Catalyst Book Press

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appalling: leaving graduate school, starting a small literary press

One of Ken’s acquaintances  was apparently appalled the other day to hear my story: young writer with a novel published by Knopf (The Confessional by J.L. Powers–great name, huh? great title, huh? ); rising star in academia (well, I’d like to say I’m a rising star, but perhaps “adequate graduate student at Stanford whose advisors are sincerely sorry to see her go but who understand she had divided loyalties from the start” is more like it); now to forsake grad school in order to begin small literary press that may flop, may succeed, but will probably never bring her fame and fortune but will, instead, cost a whole hella lot of money.

This person wasn’t appalled by the young writer part, especially since there’s no way I’m leaving that behind and I hope to have a voluminous and bright publishing career ahead of me, despite the fact that I frequently despair over my non-Judy-Blume-esque stature. (Hell, I’d settle for a few fan letters every once in a while.) Anyway, I think she was appalled by the fact that I’m leaving my Ph.D. program at Stanford to start a small literary press fer god’s sake.

Okay, I can see that my decision is not the kind of decision one makes if one is seeking job security. And granted, I’m leaving STANFORD’S Ph.D. program. Nobody does that. Well, nobody except little ol’ me. Who is mighty pleased with herself, by the way, except for those moments of doubt when somebody else expresses how appalled they are by my choices and then self-doubt rears its ugly little head. (But, girl! that head is UGLY! and it’s LITTLE, too, by golly, with beady little eyes.)

Anyway, please. Let’s be realistic. Who wouldn’t leave the academic world, if they had the choice? The problem is precisely that: choice. Once you’ve invested that much time and money into something that has no worth outside the academic world, most people don’t have anything but that world! I can’t find the link now, but a couple of months ago a blog on Atlantic Monthly posted something about how unhappy professors are in general. I stopped reading when the comments reached something like 600….but there was lots of lively debate, some people protesting that they were *very* happy, thank you very much, while others tried to offer reasons why profs would be so unhappy (such as low pay for such high education, zero choice for where to live, a career based completely on other people’s opinions of the worth of your scholarship but the people who care about your scholarship are less than 5 other people on the planet…that type of thing.)

So….Yes, I have my moments of doubt. Yes, I worry, too. What if my Ph.D. in African History from Stanford is the one thing that will keep me employed and well-fed when the world falls into a deep economic depression and everybody is starving to death? (Ha! That’s a likely scenario. Not the economic depression and starvation part, but the Ph.D. in African History Saves The Day part.) What if I regret it, can never return even to a Ph.D. in NON-African History at State University of Podunkville USA, and I live the rest of my life wallowing in luxurious regret? Well, okay. It could happen. It also could happen that I’ll win the lottery someday, despite the fact that I’ve never yet played except for the little lottery cards that my father-in-law slips into my Christmas stocking every year and which haven’t even won me a cent. (My husband, on the other hand, usually wins a couple dollars, and then his dad wins a couple more and gives them to Chris. Something akin to the biblical verse, “To he who has shall be given more, to he who has nothing shall be taken even what little he has” or something like that….)

You see my point. My point being: well, damn it all, I’m doing this thing. Some people tell me I’m stupid, some people tell me I’m brave and an inspiration, some people don’t say anything at all. The truth is, I’m not stupid and I’m not brave. I just want to spend my days writing, as best I can, and reading, as best I can. I love books–published books, non-published books, books in traditional format, books online, books books books. I can’t get enough of ’em. I pay $60 every month for a storage unit just so I don’t have to get rid of my books. Those books in that storage unit will, at the end of three years, cost me more to keep than if I’d just thrown them all out and bought them again at some later date. But I don’t care. I can’t throw them away. I love ’em. Just like I love the fact that I’m leaving Stanford’s prestigious grad school program–all for the love of books.

June 11, 2008 Posted by | Catalyst Book Press, independent book publishers, indie, Ken Waldman, publishing, small press, the artist's life, the writer's life, writing & publishing | , , , , | 1 Comment

Are You Famous? book cover

Here it is, folks!

May 5, 2008 Posted by | Alaska's Fiddling Poet, Ken Waldman, paperback, the artist's list, the writer's life, writing & publishing | Leave a comment

The Writer-Publisher’s Manifesto

So on Friday, I was on the Cal-train to Stanford reading Poets & Writers when I should have been memorizing  Portuguese vocabulary words for a test which I subsequently failed. (I was studying the wrong list anyway. This is what happens when you combine too many activities all at once.) Anyhoo, the article that pressed my panic button was an interview with Rebecca Wolff, the editor of Fence Magazine. The interviewer asked her a fairly inoccuous question, “Think fast: poet or editor?” to which she replied, “[Laughs.] That is a fucked-up question right now. That is like the worst. I would have to say, right now, I have been demoted to editor, but I’m working hard at figuring out how to become a poet again. ”

There is a real simple reason why this made me panic: the last thing I want publishing to do is subsume or overwhelm my art. My friends Bobby and Lee Byrd have certainly made similar comments (e.g., “You know what publishing has done to our ability to pursue our own writing, right?”), not to mention comments by some of my own writers for Labor Pains and Birth Stories. I tried to calm myself by reminding myself that I’m not embarking on something that I can’t, to some extent, control or contain–that I can keep the publishing load light by not publishing too many books, that I can stop at any time if my writing is adversely affected (this is the same thing I told myself when starting a Ph.D. in African History at Stanford), that I’m not doing this to make a living but just to get books out that I want to see published. Okay, most of that is bullshit even while it’s true. But nevertheless, I started desperately and mechanically writing in my journal (instead of memorizing Portuguese vocabulary words) and here are some of the things I promised myself. I’m sure that those who are more experienced than I am will perhaps laugh at these promises and think to themselves, “Just wait. She’ll see.” Maybe they’re right. But I’m a pretty determined gal when I need to be.

Manifesto or, more appropriate, Promises I Have Made To Myself During Weak Moments When I Panicked About My New Business and Wondered To Myself, “What The F*** Am I Getting Myself Into?”

#1 Write First Thing Every Morning Before You Start The Business Day

I’ve actually been pretty successful at this for a number of years now, though there have been stretches in grad school where even an hour or two every morning has been impossible.

#2 Don’t get Too Caught Up In the Book Business.

Okay, yes, books are my life and they will soon be even more of my life. But why should I panic every time I open Poets and Writers Magazine? In fact, why the hell should I even read Publisher’s Weekly? Ha-ha, okay, I’m just kidding about the last one, but I think the general point is that I shouldn’t spend everlasting moments on everlasting details that will never be finished anyway so at some point, one needs to say, “Enough. Time to break open that bottle of wine.”

#3 Learn Balance. Getting Into This Racket Was About the Creative Life To Begin With.

This one is key and reflects the truth I mentioned above. I’m not doing this to make a living, though I hope that will be a side benefit. I’m doing this, in part, because my own creativity demands a greater involvement with books and the book business, an outlet that isn’t satisfied just by writing.

#4 Slow Down and Start Small.

I mean, it’s impossible for me (financially or otherwise) to do anything BUT start small. But sometimes I forget that and I feel like there are one hundred million books-to-be-published screaming for my attention, all of them which should have been published two months ago. Maybe I’m building an empire or maybe I’m just building a little sand castle, but either way, it’s gonna take awhile…By the way, sand is awfully slippery and it gets everywhere and then it’s impossible to get rid of…

#5 Forget all the piddly little things.

Actually, sometimes the piddly little things count, like the moment this afternoon when I discovered that I had listed the wrong ISBN numbers on the thousands of postcards I printed and have been handing out to bookstores, publicity people, strangers, friends, you name it. There’s just one little number wrong but damn it, that hurts. Still….There are little things that maybe don’t matter. Like reading PW, ha-ha!

#6 Make the ezine manageable…an organic part of the whole.

Actually, this is critical. I want the family and fertility ezine to be a natural extension of the publishing company and to actually feed the publishing company…

I’m going to stop before I prove that yes, I should have been diagnosed with OCD, like most artists…

 

April 27, 2008 Posted by | Catalyst Book Press, independent book publishers, literary presses, publishing, the artist's life, the writer's life, writing & publishing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment