Entries Tagged 'Writing' ↓
December 9th, 2010 — Interviews, Writing, Zines
Joe Biel is one of the folks behind Microcosm Publishing, a collective that prints and distributes zines, books, shirts, stickers, and more. They sell online and through their store in Portland. I’m Dan Copulsky, and Joe answered my question in December 2010.
How many hours a week do you all work, and do you have any other jobs or sources of income?
There’s nine of us. I work about 80-100 hours per week. Adam and Jessie, who manage our press, work well over 40 as well. At this point Nate, who builds our databases and updates our website, is very part time. But Sparky, Chris, and Dylan, who pack orders, work about 30 hours per week each. And Rio, Matt, and Corey, who staff our store, work around 30 hours each. Since we are working in an “industry” where there is no money, we each can only get paid up to 32 hours per week. I do video, odd jobs, and construction for money, as do about half of us. Matt does illustration for hire pretty much full time. Sparky teaches art to kids at after school programs. Jessie is a farmer. We’re a mixed bunch. Everyone has their passion hobbies as well.
Is someone in charge? Are decisions made by consensus? What’s the organizational structure of Microcosm, and how’s that fit the project’s values?
We have three tiers of hierarchy. There are temp workers, volunteers, interns, people on their trial hiring basis, and part time people who work for Microcosm and have stated bosses. They are encouraged to state their opinions and express concerns but do not have the ability to stop a decision from happening. There are collective members, who manage the daily operation, have the ability to make policy changes or prevent the presented policy changes of others. While we don’t use consensus—on a good day we operate in a way that takes into account the concerns of everyone to make a decision that no one is opposed to, even if they don’t think it’s necessary. This is how we rewrite our policies, in monthly meetings for administration discussions and changes. And then bi-weekly for submissions. We also have monthly financial updates and publishing updates with projects that are already approved and in motion. On top of this, people can buy in as owners, but currently since we don’t turn a profit and aren’t seeing one in our future, there is no incentive to do this and we are re-writing this role. Being an owner has no authoritative powers that being a collective member does not.
Honestly this came about because this is how it was done before us. There’s no money to be made doing what we do so a way to distribute personal investment is to put people in control of their own lives at work. I think it’s also a good lesson of learning what’s involved in running an organization and what it’s like to have to make those hard decisions.
I’ve tabled at a couple of zine fests and lost money doing it. I’ve learned that I should have a wider variety of stuff and that covers are really important, but I also figure that there are things that make doing a zine fest worth it even if I do lose a bit of money. What’s the business of tabling a fest look like from the perspective of a bigger and more establish group like Microcosm?
We pretty much break even at events—if that. When you take into account travel, the cost of the table, the cost of shipping everything, and the cost of the stuff you are selling, we are often lucky to break even. We’ve had to cut a lot of events in the last year because we were losing so much money by doing them. It’s sad. But you are right, you don’t do these things for financial reasons. You do them for a warm reception, meeting people, and having fun. But sadly, we simply can’t afford to lose money on having all that fun.
Are there any zines you feel like you’ve been waiting for someone to make, like a topic or perspective that someone really ought to tackle?
You know, when I think about that, I often realize that I just wasn’t looking hard enough for them. It’s embarrassing but the public library in Portland now does a better job than we do of finding new zines. And that’s truly amazing. You go to the library and they have zines I’ve never heard of. And in the cases where the zines don’t exist yet, it’s very often an issue of an emerging cultural matter and the zine comes out soon thereafter. Patience is the important virtue when dealing with zines
Aside from particular zines, what do you think the zine world needs more of? How about less of?
Ten years ago I started the zine that I publish now. I’ll be frank—I wanted to say “you can do this” and maybe even try to shift culture. Zines at that time were emerging from the Riot Grrrl era and moving into a very introspective, personal realm. It seemed that everyone’s favorite muse was themselves and it didn’t do a lot for reading as much as it did for writers. So I put together six issues of a zine entirely based in research. Ten years later things are evolving and shifting but there’s still a lingering problem—the most basic skills of investigative journalism is lost. The issues are cast in the culture as didactic and there’s a fence where you have to take a side. If I was writing a story about Eliot Spitzer, for example, I would talk to lots of people involved with differing perspectives. People are going to have contradicting statements but the narrative will emerge through these conflicting statements. Whereas it seems that people making zines have trouble with these analytical skills in their writing. I would like to see zines having the same kind of standards of journalism and ethical integrity that I would expect from anything else. And I don’t intend this as a dis to anyone. I did exactly the same thing when I started out. Before I made zines I was part of a DIY school newspaper. I thought ours easily had better writing than the one run by school but there was no point in any process that sat me down and said “Things are always more complicated than they seem.” And that sticks whether I’m writing about my own life, the actions of the Portland police, a character portrait of Lee Harvey Oswald, or how to compost effectively, ya know?
Is Microcosm an evolving project?
Yes, we’ve very much evolved over the last fifteen years. Just looking at the last five or so, we’ve been able to adapt and do “real” books where we take on an editorial role, do design work, and produce something as a group effort. Even five years ago we were simply doing production work—scanning, digitizing masters, sending to print, and distributing. I think that’s our biggest accomplishment of late. We’re now able to make a book better and work like an artistic brain rather than just a production brain.
How do you think the project might change in the future? Are there any particular new things you’d like to try doing?
We’ve lost at lot of money on certain projects over the last four years and as a result are toning and shaping our efforts to focus more exclusively on zines and books about how to do something in the 128-160 page range. We decided this at our annual meeting last May but it takes many months to implement.
For the sake of maintaining our own interest, there are many things we’ve tried or would like to try. We had a big push towards more books with original content instead of reprints, like we used to do. At certain points there have been pushes to do books about current events issues like American Apparel or Suicide Girls and their inherent contradictions. But because we are unable to pay a standard book advance, we have to work with people who can afford to be paid incremental royalties across many years instead of a lump sum in advance.
Microcosm Publishing – microcosmpublishing.com
June 24th, 2010 — Comics, Games, Interviews, Writing
Alana Joli Abbott is a writer and editor. Her work includes fiction, nonfiction, comics, role playing games, and contributions to shared worlds, among other things. She’ll say a bit more about all that. She answered my questions (I’m Dan Copulsky) in June 2010.
In terms of both profession and personal identity, what do you do?
How I self-identify is constantly changing, but mostly I think of myself as a writer and a mom. Professionally, I’m a freelance writer and editor who works a couple of days a week at the local library reference desk.
For your creative process, how does the writing fiction compare to writing nonfiction, or contributing to games or comics?
Each of those areas works differently, and even different styles of nonfiction require different types of thought! I work on a lot of reference series, writing short, concise articles that have to be synthesized from various other articles. The way I work on those is pretty straight forward: read the material, analyze the important parts, then put it back together in my own words.
Writing a history article is similar, but has a lot more fluidity, because the style isn’t as rigid. My article “Cruising the Thimble Islands” had a lot of the same analysis and synthesis, but I used a lot more of my own style, and invested myself more deeply in the research, doing interviews alongside reading books.
How does that compare to working on comics and games?
I write comics panel by panel. I took half of an online screenwriting class when one was offered through Barnes and Noble University, and even just the first few sessions helped me learn how to think about movement in writing. In prose, you write out what people are thinking and feeling—everything appears in your head and can be transferred directly to the reader. In screenwriting, according to what I learned, you can’t transmit any of the character’s thoughts; your audience sees everything through action. Comics are somewhere in between, since you reveal what’s going on with the characters through both short prose (if you reveal it at all) and images. Working with an artist also means, to me, leaving some gaps and details for my partner to fill in—describe too much and I’ve basically taken away all of the artist’s ability to move, but describe too little and we may end up creating different stories. So comics are a great balance in describing what I want a page to look like without taking control of the narrative.
Writing for games means leaving even more holes in the narrative, especially with adventure writing. The key there is to provide a framework inside of which the players and game master can tell the story and make it their own. Even writing about the world in descriptive text means leaving holes for the players to fill in—I try to hint at potential adventures or story ideas, but the settings only ever really come to life in the minds of the players, or in novels based in the same setting, which is what I’ve tried to do with my fiction writing set in shared worlds. (Both of my published novels, Into the Reach and Departure, are tie-ins to a game world.)
How do you approach writing fiction?
With my own fiction, I start without an outline, usually with just a scene or a feeling. I do research when I feel the story needs it, but it’s not the same kind of synthesis writing; instead, it’s taking the ideas presented in the research and running with them, working little details into the bigger story, and making sure that the details and the plot serve the characters. I’m very character driven as a writer, and I’m definitely a “pantser,” as they say in the blogosphere. I don’t like to work from an outline, because I feel like it spoils the surprise at where the story is going, and I have less motivation to write more of the story when I know how it all turns out.
You were a fan of Joss Whedon’s Firefly since you saw a preview trailer the winter before it came out. You then got a chance to contribute to the licensed role playing game based on the TV show, Serenity RPG. Is adding to a famous universe you’ve been a fan of as totally awesome as it sounds?
It was really incredible. Not only did I get to play in Joss’s ‘Verse, but I got to work with Margaret Weis as my editor for part of the project. (She’s just as amazing an editor as she is a writer.) Firefly really impacted the way I use language and the way I think about language, so having free reign to write in the linguistic style of the show was incredibly enjoyable. I’d do it again in a second if I had the opportunity.
How do you make the connections to work for different companies and on different projects? Is it something you have to consciously focus on it does it come naturally through doing the work you’re already doing?
Right now, I have enough clients to keep me busy, especially with my new “mom” role, so I’m not making a lot of effort to seek out new gigs. Much of my reference work comes through networking with people I used to work for, or who used to do work for me, when I was an in-house editor at Gale, now Gale Cengage, in the Detroit area. I did a lot of networking a few years running in the gaming industry by going to conventions and handing out my business card. The contacts I made there, and through ENWorld’s forums, made connections to other gigs, and I’ve been lucky to have my work show up in fiction anthologies and games based on hearing about opportunities from people I met. Most of that networking is still working for me, and more comes out of blogs I read and comment on. The self-perpetuating networking is nice, and as long as I’m busy, I don’t worry too much about stepping up and focusing more on that aspect.
How much do you think of projects as steps towards some greater success, and how much do you just relish the work you’re currently involved in?
As of now, I’ve stopped taking work that isn’t worth doing just for itself, whether that means for the payment at the end or for my own fulfillment. Earlier in my career, I did a lot of work for free, or for product credit, in order to establish myself. Volunteering like that is a great way to start making contacts and have writing samples to show around. These days, however, if it’s not work that I enjoy doing, it had either better pay very well or mean working with editors or project managers I really respect and enjoy working with. Of course, the best scenario would be doing work that I love for editors who are amazing and are paying me plenty of money! That’s a dream I’ve yet to realize.
Alana’s Website – virgilandbeatrice.com
Alana’s Livejournal – alanajoli.livejournal.com
June 3rd, 2010 — Interviews, Writing, Zines
Alex Wrekk is a zinester. She’s responsible for Brainscan, an ongoing zine, and Stolen Sharpie Revolution, a how-to book about making zines, and she’s involved in the Portland Zine Symposium and the Independent Publishing Resource Center. Alex also sells customs buttons and craft roast coffee. She answered Dan Copulsky’s questions by email in May 2010.
How do you organize and schedule your work, life, and hobbies? Are there things you do every day? Deadlines you set for yourself?
The problem might be that I don’t schedule. I’m pretty bad at setting deadlines but I do set priorities. One of those priorities is other peoples’ money. If someone has already paid me for buttons/coffee/zines then they are at the top of the list to get done. I may get sidetracked by drinking coffee, reading facebook, or working in my garden, but at the end of the day that priority to do the job someone has paid their hard earned cash for is important. It’s sort of a weird intuitive thing of knowing just how long I can work in the yard and still get buttons made before the postal carrier shows to pick up the mail. As for as making zines and fun stuff, I sort of wait until The Muse strikes me upside the head. Often I see the cover and layout of a zine before the words.
When I’m home I usually wake up between 8 and 9:30am. I sit in bed with my laptop, my housemate’s cat that has claimed me for its own, and my partner, Paul, sound asleep next to me. I check my e-mails, make mental priorities of what needs to be done that day, and maybe answer a few of those e-mails. I’ll relist sold items in my Etsy shop, check facebook, and whatnot. Then I head downstairs to make some coffee and get something to eat, then start to pack orders or make buttons while watching TV on the internet. I usually quit working between 4 and 6. After that I might have a zine symposium organizing meeting to go to, Paul and I may walk or bike ride to the store to get food to make or craft beer to drink, or we may be brewing beer, I may work in the yard, or my wine steward friend may show up with a few bottles she insists we share in our ongoing vegan food and wine pairings.
How many zines do you read, and how do you find new ones and pick which you’re going to read?
I honestly don’t read as many zines and I used to. I have stacks of them in a basket by my bed and another in my office. When it comes down to it, I read my friends’ zines first.
I understand the value of putting something in print and the unique experience of holding paper between your fingers. But what’s the value of not also putting some version of that work online, where those ideas might reach people that the print version doesn’t?
I do put some things on the internet. I have a blog at alexwrekk.wordpress.com. The difference is the intention of the medium. If I want to share something with you in a print format with cut and paste layout I’ll put it in a zine. If I wanna tell a story about how my housemate’s cat tried to take on a raccoon and I care about the immediacy of the documentation then I’ll write it in my blog. If I wanna complain about personal stuff I’ll call my sister or my friends. The things that I put in zines belong in that format. That’s where they were intended to be and that where I’d like them to stay.
How useful do you think being involved in zines has been for drawing in customers for your custom buttons and roast coffee?
I don’t think most zine folks really think of doing a lot of promo for their zine with buttons, but a few have. I think the crossover is a lot smaller than you would imagine. Most of my custom button and magnet customers are people who found me through my Etsy shop and I do a lot of local custom button orders in Portland.
What are you working on now?
Well, I just rearranged and decluttered my office so that feels nice. I’m working on the Portland Zine Symposium a lot, we have meeting every other week. I’m also about to take a few days off around my birthday to head to our family cabin to work on my next zine. It’s about my trip and mini zine tour of the UK and France last year. I’m also planning an autumnal zine tour with five friends coming over from the UK. It will sort of be a cavalcade whimsy with stories of zines, food, and activism in the UK including my American experience last year. We are calling it Zines On Toast Tour!
Alex’s Etsy Store – brainscan.etsy.com
Alex’s Button Store – smallworldbuttons.com
Stolen Sharpie Revolution: stolensharpierevolution.com
Alex’s Blog – alexwrekk.wordpress.com
May 19th, 2010 — Comics, Interviews, Sex(uality)/Gender, Writing
Joey Comeau creates the web comic A Softer World with photographer Emily Horne. He also writes stories and novels, including Lockpick Pornography and We All Got it Coming (which are both available online) and the recently released One Bloody Thing After Another (available on Amazon). Joey writes funny letters and conducts interviews too. I’m Dan Copulsky, and Joey Comeau answered my questions in May 2010.
You’ve recently put online We All Got it Coming, a sequel to your novel Lockpick Pornography. You say that it’s a sequel in the sense that it’s about the same things even while it’s about different people. While both feature gay characters, sex, and some righteous anger, Lockpick Pornography seemed to have a lot more about gender and We All Got it Coming seems to have a lot more about jobs and sexual harassment and discrimination at work. What are the two books about to you?
I’m not sure what I mean when I say that they’re both about the same things, just in different ways, because, on the surface, they are about very different things. But they’re both about homophobia, and they’re both about violence. I mean, at the end of the day, you can put those two things together, can’t you? These are two books that are about violence. I don’t know if violence is ever acceptable. It is something that I get upset about.
These are two characters who feel very differently about violence. The guy in Lockpick is almost always being violent somehow, and the guy in We All Got it Coming would on the surface rather do anything than have to be violent.
It feels a bit simple to say these are both books about violence, though. We All Got it Coming is a book about Arthur and Clay being in love, primarily. It’s hard to describe what books are ABOUT. I mean, if they could be summed up in a few sentences they wouldn’t have to be whole books. I don’t sit down to make a book about violence. I sit down and think, “Oh man, I want to write a sex scene where rape-play is somehow the sweetest and gentlest thing ever.” Which to me makes sense, because you’re talking about two people who are in love. Of course it’s going to be sweet. But I guess I’ve never read a sex scene like that.
Your work frequently touches on sexual orientation and gender identity. How do you identify, who are you into, and what’s your relationship status?
I’m queer. That’s the easy part of the question. The other parts seem too personal to me. Also, I don’t know how useful they’d be to your interview. Who I’m into changes all the time. Also, what could I say here? Bookish types. Punks and queers. Sure! But not ONLY. I don’t think an exhaustive list is possible. I find the weirdest things sexy, and the most common things. My relationship status is way better when I don’t talk about it in a public forum.
Ideas and stories seem to reappear often in different pieces of your work. Something from a Softer World comic will show up in your fiction. One Overqualified letter will turn into a story and a bunch will become part of a novel. Do you return to the same things just because they continue to interest you? Do you come back to them because you have something new to add?
Sometimes I don’t use an idea as well as I could. Or I’ll think, “This old thing would be amazing as part of this other thing I am working on.” But I have rules I guess. Not absolute, but guidelines. I don’t really want to use something that’s already in print in another project. But if it’s an old thing that not many people have seen, and I really think it’ll work better in a new form, sure, why not? A good example of this is Halt!, a funny essay I wrote about being a security guard. I wrote this years ago and never really did anything particularly exciting with it. I printed a few zines. Put it up online. But when I was working on We All Got it Coming, it occurred to me that it’d be perfect for the character of Arthur. So it went in. And this way, instead of just being a bunch of funny one liners, it contributes to characterization, and the overall plot of a bigger story, and I think it’s reasonable to assume that more people will read it in this form.
It’s easy for someone to stop by a website each week to read a quick comic. It’s also easy to share comics with your friends. And once you know you like someone’s work, you might be willing to invest more time in reading it. How useful do you think doing a web comic has been building an audience for your other work?
Oh, yeah for sure. There’s not much to say about it that isn’t right there in the question, but people who love the comic are more likely to check out a novel by the same writer. That makes sense to me. It’s like that with everything. I bought Hugh Laurie’s novel, because I liked his acting. I bought Greg Rucka’s novels, because I love his comics. It makes perfect sense to me.
A while ago you posted a series of four interviews online. It was interesting that you didn’t follow a regular update schedule, included an interview with your brother, and were happy to spend substantial portions of the interviews doing the talking yourself. Do you think your way of doing interviews is better, or is it just the kind of interviews you wanted to do?
I’ve been working on new interviews for that series. It was something I wanted to do—talk to these people who were very important to me, but talk to them about things that were important to me too. I didn’t want to ask Helen DeWitt, “Where do you get your ideas?” because, well, for one I don’t care where she gets her ideas. That doesn’t affect me in any way. But her ideas themselves do. Her writing about suicide. I connected with it, and I wanted to know more. I wanted to talk to her about it, too, not just hear more. I wanted to have a conversation about it.
What’s an average day for you like? (Do you keep a regularly schedule for getting creative work done? What else do you do with you time?)
I don’t have really average days. I write the comic a few times a week, working with Emily, usually over MSN. When I am working on a book, I will work 14 hours a day, 7 days a week, and I become obnoxious to talk to, because I don’t want to think about anything else. When I am not working on a project like that, I’ll do whatever seem the most fun that day. Chess has been a big part of my days lately. Video games. Watching Television (Criminal Minds lately. Dr. Reid! Dreamy! Hotch! Smoldering! How do they make a crime show that dreamboaty?). I love to go to the movies and read comic books. I like to hang out with friends. I try to have a pretty good time, is what I’m saying.
Joey’s New Book, One Bloody Thing After Another
Lockpick Pornography and We All Got it Coming
Joey’s Livejournal – untoward.livejournal.com
Also On Question Riot:
Mike Lecky, publisher of some of Joey’s books
May 13th, 2010 — Interviews, Writing
Mike Lecky runs Loose Teeth Press, an independent publisher in Vancouver. Although Loose Teeth’s only put out a half dozen books, every one of them is great, and you can get 20% off if you buy them using the promo code QUESTIONRIOT. Mike Lecky answered my questions—I’m Dan Copulsky—in January and May 2010.
There hasn’t been a new title or news from Loose Teeth Press in a few months (unless I’ve missed something). I assume Loose Teeth is still shipping books, but are you still actively working on bringing out new stuff? Is there anything particular fans can look forward to?
The last book we put out was Greetings! from Gumdrop Mountain, in November of last year. Our production schedule is tied mainly to two things: 1) how busy I am personally, since I end up doing most of the editing, copy editing, and typesetting myself, and 2) how many books we have lined up ready to go. Right now we’ve got a couple of manuscripts I’d like to do that are still being worked on by the authors, nothing that’s ready to come out ASAP. It really depends on how many good manuscripts I get sent—some years we’ll put out 2-3 books, others none. I don’t want to put out a less than great book just to be keeping busy.
You put a substantial amount of all your books online for free, more than most publishers would ever offer as samples. But you still generally save something for the print version, making you different than people who just make their books totally free online too. It seems like you started doing it this way because you were publishing stuff that was already mostly available online, but why have you kept doing it? Is this the best way to get people to buy books? The best way to make sure the people who buy books will love them?
You’re right, it started as an obvious choice because the first book we published was 70% online before we printed it. It made sense to keep that part up online, especially since most of the initial customers were finding out about the book through the online portion. A new writer publishing with a new publishing house, we didn’t have much of an audience besides the online fans. Since then we’ve kept doing it for mostly the same reasons. Offer something online that you think is very good, and when other people see it’s very good as well, they’ll want to buy it. The fact is that online promotion and marketing is so incredibly cheap. We can get a website up and show millions of people what the book is like for less than what it would cost to print 20 posters to put in bookstores.
You’ve published some writers who aren’t Canadian, but your submission guidelines say that you don’t want manuscripts from anyone else. As a writer who loves everything you put out and isn’t ready to immigrate just yet, it’s frustrating. Are you firm on the only Canadians thing? Why this focus?
The Canadian writers thing is solely a grants related thing. We have to publish a certain amount of books by Canadians in order to get free money from the government to print more books, and so we’re only taking submissions that help with that, for now. By the end of 2010 we should be in the clear and I’m going to open up the guidelines to anyone.
I hate that I have to do it this way, because while the company does have a focus, Canadiana is not it. As you’ve said, there are people who like everything that we’ve put out, and that’s what I’m really after—to get to a point where people are as much a fan of Loose Teeth as they are of an author that we publish. That’s why I broke the rule for Zach’s book Apathy and Paying Rent, I thought it was just such a perfect fit that I had to put it out, whether it got us closer to qualifying for Canada Council grants or not.
It seems like the more great books you put out the better, but there’s also something really awesome about having a press where it’s possible for someone to read every title you print. If you had the time and resources, and as many great manuscripts as you wanted, what would be the ideal size for Loose Teeth Press?
Ideally I’d like to put out two titles each season, spring and fall, I think. That’d keep me busy enough without driving me crazy, and it would make it so that you could release something that you might know ahead of time isn’t going to sell well, but is a great book, and not have to worry about money too much because there are so many other things going on.
I get a lot of offers from people who want to be interns, but since the office is a room in my attic, it would be a little awkward. If we had a more steady income I’d get a little office somewhere and have a couple people doing some of the work that gets repetitive when you do it alone. That’d be pretty great. I definitely have no intentions of becoming the next Penguin or HarperCollins. There are lots of people out there who own all of our books, and I really like the idea of that, “Here’s my bookcase, this shelf has my Loose Teeth books on it, I’ve got all first editions.” That sort of thing.
What projects are you involved in other than Loose Teeth? Do you live off these things or do you have some kind of day job?
I go back and forth with day jobs. I’ve worked at a couple of high end clothing stores in the last few years, the discounts help fuel my obsession with shoes…
As for other projects, I’ve got a hardcore band that I play in, and a new full-sized zine/magazine coming out later this summer. It’s a travel magazine, a sort of tongue-in-cheek homage to hobo culture called DOG + BINDLE. I’ve also been having a few meetings about doing a line of kids books in the same sort of vein as Loose Teeth—if a LT book is the perfect book for someone 16-22, than these new books would be the perfect book for that same person when they were 1-6 or their kids. I’m pretty excited about it.
Loose Teeth Press – looseteeth.ca
Also On Question Riot:
Joey Comeau, a writer published by Loose Teeth
John Campbell, a comic artist published by Loose Teeth