12 Winters Blog

Solares, Joyce and the difficulties of finding a small press publisher

Posted in June 2010 by Ted Morrissey on June 23, 2010

I finished Ignacio Solares’s novel Yankee Invasion this morning (about 2 a.m. — long story) and was very impressed by it — plus I enjoyed the heck out of it. I especially admire the way Solares effortlessly moves from various time periods, perspectives, and narrative voices. It’s not an especially long novel, only a little over 200 pages, with many concise chapters. In short, I recommend it. I’ve gone back to reading my way through Ulysses, specifically the Cyclops section. Going from Solares to Joyce was kind of like plunging into icy waters. While complex, Solares’s prose style is very straight forward; even with the multiplicity of time frames and narrative voices, etc., it is easy to keep hold of the various threads. Not so much with Ulysses, which requires careful reading (and re-reading and re-reading) to stay more or less on top of the text — but I enjoy that challenge, and, as a writer, I feel that I’m absorbing some meaningful things from Joyce. For Father’s Day I asked for and received a copy of Finnegans Wake. I’ve been perusing the introduction by John Bishop, which begins with what could be a rather discouraging observation for many: “There is no agreement as to what Finnegans Wake is about, whether or not it is ‘about’ anything, or even whether it is, in any ordinary sense of the word, ‘readable'” (p. vii, 1999 Penguin edition). I’m anxious to begin in earnest — but first to finish Ulysses (and probably another couple of contemporary authors). I did mention Finnegans Wake in my dissertation but only in that the various reading groups dedicated to the book — groups that read the text aloud line by line and research/discuss every allusion — are akin to the textual communities that developed in medieval England, whereby a literate person (usually a member of the church) would read aloud (usually the Bible) and his audience would contribute to interpreting the text. I would like to be a part of just such a Finnegans Wake group. I know: it wouldn’t be most folks’ cup of tea.

I’m still not back to composing for the Authoress, but I’ve read through the entire manuscript, about 230 pages, and did some revising and close editing (and note taking). I also have been reading some historical texts on everyday life in Georgian/Victorian London to incorporate further textual details into my novel. In reality, though, I haven’t uncovered much new material that I want to try to weave into the story, but I’ve verified that much of what I’ve already included is historically plausible. Here’s a little tidbit that I learned: copper cooking utensils, frying pans, etc., were very popular in Victorian London kitchens, but they were lined with tin because copper is toxic, so cooks had to be diligent in having their pots and pans retinned every so often to avoid poisoning their families, as the tin lining would wear off over time. Cast iron cookware was not as fashionable, but overall it was safer and less trouble to maintain. One of  things I like best about being a writer is that to be a good writer one must also be a good learner.

On the Men of Winter front, I believe the final edits have been made and the novel is ready for pagination/typesetting. I’ve also had some email contact with the graphic designer who’s doing the cover regarding blurbs. The other day I received a rejection for the novel from a university press, even though I’d withdrawn the manuscript query via email months ago and received a congratulatory email in acknowledgement of my withdrawal (these are the best sorts of rejections to receive). I bring it up, though, because in the letter of rejection, the editor said that her press was cutting back on the number of fiction titles they were going to bring out in the  coming year due to economic reasons. Cutting back! They’d only been publishing four titles a year as it was. It’s just further evidence that things are pretty bleak in the publishing world — especially the small, independent press world. Meanwhile, many small and/or university presses have stopped accepting new manuscript queries because they are already inundated. At a glance it would seem that there are a lot of these types of presses out there, but for a fiction writer (especially a white male fiction writer) the number is fairly small. I haven’t done any hard-number calculations, but it seems that the literal majority of small presses only publish poetry (poetry quite frankly is easier to publish; the manuscripts are much shorter than prose mss., layout is easier, the books tend to be much thinner in terms of the number of pages). Then you have presses who are only interested in creative nonfiction, or in translation; or they only publish women, or authors from a particular cultural arena, or authors who are gay/lesbian, or authors who are disabled, or who come from a specific geographical region (Canada or the Southwest or New England), or authors under the age of 25, or authors who are enrolled in an MFA program. . . .  When it comes to university or small presses that are willing to look at fiction from white males, it’s a relatively small number. Then you toss in factors like a press may be, understandably, only reading during certain times of the year, or it has stopped accepting new queries because it’s already severely backlogged — and looking for a prospective publisher becomes even more daunting. Intellectually I realize we white males have been dominating, well, everything in Western culture for thousands of years, including publishing, and I agree that it’s about time that other voices are heard in the publishing world (not to mention every other world); but it’s still a bit frustrating when one is looking for an outlet for one’s work.

Hence long live Punkin House Press.

I continue to circulate “Melvill in the Marquesas,” the first chapter of my unpublished novella, as a stand-alone piece — but I’ve only begun the process, so it’ll be a little while before the rejections begin rolling in in earnest. I’ve also begun typing up some of my older published stories, as  I hope to have together a novella with collected stories manuscript in the near future.


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