Tagged interviews

Independent Publishing Love: Our Radical Friends at OR Books

the team at OR BooksAs part of our Year of Independence, we’ve been interviewing independent booksellers who we love. This month, instead of a bookstore, we’re turning to OR Books, a fellow radical independent publisher that, like us, also sells a substantial portion of its books directly to readers. That’s a relative rarity in the publishing world, where it’s the norm for every book to go through a string of distributors, wholesalers, and booksellers before making its way into your hands. We were stoked to meet these kindred spirits and immediately started gleefully conspiring to support each other… another activity that breaks the mold of mainstream publishing.

Check out their offerings, we think you’ll like them. Their recent releases include such helpful gems as Pocket Piketty and The Animals’ Vegan Manifesto.

OR Books publicity manager Natascha Uhlmann answered our questions over email.

1. What’s the story of OR Books? What matters most to you as publishers?
OR Books arose out of a desire to forge a different path for publishing—one centered around progressive politics, selling direct to consumers, and intense marketing. Our model varies pretty drastically from the standard publishing houses: we avoid Amazon and other traditional distribution methods. It allows us to sidestep some of the pitfalls of traditional publishing and focus our energies where they should be: on the book itself.

2. You are a politically progressive publisher—what does that mean to you?
It means taking on titles that are progressive, transgressive, and sometimes outright bizarre. I think we can all recall wrestling with a book that made us engage with the world in a different way—it’s a revolutionary, world changing thing, and I hope to recreate that same experience for others.

3. What are your personal favorite books from the OR backlist? Any favorites you’ve recently read from other publishers?
Extinction: A Radical History by Ashley Dawson makes the case that the environmental crisis we currently face is fundamentally tied to our economic system. Ashley traces the history of extinction and ties its catastrophic rise to capitalism’s unrelenting drive to expand.

What’s Yours is Mine by Tom Slee is a critical look at the sharing economy. He pushes back against the portrayal of platforms like Uber and AirBnb as democratic, pointing to the means by which these technologies simply shift risk onto the worker and encourages us all to settle for less.

Beautiful Trouble ed. by Andrew Boyd and Dave Oswald Mitchell is a tactical manual for radicals. It traces a wide variety of activist groups and the approaches that they have found valuable. I’ve found it to be an incredibly valuable resource throughout my organizing, and a great primer for interested younger activists.

As for others:

In Defense of Housing by David Madden and Peter Marcuse (Verso Books) explores the commodification of housing and the violence of gentrification. They highlight that housing is endemic, not incidental, under capitalism and point to the successes of several movements organizing for housing justice – and how we can learn from these.

Stuffed and Starved by Raj Patel (Melville House) is a brilliant look at the global food economy and engages with some urgent questions: How are hunger and obesity interrelated? What avenues for resistance do we have in an ever consolidating system of food production?

Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight against Medical Discrimination by Alondra Nelson (University of Minnesota Press) explores the Black Panther Party’s fight for health justice. We as activists owe so much today to their organizational tactics, and I think their articulation of health politics greatly informs current debates around single payer activism.

4. What are the most urgent issues facing the publishing industry right now? If you could look into your crystal ball, what is the biggest piece of advice would you give to yourself and other independent publishers?
The advent of new technologies means that it’s harder to command the attention of would-be readers. That said, the field is adaptable and at the end of the day, no one walks away from a good book.

I think the best advice I can offer is to remember why we’re here: because we believe deeply in the power of ideas. To get to work on a book that may go on to shape the way someone sees the world is an incredible gift. It’s a challenging field, but an utterly rewarding one.

Meet the Microcosmites: Tomy Huynh

tomy huynh of microcosm publishingOur newest staff person is editorial and marketing assistant Tomy Huynh! Tomy (his name is pronounced as though it’s spelled Tommy) manages our data, which despite his modest description is a huge and daunting multi-faceted task full of highly contingent details which few people, no matter how brilliant, are able to wrap their brains around.

1. What do you do here at Microcosm? What kinds of projects are you excited about right now? How did you end up here?
I’m the editorial and marketing assistant at Microcosm. I manage our marketing data, convert our current and future titles to eBooks, deal with trademark-infringement cases, do light editorial work, and offer support to anyone here who needs it. I started at Microcosm as an intern last December and was honored when Joe and Elly offered me a job after my three-month commitment was up, especially since I really enjoyed working with everyone in the office, and I truly believe in the organization and its products. (Is this answer sycophantic enough so far?)

Initially, I was primarily doing editorial work (copyediting and proofreading). However, I’ve been more involved with the marketing aspect of the business, focusing on data management (something I didn’t realize I really enjoyed doing until I started doing it).

2. What books have you read and loved lately? Do you have a favorite Microcosm book?
As of late, I find I have less time to devote to reading lengthy books (my attention span is shot); I’ve been reading more magazines, news articles, and short stories to get my reading fix. That being said, I’m finishing up an amazing book by Susan Cain called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Also, at the behest of my English-professor friend, I finally decided to tackle Marcel Proust (starting with Swann’s Way, which I hope to be done with by the end of this year). Regarding Microcosm books, I really like the Railroad Semantics series (makes me nostalgic for my train-hopping days, and it’s very well written), the Henry and Glenn Forever series, the no-nonsense therapy zines by Dr. Faith, and the upcoming book Cats I’ve Known by Katie Haegele.
tomy huynh and canine friend
3. Where are you from? What do you like to do when you aren’t at work?
I was born and raised in Los Angeles, and lived there until I graduated from high school. Since then, I’ve moved around quite a bit, ultimately ending up here in Portland. In my mid to late twenties, I desperately wanted to move east—mainly Chicago or New York. But, for whatever reason, I was compelled to stay on the West Coast. (The farthest east I’ve managed to live is Las Vegas, which was where I lived for seven years before I moved to Portland in 2013.) At this point in my life, I’ve pretty much set down my roots. I guess that makes me a quintessential West Coaster, having lived in every West Coast state in the contiguous United States (California, Oregon, and Washington).

When I’m not at work, I enjoy gardening, biking, hiking, reading and writing, watching CNN, and hanging out with the hubby, our three pukey kitties, and our goofy, accident-prone dog.

4. Tell us a funny story about bicycling, food, or Portland.
Hmm… I can’t think of any funny stories involving bicycling. I have a few getting-hit-by-a-car-while-riding-my-bike stories that might be considered funny to some people, though those incidents were not so funny for me in the moment. I’ve been food poisoned (that’s kind of funny, right?).

A funny story about Portland… I met my husband here in 2011 while I was visiting my brother, who lives in Vancouver, WA. Actually, I met him when he and my brother were on a date (I was dating a Vegas magician at the time). Lots of hilarity, awkwardness, and drama ensued. And a few years later, my brother officiated my marriage.

Rockstars Eating: An Interview with Automne Zingg

automne zingg standing next to word dead

Automne Zingg

Ever since Automne Zingg sent us her zine called “Comfort Eating with Nick Cave,” the world has seemed like a friendlier, funnier place. So we schemed to do more work with her, culminating with a book of the same name that came out last month, along with its companion, Defensive Eating with Morrissey. And now you too can delight in some of her work. But these books are just the thin end of the wedge. We talked with Automne about her art (some of which involves rock stars eating, and some of which doesn’t). Read, watch, and listen on!

Lacey Spacecake

You have a great intro in each book about its origin story. What’s the short version of the story of how these two works went from idea to zines to books.
The short version is basically me dealing with poverty and heartbreak through art. I couldn’t afford to eat and drawing these pictures of my idols comfort eating amused me and served as an almost type of therapy. Turning them into zines to sell made it so I could afford the luxuries of eating. Having those zines turn into cookbooks was the thanks of you dearies at Microcosm as well as Joshua Ploeg. It’s one of the few artistic projects of mine that went somewhere and actually had a happy ending. Usually my creations die in obscurity or my ideas go unnoticed. This has been a great change of pace.

Rockstars Eating by Automne Zingg

Rockstars Eating by Automne Zingg

The response to these books has been tremendous! Have you had any particularly funny, touching, hostile, or weird encounters as a result of the books (or zines)?
Hahha. For the most part, I have been really floored by the support. There have been a few Morrissey fans not so amused by it but I expected as much. Honestly, I was really worried about the timing of the Nick Cave one since these were made before he lost his son and I didn’t want anybody to get the wrong idea. Fortunately most people get that this all came from a humorous place of love.

Old Manzig by Automne Zingg

Old Manzig by Automne Zingg

You do a lot of music and video art. What are your other projects? What are you working on right now that you’re most excited about?

lacey spacecake video stills

Lacey Spacecake Video Stills


Right now I have a one woman band called Lacey Spacecake where I write and record all the songs, play the instruments, sing, and make the videos.

I’m also in a band called Bat Fancy. Unfortunately none of the members live in the same state so we are temporarily on a hiatus but here is a spooooooky Halloween video I made for us.

I’m also doing the art for my friend’s documentary about The Cure’s fans. She’s been working on the thing for 16 years.

Other than that, I do a lot of comedy videos and have a day in music segment (From Day To Zingg) every Tuesday for my buddy Kurt’s WFMU show. It’s never scripted and I usually say a lot of nonsense ranging from accusing Meatloaf of the assassination of JFK to telling people that if you play Chicago’s “If You Leave Me Now” backwards, it’s actually Peter Cetera’s recipe for grits.

But you can find most of my art, musings, videos, words, and projects on my website.

What’s next? We hope you’ll draw more rock icons eating…
Definitely more zines and definitely more rockstars consuming things. Currently I’m working on an “Adult Activity Book” with things like “YO MAMMA JOKES WITH JARVIS COCKER” and “HANGOVER CURES WITH THE CURE.” I’m also doing an illustrated guide to these bizarre weather reports I used to write in LA. What else? I’m trying to get a public access show in Queens where I play the part of a sad bear that asks artists and musicians really existential questions. It’s called “I CAN’T BEAR THIS.” I’m still looking for the perfect bear costume. There are worse problems to have.

Depeche Mode eating a hoagie

Violator

(P.S. You can also watch an election video Automne made for Kickstarter right here! You too may find yourself supporting David Boowie and the Ghost Formerly Known as Prince on the 2016 ballot.)

Ultimate Bernie by Automne Zingg

Ultimate Bernie by Automne Zingg

Merry Krampus by Automne Zingg

Merry Krampus by Automne Zingg

Mama Tried creator Cecilia Granata on the cover of Vegan Italy

Cecilia Granata on the cover of Vegan Italy MagazineWe got word last month that Vegan Italy magazine would be featuring Cecilia Granata, the author and tattoo artist behind our recent cookbook, Mama Tried: Traditional Italian cooking for the Screwed, Crude, Vegan, and Tattooed. It turns out that she’s on the cover of their October 2016 issue! Cecilia sent us the cover this month, and a couple of the interior shots from the feature inside the magazine. All these spectacular photos were taken by Luca Boveri.

Since we can’t read the feature, she told us a bit about it:

Cecilia Granata wearing an Eat Like You Give a Damn apron and holding a rolling pinVegan Italy magazine is the main vegan paper publication in Italy. It usually focuses on one personality (chef, artist, activist, celebrity, etc.) of the Vegan world (not just Italian) and then adds more articles about veganism, recipes, etc. They interviewed me and asked some photos and decided to put me on the cover because apparently I make a good character. 🙂

Basically the asked me about my life (moving twice from Italy to the US, how did that happen). How, when and why I became vegan; what are the main differences between veganism in Italy and in the US, including a perspective on which approach will be more successful for the future. And also how my passion for tattoos was born and how/when did it cross paths with veganism. A little bit about my art, iconography, inspiration, references, things I get inspired by. And how from there I also became a writer, with the publication of Mama Tried and to talk about the book.

Then a little bit about activism and they also published 2 fall recipes from the book, of which they took photos. Plus pictures of my book, art and tattoos. And me. 🙂

Veganism in Italy is exploding. In the last few years an unbelievable amount of offerings have been added to the market in a quantity and quality never known before. Starting from finding plant-based milks and breakfast in many coffee places, to ice cream parlors, bakeries, un-cheese shops, restaurants, public schools, supermarkets, tv shows, tv satire, you name it. I think the tendency will only increase and I am the happiest. I love Italian food and Italian products, whenever I go to Italy I bring back entire suitcases of food.

cecilia granata holding up her mama tried vegan cookbookItalian vegan food making has definitely a “healthier” characteristic that is not always found in Vegan made in the USA.

The debate is opening up a lot too, many events and projects are starting up.”

Punk Rock Entrepreneur: An interview with Caroline Moore

Punk Rock Entrepreneur coverCaroline Moore came to us with a book that really hit home: Punk Rock Entrepreneur: Running a Business Without Losing Your Values. We’re thrilled with how the book turned out. Moore’s examples are drawn from her own life, other scrappy entrepreneurs including bands like Green Day. This is like the anti-startup guide. Instead of coming up with an idea and looking for funding, this book is about turning your craft and art—what you would do no matter what—into a viable business without the benefit of having much (or any) money.

You can find out more about Moore’s design, illustration, and photography on her website, and check out her sweet goods (some of them Punk Rock Entrepreneur-related) in her Etsy shop. Oh yeah, and we still have a bunch of signed and doodled copies of her book. Order soon and snag one of them!

1. What’s the origin story of Punk Rock Entrepreneur? Where’d the idea come from? How did you end up with Microcosm?
Depending on how far back you want to go, the origin story is an interview I did with a group that focuses on entrepreneurship for teens. They asked what made me want to start a business, and I didn’t have a great answer for them, so I spent some time thinking about it. The truth is, when I started out, I didn’t even really think of it as starting a business, in an official way. I was used to my punk friends touring, starting zines, making and selling art, and that’s what I did—starting my photography business was very unceremonious.

After I’d put some serious time and thought into it, I found that a lot of what I knew about starting and running a business was from that DIY scene. I had been volunteering for a few years with Weapons of Mass Creation Fest, and it seemed like the kind of thing that would go over really well with their crowd. So I pitched it to Jeff Finley and Joseph Hughes (Jeff founded the Fest, and Joseph was handling the speaker lineup that year), and they let me have a spot on their stage. So the idea got upgraded to a 30 minute… well, it was supposed to be 30 minutes, but closer to a 40 minute conference talk. One of my favorite comments that someone tweeted about that was something like “punk enough to get kicked off stage, professional enough not to knock down the podium on her way out.”

My process for writing conference talks is that I basically write an essay, exactly what I want to say, and then practice that and make an outline to actually use as a reference on stage. Which meant that I had everything all typed up, so I posted it to my blog after I got home for anyone that had missed the talk. I was still doing contract work for a design agency a few days a week then, and my boss there said “you should turn this into a book.” I knew I had a ton of material that I had to cut for time, so I started putting together proposals to send out to publishers. I had heard of Microcosm because I’d done some interior illustrations for Bobby Joe Ebola’s book, which they published. After meeting with Joe and Elly at a Dinner and Bikes event in Pittsburgh, and looking over the catalog, the book seemed like a really good fit both for the types of books that Microcosm puts out, and the way that they do business.

2. This is your first book (congrats!). What has surprised you about writing and publishing a book? Any advice for other first-time authors now that you’ve been around this block once?
Thanks! One of the first things that surprised me was the sheer volume of words that I needed to write. It seems like you have so much to say, but then you type everything up and it’s six pages. I had gotten used to writing for blogs, for twitter, for conferences, for things that are meant to be short form. You have to be really concise and get to your point. Which is still important in longer form books, no one wants to read you droning on belaboring a point, but you do have a lot more room to really flesh out a concept. I also say something in the book, “you can’t edit a blank page, but you can edit a bad one.” Staring at a blank sheet messes with you, so just start putting words down. Even if they’re terrible, stupid words, just start writing for the sake of having something that you can work with. We learned to write in chunks when I was in college, and that’s still how I do it. The introductions are the last thing that I write, I start in the middle.

3. In Punk Rock Entrepreneur you propose the counter-intuitive idea that not having a lot of money or resources can actually be the best thing for someone starting a business. Can you elaborate a little bit on this?
It’s certainly not the easiest way. Having a huge pile of money to throw at a project would make things much easier. But not having a ton of cash up front does make you think creatively about how to get your business off of the ground, and it makes you look at the money and resources you do have VERY critically. In particular, you’re very thoughtful about what you’re getting for spending that cash. A band with a trust fund might be able to get an RV to tour in, spend a lot of cash on hotel rooms, food, top of the line gear, clothes, you name it. But that stuff might not be helping them bring in any more money (or fans). They have a lot of money going out, but may not have any more money coming in than the band that’s touring in their car and sleeping on floors. Those folks are keeping their overhead low, so they get to keep the money they bring in.

4. What are you listening to or reading right now that inspires you?
I’m actually giving a talk in Louisville in October (at MidwestUX) about how routine input leads to routine output. I’m really big on interdisciplinary education, because I think the bigger your pool of experiences, the more connections you can potentially make to create interesting work. I’m actually working on condensing that entire chapter (“We Live Our Lives Another Way”) down to a 10 minute lightning talk. I don’t have a ton of dedicated reading time right now (I have a 15-month-old), so I’m reading a lot of psychology articles. Why people behave the way they do is really interesting to me from both a human perspective and a business one. I just discovered the joy of Instapaper to keep track of all the things I want to read.

As far as music, I’m a little all over the place. My husband and I just discovered Smoke or Fire’s The Speakeasy, which is great because they stopped being a band in 2004, which is a recurring theme when we find albums that we both like. I’ve had that in the car on loop lately. I just picked up Signals Midwest’s new one, At This Age. We did a joint book launch/record release show, and I don’t have enough nice words to say about those guys or the music they make. And the last show that we went to was Sikth, which is sometimes hard for me to listen to, because they’re super erratic. But they’re doing some really cool things that I don’t hear much elsewhere, so I find it really interesting even though sometimes it makes me agitated.

5. What’s next for you, in business, art, and life?
This is always a super busy time of year for me, for some reason October is always booked solid. We’re taking our kid on his first plane ride, to go to his dad’s work conference. We’ve already done a work conference each this year, and we both have another one coming up where we’ll be separated. So for this one, we’re going as a family to spend some time together, plus also the hotel is right next to Legoland. I have a few events coming up, Whiskey & Words in Pittsburgh, then Midwest UX in Louisville. I’ve got a wedding to shoot, and I’m setting up mini portrait sessions to benefit Children’s Hospital’s Free Care Fund. Definitely more speaking engagements coming up, and some more events where I can set up and talk to folks about the book.

Things tend to slow down in the winter, and I can get into my “someday” list. Throughout the year I’ll have ideas for art that I want to make, and it just goes into the giant someday pile for whatever time I carve out for personal projects. Sometimes I don’t write up the best description, though, and months later I don’t understand my own notes (like that episode of 30 Rock where Kenneth has a notebook that just says “bird internet.”) I’m also rebranding the photography site over the winter, Ryan Troy Ford agreed to work on a new logo for me, and I’m pretty excited to update that. It feels weird to hire someone to design anything for me, since my undergraduate degree is in design, and I’ve spent a lot of years working as a designer. But designing for yourself is so much harder than for clients, and fighting the urge to just tweak it for all eternity is difficult. Getting someone a little more removed from it is definitely going to be good for the project.

For the business, this is the first time I’ve very intentionally done it part time. Even when I had a full time job, I was still really treating the business as a full time endeavor (which was not great for my health, but that’s a whole other interview.) Being our son’s primary caregiver, I can’t also work full time. We decided I was going to stay home with him, instead of doing day care, so my hours are limited. It’s a good balance for us right now, and I’m happy with the direction it’s taking. But the rebrand is part of a bigger theme of refocusing what I’m putting out there, so that I’m really getting the right clients to work with during those limited hours. Another thing that comes up in the book is how important it is to be attentive to your goals, and to revisit those goals to see if that’s still what you want. I can’t just look at someone else’s business to see what they’re doing, I have to really consider what I want out of my own business, and whether my actions are getting me closer to that.

Indie Bookstore Love: Women & Children First!

color illustration of the women and children first feminist bookstore storefront
All year, Microcosm is celebrating our 20th anniversary by putting the spotlight every month on a different independent bookstore that we love! Our indie bookstore heart in September goes out to iconic Chicago feminist bookstore Women & Children First—you can find them (and many woman-penned Microcosm books on their shelves!) at 5233 N Clark St. After they hosted the book launch party for Threadbare this spring, we asked them to partner with us for this month. Co-owner Sarah Hollenbeck sat down to answer our questions over email:

1. Tell me about Women & Children First. What is the store’s history? How did it get its name?
In the 1970s, Ann Christophersen and Linda Bubon met while earning masters degrees in English at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Time and time again they would come across a woman writer they wanted to study, such as Virginia Woolf, Kate Millet, and Edith Wharton, only to discover their work was not available. Second-wave feminism was in full force, and activists around the country were starting collectives and businesses of all kinds, including feminist presses and bookstores. It was against this backdrop that Ann and Linda decided that how they would support themselves would also be their contribution to the women’s movement.

In the fall of 1979, in its original storefront on Armitage Avenue, Women & Children First opened its doors. The store’s mission was to promote the works of women writers and offer a welcoming community for all women. From the beginning, the store was committed to offering a wide range of programs, focusing on feminist and LGBTQ politics and culture. We are in a different, larger location now that’s in a more bustling section of Chicago, but our mission remains the same.

2. How did you personally get involved in books and bookselling? What is your favorite part of what you do?
I started bookselling part-time at Borders while earning my MFA in creative nonfiction writing at Northwestern University. I would later move on to work part-time at Barnes & Noble. While I had many issues with the corporate structure and impersonal environment of both of those stores, being surrounded by books all day was heaven. I always hoped that I’d one day work at indie bookstore. I never dreamed I would co-own one!

My favorite part of my current job is helping to promote the work of local and emerging authors whose work I truly admire. What I didn’t realize until recently is that booksellers have so much power in terms of shaping trends in publishing depending on what they choose to handsell. Everyone at our store is committed to handselling books by a more diverse array of authors—not only women authors, but authors of color and queer authors. We love encouraging our customers to be more mindful of reading authors whose culture or identity differs from their own. Listening to marginalized voices is integral to making the planet a kinder, more empathetic place.

3. Do you have a favorite Microcosm book and/or zine? What about other books generally, what are you most into reading right now?
Definitely Threadbare by Anne Elizabeth Moore and Learning Good Consent by Cindy Crabb. Our Social Justice Book Group is reading The New Jim Crow this month and I hope to finally finish it by then! I read a lot of memoir and essays, but I also can’t resist dark, character-driven, contemporary novels. Two of my favorite books that I read recently are Shrill by Lindy West and The Telling by Zoe Zolbrod.

4. How is the role of the feminist bookstore different and/or the same now as it was in, say, the 1970s? What is the future of feminist bookselling, or what do you dream it will be?
I believe we’ve built upon and strengthened our commitment to intersectionality. Feminist bookstores have always had a responsibility to actively challenge the traditional gender binary. Today, I believe we are more inclusive when it comes to trans, genderqueer, and non-binary identities.

Moving forward, my goal is to generate more effective strategies to have productive conversations with folks beyond our politically progressive base. We have a tremendously loyal community and I adore every single person who supports our bookstore. It can feel deeply empowering and exhilarating to have a passionate conversation with someone who shares your values and philosophy. However, when I read the news or travel outside of our largely like-minded feminist community, I often worry that I have become dangerously insulated. How do we begin meaningful dialogue—not shouting matches or Twitter fights—with those whose worldviews differ from our own? That’s what’s on my mind when I look to the future.

a photo of women and children first storefront books on display at women and children first women talking about books gloria steinem and roxane gay Karen Finley and fans

Our August Indie Bookstore Valentine: King’s Books in Tacoma

The giant mural on the wall of King's booksWe have long been fans of King’s Books in Tacoma, Washington. It’s a humongous store full of new and used books and it’s clear from the minute you walk in that it’s run by kindred spirits. I’m not going to say it’s curated, because that word implies a sort of holier-than-thou poshness that is absolutely not going on here. But like any good bookstore, the books are chosen by someone who knows what they like and cares what you’ll like. A huge bonus is that it’s in Tacoma, which is, as locals told us, the best-kept secret of the Pacific Northwest, and it really is a place we recommend visiting over Portland or Seattle. When you go there, be sure to visit King’s.

King’s owner sweet pea Flaherty answered these questions over email. He promised photos, but for now you’ll have to make due with this one I found on the Tacoma Ledger‘s website.

1. According to your website’s About page, “Originally founded by King Ludwig I as a gift to Lola Montez, King’s Books was painstakingly moved to Tacoma on April 1, 2000.” There are some major historical gaps here—do you mind filling them in a bit? What made the store proprietors choose Tacoma? Were they fleeing a scandal? What is their stance on the rational dress movement?

Right. So what had happened was, Lola Montez had an illegitimate daughter named Fanny Gilbert. Fanny was an entrepreneur who, in her early 30s, bought passage to Tacoma, shortly after its founding. She set up the leading brothel near the port, appropriately titled Fanny’s. The ensuing wealth was passed down until several times great-granddaughter Petunia Smirk brought the original bookstore over from Bavaria. I think that should clear any historical gaps.

At King’s Books, we are strongly opposed to the rational dress movement. Our clothing closest resembles that of Flo-Jo, while also mixing stripes and patterns, not to mention warm and cool colors. Plus corsets are required for all employees, including the cats.

2. What are your favorite books right now and why? What about your favorite Microcosm title?
My most recent favorite read is The Core of the Sun by Johanna Sinisalo. In modern Finland, women are raised as vapid commodities and all drugs are banned. The most easily smuggled drug is capsaisin, the component of chiles. It is a quirky, feminist, bizarre take on society.

I also love all the picture books coming out where you get to learn about little-known historical figures, like Miss Mary Reporting, The First Step, The William Hoy Story, and Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea, about one of the first female sports reporters, a school desegregation case from 1847, a deaf baseball player, and the woman who mapped the ocean floor respectively.

King’s Books does well with the biking titles, like Bikenomics and Our Bodies, Our Bikes. My most favorite title has to be Walking with Ramona. I haven’t done the tour yet, but I CANNOT WAIT! I might cry.

3. How did you get involved in bookselling? Can you share any hair-raising/funny stories?
I became a bookseller because I was always in bookstores. They are among my favorite places, so it was a natural transition. After my first bookselling convention, I knew I wanted to make it my life.

King’s Books has had a number of, um, colorful customers over the years, including a woman usually in a Marilyn wig who cut pictures of Gandalf out of books (as she thought he was God) and once bled profusely on our floor and a man who is possibly an Amish robot and/or a cannibal who has a number of interesting theories about the most random of topics.

4. What do you think the future holds for the book industry?
Independent bookstores are thriving. I think bookstores that are community centers will only increase their relevance. I love the close relationships bookstores have forged with independent publishers over the last decade. I am always excited to see the smart, innovative things independent bookstores across the country are doing.

Anything else I ought to be asking?
We have two store cats, both rescues, both named by the public. Atticus (Finch, obv) has been with us for a decade and is all black. Herbert (from Tacoma native Frank Herbert) has been with us since October and is a tuxedo cat. They are the welcomers of readers and the scourge of canines.

Visit King’s Books at 218 St Helens Ave in Tacoma, Washington every day from 11-7!

Indie Bookstore Romance: We Heart Quimby’s!

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Quimby’s, the most adorable bookstore in Chicago, and is about to celebrate its 25th anniversary! Microcosm has been working happily with them for many—most?—of those years to get adorable books into the hands of adorable readers like you. (Sorry, we get a little soppy about these things sometimes). When it began, it was a rare outpost of underground literature and zines. Today, it still carries that banner, and it’s impossible to go in without finding a book you absolutely must have an several more that you are very reluctant to leave behind. For our Indie Bookstore Love feature in July, we’re telling you all about them so you can go visit… and buy our books from them, along with many other fine books, zines, and print media of a less easily categorizable nature. You can find them at 1854 W. North Ave, in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago.

Quimby’s boss Liz Mason sat down and answered some of our questions for the occasion, and sent a whole ton of photos!

What’s the story of Quimby’s? How did you get involved in all this stuff to begin with?

Quimby’s is an independently owned bookstore that sells independently-published and small press books, comics, zines and ephemera. We favor the unusual, the aberrant, the saucy and the lowbrow.

On September 15th, 1991, Steven Svymbersky, the founder of Quimby’s, opened the store in Chicago on 1328 N. Damen (at Evergreen) in Wicker Park, in a 1000 sq. ft. space. Since 1985 he had published over 50 zines with his friends, and had published Quimby Magazine for five years in Boston. Steven explained the philosophy of the store with these words: “I really want to carry every cool – bizarre – strange – dope – queer – surreal – weird publication ever written and published and in time Qvimby’s will. Because I know you’re out there and you just want something else, something other, something you never even knew could exist.” (And yes, that was a V.) In 1997 Steven sold the store to Eric Kirsammer, the owner of Chicago Comics. Steven moved to Amsterdam with his family shortly thereafter. Eric purchased the store from Steven in order to continue Steven’s commitment to the First Amendment. After a few years, the rent became too expensive to keep Quimby’s at the same spot in which Steven had opened it. Eric moved it to it’s current locale, 1854 W. North Avenue, to provide it with a more permanent location. He also still owns Chicago Comics. Quimby’s and Chicago Comics have a reciprocal “sister store” relationship, where we transfer materials between each other and often collaborate on ordering, outreach and off-site events.

I got involved because I sold zines at Quimby’s in the 90s and harassed them until they hired me. I’ve been working here for 15 years.

What’s the funniest encounter or wild story that has happened in Quimby’s (or because of Quimby’s?)

I would say the craziest story is that of the nameless gentleman who donated to Quimby’s a huge storage facility compartment full of erotica and porn with the caveat that we drive a cargo van to a rural area and pick it up ourselves. He wouldn’t tell us his name or why he was getting rid of it. Nor would he accept money or store credit as thanks.

When did you start working with Microcosm? Do you have a favorite book or zine by us? What are your favorite things to read lately, generally?

I started working with Microcosm when I started working at Quimby’s, because back then Microcosm was just a few zines on consignment. My fave Microcosm title is probably Xerography Debt, but maybe that’s just because I’m a contributor. But also it’s because it’s interesting to see what other zinesters and zine enthusiasts are enjoying. Lately I’ve been enjoying reading things in all sorts of different things (There Goes Gravity by music journalist Lisa Robinson, The Vorrh by the artist B. Catling, the new graphic novel Patience from Dan Clowes). But also, I’ve had my nose buried in mini-comics I bought at CAKE (Chicago Alternative Comics Expo) recently, so I’ve been enjoying the new comic from comics collective Trubble Club, Sara Becan’s Stockholme Is Sauceome, and the new issue of John Porcellino’s long time series King-Cat. Also of note: someone consigned a zine here that cracks me up called Crunch: A Taco Bell Fanzine. How could I not love that?

You’ve been in a position to watch as independent publishing and zine culture have gone through some huge changes over the years. How would you describe those? What do you predict will happen in the next 5 years?

There are a lot more resources offered to make publishing easier than ever before, what with all the DIY-advice-offering in both print and digital. Zines about how to make zines! Zines about how to make books! Books about how to make zines! Websites on how to make zines about making zines about books! Also, the internet really has changed everything, and has in some ways, become the great normalizer in that there are no more “gatekeepers” for “cool” stuff. Zines and their brethren mini-comics and chap books are a lot easier to come by. There are a ton of websites devoted to promoting, distributing, selling, ordering and archiving them, not to mention commerce websites creators can use to get the word out about their work. Another thing that has changed is that the punk rockers that made zines when they were younger are growing up and becoming teachers, librarians and zine archivists that teach younger folks about zines, inspiring a new generation to conitnue writng about the same isolation and unhappiness as their mentors did before them.

Anything else I ought to ask?

Yes! This year Quimby’s turns 25!

If you’re in Chicago, drop by Quimby’s to say happy birthday and check out their brilliant selection of independently published reads! Thanks Quimby’s! We can’t wait to keep working with you for decades to come.

Indie Bookstore Love: The Powell’s Interview

Kevin Sampsell poses beside the book pillar at the entrance to Powell's BooksWhat can we say about Powell’s Books? It’s a huge, used-and-new, independent bookstore in downtown Portland that takes up a whole city block, plus a couple of smaller but still large and equally interesting outlying stores. It’s one of the best things about living in Portland, and any time we need inspiration—professional or otherwise—we head straight to one of their locations to get lost in the stacks. It never fails.

Powell’s has also been one of Microcosm’s longest running customers. Starting almost 20 years ago, when Joe moved the business from Cleveland to Portland (you can read about those early days in his new book, Good Trouble), and continuing to this month when we’re partnering with Powell’s to spread the indie bookstore love. All month, Powell’s is featuring our newest edition of The Zinester’s Guide to Portland at every register. And for a week mid-month, you can see a display of Microcosm books at their downtown store—keep an eye out for it.

For this month, we asked Kevin Sampsell, who we’ve long had the pleasure of working with during his 15 years and counting reign over the downtown Powell’s storied Small Press section. When not curating the zine rack and slinging books, Kevin’s writing, editing, and running his own small press, Future Tense Books.

1. What’s your history working with Powell’s? How did you become the Small Press guy?
I started working at Powell’s at the end of 1997 as a holiday temp but I dug my claws in and worked hard and passionately so they couldn’t let me go. In 1998, I became an events coordinator, which means I get to schedule and host author events at the store, which is a privilege and a thrill. I became the small press guy around 2001. My predecessors were the amazing Vanessa Renwick and the late great Marty Kruse. Running the small press section is almost like running my own store. It’s an amazing experience. I love my jobs.

2. Do you remember your first encounter with Microcosm? Do you have any embarrassing or hair raising stories about our early days in Portland?
I remember Joe riding his bike down to the store with his plastic buckets strapped on with all the zines and books crammed into them. A couple of times the zines would be a little rough around the edges or dirty from the rain or dirt. I’d have to flatten out things or wipe them clean before I put them out on the shelf.

3. What’s your favorite Microcosm book or zine?
I was a big supporter of the Zinester’s Guide to Portland, even in its first pamphlet-size format. I thought it was a good idea, and before Microcosm had bigger distribution, I’d be the one who had to email you guys and ask for more. Eventually, after the more polished paperback editions came out, our main book purchasers wised up and started buying them in chunks of hundreds. It’s been one of our most consistent best-selling books in the store for several years now.
Some of my other favorites over the years have been Coffeehouse Crushes, Indestructible by Cristy Road, Sarah Royal’s The Book Bindery, the About My Disappearance zines by Dave Roche, and Sarah Mirk’s Sex From Scratch.

4. You’ve been a mentor and something of a bellwether for Portland’s small press and zine culture. How have you watched those scenes change over time? What do you predict for the future?
Thank you. I have always enjoyed supporting small presses and individuals through my job. The scene here has grown just as the city has grown–very quickly and with a wide swath. I think we’re slowly getting more diverse and inclusive and there’s a beautiful synergy that can often be witnessed between established writers and authors and newer writers coming up. I think that’s one of the reasons writers keep moving here, because they know something special is happening here. But in the last couple of years, the rent problems are making it a challenge to stay here. It’s a trend (the higher cost of living) that I hope doesn’t continue because when you discourage the creative class—who often come from financial struggle–it results in the sad decline of artistic excitement in a city. I don’t want that part of Portland to be “over”—I want it to to stay a haven for artists and risk-takers.

Exploring Ramona’s Portland: An Interview with Laura O. Foster

Walking with RamonaOne of the most charming, fun, and satisfying books we’ve had the pleasure of publishing here at Microcosm is Walking with Ramona, a very special and specific guide book that comes out this month. The book takes you on a 3-ish mile loop of the neighborhood where beloved kids’ author Beverly Cleary grew up, and set many of her bestselling novels; more than that, it connects you with the books’ characters and events and takes you into a very real Portland of the past, even if you never end up walking the same sidewalks as young Beverly.

Part of the joy of working on this book was getting to collaborate with the author, local guidebook writer Laura O. Foster. We asked her a few questions over email in preparation for the book’s May 31 publication date. She sent in satisfying answers—and, characteristically, a bunch of colorful photos to illustrate them—see below!

1. What is the story of Walking with Ramona, the tour and the book?
The tour
In 2009, Portland’s Hollywood Library asked me to create and lead a series of walking tours in honor of the neighborhood’s most famous actual resident, Beverly Cleary, and its most famous fictional resident, Ramona Quimby. I’d written three books about exploring Portland’s historic neighborhoods on foot prior to that.

So I read (or re-read) all Mrs. Cleary’s Portland-based books and her two autobiographies, taking notes whenever some site in the city or state was described: the pond where Ellen Tebbits steals Otis Spofford’s shoes, the park where Henry Huggins collects night crawlers, and of course the homes and schools of Beverly’s own childhood. I called the tour “Walking with Ramona.”

37th and Klickitat a few blocks from Beverly's home

37th and Klickitat, a few blocks from Beverly’s home.

Mrs. Cleary is internationally famous. She’s sold over 90 million books, and was awarded the National Medal of Arts. So the tour was a big hit. Everybody had a warm memory of reading her books as a child. Over the years, demand for the tour didn’t go away, but I am primarily a writer, so except for some school groups and nonprofits, I led it infrequently.

In September 2015, Katrina Sarson, host of the television show “Oregon Art Beat,” called to ask if I’d lead the show’s crew on the tour, as they prepared a special half hour show in honor of Mrs. Cleary’s coming 100th birthday on April 12, 2016.

The book
A few weeks before the tour date, I met Joe Biel and Elly Blue at a book trade show. I was in the production phase of a self-published guidebook about the Columbia River Gorge. I went to their educational talk to learn about publishing from the other side of the fence—my other books had been published traditionally, and I didn’t know much about the business end of publishing.

E 37th St N

You can learn about the history of Portland’s street numbering system in the book.

After learning a notebookful that morning, and liking Elly and Joe’s style, the next day I pitched them a book idea I called Walking with Ramona: Exploring Beverly Cleary’s Portland. Working with them seemed like it’d be fun, and finally I’d get the tour out of my files and into a format where more people could enjoy it. Plus my Beverly Cleary file bulged with a lot of other info I’d collected and wanted to share with readers that didn’t get included in the tour.

Send a proposal, they said. I did, and within a week or so we signed a contract. By December 31, Microcosm had the manuscript in hand. Everyone worked fast to shine it up, and with a Kickstarter campaign to fund a special, birthday-edition print run, we were able to have books available for Mrs. Cleary’s 100th birthday celebration in April.

The book is five chapters: an introduction to Beverly Cleary and her characters, a look at what life was like in pre-Portlandia Portland, the tour itself, a scavenger hunt of sorts—sites all over Oregon where Beverly fished, swam, hiked, raked crabs, shopped, worked, etc.—and a bit of wider history that surrounds these places. Plus it includes where to eat, drink and shop while you’re in her neighborhood.

A street in Portland's Hollywood neighborhood

One of the streets you’ll visit on the Walking with Ramona tour

2. How did you come to be a professional walking guidebook writer?
After college I wrote financial analyses of small businesses in Knoxville, Tennessee. I got to leave the plushly stuffy bank offices and ask a lot of questions of people who manufactured woven clothing labels, or repurposed fly-ash from coal-fired utility plants into a road-building material—not unlike how ancient Romans built roads with volcanic ash. Fascinating stuff! I wrote stories about these businesses and their financial histories, and made my pitch as to why their loan request would be (or not) a sound investment for the bank. It may seem irrelevant to a writing career, but my learning to tell a compelling tale with both technical and narrative info about a mundane topic brought me a lot of satisfaction. It was a good lesson.

By my late 20s, I’d left banking, studied ornamental horticulture, moved to Portland and soon took up contract writing, which ultimately led to book publishing. I worked at Beyond Words, a frisky company in Hillsboro, where anyone’s initiative to take on a job was rewarded with a show of confidence. Within a year I was its acquisition and developmental editor, working in adult nonfiction.

velo cult bike shop

Velo Cult, a bike shop and bar along the tour route

With publishing demystified, it seemed to me I could write a book. The book I’d been wanting to read wasn’t out there: one that’d tell you stories while you wandered Portland’s hidden trails, side streets, overgrown staircases and wild/industrial beaches. I’ve always liked to get lost and work back to home using a AAA map, and I’d been poking around the city for years. And then I met my husband. Not only a born-here Portlander who knew the secret trails and stairs of the West Hills, he’s a geologist and engineer who taught me to look forensically at landforms and interpret what had taken place there. After a courtship of rocks and walks, I’d discovered a new layer of Portland. We got married and I had a book I knew would be fun to write, and fun to read.

That book, Portland Hill Walks, was the first of several Portland-based guidebooks.

3. In developing Walking with Ramona, you thoroughly explored Beverly Cleary’s old neighborhood in Northeast Portland, read all of her Portland books, and read her memoirs. What fact, place, or story did you learn that surprised you the most? What is your favorite historical spot on the tour? What is your favorite shop, cafe, or restaurant on the tour to take a break at?

A former Cleary family on NE 77th Avenue

A former Cleary family on NE 77th Avenue

Surprised and delighted me: that the places of Beverly’s childhood are still intact today. Combine that with her meticulous memories of one girl’s 1920’s Portland means you can escape your 21st century reality and get a sense, just by walking, of what life was like here 90 years ago, long before we were hip, famous, and running out of affordable housing. And it’s even better now: good coffee (Fleur de Lis Bakery and Cafe) and beer (Velo Cult) are along the book’s walking route, something not available during her Prohibition-era childhood. You can even buy a retro swimsuit along the route at Popina, one of Portland’s homegrown active wear manufacturers. It’s part of an industry that wasn’t even a glimmer when Beverly lived here. In her day, logging and milling were the state’s big economic engines.

In developing the book, I loved discovering esoteric bits of Portland life, like Beverly’s six-year orthodontia odyssey with kind Dr. Meaney, in downtown’s Selling Building at Southwest 6th and Alder. That building is still home to professionals, and has its own fascinating story that I tell in the book. As with Beverly’s train trip to Rockaway, on the Oregon Coast, prescribed as a cure for illness one summer, I use her life’s places and events as a way to weave in a larger Portland story—of what’s changed, and what hasn’t.

I loved the fact that Beverly learned to be a reader by going to the Roseway Theater during the silent movie era and reading the titles as they streamed by. That theater is still running films, talkies now, on historic Sandy Boulevard, an ancient road whose tale I tell in the book.

Beverly loves cats. This one has a good life.

Beverly loves cats. This one has a good life.

I loved how she wrote that, the year she went to Gregory Heights School, she’d ride to school on the handlebars of a bike pedaled by her crush, an eighth grader. He earned her ire, though, when he offered gallantly to bury the family’s cat, but then carried it to its grave by its tail. With my book, you can gaze upon the house where the cat now reposes in peace, presumably somewhere in the back yard. In Beezus and Ramona, Beverly has her characters treat a departed cat with much more respect.

4. What other projects are you working on now? What’s next for you?
In May 2016, my company, Towns to Trails Media, is releasing its first book, Columbia Gorge Getaways: 12 Weekend Adventures, from Towns to Trails. As a set of multi-day itineraries that covers everything from picking cherries to paragliding, it’s the first complete visitor’s guide to the gorge, one of the nation’s few designated National Scenic Areas.

And of course I’ll be out there walking around. Join me on a “Walking with Ramona” tour! I lead the 3-mile walk as part of the free Ten Toe Express series of walks sponsored by the City of Portland. Meet at the Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden in Grant Park on Thursday, June 9, 6 p.m. or on Saturday, September 10, 9 a.m.

YMCA where Scooter McCarthy took swim lessons

The outside of the YMCA where Scooter McCarthy took swim lessons


Inside the YMCA where Scooter McCarthy took swim lessons

The YMCA where Scooter McCarthy took swim lessons