own novels. One of the organizers, Laura Zurowksi, knew about the packages I’d been sending to Mellow Pages. She suggested I could do the same thing—get books together from local publishers and showcase everyone’s, not just my own. I loved the idea, it made me excited about tabling again.

I think sometime after hearing about The Newsstand in Brooklyn, I bought a book/magazine rack, supposedly to augment table space at the arts fest. But as soon as I bought it I felt like I could sell books anywhere. Since then I’ve been popping up at events like gallery crawls—my next event is the grand opening of a library.

What are some challenges you face with the SPP bookstand?

Rain, wind, gravity. Every outdoor event has been under threat of severe thunderstorms. The first time we set up the bookstand, a good gust of wind came through and blew almost every book off the stand and onto the sidewalk. We clipped a trash bag to the back of the stand, which helped that dilemma. The physics of the bookstand itself is something I’m still working out—the “shelves” are very shallow, which is good for face-outs, but it’s easy for a book to start a domino effect. One book leans forward at the wrong angle, and in a few seconds, twenty books have fallen off. This is tedious because the books start to get damaged if they fall two or three times. Not terribly so, but visibly. It reminds me of another challenge—when the books are threatened by damage from falling or rain, it makes me see a very-low overhead operation (a lot of consignment books) as hundreds of dollars of stock I’m suddenly responsible for. Which is fine, as long as I adjust my thinking.

What do you enjoy about it?

I love connecting people to books. Readers love discovering new books, so I love watching people get curious, start to browse. I try to gauge how much book talk they do or don’t want. Some people want to be talked into a book, others feel like that’s condescending. Often it’s more like conversation between book lovers—”I loved X book for Y reason, you should check it out.” Other times it’s just describing the basics so it piques interest without sounding like arm-twisting. “This is a true crime novel about a group of misfits working on an underground newspaper.”

Part of the enjoyable work is behind the scenes—curating a selection of books I know are great reads, or interesting small press items. I want books I can stand up for, and book design that’s bold and eye-catching, books that feel good in your hand. There’s books that are good reads but that have terrible design—they’re too POD, they have terrible font or colors, or they’re way too stuffy looking. Some books have a cover so dull it screams, “I CAN BE SOLD AT A READING OF SYMPATHETIC PEOPLE BUT NOWHERE ELSE.” I don’t always have time to convince people what’s between the covers. There’s a brief window where my potential customers might stay interested in my bookstand or might keep walking on to wherever they were actually headed. I want books whose design suggests in a glance how urgent and interesting the content is. I want books whose design is half the sell.

What gave you the idea for Small Press Roulette?

The Polish Hill Arts Fest was a big event for the bookstand, and I had gathered a lot of books for it. There was a lot of anticipation. I was checking the weather, which was calling for 0% chance of rain—I kept checking all week and that’s what it said, over and over, “0% chance of rain.” We ended up having five excellent hours of selling books—our area was always busy with browsers—and then a deluge came out of nowhere. Hard rain for over an hour. The stands weren’t quite all the way under a tent, and I had overstock sitting on a lawn….It was very stressful getting the books put away quickly and unharmed, and it was really disappointing to be cut off from the best day yet for the bookstand.

The next morning I took the momentum of all the browsers and invented Small Press Roulette. I wanted a rain-proof way for people to have access to the books. But at the same time, I’m not interested in promoting the books individually on the internet. Why are readers going to enjoy my jpeg book cover over Amazon’s jpeg book cover, over Powell’s jpeg book cover? Internet book sales is a cutthroat game. People want the lowest price, or they want their go-to bookstore, or they want to buy direct from the author or the publisher. One bookseller can knock themselves out hyping a book online and the customer will still go to Amazon or Ebay looking for a lower price. I can’t compete with those things. But I knew I could try to harness the excitement that far-flung readers had expressed when the news first came out about the Small Press Pittsburgh bookstand. I think that the Kickstarter phenomenon has shown us that people want to support ideas they’re excited about, and the people behind those ideas. And publishers Richard Nash of Cursor/Red Lemonade and Matthew Stadler of Publication Studio have both talked about giving customers a chance to support the author or publisher at different price points or different levels of involvement. Readers want to be involved with the writer, but different readers will have different financial capacities. Some people want to be involved for $2 and others want to be involved for much more. Right now Small Press Roulette goes between $2 and $15, but I’m planning to expand it. I already had an order from a bookstore for $75.

What makes it fun?

Connecting people to books I think they would genuinely like thrills me. I sometimes do a lot of research when I get an order. In a way, it means I’m working as a Small Press Librarian for the first time. A lot of people think I am a working librarian because of the title of my blog, but library jobs are scarce in this economy. I’m trying to invent the small press library job I’m built for. This is like Reader’s Advisory meets bookselling.

Helping writers and books I believe in find readers who devour them is another thrill. I hate watching talented writers work hard to languish in obscurity.

Photo Credit: Robert Lee Bailey

Photo Credit: Robert Lee Bailey

Links of interest:

Twenty Four Hours Zine blog interview about the Small Press Pittsurgh bookstand: http://twentyfourhourszine.blogspot.com/2013/07/small-press-go-go-talking-with-karen.html

Gigantic Sequins interview about the Small Press Pittsburgh bookstand:

http://giganticsequins.com/spotlights-2/spotlight-karen-lillis/

Karen the Small Press Librarian blog:

http://karenslibraryblog.blogspot.com/

Small Press Pittsburgh website:

http://smallpresspittsburgh.wikispaces.com/

Small Press Roulette:

http://smallpresspittsburgh.wikispaces.com/Small+Press+Roulette

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Realistic Goals and Reasonable Deadlines: An Inteview with Kourtney Heintz

IMG_0891Kourtney Heintz writes emotionally evocative speculative fiction that captures the deepest truths of being human. For her characters, love is a journey never a destination. She resides in Connecticut with her warrior lapdog, Emerson, her supportive parents and three quirky golden retrievers. Years of working in financial services provided the perfect backdrop for her imagination to run amuck at night, imagining a world where out-of-control telepathy and buried secrets collide.

Her new novel, The Six Train to Wisconsin follows the exploits of a telepath named Kai and her husband, Oliver, in their quest for a normal life. When Kai’s telepathy spirals out of control, Oliver brings her to the quiet Wisconsin hometown he abandoned a decade ago, where he must confront the secrets of his past to save their future.

Kourtney recently dropped by Small Press Reviews to answer a few questions about her work…

Marc, thank you so much for having my on your blog. I’ve been a follower for a while now and I’m so excited to be here!

Glad to have you! You got pretty far in Amazon’s breakthrough novel competition. How did that experience shape your thoughts about writing in general and your approach to The Six Train to Wisconsin in particular?

It definitely was a confidence booster. But I also realized I wanted to give my readers an experience they wouldn’t forget. So I took all the feedback and went to work on the manuscript. Around the same time, I got a revise and resubmit from a top agency. Two pages of editorial-style feedback. It made me more determined to revise until I had the best book I could create.

I learned that if a reader has an issue, there is an issue but they may be incorrectly identifying the solution. Listen and mull over their feedback. Marinate in it before making any changes.

Usually the stuff I’m most resistant to is either garbage or gold. But it requires a lot of time and effort to separate the two.

As anyone who’s visited your blog might notice, you’re a very goal-oriented individual. Does setting goals and achieving them come naturally to you, or is it something that you’ve had to learn how to do? How does this practice relate to your writing, and how do you maintain a healthy outlook on those occasions when you don’t quite reach your goals?

I’ve always been a Type A person. I think it’s why I gravitated into consulting and auditing as my career for a long time. I love planning and fixing.

It definitely keeps me on schedule with my writing.

My goal is always to meet or beat a deadline and the key to that is setting realistic goals and reasonable deadlines. Saying I’ll have an agent in a year sounds ambitious, but it also sets you up for failure. I tried that route once–very disappointing. Saying I’ll query 30-50 agents over this year is a measurable and attainable goal that doesn’t rely on any one but you to achieve it.

When I miss the mark, I hold myself accountable. I beat myself up for a bit. But then I dust myself off and move forward. I examine what went wrong and figure out how to mitigate the problem going forward. If I didn’t properly set the goal or didn’t allocate the right amount of time for it, that’s something I can learn from and improve on the next go-around. As long as I get the bulk of things done and am constantly improving, I’m almost okay with the occasional failure.

What is it that attracts you to writing in general, and what attracted you to The Six Train to Wisconsin in particular? Along similar lines, what made you stick with that project and see it through to publication?

Writing is a great way to work through things. At the time, I never realize I’m doing it. But when I reread a scene months later I realize what issue was being worked out on paper. I also wanted to leave a legacy behind. Something important. Something worthwhile. Hopefully, my novel will be that.

Six Train was the short story that wouldn’t let me be. I sat down and wrote a brief outline and realized I had a novel here. A novel that was dying to get out of me. I spent months pre-writing and making sure I wanted to spend years with this plot and characters. I did.

I think it’s the best thing I’ve written. And all that positive feedback from the Amazon contest reinforced my belief that it was a story people would enjoy reading. That and agents kept saying it was beautiful writing, but not a NYT bestseller. So I knew indie was the best route for it.

What have you learned from the experience of publishing The Six Train to Wisconsin? Do you have any advice for fellow writers who might follow in your footsteps? 

Make sure you are prepared to work 7 days a week. Being an indie author is a full time job. Promoting requires lots of planning and groundwork laying. There will be tons of rejection too.

Hire people you trust–the will make all the difference during crunch time.

And however long you think it will take, double that.

What are you reading right now, and what do you like about it?

I’m halfway through Audrey Kalman’s Dance of Souls. I really love Ms. Kalman’s writing style. You know you are in the hands of a master craftswoman as you read her book.

What’s next?

Well, the book tour is taking up a good chunk of my summer and fall. I’m also going to be doing revisions for my YA time travel murder mystery, Reckonings. I’d really like to start drafting Six Train’s sequel this winter too.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Kourtney!

Connecting with the Author Online

Website: http://kourtneyheintz.com

Blog: http://kourtneyheintz.wordpress.com

Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/kourtneyheintzwriter

Twitter: http://twitter.com/KourHei

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/goodreadscomkourtney_heintz

Amazon Author Central Page: http://amazon.com/author/kourtneyheintz

Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/kourhei

Paperback available from:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Ebook available from:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Smashwords

Kobo

iTunes

SixTraintoWisconsin

Commenting on the Times: An Interview with Steven Mohr

The+Listless+coverTell us a little bit about your book. What inspired it? Who’s your ideal reader?
I’m a fan of so many types of literature, but when I started writing The Listless, I wasn’t looking to just write some action adventure that can make a person jump but hardly think. And I didn’t want to just write some romance that plays on a person’s emotions but not on their sense of cultural ethics. I wanted to write a piece that had elements of both these while commenting on the times we live in and the situation it presents for those in the young adult (or should I say youngish adult?) age group who have been most affected by it. Really, The Listless was my attempt to combine the freedom of Kerouac’s On The Road and the introspection of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises… I’m not saying I succeeded, I’m just saying I tried! There’s no doubt that’s a hefty goal for a first novel.

I had fun writing it, though, and I enjoyed putting together somewhat realistic dialog you might hear from the indie music lovers, which are probably the ideal readers of the book. I hope, though, I added elements that nearly all can relate to.

It’s a YA novel, yet your protagonist, Conor Batey, is a college grad. Do YA heroes tend to be so old? (Granted, “old” is a relative term!)
Ha, that’s a good question and one that I somewhat wrestled over as I was thinking about where this book really did fit in. To me, the YA (young adult) fiction definition is getting wider than just the age range it was originally designed for. I mean, isn’t Edward Cullen from Twilight over 100 years old? Haha, a little different case… But I look at the YA fiction designation as talking more about the topic than the age of characters or readers (though they both play a big part). The topic of this book is about indie rock and regressing from a business life back into (at least a summer of) road trips and concerts. I think that topic is more in the field of YA than anything else.

Along similar lines, have you observed that YA readers are getting older? How “Y” is “Y” these days?
It certainly seems like the readership of YA fiction has been the biggest change in its overall designation. It went from adolescents right out of juvenile fiction in the 90’s to adolescents, young adults, older adults… the whole gamut today. Creative minds like J. K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins, and many others have really opened this genre up to a larger spectrum in the past fifteen years.

 What do you see as the difference between YA fiction and more traditional “adult” fiction?
Well, in full disclaimer, my definitions for these phrases are probably very different from the standard ones. When I see something that is cataloged as fiction without being further explained as romance, mystery, sci fi, fantasy, urban fiction, classic literature, or one of the many other sometimes helpful sometimes not helpful at all descriptions, I assume it’s going to be either a Nicholas Sparks book about some guy/girl who lost his/her memory or some Amish town where a recent visitor causes worlds to collide… Not so much a rock group of childish young adults. To take that even one step further, I don’t really like seeing books like Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk called “Contemporary Fiction.” Until there is a good genre title that describes books that vie for a younger sentiment, YA seems to best fill the void.

Part of your novel is set in Detroit. Why that setting?
It starts off in Detroit for a few reasons. This Rustbelt metropolis was and is the source of a lot of great art in America. From Motown and other classic pop music genres to urban farming and decorative city block art projects, this town continues to endow the world with that outsider’s perspective. Between these artistic surroundings and the roughness of the inner city, Detroit is the perfect setting for a band on the run from everyday life.

You mention that your protagonist is in a rock group called Listless. What do they sound like, and who are some of your own favorite bands?
I guess I can answer both of these questions together because I imagine their style being a blend of some of my favorite pop bands from the past. I imagine them with the sounds of soulful minor chord breakdowns like the Beatles, awesome choral harmonies like the Beach Boys, a punkish disregard for the norm like the Pixies, and a dorky grunge look like Weezer in the 90’s.
 
Do you play music yourself? Are you in a band?
I do play a few instruments; though, not necessarily well. I’m mainly a fan of stringed instruments that can be used to play silly love songs. My favorite instruments to serenade my wife are the guitar and ukulele.

What’s next for you?
I’ve always been a pretty eclectic reader. And I definitely have no desire to be pinned down to writing in one genre, either, so I’ve started a couple of projects that are pretty distant from The Listless. Growing up, one of my favorite authors was Isaac Asimov. I loved his series sci fi. I’m certainly no Isaac Asimov but I thought why not give it a shot? I’ve started writing my own series of sci fi short stories that I might at some point put together into one novel. I’ve also started a new novel that I’m writing in a very very slow fashion set in the Asheville, North Carolina region that includes a journalist, a death, a town in turmoil, and an unexpected twist. If that sounds to you like just about every other contemporary title written in the past twenty years, I’ll let your imagination fill in the rest!

Make Each Word Count: An Interview with Marcus Pactor

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of seeing Marcus Pactor read from his short fiction collection Vs. Death Noises as part of the TireFire fiction series in Philadelphia. Shortly thereafter, he sent me a copy of the collection, and I enjoyed it immensely, so I was doubly excited to get a chance to ask him a few questions about writing and how he fits it into his busy schedule.

You came from Florida up to my hometown of Philadelphia to do a reading for the TireFire fiction series. That’s dedication! What motivated you to make the trip? Was it worth your while?

I read Christian TeBordo’s The Awful Possibilities last year and dug it so much. I did what I previously considered a junior high stalker thing by asking this total stranger to be my Facebook friend. He agreed. He found out about my book that way, liked it, and invited me up. I have never been a junior high stalker, but I imagine this was like the junior high stalker’s dream. Besides that, I think it’s important to read wherever people are interested in my stuff. You never know who you’re going to meet.

It was entirely worth the trip. Christian and his family are great, warm people. Philadelphia’s downtown is a beautiful, large and cared for in a particular way that I have rarely seen. That art museum is a treasury. In addition, I reunited with an old, old friend.

Note: I have since learned that what I did on Facebook was pretty standard practice and not widely considered stalkerish.

Along similar lines, what motivates you to write? I ask because I know firsthand how difficult it can be to fit writing into a busy schedule, but just keep doing it anyway, and I’m trying to figure out why.

If I didn’t write, I’d probably be talking to myself all the time. I’ve got all kinds of ideas and people in my head trying to get out. Writing is about the healthiest way to get them out. It’s purgation, I guess.

I’m also motivated by the date August 30. Some time on or around that date, my wife and I will welcome a little son to the world. I have to write as much as I can before then, because my schedule will probably become more crowded afterward.

You teach at University of North Florida, and Rate My Professors reports that your students love your classes. What, specifically, do you teach, and how do your teaching and writing inform each other?

It’s strange to think that they love them. I mean, I love my kids, but we spend about a third of the semester explaining why certain kinds of sentences don’t work and why “he ejaculated” is no longer an acceptable dialogue tag. Maybe they love it because it’s a public place in which they feel free to discuss ejaculation.

This semester I’m teaching four fiction workshops. By the end of this week, I’ll have read 130 or so stories by students. Two weeks from now, I’ll have read 65 revisions. By the end of the semester, I’ll have read close to 2000 pages of my students’ fiction.

The pleasures of teaching mostly involve seeing the students improve from one piece to the next. Most of them really do work hard. It’s great to see when it pays off, especially when they get published.

Teaching has also helped me become a much better reader of fiction and practitioner of language. A lot of people can feel that something has gone wrong in a story, but a teacher has to recognize what that something is, where that something is located, and how to fix it. I mean, he has to say more than that “these sentences don’t work.” He has to be able to explain why they don’t work, especially when the grammar is impeccable. He has to point the way. He has to make recommendations that a student can respect.

Reading their stories has forced me to think hard, much harder than I ever had before, about what makes fiction work. A lot of what I figured out went into this book.

Your book is called Vs. Death Noises. Can you explain the title and any principles that guide your writing?

The book’s title comes from the first story, “The Archived Steve.” Steve had this awful emphysemic voice. He slurped from electronic cigarettes. The narrator said the sounds were death noises. Noise isn’t an element common to every story in the book, but it’s in enough of them for the title to work. Plus, tons of people seem to dig it.

I don’t know if I want to use the word “principles.” It’s a much better word for critics to use about a writer’s work than it is for a writer to use about his own stuff. My principles shift all the time, which might be why I don’t want to call them principles. Right now, I like these: –Make each word count. –Form is content. Content is form. -Tell a couple of jokes, but be serious. Seriously tell a joke. A purely sad story is not my kind of beer.

The book’s publisher is Subito Press. If I remember my Latin correctly, that means “suddenly.” Was there anything “sudden” about the writing or publishing of this book? How did you find them–or did they find you?

It was both sudden and not sudden. First, the not so sudden: the stories themselves were written over the course of two-plus years. Then, suddenly, it was summer. I was 35. My girlfriend, now my wife, and I were getting serious. I needed a freaking book. I found Subito’s contest on Duotrope and entered. Everything worked out.

And, finally, what’s on the horizon for you?

I mentioned the baby. Mostly, he is on the horizon. I’ve also got a short novel in the hands of several independent presses and contests as we speak, so I spend a lot of time knocking wood, etc. I’m working on another book too. I’m about to learn how to put up a fence in my backyard. That should be painful.

Thanks, Marcus, for taking the time to chat with me!

vs-death-noises-marcus-pactor-paperback-cover-art

Sips Card: Sharing Stories on the Go

Sips Card LogoI first read about the Sips Card in the pages of The Writer and learned shortly thereafter that one of my favorite artists, Kristen Solecki, is on the team behind this ingenious new way of sharing fiction. (Kristen’s art, by the way, graces the cover of To Be Friend a Fox, a volume of poetry by the late Richard Pearce, which I edited in 2010.) Given my interest in spreading the word about new sources of fiction and in Kristen’s work, I was happy to have the chance to chat with the artist about her latest endeavor.

What is the Sips Card, and where is it available?
Sips Card is a writing publication that shares the work of independent writers with independent coffee shops. A Sips Card is a business card with a QR Code, that when scanned, downloads a short story or poem onto your cellphone/smart device that is meant to last as long as your cup of coffee. They are available in participating coffee shops around the country, and in Scotland. You can see our current locations at http://www.sipscard.com/venues. If you are interested in becoming a venue or would like to recommend one, please email us at sipscard@gmail.com.

How did you come up with the idea?
It was a cold day in December and we were reading on a couch, trying to stay warm. Tim was explaining to me the idea of using QR Codes to market my artwork. We then were talking about sharing other media through the codes and we somehow connected the thought of reading, QR Codes, and coffee shops and spent the next two months developing the idea into what it is today.

Is there a way for readers to ask their favorite coffee shops to carry the Sips Card? In other words, how can we help spread the word?
Most definitely. We love hearing about favorite coffee shops from our readers and writers and want to support venues who support their community. There is no cost to the coffee shops or the customers. Once a shop is on board, we ship them the current issue with a compact display stand they can use as they wish. We create a page for them on our website and then ship each new issue as it is published.

Can you tell me a little bit about the works you’ve published in your first year? What was it about these stories that jumped out at you and made you want to publish them? Along similar lines, do you have any advice for writers who might want to submit their work for publication?
We’ve published a wide variety of stories and poems in our first year. We are open to all types of general fiction that has strong characters and appeals to a variety of people. We look for work that breathes with a life of its own and prefer narrative poems because we feel they compliment short fiction best.  However, we don’t only publish narrative poetry.
A well crafted story, with great character tension, along with a professional looking submission will grab our attention. We want to know that the submitting writers and poets care as much about their work they are submitting as we do about the work we publish.

Thanks, Kristen for the opportunity to chat about the Sips Card. It’s a great idea, and I hope it continues to gain in popularity!

Enchanted Britain

Enchanted Britain CoverAs its title suggests, Traci Law’s gorgeous new book of photography, Enchanted Britain: A Photographic Journey, takes readers on a magical tour of the land that brought us such wonders as The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. I recently had a chance to chat with Traci about the book and the magical (yet real!) landmarks that she captures in its pages.

What drew you to Britain for this project?

I have always been drawn to the myths and beauty of Britain.  At the risk of sounding cliché, there’s just something very magical about it with all the castle ruins scattered about, the ancient and medieval buildings and the scenery.  Over the years I’ve built up a vast collection of images from Scotland, England and Wales and wanted a way to share them with people beyond art shows.

In producing the prints for this book, you used a process called HDR or High Dynamic Range imaging, which gives each photograph the appearance of a painting or a dreamscape. What was behind this decision, and what was involved in the process?

Wells Cathedral (Copyright 2013 Traci Law)

Wells Cathedral (Copyright 2013 Traci Law)

HDR is a process that some photographers love and some photographers loathe. It’s definitely a different look from what we’re used to seeing in photographs. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. For Enchanted Britain there were many images that this process simply did not work well.  However, I decided to use all HDR images to continue with the idea of the magic and enchantment of Britain.  Personally, I love the look it gives.  For some images, like Kilchurn Castle in Scotland, it gives a softer feel whereas for other images, such as the Chapter House stairs in Wells Cathedral, it gives an eerie, mysterious look.

On average it can take twenty minutes to nearly an hour per image to get the look just right. I use three different programs to achieve the perfect look for the subject and image. Of course, it is important to have a good original image to start with.  HDR can change a look but it can’t perform miracles.

In your “other lives,” you’ve worked on archaeological digs and have been the host of Morbid Curiosity TV, a web series exploring the relationship between history and paranormal phenomena. How did your other interests influence your work on Enchanted Britain

It was through archaeology that I was accepted to work on a project at the Wiltshire Heritage Museum in England and it was there that I was able to explore more of the true England and appreciate their history on my own.  I’ve always been interested in history and the medieval period so everything managed to fall into place nicely.  A few years later I went back and drove around the United Kingdom without really having a plan other than to photograph anything and everything.  Some of the places I visited I had heard of from my days in the paranormal field, such as Rosslyn Chapel, but it was their history that drew me to visit.

I suppose, ultimately, it was my deep appreciation of history and respect of people and places that really influenced the images I chose for the book as well as influences how I see things when photographing in general.

Thanks, Traci, for an enchanting conversation!

Kilchurn Castle (Copyright 2013 Traci Law)

Kilchurn Castle (Copyright 2013 Traci Law)

Something Very Much Like an Interview with Jason Lee Norman

Jason Lee Norman is a bearded author whose collection of microfictions, Americas, is now available. I sent him a few questions a while back, and he sent me a few answers. Somewhere along the line, we lost the questions, but we still have the answers:

1. I’ve never really thought of Hodgman as an influence for this book, although I do love his books. Whenever I can pull off some of that kind of deadpan humour I always think of it as a happy accident. I had some of my favourite Latin American authors in mind (Marquez, Borges) when I was writing this book but I think that they are basically from another solar system when it comes to writing and all I can do is use the book to sort of thank them for the inspiration. I also read Mathias Svalina’s I am a Very Productive Entrepeneur when I was about halfway done my book and it really buoyed me to keep on going with it. I felt that we were trying to do the same kind of thing with narratives and his book was just so enjoyable that I came to believe that my book could possibly have the same effect on a reader.

Jason Lee Norman, bearded author.

2. I think that story has to make you feel something and maybe even make you learn something. The stories in my book are very short and they’re sort of like photographs. The picture tells its own story but the story that you take from the picture can be completely different. Neither is wrong. I used to want to tie little ribbons at the end of my stories, like everything was all wrapped up and settled and quaint but I don’t do that anymore. The stories in Americas are cyclical in nature but when you get to the end of each story, you’re in a very different position than where you started.

3. Matthew Salesses is a writer. I don’t know him personally but I’ve followed some of his work through Facebook links and Twitter and such. There was a little contest being put on by friends of his that was looking for stories that made him the protagonist of your story. It had to be a story that was really about him though. You couldn’t just change the name of your protagonist to Matthew Salesses–that would be cheating. They gave a few facts about Matthew that writers could draw from if they wanted and that’s where I got my idea for Venezuela. The story revolves around adoption and how it feels for an adult who came from an adopted family to have a child of their own. Parenthood kind of leads to separation one way or the other. My story was chosen as one of three stories to win the prize. I hope that Matthew liked the story. I read his book, Our Island of Epidemics soon after my book was done and it was absolutely fantastic.

4. When I was 18 my father took my family down to Argentina to live for about two years. He got a contract to work down there and it was a pretty big adventure for the whole family. I’ve traveled to about four or five other countries in the Americas since then. I’ll let the reader guess which ones.

5.  Ha ha. In the story Suriname, the whole country sleeps in and misses a big job interview. I can’t remember if I’ve ever slept in and missed a job interview but I have slept in and missed a couple big events before. Once I thought I might miss an interview because I was in jail. Another time I took a nap and stood up my girlfriend on a night I was supposed to meet her friends for the first time. Nobody knew where I was the whole evening. Things were pretty tense for a few days after but we’re doing better now.

6.  I think I was always trying to send a bigger message about humanity and the Americas but the message was still a simple one. I feel like Latin American culture has affected me personally and creatively in so many ways but it also feels like there is still a lot about these countries that we don’t know. There is still a lot of mystery there, and I liked that and it’s one of the reasons why I can get away telling some of the stories that I do in this book. People are always about 50/50 on whether they think the events in the book really happened or are made up. There probably wouldn’t be a similar reaction if I wrote a book about countries in Europe- but maybe. There is also a feeling of sameness throughout the book. As far as a message about humanity, I just tried to show all the different ways that we’re all connected with each other although it may not seem like it at first.

7. In Guatemala, they celebrate National Day of the Tiger where everybody pretends to be a tiger for the whole day. I’m working very hard on having a day like this in my city. We’ll start small and see what happens. My costume wouldn’t be that realistic. Hopefully just some really large Tiger pajamas. I would go RAWR every chance I got and walk around on all fours and eat tiger ice cream just for good measure. I think every country should have a Day of the Tiger.

8.  Next? Well I want to find a home for the rest of my very short fiction from the last couple of years and very soon I hope to begin a novel and see what happens. Before that, I’ll be spending a couple weeks traveling through the United States and doing some readings from Americas and hopefully selling some books down there this summer. I’m really looking forward to my American road trip and in the fall, if all goes according to plan, I’ll be starting on the novel.

Jason’s blog tour continues here: http://www.candlebeambooks.com/