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Interview of Marianne K. Martin and Fay Jacobs by Stefani Deoul

Happy holidays, everybody! Novelist Stefani Deoul (The Carousel) of A&M Books decided to ask her publisher, Fay Jacobs and one of her favorite authors,(and publishers) Marianne K. Martin of Bywater Books some leading questions – after all the publishers are always promoting the authors, but who’s promoting the publishers?????
Read all about it!

SD: I’m delighted to get the chance to communicate with both of you. It’s not often we can have two independent publishers on hand, Marianne K. Martin from Bywater Books and Fay Jacobs from A&M Books to ask about their businesses. So, Marianne and Fay, how did you get to be publishers in the first place?

MKM: Well, becoming a publisher was totally unplanned and unexpected. I was busy trying to finish building our house, and writing, and learning how to better use the internet when I had a pivotal conversation with Kelly Smith. Unlike me, Kelly had a real desire to be a publisher. She had interned for a year under Barbara Grier at Naiad Press, and when Barbara and Donna retired, Kelly founded Bella Books. She had a strong vision of what she wanted to do in lesbian fiction, and when her business partners did not share the same vision, she left Bella after four years.

The more we talked, the more we both realized that we wanted the same thing for our literature, and before I knew it I was taking small business seminars and going into partnership to establish Bywater Books.

FJ: It’s ironic that there’s a Naiad Press connection here too. Anyda Marchant and Muriel Crawford, who were founders of Naiad Press with Barbara Grier had retired to Rehoboth Beach to start A&M Books. I met them when they were in their late 80s and early 90s. Anyda, who wrote under the pen name Sarah Aldridge, became my mentor and published my first book. I then became the managing editor of the press.
Anyda and Muriel had been together 57 years, when, in 2005, they passed away within four months of each other and left me A&M Books. I call myself the accidental publisher.

SD: What’s your favorite part of the job?

MKM: Without a doubt, for me the best part of being a publisher is being instrumental in adding new, gifted voices to the world of lesbian fiction. A close second would be bringing back books by talented authors whose work has been out of print and unavailable to readers who will be discovering them for the first time. We are in a position (at Bywater) now to bring many of those voices back very soon.

FJ: I love working directly with the authors, editing, promoting and giving them the opportunities Anyda and Muriel gave me. Of course, a writer and editor working together is like a marriage – it’s hard work, involves lots of compromise and can get very vocal at times! But it really is the part I enjoy most.

SD: How do you stay focused on your own writing when there is so much to do with a publishing company? And what is your favorite time and place to write?

MKM: For me, this is the most difficult part of being both an author and a publisher. What happens is that Bywater responsibilities always take precedent over my own writing, which means that not much writing gets done on any given day. I try to carve out as much time as possible on the least busy days, and find a place where I’m not looking at other tasks that need to be done. Many times I end up writing in a restaurant, where strangers and white noise are much less of a distraction than looming tasks. In the summer, I’ve found that writing in the pool really helps my concentration. Unfortunately, Michigan weather only allows about four or five months of pool weather, so then it’s back to the restaurant.

FJ: Making time for the writing is tricky, as there are always more chores for A&M Books than time to do them. In a way, I’m lucky, because as an essayist, when a topic falls in my lap – something infuriating I’ve read, or an incident worth telling, I usually drop everything to get the story down. Of course, then I’m up at 1 a.m. doing press releases, ads or facebooking.
And I write either in my home office, at the computer desk, with two snoozing Schnauzers at my feet or in my RV camped some place fun with those same snoozers on hand.

SD: What are you writing right now?

MKM: Currently, I am writing the story of the early life of one of my favorite characters, Nessie Tinker from under the Witness Tree. It begins when she is ten and has me doing a ton of research about life in the early 1900’s. It was a time when Southern gentility and manners covered the dirty reality that born free did not mean born equal, and it presents a perfect setting to challenge the friendship and love between a young black woman and her white best friend.

FJ: I’m actually working on putting my stories into a 90-minute reading to perform. Somebody suggested calling it “Funnier After Two Drinks…” Oh, I think that was you, Stef! I’m working on that, plus my next Letters from CAMP Rehoboth column, about surviving holiday excess. If I survive it. Pass the mashed potatoes.

SD: Fay, I have to ask you about that Rainbow Award….how did it feel
to win first place in non-fiction from among hundreds of lesbian books and also, second place overall for lesbian book of the year!

FJ: Amazing. The Rainbow Book Award is an international contest, run by Elisa Reviews web site and blog out of Italy. There were over 300 GLBT books entered. I tied for fist place in non-fiction with one of my heroes, pioneering author Patricia Nell Warren. That took my breath away! I have to say, this ride up from obscurity has been fun…helped, so much by my writer and publisher colleagues. Kelly Smith and Marianne from Bywater stepped up to offer me help and encouragement right from the beginning, in 2004. I love them!!!!

SD: Can you tell me a story about your publishing career than nobody might know?

MKM: Many people have heard the Barbara Grier stories, since I’ve shared many of them at different events in the past. And, I’ve mentioned in a number of interviews that I wrote originally as a form of inexpensive therapy. So, probably the thing that most do not know is the journey of choices that brought me full circle to a career I never contemplated seriously.

It seems like I’ve always written in some fashion, always chose the written over the oral assignment in school, always wrote journals and diaries. And, as a senior in high school one of my favorite teachers, Ms. Pitts, made a comment at the top of my last English paper for her that I have never forgotten. In fact, I still have the paper, which probably should have been an omen. She simply said, “You must write”. And, I did. But, not until I had upset my art instructor by turning down an art scholarship to Michigan State, and majoring in physical education at Eastern, and teaching and coaching for twenty-five years, and finally realizing that, indeed, I needed to write.

FJ: Wow, similar story. My 11th grade English teacher, whose name is lost to time, but whose mustache made him look like a walrus, wrote on the top of one of my papers “Fetching detail.” I couldn’t figure out what that meant. I recently found a school newspaper from that same year where I announced I wanted to be a comic writer. The weird thing is, I did everything BUT write comic stuff after that: newspaper editor, obituary writer, theatre director, PR person. It wasn’t until much later, when I started to freelance for The Washington Blade, that I found out I loved doing the comic essay thing. Life is funny-weird and just plain funny.

SD: So what are your thoughts for 2012?

MKM: My thoughts and wishes are for a year filled with inspiration and good literature. We are so blessed to be surrounded by wonderful writers and colleagues and to be working in a field we love. My hope is for a wonderful, exciting year in lesbian publishing, and to have time to hang out with good friends like Fay Jacobs.

FJ: Yes, Marianne, I hope we can hang out….all of my author colleagues have an invitation to join us in Rehoboth Beach for Women’s FEST 2012, April 12-15…. But for now, Happy New Year to all our writer colleagues and our wonderful readers. The ever-expanding world of lesbian publishing is chocked full of great people and rewarding experiences and I am so thankful to be a part of it. And of course, I hope the Mayans were terrible at math, and 2012 is not the end of the world. But just in case, I intend to eat more chocolate, read more books and go as many miles as I can with my partner and my pups in the RV. Hope to see you along the way!

With my book publishing business I can go from sublime to ridiculous in a flash.
Since my three books all started as Letters columns, I feel like I’m talking to family when I report how things are going. And they are going great. The reception I’ve gotten here at home for the new book has been wonderful. Books are flying out of my garage warehouse from sales, both online and inline at local bookstore signings. I’m humbled and happy.
But possibly to ensure that my head doesn’t bloat I have been treated to some matchless experiences hawking the books – and a book tour, however delightful New York, Chicago or P-Town can be, has its ups and downs.
Literally. I’ve traipsed up and down creaky staircases lugging cartons of books until I’ve actually screamed “for frying out loud!” And I’ve survived readings for a just a handful of hardy audience members, filled out, fortunately by my own blood relatives.
And all the travel isn’t exactly glamorous. Thank goodness for GPS when I found myself careening through the narrow streets of Staten Island, NY, seeking a tiny GLBT bookstore sandwiched between Household of Love Church and Our Lady of Pity Ministries. Loved the owners, loved the crowd, can’t say much for the neighborhood.
Not that I’m having an Our Lady of Pity party. It’s been a real blast networking at book conferences and meeting readers in bookstores, signing and selling lots of books. Gay Days at Disney was a hoot, and at some readings I get laughs like I was doing stand-up. Of course, Women’s Week in P-Town was grand.
Then again, it’s sobering to be partying with readers and selling books Saturday night to find myself reading on Sunday in a dark, dank, mostly empty bar, still reeking of the previous night’s beer blast. Oh, that would be the bar reeking of beer, not me. Then again, it was Women’s Week P-Town, so it’s tricky to judge.
But it wasn’t hard to be judgmental about a book fair in Dover at the Delaware Agricultural Museum, a place, as you can imagine, I had no idea even existed. It houses antique tractors, cotton gins and all manner of rural artifacts. And it sits across the street from the NASCAR track, which might have been a clue for urban me.
I arrived to discover I was to set up my display in front of the museum’s goat breed exhibit, which I found instantly hilarious and appropriate. After dragging a six-foot folding table, lawn chair, and book cartons from the parking lot to the door I felt pretty much like an old goat myself.
As I unpacked, I noticed I was underdressed. There were authors in full Civil War garb, writers who appeared to be dressed for a White House state dinner and a couple of women who might have been palm readers and/or still dressed for Trick or Treat.
The man next to me boasted of having published 30 different volumes about Hessian soldiers in the Revolutionary War, though his plastic spiral-bound books seemed to have been published by Kinko House.
I was surrounded by authors peddling badly bound copies of books with titles like Last Chance for Jesus and Sex with Unicorns – How I Talk to God.
A young woman came up to my table, read a blurb about A&M Books and asked “What exactly is a feminist press?” I sized her up. She seemed to have most of her teeth and wasn’t dressed for a Rebel encampment so I took a chance.
“Actually, it’s a lesbian press, but in the 70s no printer would touch a lesbian book,” I answered. The woman said nothing but actually took a giant step back, apparently afraid to catch, as Rachel Maddow says, “the gay.”
Once everybody was set up, a dribble of patrons came through the doors. People would walk by, pick up my book, smile at the cover and turn it over to read the back. I could tell the exact moment they got to the word gay. They plopped the book down like it had cooties.
Instead of twiddling my thumbs waiting for somebody to come up and insult me I spent time checking out the goat display. Goats are kept for milk, meat, or hair, and some are also kept as companions. All goat breeds are very hardy, curious, and intelligent. Hey, maybe they’d like to read some essays or at least eat the book cover. Nothing else was happening.
One woman flipped through my book, stopped, looked up and said “You wrote ‘pray for Obama Care’, I really can’t talk to you, you’re a Commie.” She slammed the book down as if it contained Anthrax. It made me want to back up and get in the pen with the intelligent taxidermied goats.
One bright spot had a man picking up the book, oohing and ahhing at the photo and then saying ”Wow, that’s a beautiful dog. Cocker Spaniel?” If he couldn’t tell the difference between a Cocker and a Schnauzer, what hope was there for his understanding a lesbian smartass?
I was buoyed by a man making a beeline for my table but it turned out he wanted to read about Nubian Dairy Goats. Then I got nervous when the Civil War author unsheathed his sword brandished it about for people to admire. I’d only been there two hours, and had a stupefying two more to go. I considered grabbing the sword and falling on it.
Finally, a lady came by, picked up the book, turned it over and read the entire back of the book and said “For Frying Out Loud. Um….Is it a cookbook? What do you fry?”
Exit cue.
I came back to Rehoboth to discover that while I was sitting on my butt trying to peddle books to homophobes and religious zealots, I’d sold 20 books here at home at Proud Bookstore. It’s so nice to have a niche to come home to.
Next, I’m off to Giovanni’s Room, a GLBT bookstore in Philly. I expect my experience there will be a welcoming one. While we can’t always count on patrons or book buyers to be in good moods, if anybody is grumpy or gruff, at least I’m fairly certain nobody will be Billy Goat Gruff.
At least I hope not.