Part 4 of Flash Fiction Chronicles’ ongoing series, “Creating and Publishing a Flash Chapbook” by Bonnie ZoBell.” Click HERE to find links to the entire series which includes articles and interviews by Bonnie ZoBell and Marko Fong.
by Bonnie ZoBell
Today I am pleased to interview the publisher and editor of my own chapbook, Nate Jordon,* who says, humbly, that in 2007, in a small apartment in Boulder, Colorado, he founded Monkey Puzzle Press with a homemade computer and an HP P1000 printer. Prior to that, he went to California State University and received a BA in English, then went to the Jack Kerouac School and snatched an MFA in Writing & Poetics. Now he teaches things, publishes things and sometimes gets things published, among other things. I’ll add links for his wonderful chapbook The Weekender and some of his shorter pieces “Holy Denver and the Spontaneous Mind,” “Ham,” and “Rocky Balboa Is a Liar.” For more, visit his website: natejordon.com
Bonnie ZoBell: Hi Nate. Glad you had some time to talk today.
Nate Jordon: Thank you. It’s a pleasure.
BZ: Does Monkey Puzzle Press have a philosophy?
NJ: Our philosophy is best expressed by a quote from Charles Johnson:
“I think a real writer simply has to think in other terms. Not, ‘Will I get in this magazine? Will I get this NEA next year?’ but whether or not this work is something he would do if a gun were held to his head and somebody was going to pull the trigger as soon as the last word of the last paragraph of the last page was finished. Now if you can write out of the sense that you’re going to die as soon as the work is done, then you will write with urgency, honesty, courage, and without flinching at all, as if this were the last testament in language, the last utterance you could ever make to anybody. If a work is written like that, then I want to read it. If somebody’s writing out of that sense, then I’ll say, ‘This is serious. This person is not fooling around. This work is not a means to some other end, the work is not just intended for some silly superficial goal, this work is the writer saying something because he or she feels that if it isn’t said, it will never be said.’ Those are the writers I want to read.”
Indeed, those are not only the manuscripts we want read, those are the manuscripts we want to publish.
BZ: What would you say your press is looking for in the way of submissions?
NJ: We’re presently searching for memoir and creative nonfiction manuscripts, personal stories about real experiences, lives that have challenged or are presently challenging the status quo. This applies to chapbook manuscripts and full-length manuscripts.
BZ: What mistakes do you see writers making who submit to you?
NJ: It’s quite simple: not following submission guidelines. Our guidelines are neither abstract nor obscure; they’re clearly posted on our website and I believe they are simple and straightforward. Nonetheless, we have received submissions that don’t even have the author’s name on them.
BZ: What’s your idea of a perfect submission?
NJ: One that follows our submission guidelines. One that is formatted in a professional manner and adheres to our philosophy.
BZ: Name a few writers whose chapbooks Monkey Puzzle Press has published and tell us a few words about their chapbooks.
NJ: Our most recent chapbook is Seeking Asylum by Alison Iglehart. It’s a collection of three non-fiction pieces that evaluate American culture and society via personal narrative and though it’s only twenty-six pages in length, those are a compelling twenty-six pages.
Alison had submitted a full-length manuscript, but I felt these three stories were very strong, and thematically linked. Though I passed on the full-length manuscript, I did offer her a chapbook contract, and things transpired quite smoothly. I’m very proud of this chapbook; Alison’s prose was clean, crisp, and required little editorial work on my end – the cover idea came to me at the last minute while I was in the shower (I already had an idea that had been designed), but Alison loved the new concept and we moved forward. All in all, Alison made my job very easy.
Then there’s Mr. America by Don Riesett. Don is a phenomenal writer with an amazing intellect, and has an incredible life story to tell. Don had submitted the story to our literary journal, and while it was a good fit for that venue, I saw that it had more potential which happens quite often with such submissions. (In fact, one of our early short stories, “Jawbone” by Nicholas B. Morris, not only won our first annual flash fiction contest but eventually led to an entire book deal: Tapeworm).
Through my correspondence with Don, I discovered he had written an entire manuscript, Mad Man, which I immediately attempted to acquire. Alas, it had already been optioned by an agent. Nonetheless, I am very proud to be the publisher behind Don’s first chapbook, as I expect Don and Mad Man to take the literary market by storm. Keep your eyes on this guy, folks. Anyhow, Don made my job easy–and much like Seeking Asylum–the cover idea for Mr. America came to me at the last minute while I was in the shower (gotta love those beta waves). The chapbook was ready to go but the new idea was excellent, and I quickly redesigned the interior and exterior, and there you have it. Best of all, Don loved it. This synergy and cooperative spirit is important to MPP’s publication process.
BZ: If you could put a fold-out in one of your chapbooks, who or what would it be of?
NJ: Probably a photo of Hubert Selby, Jr. with the following quote of his:
“Being an artist doesn’t take much, just everything you’ve got. Which means, of course, that as the process is giving you life, it is also giving you death. But it’s no big deal. They are one and the same and cannot be avoided or denied. So when I totally embrace this process, this life/death, and abandon myself to it, I transcend all this gibberish and hang out with the gods. It seems to me that that is worth the price of admission.”
This quote appears in the footer of our letterhead. I believe it’s not only inspiring, but is true of all artistic endeavor.
BZ: Talk a little about the production of your Monkey Puzzle Press chapbooks. What size are they? How are they made? How much color do you use? What is the page range of most of them?
NJ: Initially we started off with a standard size of 8.5 x 5.5 in. Subsequently, we canned such “standards.” We have some excellent printing and production equipment now which has definitely broadened our capacity. Mr. America, for instance, is the exact size of a passport which is what the cover design replicates as well. Body in a Hydrophilic Frame by Min Jung Oh (a project solely designed by our poetry editor Jordan Antonucci) has a physical dimension of 5 x 5 in. There’s no limit here, and we are still experimenting with physical presentation.
All of our chapbooks are designed, printed, assembled, etc. in-house. Thanks to a high-end laser printer, a German manufactured guillotine cutter and other equipment, we produce chapbooks that even the finest printing businesses can deliver. This also eliminates the need to do large print runs, which also eliminates storage and other services (which also eliminates the incumbent fees that would be deducted from the profits, meaning more money in the authors’ pockets). Essentially, our chapbooks are POD. As well, all of our chapbooks are available as eBooks via Google Play, and we plan to make them available on Kindle and other eReaders very soon.
While color is a consideration in relation to printing costs, what’s most important to us is that the chapbook is a quality piece of art, not just a few pages to peruse. If that requires a lot of color or no color, that is fine with us. Take, for instance, Interior Life by Katherine Grant. There is a color photo or a color art piece on almost every page. But it works, and it is necessary for the work as a whole. Of course, we did have to increase the price on this chapbook to compensate for all the color used, but that has not impacted sales whatsoever.
The page range for our chapbooks runs the gamut of fourteen pages to seventy-six. I don’t advise going much beyond the seventy-six range, though. That’s a thick chapbook. That particular release, bruisers by Brad McLelland, is a novella (or a flash novel)–something we are looking to develop into a perfect-bound book in the near future. It’s been one of our bestsellers in our chapbook line and I think it has potential for a larger market.
BZ: Do you accept manuscripts all year round or only during certain times of the year?
NJ: We do accept manuscripts year-round. However, there have been times we have been inundated with them, and our small staff can only do so much. At such times we have closed our submissions. That may be arbitrary, but it becomes a necessity.
BZ: Is Monkey Puzzle Press interested in chapbooks from new writers who haven’t had books or chapbooks published before?
NJ: Absolutely. While we do publish chapbooks and other works by veteran authors, I founded MPP as a platform to promote the work of new writers.
BZ: How many stories in the chapbooks submitted to you do you like to see already published?
NJ: This isn’t something we consider at all. Whether a story or a collection of them have been previously published has no bearing on our judgment. We are, first and foremost, concerned with the quality of the work. That said, it does help to know the author’s publication history.
BZ: Would you like to add any other advice or tips to writers trying to get their fiction chapbooks published?
NJ: Become familiar with the publisher you are looking to establish a relationship with. Evaluate the books in their catalog (better yet, purchase a few of their chapbooks) and determine if your manuscript would be a good fit. Above all, follow their submission guidelines. And be sure to spell the editor’s name correctly in your query/cover letter. I can’t tell you how many times my name has been misspelled. My last name is “Jordon” and I have received countless letters with my last name spelled as “JordAn”. That is an oversight that is difficult to forgive, and typically isn’t.
BZ: Thanks a lot for your help with this, Nate. Some of this information is hard to fine, so we appreciate it.
NJ: You’re very welcome. I’m glad to be of service.
*My sincerest apologies to Nate Jordon for misspelling his name in the headline of this article. I am particularly embarrassed by this since Nate makes a point in the interview about how annoying it is for this to happen. And of course, I read right over this without a blink. I’m sorry to Bonnie too who has worked so diligently to keep everything accurate in this series of hers.
Bonnie ZoBell’s fiction chapbook THE WHACK-JOB GIRLS is forthcoming with Monkey Puzzle Press in March 2013 and her short story collection WHAT HAPPENED HERE is forthcoming with Press 53 in spring 2014. She’s received an NEA, the Capricorn Novel Award, a PEN Syndicated Fiction Award, and a spot on Wigleaf’s Top 50. Her work has appeared in Night Train, The Greensboro Review, New Plains Review, PANK, Connotation Press, and elsewhere. She received an MFA from Columbia, currently teaches at San Diego Mesa College, and is Associate Editor of The Northville Review. More of her work can be found at www.bonniezobell.com.