If you are reading this, you have missed your chance to pre-order Surfing with Mel by Matthew Lickona. You must order it outright instead. To do so, go here.
Tuscany Press, out of Boston; Slant Books in Eugene, Oregon; Wiseblood Books in Milwaukee; and Korrektiv Press, bearing the impressive geographic colophon of Seattle, Snohomish, Spokane, San Diego, Soldiers Grove…
The last couple of years have seen the launch of several interesting independent Catholic publishing concerns (into which company, for the sake of argument, I presume to include Labora Editions.) I don’t personally know any of the other publishers; like me, they seem to have their heads down, pulling hard to make it work, but I thought I would look up from the traces for a moment to ponder this strange and recent confluence.
Tuscany Press founder Peter Mongeau became aware of a demand for fiction informed by Catholic spirituality when he was the coordinator of his parish’s book club. “I kept running into two things: First, that people were looking for fiction along the lines of Flannery O’Connor, Chesterton, Percy, and Graham Greene, the Catholic literary novels of the ’50′s and ’60′s; Second, that there was a dearth of modern-day Catholic fiction.” Mongeau started the press and instituted the Tuscany Prize for Catholic Fiction in an effort to fill that perceived gap.
Gregory Wolfe, the editor-in-chief of Image journal, begs to differ. Right now at the top of the Image website there is an article about the Top 50 Contemporary Writers of Faith, with the clever tagline: “We find rumors of a dearth greatly exaggerated.” Last summer, Wolfe founded an imprint with Wipf and Stock Publishers called Slant — after Emily Dickinson’s aphorism, “Tell all the truth, but tell it slant… The truth must dazzle gradually.” Though Wolfe is himself a Catholic convert, he has made an important statement about the editorial focus of Slant: “The Roman writer Terence once said Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto. (‘I am a human being: nothing human is alien to me.’) Whether you are a writer of faith or not, that should be your motto. Slant books will publish work that concerns itself with everything that’s human. That will, of course, include the religious sense, but our titles will in no way become a line of ‘religious fiction.’”
Korrektiv Press grew organically out of the Korrektiv blog, being a “kollektiv” of “bad catholics, blogging at a time near the end of the world.” As a regular reader of this blog, I am constantly shaking my head in the face of impossibly razor wit. The whole thing seems, to the outsider, like an edifice of inside joke built atop inside joke, reaching to the heavens, held together by a 50/50 mortar of philosophy and theology (with pop-culture for color.) The first title for Korrektiv Press, in 2010, was Jonathan Potter’s book of poems, entitled House of Words. Last fall they released their third title, a novel by Brian Jobe entitled A Bird’s Nest in Your Hair.
I read a doozy of an interview recently between Jobe and Joshua Hren of Dappled Things, which I mention solely as segue, because Hren is also editor-in-chief of the newest kid on the block, Wiseblood Books, launched this summer with an innovative ready-made catalogue of “Wiseblood Classics,” by the likes of Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Chesterton, Willa Cather, Henry James, et al. Wiseblood’s first release of contemporary, original fiction, The Unfinished Life of N. by Micah Cawber, is available for pre-order now, and an ambitious program of publication (a new title every month for the next six months) is laid out. Their website states: “Our devotion to the life of the mind makes us watchful for works that reach the roots of fundamental questions, that turn to the almost three-thousand-year-long conversations committed to these questions, and that incite our hunger for the splendor of truth.”
I am a recent customer of all of these companies. Voting with my dollar, and in an attempt to beef up my own “life of the mind” (a phrase which unfailingly reminds me of Barton Fink) I have purchased, in an electronic format, the 2012 Tuscany Prize for Catholic Fiction Selected Short Stories, as well as the latest title from Slant, Paula Huston’s novel A Land Without Sin. Through Amazon I purchased the print edition of Korrektiv’s Bird’s Nest, and even coughed up my ten bucks to pre-order The Unfinished Life of N. from the Wiseblood website.
I hope all of these publishers flourish and that more spring up in the coming months and years, because I do not consider them my competition, but brothers-in-arms. If indeed a rising tide lifts all boats, then we are all riding the same wave.
To wit, the first Labora Editions book release, Surfing with Mel by Matthew Lickona, is set for the 1st of October and available now for pre-order. It is a tall, slim hardcover book; a stamped, numbered edition of 300 copies. I print the pages and the cover images myself. I sew the signatures together and bind the books by hand. By way of provenance, I owe a debt of gratitude to Korrektiv for this release. Surfing with Mel was their second title, but was available only as a 99 cent ebook. I read it on my iPad, and it stuck with me in the same powerful way that Eugene O’Neill’s Long Days Journey Into Night has stuck with me over the years, and I decided to make it my first “book-book” — with Mr. Lickona’s kind indulgence. The ebook version is still available through Amazon, still just 99 cents. The cost of a Labora Editions copy is $27. The question will be asked, so I might as well ask it first: Why would someone buy the more expensive Surfing with Mel? My own answer, as a bibliophile, is simple: because it means something to me and I want it on my bookshelf.
I began Labora Editions last summer as a way to sell a serialized, epistolary, Benedictine-themed zombie apocalypse novel. I had a specific idea of how I wanted readers to experience the story, and there was not a publishing company in existence that would have distributed Ora et Labora et Zombies my way (in installments of actual letters, mailed to readers over a period of seventy-two weeks.) So, I did it myself and have enjoyed some small measure of success, but my aim for Labora Editions beyond the “zombie letters” was always to be a publisher of books.
I have loved books all my life. I take a romantic view of them, as one inevitably does with the things one loves, and my approach to publishing is colored by that view. Tuscany’s Peter Mongeau comes from a business background and rightly talks about the publishing market and “barriers to entry” and “distribution channels.” My background is in studio art, (ceramics, specifically) and I bring my ideas of form, function, the mark of the hand, and the importance of craft to my process of making books.
The other publishers featured in this post are, so far as I can tell, producing books according to the current standard practices of book manufacture, and that is perfectly fine. I was happy to pay for all of the aforementioned purchases; I can’t wait to get my hands on them, to have a chance to sit still and read. But the standard practice is not what appeals to me as a craftsman. The book is a kind of vessel, and I am as interested in the thing itself as in what goes between the covers. The content, of course, must “dazzle gradually,” so to speak, but my parallel aspiration is to create an attractive, durable vessel.
I think of it as craft publishing. Recently, in an email to Matthew Lickona I described the idea thus: “Like a microbrewery, except with books.”
On that note, I humbly open Labora Editions to submissions.
Surfing with Mel is now available for pre-order in the Labora Editions store.
Matthew Lickona’s brilliant story-in-script-form uses the increasingly familiar occasion of a celebrity meltdown — in this case, the spectacularly failed collaboration of Joe Eszterhas and Mel Gibson on a film about Judah Maccabee — to explore some of the pitfalls inherent to pride, lust, fame, and faith. It is a darkly satirical and deeply profane portrait of two men at war with each other, with their pasts, and with God.
Lickona, on the the nature of his depiction: “I was very pleased when a few readers said that they didn’t feel I was out to mock Gibson, or condemn him — because I wasn’t. The internet has that task well in hand. If anything, I was trying to make sense of him, to find the man inside the meltdown. I’m not trying to imagine what really happened; I’m trying to use the framework provided by one account of what happened to tell an interesting story. This isn’t a nonfiction novel à la In Cold Blood. It’s historical fiction, based on very recent history.” [source]
Labora Editions is proud to offer, as its first book release, an edition of 300 hand-bound copies of Surfing with Mel by Matthew Lickona.
I picked up the paper order today for Surfing with Mel. Two big boxes of 80# Text and one box of 80# Cover. I wish the Clampitt Paper logo came on a t-shirt.
Linen thread for sewing signatures:
And finally, real men make their own bookcloth. On the left is a 100% cotton fabric (onto which the cover design will be screen printed); on the right, lightweight Japanese kozo paper (very strong, but so thin you can see the grid of my cutting mat showing through). Back the one with the other, and… Bookcloth.
I have whiled away the summer playing small ball — re-organizing my studio space, laying in supplies for various projects, sending out my weekly tub of OeLeZ letters — but summer is over. Time to get it in gear.
I am pleased to announce the first book release forthcoming from Labora Editions. It is Matthew Lickona’s excellent “story in script form” Surfing With Mel. I might have happily lived out my days without ever laying eyes on an ebook, were it not for my desire to read this piece of writing, which until now has only been available in a kindle edition.
The Labora edition of Surfing With Mel will be released on October 1st. More details (and plenty of production photos) to follow.
For the month of September, all Labora Editions t-shirts will be 40% off in the store, while stocks last. I want to clear the decks of my apparel inventory and focus entirely on producing books, prints, and cards.
When I first began Ora et Labora et Zombies a little over a year ago, the red cover letters were screen printed and looked like this:
A couple of months ago readers may have noticed a change. What happened was, in my puppy-like enthusiasm for a new power washer I went overboard cleaning my screen and this was the result:
Which made the screen nice for watching sunsets through, but not so nice for printmaking. I had that original stencil made for me at a local print shop from my digital file, and while it was always my intention to work out a system for exposing my own screens, I still hadn’t gotten around to it yet.
As a stop-gap I fell back to my way-back, first idea for printing covers, a rubber stamp that I had already had made,
which produced a cover letter that looked like this:
Not bad. Understated, compelling in its simplicity, one might say. I almost might have liked it better if I could have gotten the same nice dense white as I did with the screen print. My readers being the gentle souls that they are, no one mentioned the change, even to ask. Indeed the only feedback I received came from my mom. “Why did you change the cover letters?” she asked. “What’s the matter?” I asked, “you don’t like the new one?” She thought for a moment, couching her critique in the most positive terms, as is her way, “The old cover looked like you put more work into it.”
Recently I worked out an exposure system and the very first screen I burned was this:
Not as good for sunsets, but does just fine for these: