Small Press Interview Series: ROSE METAL PRESS
a conversation between Erica Charis-Molling and co-founders Abigail Beckel (Publisher) and Kathleen Rooney (Editor)
Erica Charis-Molling: Let’s start at the beginning. How did the press get started?
RMP: Shortly after our 2005 graduations from the MA and MFA programs at Emerson College, we co-founded Rose Metal Press in Boston in January of 2006. In observing the literary community and deciding what kind of focus we wanted our press to take, we noticed that many writers were doing exciting, culturally important work in hybrid genres, but that they had limited opportunities to publish that work since few commercial publishers were accepting such submissions due to concerns over profitability and marketing.
We wanted not just to provide a home for that kind of innovative work, though, but also to be sure that it had a chance of reaching readers. We don’t want to be essentially printers who publish books that nobody knows about—we want to be publishers who help authors’ works connect with an audience. We really believe that hybrid or unconventional work can speak to all kinds of readers—that innovative forms of writing don’t need to be and often aren’t inaccessible to readers outside the literary community—and so we do our best to try to get not just people who already know they like “hybrid” work to read our authors, but also to get people who are intellectually curious and want to find something new, and expand their reading habits.
Another part of our mission from the beginning has been to publish books that are beautifully designed and printed. We believe that the print books themselves should be objects of beauty to best highlight the quality of the work within. So that’s another area of our work where we spend a lot of time and money, and we’ve won a number of design awards as a result. We do also publish e-books of all our books as well, because that makes them more available to readers all over the world, so there’s a good balance between creating beautiful (and affordable) print books and reaching the most worldwide readers.
ECM: Tell us a bit about the press. What sets your press apart from other publishers?
RMP: Maybe the best way to articulate our mission and what sets us apart from the many other wonderful small publishers that are flourishing all over the country today is through our name. Rose Metal is a fusible alloy with a low melting point consisting of 50% bismuth, 25-28% lead, and 22-25% tin. Also known as “Rose’s metal” and “Rose’s alloy,” Rose Metal is typically used as a solder.
Our Rose Metal Press is an independent, not-for-profit publisher of work in hybrid genres, specializing in the publication of short short, flash, and micro-fiction; prose poetry, novels-in-verse or book-length linked narrative poems; and other literary works that move beyond the traditional genres of poetry, fiction, and essay to find new forms of expression.
Just as the alloy Rose Metal joins one unlike thing to another so strongly that they cannot be separated, Rose Metal Press publishes 2 to 3 beautifully produced titles per year by authors who fuse unlike elements together in their writing in ways that are both surprising and seamless. We have spent the last 13+ years really championing authors who are dedicated to finding the right form for their voice and their story, whatever form that may be, and we’ve seen so much improvement across the literary and publishing field and in awards selection in readers and writers not being so bound to traditional genres. We’re definitely not the only press working in that space, but we feel like we’ve been part of helping open up the literary field to hybrid work, especially in offering teaching texts for hybrid genres, such as our Rose Metal Press Field Guide series, which features craft guides to flash fiction, prose poetry, and flash nonfiction; My Very End of the Universe, which is a craft guide and anthology of novellas-in-flash; and Family Resemblance, our anthology and craft guide exploring 8 hybrid genres and why authors write hybrid.
ECM: Can you give us a preview of what’s forthcoming from your catalog, as well as what in your current catalog you’re particularly excited about?
RMP: We just released The After-Normal: Brief, Alphabetical Essays on a Changing Planet. Co-written by David Carlin in Melbourne, Australia, and Nicole Walker in Flagstaff, Arizona, this series of idiosyncratic flash nonfiction essays back and forth across the globe proceeds through the alphabet as a means of responding to the current environmental and political climate. Not a polemic, but a heartfelt, grassroots perspective on the colossal problem of global warming, these essays are strangely intimate and funny given the dark immensity of their subject matter. With meditations on topics ranging from bitumen to plasmodia, elephants to xeric, The After-Normal collects an A to Z of people, places, and phenomena to marvel at, to kick against, to let go, and to fight for.
This October, we’ll be publishing Evidence of V: A Novel of Fragments, Facts, and Fictions by Sheila O’Connor, in which she tells the riveting story of V, a talented fifteen-year-old singer in 1930s Minneapolis who aspires to be a star. Drawing on the little-known American practice of incarcerating adolescent girls for “immorality” in the first half of the twentieth century and based on the facts of her own grandmother’s true story, O’Connor follows young V from her early work as a nightclub entertainer to her subsequent six-year state school sentence for an unplanned pregnancy. This collage novel is already garnering a lot of attention and we think it’s both because of the stellar writing and the way O’Connor’s research into her own family story uncovered this hidden American secret of unjustly incarcerating girls for 5-6 years at a time for non-criminal offenses.
And then next spring, we’ll be putting out Audubon’s Sparrow, a novel-in-poems by Juditha Dowd that explores the life and times of the famous naturalist through the perspective of his brilliant and un-sung wife, Lucy Bakewell Audubon, who was instrumental in her husband’s success and her family’s survival.
And we’re very excited to be partnering with the journal Brevity to publish a new anthology, The Best of Brevity: Twenty Groundbreaking Years of Flash Nonfiction, in fall 2020.
ECM: What are you visions and goals for the press? Where you see publishing going in general?
RMP: Sustainability has always been one of our highest aims. We’ve been in business for 13 years and counting, which is a decent duration for any undertaking, but especially for one as challenging as small press publishing. From the outset, we’ve striven to be steady, stable, and reliable, and to give our all to each book we publish. This has meant deliberately resisting the dominant capitalist paradigm in our country, which says that growth for growth’s sake ought to be one of a business’s highest aims, but we’ve found success and satisfaction in operating on a scale that lets us be here for the long-run.
Keeping things to a sustainable scale helps us achieve our outreach goals as well so we can really spend time reaching out to review outlets, media organizations, and readers in various ways, and organizing reading tours for our authors. We have a small staff, so try to keep our annual list at a scale (2-3 books a year) we can make successful and get the best readership for each of our authors and the most attention for each book.
ECM: What’s in your reading pile, either from your press and from other presses?
RMP: For Kathleen, Socialist Realism by Trisha Low from Coffee House, one of her favorite small presses, and The Rim of Morning, a compendium of two cosmic horror novels by William Sloane from New York Review of Books Classics, a publisher she adores for its mission of keeping brilliant older work in print.
For Abby, she’s currently catching up on two much-acclaimed books from 2018: Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado, out from Graywolf, and Tommy Orange’s There There, from Knopf.
ECM: What advice would you offer someone looking to publish with you?
RMP: It might seem obvious, but we always advise people to make sure their work is truly in the field of hybrid genres before they submit to us—we like traditional genres, too, but we do not publish them, so we really are looking for cross-genre stuff that fits our niche. We plan to have an open reading period next June 2020, so we hope people are getting their best hybrid genre manuscripts ready for us!
We also recommend being an all-around good literary citizen—being someone who doesn’t just seek publication and recognition for yourself, but rather also participates in the broader field of literature and cares about and supports other authors and presses. Be someone who writes reviews, shares work by authors you admire on social media, buys books from small presses, and attends readings and events.
ECM: What advice would you offer someone thinking of starting a small press?
RMP: Budget—in terms of both time and money—for everything taking longer and costing more than you anticipate. Running a small press is intensely time-consuming and challenging, but it’s a labor of love and the rewards—of finding new favorite authors, getting wonderful work out into the world, and expanding the scope of the literary field one book at a time—are second to none.
Erica Charis-Molling is a creative writing instructor and librarian at the Boston Public Library. Her writing has been published in Crosswinds, Presence, Glass, Anchor, Vinyl, Entropy, and Mezzo Cammin. She’s an alum of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and received her M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Antioch University.