The Record of My Life

I have just added a “Published Work” page to this blog. You can access it through the main menu. It’s kind of threadbare at the moment, but with a little luck I will have some publications to add by the end of the year.

Most of my published work at present consists of editorials written for The 3288 Review, and around three dozen interviews with contributors to The 3288 Review.

On This, the Day of My Journal’s Editing.

So here I am, sitting in the Lyon Street Cafe for the first time in several weeks, having just finished listing my tasks for my first completely open Sunday in months. To put it gently, Sunday isn’t open any more. The duties and needs of Caffeinated Press in general, and The 3288 Review in particular, have eaten up all of that nebulous part of my life I used to call “free time”. Am I exhausted? Yes. Is it worth it? ABSOLUTELY!

The first and most important consideration is that never have I had so much good writing at my disposal.

At ConFusion 2015, in one of the panels (“Staying Sane While Sluicing Through Slush“) a panelist pointed out that submission quality falls along a bell curve, with the majority being “competent” – meaning well written, professional, etc., but not exceptional. In my time at Caffeinated Press I have vetted something over four hundred written works- long, short, fiction, nonfiction and poetry. Few of them were terrible. They didn’t get published. Few were extraordinary. They DID get published. I don’t know how submissions fall out in the rest of the industry, but the bell curve of the work we receive leans toward the high end which, given the amount of work we receive, help to keep us from succumbing to feelings of tedium, ennui, etc.

My active involvement at CafPress is just about exactly a year old. In that time I have picked up a surprising number of skillsets, both primary and ancillary. Editing, obviously. An eye toward story structure. A renewed appreciation of poetry. A powerful ability to metabolize coffee. All important skills for an editor.

I also, for the first time since my days at Schuler Books and Music, have a big-picture view of what’s going on in the publishing world. Most is not at all surprising. The big guys are getting bigger, the little guys are struggling. So it goes. Small presses are run by several people working part-time, or one person doing the work of three and several people working part time. This is the way of the world now.

But this is not necessarily a bad thing.

Small presses are more nimble, more able to take chances with the innovative and the avant-garde. Small presses are not held captive by shareholders whims. But being small enough to fit a niche often means being small enough to fall through the cracks. Thus small presses learn to innovate.

One of my favorite (and more personally expensive) discoveries of the past few months is that several small presses offer subscriptions to their catalogs. For a nominal price, you will receive roughly a book a month for a year. This is not the old book club model of the pre-Amazon days; this is more an investment in the voice and taste of a small group of people who turn out excellent product. My first subscription was to Open Letter Books, quickly followed by Restless Books, Deep Vellum, and several others. All excellent publishers, and all beautiful books. I will explore this idea further in an upcoming blog post.

Suffice to say, I will not soon run out of excellent reading material.

They Grow Up So Quickly

The 3288 Review, vol. 1 issue 1

It’s here. It has landed. The first issue of The 3288 Review is out and available for purchase. How do I feel about this? Hmm…let me think…

BOOYAH!!!

…or words to that effect.

I took a personal day on Friday so I would have a a full four-day weekend. Rolled into the Caffeinated Press offices around 11:00am, and right at the stroke of noon UPS arrived with five boxes full of magazines. 100 copies of the inaugural issue. They are beautiful! Three full months of hard work, long days, late nights, and learning the Ten Great Skills (page layout, InDesign, etc) and the Thousand Minor Skills (talking to people, avoiding Papyrus and Comic Sans, etc).

It has all paid off! Responses from the viewing public are enthusiastic and orders are starting to roll in. Close to half of the initial print run are already spoken for. With any luck we will need to place another order by the end of the week.

In the other parts of my life, the martial arts class has recently been ascendant. On August 11 I and my friend and classmate Rick loaded bags into a rented van and drove Master Lee and his wife and his visitors from Vietnam to see the Niagara Falls (Canadian side). It was a great trip! We heard several stories of what class was like back in The Day in Saigon. Rick reminisced about his trips to New York and back, when he would pull up to the falls and sleep for a couple of hours before continuing the drive.

I have never been to the Falls. They are amazing! Huge and powerful and the rumble starts in the feet and rises up through the viscera and makes everything seem just the slightest bit out of focus. At one point the walkway overlooks the edge of the falls and you can look straight down the cataract to the lower river. Here I felt a strong pull, like the falling water was calling to the 60% of me which is also water. After five minutes staring at falling water, everything else I looked at seemed to rise slightly.

It Gives a Lovely Light

Hello, my friends and foes. Wow, what a summer this has been. A series of semi-connected data points follow.

Caffeinated Press

The new office of Caffeinated Press feels like an office! I work the day job from there a couple of days a week, next to an open window serenaded by songbirds in Ken-O-Sha Park and traffic accidents at the intersection of Kalamazoo Ave and 32nd Street. The first issue of The 3288 Review is on track to hit the shelves by the end of the month. Half a dozen books creep ever-closer to production. We have several seminars on the calendar, centered on the getting published side of the writing process. Everyone is exhausted, but excited. Once we have a catalog we can register with the larger professional organizations and that will, we expect, open the flood-gates of submissions. I think I have read around 300,000 words of unpublished manuscripts and poetry over the past six months. 300,000 words in six months isn’t really all that much, but for me usually those words have other peoples’ eye-prints all over them. Thus I feel a certain responsibility to those words.

Martial Arts

Our annual Sifu Day celebration took place yesterday downtown. Loads and loads of food, an iron shirt demonstration, and half an hour of hamming it up with posed photos. We are blessed by the presence of some of Master Lee’s students from Saigon – the same people who showed Rick and I the sights in Vietnam this past October. In a couple of days Rick and I will travel with the whole lot of them on an overnight trip to Niagara Falls.

I am embarrassingly far behind in posting photos of the previous year or so of class events. Once the Caffeinated Press workload dies down I will spend a long weekend getting caught up.

Work

As of today I am off of the crazy project which kept me burning the midnight oil for most of July. All of the extra time I hoped to have during the hiatus from the iron shirt class was co-opted by the day job. Thus the upcoming burning the midnight oil for CafPress. On the positive side, I learned a lot more about advanced Backbone/Marionette programming techniques. This can only help me going forward, if I ever work on another Backbone project.

Life

Still making plans for upgrades to my house, now that I have paid off the mortgage. The bank account is rebuilding more slowly than expected because of the amount of cash I invest in CafPress. Ah, the life of the startup entrepreneur. Practically, all that means is that the work which would have happened in the autumn will now happen in spring 2016, and spring 2016 work will now happen in autumn 2016. Big expensive projects over long time spans, and I want it all to happen NOW.

The Farmer’s Market is at its peak. Almost everything in the world is in season right now. Two weeks ago I was in during the magic time when strawberries, blueberries and sweet cherries were all ripe. It’s difficult to gain weight on a vegetarian diet, but during times like these it is possible, and also delicious.

Random Stuff

I haven’t had a lot of time for entertainment and amusements this summer. Based on a conversation with Jack Ridl I picked up Mile Marker Zero, the story of The Scene in Key West just after Hemingway’s time there. A week ago I watched Paris at Midnight, Woody Allen’s beautiful exploration of wistfulness and acceptance and the literary scene in the Paris of the 1920s (which also involved Hemingway). There’s a meditation to be written on the confluence of these two experiences.

And now off to work on the magazine. These pages won’t write themselves.

Six Months Later

Dawn came early this morning, as it always does at the beginning of July. And even moreso the day after Independence Day. I live in a mostly quiet neighborhood, aside from one house full of renters who refuse to acknowledge that they live in the middle of the city, and not out in the sticks. Therefore their private lives spill out into the public domain several times a week. I have the GRPD non-emergency number on speed dial. Three times in the past week I have started a conversation with “HiI I’d like to register a noise complaint, and it isn’t about fireworks.” It’s fun to hear the officers on the other end of the phone mentally shift gears.

I’ve grown used to being sleep-deprived at this time of year. The long holiday weekend simply means I don’t need to drag myself to work, but it also means neither does anyone else, so I get three days of regulated apocalypse instead of the usual two. Not that I have the moral high ground to complain too loudly about neighbors with bottle rockets, but even as a dumb kid I had the sense to not shoot them directly at other houses and cars. And the neighbors with the fireworks aren’t dumb kids; they’re just not very good at being neighbors.

Caffeinated Press

We have furniture! Thanks to some connections at PeopleDesign, and a Friday full of vigorous exercise, the Caffeinated Press offices (3167 Kalamazoo Ave SE, Suite 104) have tables, chairs and storage space. Perfect timing, too, for the upcoming slew of meetings, both internal and author-facing. Brewed Awakenings II is taking shape, as is the first issue of The 3288 Review. I am taking a crash course in InDesign, page layout and typography, assisted ably by some exceptionally talented people who make me feel old and slow. As things stand at the moment, it looks like we will publish six book and two issues of the journal before the end of 2015.

And that ain’t bad at all.

Last Day of May, 2015

Sitting in the Lyon Street Cafe with a journal book, a notebook, a Chromebook, Esperanza Street, and Rudy Rucker‘s recently released Journals 1990-2014. The work book, apparently, covers a lot of ground.

June approaches, and with it a titanic pile of work. In the day job the current project will hit the “WE HAVE ONE MONTH LEFT” milestone tomorrow. In Master Lee’s class we have one week until the Festival of the Arts performance. Rick and I are fitting in private practice sessions whenever we can, to offset the time we spend teaching in class.

But the biggest news involves Caffeinated Press, and it comes in two parts. First, today is the last day for submission to Brewed Awakenings II, the house anthology of short stories. Tomorrow we start looking at all of the submissions and figuring out which ones will make it into the anthology. I don’t know the exact submission count, but I do know it is probably closer to 100 than it is to 50.

The second is The 3288 Review. Submissions are rolling in. At the same time we are working on the website (going live very soon!) and meeting frequently to hash out the final details of design, distribution, etc.

Oh yeah: June is when we set up our new office space on Kalamazoo Ave, just south of 28th Street.

In the spare moments left after all of this, I still have a house to maintain and numerous repairs and upgrades.

And at some point I will need sleep and/or food.

Pre-Ides Doldrums: Or, May I Continue, May?

Because of a migraine-ish headache I requested the day off from work. The pain is at a low ebb at the moment so I can bear to look at a screen.

The 3288 Review is open for submissions! Tonight is our third official meeting, where we will finalize the few details which still need to be finalized, and lay out a course for the next fifty days. Fifty, being roughly the number of days until the deadline for submissions to issue #1 (to be published in mid-August), seems like a large number at the front end of it, but the whittling down has already begun. June 30 is just over the horizon.

Spring weather is here, finally, and I have laid in most of my garden for the year. My plans are simple – about three dozen hot peppers, a handful of herbs, and some of the easier-to-grow greens, like collards and kale, and maybe some chard. No tomatoes this year; I have seen progressively diminishing returns over the past three years so, for the first time since about 2010, no tomatoes in my garden. That simply means I have more room for cayenne, cherry bomb, habanero, serrano, jalapeno, Thai dragons, Thai birds-eyes, and Hungarian wax peppers. And likely some other varieties, too.

Another change is that I am only growing from seedlings. No sprouting seeds this year. So many other people are so much better at that kind of thing than I am, and I am happy to pay them for their efforts at the Farmer’s Market.

As I get more of a handle on my finances I have started planning for fixes and upgrades to my house and property. Right now I have it narrowed down to “rip out and replace everything that isn’t actually my house or my garage”, which sounds about as expensive as it probably will be.

My Pile of Literary Journals

As part of my role as dogsbody Chief Operations Officer for Caffeinated Press I spent a lot of my time in research. The current Big Project is The 3288 Review literary journal, which is now accepting submissions. The research portion started out as a trip to local bookstores, but now that Socrates Cafe is closed, Grand Rapids is woefully under-supplied with lit magazines and journals. So I hit the exhaustive list at Poets & Writers, and began ordering. To paraphrase Hunter S. Thompson, once you get locked into a serious literature collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can.

This list will be updated as the collection grows.

American Short Fiction 58
Asimov’s Science Fiction 471/472
Black Warrior Review 41.2
Border Crossing Vol. 4
Brick 94
Crazyhorse 86
Creative Nonfiction 52, 53
Dissent Magazine Spring 2015
Fantasy & Science Fiction March/April 2015
Gigantic Sequins 6.1
Green Mountains Review 27.2
Interzone 246
Lapham’s Quarterly 7.4, 8.1, 8.2
Massachusetts Review 55.3
McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern 45, 46, 47, 48
Michigan Quarterly Review 54.1
Midwestern Gothic 16
n+1 22
New Delta Review 27
NOON Annual 5
Oxford American Spring 2015
Pank 10
Paris Review 205, 209, 210, 212
PMS poemmoirstory 14
Prairie Schooner 88.4
Red City Review January 2015
Redivider 12.1
Rosebud 58
Saint Ann’s Review Winter 2015
Saltfront 1, 2, 3
Salt Hill 33
Siblini Art and Literature Journal, Vol. 1
Tin House 62
Wherever 2014 issue 1
Zoetrope All-Story 18.3
Zyzzyva 102

Mid-April Already

The days are indeed, as Bukowski would have it, running away like wild horses over the hills. Thanks to rain and some warm weather West Michigan is slowly turning green, and it is beautiful to see.

My free time remains captive to Caffeinated Press and The 3288 Review; enough that I probably should stop considering it “free time”. Or even “mine”. But it is all for a good cause, and fun besides. This past week saw a two hour “get it in gear” meeting for The 3288 Review, which segued into a sort of unofficial planning-for-the-future meeting for Caffeinated Press. To wit: we have a couple of ideas for fun projects which will help tie us in to the Grand Rapids creative communities, and allow us to give something back. We needn’t only look for literary talent to publish. West Michigan hosts a large pool of talent in all forms of creative expression.

Following closely on this is the realization that we need to have physical office space. Meetings in living rooms and on porches are all well and good, but they quickly begin to feel less like career builders and more like hobbies. I am reminded of a friend, many years ago, who in a fit of pique referred to the UICA as the “Suburban Institute for Contemporary Arts”. I don’t see that happening to us, though I admit I might be naively optimistic. We have a diverse-enough cast of characters, both in people and people-who-know-people, that we can avoid the subtle trap of provincialism.

Then again, provincialism sells.

Office space will allow us to host community-level gatherings, be they round-table meetings of our (over a dozen) editors, or open space for people to camp out and write, or to provide workshops for the local literary community. And at the most practical level, sometimes you just need to get out of the house.

This may be the last beautiful day of the month. Time to work on the yard.