JANUARY 7 QUESTIONS INTERVIEW

January 1, 2012 Interviews

 

 

If you were to ask any writer what comes first, the desire or the idea, most would say that it depends on the mood of the muse. For Bryan Borland, the muse is clearly not only in the mood but has also removed it’s clothes and taken up residence at his indie press: Sibling Rivalry. With a roster of authors who would give a band of renegades a run for their money, Bryan Borland has given birth to an entity that is shaking up the far right and challenging our belief in freedom of speech and artistic expression.  Sibling Rivalry Press is a lusty, anarchist home for those readers who still require honesty, integrity and hardcore reality in their writing. Something tells me that Truman Capote would have loved this indie press and it’s very  likely that the next Capote, Kerouac or Parker could show up on the Sibling Rivalry author list at some point in the future; such are the talented artists Bryan Borland has discovered, nurtured and delivered to the world.

 

Bryan was kind enough to donate some of his precious time during the busy holiday season to share with us the inner workings of an indie press and what it means to have laid the foundation for a movement that is changing the way we produce books and ultimately buy and sell them.  As well, he discusses what drives his passionate dedication to his authors and loyal readers.

 

 

TM: You and I have known each other for a while now and indeed we have worked together on occasion. To me, as an artist who knew you before the advent of Sibling Rivalry, I knew that you would eventually become part of the indie movement, not the least because it is like the Wild West of publishing and very close to your own style of expression poetically. The existence of the indie press is now a viable competitor and is giving the big six a challenge when it comes to attracting readers that are loyal. Why do you think more and more readers are choosing indie books over the hyped and slickly marketed best sellers that scream at us from every store bookshelf?

 

BB: I think indie presses are attractive because they are accessible. Readers can easily reach the publishers and authors and instigate a dialogue. It’s similar to supporting an independent bookstore versus a chain megastore. It’s a more personal experience, and really, a personal experience goes hand-in-hand with a literary experience. There are very few things more personal and intimate that reading a book. I also think that, especially in terms of poetry, many readers are also writers, so there’s a glimmer of hope in interacting with an indie press. Maybe they’ll publish me too? It’s a valid hope, even if it’s a subconscious one.

 

TM: What was the origin of Sibling Rivalry Press? Was it something you’d always wanted to do, to publish and promote good books, or was it a vehicle for you to fill a niche in a business where it was sorely lacking? I ask this because the authors and poetic works you have released are known for being original, edgy, eclectic and unlike anything out there.

 

BB: It dawned on me last year when I was knee-deep in an intense production schedule that I’ve been creating books all my life. I’m talking about staples and crayons as a child, to books of bad, angsty poetry as a teenager, to higher-quality, almost-ready-for-prime-time books as a young adult. Evidence of my success (in my mind) through writing has always come from holding a finished product in my hands; something tangible, similar to a photo album. I hadn’t made the connection before, that the production of books was my passion, because I fell into this process through a cocktail of chance, loss, and good fortune.

A man named John Stahle convinced me to self-published my first book of poetry in early 2010. As a writer with an ego, this was a leap. I didn’t want to self-publish. I wanted to be discovered. But what John helped me understand (as a self-publishing author himself; he published the fantastic journal Ganymede through Lulu) was that if done correctly, one could take the stigma out of self-publishing and get noticed. He was smart. He modified the argument to appease my ego rather than diminish it. You’re stuff’s good. Why spend your life waiting for someone else to deem it worthy?

Now, John was a book designer by trade, and he was also selling me his services. I’m not sure how honest he was being with me when he sung my praises, but it worked, and I decided to self-publish my first book. I hired John to design it, and I called it My Life as Adam.

But John did more than design My Life as Adam. He taught me how to design. He taught me the basics of publishing. He gave me step-by-step instructions on how to bring a book into the world. He even convinced me to fly from Arkansas to New York City to launch the book, and to a Southern boy who’d never been to Manhattan, that was a big deal.

It was John’s idea to create the imprint. He told me it was standard to create and name a press even when self-publishing. He asked me what I’d like to call the imprint, and after an evening of brainstorming, I told him Sibling Rivalry Press. The name is a nod to my brother, who died when I was young. I really began writing as a means to cope with his death, so I found the title fitting. I had no real desire, at that time, to publish more books under the SRP imprint. John’s sudden death two months later changed that.

As I mentioned, he self-published Ganymede. Ganymede, though young in years, had established itself as an important venue for gay writers and artists. Because I’d been the last to work directly with John, Ganymede contributors directed their questions regarding the future of the journal in my direction. I began to think about stepping up to bat in his absence. John was Mr. Machiavellian and very much an opportunist, so I heard his voice in my head. Go for it, Bryan. No one else will do it. Don’t let what I built die.

I really felt like I had John’s blessing, and I knew I had the tricks of his publishing trade. First, I published a small project called Fag Hag: A Scandalous Chapbook of Fabulously-Codependent Poetry (of which you were included, Val, and from which you earned a Pushcart nomination). The chapbook was fun and I’m proud of it, but the motivation behind it was to determine whether I could actually publish a book without John. I did, and I felt confident to announce that I’d publish a tribute issue of Ganymede to celebrate John’s life. It was through that process, the process of putting together Ganymede Unfinished, that I connected with so many writers and artists, and the issue was a success. Initial sales of the journal went toward a memorial service for John, which was well attended in New York.

From that moment, Sibling Rivalry Press became legitimate because people viewed it that way. It was all very serendipitous. From Ganymede Unfinished came our quarterly journal of gay poetry, Assaracus. From the memorial service came my connection with Ocean Vuong, who was SRP’s first solo author. My Life as Adam, Ganymede Unfinished, Assaracus, and Burnings became the foundation for a publishing house. It’s a lesson that I will repeat to anyone who will listen. If you want something, go for it. Learn as you go. Make mistakes, but make your mark. If the passion is there, people will pay attention.

 

TM: Was it a struggle in the beginning to get others to believe in your vision for Sibling     Rivalry Press and all you hoped it would become? Was there ever a time when you felt doubt about whether you could effectively translate your dream into the bona fide successful reality it has become?

 

 

 

BB: Other people created Sibling Rivalry Press. I felt like people convinced me to believe, not the other way around. John. Ocean. Matthew Hittinger and Philip F. Clark. These were the four people who really were instrumental in the decision to create the press. Then there are the poets who let me publish their work in Fag Hag, Ganymede Unfinished, and the first issue of Assaracus. They trusted me with their art before they had any idea whether or not I’d treat it with respect, and in that act of trust, they showed they believed in what the press could become. There were days – and there are still days – when I am pushed along simply by the responsibility I have to promote people’s work. I have to produce a beautiful product. I have to market these writers. I have to believe in the press, because the writers believe in the press. There’s no room for doubt to creep into the daily operation, although I doubt myself constantly in private moments. SRP produced sixteen books (counting Assaracus) in 2011. Sixteen. I guarantee you that number is high because people offered me their ambition as fuel. Would I have done anything differently during the year? Sure. I’ve caught a few typos I had to fix. I’ve altered some designs in second and third printings. I’ve learned what fonts work and what fonts don’t – sometimes when it’s been too late. Doubts about my ability come in when I think about missteps, but I’ve learned, and I guarantee you I won’t make mistakes twice. I can’t fixate on doubt, and I can’t beat myself up when I do make mistakes. Acknowledge them. Correct them. Learn from them. Move on.

But do I ever look around and think, What the hell have we created? Yeah. Every single day. Every day there’s something spectacular. Another piece of good news. And every day I’m grateful.

 

TM: When you look at a manuscript, what is it about the writing that captivates you enough to publish it? Is there one specific ingredient that will make give a submission the kick it needs to be perfect for Sibling Rivalry?

 

BB: I usually know by the time I’m a few pages into a manuscript whether I want it or not, because in those first few pages, I already feel a character, a rawness, a passion, and a voice. I’ve already been drawn into the story. That’s not to say I don’t finish the manuscript or give it intense thought, share it with others to solicit opinion, and participate in internal and sometimes bloody debate, but nine times out of ten, that initial instinct is right on the money, and those are the manuscripts I end up publishing.

My mind is set up to view projects in a few different ways, because I need different types of projects to feed the press. On one end of the spectrum are the established writers and bloggers (yes – I’m very interested in bloggers!) – those who come ready to market and who I know will have an audience and sell well. On the other end of the spectrum are quality writers who haven’t yet been marketed at all and who might not have that instant connection with an audience. I need a mixture, and both ends of the spectrum produce a beautiful balance in the middle.

 

TM: Have there ever been manuscripts you’ve considered but rejected because the subject matter was difficult to market and for you to support creatively?

 

BB: This is an easy one. No. As the case with any publishing house or art gallery, the established talent supports the emerging talent. There was a line in the latest Michael Cunningham novel, By Nightfall, that says something to the effect of, “You support art you like to support art you love.” I’m lucky enough with my authors to be able to say, “I support the art I love to support more art I love.” It’s that beautiful balance thing again, you know? If I love a manuscript and it’s difficult to market, so what? Books can change lives. Books can save lives. Authors often have no idea who all they’ve impacted. If a book that is difficult to market and therefore doesn’t sell well still makes its way through the channels of distribution and into the hands of someone who needs it, it’s a success. And we may never even know.

 

TM: You are a poet who just happens to be gay and as such, you are very involved in many aspects of publishing as it relates to the gay community such as Assaracus: the journal of gay poetry as well as your loving tribute editorially to John Stahle, creator of Ganymede. Your work on Ganymede Unfinished was stellarBryan and it must have fuelled your desire to use your position to promote equality and tolerance. Based on this, do you see the indie press movement as a potential political issue one day simply because it is a widespread arena for artistic free speech that is growing daily, and a thorn in the side of the conservative extremists?

 

BB: I am a right-wing, anti-art conservative’s worst nightmare. My existence alone – and our collective existence as writers and artists – are a protest in and of themselves. But I’ve figured out another way to be a thorn in the side of these anti-art types. Sibling Rivalry Press can’t apply or receive grants (from the National Endowment of the Arts, for example) because it’s a for-profit corporation. However, in my travels, I’ve met so many people who are hungry for art and literary, and I’ve seen packed crowds in so many cities. I’ve also met writers and artists outside of SRP whose work deserves to be heard and seen. With this in mind, I’m in the process of forming a non-profit organization to operate independent of SRP called The Grand Stage Foundation, and its mission is to provide educational programs to promote and develop literary talent, to provide education programs to bring writers together to perform readings for the public, to provide educational programs through writing workshops with the public, and to provide educational programs and resources to increase accessibility of the arts. The papers are ready to file and are sitting on my desk.

 

TM: My final question is rhetorical in nature,Bryan, but still a viable concern artistically for any indie publisher who is steering their business into deeper more profitable waters. You are in the midst of a serious growth spurt as we speak; your expansion into eBooks being a fundamental step in that direction. In light of your progress, how do you deal with the quandary of being a rebel indie press faced with the prospect of expansion that would take you far away from the philosophy of the fringe outsider making a difference? Does it compromise your initial artistic principles or do you feel it is actually a platform that gives you a manoeuvrability to change attitudes toward marketing books from the inside out?

 

BB: Great question. I can compare this philosophical dilemma to the internal dilemma I face over the Occupy (Wall Street, etc.)  movements. How can I, as the owner of a corporation, be anti-corporation? How can I be anti-tax laws that are suddenly benefiting me? The answer is responsibility. There can be corporate responsibility, and there can be literary and artistic responsibility. It’s all about balance.

The truth is that the big boys and girls of the industry don’t know my name, and they probably never will. But I promise that one day they’ll know names like Ocean Vuong and Saeed Jones and Megan Volpert, and they’ll look back at their publishing credits and see Sibling Rivalry Press. And when that happens? I’ll be satisfied.

The move to eBooks is an economical one, sure. It costs very little to produce an eBook, and eBooks are the future. Not the future of books, in my opinion, because at some point eBooks are going to become so advanced and contain so many extra features that they’ll stop being books. But they are the future of publishing, so I have to be cognizant of the format. Still, I’m am pretty certain of the fact that good ol’ hardback and paperback books will always be around.

eBooks aren’t the only way we’re expanding. SRP just published its first novel, a reinvention of Leigh Binder’s How to Kill Harry, which Leigh originally self-published around the same time that I self-published My Life as Adam, and in February, we’re publishing our first novella, Shine by Donnelle McGee. We’re open to exploring different genres and breaking down barriers wherever we can. Poetry will always be a part of SRP, but now that we’ve built the stage, we want to invite all kinds of singers to the microphone.  There are so many stories that are screaming to be heard. I want SRP to be able to look writers in the eyes and say, confidently, I hear you. Let’s make sure others hear you, too.

 

 

 

 

 

4 Comments

  1. jessie carty January 02, at 21:27

    Such a well put together interview! You really have something great going here, Val, and I'm thrilled to know jihad and Bryan :)

    Reply
    • Administrator January 02, at 21:44

      Thank you Jessie! Bryan climbed my wall of steel to do this and he impresses me every single day with his guts, talent and charisma, as you do you poetess!

      Reply
  2. leigh binder January 02, at 12:18

    Great interview! As always, Val gets to the heart of the matter and Bryan Borland responds in kind....I love this shit!

    Reply
    • Administrator January 02, at 17:31

      Thanks Leigh! I think Bryan's answers were wonderful and it pleases me that you like this shit. :)

      Reply

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