Posts By: Elly Blue

Commute Diary #3: Anger is a Secondary Emotion

Anger zineI’ve doled out some bad, inactionable, sort of pompous road rage advice in my day. “Breathe,” I’ve said. “Remain calm.” Ha. As if it were so simple.

But finally, I’ve got some real help — from brain science! A zine I edited a few months ago has had a major impact on my commute. It’s called This is Your Brain on Anger, and it’s by by Dr. Faith Harper, a counselor in San Antonio who wrote it as part of the wind-up to her 2017 book with us, Unfuck Your Brain (you’ll hear more about that one later!). Like I said last time, I get pissed off a lot while I’m biking, which is not exactly the emotional state I’m going for in life, and also doesn’t exactly inspire me to make great choices in traffic.

Anyway, the gist of this zine is that anger is by definition always a secondary emotion—we use it in place of whatever we’re actually feeling that isn’t as culturally or personally acceptable. Like, say, the terror of a truck grille all up in your face, or the hurt of getting callously brushed aside by someone texting in luxury SUV—both literally in the road and metaphorically in your rapidly gentrifying city.

“Anger is a secondary emotion” has become my mantra on the road. It’s sort of helpful in forestalling my own anger… though once I’m mad, I pretty much forget everything but that ’til later. Most of all, it changes my response to someone else’s anger. When I hear a horn blare, or feel the whoosh of air as a car zooms past me too close and fast, I think “secondary emotion.” Wondering what they’re actually feeling and taking out on me is weirdly soothing. My reflex to respond by flipping someone off, blowing them a kiss, or yelling something sarcastic or crass dissipates completely when I can imagine that what they’re feeling is something other than murderous psychopathy.

In reality, almost nobody on the road actually hates me personally and wants to kill or maim me. I’m not so enlightened that I can excuse or even really forgive reckless or callous driving—don’t people realize they’re behind the wheel of a two-ton weapon? But it’s nice to learn that I can at least feel some compassion for someone’s bad choices and reactions, and prevent myself from ruining my own day by reacting in kind.

Ebooks and Bundles… Microcosm steps up to the 20th Century in style

Eight DIY Microcosm Books
Years ago, we ran a post-holiday campaign urging readers to trade in their unwanted Kindle ebook readers for their same market value in zines. A couple folks went it, and everyone won. Times have changed, though. We caved and made everything we put out available as an ebook for a few years. It had seemed like we were really missing out, but then it turned out that only a very few of our books could even break even on the ebook conversion fees in three years. Starting in 2017, we’re going for a happy medium, where we convert only ebooks that we project will not lose money, and figuring our losses for each book are still smaller than most publishing houses’ marketing budgets. We’re not totally sure that it’s still a good idea, but we’ll keep trying ’til we know for sure that it isn’t.

In the meantime, if you are one of our rare ebook-buyers, and you want us to keep making them, we strongly encourage you to buy our ebooks directly from us! Ebook is now an option on checkout for almost all of our published titles. And in brand-new news, we just added an option where you can buy the ebook along with the paperback for just $3. When you buy an ebook on our site, you’ll get an email with download links to (usually) all three major formats within 24 hours.

And now we’ve also joined the race to the lowest price … at least, temporarily, with our new Super Bundle program. Every month for just one week we’ll run some kind of screaming deal with a theme. The first one (which runs through the end of our day on Tuesday, May 10, 2016) contains 8 books for $20 + shipping (or $10 if you want ebooks only), all on the theme of DIY summer projects. We’re still figuring out June’s theme and dates, but we’ll let you know.

Thanks for sticking with us through big changes in our world and yours! And as always, get in touch if you have questions or ideas or just want to say hi.

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

Read more by Elly about bicycling, class, and many other issues

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!

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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.