It’s always a pleasure for me to interview interesting people. This time is Dr. Marc Pietrzykowski the voice that answers to my questions. He is an author and a publisher, and Ramingo’s readers met him some articles ago when I wrote about “Resurrection of a Sunflower“. Marc lives and works and writes in Niagara County, NY, USA. He has published various and sundry poems, stories, and essays, as well as 8 books of poetry and 2 novels. Here’s what we talked about…
You are running an independent press. What are the main pain and pleasures of this (litterally) great effort?
I hesitate to call any aspect of running Pski’s Porch “painful,” the world is filled with pain and the difficulties I encounter running a small press are pretty insignificant. There are bits that are annoying, and bits that suck away time I would rather spend doing other things, but even the time-suck element is beneficial in that it has made me much more disciplined in terms of my own writing and other work. There are many pleasures, however: publishing books that authors have had trouble publishing elsewhere because they don’t fit the industry model, aren’t marketable, or are not “professionally” submitted; going to book shows and readings and such and meeting other like-minded people; and getting the chance to read a variety of authors, some of which I like, some of which I don’t, but being exposed to a variety I would otherwise be hard-pressed to seek out myself. I started the press because I knew there were people writing good, interesting, vital, challenging stuff that had limited chances of getting published because of the way the publishing industry in the USA (and elsewhere, I’m told) is set up. I don’t need to go into the way the ugliness of the industry, others have done it better (read Ursula LeGuin’s “Staying Awake,” for example), except to add that many of the larger “indie” and academic literary publishers are just running on the same model, or have been bought by larger publishers themselves, similar to the way brewery conglomerates market craft beer under other names.
You are the publisher of the anthology about Van Gogh. Tell us more about this project. How and why you decided to go through it?
“Go through it,” that’s a funny way to put it. Well, Catfish McDaris came to me with the idea, and I like Van Gogh’s work, and more importantly, I knew that Van Gogh the global symbol of the crazed artist and Van Gogh the human being were very different things, that his story and influence had grown into a separate entity, and I thought one way to remedy that, to remind people of the breadth of his artistic output and of the person at the heart of it, was to ask the kind of folks I suspected would also be sensitive to this dichotomy to comment on it, using their art as the platform for commenting. And we got so much more than I anticipated, so much great writing, I was stunned. I am grateful to all the authors, and to Catfish, for giving me the opportunity to put this book together, and I hope they all, found it a worthwhile thing to take part in.
What kind of tips would you give to an author that is beginning his journey in the world of writing?
I think the first thing anyone trying to become an author should figure out if their motivation for writing is fame or if it is a calling. I am thinking only of literary authors here, becoming a professional writer is a different path altogether, although some people can do both with no problem. An author that wants a career, that wants to be known among the literati, that wants to get awards and teach at conferences and all the other perks that come with being that kind of success the path is fairly clear, and also very difficult to manage, especially if one is not, frankly, of the upper middle class economically, or at least able to attend the kinds of school that pride themselves on producing the gatekeepers of literary culture. Even an author who starts with these benefits will have a hard time, because there can only be so many famous poets and novelists. I know some people would like to think the literary world is a meritocracy and all the best work rises invariably to the surface, but by and large the people who believe that are the ones who are at the top already, I think.
But, if that is what someone desires, accolades and a career, so defined, then I wish them good luck. My advice to them is get in an MFA program that is well known, and learn how to write and edit to reach your audience, because that is who your muse will be, the audience that decides who gets to be famous and who does not, so write the way you think they want you to write, while being just different enough, without scaring them. I know this must sound cynical, but this is why we see so much writing that is homogeneous. And it isn’t a new phenomenon, though corporate consolidation of publishing companies and academic presses had made it somewhat worse, I think.
If an author writes because they are compelled to, because it saves their life again and again, because they love to read anything and everything and consider themselves part of an ongoing conversation among authors that has been going on since humanity first enunciated a tale, well, the path is much easier, just keep going. It can be much more disappointing, especially when the things one writes are very different from what is published these days, and it’s hard to work when you think no one gives a shit about what you are doing. I promise you, someone does give a shit, though they may not be born yet. Just keep following the need to create wherever it might lead, and try to find sympathetic people who also suffer from the same wonderful malady.
How many things are changed after the election of Trump? In your opinion it was a catalyst or a break for US culture?
Culturally, it is hard to gauge what Trump’s presidency means, as we are still in the middle of it, a slow-motion train wreck with hunks of metal and body parts flying everywhere. I certainly agree with the many commentators who say Trump is not an aberration, but a culmination of a certain kind of politics and political messaging that the Right has been engaged in for the last 20 or so years, in the USA and elsewhere. When you deliberately seek to isolate people from civic life and diversity of opinion and, well, facts, you shouldn’t be surprised when you end up with a chunk of electorate that celebrates ignorance and childishness. I don’t reall think it is a break, then, but I do think it has been a catalyst politically, far more people are engaged now than even a few months ago, which is wonderful but needs to be sustained in some way, rather than waiting for another bubble of stupidity to well up. That is one place I think the arts can help a lot, by providing part of the foundation of civic engagement and discourse, making more of us active, critical participants in the arts, rather than passive consumers lining up for the next super-hero movie. How we can accomplish that, I’m not sure.
What are the main aspects you generally search in an author?
An author we would like to publish, I believe you mean. Lack of fear is good, which usually manifests itself, to my mind, in a desire to take chances with one’s writing, the kind that will get you rejected 30 times by other publishers. Not all of these chances will pan out, some will be terrible, but a willingness to try is valuable. Also, we (we have 3 readers) all prefer energy and spirit over polish, the sense that the writer needed to write what they did, and didn’t spend hours in workshops trying to get rid of all the rough edges so their work would be more palatable to others. I know these answers are somewhat abstract, but we are very open minded with regards to style, content, everything really, though we do prefer works linger than chapbook length for the most part.
Tell us more about the future of Pski’s Porch.
Well, we just published a collection of short stories by Samuel E. Cole, and we have several books coming out in the next few weeks—a novel by Gerry Brennan, a book of surreal stories by Fin Sorrell, a poetry collection by Ryan Quinn Flanagan, and we are starting to lay out a few others for late Fall 2017. I would like to do another anthology, it was very rewarding to do the Van Gogh book, so we will likely try to do at least 1 per year, with different themes, of course. I am taking August to update the website and add a “Press” section for reviews and notices of our authors, and also a “Books We Have Read” section for essays, reviews, any kind of writing about books we’ve read, new or old, and we will invite others to contribute as well. Sites like goodreads are fine for what they are, but I prefer longer form writing, and also am tired of the standard review format, so maybe we can encourage people to write longer pieces about books they like, and if it proves interesting, perhaps we will collect some of them in a book as well. And, I would like to figure out how a distribution system so people could buy directly from the website, and not just through Amazon or Barnes & Nobles—taking orders is easy, distribution is much harder.
I feel very lucky to be able to make books available, and to be free from having to think about Pski’s Porch as a business, though it is by definition, since we sell books. We just about break even, but money is never a thought in how we decide to publish what we publish. Nor is cultural capital, for that matter. It’s very liberating, and has made my own writing better, thinking about all these issues and immersing myself in so much fine writing.
Marc Pietrzykowski‘s most recent book of poems, So Much Noise, and book of short stories, Monarchs of the Undertow, are available now. You can also visit Marc virtually at www.marcpski.com or you can visit his Publishing House at http://www.pskisporch.com/.