Thursday, September 26, 2013

Indie Bookstore of the Month: Guide to Kulchur

Have you noticed that the lovers, makers, and sellers of print culture refuse to give up on print and its continued relevance? In 2010 it was Atomic Books and Quimby's call for The Revenge of Print. In recent months, it's been the thriving indie bookstores of Bushwick, Brooklyn; the used booksellers of Khartoum, Sudan working to revive reading and restore the city to its former literary glory; The Taksim Square Book Club; and reports from Mexico City's Under the Volcano Books that the paperback fiction business is booming, as their Mexican readers hunger for stories and become increasingly disenchanted with "Face" (their nickname for Facebook). Add to this list Guide to Kulchur, a Cleveland new and used bookstore that arrived on the scene in June 2013. A combination curated bookshop, zine-making co-op, meeting and reading space, small-press friendly store, and zine archive, Guide to Kulchur was invented by Riot Grrrl historian Lyz Bly and her husband, poet/DIY entrepreneur RA Washington, who want to put the means of production into the hands of one west-side rustbelt neighborhood while showcasing both the local and national zine and small press scenes. Here's what they told me:

Karen the Small Press Librarian: In addition to selling books and zines, your shop (which opened in 2013) is aggressively promoting print culture, offering the means of production for zines and chapbooks. What do you have to say to the naysayers who tell us the e-book is the future, and print is dead?

RA: There will always be folks that want to read in the physical, the issue is whether we can get these printed materials into their hands, into their field of vision. I think that the e-book has seen its rebuttal, for more and more people are printing, looking for ways to print, to fine print. If you can make it something that new writers and readers covet, then we can have a communal success. Small press have advantage over the big ones, but only if folks like you build alternative media outlets to help them get the word out.

Karen: You and Lyz want to create a zine archive that will amass evidence of "resistance" in rust-belt Cleveland, and start a dialogue with other dire-straits cities whose zinesters have left a record of similar resistance. While some point to social media phenomena like "The Twitter Revolution" as proof that we've "moved on," what part do you think print culture still plays or can play in grassroots movements and politics of the people? Do you think Twitter and zines address people at different levels in the business of consciousness-raising?

Lyz: I would put a zine in their hands and then ask them to look at one online. It’s a completely different experience. Through my research for my dissertation and soon to be book (Gender and Generation X: Riot Grrrls, Slackers, Sex, and Feminism), I studied thousands of zines at the Sallie Bingham Collection at Duke, the Sophia Smith Archives at Smith College, and the Riot Grrrl Zine Collection at Fales/NYU Library. There is nothing quite like picking up a zine and having a bit of glitter land on your lap, or noticing coffee stains or yellowing paper from a particularly loved and read zine. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been organizing the zine collection we’ve amassed thus far at Guide to Kulchur. The tactile experience of holding something that someone created out of love or desperation—whether it’s haphazardly stapled together or meticulously ordered—is not something that you can match digitally.

RA: I do think that print that is designed well, written well will always be a tool of dissent. Twitter can be too, but its a sound bite tool. I think the speed [at which] it moves can be off-putting to folks. Progressive people just have to step our game up with trying to counteract these huge media selling tools. We just have to have better content and not be afraid to say it is better.

Karen: When you began inventing Guide to Kulchur, what made you want to open an indie bookstore in 2013? What audience did you imagine would embrace your shop? Or are you looking to create an audience that wasn't yet there?

RA: We wanted to create a curated reading culture, for us this meant making sure that the books were essential, that there was diversity in the offering and a strong small press presence. We also wanted to provide the public with a store that had a real good eye and was fairly priced. We give a bulk of the sales to all independent bookmakers, small presses and authors. We were making a statement with this obviously, but we wanted A. for people to value the work of the independent /D.I.Y. makers, and B. to say to other bookstores that there are business models that can be created where we do not have to take a huge cut out of the small pie. So we chose to stay away from the large distro vehicles. We chose to not have a credit account with the huge media sellers, mainly because folks can get those books cheaper on Amazon than we can sell them. This allows us to exist without having a debt relationship with the companies that won’t even consider distributing small presses because those presses don't print in higher quantities.

Lyz: The audience on the near west side in the Gordon Square Arts District needs to be cultivated. There are young people who were drawn to the up-and-coming neighborhood for its proximity to downtown and emerging restaurants, bars, and shops. And artists and thinkers are always early colonizers of neighborhoods that will become eventual bastions of hip (I remember when my friend, artist Terry Durst, moved from Kent State University to Tremont in the mid-1980s—most people had no idea where the neighborhood was or that it even existed). Yes, you need bars and restaurants, but you also need art and ideas in these emergent communities. Otherwise it’s just empty capitalism packaged as “cool.” We want something authentic. You don’t get to wear the Beauvoir or Baldwin t-shirt unless you’ve read their work.

Karen: There are some impressive indie bookstores in Cleveland: Visible Voice, Mac's Backs, Loganberry Books. How do you fit in with the Cleveland scene, and how do you differentiate yourself from the others? Is yours a neighborhood bookstore or a destination shop, or both?

RA: There are some awesome bookstores in Cleveland, and I think we work well together to service a very well-read city. We wanted to be a destination and a neighborhood store, because where we are located is situated west of Visible Voice and we carry stuff that is not in competition with them. So you could go to both in afternoon and have two totally different experiences. Also we do not take a cut of small press publications. We also service manual typewriters, have an extensive zine/chapbook library, and a co-op where you can make a zine, go get it printed and spend your money on printing as opposed to the tools you need to make the master product. Glue sticks, rotary presses, Sharpies, typewriters, collage materials and paper all cost money--so our thinking was if there was a place where we could share those costs, it would be easier to produce more zines. Eventually we will have letterpress machines, old etching presses and the like so you could try new methods to print.

Karen: Do you imagine Guide to Kulchur becoming a player in the national bookstore scene, like Quimby's or Atomic Books? Do you have favorite bookstores in other cities, or bookstores or cultural centers that influenced your concept for Guide to Kulchur?

RA: Yes, we already are starting that journey, but it’s not a goal. It’s happening because some of the best writers in the world are finding out about it through other writers, and getting plugged in. And I was not kidding when I say world--we want to make a place that has a worldview, that offers respect to our backyard by displaying all of the work together. We do not have a “local section,” we have an independent book makers section, and that distinction will go very far in terms of goodwill, and building a critical mass.

Lyz: In August we took a delayed honeymoon in Europe. We spent a full week in Paris and we felt most at home at Shakespeare and Company Bookstore. We were enamored with the ethos of the place and with the design and the physical space, of course. But we were also so excited to read how the owner has written about books and feeling the physicality of the paper in one’s hands—the ways in which the characters in fiction texts are as real to him (and now his daughter who runs the Paris shop) as a person standing in front of him. We are not Shakespeare and Company by any means, but we embrace the same vision and—without knowing it—we used the same kind of language when writing about our goals for Guide to Kulchur.

Karen: Is Guide to Kulchur a non-profit, a side project, a literal co-op, or a business that pays employees (or owner/s) enough to live on? Do you think the kind of bookstore that employs several full-timers is a thing of the past? Are bookstores important enough for us to create and support them even if they aren't money-makers?

RA: Guide To Kulchur is not a 501(c)(3), it’s not a side project, it is not a cost share co-op in the traditional sense. The store exists strictly from the sales of the used/new books we find and sell. We have employees and we pay a living wage, but it is not enough to live on of course. How could it be? Lyz and I know that you have to hold down multiple jobs to do this work, so we do. It’s obvious to me that bookstores are important, and they should have our support as long as the business model allows for the bookstore to pay for itself. It is not a profit type of thing. you are not going to put together a huge savings, but if you follow a creative capitalist approach--if you keep in mind that the deck is stacked against all of us that are not extremely wealthy--then you can make a difference, and stay relevant and open for a long time.

Karen: Guide to Kulchur, besides being the title of an Ezra Pound collection of essays, was a project you started a few years ago where people in different cities could print out each other's books and distribute them locally. How did this work, logistically—the book printing, the distro, or finding willing authors in other cities? And how did this work, as in how did it succeed? About how many writers or other people got involved, and how many books were distributed this way?

RA: Wow, how did you know about that? It's something we still want to do, and it worked on a small scale. I think most writers have this notion that some press is going to swoop down and offer them the Bukowski deal, and its not going to happen. The way you make it as a writer is you write, and you read, and you print, and you meet, and you collaborate and you distribute. It's work, and it's very rare that someone will do all of that for you, so you have to do it for yourself. If a press publishes you, you have to get out and help them sell the book. So many times you have writers who are not willing to hit the road, beat the pavement and get out and sell their work. It doesn't happen magically, but if you do that for long enough, if you honor your commitments, you can build a readership and you will die published. That's the only way. there is no shortcut. I don’t even know if I answered your question!

Karen: Tell us how many cities participated in Guide to Kulchur, the publishing/distro experiment.

RA: We had sixteen cities across the world participate, and we were able to distro some limited edition broadsides and even did some group translation work where a poem in, say, French would be in Spanish, Russian, and English. Some really interesting new writers across the globe, so many that I'm trying to bring the program back. The counties involved outside the US included France, Belgium, Argentina, Mexico, South Africa, and Ireland. We lost money, all of us did, but for me it was an awesome project.

Karen: What's the significance of the Ezra Pound book or title for you?

RA: I love that book, I found a copy at Mac's Backs when I was 17, thinking I was a writer. It opened me up to so many aspects of literary thought/critical and how zany Pound is. The myth is he said that the book was a blueprint for writers looking to avoid the corporate college and that if you read it, you would have all you needed for a life in letters. I think it's true.

Karen: Are zines important to literature, to publishing, to information dissemination, or to culture at large? Does literature get created on a Trickle Up basis, but is perceived to work as Trickle Down? Or is that using someone else's terms to describe something more complex?

RA: I don’t know about the terms, but it makes sense, and it’s a good question.

Lyz: In a democracy, all voices are important. There are some zines that may seem silly now—documenting your thrift store finds (as in the writers of the well-known zine Thrift Score once did) may seem superficial and about reifying consumption, but as a historian I can tell you that there’s something to glean about culture from any zine you pick up. And the U.S. has a history of self-publishing Alice Paul and Lucy Burns of the National Woman’s Party published a radical (for its time) newspaper on women’s rights while they were fighting for suffrage and even the Declaration of Independence was initially published as a Dunlap broadside and read widely before it became the document we know today.


Visit Guide to Kulchur on "Face":

Monday, September 16, 2013

Writer on Writer: Part Two, Alex Kudera Interviews Dave Newman

Following up on last week's Writer on Writer interview, this week Alex Kudera interviews Dave Newman. Alex is author of Fight for Your Long Day (Atticus Books, 2010) and Dave wrote Raymond Carver Will Not Raise Our Children (Writers Tribe Books, 2012). Each novel looks at the struggle of one writer trying to pay the bills by adjunct teaching. At my request, Alex and Dave read each other's books and came up with their own questions.


Alex Kudera: Winning an award named after Andre Dubus is an amazing accomplishment. Are you a Dubus fan? I like almost all of his novellas, the story "Townies," and many more. Do you have any favorites among his writings?

Dave Newman: I love Andre Dubus. I’m a huge believer in the American small press, and I read all his books on Goodine, which was one of my favorite presses at the time. Dubus was one of the first writers I fell in love with, and his stories and novellas meant so much to me when I first started reading. I’m glad he’s so revered now, but I wish he would have had more success when he was alive. Both the movies based on his work, which I’m sure steered readers back to his books, came out after he died. My favorite Dubus’ books are actually his essay collections. Some of the best writing about being a writer—and the morals of being a writer—are in those collections. I love that he was committed to writing as a spiritual pursuit. I love that he was honest about writing and money and how those two mix. He knew that the important thing was to write the best book you could write and to have the book reach the world. It’s obvious that he cared deeply about his characters, and from things his son and last wife have said, it’s obvious that his love of writing sometimes distracted him from his familial obligations. I love his wife’s letter to Poets and Writers, where she says, basically, “Quit fucking saying I took Andre’s kids away from him.” I thought that was badass of her.

Alex: I also recently read his son's memoir Townies, and it was illuminating to get that side of Dubus as father. I didn't love the memoir in every way, but one tidbit I loved is how he tells his son it's okay to write about his parents, that he should do it if he is compelled to. To me, that's refreshing and quite writerly. From what I've read of your novel, it seems like you are very much in favor of this sort of honesty. Is that possibly the main trait we look for in writing?

Dave: I have Townies but haven’t read it yet. As I said above, Andre the Dad seemed like a difficult person but he was conscious of that, so it makes sense that he would encourage his son to pursue honesty in his own writing. I think honesty is the main trait we look for in writing, and I think that’s why we sometimes forgive writers who have stylistic lapses. I want to puke on the sentence people who feel like lines can be separated from characters and narrative. That’s a fashion show. It’s literature as pornography. It always pisses me off when people include Ray Carver and Barry Hannah in that discussion. Both Hannah and Carver wanted to tell stories, and they did so in a language that served their narratives. Carver wrote great poems and stories after he broke from his editor, Gordon Lish, who is a sentence asshole. When Hannah went too far with language, when he failed in storytelling, and when he was criticized for it, he admitted to fucking up and losing control with language. He wasn’t proud of it. He didn’t want to be someone who was known for writing sentences. He wanted to tell the truth about the world. So yeah, me too.

Alex: I am aware of the writer as bad father, and there are too many great writers to name in this regard, literary superstars with multiple wives and children, guys who walked off the job early and often. I see your awareness of this in your novel, and it sounds like you very much are intent on staying in one marriage, of making your family life a success. Is this something you were thinking about from a young age, or something you became more aware of once you became a husband or father?

Dave: I didn’t ever plan on marrying. I figured it was an either/or situation. You either wrote, which required hours of reading and writing, or you got married, which required hours of marriage stuff, whatever that was. Then I found myself in Vegas, getting married to a woman I barely knew, and I was unbelievably happy about it. My wife is awesome, and she’s a great writer, and we support each others’ writing in every way possible. It really speeds up the process to know you have someone in the other room who wants to read your writing, not is willing to, but wants to. We both have three published books now. We had a combined total of zero books before we were married. I think a lot of people perpetuate the myth that you have to be a shitty person to be a writer, or that you have to be a terrible spouse to be a writer, but as I got older I started to realize some of those myths were coming from shitty people who were also shitty spouses. My wife and I both want to be successful parents, more so than successful writers, but we’re both conscious that writing makes us better and happier people, which makes us better parents, so we strive for that balance. There’s a lot to give up, some hard and some not, if you want to be a parent / writer / decent person. Don’t watch junk TV. Don’t see terrible movies for the distraction. Don’t hang out with your neighbors just to be a good neighbor. Don’t hang out with anyone you don’t want to hang out with, unless it impacts your kids by not hanging out. Vacation exclusively for your children. Eat cheap. Go to elementary school open houses, smile a lot, and get the fuck out as fast as possible. I never go and see the same writer read from the same book twice. I never flew to New York to read to four people in a bar just to say I was on a book tour and read in New York. I try to be productive when I’m not being productive. When I drink beer, I will often spend the first hour cleaning the house with loud music playing, so I’m not just drinking but cleaning and catching up on tunes. Only watch sports you love. I only watch the Steelers now, and I usually fold clothes while the game is on. If my kids want to hang out, we hang out. If my kids want me to play with them and their friends, I politely decline. They can amuse themselves. I make time for my wife to write because she gets more easily swallowed into the world than I do. When I need to write, she puts the bubble around me and keeps the world away. I still do shitty things all the time, but they’re usually on accident, and I try to learn from my shittiness. One of my goals is to be less shitty, to help more people. That’s how I want to be in the world as a parent and husband and writer, all at once.

[The interview continues]

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Writer on Writer: Dave Newman Interviews Alex Kudera

Several months ago, I asked small press authors Alex Kudera and Dave Newman if they would be willing to read each other's latest novels and interview each other about them. Each novel features a protagonist struggling to make ends meet (and keep a writing life) while working as an adjunct professor: Newman's novel, Raymond Carver Will Not Raise Our Children (Writers Tribe Books, 2012) follows instructor Dan Charles, a family man with one published novel under his belt; Kudera's Fight For Your Long Day (Atticus Books, 2010) is narrated by the unpublished Cyrus Duffleman.

I'm posting the resulting interviews in two parts. Stay tuned for Part II: Alex's interview of Dave, which I hope to post later this week. Without further ado, Dave Newman interviews Alex Kudera about Fight For Your Long Day.


Dave Newman: How scary was it writing a book about a frustrated adjunct instructor while working in the academy?

Alex Kudera: Writing it wasn’t scary at all. It was thrilling and cathartic for the first summer when a whole draft came out, and then there was a lot of painstaking work to improve it, and the fear of failure is always lurking in the background, yes, and then toward the end, there was doubt, but I didn’t have actual fear until I was waiting for the reporter at Inside Higher Ed to call. My first interview was by telephone, and I had no idea what he would ask or how I would respond. Despite my own ten years of adjunct teaching, I was ignorant of many different aspects of the national situation. Publishing the book has gotten me in touch with a full range of concerned academics, struggling adjuncts and tenured professors, and I’ve learned a lot about higher ed since the book came out.

It’s important to recognize that hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of indebted students and low-wage adjuncts and contract workers, folks just like us, families with children, are scared. Their legitimate fears are about how to put food on the table, how to afford utility bills, gas, and rent. Maybe the new healthcare laws will help in one important area; I hope so. But overall, if you think about it, the capitalist system can reward hard work, but it can also reward connections, ass-kissing, and greed, and the work, whether hard or “crafty,” is typically legal, but with occasional outright malfeasance, and sometimes the laws themselves can even be bought and changed to favor the wealthy or connected, and many folks who gravitate toward the top in order to save their own fiscal asses seem barely sentient enough to recognize the extent of the problems, never mind care enough to do something substantial. You look out and see what goes on, and you wonder how they ever came up with the idea of actually referring to us collectively as “humanity”; that’s one of the all-time great sales pitches, I’d say.

So whether I write this book or another book or don’t write anything at all, I’m going to be scared sometimes—scared for my kid, scared for your kids, and scared for little ones throughout the country and around the world. But sometimes, we have to put aside our own fears to try to help others.

DN: Have there been any repercussions?

AK: I believe that there have been, and yet I’m uncertain I’d be able to prove it. Academia also offers a lot of opportunity for paranoia, both individual and collective, so it’s all hard to say. Overall, it seems some tenured professors have reacted quite favorably to Fight for Your Long Day (one assigns it to her graduate students in English education, and I know that at least two professors have assigned the novel; the other was for graduate students taking a course in ethics in higher education), and there are other academics, including adjuncts, who are somewhat uneasy with the novel, possibly its conflicted look at class and race, find it dull, or just aren’t able to read a book unless the main character is perfectly sympathetic in the most stereotypical ways. And, yes, I’m scared of “repercussions” too, and in academia, they are difficult to label as such because there so many factors that can be introduced as a reason why any hiring or other decision is made.

Dave: There are some big buzz phrases in the academy right now — community, literary citizenship, collegiality — but universities run on adjuncts and tuition doubles at twice the rate of inflation, and the machine keeps acting like a job is a gift. Can you talk about how (or if) the language of the academy — the Orwellian nature of it — fueled Fight for Your Long Day? Orwell would have loved your title, as I do.

Alex: Yeah, universities are full of “success centers” and slogans like “students first,” and we’ve come to call that all Orwellian and in some ways, it is. Did Orwell have much on nations jacking up the price of air and water? I suppose jacking up tuition every year and buying leather couches for top administration is not the same thing. In fact, I’ve never read 1984 although I’ve read Animal Farm and Down and Out in Paris and London and I enjoyed the latter very much. It’s a writer’s book, and I read when I was bussing my own dishes in Paris during a semester off from college.

On the other hand, sometimes it seems like things are changing for the better though. They’ve kicked the private lenders to the curb, and for government loans, there are forgiveness programs that aren’t publicized as well as they should be but base repayment on a graduate’s earnings and even forgive them outright if payments are made on time for 20 years (or even just 10 for careers that qualify as “public service”). It’s a strange game we’re in, and, frankly, where I am right now, the students seem to love the college experience and they seem barely cognizant of some of the ideas broached in my novel. That makes it seem all the more bizarre, and yet it’s pleasant here. The students seem happy.

True to my long-winded nature, for a long time, the working title was Arise Adjunct Duffleman, and Fight for Your Long Day. I didn’t snip off the front half until very late in the process. I think FFYLD was the title when I queried Atticus and a dozen others. That was a query several months after a failed round. In the Atticus round there was one other small press that seemed to be giving it serious consideration, and, well, as everyone knows, all you need is one “yes,” and that is usually all you get. I like a line from a Roberto Bolano story where he is describing Chilean exiles desperate for work in Europe, and he says the highest bidder was invariably the lowest one as well. It is tough out there.

[The interview continues:]

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Must-Read Indie Publishing Interview: Rami Shamir

I’m thrilled that novelist and former Zuccotti Occupier Rami Shamir talks about what it means to be an independent author in this terrific interview at The Huffington Post. Self-publishing is not just about self-sufficiency: Shamir makes the distinction between the “self-publisher,” who in today’s digital/POD/Amazon/Kindle/Nook world is held hostage to corporations, and the independent author, who is someone seeking a literary community that can support our books outside of the corporate structure. What is an independent author but a writer, and what is a writer but someone whose voice is needed, now more than ever? "Now" is a time when corporations are pushing against humans baldly and with more impunity than we've seen in our lifetimes: pushing against human rights, against workers' rights, mowing down environmental safeties we'd like to take for granted. Gag orders, corporate buyouts and mergers of newspapers, and shrinking outlets for paid investigative journalism are all examples of the free market attack on free voices.We need writers who are free to speak.

Shamir challenges us as authors to boycott Amazon and Barnes & Noble—to pull our titles from those corporate predators. He considers independent bookstores to be “the new arsenals of American democracy,” fighting the good fight for the voices of authors and the visions of publishers they believe in, and the fight against Amazon’s ongoing late-stage-capitalist war on brick and mortars.

m. craig and Rami Shamir at Copacetic Comics, Pittsburgh (April 13, 2013)

I had the pleasure of meeting and hosting Rami Shamir and m.craig when they came through Pittsburgh on their Embracing the Accidental reading and distro tour in April 2013. Craig is the author of The Narrows and the founding editor at Papercut Press (Brooklyn). Together on tour, Shamir and Craig introduced their voices and their books to cities, booksellers, and writers across America, and established ties with 31 independent bookstores from coast to coast. They created a distro map of these stores for other independent authors to follow. Find it here:

View EMBRACING THE ACCIDENTAL: A Distro Map for Independently Published Authors in a larger map

Rami Shamir's interview also talks about his editor and mentor Barney Rossett, about Wikileaks and Manning and Snowden, about Occupy and what it meant to his generation, and about his novel TRAIN TO POKIPSE, which is a gorgeous piece of writing even more urgent and resounding than this interview.

"Interview With 2013 Acker Award Winner for Fiction, Rami Shamir"
by Lisa Chau
Huffington Post
August 6, 2013


Stay tuned: When Shamir and Craig were in Pittsburgh, we held a panel called "Having Our SAY and Eating It, Too: Independent Publishing in the Age of Amazon." There is a video of the panel discussion, which I will post when the final edits are made.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Announcing the First Annual Acker Awards for Avant Garde Excellence

The Acker Awards, created in honor of the late, great writer Kathy Acker, is a new award ceremony honoring underground artists in various cities. From the Acker Awards website:
"The Acker Awards is a tribute given to members of the avant garde arts community who have made outstanding contributions in their discipline in defiance of convention, or else served their fellow writers and artists in outstanding ways. The award is named after novelist Kathy Acker who in her life and work exemplified the risk-taking and uncompromising dedication that identifies the true avant garde artist." 
This year the Awards will be presented to artists and writers in New York and San Francisco, and soon it will branch out to more cities. The award is given to avant garde artists, by avant garde artists, and is concerned with offering recognition and fostering community rather than doling out academic prestige or money.

Two ceremonies will be held simultaneously on Thursday, June 6, at 7:00pm on two coasts:

San Francisco: Viracocha, 998 Valencia, the Mission District
New York: Angel Orensanz Foundation, 172 Norfolk Street, Lower East Side

Admission is Free.

The Acker Awards was created by and co-produced by Alan Kaufman (author of Drunken Angel and editor of The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry) and Clayton Patterson (co-editor of Jews: A People's History of the Lower East Side, artist and photographer).

Please read more about The Acker Awards here:

Facebook event page:

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Indie Bookstore of the Day: Bibliohead Bookstore

Today I discovered a great, compact indie bookstore in the Hayes Valley neighborhood of San Francisco, Bibliohead Bookstore. I was not in good shape for a bookstore visit, being too whacked out from the plane ride, but the bookstore found me and I couldn't resist. I popped in with less than all of my faculties intact, and the store still managed to charm me and entice me to leave with three books I didn't know I needed.

I decided recently that there should be a Beat Generation Concordance, or maybe a Beat Glossary or a Beat Thesaurus. I love the verbs (and slang vocabulary in general) of the Beat writers. Even though today's writers can't use too many of them because it's not today's language, I still find a value in listening to this subculture speak a parallel jargon--in hearing Kerouac and Ginsberg push so hard to trade mundane verbs for idioms, while never touching purple prose.

So, since I'm here in Beat Generation Ground Zero, I thought I'd ask. "Did anyone ever put together a Beat Concordance?" The owner was delighted with the idea and we looked in Reference Books on language, and in the Beat section, which was mostly rare books. She looked around online and found the existence of BEAT SPEAK: An Illustrated Beat Glossary circa 1956-1959, published by Water Row Books in 1996. I appreciated learning about both the book and the (Beat-centric) publisher. She told me I should look at City Lights Bookstore and also at The Beat Museum. Then she told me that if no one's put together the Beat Concordance, that probably means I should do it.

(I know about Straight from the Fridge, Dad, because it used to be on the reference shelf at St Mark's Bookshop, and it's probably time I bought a copy for myself. It's what I was thinking might turn up when I asked the bookstore owner for her Reference shelf. Instead I found a book that will probably end up being more useful to me, a book on slang from the 1990s.)

I was reading Kerouac's Subterraneans on the plane today (a great dime store copy I bought at Eljay's), and I was enjoying the novel for itself, but another part of my mind kept wanting a list of all his verbs, all his adjectives. Maybe that's the way to start chipping away at a concordance--one major Beat work at a time.

The Bibliohead Bookstore is open seven days a week and has been around for over eight years.

334 Gough Street in San Francisco.

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Art of the Book Review: Lavinia Ludlow

Today's post resumes the Art of the Book Review interview series. Lavinia Ludlow is a prolific small press reviewer and talented fiction writer who made waves with her wry and original debut novel, alt.punk: In it, Ludlow gives us Hazel, an obsessive young neatnik with a weakness for punk boys who keep her busy with their messy lives. Lavinia reviews indie lit titles for publications like American Book Review, The Nervous Breakdown, Small Press Reviews, Smalldoggies Magazine, and Plumb Blog.

Karen the Small Press Librarian: What do you believe a book review should DO? What's its job?

Lavinia Ludlow: Highlight an author’s writing style and content, and help market the book’s major dramatic focus. Many titles release every day in the mainstream and indie market, and a review gives readers a short summary and critical glimpse into the bones of the book.

Karen: Do book reviews matter, and if so, to whom?

Lavinia: All stakeholders involved. Reviews are varying interpretations that can spark discussion points, controversy, and interest. They can also give authors and publishers constructive or blatant feedback.

Karen: It seems like you are doing a great service to small press authors by reviewing so many of their books. Do you view it this way?

Lavinia: I enjoy reading indie titles because I gain a sense of where the industry is heading. I’m also exposed to many different narrative voices, points of view, and content and writing styles I find impossible to find in the mainstream market. Reading indie books/manuscripts is not only enjoyable, but I feel as if I get to connect with writers near and far through their most intimate projects.

Karen: Do you think that small press books get a fair shake in terms of getting reviewed (in terms of both quantity and quality of reviews)? Do you think that reviews are the best way to get the word out about new small press titles?

Lavinia: I definitely think there are great review sites out there that get a lot of foot traffic. Small Press Reviews by Marc Schuster is absolutely stellar. The Nervous Breakdown is another. Pank Mag. Smalldoggies Mag. Just to name a few. I feel it’s definitely harder for small press books to gain publicity merely because not every indie writer/press has the resources to market “big.” However, with enough research and networking, indie authors can definitely get their material reviewed in fair amounts.

Karen: In alt.punk, your protagonist, Hazel, is a very neurotic character: a hypochondriac and extreme germaphobe who hangs around with sloppy-drunk punk boys who live in their own messes. I thought she was a really funny, interesting, original character—an alternative to all the jadedness that is usually associated with rock-and-roll memoirs or punk voices. But Hazel is not necessarily someone who readers are going to be comfortable identifying with (assuming many readers feel pressure to do so). Did you find this issue came up in reviews of your book? Did you find that reviewers were critiquing the character as much as the writing?

Lavinia: Some reviewers did strike down Hazel’s extreme persona, but most characters in alt.punk fell on extreme sides of the spectrum whether liberal, conservative, hypercritical, or just plain bizzaro. I wrote and edited the manuscript when my life was at its most chaotic and unsettled. The intensity in my head matched what I put down on the page, and alt.punk is a reflection of me (at the time) at my most honest. I wholly understand how intense the content and voice narration may seem to some readers.

I did find reviewers analyzed the characters a tad more than my writing style, but this goes back to my intentional attempt at extreme personas. All in all, I accepted the feedback, understood where reviewers were coming from, and have applied the lessons to my forthcoming projects.

And so, full steam ahead.

Karen: Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to make you defend Hazel, either why you wrote her in the first place, or why you thought she would work in your novel. Instead, I'm wondering: Are we as female novelists actually expected to write fully-functioning feminist heroines for protagonists because of the age in which we're living? And if we respond to our critics by trying to "do better next time," isn't that a potentially problematic tendency to try and be appealing as women all over again, to attempt to soothe the anxieties of others, in writing instead of in life?

Lavinia: I don't think we are, no. I believe if a male author wrote a similar POV with equal codependencies, phobias, and hangups, he would receive similar criticisms on content or story direction. My editor once told me that a writer should craft a scene/scenario and continue to move the plot forward so that the reader is "rooting" for the protagonist. We should want to see him/her succeed, against the odds.


Thanks to Lavinia for her participation in the series. Check out previous interviews about book reviews/reviewing with:

*Djelloul Marbrook (September 10, 2012)
*Lynn Alexander (August 20, 2012)
*Barrett Warner (July 25, 2012)
*Spencer Dew (July 18, 2012)

and a digest:

Book Reviews Debate Rages On (September 11, 2012)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Book Launch for Spencer Dew

Congratulations to Spencer Dew and Ampersand Books for the release of Here Is How It Happens, Dew's debut novel. The book launch will take place in Pittsburgh tomorrow night at Awesome Books' downtown location. Awesome Books is the only literary bookstore in Pittsburgh's Cultural District and turned up as a "pop-up" store in December 2011. They've quickly gained a reputation for their savvy selection of new and used books (both classics and new indie lit titles), as well as their regular roster of book events that gather lively crowds of small press writers. Awesome's downtown presence has been a welcome surprise to tourists and Pittsburghers alike, and we hope it stays around for a long time.

I'm honored to be involved in the book launch reading for Dew's novel, along with poet Michael S. Begnal, a Salmon Poetry author and former editor of Galway literary magazine, The Burning Bush.

It was also an honor to be asked to write a blurb for the darkly comic Here Is How It Happens. Here's what I said:
"Spencer Dew writes like a quiet maniac who sees the violence under the façade of everyday things, and the beauty under the violence. With X-ray vision and fine-tuned prose, Dew discovers insights and absurdities in the Americana of box stores, elite colleges, poetry students, buffet restaurants, historic plaques, alternative radio, conspiracy theorists, installation artists, and lug-headed drug experimentalists. Here is How it Happens explores the place where the heartland meets the rust belt meets the precarious bubble of academia, and finds redemption in the purity of longing and the shit coffee of an Amish country diner.”

Order the book from Ampersand Books here:

Read the first review of the novel at XenoFiles here:


Previously on this blog:

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop: Spencer Dew

The Art of the Book Review: Spencer Dew

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop: Kristina Marie Darling

The Traffic in Women by Kristina Marie Darling (dancing girl press, 2006)

Our next installment of The Next Big Thing Blog Hop features prolific poet and writer Kristina Marie Darling, tagged by writer Spencer Dew. I'm looking forward to checking out her books, as Spencer speaks so highly of her writing.


The Next Big Thing: What is the working title of your book?

Kristina Marie Darling: The book is called Petrarchan. I chose this title because the project is basically an attempt to feminize the writings of Francesco Petrarca, a poet whose sonnets about unrequited love are frequently associated with the male gaze. Each chapter takes its title from one of Petrarch's books—including "Guide to the Holy Land," "My Secret Book," and "Triumphs"—but they tell the story of a female protagonist. At the end of the book, readers will find two appendices, which attempt to draw parallels between Petrarch's body of work and Sappho's fragments through an ongoing erasure of the former's pristine sonnets.

TNBT: Where did the idea come from for your book?

KMD: You've probably guessed it: I was suffering from unrequited love. Around the same time, I read a poem by Linda Gregerson that sparked an interest in Petrarch. I wanted to find a way to reconcile my feminism with some of the more problematic aspects of Petrarch's sonnets (i.e., the male gaze, the silenced beloved, and the various master narratives about what love should or ought to be).

TNBT: What genre does your book fall under?

KMD: When asked, I usually call my book an "unclassifiable text." While the last two sections appear as fragments of poems, much of the work is written in prose footnotes.

TNBT: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

KMD: I would play myself. Matt Damon would be the "beloved" to whom my poems are written. Enough said.

TNBT: What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

KMD: A woman wakes alone in a house by the sea.

TNBT: How long did it take for you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

KMD: The first draft took approximately a month, but it was an intense month, filled with disappointment, unfulfilled desire, Diet Coke, and Ramen noodles. The manuscript was a kind of ledger, which helped me document some of the things I was feeling, and relate my emotional life to the various literary and theoretical texts I was reading at the time.

TNBT: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

KMD: I'd have to say Aaron Kunin's Folding Ruler Star, Kathleen Peirce's The Ardors, and Ken Chen's Juvenilia.

TNBT: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Petrarchan is filled with "faint music," "dangerous objects," and even "a cluster of minor stars."

Blog Hop: Here’s who Kristina Marie Darling tags and why:

KMD: Carlo Matos, because I enjoyed his first two books, and I'd love to hear more about his forthcoming poetry collection, Big Bad Asterisk.

And Joe Hall, because his third book will be published this year, and it's going to be stellar.


Now up on Tumblr:
Ocean Capewell's answers to The Next Big Thing Blog Hop questions


The Next Big Thing Blog Hop: Spencer Dew

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop: Eric Nelson

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop: Karen the Small Press Librarian

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop: Eric Nelson

Fiction writer Eric Nelson

Our next installment of The Next Big Thing Blog Hop features fiction writer Eric Nelson. I got to meet Eric when he came to Pittsburgh to read from his Silk City Series, a collection of short stories set in post-industrial northern New Jersey. Eric is a talented writer of place and class, and I'm excited to hear more about his forthcoming book:


The Next Big Thing: What is the working title of your book?

Eric Nelson: The Walt Whitman House. It’s being released by The Crumpled Press this month.

TNBT: Where did the idea come from for your book?

Eric: This came from a few places. I started off where I wanted to write something about the 1991 Mischief Night Arsons down in Camden (New Jersey) but then it turned into something bigger where I wanted to write a direct critique on how artistic scenes are ghettos in the classic sense of the word. I personally revel in writing teenage characters, it’s a blast figuring out how they speak and react to situations. I would speak about the symbolism of the climax, but it would give too much away.

TNBT: What genre does your book fall under?

Eric: I guess literary fiction, but I hesitate to say that because it sounds exclusionary.

TNBT: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Eric: I would pluck kids right off the street like Larry Clark did in “Kids” but for the role of the older brother I’d cast Chief Keef, the rapper, since he’d probably be more reliable to work with than DMX. Him or the late Patrice O’Neal.

TNBT: What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Eric: The Walt Whitman House is a fusion of youth, poverty, and urbanity reacting within the insolvency of early 90’s American culture and the state of contemporary American literature in 2012. Much thanks to my publisher for writing that.

The Walt Whitman House (The Crumpled Press, 2013)
TNBT: Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Eric: The Walt Whitman House is being published by The Crumpled Press which is based out of Brooklyn. They do these gorgeous hand-bound books that aren’t relegated to just one genre and garnered some well-deserved press lately. Lauren Belski’s short story collection was published by them last year and I’m psyched to be working with them.

TNBT: How long did it take for you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Eric: I did a few weeks of research in October of 2009, going through old newspaper articles about statistics, what happened on Mischief Night in 1991 and the subsequent aftermath. I didn’t actually start a first draft until 2 ½ years later and then I set it down after only a few pages. Spread out it took three years, but had it not been for that it would have been several months. Mind you the story is barely 4,500 words.

TNBT: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Eric: I guess Hubert Selby Jr.’s Last Exit to Brooklyn, or else Celine’s Journey to the End of the Night. That part where the character Robinson tries to kill the old widow with fireworks but blinds himself instead is amazing. Celine was also kind in writing children in that book.

TNBT: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Eric: Scott McClanahan, who is one of the absolute best fiction writers out there right now said I “write the type of dialogue you don’t see out there anymore,” which is super nice to hear, I’m grateful for that. The only other thing I could add is that the story itself isn’t a moral parable. Morality is good, but Eric Nelson is for the children.

Blog Hop: Eric Nelson tags writers for the next round of The Next Big Thing:

Maggie Craig wrote and published The Narrows and runs Papercut Press, a small press out of Brooklyn, New York. 

Chiwan Choi is a Los Angeles poet whose book Abductions was published in April 2012. He is editor-in-chief and publisher at Writ Large Press.


If you're in New York, the release party for Eric's book is tomorrow night, Thursday January 10th, from 6:00-8:00pm at Treasure & Bond, 350 W. Broadway in Manhattan.


The Next Big Thing Blog Hop: Spencer Dew

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop: Karen the Small Press Librarian

Guest Review: Johnny Ryan reviewed by Eric Nelson 

Guest Review: Julia Wertz reviewed by Eric Nelson

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop: Spencer Dew

Spencer Dew at his desk

The Next Big Thing is a weekly blog hop with a standard set of questions for writers to answer about their forthcoming book projects. Last week I answered questions about my bookstore memoir, and as it turned out, two out of the three writers I tagged don't have their own blogs, so I'll be blogging their answers here today. This installment features novelist Spencer Dew. I had the pleasure of reading an advanced copy of Spencer's novel and I can't wait for it to come out in March on Ampersand Books: it's smart and hilarious and has its finger on the pulse of something very American. I'll let him tell you more:


The Next Big Thing: What is the working title of your book?

Spencer Dew: Here is How it Happens. It is a novel about Northern Ohio in the 1990s, about a specific place and a specific time, plus those ways that place and time get turned to something in our memories—nostalgia, for instance, or the expectation of hindsight in the moment, if that makes sense. It’s a story about kids at a college in a small town, and they try to overthink things, strain to paste pretty words on their situations.

TNBT: Where did the idea come from for your book?

Spencer: The original idea came when I was in college myself. I wrote what I thought was a short story the second semester of my senior year, and before I dropped out of an MFA program I was told it wasn’t a short story but the start of a novel, so I wrote a novel, and then I rewrote it, a few dozen times.

TNBT: What genre does your book fall under?

Spencer: It is a novel. I don’t know all the marketing categories, but I guess it gets shelved in either “fiction” or “literature” or maybe “indie/small press,” unless you shelve it in a store or library in Northern Ohio, in which case maybe you’d call it “local,” though it wasn’t written in Ohio and I haven’t lived there since college.

TNBT: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? 

Rick Gonzalez should be Eddie Yoder. That one’s for sure.

TNBT: What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Spencer: Courtney and Martin have practiced their cynical in-jokes and nonchalant pose, but beneath this façade of self-satisfying ennui, these kids are staring down their futures and facing the traumas of their pasts.

That one sentence sounds a bit serious, however. The kids are serious, or semi-serious, or their situations—those traumas of their past, as well as their dead-end but still-living relationships—are serious, a serious problem, but the novel itself is comic. I wrote it and all, but it cracks me up. Reading the galleys I laughed out loud. That, to me, was also the mark that the manuscript could finally be called “done,” that it could consistently make me laugh and keep reading.

TNBT: How long did it take for you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Spencer: I wrote the first draft as a student at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. It took me a couple of months. It was, shall we say, rough.

TNBT: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Shiela Heti’s How Should a Person Be? Kenneth Patchen’s The Journal of Albion Moonlight. I guess it depends on the point of the comparison, but I’d be curious what people make of either of those. Patchen is a presence throughout, as a product of Niles, Ohio. The kids are always quoting Patchen.

Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008)

TNBT: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Spencer: In Boulder I knew a woman who collected used tampons from public toilets for an art project she had in mind. It was slow going, as you might imagine, and not without its own set of risks. So she bought some pigs’ blood, to make her own used tampons, in mass. She tried to microwave it. That is where I learned about what happens when you microwave blood, which figures in the book.

Maybe that will only pique the interest of a certain sort of reader? The history of Ohio is important, and things like paper place-mats, all-night diners, youth in ill-considered and ill-aimed rebellion, kindness to animals, true love. Like I said: there’s Kenneth Patchen all over the place.

Blog Hop: Here’s who Spencer Dew tags and why:

I know Jill Summers from Chicago, where she is a pillar of the performance scene with stories at once hilarious and heart wrenching. She made a puppet show about Dracula before that movie came out, and it was at the Chicago Cultural Center, which is profoundly badass. Her work has been featured on National Public Radio and tons of other places (Monkeybicycle, Make Magazine, Annalemma, etc.). Her website is

I have never met Kristina Marie Darling, but the three books of hers I’ve read have been astounding. She has an approach to literature which, as I imagine it, has been equally informed by close attention to visual art (the assemblages of Joseph Cornell, for instance) and to that stuff that gets lumped as “theory” (by which here I mean a spread that runs from the private letters of Sigmund Freud to the musings of Maurice Blanchot). Darling constructs meticulous texts from varied sources, with entrancing results. Her website is

These two are writers I’d recommend to anyone, and urge everyone to follow.


Thanks to Spencer Dew for participating in The Next Big Thing Blog Hop, a franchise someone who isn't me invented and started spreading around the literary blogosphere many months ago.

Stay tuned for Eric Nelson's Next Big Thing answers later today and Jill Summers' next week. And I hope that Ocean Capewell will be blogging her answers on her blog sometime this week.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop

I'm a big fan of Lori Jakiela's writing (poetry and literary nonfiction), so I was excited to read more details about her forthcoming book via The Next Big Thing Blog Hop. Lori tagged me for the Blog Hop for this week, so I'll answer the Next Big Thing's standard questions about my next book project. (See which writers I tagged for next week's Blog Hop at the end.)


TNBT: What is the working title of your book?

Karen: Bagging the Beats at Midnight: Confessions of a New York Bookstore Clerk

TNBT: Where did the idea come from for your book?

Karen: I was in library school a few years ago, and the students around me were arguing that printed books were a thing of the past. Someone said that a PDF or a blog was the same as a book: Just "an information container." Others loved to say that video games and DVDs and books were the same thing, just equivalent forms of “content delivery.” These students were in the majority, and the book lovers among us were looked on as being an outdated generation, people who hadn't gotten the memo, and a hindrance to progress. But I knew that books and book culture had, at times, contained my whole life, and never more so than during the years I worked at St. Mark's Bookshop (1997-2005). I decided to write an account of these years, telling the stories of books and bookstore life and the people with whom I shared books.

TNBT: What genre does your book fall under?

Karen: Literary nonfiction/bookstore memoir

TNBT: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Karen: I'm going to need a film optioning fee before I discuss that.

TNBT: What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Karen: Bagging the Beats at Midnight is the bookstore memoir of a budding novelist in New York at the turn of the millennium: one part story of a great bookstore, one part story of a young writer and her adventures through the underground literary world of Downtown and Brooklyn.

TNBT: Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Karen: No agent involved thus far. When I get finished or much closer to finished, I plan to approach my favorite literary presses.

TNBT: How long did it take for you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Karen: I started the book as a monthly column for Tim Hall's Undie Press magazine, in Fall of 2010 (through the Summer of 2011). I'm still working on the book; no first draft yet.

TNBT: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Karen: I'm not sure I know another book that's doing quite the same thing. It's different from other bookstore memoirs in that it's a series of non-fiction pieces connected by the bookstore, but it's not trying to be a chronological account of my time at the bookstore. It also goes in and out of the bookstore, exploring other aspects of my life with book and print culture: I self-published a novel and went on a book tour by Greyhound, I worked on an anti-war and poetry newspaper after 9/11, I spent my days off at used bookstores, I dreamt of selling books on the street.

I've been getting inspiration from a variety of books: The much talked-about Gutenberg Elegies; Eileen Myles' Inferno: A Poet's Novel; Chloe Caldwell's book of essays, Legs Get Led Astray; Mark Spitzer's bookstore memoir, Writer in Residence; the new oral history about Williamsburg, Brooklyn called The Last Bohemia; and books about customer service work in other fields: Checkout by Anna Sam, and Hey, Waitress by Alison Owings.

TNBT: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Karen: Set at a bookstore which is central to the cultural life of an uniquely creative neighborhood (the East Village), Bagging the Beats at Midnight tells the story of an indie bookstore clerk navigating friendships and the small press lit scene at the height of print culture, just before the internet and social media dominated communication, publicity, and book sales.

The latest excerpt can be found in COMPOSITE ARTS MAGAZINE, Issue 10: 
This excerpt is one example of the way the story goes in and out of the bookstore. The chapter revolves around an East Village reading organized by a small press of Russian expats; St. Mark’s Bookshop is used as a lens or an organizing principle, a place where I was introduced to, and made sense of, the poets and small presses who mingled on the shelves and in (and out of) the store.


Blog Hop: Now I get the pleasure of tagging three terrific writers–-Ocean Capewell writes the zine High on Burning Photographs and she has a novel and a manuscript-in-progress I hope she’ll tell us more about. Spencer Dew is the author of Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and a forthcoming novel from Ampersand Books, Here Is How It Happens. Eric Nelson wrote The Silk City Series, a zine that became a book (Knickerbocker Circus Publishing, 2010); he has a new book forthcoming from The Crumpled Press in January 2013.