by Bonnie ZoBell
Evan Kingston, the fiction editor at Red Bird Chapbooks lives in St. Paul, Minnesota. He writes fiction, runs the frozen aisle in a grocery store, and maintains a blog on the relationship between literature and humor called The Oldest Jokes in the World. He is currently self-publishing a serial novel called Slash, and his short fiction can be found at Versus Literary Journal and Revolver.
Bonnie ZoBell: Hi Evan. Thanks for coming by to give our readers some insight into chapbooks in general and Red Bird Chapbooks in particular. I want to say right up front that one of the first things you told me was that you’d “especially like to do this if it encourages your readers to submit their work to Red Bird. In our current submission period, I’d estimate poetry is outweighing fiction three to one, and I want to change that.” Music to our readers’ ears! Do you want to say anything more about this?
Evan Kingston: Poetry has dominated the chapbook scene for so long, that even I was a little skeptical when our founding editor, Dana, approached me about becoming a fiction editor at the press. I’d been amazed by the gorgeous books of poetry and great community readings Red Bird had been putting on, but didn’t even know fiction was something the press would consider. Luckily, she assured me they had some submissions that needed an editor, so I took the challenge, started reading manuscripts and was surprised and energized by the possibilities.
In the year since I took the position, I’ve tried, with the help of our other fiction editor, Alida Winternheimer, to up the profile of fiction in the chapbook world. The best way to do this is obviously by publishing great fiction chapbooks and showing that they’re a quick, intimate way for fiction writers to get their work out there. So far, I think it is working because after releasing more fiction titles in the past year than ever before, we’ve seen a decent upswing in fiction submissions this period. That said, I know there are even more writers out there looking for a way to get their work to an audience, so I hope we continue to grow.
And there’s still time to correct the disparity: our current submission period is open through October 31st. Check out Possibilities Formerly Known as Submissions for more details.
BZ: I notice when I look at your site that another thing Red Bird does besides chapbooks is broadsides. Could you tell us what those are?
EK: For our broadsides, we asked an artist to respond to a poem and paired the results in a lovely piece of fine art celebrating both mediums. The project, currently on hiatus, concluded before my time working at Red Bird, but I did buy several as a fan; there is really no better way to use your love of literature to decorate your space.
I don’t think broadsides need to be reserved for poetry either; I’d love to see some great flash fiction broadsides hanging over my couch some day.
BZ: Why were they discontinued?
EK: We’re taking some time to reconsider our approach to the project while focusing exclusively on our chapbooks for a year.
BZ: Does Red Bird Chapbooks have a philosophy?
EK: Our main goal is helping writers bring their work to the writing community. Our chapbooks, made with care, attention to detail, and an eye towards design that complements each individual project, are a great tool for a starting writer to connect with and grow an audience. Chapbooks are accessible and affordable to readers, and provide a personal, intimate connection that is often lost in other formats.
BZ: What would you say your press is looking for in the way of fiction chapbook submissions?
EK: I want a cohesive manuscript; whether it is one longer short story, a collection of several shorts, or a dozen flash fiction pieces, I want them to hold together both stylistically and thematically. Past that, I don’t have any specific genre or style I’m looking for, just a well-told story.
Maybe it goes hand in hand with cohesion, but my only other must-have is some sense of completion. Even with a one-paragraph piece of flash fiction, I want to feel that sense of unique satisfaction only a story with a beginning, middle, and end can give.
BZ: What mistakes do you see fiction writers making who submit to you?
EK: Silly errors in grammar and spelling. I want to spend my time as an editor helping the writer revise for content, pushing the manuscript to new heights, not just fixing it up into a form you wouldn’t be embarrassed to hand in to a high school English class.
BZ: Name a few fiction writers whose chapbooks Red Bird Chapbooks has published and tell us a few words about their books.
EK: The first manuscript I accepted as fiction editor was Family Affair by Shaun Rouser. The stories in the collection, though populated by very different characters, all had such a strongly linked voice and theme, they made me realize the unique possibilities a fiction chapbook presents.
Joe Baumann’s collection of flash fiction, Ivory Children, is another favorite of mine. He packs such vividly surreal scenes into just a few paragraphs that this collection is more full of striking images than any other I’ve come across.
With flash fiction, I’m always wary of it feeling unfinished, so I was very excited to help publish Eirik Gumeny’s Storybook Romance. By referencing fairy tales, each of the vignettes in this collection manages to imply a complete story, while adding fresh insight to the familiar stories.
BZ: If you could put a fold-out in one of your chapbooks, who or what would it be of?
EK: As a youngster, I always loved immersive fantasy books with little maps included, so I think I would want a huge, hand-drawn map. And for fun, I’d make it as confusing to fold back up as a road-atlas. This week, we are assembling our latest fiction offering, “Niagara Falls,” a short story by Beth Mayer about a road trip that would be a perfect fit. Maybe it isn’t too late to stop the presses…
BZ: Talk a little about the production of Red Bird’s fiction chapbooks. What size are they? How are they made? Perfect bound, stapled, or? How much color do you use? What is the page range of most of them?
EK: We like to experiment and fit each book to its contents, but for the most part, they the size of a sheet of standard paper folded in half, with hand-sewn bindings, up to 48 pages. We print with archival ink on archival quality paper, black and white insides with full color covers. We especially love to collaborate with local artists on our covers.
BZ: Do you accept fiction manuscripts all year round, or only during certain times of the year?
EK: We accept submissions in all genres from August 15th to October 31st, so there is still time to submit this year.
BZ: Are you interested in fiction chapbooks from new writers who haven’t had books or chapbooks published before?
EK: None of the authors I’ve worked with so far have previously published books and only one has a previously published chapbook; we’re dedicated to finding fresh work and helping authors find an audience for it.
BZ: How many stories in the chapbooks submitted to you do you like to see already published?
EK: We use a blind submission process so the author’s name and previous accomplishments don’t play into our decision process.
BZ: Thanks so much for all this helpful information, Evan. I hope you’ll get some fiction chapbook submissions from our readers.
Bonnie ZoBell’s fiction chapbook The Whack-Job Girls with Monkey Puzzle Press was released in March 2013 and her short story collection WHAT HAPPENED HERE is forthcoming with Press 53 in spring 2014. She’s received an NEA fellowship for her fiction, teaches at San Diego Mesa College, and is Associate Editor of The Northville Review. For more information, visit www.bonniezobell.com.