Thursday, April 15, 2010

12 or 20 (small press) questions: Mark McCawley on Greensleeve Editions

Greensleeve Editions is an Edmonton-based micro-press that publishes transgressive, discursive, post-realist writing. Founder, publisher, and in-house editor, Mark McCawley, is the author of ten chapbooks of poetry and short fiction, most recently, Sick Lazy Fuck (Black Bile Press, 2009), Collateral Damage (Coracle Press, 2008), as well as Stories For People With Brief Attention Spans (1993) and Just Another Asshole: short stories (1994), both from Greensleeve Editions. His short fiction has also appeared in the anthologies: Burning Ambitions: The Anthology of Short-Shorts, edited by Debbie James (Toronto: Rush Hour Revisions, 1998) and Grunt & Groan: The New Fiction Anthology of Work and Sex, edited by Matthew Firth and Max Maccari (Toronto: Boheme Press, 2002).

1 – When did Greensleeve Editions first start? How have your original goals as a publisher shifted since you started, if at all? And what have you learned through the process?
Greensleeve Editions first began in July, 1988, with the publication of my first poetry chapbook, Fragile Harvest/Fragile Lives. Although primarily a poetry publisher to begin with - fifty chapbook titles within the first five years of operation - I had long considered the short story to be a perfect fit for the chapbook format. By the mid 1990s, the micro-press had transitioned from being primarily a poetry press to a publisher of transgressive, urban post-realist writing and fiction. All along I had had the opportunity to publish some leading edge work by some now very well known CanLit writers - Excerpts from the journals of Alberta Borges by Janice Williamson, QHS by mary howes, Working Stiffs by Ken Rivard, The Job After The One Before by Jones, The Divining Rod by Stephen Morrissey, and Letters of the Alphabet by Carolyn Zonailo - to name only a handful. Throughout the process of micro-press, or chapbook, publishing for over twenty years now, I have learned the importance of sticking close to one's creative guns, so to speak, and not being afraid of failure or making mistakes. As a publisher, I've made some big ones. You learn and move on to the next title.

2 – What first brought you to publishing?
As with a lot of young writers, what first brought me to publishing was the impulse to see my work in print. Also was a long time love affair with the chapbook format. While trade books can sometimes make a writer seem impersonal and distant - I've never lost that feeling when holding a chapbook that the writer is "in my hands". 

3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?
I can't speak for other micro-press publishers, but my own personal publishing credo has always been to provide a venue, or a vehicle, for new writing to emerge, especially if that writing is transgressive and post-realist. 

4 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is?
Greensleeve Editions is a micro-press interested primarily in publishing transgressive, discursive, post-realist writing concerned with the struggles of hard edged urban living, alternative lifestyles, deviant culture - presented in their most raw and unpretentious form. To that end, Greensleeve publishes chapbooks, litzines, and weblogs to further this particular publishing mandate. Since 1993, Greensleeve has published the litzine Urban Graffiti, featuring new fiction and poetry by Jones, Matthew Firth, Bill Brown, Michael Bryson, Sonia Saikaley Neale McDevitt, Hal Niedzviecki, Clint Burnham, bart plantenga, Philip Quinn, Angela Hibbs, Vern Smith, G.R. Gustafson, Jason Heroux, David Groulx, Jeffrey Mackie, T. Anders Carson, and Nathaniel George Moore. Urban Graffiti is presently preparing it's eleventh issue, Vice and Debauchery. Although in the very early stages, I am currently contemplating the publication of a "Best Of..." anthology.

5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new books out into the world?
Any way possible. Mail. Word-of-mouth. Internet. Be as inventive as you possibly can be. Make every launch "an event". Attempt to launch your titles in unconventional venues such as bars, nightclubs, etc. During the launch of the zines Urban Graffiti X and Splurge 2, Greensleeve Editions hired several local Edmonton bands at a Southside Edmonton bar. The zines were included in the cover charge. After the cost of the zines were covered, and the bands were paid, the evening's profits went to a local charity which ran a Street Newspaper devoted to Edmonton's homeless. That night, everyone won. Still, what venture may work one time, may not another. Network with other micro-presses. In the end, what aids one micro-press, aids all micro-presses. To that end, I've started the weblog, Fresh Raw Cuts, to review micro-press titles, and direct readers to where they can purchase these titles. Of course, what helps my fellow micro-press publishers, also assists myself and my press.
6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?
I am your basic editor. It's my role to make the writer's work come across as clearly and succinctly as possible, not to rewrite or rework the manuscript or submission. Either the manuscript or submission will fit the mandate of the press, or it will not. By the time I solicit a chapbook manuscript from a writer, I'm already well acquainted with their style and abilities, and any editing on my part is usually quite minor. On the other hand, the litzine I publish, Urban Graffiti accepts unsolicited submissions and therefore requires a firmer editorial hand. Still, only between five and ten percent of submissions for the litzine are accepted for a given issue. That said, except for basic editing and proofing, accepted submissions are accepted as is.

7 – How do your books get distributed? What are your usual print runs?
Greensleeve Edition chapbooks and zines are distributed through mail-order. Print runs range from 100 to 250 copies per print run. Greensleeve Edition chapbooks and zines are individually rubber stamped for authenticity.

8 – How many other people are involved with editing or production? Do you work with other editors, and if so, how effective do you find it? What are the benefits, drawbacks?
Between 1988 and 2004, I was solely responsible for editing and production of Greensleeve Edition titles. In 1991, though, there was a brief collaboration between Greensleeve Editions and Unfinished Monument Press with the publication of Small Press Lynx: an anthology of small press writers and their writers, edited by Mark McCawley and Chris Faiers. From 2004 onward, my son Devin McCawley has taken an active part in the production and co-publishing of Greensleeve Edition titles, while I am still the chief editor and publisher.

Are there benefits or drawbacks to working with other editors? For the most part, I find too many editors, like too many cooks, tend to ruin the dish. For that reason, I've avoided editorial collectives both as a publisher and as a writer - group think has always been antithetical to true creativity.

9 – How has being (an editor/publisher) changed the way you think about your own writing?
Immensely. I have witnessed my own writing, over the last twenty years or so, viewed first with scorn and contempt then with something akin to acceptance (albeit within the micro-press community and the CanLit underground). All that has really changed, frankly, is public perception. Micro-presses have always been the route for new, transgressive writing. The internet has only served to magnify this process even more so. What was once considered a pariah of Canadian publishing, and not taken at all seriously by writers and academics alike, has swiftly changed in a dozen short years. What does this mean for my own writing? I don't know. One thing is certain, though, my writing has always been welcome at Canada's micro-presses, and will continue to be so, because Canada's micro-presses have always been the source of innovation and creativity in an otherwise bland publishing landscape.

10 – How do you approach the idea of publishing your own writing? Some, such as Gary Geddes when he still ran Cormorant, refused such, yet various Coach House Press’ editors had titles during their tenures as editors for the press, including Victor Coleman and bpNichol. What do you think of the arguments for or against, or do you see the whole question as irrelevant?
Totally irrelevant. I have published my own writing quite often. If I don't do it, who will? Especially if your writing is transgressive? I suspect if one looks into the publishing history of, say, a Gary Geddes, one is bound to uncover a certain amount of academic nepotism. It's impossible to avoid, particularly in a publishing industry as small and insular as Canada's. Geddes is no better, and no worse, than any other editor for the press anywhere else, and no less guilty or innocent. I'd much rather see new writing published no matter where, or by whom. As is, the same CanLit writers seem to be published again and again while new writers continue to work their craft in obscurity. What does this say about the current state of Canada's publishing industry?

11 – How do you see Greensleeve Editions evolving?
I see Greensleeve Editions continuing to evolve as a micro-press as it has from it's humble beginnings. While Greensleeve will continue to publish transgressive poetry and short fiction chapbooks, I see the litzine Urban Graffiti eventually evolving into a completely web based entity. I can forsee the day when, as publisher, I'm arrested for obscenity for the publication of one of my chapbooks. I look forward to that day. I just wonder who the writer will be...
12 – What, as a publisher, are you most proud of accomplishing? What do you think people have overlooked about your publications? What is your biggest frustration?
As a publisher, I am proud of the many risk-taking writers who have allowed me to publish their work over the last twenty years - poets, short fiction writers, novelists. I am proud of the many titles I have been able to publish on a shoestring budget. Most of all, I'm proud of all the issues of the litzine, Urban Graffiti, and all the writers who appeared in its pages. 

What do I think people have overlooked about Greensleeve Editions publications? Easy. Their existence, especially within Alberta. In many cases, I couldn't give Greensleeve Edition chapbooks and zines away in Alberta - particularly to the rare books library at the University of Alberta, and the special collections library of the Edmonton Public Library - even for free. While the Rare Books Library at the University of Wisconsin at Madison has a complete collection of Greensleeve Edition chapbooks and zines - which they paid for, too - Libraries in my own community don't consider them at all worthwhile.
Am I surprised? Not in the slightest. Particularly when publications such as George Melnyk's The Literary History of Alberta. Vol. 2: From  the End of the War to the End of the Century (U of Alberta Press, 1999) make absolutely no mention of Alberta micro-presses, their publications, or their authors. Perhaps sometime in the future this gross oversight will be corrected.
13 – Who were your early publishing models when starting out?
In 1988, there were no micro-presses in Edmonton. All the micro-presses I knew of were based elsewhere - mostly in Toronto. My early Greensleeve titles were modeled after some of those Toronto chapbooks I had collected up until that time - Unfinished Monument Press, Streetcar Editions, Pink Dog Press, Proper Tales Press.
14 – How does Greensleeve work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see your books in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?
Quite a few writers have mistaken Greensleeve Editions for a Toronto press. Can I blame them? A transgressive publisher based in Edmonton? Smack dab in the middle of Alberta's Bible Belt? It has proved somewhat more difficult when it comes to engaging the immediate literary community - which is perfectly fine if you write and publish poetry (Edmonton has always had a very vibrant poetry community along with an annual poetry festival), yet very little for the emerging short fiction writer.

As a micro-press publisher, I am in constant dialogue with other publishers - particularly Matthew Firth's Black Bile Press who I view both as kindred to my own press (we often publish many of the same new writers) and my own writing as well. What assists Black Bile Press will most assuredly assist Greensleeve Editions in the long run. Networking and communication between micro-presses can only benefit everyone concerned.

15 – Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?
I hold "launches" or "events" as I call them with the publication of each issue of the zine, or chapbook. Early on - between 1988 and 1993 - Greensleeve held regular public readings at a local Downtown Edmonton gallery, coordinating chapbook publication with author readings, some local, some from out of province. It's worthwhile if one can accomplish it. Now it is easier to focus on the individual event.

16 – How do you utilize the internet, if at all, to further your goals?
Yes. I use the internet, Facebook in particular, to advertise calls for submissions for Urban Graffiti, and to promote a launch or event at a given venue.

17 – Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?
I presently take submissions only for the litzine, Urban Graffiti. Chapbook manuscripts are by solicitation only. All queries welcome.

18 – Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.
Urban Graffiti X was a special issue of the litzine because not only did it reach the tenth issue, it was also a transgressive tour-de-force of new writing by Philip Quinn, Bill Brown, Neale McDevitt, bart plantenga, and Angela Hibbs.

The Job After The One Before by Daniel Jones. Besides Jones' story "1978" which I published in UG #1, The Job... is probably the perfect Greensleeve chapbook. Four linked stories that will give the fan of Jones' fiction deeper insight into The People One Knows: Toronto Stories.

Just Another Asshole: Short Stories by Mark McCawley. In these loosely linked stories of one man's descent into middle age madness, poverty, and degradation in Edmonton's big empty.


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