Wednesday, April 16, 2014

a moment in the day: two boxes

Laura texts when she arrives at the warehouse to deliver the books. I step through the little office space that is the Marketing Department and out through the side door, out into the parking lot, where I meet her at her car. The back of the car is opened up, all those boxes of books inside. The box closest to me has an open top, and the book cover I designed sits multiplied across the surface of its contents.

The Night, and the Rain, and the River, and The Night, and the Rain, and the River, and The Night, and the Rain, and the River...

Here's the perfect example of who Laura Stanfill, writer, editor, badass publisher of Forest Avenue Press is:

She heaves up one of the huge boxes of books - one of two she's delivering to the warehouse - and tells me to follow, they're heavy, she'll come back for the other one.

I grab the second box anyway, and we start to haul them across the parking lot. That weight in my arms. It's a lovely weight. I'd like to weigh the box and know the number. I'd like to do the math in my head - add up how much of mine is in that box: the design work on the front cover, the back cover, the spine. Title page. How much of Laura's publishing ingenuity, energy, interior design. All the effort, the care, the hope.


Liz Prato's curating and editing, Clare Carpenter's art, Annie Denning Hille's copy editing. The lovingly written stories of twenty-two writers throws my number exponential. I can't do the math of all the aching ownership contained in this weight in my hands.

Monday, April 14, 2014

the night, and the rain, and the river - the special edition

With the publication of the short story anthology The Night, and the Rain, and the River, Forest Avenue Press decided to do something special along with the trade paperback - a limited edition hardcover. One of the reasons this idea came about was that, when we commissioned local letterpress artist Clare Carpenter of Tiger Food Press to create a piece of art for the cover, she came up with two. They were very different pieces, and I enjoyed tinkering with both to see what I could come up with for the cover design.

Here's the paperback cover:

You can see how different the indigo art in this cover is from the second piece Clare made us, which we affectionately called "Lines":

It was a lot of fun to play with two completely different looks, color schemes, two very different uses of space. I think that was what was most fun. Playing with the varying uses of space in these two pieces. I did up a number of designs, but below is the one we ultimately chose. Recently, editor Liz Prato, who'd just received a first contributor's copy of the hardcover, told me:

"No wonder I liked this one the best. It looks perfect in my living room."

Here's a quick description of the collection:

A current of longing runs through twenty-two short stories by Oregon writers. As the characters strive for connection, they make mistakes, reach out to the wrong people, and recalibrate their lives based on what they desire, whether or not it’s attainable—or even a good idea. A shy pyromaniac takes a chance on love. A young woman hands her decisions to a man she’s never met. An abandoned father and son struggle to pull a stump from the stubborn ground, the town wailer loses her voice after her mother’s death, and a cloudless Oregon sky triggers a trip for a final goodbye.

The Night, and the Rain, and the River features stories by Jan Baross, Gail Bartley, Victoria Blake, Alisha Churbe, Sage Cohen, Ellen Davidson Levine, Steve Denniston, Trevor Dodge, Gregg Kleiner, Christi Krug, Kathleen Lane, Dylan Lee, Margaret Malone, Matthew Robinson, Joanna Rose, Lois Rosen, Jackie Shannon Hollis, Domi Shoemaker, Scott Sparling, Tammy Lynne Stoner, Jennifer Williams, and Cindy Williams Gutiérrez.

Forest Avenue Press will only be printing 100 copies of the special edition, and when they're gone, they're gone. If you're interested in a copy, we're taking preorders here.

You can check out more of Clare's lovely letterpress art here.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

othello at portland center stage

The plan was to stop at the store on the way home after seeing Othello, Friday night, at the Gerding Theater. When the time came, Stephen and I were in such deep discussion about the play that we didn't realize until we'd parked the car, ridden the escalator and stepped inside, that we'd gone to the wrong store.

Shakespeare. I'll admit he scares me a little. I'm always afraid I'll be totally confused by the language and the
large casts of characters whose faces I can't possibly remember, and of course  I can't just do what I always do and pause the movie and ask Stephen, "Wait, who's that guy?" Friday night I did what I always do with Shakespeare, spend half of the first act worrying that I'm lost - which usually makes me more lost. But somewhere in there I realized. I know what's going on. That guy's Othello and she's Desdemona, and that bald one's the bad guy... 

Iago. One of the most notorious bad guys in the history of bad guys. The silver tongued deceiver in this story of treachery, jealousy and murder. At intermission, Stephen said he'd expected Iago to be different - tall and sleek, more an image of the icon that is the bad guy. I got what he was saying but said I thought bad guys, even iconic ones, came in lots of shapes and sizes. "Like the pipsqueak bad guy," I said. "That's one. The pipsqueak bad guy is an icon in itself."

Gavin Hoffman as Iago

Not that Gavin Hoffman's Iago is a pipsqueak, but the comment got us to talking about the nature of bad guys. And ever since seeing the play, that's been on my mind - one of the questions Othello seems to be asking: what makes one a bad guy? Iago is guilty as sin, yes, but who else is culpable? The tortured, manipulated and, ultimately, mad Othello? The obsessed and deceived Roderigo? How about Emilia, who picks up the fated handkerchief? Even Cassio and Desdemona - what responsibility do they own for what goes down in this story?

Gavin Hoffman's Iago is a master at using the fourth wall. And not only when he's delivering a monologue. There are other times when he looks directly at the audience, as if willing us to look in at ourselves, at our own deceptions and our own jealousies.

Dana Green as Emilia, Nikki Coble and Desdemona,
and Daver Morrison as Othello

The set of Portland Center Stage's Othello is pretty spectacular. One huge piece that revolves on a turntable - and they use that turntable very deftly for dramatic effect. A moment when Othello pauses before entering Desdemona's bedroom is especially effective.

Timothy Sekk as Cassio and Leif Norby as Roderigo

For me, there were two stand-out performances. One was Leif Norby as Roderigo. You only get to see the back of his head in the above photograph, but he's also the "Fight Captain," so in a way, you're getting more Leif than you think in that picture. He's also a fantastic actor who Stephen and I have been following for a good while. He's very versatile and a great mix of satisfyingly theatrical and very, very real. My favorite kind of acting.

The other is Dana Green as Emilia. Pretty magnificent. In every scene she's in, she's interesting to watch - very particular but not to the point that it's too much - and then when the show is coming to its climax, she delivers something incredible. She is fierce, broken open, unapologetically apologetic. Her performance alone in that scene is worth the price of admission.

I could talk about some of the lovely directorial choices at the very end, but that would be too much for my spoiler radar. I'll just say that I think director Chris Coleman made some very elegant choices - throughout, actually - about what to leave in and what to leave out, about how the actors were used within that beautiful set, about how that fourth wall was used. There's a lot of humor in this production - and lots to think about after you leave the theater and go shopping at the wrong store.

Portland Center Stage's Othello is playing at the Gerding Theater, now through May 11. More information is here.

Thank you to Patrick Weishampel for the photographs.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

a moment in the day: snippet

I'm walking Nicholas. Down the sidewalk ahead of me, stepping toward me, is a woman on her cell phone. She's talking as she goes by, and the snippet of conversation rings in my ear like a little bell that leaves an echo. The mystery of the story she's telling, and the mystery of a man, continues with me down the street after the woman is long gone.

" of his life where he was healthy enough..."

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

a moment in the day: tom

It's Friday at work, and I'm at my desk with the earphones on, the weird ones that hook over your ears and hang across the back of your head. Plugged into the computer under my desk. They give me a slight headache but the sounds in my ears - the sweeps of big band, the Helen Kane boop-a-doops, the sparkling rain of Fats Waller's piano - make my brain happy as I edit my spreadsheets. My every Friday task, preparing the chosen titles to go up as New Favorites the coming Tuesday at Powell's, with extra special placement and a 30% discount.

This time one of the titles is Tom's. Tuesday will be official launch day for I Loved You More, Tom Spanbauer's first novel in seven years, published by my favorite publishing company, Hawthorne Press. I'm so excited I could jump up and dance, my head with the headphones on it yanking the computer clean out from under the desk, to drag behind me, across the floor of the Marketing Department, and play Ginger Rogers to my Fred Astaire.

Seven years - has it really been that long? I've listened to what seems like every word of this book come out of Tom's mouth, the group of us sitting around his basement table on Thursday nights. Years of Thursday nights as he wrote and edited and perfected this thing, sharing pieces with us at the end of workshop whenever there was time. All of us listeners felt like each note of his novel's music, each jot of his incredibly honed skill was ours in that basement because he gave it to us first.

This really is mine, this little moment, my fingers on the computer keys, putting his name in spreadsheets. The spreadsheet that I will send out to the merchandisers who will display the book. The spreadsheet that I will send out to the computer guy who will put the book on sale. The spreadsheet that I will forward to the graphic designers who will make a slide for our website and shelf talkers to sit under the stacks in the stores. Each shelf talker has a staff pick blurb, and guess who got to write Tom's.

No one is better than Tom Spanbauer at exposing the hidden pain inside us. In I Loved You More, he reaches even deeper, plumbing the terror of death, love, AIDS, cancer, propinquity, and the complex business of being a man in the world.

As I type his name into my spreadsheet, the song in my ears is Lulu's Back in Town.


Check it out on here.