Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A New Take on Moveable Type

What is this contraption to which I have entrusted my literary fortunes?

First, what it is not. It is not this:

That would be Lord (3rd Earl) Stanhope’s invention, the iron press, from 1800.

Nor is it this roll-type from the Vienna Technical Museum:
(Photo by Mirko Tobias Schaefer)

The Espresso Book Machine has apparently been a big hit at the London Book Fair. (You can read about its reception here: Meanwhile, I’ll be heading up to the Northshire tomorrow so that I can get up close and personal with the machine. Actually, perhaps “personal” is not the best word...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Just a Link and... excuse to share what we have coming up here on our mountain.

I'll be late with this week's post (I'll be in New York at my TKth[sic] Journalism School Reunion) so I thought I'd leave you with this article about publishing that I found thought-provoking:

I do find it exciting and encouraging that folks are beginning to question aspects of publishing previously regarded as sacrosanct.

Read (and comment) away!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Democracy in Action

The Northshire is the bookstore you want nearby. It is well stocked and well-lit, and bustling with salespeople who not only read books but seem genuinely happy to be there. It has a cafĂ©, a good selection of cards, music and gifts, and even used books—which makes me happy because used books answer the call of serendipity better than new books do. The store also has a history of supporting local authors. I spoke there about a book I co-wrote, and my husband read from his novel The Persistence of Memory (which is one you absolutely should read if you’ve yet to…)

I headed up to the Northshire to ask Chris Morrow, son of the original owners and now General Manager, about the Espresso Book Machine. I had all sorts of ideas about how I could promote the book and their program, but I also wanted something from him that was harder to articulate. So I kept asking questions. Such as: Would they display the book? Yes—they always do that. Would they sponsor a reading? Of course, they do that too. What I really wanted was this: some kind of affirmation that I was a “real” writer as opposed to someone, you know, who just wanted to see their name in print. I mean, I had three contracts with major publishers in my twenties. I once went on a cross-country book tour where I wore suits specially bought from Barney’s NY and learned to force a smile for the camera. I’ve always worked hard, played by the rules, trusted in the wisdom of conventional media companies. Doesn’t that count for something?

Whoa, honey. No special status here. Democratic is democratic. Either I go with it or I don’t.

Friday, April 10, 2009

I Have a Book

I have a book. This book took form in my head when I emerged from a dark period in my life and took form on the page soon thereafter. It was the book I wanted to write in the way I wanted to write it. I sent it around and quickly (at least in retrospect; it probably didn’t feel that way at the time) found a literary agent who agreed it was a book that belonged out there in the world. We came close with publishers but never hit a match: it was small when they wanted big; unsettling when they wanted shocking; ironic when they wanted outrage. Then there was the dreaded, unfathomable, “It doesn’t fit our list”—the publishing equivalent of “Really, it’s not you, it’s me.” Editors who wanted it lamented of trying to get it past marketing.

I was left with the shoulda-woulda-coulda embitterment of the thwarted artist, with all the attendant jealousy and resentment (“Why’d they bring out that book and not mine?”) I moved on and wrote and did other stuff while the book sat in my files, following me electronically when I moved or changed computers. Every once in a while a friend would say, “Whatever happened to that book? I loved it!” but I pretty much let it drift into the realm of “oh well”. Until one day I learned about The Espresso Book Machine, a new publishing experiment at a local bookstore. That sounded not too intimidating, even friendly.

Friday, April 3, 2009

New Venture, But a Family Tradition

It feels appropriate to launch this journey into alternative publishing after having just attended the opening of an exhibit of my late uncle’s work: James L. Weil: Master of Fine Printing and Poetry. The exhibit is at the Grolier Club of New York, a venerable society for bibliophiles (that would be “lovers of books"). It is a genteel, even gentlemanly place, a reminder that there are still those who regard books as objects worthy of study and admiration. My Uncle Jim was a lover of the word--master of the word, I can say--and of high-quality printing, a writer of poetry and a maker of books. In 1963 he began the Elizabeth Press, devoted to modern Elizabethan and Metaphysical poetry, genres he felt were getting short shrift. He started with Elizabeth magazine then limited himself to books, publishing writers who became influential in the world of poetry: William Bronk, Robert Creeley, Cid Corman, Diane Wakowski.

From Portrait of the Artist Painting Her Son: Selected Earlier Poems

As a child and young adult I would periodically receive a beautiful package from Uncle Jim, a volume of poems or even a single poem. It would be impeccably printed and designed, often with a beautiful woodcut print on the flyleaf, the small book tucked into a slipcover that was itself placed in a linen folder—a veritable matryoshka doll of a book. Each was numbered and specifically inscribed to me. I was proud to own these special keepsakes. I cherished his poems (those I understood, that is) phrases of which I would turn to and sing in my mind like beloved melodies. It never occurred to me that his books or poems were worth any less because he published many of them himself.