Catalyst Book Press

The places, ideas, and people that change us

off to printing

Last week, I finished the design on Ken’s book, Are You Famous? Touring America with Alaska’s Fiddling Poet, and I got it off to press. I’ve never been so exhausted in my life! And I’ve never had so many people be so nice….

Let’s start with my dad, who has designed books before, who uses Adobe In-design for some of his geological reports. Despite being busy with his own work (which pays about 200 times more than what I don’t pay for his free advice), he read through the first few chapters of the book, made both copy editing and design suggestions, and spent a few hours on the phone with me talking me through the software.

Or maybe we start even earlier, when Sara Juday, a salesperson for Ingram, and a friend of Ken’s, helped me work through some design issues. I had cheerfully designed the book and cheerfully made what corrections I thought were necessary and cheerfully sent it off for Advance Reader’s Copies to be printed. And the results weren’t bad, I swear, but they were clearly the efforts of a beginner. “You need more leading,” Sara advised me. “And you need to choose–either justify all the chapters or let them all be ragged. Personally, I like the ragged look but most nonfiction books are justified.”

And then there’s the wonderful, talented, generous Kathy McInnis, who designed the book cover and, 16 hours before I sent the book off to press, offered to look at the print ready files. Then she spent nine or ten (or maybe more) hours tweaking it; I know she was up late that night because at 1 a.m. her time, she was still working on it. I could really see the difference when she was done. Such small but important changes!  She was generous with her time and didn’t charge me for it because, she said, she wanted my book to be successful. She had had a lot of help when she was starting out and it was her turn to offer help, she said. Thank God for the Kathys of the world.

And then there was Ken Waldman himself, who read through each new draft, making corrections, offering suggestions. At the very end, I’d submitted the files to the printer, and offered to send him the print-ready .pdf so he could print copies of Robin Metz’s introduction with the new design, so he could point out to prospective buyers that the design was so much better than the Advance Reader’s Copy and they could see for themselves, now, couldn’t they. And then he called me, literally 30 minutes after I had submitted the files to go to print for a proof copy: “You’re gonna hate me,” he said. “But I found an error on the first page.” The first page! The first page! You can’t let something go to print if there’s an error on the first page. God, how had we missed it? How had we missed it? But we had, and so I had to make the changes, and submit new files, even though it cost me $40 to make the changes. ($40 is a cheap way to catch a mistake, much better than spending $4000-5000 for printing costs, only to discover the same error.) Yes, I’m grateful to Ken, and grateful for the fact that he keeps a good attitude about it all, even while I make the many (perhaps inevitable) mistakes of a first-time publisher.

In the midst of it all, there was the panic because I’d forgotten to enter the book information into Bowker’s and it wasn’t yet in Ingram’s system, so bookstores couldn’t order it much less find any evidence that it existed, and of course Ken is trying to set up readings and in-store events and the like.

Will the mistakes never end?

They’ll all be great stories someday….yes, someday.

June 24, 2008 Posted by | Alaska's Fiddling Poet, art, bookstores, Catalyst Book Press, independent book publishers, independent publishing culture, indie, Ken Waldman, literary presses, publishing, small press, traditional publishing, writing & publishing | , , , | Leave a comment

Birth Parents anthology

I’m pleased to officially report that Labor Pains and Birth Stories, due out in January 2009, will be followed in the next year by an anthology of essays (and possibly poems) exploring the experiences of birth parents. We are looking for essays (and poems) written by birth mothers and birth fathers who have given up their children for adoption, of birth parents who have met their children later in life, birth parents who have navigated the difficult waters of open adoptions, adoptive parents who have struggled through or been blessed with a relationship with a birth parent or who have watched their children reach out or struggle with their birth parents, and people who have been adopted and later developed a relationship or did not develop a relationship with a birth parent. The focus, however, is on birth parents (not adoption, which we may do for a later anthology.) We hope this will be a healing book, and perhaps a resource as well.

Though lots has been written about adoption, there is a real lack of resources for birth parents. I’m very excited to participate in this project, which will be edited by mother-daughter team Ann Angel and Amanda Angel. They have their own great story to tell, which they may choose to do at a later time on this blog. Essays can be short or long. We are a literary press and looking for essays written to the highest standards. Please submit your best work.

If you want to submit an essay or poem to this upcoming anthology, please contact Amanda and Ann at the following email: alangel78 at You can also contact us here at Catalyst Book Press at info at

p.s. this is a sensitive topic; for those who need it, we will welcome essays and poems written under pseudonyms…

May 3, 2008 Posted by | adoption, anthologies, art, birth mothers, birth parents, birth stories, Catalyst Book Press, fertility | , , , | Leave a comment

The Problem With Professionalization

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the problems with professionalization or the problems that institutionalization brings to professions. Although I’ve been thinking about this problem for several years, it has really come to the forefront of my mind because I’m teaching a class on Health & Healing in Sub-Saharan Africa at Stanford this spring. The first week of school, I had my students read an essay by Steve Feierman and an excerpt from a book by John M. Janzen. Both scholars touch on the medical “pluralism” that exists in African today: though colonial states and missionaries brought biomedical health systems to the continent, they never replaced indigenous healing systems. Today, Africans (educated and uneducated, Christian or Muslim or other) access both systems for different illnesses, recognizing the legitimacy of both systems. Some of my students really struggled with this, inherently believing that biomedicine is superior because it’s based on empirical evidence. Both Feierman and Janzen attempt to disprove this assumption, arguing that indigenous healing systems are also based on empirical evidence and long periods of testing different treatments. They also point out that just as indigenous health systems offer cures that are based outside of this western scientific paradigm, western science is also based on unexamined assumptions that sometimes limit its effectiveness or its ability to recognize the validity of certain cures because they are untestable. Healing, Feierman pointed out, is mysterious.

One of my students proffered the idea that perhaps somebody should make indigenous medicine “official” by  introducing education, programs, certificates–a way to weed out those who haven’t undergone sufficient training. And this is what got me thinking about professionalization and institutionialization. Of course, indigenous healers do have a system of training, and the people of Africa have methods of legitmizing healers–but the comment betrayed a strong belief that if something is credentialed, it is “better” than something that is non-credentialed.

Later that week, I was talking to a fellow graduate student in the history department. She commented that when she was teaching a course last quarter, her students kept wanting her to give them a “narrative” so that the history she was teaching them would make sense. They wanted a context, a story, a way for it all to fit together. She resisted, she said, but had to provide something because they seemed to need something so bad. All my frustrations with professional history came out with my sudden and rather warm comment, “This is just the problem with professional historians. We’ve come to embrace the belief that narrative is bad because it’s privileging one version of the story over another–and as a result, we’ve made history inaccessible and incomprehensible. We’ve completely abdicated our responsibility to communicate with the public, or to educate.”

I’ve made comments elsewhere that I don’t believe credentialing somebody in education makes them a better teacher. In fact, I think sometimes it makes them a worse teacher–but may make them a better teacher within the public school system as it stands, which all too often isn’t really about teaching but about controlling a too-large-group-of-kids and somehow teaching them the memorization skills they need to do well on tests. I’ve begun to realize that credentialing historians makes us feel smug and superior to people who write popular history, which isn’t “real” history. Likewise, I’ve long felt that the institutionalization of art through the widespread and popular M.F.A. program is a tragedy because of what it means for the connection between art and real people.

I’m not against standards–and God forbid that I would be against standards in medicine! But I do think some careers and professions don’t need certificates, diplomas, degrees. For example, art: The insitutionalization of art frequently makes it inaccessible and irrelevant to people outside of the academy. Why should art, any art, be contained within an elitist system? What good is it? And if someone protests that someone needs to protect art from being dumbed down, well–such comments echo/smack of the idea that the “unwashed masses” have such plebian tastes, they can’t be trusted to know what is good. I can’t stand that attitude.  When I went to the AWP, I saw many fine and wonderful small presses whose books I love–Milkweed Press comes to mind. But I also saw so many journals and books that I found so incredibly dull, I’d rather chew off my toes than read them! And this from a woman who loves books, who loves the arts, who loves nothing more than to read.

Also, I’m not against training, or mentoring–but those don’t carry with it the baggage of THE DEGREE. Gaining knowledge is one thing–but the piece of paper calling you an official, credentialed artist or brain is yet another. A while back, I read an Economist article profiling Evan Williams, the founder of Blogger. They pointed out that his stint at Google was short: “Google values official brains—the credentialled, academic sort—whereas Mr Williams dropped out of university in Nebraska because he found the concept somewhat silly. He left Google after less than a year.” As someone who was homeschooled and then entered a typical state college (NMSU) and now am “learning” at an elite institution (Stanford), I can see Williams’s reasoning all too clearly.

Of course, this is about more than art. It is about the Ph.D. I’ve come to accept that like everybody else, I have a problem with pride. It’s felt good saying, “I’m getting a Ph.D. from Stanford.” I’ve always felt apologetic about my M.F.A. from humble UTEP. Maybe if I’d gone to Iowa, I’d feel just as proud. But I think underneath it all, I’d have this niggling thought that I’d bought into the propaganda that what makes something “good,” what legitimizes art or history, is an official paper, a stamp of approval from those who have power. It’s certainly been my problem with professional history despite my pride in saying, “I’m going to Stanford.” I get offended when my professors distinguish their own history as “real” history, as opposed to the kinds of history that non-educated Africans gather in their villages, without the tools, money, fears, standards, and narrow assumptions that guide so-called “real” history.

I guess I don’t have any real conclusion to this–only that I think it’s a tragedy to see art corralled into the academy. History lost touch with the people a long time ago; I hope art doesn’t do the same. Perhaps there will always be twin tracks–those who slowly filter out of the insular world of the academy to affect the people, and those who refuse social legitimacy in favor of their art.



April 10, 2008 Posted by | art, the artist's life | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment