Tuesday, January 12, 2021

12 or 20 (small press) questions with Tamara Thompson on Whispering Wick

Whispering Wick aspires to support new and emerging Canadian authors, especially those from a marginalized community. We hope to lift and amplify creative voices from across Canada through handcrafted chapbooks filled with poetry and short fiction. Chapbooks give a special connection between a reader and their book, it's homemade so you can feel all our efforts in your hands.

Tamara Thompson: “Hi, I’m Tamara Thompson and I’m a writer, editor, and publisher. I founded Whispering Wick so I naturally really enjoy editing and publishing but I first got into this business by writing. Writing is one of my favorite ways to get the worlds in my head out into the real world.”

1 – When did Whispering Wick 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?

Whispering Wick is something I had wanted to do for about a year, I just was too busy with school and never had the time to work on a press. So, when the pandemic hit and I still needed an internship to fulfill my program requirements, I was day dreaming about actually making the chapbook press I had wanted to in third year. I pitched the idea to my father and he encouraged me to talk to Paul Vermeersch my professor to see if the project could work as my internship. Paul encouraged me to make the press even if I didn’t get it approved as my internship. I then talked to my coop adviser and she gave me a list of requirements and I was able to get the files in order for us to be official. I had my friend Nate help me fill out all the forms as there was a lot to do. We were able to make it in time so that we would have enough days to meet our required minimum hours.

Our original goal has been to publish first time Canadian authors and marginalized voices. So, in that way our goal hasn’t changed but what has changed is the scope of what I thought we could accomplish. In the first week, I thought we might do two or three books in the time period we had. In total we have been able to publish five books. So, I think our goals were modest at first and we grew them quite a bit and this is just one example.

There were many things that we all had to learn as a team throughout this whole process. One was the hard reality of over working. It can be hard to see that line when you work for yourself. It was something I had to recognize and at the time I needed to slow myself down. I also saw the problem in everyone so I tried to help make their schedule less hectic as it was an easy trap to fall into. Another would be how to communicate when we didn’t see each other. We had to do a lot of video calls, texts, messages, and finding out different ways to understand each other in new ways as we were all familiar with doing our work face to face. Then I think for me personally it would have to be stepping up to the plate as a leader. I had led the odd group project but this is much bigger. I had to learn how I was going to lead the press and how to manage everyone so we could meet our deadlines and our overall objectives. It was a big learning curve as there is so much to remember and do.     

2 – What first brought you to publishing?

My program. Like a lot of other people on the team our program introduced publishing to us. I went into the program very much a writer. Yet we had one class that really captured my imagination and got me really excited about publishing. A self-publishing course taught by Paul. He got a lot of us excited about zines, chapbooks and small press. He was the reason a lot of us got into this side of publishing. He encouraged us to go to markets and get involved with the community. I fell in love hard with small presses and the kind of work they do. It got me using my brain in ways that my program prepared me for and I thought it was a realistic part of publishing I could do by myself. I could do this with a printer and a free website builder. I didn’t need a cooperation to back my creative ideas I could do them with a small team.    

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

I think small presses have a responsibility to publish things that larger publishing houses won’t publish. Work that is experimental, or voices who have been marginalized, or generally unheard. As all of those works aren’t typical, but they do have an audience and as a small press we can provide an opportunity for authors to find that audience. I think we should help each other as a community and help the unheard be heard. That is at the root of what we do.  

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

Honestly, I think it’s our perspective. We all had to work as editors and writers so we know both sides of the street. We can give these first-time authors an idea of what publishing can be, while also bring our own perspectives which we have matured over time. We can understand that editing can be a scary process for some. It can be hard on first time authors to even share their work with an editor. We want our authors to see that our editor wants to help their piece. That might mean big changes, small tweaks to changing one word but all for the good of the overall piece. We want to make that experience a positive one, to encourage a healthy relationship between editor and author. It is a complicated relationship to navigate at the start so we want to foster it so it can grow for the better.      

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

Well considering a lot of the ways had to be changed for the pandemic I think using online tools and mailing is the best/safest way at the moment for our small press. A lot of the promotion would mostly have been online anyway for they are best free tools that actually work. We can also still get the books in people hands with the postal system. Yet I still think there is a certain magic that events and markets have. I hope to take the press and the team to one as a market can’t be matched. It’s a similar situation with readings. You can still get a sense of the reading live on Instagram but that connection with an in-person audience is something that is hard to capture over video. I think the same thing applies with markets. I’m grateful that we have all the tools we have online, but that connection with people who like the books you produce is something special. This is something special I know everyone on the team would like to experience once its safe to do so.

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

Personally I don’t get too involved with the editorial process in our own books unless Nate, our chief editor, really needs my help. I do edit though but personally I find I like substantive editing the most. If a character isn’t consistent, I’ll point it out and suggest different routes to try and bring out the original intent. I try not to re-word when I edit as I want the author to write it and if they see it in my words it might have unintentionally influenced them. When it come to line edits specifically, I’ll say something if the sentence doesn’t make sense. I’ll point it out but it’s usually more a word that I get caught on. The words that I usually trip up on are what I consider place holder words. A place holder word is a word that almost captures what the author is trying to say. They almost have it so they put a word in that isn’t quite the word they need, so that where I get the name of place holder word. I think I would have to say for myself that I have a light touch but if I need to, I can get into the details.   

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

We currently use the post office to mail out our books. It’s also made safer and easier in these times of COVID.

Our average run is twenty-five at the moment as we were getting ourselves established, but our newest run does have a fifty-print run with ten copies going to the author.

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?

So, in total there are six people working at the press including myself. Nate Boulard-Patterson is our chief editor, Grace Regan is our head of design, Rebecca Gruszka is head of promotions, David Stevens is head of production and then we have Faizal Edioo as our website content creator. We all needed internship so I was able to get them on board and currently they want to keep working on the press after this internship is over which I’m very happy about.

Nate really is the one who does a lot of the editing with the authors but for the whole press I help and collaborate with everyone and edit their work. I see their drafts and I help them with suggestions. We workshop things together which gives us better results. I think a good example would be when I work with Grace on the covers. We bounce ideas off each other, she brings me her drafts and we edit them. Sometimes we scrap an idea and start over but we always end up with something we both are happy with.

I collaborate with everyone which I think makes our results better and we also all talk as a group about certain issues or parts of the process, so we help one another. I think this stems a lot from our time spent together in the program as we already had to work together a lot, especially workshopping. It personally can be hard on me as a lot of my time is spent in meetings which can be exhausting but I think it’s worth it. Everyone respects each other and we can all contribute to create something better.   

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

I think it has made me question myself a lot about my own work. I see great work every day and it makes me want to improve. I’m a pretty driven person, so I want to improve as I want to get better at my work but it has also made me think outside the box. I see so many different things in the small press community which inspires me. I had been experimenting in my own work but this experience has given me a fire to really push myself in my poetry and fiction writing. It has made me take an extra step back and look at my work that I hadn’t touched in years, seeing the potential in my work and seeing how my work has grown. So, for now it has gotten me to think about my own writing, it has inspired me in different ways and I’m not as critical of my work, I can see the good in it. A good moment of reflection overall I think is important to have and something I think has helped me a lot over the years. Just to have that moment to go back or just reflect is really important since perspective can help. You can see where you need to make changes to make something better or something you hated might not be as bad as you first thought. Perspective always helps and it can be hard to have sometimes.   

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?

For myself I have had to edit my own work and my peers’ work for quite a few years now. Due to the nature of our program, it was something we had to do all the time. So, when it came time to start up this press, I figured it would be best to publish the work of our staff. I knew the level of work they could produce and their relationship with Nate our editor, had already been started. This also gave us the flexibility to try out our approaches to see what worked and what didn’t without having to have a new author go through all the bumps with us. I also know that for many small presses they start out by publishing friends when they are finding their footing. For myself and the team it was a natural next step. I understand why some editors and author aren’t comfortable with it as it can be hard to have a good author/editor relationship. It can test friendships and working relationships. Yet we did this all the time in classes, it’s how we learned and how we were taught.    

11– How do you see Whispering Wick evolving?

I see us making larger print runs and going to events, markets and having readings. I want that to happen as I think it would be good experience and something, I know all of us at the press have been working towards. We won’t be able to do a whole lot while we are in our last semester this winter. Yet I know everyone is excited for graduation not just because we are getting our degrees but also for the ability to grow the press again.

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?

For the amount of time we have had to create this press and get it established, it hasn’t been that long. So, I think I’m the proudest of the fact that I went from thinking we could maybe publish three books in our time, and that was a strong maybe. Now we have released our fourth and fifth books. Everyone on the team has exceeded my expectations for the time line we had.

At the moment because we are so small its hard to tell what people have overlooked. I think people have probably overlooked the press in general. We are still trying to build up who we are as a press so I hope that people will find out what we do and enjoy it.

I think the biggest frustration of being a new small press is all the things you have to do in the small amount of time we have. A lot of responsibility rests on my shoulders specifically so the most frustrating thing I have encountered is my own forgetfulness. It’s so easy to forgot the small details. No matter how many notes or reminders, I just miss things. I am a human so it’s to be expected; however, once we are more established it will be easier with at least some work becoming routine. Yet when you first start there is so much to do and remember. I know that is how it goes but at least once the basics are done, I won’t have to worry about them as much (that is my hope anyway). I do have strategies in place to help me such as big calendars (that are colour coated), printing out the weekly schedule, check lists, goals of the week, goals of the month and getting into the habit of checking things just in case. Everyone also helps me in case I forget something.     

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

All of us have taken courses in imprints and self-publishing so we were all tasked in those courses to make an imprint, to make a zine or chapbook. We also had to do a lot of research into these topics. So, we were our own models for a great deal of what we made. We had professors give us feedback on what we had created and we still talk to those professors as mentors for this venture. They help us when we aren’t sure or if we have a question. I wish I could point to a certain model but our program was meant to prepare us for this field so it was knowledge that we acquired throughout our whole time at Sheridan. We are still learning and building our knowledge from school and from other publishers in the community.    

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

So, at the moment we do reviews on our website which are written by our website content creator Faizal Edioo. He does reviews on other chapbooks, presses, zines and some other fun things here and there. We have been in contact with some of the presses we have covered in his reviews and we are trying to improve and expand this section. Grace Regan our designer has worked with Faizal and together they have made great leaps forward on communicating with presses over social media accounts and via email. It’s still evolving but the latest communication we did was with Gap Riot press which was pretty successful. I think interacting and supporting the community is really important as we survive as a community with the help of other presses. There is a lot of amazing work being made out there and the point of the reviews is to showcase what is happening in the community. I always say that Faizal shows the heart of our press to the community and what Whispering Wick is all about. While the rest of us are working on the books he is showing the world what we are especially between launches.

15– Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?

Due to the current situation the world is in with COVID we haven’t had any live readings but we are trying to plan for activities like that for the future. We do have pre-order announcements, and we announce when we launch the books officially. We have been limited to what we can do but we are planning things out to adapt to COVID. I personally really wish we could do live readings in person. I think the act of storytelling is an amazing one. The way a person can connect with the audience, building up the story’s tone to get people really seeing the story they are being told. I also think events such as markets can be a lot of fun and in the future, I know that all of us would love to go to those types of events. Markets are all about seeing the community in person and in action. This would be a rare treat as the community is heavily based on the internet (even more now since the pandemic), so to see it in action would be an enjoyable experience.    

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

Due to everyone having to work at home we use the internet a lot just to do the basics. Everyone works remotely so I’m in virtual meetings with people all the time. We do use social media to interact with people and others in the small press community. A lot of what we do is online: from our shop, to our reviews, our blog post about the company to our posts about our authors. The only thing that isn’t digital is the books themselves. We hand make each book ourselves. We hope to maybe have a virtual launch or reading in the future but we are coming up with a lot of different ways to connect with people over the internet. A lot of how we connect now with people is through our blog posts and review on out website (whisperingwick.ca).  Due to the pandemic that is also where most of our online readings will be happening for the foreseeable future.

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

We do take submissions but our submissions just closed at the start of December. They will most likely open back up in the spring/summer of 2021.

We look for poetry and short fiction, we don’t stray outside those genres. We want to publish Canadian authors and voices from marginalized communities as it’s a big part of our ethos. Other than those base rules we want something that makes, us as team, excited. Something that we will turn from page to page to page. Every book we have worked on so far has captured that sense of excitement in our team. 

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

We have two new recent books that just came out. One is a book of poetry called Marooned on the Shores of Malaise by Rami Obeid primarily based around Rami's experience in low-income neighborhoods and housing in the Mississauga area.  

The other one is an experimental fiction piece called Bandaid by Jack Benedict where the main character deals with trauma from the past while also dealing with difficult circumstances outside of their control in the present. In an attempt to garner some semblance of control they try and hide certain truths from those they love, without success.

I will also mention a book from our first launch called All the Things That Hide in the Woods by Grace Regan. This book is a small anthology of four stories that deal with different Fae folk. Although many Fae are not dangerous, these tales caution those whose natures do not favour those of humans.

I think each one has a special turn to it. Rami’s collection of poetry deals with difficult issues with a certain sense of awareness and even humour. This gives his book a tone that we would all appreciate in these times. Jack’s piece is an experimental work that has a unique perspective that takes horrible moments and mixes it with humour. It’s something that I don’t think you would typically find. Grace’s book is a longer book that has short stories that captures a bunch of tones in a few pages for each story. Each story is being true to the original myths but just gives them her own spin that ropes you into the fanatical world that has an edge that keeps your full attention.

12 or 20 (small press) questions;

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