Wednesday, August 15, 2018

12 or 20 (small press) questions with Tony Nesca on Screamin' Skull Press

Tony Nesca was born in Torino, Italy in 1965 and moved to Canada at the age of three. He was raised in Winnipeg but relocated back to Italy several times until finally settling in Winnipeg in 1980. He taught himself how to play guitar and formed an original rock band playing the local bars for several years. At the age of twenty-seven he traded his guitar for a Commodore 64 and started writing seriously. He has published six chapbooks of stories and poems (which he used to sell straight out of his knapsack at local dives and bookstores), six novels, four books of poetry, a short story collection and has been an active contributor to the underground lit scene for ten years, being published in innumerable magazines both online and in print. He currently resides in Winnipeg.

Tony Nesca and his wife, Nicole-Isabella Nesca, are the co-owners of the underground publishing company Screamin' Skull Press.

1 – When did Screamin' Skull Press 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?

Screamin' Skull Press started in 1994 as a vehicle to publish my own books - I had already in just a few short years of submitting my writing grown tired of the merry-go-round, grown tired of waiting 6 months just to be rejected. I knew that I would grow old and die waiting for to see my writing in print, and I was also aware that a lot of the great writers in history were self-publishers, so I decided to do it. The only change in my original goals in publishing have been that instead of simply publishing my own work, I now publish my wife's work as well - Nicole Nesca, who joined Screamin' Skull Press in 2008. And in over 20 years of doing this the only thing I have learned is that mass-production, and appealing to the lowest common denominator, will always outsell quality writing.

2 – What first brought you to publishing?

I think #1 answers this -

3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?

More than ever, I give great importance to small publishers - we live in a time of cultural bankruptcy, a time where mass production, easy-entertainment, and selling out have become the norm, hell, not just the norm - you see words like "masterpiece", "classic", "unforgettable", "mesmerizing" attached to superhero movies, zombie novels, action books and video games. Genre, nerd-culture, as they call it, has devoured all things artistic and meaningful. Everything real is gone. Writing, and film, music, culture in general, has become plastic and sanitized and made as easy to swallow as possible. It is thus the absolute responsibility of the small publishers/writers, artists of any kind, to rebel and to work in opposition to this gluttony of infantilism. The poetic, the real, the artistic, the rebellious, the deviant and transgressive, has to come from us - we can't join the mainstream and write genre books just like they do, even if, like myself, pop culture HAS influenced our writing, we have to oppose and give another version of reality to the world. We have to remind them that there was a time when a great writer like Hemingway WAS the big seller, a time when art and culture and quality pervaded, and the vapid smoke and mirrors of today was the minority. And let me be clear, I am not saying that pop culture sucks, I am saying that contemporary pop culture sucks.
It really is a bullshit time we're living in, isn't it?

4 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is?

I see us as a medley of pop culture from the 60's and 70's and high art and literature. Even with our staunch allegiance to literature and poetry, we do not discount that we are 70's children, we grew up in the time of TV dinners with us cross-legged in front of the television. Not to mention the gigantic influence that rock and roll (music in general) has had on our lives and writing. Now, seeing that rock and roll is associated with pop culture (though we do not entirely agree with that sentiment), we could never talk complete shit about it. You will see the literary in our writing, it is right there in front as we want it, but right beside it the influences of Tom Waits, Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, John Lennon, Joe Strummer, Led Zeppelin, The Stones, et al, are obvious. The rebellious in our writing and publishing sets us apart, our love for the literary outlaws, the bad-boys and girls, the mad, bad and dangerous to know. And the way it blends with the romantic, the comedic, and the street-lyric, that's our thing here at Screamin' Skull Press.

5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new books out into the world?

That's easy - social media. Even though I'm not a big fan, and I find it a chore more than anything else, you'd be an idiot to not take advantage of free, global advertising. - unless you are the type of writer that is happy with just a handful of people reading your work, which we are not. If I ever quit writing, or become so successful that my books sell themselves and  pay for my entire living, I would drop social media without hesitation.

6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?

 - Don't think this question really applies to us. As you know there are two of us here at Screamin' Skull Press, myself, and Nicole, my wife. We edit our own work, not each other's, and would never allow anyone else to do so. I write in a quasi-spontaneous mode, I don't plan much, I don't have outlines, I think about a certain thing, a certain feeling, an episode of my life, and I let it go - spontaneously, without checks and balances. When it's done, I give it my one-rewrite-method, and I do not touch it again for fear it will lose its spontaneous and "live" feel. Now, I am not a slave to my style, I have written in other methods, and will continue to experiment, as I always have, but this is the predominant method I use. Keeping that in mind, how could anyone else possibly edit a style of writing that is so personalized, so in tune with the author's own rhythm and personality?

7 – How do your books get distributed? What are your usual print runs?

We distribute our books in different ways - ourselves through our web site when going directly to readers, and through Ingram Distribution for stores. We use POD printing because our runs are usually small, but can go quite high in individual print runs, as high as 200 at a time.

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?

Sorry, this question does not apply to us.

9– How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?

It has only reconfirmed my belief that writing is personal, there is no need for someone else to "improve your work". Does a painter have an editor? No, the work sinks or swims on the artist's merit alone. I read an interview with Ingmar Bergman where he was stating disbelief that in American Cinema it's normal practice for the producers to edit the filmmaker's movies, while this isn't done in Europe, or not usually, anyway. My writing has, over 20 years plus, developed into something that is entirely my own. This is for good or bad. Would you tell someone like Lou Reed to get a lead singer for his band because he can't sing, which, technically speaking, he can't? Think of all the great "singing", the great music, that Reed has put out down through the years. Think of how goddamn awful those songs would have sounded if he gave into criticism and got himself a "good and proper" singer hitting all the notes on the musical scale perfectly. Wasn't Bon Dylan also attacked for the same thing? Bob, you can write, but you can't sing. Is there anyone with even the slightest musical acumen that would want anyone but Dylan singing his songs?

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?

I've never seen self-publishing as something artistically invalid. Many great writers have self-published, all it means is that what you're doing isn't readily understandable to the mainstream public, which, let's face it, aren't the brightest bunch, arnyway. It also shows gumption, it shows resolve and ingenuity, it shows that you've got some balls on ya, know what I mean? You are not going to accept that the machine is geared to work against you. Even with all the jabs that I take at today's culture, I firmly believe that there are a ton of people wanting art, wanting poetry, wanting literature and real good rock and roll, they are there, they will always be there. Just have to find them, that's all.

11– How do you see Screamin' Skull Press evolving?

Just continuing to publish our own work, with the occasional anthology of other writers. It's our writing that will evolve, not so much our publishing, we want to continually experiment and try new things while still sticking to our guns.

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?

Well, proudest of my longevity and what I believe to be quality of work. I wrote and published my first book in 1994 and have written and published continually since then. If you count my first 6 chapbooks, which are out of print, I have written and published 18 books of stories, novels and poetry. Even if they were all shit, it at least proves that I have a commitment to my craft.

13– Who were your early publishing models when starting out?

Didn't have any - when I first published, it was pre-wide-spread internet use, you had to go to the library to use it, or to internet cafes. I was only vaguely aware of what it was, and didn't care much. So my first 6 books were all published old-school - bring manuscript to printer, tell them how you want it to look, pay the dude, and wait for god knows how long to get your books. Then, I would go to the library or a bookstore and flip through the magazines ads looking for places to send my chapbooks for reviews. Most of the time I didn't have two lousy cents in my pocket, so I would just write the addresses in my notebook. I would then sell my books, give away mostly, on the street and at corner bar-dives right out of my backpack. Very happy days.

14– How does Screamin' Skull Press work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you seeScreamin' Skull Press in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?

We don't engage with our local writing community very much and that's because the local scene is comprised of mainstream writers, traditionally published writers, local presses that publish writing we aren't very interested in - even though Winnipeg is definitely an arts and culture type of city, we either can't find an underground writing scene, or it doesn't exist. We have done quite a few books signings, and sold our share of books, but it goes no further than that initial burst. We have solicited the local media over and over for years on end with very little response or interest on their part. There's a great band scene here, but I don't see much in way of writers, underground writers. I'm sure they exist, but there's no venue for them, there's no avenue for them to get the word out. The literary world in Winnipeg isn't interested in promoting unknown, transgressive, rebellious writing. So, we decided to go international with the web. We do engage with other presses, internationally, and have made some solid, long-distance friendships, as well as working with them on our latest anthology publication, Howls From The Underground.

15– Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?
 - I believe I answered this above -

16– How do you utilize the internet, if at all, to further your goals?

Everything we do, all the promotion we do, 95% of our book sales, the writing and publishing contacts and friendships we have made, are all internet-based. Without it, we have nothing.

17– Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?

No, we do not take submissions - the only work we have ever published with outside writers, is the anthology we just released, and our writing is in there as well. Besides that, Screamin' Skull Press is made to publish mine and my wife's work. But yes, we will publish another anthology soon, but we will be in it as writers, as well as publishers. We won't publish books that don't include at least one of us as a writer.

18– Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.

Our latest three releases are thus - we believe the descriptions describe how unique they are.

Last Stop To Saskatoon by Tony Nesca
One Book. One epic poem. An unadulterated, uncensored, stream-of-consciousness protest against the state of the world.

Let It Bleed by Nicole I. Nesca

This isn’t just a book of prose and poetry but a beautiful streetwise and lyrical telling of a life in pursuit of truth, sex, love, youth-lost and experience. With an alternating rhythm of long free-flowing sentences and short, minimalist statements, Let It Bleed is an original urban street-hymn that hearkens to writers of yesterday like Sylvia Plath and also the more modern rock and roll writings of Patti Smith, but always and forever original and unique.


Poetry, Short Stories, Novel Excerpts, Essays, Artwork -
11 writers and poets, 1 artist – Eclectic, experimental, groundbreaking-
CS Fuqua – Laura Kerr – Ali Kinteh – Scott Laudati – Ted Prokash- Stephen Moran – GH Neal – Nicole Nesca – Tony Nesca – Chrissi Sepe – Thom Young – And the artwork of Drew Ennis –

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