Daily Cosmonaut: Ruby The Wonder-Couch Sharer

deskrubyOn Valentine’s Day in 2013 I finally brought home Ruby, my medical alert service dog, after years of meetings, phone calls, paperwork, and interviews. She’s been a wonderful angel for most of the time since but every day when we go to work she would be stuck sleeping on my the floor next to my chair. She would periodically look up at me, pleadingly. One thing that I hadn’t realized when I had applied for her was that a dog’s range of emotions is identical to a human’s and that Ruby and I were in a committed relationship. I had to look out for her, make her feel loved, and take care of her.

 

Fortunately, I took quite naturally to this situation. She sleeps in bed with me, leaning against my leg. When I sit on the couch she wants to be napping on my lap. But our work arrangement was not as easily resolved as our home life. I began letting her nap on my lap when I was sitting in my office chair. But she would nervously perk up whenever the chair rotated or leaned and my legs would go numb under her in less than an hour.
I knew that the situation called for desperate measures. Ruby’s work and our relationship allowed me to safely go places unescorted. I swapped out my desk for a series of filing cabinets, attached a monitor arm to one of them, and ordered a mounted swivel tray for my keyboard, mouse, and beverage. I swapped out my chair for the office futon and now not only can Ruby and I take office naps but she can sit next to me all day long and snore as she leans against me, still paying attention to my blood glucose. When we arrive at the office every morning, she immediately bounds over to the futon and pleads me to join her.

Commute Diary #2: Music and Road Rage

sound bikeAbout a year ago, I was visiting my pal Davey’s bike shop (the recently exploded & then reopened G&O Family Cyclery in Seattle) and impulsively bought a little, waterproof speaker that straps onto my bike’s handlebars.

It immediately changed my daily life. Instead of a tedious, repetitive daily chore, my commute instantly became a solo dance party on wheels. Suddenly, fewer people would pass me in the bike lane. Was I inspired to keep pace with the music, or were they hanging back to rock out to my tunes? Hills seemed less steep, and the familiar sights I passed every day took on new meaning and interest in alignment with the soundtrack.

I also noticed, though, that my music choices majorly affected my experience and how I rode. One day I put on a particular punk album, and rode recklessly and made unsafe choices—that was immediately deleted from my phone. For a while I biked to work listening to the Riot Grrrl bands I’d never explored in the 90s, and would arrive feeling energized, empowered, and all worked up and ready for the day. But eventually, I realized that listening to Bikini Kill, although it spurred me along to great speeds and passionate determination, was also giving me a major case of road rage. Every little clueless, reckless, or thoughtless thing that someone in a car would do would set me cursing; even just driving past and existing on the road at all seemed inexcusable. It was exciting, but not fun, and not how I wanted to interact with the world or feel every day.

So I deleted all the angry music, too.

What did that leave? Well, my friend had just turned me on to her favorite band, Cloud Cult. Sitting in her house and listening to it for the first time, I was skeptical. The lyrics were sentimental and their extreme positivity turned me off to an extent that a therapist could probably have a field day with. The musical style was not one I was used to enjoying. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t relate to it, either, and I am sorry to say that I did judge it a little, despite my best effort not to.

But now it was the only album left on my phone. And the first time I played it on my commute, the difference was amazing. The upbeat tempo worked perfectly to bike to, and the extreme positivity … as well as the active attempt that I had to make to embrace it … gave me a whole new attitude on the road. Someone passed me too close and I grinned. I witnessed a near crash, and went around it, whistling.

Have my musical tastes changed from angry to posi? Absolutely not! I mean… okay. Maybe. Go figure. At least having a music-induced mellow attitude on the road during my commute gives me the time and space I need to have a heart-to-heart with myself over my lifelong musical choices and their connection with my emotional state. All that for only the cost of a bike speaker and a few albums? Priceless.

– Elly

Indie Bookstore Love: Mac’s Backs in Cleveland

macs backs bookstore in clevelandOur indie bookstore crush this month is on Mac’s Backs, a paperback-focused new and used bookstore in the Coventry district of Cleveland, Ohio. This was the store where young Joe would go to get inspired… and when we went back a couple of years ago (after having peanut butter, banana, and pickle sandwiches at the attached restaurant), the bookseller he remembered best, Suzanne, was still there, with a friendly greeting! The store is one of those labyrinthine places, where just when you thought you’d seen every section you find a new door or spiral staircase and it takes you to a whole new realm, with books stacked everywhere and a well-chosen but not-too-controlled selection—perfect for browsing.

We partnered with Mac’s Backs this month in honor of Independent Bookstore Day (which was technically in April, but we like to celebrate it every day). Suzanne, now the owner, thoughtfully answered our interview questions. Read on!

1. What is the story of Mac’s Backs? How did you decide to get into the bookselling business?
My business partner Jim McSherry opened the bookstore in 1978 and when he was looking to open a 2nd location in 1982 I came on board to run it. I thought I would be doing it for a few years until it got off the ground and here I am 36 years later!

We are a new & used bookstore with magazines located in a busy walking neighborhood near Cleveland’s museums and Case Western Reserve University. Our area is very diverse and we have a wide range of customers. It is essentially progressive, democratic and left-leaning politically. There are also lots of families that come here—we are attached to a very popular restaurant that caters to all generations. Our business district has many unusual indie shops and restaurants and being part of such an eclectic shopping community has contributed to the longevity of our store.

2. Joe still talks about buying books from you when he was a teenager growing up punk in Cleveland. Have you seen changes over the years in what kind of books your teenaged—and other-aged—customers are looking for, and what they seem to be making of them?
Over the years our customers have read to educate themselves as well as for entertainment. Our best sections have always been classics, literary fiction, philosophy, poetry and political books like the People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn. We have a huge used science fiction section so we have tons of sf customers. Our biggest growth sections in the last few years are children’s books and graphic novels. And if five good graphic novel for middle-grade girls could be published every day that still may not be enough to satisfy the demand!

3. What are your favorite books that Microcosm publishes or distributes? What about your favorite non-Microcosm book in the store right now?
Some of my favorite books that I buy from Microcosm are by Aaron Cometbus. I liked learning about the Berkeley booksellers in The Loneliness of the Electric Menorah and I really enjoyed Bestiary of Booksellers. There is a writer in Ellensburg, WA named John Bennett who used to publish a series called Survival Song, which was an episodic chronicle of his life that I was addicted to reading. I find the same everyman qualities in the books by Cometbus.

Other Microcosm staff and customer favorites are The CIA Makes Science Fiction Unexciting, Bikes in Space, Henry & Glenn, Guide to Picking Locks, This is Your Brain on Anxiety, How to Ru(i)n a Record Label, and Good Trouble.

My favorite non-Microcosm book to recommend to customers is Through the Windshield by Mike DeCapite, a fictional account of a soulful cab driver in 1980’s Cleveland whose best friend is a wise-cracking compulsive sports fan who bets on everything.

4. What do you think of the state of the book industry right now, and where do you foresee it going in the next ten years? What would you most like to see happen?
I think neighborhood and indie bookstores have been strengthened in recent years. The robust grassroots buy local movement across the country has really made a difference in how people think about shopping. They understand that their choices have consequences in their community and have responded by supporting local independents—and that has made a huge difference. This has allowed us to continue to do what we have always done—to be a friendly community gathering place, maintain a broad and interesting selection of books for our customers to discover and provide the best customer service possible. And our partners in this have always been the small presses like Microcosm.

Anything else you want to share?

Happy Anniversary Microcosm!!

Thanks, Suzanne! Everyone, go to Cleveland and find our books and others at Mac’s Backs!

Commute Diary #1: It’s a jungle out there

hobo jungle from flickr commonsWe just got back into town this past weekend, after a couple of weeks in California. In that short time, there is a noticeable increase in the number of camps, and the number of tents at established camps along our route to work. Biking past before 8am, the tents are silent and zipped up; in the evening, people sit outside, playing instruments, chatting, watching the world go by.

There’s been a growing theme on the bike blogs and facebook groups I follow: fear of all the people living outside. The particular, rising fear for a while was of bike theft. My old employer at the BikePortland blog covered the topic extensively, even organized a bike theft summit. On every story, the comments were steeped in the fear—and presumption—of impending violence. That seemed to almost be dying down… and then there was a sexual assault on a secluded bike path, and suddenly it seems that fear of the homeless has turned up to fever pitch. It blew up last week on a thread (now deleted) in a facebook group for women cyclists. “I have empathy, but…” was the refrain. Fear trumps all.

It’s been upsetting to see the changes in Portland over the past decade. Ten years ago, mental health funding was kiboshed by the outgoing mayor, bent on leaving the city worse than she found it, and it’s been a long, fast slide downhill since then. In 2007-2008 and again in the past few years, our housing market has gotten beyond tight and prices have become untenable. Tearing down old mansions to build new apartments is okay with me; the gouging rents in those new apartments (and, in response, in older ones), not so much. If you don’t own a home or have a really stable, well-paying job, or preferably both, you’re really just a few months away from being shit out of luck in this town, and if you haven’t got a backup plan, well, welcome to being the newest member of the most-feared class of Portlander.

I find that prospect terrifying; I also find it impossible to fix that fear on the people it’s happened to. There are deranged people making bad decisions that are likely to hurt others at all levels of society; I’m way more nervous about the ones who are actually in positions of power, or who, not even realizing their power, have an influential voice among their friends and neighbors.

If you are actually living outside, then yes, your chances of being assaulted is tragically high. If you have a home and are just passing through… well, let’s just say your risks are astronomically higher inside your own home, while on a date, or at a party.

I think about all of this now as I bike to work. When I saw a man walking down the street yesterday in the peak of the heat, yelling and swinging his fists in the air, was I an anomaly for being more concerned for his safety than my own? It’s not that I’m particularly empathetic—that’s not my strength at all!—but I’ve spent a lot of time on city streets. I’ve done my diligence looking at the actual risks. And I’ve paid attention to the scary rhetoric on internet message boards by homeowners who are “empathetic, but,” and what I hear from the so-called progressive citizens of Portland makes me wonder if a Trump America would really be such a big change after all.

– Elly

On the Podcast: Top Shelf founder Brett Warnock

Founder of Top Shelf Comix’s Brett Warnock, has seen quite a bit. From the rise of indie comics to saturation of web and self-publishing, he turned to his second career as a nature and food writer and photographer. Listen here.

Dumpster Diving for Zines: An interview with Jesse Reklaw

applicant zine cover jesse reklaw author photo LOVF book cover the artist at work

One of our oldest, cutest, funniest books is Applicant. Originally a zine that made the transition to bookdom after it sold gazillions of copies to guffawing survivors of the academic industrial complex. Creator Jesse Reklaw found a pile of old applications in the trash behind a major university, complete with photos of the applicants. He paired these photos with choice, typed comments made by the evaluating committee. And ohhh it was painful. The only other thing I’ve seen quite like it is the sadly now-defunct “Nice Guys of OK Cupid” blog. But in this case, we relate to the derided applicants and are angry at the smug, faceless judges that once, long ago determined their fates.

Reklaw, who has a new book coming out soon, answered some questions over email many years after the fact.

1. Applicant is one of our earliest books, and it still holds up painfully, hilariously well. Did any of the applicants pictured ever contact you? Do you get guilty emails from interviewers wanting to confess their application commentary sins?
Man, I wish I’d get guilty, confessional emails! How do I arrange that? I have earnestly tried not to connect with anyone pictured in Applicant; because I am afraid of getting sued. In fact, I recycled all the original files and deleted the names of the people from my computer (maybe also because I know I am a born stalker, and I did not want the temptation around). I do know a woman who got her Ph.D. in neuroscience from one of the future professors pictured in that book; she said he was a good guy. But still.

2. You’ve done a bunch of different kinds of books… mostly comics. Do you have a favorite genre or type or style or topic?
Yes, comics is my main thing. Applicant was kind of a fluke for me, inspired by my interest in zine culture. I actually made the whole thing in the summer of 1998, after I dropped out of grad school. In some ways I think of Applicant as my Meta Masters Thesis: my critique of grad school culture and what was for me a better alternative (dumpster diving). I have always preferred personal, raw, independent voices in publishing. So regarding comics, I’ve read a lot of autobio, graphic novel memoirs, and diary comics. Lynda Barry and John Porcellino are two of my heroes. I also like well-crafted comics fiction, usually on the oddball side.

3. What have you read or seen recently that inspired you the most?
I realized a couple years ago that I have failed to read very much fiction by women, so this year I’m trying to correct that. I’ve been quite inspired by Virginia Woolf. I try to keep up with comics (“graphic novels”) too. Three recent favorites that come to mind are Beautiful Darkness by Kerascoët, By This Shall You Know Him by Jesse Jacobs, and Arsène Schrauwen by Olivier Schrauwen.

4. What are you working on right now that you’re most excited about?
I just finished making a travel diary / sketchbook / graphic novel called LOVF, that will be released from Fantagraphics Books in July this year. This book evolved from a notebook I had with me during a manic phase, and it’s dripping with intricate, intense, and confusing drawings. After I got better (?), I added a narrative so it kind of tells the story of my “vision quest” as a homeless crazy man. I’m excited and terrified to go on tour to promote this book.


Find Applicant here!

New April Books! Mama Tried, Urban Revolutions, Velocipede Races, and Beverly Cleary’s Birthday!

Walking with RamonaToday is April 12th, which means a lot more to us this year than it usually would. First of all, today is Beverly Cleary’s 100th birthday! We worked hard all winter to get our new book Walking with Ramona: Exploring Beverly Cleary’s Portland to print in time for the occasion, and we’re so pleased with how it turned out. The author, Laura O. Foster, has a wonderful essay up on the Powell’s blog today, and also supplied several facts for the CBC’s 100-fact roundup for the occasion.

The weird thing about publishing, though, is that while that book exists (and you can snag a copy on our website), it doesn’t technically come out until its official October publication date.

We do have three other books that have been printed for a while now that DO technically come out today, April 12, 2016, and we want to celebrate those books’ proper birthdays here. Let us present Microcosm’s all-star April lineup!

Mama Tried: Traditional Italian Cooking for the Screwed, Crude, Vegan & Tattooed by Cecilia Granata

Cecilia Granata’s vegan takes on the authentic Italian food she grew up with will excite your taste buds while her flash tattoo art will make your skin prickle in anticipation of your next tattoo. Read more about her book here.

Urban Revolutions: A Woman’s Guide to Two-Wheeled Transportation by Emilie Bahr

Emilie Bahr is an urban planner, a city cyclist, and a proud Louisianan. She wrote this book to help introduce a friend to the joys of transportation cycling, and to share her professional knowledge and passion for the worldwide urban bicycling revolution. Fun fact; our designer started bicycling *while* working on layout for this book. Read more from the author here.

Urban Revolutions: A Woman's Guide to Two-Wheeled Transportation from Microcosm Publishing on Vimeo.

The Velocipede Races a novel by Emily June Street

A page turning coming-of-age novel, set in an alternate, Victorian-ish universe where boys ride bicycles and girls wear corsets. Our heroine Emmeline tries to break the mold and has a series of unexpected adventures. The first novel in our Bikes in Space line! Read our interview with the author here.

The Velocipede Races Book Trailer from Microcosm Publishing on Vimeo.

Business of Publishing: Books we Love and Recommend

One of the best parts of working in publishing is that there is always something new to learn. Where do we learn it? From books, of course.

Here’s a list of some of the books that have been most helpful to Microcosm workers recently, and that we recommend to you, aspiring publisher / editor / writer / designer / production manager / roller-arounder-in-books. We added a couple in that we published, too.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, of course. We’d love to hear your recommendations!

How to Become a Famous Writer Before You're Dead book coverHow to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead by Ariel Gore
This book rules. If you want to write or publish books, read this first. Ariel Gore shows you how to write, publish, and promote what matters to you, and how to build a readership from the ground up. If you want to get into writing or publishing is a get-rich-quick scheme, there are other books about that; this one shows you how to do it because you have a vision to make something meaningful. Full of golden advice from someone who’s done it—and is still doing it—successfully.


make a zine book cover by joe biel and bill brentMake a Zine by Joe Biel and Bill Brent
We always recommend that would-be publishers start small—make something yourself that you passionately believe in, learn the trade, and start building a network and a movement before you get mixed up with Amazon, trade distributors or doing any kind of business at scale. This book contains a wealth of information for publishing a zine, comic, or book yourself, with real knowledge about everything from acquisitions to production to marketing.


Wired for Story by Lisa Cron book coverWired for Story by Lisa Cron
One of our authors recommended this book, and we in turn recommend it to you! The sad truth is that it doesn’t matter how good your writing is if you can’t captivate readers’ attention on every page. Lisa Cron shows you the neuroscience of story, and it’s invaluable. This book is great for writers, editors, and anyone doing title development, aka the publisher.


On Writing Well by William Zinsser
Learning how to tell a compelling story is essential for getting anyone to read that story… actually writing it well is still important for other reasons. William Zinsser is one of the best guides as you learn that part of your craft, as a writer or editor.


The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner
This is the best book we’ve found about what it’s *like* to be an editor. Which is almost as important, if not more important, than the nuts and bolts of learning how to edit. Betsy Lerner has worked in a number of different New York publishing houses and shares stories and knowledge and her valuable experience. If you are an editor, work with one, or want to be one, you’ll glean a lot from reading this.


Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud
If you plan to have anything to do with visual storytelling—comics, picture books, art books, whatever—this guide (in comics form, of course) is very helpful for understanding how to visually tell a story.


Getting Things Done book coverGetting Things Done by David Allen
People go into publishing because they love books; the reality is that you spend a lot of time with data, spreadsheets, contracts, budgets, production schedules, inventory, software, email, and a gazillion little tasks, each of which is vitally important and intricately relies on many other things being done right. It can all get to be overwhelming, especially if you’re a one-person publishing shop. GTD is the gold standard for organizing your complicated life without succumbing to stress or losing sight of the big picture.


Beyond Dealmaking by Melanie Billings-Yun
Another thing most people learn after launching their publishing career rather than before is that much of the job is about negotiating—contracts, relationships, deliveries, solutions, whatever. There isn’t a lot of abundance in the industry, and people are often in it for very different reasons and with very different expectations. This is hands-down the best book on negotiation that we’ve found, and will teach you real and practical skills for building lasting, sustainable relationships beyond just closing the deal.


Publishing for Profit by Thomas Woll
This book is dense and tough to read. The slog is worth it if you’re serious about publishing as a business, and if you need that business to make money. The best time to read this book is when you have already been doing the work, have some books under your belt, and are starting to wonder if you’re ready for trade distribution and/or to hire a second person.


our band could be your life book coverOur Band Could be Your Life by Michael Azerrad
Wait, what? This is a history of underground and punk music in the 80s and 90s, not a publishing manual! Actually… this is also very much a book about how to launch a scrappy, ragtag business all the way to the moon, be you a drunk and angry drummer touring in a filthy van or a teenager in your bedroom with a big dream and a cassette duplicator. Microcosm is built on similar foundations, guided much more by the DIY music industry than the book publishing world, and this book can profitably be read as a fascinating case study of businesses run—some more successfully than others—entirely without traditional resources like capital or training, but with no shortage of values, creativity, and pure energy and rage.


good trouble book coverGood Trouble by Joe Biel
Microcosm founder and publisher Joe Biel’s memoir can be read through several lenses, and one of them is small press business manual. The company’s often bumpy, sometimes glorious, always edifying history can be found in these pages, along with background on some of the stuff that makes the gears turn—contracts, management, strategy, accounting, proofreading, and more. And if we do say so ourselves, it’s also an excellent example of reader-oriented development, which is what any memoir published today needs beyond all other qualities.


And don’t forget you can read our Business of Publishing blog series right now, without waiting for our store to open or your book to come in the mail.

Indie Bookstore Love: Boneshaker Books in Minneapolis!

boneshaker-signOur indie bookstore crush for the month of April is on Minneapolis’s one-and-only all-volunteer bookstore collective, Boneshaker Books. Walking into Boneshaker is an amazing experience—a friendly person greets you, and you’re surrounded by a selection of books, each one of which was obviously chosen because someone passionately wants you to read it, not because of sales metrics. Even the way the sections are selected is thoughtful and eye-opening. For instance, most bookstores have a separate sections for African American and Native American histories… in Boneshaker, those are both just plain American History, and make up the bulk of that section. Chances are a volunteer worker will make you feel right at home, leaving you alone to browse if that’s what you prefer or engaging in a spirited discussion of the ethics and techniques of writing fiction, if that’s up your alley.

The collective is putting up a Microcosm books display this month to celebrate our shared history and values (pics coming once that happens!), and they also took the time to answer a few questions for us.

1. What is the history of Boneshaker Books?
After longtime Minneapolis radical bookstore Arise! closed in 2010, a group of former volunteers decided that there was still a need for an all-volunteer community bookstore—and, that if done thoughtfully, it could be successful and self-sustaining. Our original crew had an extremely diverse skill set that included a professional fundraiser, a carpenter, an artisanal iron worker, and a web developer, and we leveraged those skills as much as possible.

boneshaker-attitudeAlong with the usual Kickstarter and benefit events, we came up with a unique fundraising plan: every donor of $250 or more could pick a book title that we would stock forever. So not only did we build a strong donor base, but they literally built the foundation (or skeleton) of our collection. We like to say that every book in the store is there because someone—donor or volunteer—loves it.

We intended to open in the old Arise! Bookstore building, but it fell through for a few reasons, mostly due to money. After contacting some neighborhood groups, we found an odd space in the back of a quirky building in the Seward neighborhood, near our friends at the Seward Cafe. It turned out to be a perfectly magical fit. We were also able to share the space with our friends at the Women’s Prison Book Project who distribute books to women and transgender persons in prisons.

After a year of writing business plans, fundraising, building beautiful custom bookshelves, and making dreamy book lists, we opened in January of 2011. Over the last five years, we’ve sold thousands of books, hosted hundreds of events, meetings and book clubs, and thrived with the support of countless volunteers and patrons. It’s been a wild ride, and we look forward to the adventures the next five bring.

2. A boneshaker is a Victorian-era bicycle; we too love the combination of books and bicycles. How did you choose the name and what do bikes + books mean to you?
So one of the ideas that we included in our vision of Boneshaker Books from our earliest collective meetings was to offer a free bike delivery service for special orders. Many of our founding collective members rode their bikes for transportation already, and it just seemed like a natural addition to our store. So as we discussed that intersection of interests, we gravitated towards a bike/book name.

And as we thought more about that combination, we thought about the ideological similarities between riding bikes and reading books. Today, neither of those things is seen as essential to enjoying your life—but anyone who rides a bike or reads a book will tell you how empowering those activities are! How they are essential to so many of us!

Riding a boneshaker bike is also a really jarring experience, which we think describes our inventory pretty well. We carry books that rattle your core, and the name Boneshaker Books fits that perfectly.

boneshaker-staff3. What’s your favorite (or the most popular) Microcosm book in your store? How about any book at all?
So this might be a little biased, but our favorite Microcosm book is Fire and Ice by Joshua Ploeg. In 2012 we were hosting a Valentine’s Day fund raising dinner—and maybe not surprisingly, we don’t have a ton of experience catering gigantic dinners. But it turned out that Joshua was going to be in Minneapolis that night, so we reached out and asked for his help.

And he pulled through in such a huge way! He helped us make the most incredible vegan dinner, with, like, Husker Du themed foods! And then one of his fans showed up, this awesome vegan chef from Minneapolis, and she cooked a ton of delicious food with us, too. It was just this totally overwhelming experience, and it still stands as our most successful fund raiser ever, four years later.

Fire and Ice happens to be our best selling Microcosm title too—which is nice.

4. You’ve been around through some major ups and downs in the book business. Has being a volunteer-run collective helped get you through that or given you a different perspective than a for-profit bookstore might have? What do you hope happens next?
At any given time we have over 40 active volunteers, and sometimes that number goes up to 60. That means every day there are between 40 and 60 people who are contributing ideas, recommending books, organizing events, and making Boneshaker Books a better community book store.

So that’s probably the biggest perspective-shift between Boneshaker and a for-profit bookstore. We have more ideas coming in, we have a more diverse set of stake holders, and—as volunteers—we’re less dictated by making stacks of cash. We need to pay rent every month, but other than that, we don’t have nearly as many expenses as a traditional bookstore—and that lets us take risks with our inventory that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.

Our next big hopes are to expand our bicycle delivery service to include a dedicated bike trailer stocked for events, and we’re dipping our feet into online sales. Maybe.

Visit Boneshaker Books every day from 11 to 8 at 2002 23rd Ave S in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis, Minnesota! And thank you for supporting independent bookstores!

Vegan Italian Tattoo: An interview with Mama Tried author/artist Cecilia Granata

photo of cecilia granata drawingFor the longest time, Vegan Italian Tattoo was the working title of Cecilia Granata’s gorgeously illustrated cookbook of Italian classics made vegan. The final name of the book, Mama Tried: Traditional Italian Classics for the Screwed, Crude, Vegan, and Tattooed was a team effort, the rare collaborative title that really works. The end result is a spirited, fun cookbook that teaches you to cook real Italian food, cruelty-free. The book comes out officially in April, and the author took a break from her other work—including painting and tattooing—and answered some questions for the occasion:

1. Mama Tried combines vegan recipes with tattoo flash art. What gave you the idea to combine food and tattoos? What is the creative connection between them for you?
Originally the illustrations weren’t tattoo flash but regular drawings; at some point during the development of this project, I noticed how many carrots and broccoli tattoos I was getting to do at work. Because I was positioning myself as a Vegan Tattoo Artist, more and more people were interested in getting their animal rights piece done by me. I came to realize that these 2 worlds, tattoos and Veganism, are closer that it might seem, and decided to exploit this cute combo.

I think the edgy style of tattoos is able to convey a fresh appeal to the strong message of Veganism.

cecilia granata holding her hands in a heart shape2. Do you have a favorite recipe in the book? What do you most like to cook for special occasions? What do you eat when you’re tired and don’t have a lot of energy to make a fancy meal?
I think my favorite is Risotto giallo, or Risotto alla Milanese, just because it was the special thing that my grandma would make when I visited her; it’s one of the most typical dishes of the area where she lives. Also because I love saffron, which not only makes anything delicious but also fantastic to look at with all those shades of gold.

For special occasions I guess it depends on what’s the occasion and what season it is in…let’s just say that there is gonna be a lot of food: definitely few appetizers, a first and second course, fruits, dessert(s), coffee, and what we call “ammazzacaffe”, or “coffee killer”, which is usually a bitter liqueur or a sweeter one like limoncello.

When I need to eat in less than 5 minutes, I usually make an omelette with chickpeas flour: it’s quick, easy, delicious, nutritionally complete and I can just use whatever I have in the fridge right away, even if it’s just an onion.

cecilia granata mid-tattoo3. Do you have a favorite tattoo or type of tattoo that you do?
I have a pretty eclectic taste in general and tattoos don’t make an exception. I don’t like being stuck on one specific style or subject because I get bored easily and I also get psyched easily. If I had to pick, I guess I can never go wrong with animals, especially furry ones, mermaids or fancy lettering. I also enjoy silly tattoos and anything weird or grotesque. I am definitely not into geometrical or tribal tattoos because I have no patience, which is fundamental for such precise works.

4. What creative project is coming up next for you?
I am working on few different projects in parallel: a children’s book about the Devil, which as you can imagine, will probably never be published. I am also co-writing and drawing a book of Yoga for Kids with a very talented friend. And finally, but not really since I keep embracing new ideas, I am on this lifelong project of feminist tarots with another dear friend.

This has been an interview with Cecilia Granata, author of the vegan cookbook Mama Tried