Books You Can’t Love: The More Popular than Jesus Syndrome

I suspect that Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell will be, for me at least, this year’s equivalent to Jonathan Lethem’s The Fortress of Solitude (a title I still haven’t read, despite its recent paperback release). Last year, there were at least twenty-two moments in which I had the hardback for The Fortress of Solitude in my hand, but ended up putting it back before hitting the cashier. Some of the reasons were as follows:

  • “Oh shit! Magical realism!”
  • Motherless Brooklyn was good, but would you have purchased that in hardcover? Put it down, you fool!”
  • Quicksilver! More challenging!” (Little did I know.)
  • “I’ll get it in paperback.”
  • “I’ll borrow [insert name here]’s copy.”
  • “I should probably read all of Lethem’s back catalog before this one.”
  • “More pop cultural references subbing for plot? Come on, get real.”

And so on…

None of these reasons, of course, were fair. Most of these were irrational. And yet it happened again and again. Nothing against Lethem, but I found myself unwilling to commit myself to the man (and yet quite willing to take crazed chances on crummier titles).

And now I find myself in the same boat with Jonathan Strange, afraid that I’ll be terribly disappointed if I read it now. I came very close to picking the thick tome up the other day, but some stubborn impulse in me resisted. How could I join the crowd? How could I get excited about some book that everyone and their mother was declaring as more popular than Jesus?

This impulse, of course, is pure snobbery. It has something to do with the book reviewing climate and the endless din buzzing around readers and publishers alike. And yet almost every book afficionado is guilty of this. How many titles have eluded your immediate perusal because the kool kids kouldnt stop talking about it?

The way it works is this: To be an effective literary enthusiast, the unspoken goal is to wander off the beaten track and find the titles that no one else has read. And not just that. Ideally from some lofty parapet (preferably delusional), the literary enthusiast can let loose spitballs and catapault leftover caviar while simultaneously mocking the great unwashed for reading The Curious Incident of the Dog at the Night-Time or The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay behind the curve. Alternatively, why not delve into something highly unfashionable? (And if that’s the unspoken rule, now might be the perfect op to read Lethem.)

Which is why I’m glad I read David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas well before everyone else and why it was nice to read William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition without the sound of a thousand Slashdot fanboys coming my way. Mark my words: if Cloud Atlas wins the Booker, it will be slammed as mercilessly as DBC Pierre’s Vernon God Little. Just because. And that’s silly.

I’m tempted to read Jonathan Strange just to spite the bastards.

Felix Dennis, Clandestine Poet Laurete?

Not content with unleashing sexist, short-attention-span snippets upon a unsuspecting magazine market of illiterates, Maxim publisher Felix Dennis has turned to poetry. Apparently, Mr. Dennis has been at it since 2000. Fortunately, Return of the Reluctant has obtained an exclusive look at Mr. Dennis’s poetic oeuvre. Here’s a small sample from Mr. Dennis’ “Throwing My Love Into the Barbeque Grill,” which was rejected (as of last week) by seventeen publications (including Cocker Spaniel Quarterly):

Fifty words! Too much to read
Let’s cut it in half so we can clear out
And get that hun to bob her mouth
Fast cars, big tits, what’s wrong with that?
I’m with Delta Phi Alpha for life

Pour the wine and they’ll believe
I’m hip! I’m rich! I’m a poet!
I made more cash than Guccione
And I paid all my writers to pen baloney
Where’s the next sleek and sexy Croat?

What it takes is a steak and a coupla brews
Over the edge, with some red meat to stew
Get a few Swedish models and a few Polish dogs
Dress ’em down, keep your pet in your pants
Keep the look garish and carefree

You’ll end standing up at the barbeque grill
What a thrill!
Better than the window sill!

And she’ll be there reading your latest issue
This time, she’s there. You won’t need a tissue

Neat Pate Manifesto

These days, our hair is falling out faster than a Niagra clip. (Or possibly not. Our propensity to exaggerate is well known.) Neverthless, it’s brought forth an important issue: to shave or not to shave, that is the question. Now the last thing the world needs is another bald Caucasian guy in his early thirties. However, the m/sq. has expressed happiness over hypothetical condition. Oddly enough, it may be H.L. Mencken who might send us over the edge.

Cloud Atlas! Boo Yah!

David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas has made the Booker shortlist. Again, we here at Return of the Reluctant cannot say enough about how fantastic the book is and how disappointed we are that the American copy is only available in paperback. The novel deserves nearly every plaudit it has received. However, if you need additional arguments, here are a few U.S. receptions:

Unreadable? Not on this side of the Atlantic, baby. The Telegraph must be very embarassed right now.

Fringe Post-Mortem

Lessons I learned from Wrestling an Alligator:

1. It could have been simpler. We had a gargantuan set and this was a bit of naivete on our part — particularly since this was a Fringe show that had to be set up and struck in 15 minutes. Given that the tone was absurdist, the realism of the set detracted from the goofiness, to the point where the performances were scrutinized more heavily than they needed to be.

2. As a director, I neglected to have pickup rehearsals between performances. The result was a carefully tailored show that radically changed in a matter of days. I’m still happy with how it turned out. 160 audience attendees for four performances for a debut play in a small venue is fantastic by just about any standard. But since I come from a film background, this in-the-can mentality could have been avoided and the careful tics that had been established over time could have been preserved, had I done the basic work here. My bad. I’ll be volunteering on some more shows and taking a few classes to get my chops up here.

3. Production circumstances kept me in the booth, where I was only able to see half the stage. I really needed to be in the audience to assess the show and keep things tweaked. Of course, if I hadn’t insisted on crossfading between two CDs, it wouldn’t have been necessary. Funny how one little detail becomes an arduous regularity. (And that’s just one little example.)

4. Do not give the audience too much information to process — particularly when it’s oblique and obscure. This kind of thing works for novels (Gene Wolfe comes immediately to mind), but this approach is more prohibitive to the stage. There were audience members who remained enraputed with our show, but were trailing five minutes behind trying to pick out all the references. This killed potential laughter. And it came at the expense of audience members reacting on relaxed instinct. Some people really hated us for this. A couple people saw the show twice, and they confessed to me that they were relieved that they were finally able to understand it.

5. If you introduce a pre-show element, be sure it relates to the show and doesn’t come across as a cheap marketing gimmick. For all shows, we handed out visitor badges. This was an eleventh hour idea on my part, but ultimately it created more confusion than it was worth.

6. Hauling a bigass van around San Francisco with a set is a bad idea. Because there’s just no damn parking in the City, and you end up parking in the Avenues and getting home at two in the morning. Had the set fit into a car, I wouldn’t be nearly as exhausted as I am right now.

7. Never underestimate the gestures of other human beings. I was truly overwhelmed by our incredible volunteers, and the support I received from friends, family, co-workers, lit bloggers who came all the way from Los Angeles, and the other swell folks who came out to see our show. Beyond that, Christina, Kirk, Amanda, Meredith and the good folks at the Fringe were some of the nicest people I’ve encountered. The other Fringe performers and volunteers who went to see our show were incredible. San Francisco’s film scene may be teetering on the brink right now, but this city’s commitment to independent theatre is very much alive and well. There’s a good deal of talent and drive in this town.

Despite all this, I wouldn’t trade my Fringe experience for the world. I learned a good deal about theatre, myself, and other people, and had a blast. There are many things I will and will not do again. And it was fantastic to watch our great actors create such magnificent characters. Contrary to the anonymous coward who wanted to “off the bastard before he ‘creates’ again,” I will return next year to the Fringe — if not sooner for another local show.

For those who weren’t able to see it and expressed interest, we did videotape Saturday’s show. If you’re interested in a tape, drop me a line and we may be able to work something out.

And, hell, I may pop in here more regularly than I suggested. It’s really just a matter of time. I have a funny feeilng that I’ll have more of it starting this week. But now it’s time to rest.

Dark Rider

Some reading for your retirement, Ed: Stephen King interviewed in the Guardian.

As her husband lay in hospital, Tabitha King, who is also a writer, bought the battered truck, not – as many stories have had it – so he could later beat it with a baseball bat, but because at that stage, she was convinced he would die in hospital and didn’t want it to wind up on eBay billed as the vehicle that killed America’s most popular novelist.

Highly Irregular

What’s going on in the blogosphere? What’s happening in the literary world? Is George Bush out of office yet? I voted for the other guy, didn’t I? Or was that a dream?

These are the queries that come to mind as I stick my head above the ether, checking in on this place just after Bondgirl’s grand interview, which I knew about but truly astonished me in its final form. I’m here to announce a fundamental problem that I truly hadn’t anticipated a few months ago: namely, a new and very active life.

The new life is good, don’t get me wrong. Despite a rapidly receding hairline, I feel sexier than I did six months ago, and, on the whole, I’d have to say that I digest my meals better. (And here I was thinking it would get worse.) But this new existence comes at the expense of regular posts to this blog. Those who’ve watched Return of the Reluctant (and the other edrants incarnations) may have been taken with the prolix prolificity. I’m really not certain I’m the same person today than the punk who went literary gonzo last December. Something about turning thirty. Something about diving head-first into theatre. Something about setting goals, making it happen, and recalibrating my priorities to also encourage unexpected greatness in others, take chances, and demand the most out of myself. Something about, well, leaping into research on the second play, working to extend the run on the first, and otherwise broadening this lovely plane I’ve been building up.

I don’t even hate Dave Eggers anymore.

I’m still reading, but obviously not enough to count. I’m still writing, but I value it more.

The problem is that I’m doing. A lot, actually. And something had to fall by the wayside. So I counted all the treasures in the chest, and scaled it down to what was needed. Sadly, Return of the Reluctant was one of the gems that had to be thrown overboard — even though I liked it. Or, at the very least, put in a semi-retired state.

So I’m here to say adios, muchachos. Either that or call me in Tijuana. You’ll see me on the backblogs. You may even see me here. If any of the Superfriends are interested in sleeping over at the beach house, they’re more than welcome here. But me? Sorry, folks, but the muses sweet-talked me.

Wonder Woman interviews the fabulous Ms. Kelly Link

Your trusty Bond Girl Superfriend here with a (sort of) surprise (I stopped getting married long enough to finish it) interview with my Superfriend and one of the most generous writers I know, Kelly Link.

Kelly Link writes the most excellent short fiction. No, really. And I’m not just saying that — other people think so too. To totally steal from the bio linked above, here’s Kelly, in case you don’t know who she is:

Kelly Link’s collection, Stranger Things Happen, was a Firecracker nominee, a Village Voice Favorite Book and a Salon Book of the Year — Salon called the collection “…an alchemical mixture of Borges, Raymond Chandler, and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Stories from the collection have won the Nebula, the James Tiptree Jr., and the World Fantasy Awards.

Kelly has taught or visited at a number of schools and workshops including Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY, Brookdale Community College, Brookdale, NJ, Lenoir-Rhyne College, Hickory, NC, the Imagination Workshop at Cleveland State University, New England Institute of Art & Communications, Brookline, MA, Clarion East at Michigan State University, and Clarion West in Seattle, WA. She is an editor for the Online Writing Workshop and has been a reader and judge for various literary awards. With Gavin J. Grant and Ellen Datlow she edits The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror (St. Martin’s Press). She is also the editor of the anthology, Trampoline.

Kelly lives in Northampton, MA, and is currently working on a new collection of stories. She received her BA from Columbia University and her MFA from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Kelly and her husband, Gavin J. Grant, publish a twice-yearly zine, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet — as well as books — as Small Beer Press.

So, let’s get to the interview wherein the release date and other information about her BRAND NEW collection of stories emerges, despite my inability to ask interesting questions (except about zombies). Oh, and you should buy and read or listen to everything mentioned, but I really, really was too lazy to link to everything.

***********

Gwenda: So, let’s start with a question you’ve gotten a thousand times and are bored sick of but no doubt can answer easily what made you decide to start Small Beer Press and what was the process of getting out the first two books like?

Kelly: Wed been putting out a zine, Lady Churchills Rosebud Wristlet, twice a year for two or three years, and so we had a rough idea of how much it cost to put out a zine or a chapbook or a book, and how many you had to sell to break even. We were interested in making something that looked like a book. The goal was always to break even.

I owe a large debt to other artists who have self-published. I was a faithful reader (and later a bewildered reader) of Dave Sims Cerebus. There are musicians like Sonic Youth and Gillian Welch and John Wesley Harding who have started their own labels, or put out their own music — Ani DiFranco and Aimee Mann and Natalie Merchant. I like the DIY, zine-y approach. Oh yeah, and Im a control freak.

We realized that if we could publish my collection, then we could publish other people as well. I was a huge fan of Ray Vukcevichs short stories, and after we ran into him at a convention in Texas, we asked if he had enough stories for a collection. Publishing my own book was messy. It was an act of indefensible hubris. I didnt know how to edit myself into book form. Youre not supposed to publish yourself. Working on Rays collection was a kind of reward for deciding to start a press to publish my own collection. Ray was a delight to work with. I got to read his stories over and over again.

I loved designing the books, and I loved being able to ask Shelley Jackson to provide cover art for my book. All of the minutiae of book design and copyediting and proofreading turned out to be enormously satisying work. Much better than simply writing the stories. I grumbled about it at the time, but even writing the jacket copy for Stranger Things Happen was relatively enjoyable.

The unexpected thing about book publishing was that we were able, with a great deal of help, to figure out how to do it, how to make things that looked like the sort of book which I would want to pick up and read. Publishing books turned out to be a lot easier than I expected it would be. Meanwhile, lots of unexpected things were going on outside of starting Small Beer Press. In 2001, George W. Bush somehow ended up being president after all. Gavin and I got married. We got married eleven days after September 11th. In March of 2001, Jenna Felice, an editor at Tor Books, died suddenly. She was a close friend, a neighbor in Brooklyn, and part of a community of writers and editors and small press publishers. It was a relief to have a project to work on, after her death, but it was also difficult, because she had been so much a part of our everyday life, and in helping us figure out all of the things we needed to figure out, in order to start a press and publish books.

Gwenda: Well, the exciting news is that youve written enough new stories for a collection and will be putting one out through Small Beer in 2005. Tell me about this new book. What will be in it? Does it have a name yet? Whatchya working on?
Continue reading →

Wonder Woman interviews the fabulous Ms. Kelly Link

Your trusty BondGirl Superfriend here with a (sort of) surprise (I stopped getting married long enough to finish it) interview with my Superfriend and one of the most generous writers I know, Kelly Link.

Kelly Link writes the most excellent short fiction. No, really. And I’m not just saying that — other people think so too. To totally steal from the bio linked above, here’s Kelly, in case you don’t know who she is:

Kelly Link’s collection, Stranger Things Happen, was a Firecracker nominee, a Village Voice Favorite Book and a Salon Book of the Year — Salon called the collection “…an alchemical mixture of Borges, Raymond Chandler, and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Stories from the collection have won the Nebula, the James Tiptree Jr., and the World Fantasy Awards.

Kelly has taught or visited at a number of schools and workshops including Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY, Brookdale Community College, Brookdale, NJ, Lenoir-Rhyne College, Hickory, NC, the Imagination Workshop at Cleveland State University, New England Institute of Art & Communications, Brookline, MA, Clarion East at Michigan State University, and Clarion West in Seattle, WA. She is an editor for the Online Writing Workshop and has been a reader and judge for various literary awards. With Gavin J. Grant and Ellen Datlow she edits The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror (St. Martin’s Press). She is also the editor of the anthology, Trampoline.

Kelly lives in Northampton, MA, and is currently working on a new collection of stories. She received her BA from Columbia University and her MFA from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Kelly and her husband, Gavin J. Grant, publish a twice-yearly zine, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet — as well as books — as Small Beer Press.

So, let’s get to the interview wherein the release date and other information about her BRAND NEW collection of stories emerges, despite my inability to ask interesting questions (except about zombies). Oh, and you should buy and read or listen to everything mentioned, but I really, really was too lazy to link to everything.

***********

Gwenda: So, let’s start with a question you’ve gotten a thousand times and are bored sick of but no doubt can answer easily what made you decide to start Small Beer Press and what was the process of getting out the first two books like?

Kelly: Wed been putting out a zine, Lady Churchills Rosebud Wristlet, twice a year for two or three years, and so we had a rough idea of how much it cost to put out a zine or a chapbook or a book, and how many you had to sell to break even. We were interested in making something that looked like a book. The goal was always to break even.

I owe a large debt to other artists who have self-published. I was a faithful reader (and later a bewildered reader) of Dave Sims Cerebus. There are musicians like Sonic Youth and Gillian Welch and John Wesley Harding who have started their own labels, or put out their own music — Ani DiFranco and Aimee Mann and Natalie Merchant. I like the DIY, zine-y approach. Oh yeah, and Im a control freak.

We realized that if we could publish my collection, then we could publish other people as well. I was a huge fan of Ray Vukcevichs short stories, and after we ran into him at a convention in Texas, we asked if he had enough stories for a collection. Publishing my own book was messy. It was an act of indefensible hubris. I didnt know how to edit myself into book form. Youre not supposed to publish yourself. Working on Rays collection was a kind of reward for deciding to start a press to publish my own collection. Ray was a delight to work with. I got to read his stories over and over again.

I loved designing the books, and I loved being able to ask Shelley Jackson to provide cover art for my book. All of the minutiae of book design and copyediting and proofreading turned out to be enormously satisying work. Much better than simply writing the stories. I grumbled about it at the time, but even writing the jacket copy for Stranger Things Happen was relatively enjoyable.

The unexpected thing about book publishing was that we were able, with a
great deal of help, to figure out how to do it, how to make things that looked like the sort of book which I would want to pick up and read. Publishing books turned out to be a lot easier than I expected it would be. Meanwhile, lots of unexpected things were going on outside of starting Small Beer Press. In 2001, George W. Bush somehow ended up being president after all. Gavin and I got married. We got married eleven days after September 11th. In March of 2001, Jenna Felice, an editor at Tor Books, died suddenly. She was a close friend, a neighbor in Brooklyn, and part of a community of writers and editors and small press publishers. It was a relief to have a project to work on, after her death, but it was also difficult, because she had been so much a part of our everyday life, and in helping us figure out all of the things we needed to figure out, in order to start a press and publish books.

Gwenda: Well, the exciting news is that youve written enough new stories for a collection and will be putting one out through Small Beer in 2005. Tell me about this new book. What will be in it? Does it have a name yet? Whatchya working on?
Continue reading →

Wonder Woman interviews the fabulous Ms. Kelly Link

Your trusty BondGirl Superfriend here with a (sort of) surprise (I stopped getting married long enough to finish it) interview with my Superfriend and one of the most generous writers I know, Kelly Link.

Kelly Link writes the most excellent short fiction. No, really. And I’m not just saying that — other people think so too. To totally steal from the bio linked above, here’s Kelly, in case you don’t know who she is:

Kelly Link’s collection, Stranger Things Happen, was a Firecracker nominee, a Village Voice Favorite Book and a Salon Book of the Year — Salon called the collection “…an alchemical mixture of Borges, Raymond Chandler, and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Stories from the collection have won the Nebula, the James Tiptree Jr., and the World Fantasy Awards.

Kelly has taught or visited at a number of schools and workshops including Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY, Brookdale Community College, Brookdale, NJ, Lenoir-Rhyne College, Hickory, NC, the Imagination Workshop at Cleveland State University, New England Institute of Art & Communications, Brookline, MA, Clarion East at Michigan State University, and Clarion West in Seattle, WA. She is an editor for the Online Writing Workshop and has been a reader and judge for various literary awards. With Gavin J. Grant and Ellen Datlow she edits The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror (St. Martin’s Press). She is also the editor of the anthology, Trampoline.

Kelly lives in Northampton, MA, and is currently working on a new collection of stories. She received her BA from Columbia University and her MFA from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Kelly and her husband, Gavin J. Grant, publish a twice-yearly zine, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet — as well as books — as Small Beer Press.

So, let’s get to the interview wherein the release date and other information about her BRAND NEW collection of stories emerges, despite my inability to ask interesting questions (except about zombies). Oh, and you should buy and read or listen to everything mentioned, but I really, really was too lazy to link to everything.

***********

Gwenda: So, let’s start with a question you’ve gotten a thousand times and are bored sick of but no doubt can answer easily what made you decide to start Small Beer Press and what was the process of getting out the first two books like?

Kelly: Wed been putting out a zine, Lady Churchills Rosebud Wristlet, twice a year for two or three years, and so we had a rough idea of how much it cost to put out a zine or a chapbook or a book, and how many you had to sell to break even. We were interested in making something that looked like a book. The goal was always to break even.

I owe a large debt to other artists who have self-published. I was a faithful reader (and later a bewildered reader) of Dave Sims Cerebus. There are musicians like Sonic Youth and Gillian Welch and John Wesley Harding who have started their own labels, or put out their own music — Ani DiFranco and Aimee Mann and Natalie Merchant. I like the DIY, zine-y approach. Oh yeah, and Im a control freak.

We realized that if we could publish my collection, then we could publish other people as well. I was a huge fan of Ray Vukcevichs short stories, and after we ran into him at a convention in Texas, we asked if he had enough stories for a collection. Publishing my own book was messy. It was an act of indefensible hubris. I didnt know how to edit myself into book form. Youre not supposed to publish yourself. Working on Rays collection was a kind of reward for deciding to start a press to publish my own collection. Ray was a delight to work with. I got to read his stories over and over again.

I loved designing the books, and I loved being able to ask Shelley Jackson to provide cover art for my book. All of the minutiae of book design and copyediting and proofreading turned out to be enormously satisying work. Much better than simply writing the stories. I grumbled about it at the time, but even writing the jacket copy for Stranger Things Happen was relatively enjoyable.

The unexpected thing about book publishing was that we were able, with a
great deal of help, to figure out how to do it, how to make things that looked like the sort of book which I would want to pick up and read. Publishing books turned out to be a lot easier than I expected it would be. Meanwhile, lots of unexpected things were going on outside of starting Small Beer Press. In 2001, George W. Bush somehow ended up being president after all. Gavin and I got married. We got married eleven days after September 11th. In March of 2001, Jenna Felice, an editor at Tor Books, died suddenly. She was a close friend, a neighbor in Brooklyn, and part of a community of writers and editors and small press publishers. It was a relief to have a project to work on, after her death, but it was also difficult, because she had been so much a part of our everyday life, and in helping us figure out all of the things we needed to figure out, in order to start a press and publish books.

Gwenda: Well, the exciting news is that youve written enough new stories for a collection and will be putting one out through Small Beer in 2005. Tell me about this new book. What will be in it? Does it have a name yet? Whatchya working on?
Continue reading →

superfriend interview with the fabulous Ms. Link

Your trusty BondGirl Superfriend here with a (sort of) surprise (I stopped getting married long enough to finish it) interview with my Superfriend and one of the most generous writers I know, Kelly Link.

Kelly Link writes the most excellent short fiction. No, really. And I’m not just saying that — other people think so too. To totally steal from the bio linked above, here’s Kelly, in case you don’t know who she is:

Kelly Link’s collection, Stranger Things Happen, was a Firecracker nominee, a Village Voice Favorite Book and a Salon Book of the Year — Salon called the collection “…an alchemical mixture of Borges, Raymond Chandler, and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Stories from the collection have won the Nebula, the James Tiptree Jr., and the World Fantasy Awards.

Kelly has taught or visited at a number of schools and workshops including Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY, Brookdale Community College, Brookdale, NJ, Lenoir-Rhyne College, Hickory, NC, the Imagination Workshop at Cleveland State University, New England Institute of Art & Communications, Brookline, MA, Clarion East at Michigan State University, and Clarion West in Seattle, WA. She is an editor for the Online Writing Workshop and has been a reader and judge for various literary awards. With Gavin J. Grant and Ellen Datlow she edits The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror (St. Martin’s Press). She is also the editor of the anthology, Trampoline.

Kelly lives in Northampton, MA, and is currently working on a new collection of stories. She received her BA from Columbia University and her MFA from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Kelly and her husband, Gavin J. Grant, publish a twice-yearly zine, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet — as well as books — as Small Beer Press.

So, let’s get to the interview wherein the release date and other information about her BRAND NEW collection of stories emerges, despite my inability to ask interesting questions (except about zombies). Oh, and you should buy and read or listen to everything mentioned, but I really, really was too lazy to link to everything.

***********

Gwenda: So, let’s start with a question you’ve gotten a thousand times and are bored sick of but no doubt can answer easily what made you decide to start Small Beer Press and what was the process of getting out the first two books like?

Kelly: Wed been putting out a zine, Lady Churchills Rosebud Wristlet, twice a year for two or three years, and so we had a rough idea of how much it cost to put out a zine or a chapbook or a book, and how many you had to sell to break even. We were interested in making something that looked like a book. The goal was always to break even.

I owe a large debt to other artists who have self-published. I was a faithful reader (and later a bewildered reader) of Dave Sims Cerebus. There are musicians like Sonic Youth and Gillian Welch and John Wesley Harding who have started their own labels, or put out their own music — Ani DiFranco and Aimee Mann and Natalie Merchant. I like the DIY, zine-y approach. Oh yeah, and Im a control freak.

We realized that if we could publish my collection, then we could publish other people as well. I was a huge fan of Ray Vukcevichs short stories, and after we ran into him at a convention in Texas, we asked if he had enough stories for a collection. Publishing my own book was messy. It was an act of indefensible hubris. I didnt know how to edit myself into book form. Youre not supposed to publish yourself. Working on Rays collection was a kind of reward for deciding to start a press to publish my own collection. Ray was a delight to work with. I got to read his stories over and over again.

I loved designing the books, and I loved being able to ask Shelley Jackson to provide cover art for my book. All of the minutiae of book design and copyediting and proofreading turned out to be enormously satisying work. Much better than simply writing the stories. I grumbled about it at the time, but even writing the jacket copy for Stranger Things Happen was relatively enjoyable.

The unexpected thing about book publishing was that we were able, with a
great deal of help, to figure out how to do it, how to make things that looked like the sort of book which I would want to pick up and read. Publishing books turned out to be a lot easier than I expected it would be. Meanwhile, lots of unexpected things were going on outside of starting Small Beer Press. In 2001, George W. Bush somehow ended up being president after all. Gavin and I got married. We got married eleven days after September 11th. In March of 2001, Jenna Felice, an editor at Tor Books, died suddenly. She was a close friend, a neighbor in Brooklyn, and part of a community of writers and editors and small press publishers. It was a relief to have a project to work on, after her death, but it was also difficult, because she had been so much a part of our everyday life, and in helping us figure out all of the things we needed to figure out, in order to start a press and publish books.

Gwenda: Well, the exciting news is that youve written enough new stories for a collection and will be putting one out through Small Beer in 2005. Tell me about this new book. What will be in it? Does it have a name yet? Whatchya working on?
Continue reading →

We Did It!

On Friday, 49 people saw the premiere of Wrestling an Alligator. Which means we sold out (I think). I wasn’t able to completely read the audience reaction from the booth, but we got laughs, gasps, applause, and at least one positive review. Our cast did spectacularly well and we were praised to the nines by audience members while I was loading the van. All of which was far more than I hoped for.

I can’t say enough great words about the people who run the San Francisco Fringe Festival (much less the surprise audience members who showed up on Friday). All of them have been extremely kind and supportive. And if you’re in the San Francisco area, I highly encourage you to check out the numerous shows presented.

And then there’s us. There are still three more opportunities to see us. Location again is the Exit at Taylor theatre, located at 277 Taylor Street.

The three remaining shows are:

Friday, 9/17/04: 10:00 PM
Saturday, 9/18/04: 4:00 PM
Sunday, 9/19/04: 2:30 PM

Please be sure to join the fun. Only $8!

Now excuse me while I go collapse.

Five Days Till Opening

First off, happy new marraige to Bondgirl, who was kind enough to offer many entries here in my absence (appearances here are still scant for the next two weeks).

Did Sam Tanenhaus earn his brownie during the past two weeks? Really, I wouldn’t know. There hasn’t been time to read. And this morning, my New York Times arrived without the Book Review section. (Am I on a list, Tanenhaus?) Nevertheless, when the play is over, we’ll keep Tanenhaus Watch alive until Sam shows that he can do better. These are the stats that dreams are made of.

The play: Last night, we had our tech run and, aside from a few technical glitches that we’ll be fixing this week, it went well. Kirk White, our designated techie, was very quick and helpful in giving us the lighting moods we were happy with. Kirk was very patient with the apparent “scale” of technical elements and “large cast” of four that we had included. In fact, Saturday night was the only time the stage manager and I raised our voices during our entire production run. “What the hell is going on?” I shouted when our opening music played through the first three minutes of the play (instead of the first minute) and when our curtain call drowned out the last line. Yes, these things happen. Fortunately, we found a solution by scaling down our sound FX a tad.

The actors all lit up like unexpected kilowatts coming back from the late 90’s California power crisis — this, I might add, after two full runthroughs that day. (Our play has no scene changes and has a good deal of physical comedy and crazed timing.) I was actually very surprised to see that the extra depth at the Exit at Taylor (compared to our rehearsal space, at least) really enhanced our blocking. It helped tremendously that we kept our rehearsal space to about 80% of the actual dimensions of the theatre. Our rehearsal space, however, was on a slight dais. I was very worried about this, because we had blocked a lot of action behind the desk. I figured it would show up alright, but I couldn’t always see the behind-desk action it at our rehearsal space. Fortunately, the Exit at Taylor’s theatre is set at a fixed level, it ended up working out.

The alligator painting arrived at the eleventh hour. We finally added it to the set yesterday afternoon and it really helped to sell some of our jokes and the chiaroschuro aesthetic subtext we attempted.

The show has turned out to be incredible. For all of the hardships, the lack of sleep, the depleting funds, and what have you, I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. I feel as if I’ve given birth to something. When I told our key stagehand during some unknown post-midnight hour, he replied, “What have you given birth to?” He’s right, of course. At this point, I’m horribly biased in favor of the play. We’ll see what happens when the audience reviews start trickling in.

(And, yes, Bondgirl, there are several James Bond references in the play.)