Tagged interviews

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

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!

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!

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

Unearthing the East Bay’s Hidden Rock History: An interview with Cory M. Linstrum

cory m lindstrum photo by dale stewartWe’re stoked to announce the official publication of
the second volume in our Scene History series, Cory M. Linstrum’s The Rock & Roll of San Francisco’s East Bay, 1950-1980. Before the Lookout Records revolution put the Bay Area on the map for current generations, the East Bay was home to a thriving, influential, and diverse rock and punk scene. This little zine packs a whole lot of fascinating history for anyone curious about the roots of the music they’ve always loved, or about SF area history generally. It comes out March 15th, and Cory answered some questions for us over email.

1. Why did you write the Rock & Roll of SF’s East Bay scene history?

It was originally inspired by Joel Selvin’s book, San Francisco: The Musical History Tour. For anyone that hasn’t seen this, it’s like a tourist guidebook of locations specific to Bay Area rock ‘n’ roll: i.e. the sites of now-shuttered infamous nightclubs, historically significant recording studios, sites of a drug busts involving famous musicians, etc. Despite Selvin’s target audience being baby-boomers, it goes much deeper than your average Dead/Airplane/Quicksilver trivia. It’s not only San Francisco locations, either. It includes spots here in the East Bay: the house Metallica lived in before becoming world-famous, CCR’s “Cosmo’s Factory” rehearsal space, the vacant lot (now baseball field) that had a house Jimi Hendrix once lived in as a boy.

It’s a fun book that I always thought would be rad if someone did an all-punk rock version of, in a sloppy fanzine format. I considered it myself, but, instead of the subject of significant locations, I settled on writing about my favorite local bands of multiple genres, operating in multiple decades, and the local record labels that released their music.

cory m linstrum photo by forest loveThe Rock & Roll of SF’s East Bay was actually written in entirety before I learned of Microcosm’s scene history series. It began as a series of essays, one for each decade: 50s/60s/70s, that I intended to self-publish one segment at a time, in issues of the fanzine I edit, Savage Damage Digest. However, I ran out of space before I could even fit in the first installment. Then I got hip to Microcosm’s open call for submissions, which was exactly what I needed!

2. What’s the most amazing/compelling/strange thing you learned while researching and writing it? What’s your favorite band or album from that era?

One of the coolest things was learning the street addresses and approximate locations of some of these extinct recording studios and nightclubs. In hadn’t realized their proximity and closeness to places I casually pass by in my everyday routine. It’s pretty neat going down Alcatraz Avenue, along the Berkeley/Oakland border, knowing that such and such record was recorded in a specific building. Or passing through the intersection of Milvia Street and San Pablo Avenue, visualizing that our Good Vibrations location was once the original Longbranch Saloon! Of course this is expected in places like Los Angeles or New York City, cities known as entertainment hubs, but it’s pretty cool for little ol’ Berkeley.

Since the advance and mail order copies of my Rock & Roll of SF’s East Bay have been circulating I’ve had some pleasant surprises: an invitation extended to me by a well-respected music historian and producer, to come by and peruse his archives and hear unreleased material by some of the bands I’ve written about. I was also thrilled to learn various members of the Jars, a Berkeley new-wave/punk group written about in the chapter on the 70s, had each been given copies to read—and enjoyed it. The band’s original vocalist, J.D. Buhl (who isn’t actually on either of the Jars records), contacted me. He made me aware of an entire alternate pre-history of this band. Now I’m privy to information I found nothing on during my research. It was a great surprise. We’ve since sat down together for an interview and I’ve heard the bands earliest, unreleased demos—which sound like an amazing merger of the Archies and the New York Dolls!

Besides these punky-poppy, practically unheard, early Jars recordings, I’d have to say my favorite Berkeley punk record is “Back To Bataan”, the 1979 single by the Maids. It’s probably the gnarliest sounding record to come out of the East Bay’s original punk wave of the late seventies. Anyone listening to the Killed By Death bootleg record series knows this one. Curiously, as the Maids only made two live appearances during its brief lifetime, most of the local musicians active on this late-seventies circuit don’t remember them.

3. Tell us more about you! What do you write / do / play / think about most?

It’s always been about music, music, music. I listen to it non-stop, write about it, play it live, talk about it and dream about it—always have. I was the kid in 7th grade with a Hit Parader, Creem or Circus Magazine behind his history book. The first underground fanzine I discovered, back in ’83-’84, was Metal Rendezvous. Soon after that I discovered punk rock and a whole new world of fanzines opened up for me. I did various fanzines of my own in high school, then none for many years—I just read ‘em and took mental notes.

I started writing and publishing again in 2010 with Savage Damage Digest. Its release schedule is inconsistent. With my “whenever-I-feel-like-it” attitude, I’m only four issues deep. Still, I keep busy. I just came off a ripping project that I’m really proud of: The Subtractions, a band from California’s Central Valley that existed ‘79/’80. I tracked them down and began interviewing its members for a story with Savage Damage Digest. In the process I discovered a set of tapes the band had recorded in 1980. I got ahold of them, listened to them, was blown away, restored them, transferred them, found a record deal and had an overall great time curating them for release with HoZac Records’ Archival Series (needless to say the band was thrilled and has since done a successful reunion show).

Of course I’m also an avid reader and fan of film, as well as into skateboarding and electric guitars. My wife and I love to travel. We never hesitate to drag our kids onto an airplane or load them into the back seat of our car. I’ve also done bands off and on for the last 25 or so years. I’m currently doing one, but wouldn’t hesitate to bail out when the dive bars and personality clashes become an agonizing grind (call me non-dedicated).

cory m linstrum photo by miles yost4. What’s your next project that you’re most excited about?

At the moment I’ve got a story coming out in Ugly Things #41. It’s a short piece on 6IX, a mostly unknown band that released one Sly Stone-produced single in 1970. Following that is an interview with Boston punk band Unnatural Axe for the next issue of Human Being Lawnmower. I’m hoping to see both of these on the printed page very, very soon. Currently I’m wrapping an interview with (the previously mentioned) J.D. Buhl. He’s done a handful of cool releases, but his 1981 single, “Do Ya Blame Me,” is an awesome side of local poppy-new wave-punk. Sitting down and interviewing him was great fun and he opened a lot of doors for me regarding various local bands I’d only heard of, as they’d never released anything. This gave me some great reference points on these groups. My long term goal is to keep interviewing local musicians and writing about Bay Area punk rock.

Check out our Scene History series zines + call for submissions here, and Cory’s new zine here!

Indie Bookstore Love: Ebenezer Books in Johnson, Vermont

inside ebenezer books in vermont ebenezer books storefront a wood cut sign with a dog's head and the text ebenezer books the Nonfiction shelf at ebenezer books a longer shot of the zine display with a copy of the quran

display case of zines
We’re celebrating our 20 years of independence by highlighting a different indie bookstore that we love every month for a year! This month, we’re featuring the wonderful Ebenezer Books at 2 Lower Main Street in tiny Johnson, Vermont. They first caught our eye because of their prolific and eclectic zine orders.

We asked Ebenezer’s owner, JJ Indeliclae, a bunch of questions and she sent a bunch of photos, including one of the rack right inside their front door that features a ton of the zines we distribute and publish, as well as the American Quran, which she says she added to her front display in solidarity after someone freaked out about it being on display in another Vermont store.

1. What’s the story of Ebenezer’s? I also have to ask about the store’s name… did it come from a grizzled old New England settler, or is it about a ghost of Christmas?
Neither, actually: I named Ebenezer Books after my dog, Ezer. “Ebenezer” is most commonly translated from Hebrew as “place of refuge,” or, more literally, “stone of help.” For me, bookstores have always been both. My Ezer deserves some of the credit for landing me here in rural northern Vermont. (He is a bit grizzled now, almost fourteen… and there is an Ebenezer Road nearby, so there may well have been an old New England settler by that name. The Dickens reference is pretty slant.)

I bought the store in 2008, just weeks before the recession hit. Ebenezer Books is a true brick-and-mortar, inhabiting a 100-year-old bank building. The founding bookseller on this site, Stacey Burke, restored the original tin ceilings and created a beautiful space for books (in 1998).

2. You sell some of the books we publish, and you also buy zines that we distribute! At this exact moment, what is your favorite Microcosm book, your favorite non-Microcosm book, and the zine that stuck in your head the most in the last year?
Yes! We are thrilled to carry Microcosm zines and books. It’s an almost-daily pleasure to watch people discover zines; I’m continually surprised how many of our customers are discovering them here for the first time. (“Excuse me… what are these little books?”)

It’s tough to pick a favorite Microcosm book! Hot Pants, maybe. Or J. Gerlach’s Simple History series. I’m a longtime fan of Ayun Halliday, so I enjoy recommending her Zinester’s Guide to NYC. My current favorite non-Microcosm book is forthcoming in May: Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Gene. The zine that stuck in my head the most from the past year? There are so many contenders that I’m going to pick the title that first struck me from another store’s zine rack: We’ll Never Have Paris. I’m partial to literary collections.

3. Your bookstore is small but mighty—how would you describe your customers? What keeps you going?
Johnson is a small town, but it is the home of the Vermont Studio Center, the country’s largest residency program for writers and visual artists. They draw people active in the literary community from all over, so many of our customers come from far afield. Consequently we are able to maintain a rich and deep selection of books, especially in poetry and literary fiction. We serve our neighboring towns and are pleased to have customers in an increasing radius from Johnson. Some of our seasonal traffic comes from neighboring ski resorts, and many people also come through town on road trips to view fall foliage. Bookselling is definitely a labor of love. Our best customers share our veneration for the physical book, and their loyalty is a force.

4. What do you glimpse in your crystal ball for the future of books?
I have to believe that there are enough people who care about cultural literacy to continue to buy books, and to buy them from independent channels. I’m encouraged by the resurgence of independent bookstores very recently, though this national trend has yet to buoy us much, as bookstores in particular depend on a political awareness that is still evolving. Book industry upheavals are not yet played out. My hope is that more and more small independent bookstores will thrive, and in turn support small publishers such as yours: especially the ones that care about literary and production quality.

This has been an interview with JJ Indeliclae, owner of Ebenezer Books in Johnson, VT! Be sure to pay them a visit when you’re next up that way, and support your local indie bookstores in the meantime!

Jazzpunk and Underdogs: An interview with Rob Morton of the Taxpayers

god forgive these bastards record book setGod Forgive these Bastards is an underdog book about an underdog. It doesn’t really resemble any other Microcosm book so we tend to have a bit of trouble selling it—”Can we interest you in a book about DIY projects, a graphic novel about activism….and a novel about a college baseball player who ended up living on the streets?” doesn’t totally make sense to everyone. Once you begin reading it, though, it draws you in and sticks with you long after you’ve read it, as our intern Natalie recently found.

The book is good on its own, but it’s at its very best paired with the jazzpunk album of the same name that it was written to go along with it; the songs also tell stories of underdog anti-hero Henry Turner and his forgotten life. The record has been out of print for several years, and we are stoked to announce that we’ve reissued it in a limited colored vinyl release, packaged with the book—get them right here!

In honor of the release, we asked Rob Morton, whose brainchild both book and record are, a few questions:

1. The origin story of this book + music set is pretty amazing. The novel + vinyl record set isn’t very common, nor is the ambiguity of the writing and packaging—it leaves you wondering whether or not it’s fiction, and it sounds like that’s intentional. I had a very hard time filling out the decidedly not-ambiguous distribution paperwork for this! Why did you go this genre-boundary-destroying route? How do you handle the confusion it creates?

When the idea came up, it was during a time in our lives when we had a lot of energy for this kind of stuff. Me and the other Taxpayers were high on all these big, fun ideas, like living in Florida in a storage unit, making a living as a Jimmy Buffet cover band, throwing new kinds of music festivals, etc. The Henry Turner project seemed like another neat way to challenge ourselves.

In regards to handling the confusion that the project has created—we don’t, really. We just kind of hope that folks either enjoy it and get something out of it, or don’t. It is funny to get occasional emails from people that say, “Hey, I knew Henry”, or “Hey, you guys are taking advantage of this guy’s life”—at first, we were going to just let folks run with it and think what they will about it, but we decided to divulge the fact that the story is largely fictional because we thought it would be more fun to let others “in” on the secret.

2. Why did you decide to tell / sing / write a redemption and forgiveness story?

You know, that’s the way that I’ve explained the story in the past, but some other people have made the (reasonable) point that it’s not really about forgiveness, etc. Dave from Hymie’s record store in Minneapolis did a good write up where he said “The lazy listener might take from God Forgive these Bastards a simple lesson of forgiveness and understanding. I suppose that can’t be a bad thing, but the fact is that nobody forgave or understood Henry Turner.”

I think that’s a good take on it. Personally, I like redemption stories where shitty people get a shot to do something not shitty, maybe because I’ve done things I regret and I want to believe that nobody is all bad. But whether the Henry Turner story illustrates that point or argues the opposite–that people are incapable of changing–is up for interpretation, I guess.

3. Please tell us about the Gathering of the Goof Punx

It’s a music and culture festival we (the taxpayers) used to put on. We wanted it to be for the goofy weirdos that didn’t really fit into other subcultures, including punk. There were parades, games, movie screenings, and of course, shows. Some of my heroes played the festival, and I met some new heroes at the festival, like the kid who came out for the first time in front of a room of 300 people during one of the shows. It’s been a few years since we’ve put the festival on, and we’ve talked about doing it again in the future, but it takes a LOT of work and coordination, so it’s kind of on the backburner for now.

4. It’s been a while since you recorded this album and wrote the book, and the album has been out of print for most of that time. What artistic endeavors have you been up to since? What comes next?

We’re working on a new Taxpayers record right now, which should be released by summer of 2016. Andrew and Noah play in Shitty Weekend. Dylan plays in Tensor, Backbiter, and a few other bands. Kevin plays trumpet in some jazz bands. Me, I garden a lot and build shitty chicken coops. I’m learning to play clarinet and piano. I write a couple of songs per week. I played drums in a group called Negation for a while, but we have been broken up for a while now. My partner Elise and I have a band called Trash Swan that plays a show once every two years. Mostly, I’ve been slowly learning how to safely use a reciprocating saw and angle grinder without hurting myself or damaging the stuff I’m working on.

You just read an interview with Taxpayers singer and God, Forgive these Bastards author Rob Morton. Get his novel-record combo here!

20 Years of Good Trouble: An interview with Microcosm founder Joe Biel

good trouble book coverMeet Joe! He is Microcosm’s founder, first employee, and author of our next release, Good Trouble: Building a Successful Life and Business with Asperger’s. I haven’t interviewed Joe previously for this series because, well, for one thing he is super busy filling out forms and putting out fires. And for another thing, he’s the boss, and it doesn’t seem entirely serious to ask your boss what his favorite snacks are. But then I figured that if we are too serious to talk about snacks, then we should probably take ourselves less seriously. And there’s a new book to tell you about. So, here it is, a bunch of questions for Joe!

1. You wrote this amazing book, Good Trouble, that tells your story and the story of Microcosm. Working with you, I’ve learned that you’re cautious about accepting memoirs. What’s the difference between a memoir worth publishing and one that isn’t, and how does your book suit the bill? Why did you decide to write the book?

iced tea and microcosm logo​Thank you. I would like to believe that I’m cautious about everything but most of the rest of the staff would probably disagree. ​In prehistoric times, a memoir was simply a story. If we’re using marketing terms, a memoir could simply be a nonfiction novel. But a novel has a narrative, characters, plot, a theme, and an arc. Many writers don’t engage the reader as a stakeholder in their writing and many of the memoirs that are submitted to us are expected to be published on the grounds that they have been written. For a memoir to work, it needs to have all of those components and have a clear concept of what it is, who it is for, and how it is different from the pack. My book is for would-be publishers, young adult Aspies, Microcosm fans, and people who want to start businesses. There needs to be at least 5,000 of these people out there and we need to know how to reach them.  I am too close to the work to tell you if mine succeeds but thankfully everyone who I have heard from so far has enjoyed it immensely so I am thankful that I have good editors and that I put so many hours into it.

joe ruby and elly on brompton bicyclesI started working on this book about six years ago before I knew how the story would end. I had just been diagnosed with Asperger’s but I didn’t yet know what was next in the narrative. I actually thought that this book would make more sense with a more traditional publishing house but the staff at Microcosm pushed me to do it for our 20th anniversary and my economic sense got the best of me, since I would earn more publishing it with Microcosm and I wouldn’t suffer the fate of my last book where it was picked up by multiple publishers before they either dropped it or went out of business. I’m really proud of the results and I think that mostly speaks to the presence and clarity I’ve developed around events in my own life largely as a result of writing the book.

2. In your book, you come out to the whole world as having been diagnosed with Asperger’s as an adult. What’s it like to come out with this and tell the world? Were you nervous? How have people responded so far?

joe-dave-fuckpit

​I kept my diagnosis a secret for six years because I had been bullied so badly both as a child and as I began to attempt to privately come out to people after my diagnosis. Those experiences gave me a very different way of seeing the communities that I had been involved closely with for almost my entire life—as a whole they did not want to embrace the analytical skills necessary to understand what my diagnosis meant and how that it had affected my ability to perceive situations across my whole life. Asperger’s is really traumatic because you are constantly in a social dynamic where you are accidentally offending and upsetting people and you don’t understand why. Obviously, the biggest solution is the cognitive training to mimic the social skills and empathy of neurotypicals but that would have been much smoother if my scene had been at least willing to incorporate my disability into understanding what I was going through. Ironically, people that I have told outside of the punk or zine scenes have generally been really supportive and understanding and it has lead to great conversations and finding other Aspies. Telling my story publicly has been really important because people no longer will deny my experience in the way that they have been when I tried and come out to them one on one.

3. Please share some favorites: Your favorite snacks, favorite hobby, favorite place in Portland, favorite place not in Portland, favorite Microcosm book, favorite non-Microcosm book.

joe with cdMy favorite snacks are Beanitos and various fruits.

My favorite hobbies are to 1) sort my pills and 2) have a relatively scheduled but somewhat free hour or two to drop into places that I don’t get to see often enough. ​

I love the Avalon Wunderland in Portland because it’s stuck in time as the whole city is changing and the dysfunctional aspects of the place take decades to work out. Other favorite places are Extreme Noise in Minneapolis and Muddy Waters in San Francisco. They both tie to important times in my life and again their unchanging nature is refreshing in 2016.

I had to think long and hard about this but I think my favorite Microcosm book is Firebrandsthe reason is complex. It’s mostly because I didn’t do any of the work on the book so I got to enjoy it as a reader first and foremost. While it looks like it is gallery guide or something, I stand by the art and writing six years later. It’s very much an emotional rollercoaster and completely inspires me to this day. The stories in it told me that there is so much more life to be lived when I felt like I had been everywhere and done everything.

I think my favorite non-Microcosm book is Jon Ronson’s Them because it encapsulates what I think my life would look like if my upbringing had been more supportive and privileged: doing on-site humorous reporting about fringe weird shit all over the globe without handing the punchlines to the reader.

4. Are you ready for the next 20 years? What’s the plan? When you think about celebrating 40 years, what do you see?

grinning cyclistsAs I wrote on the Powell’s blog story, I feel like it is now the era of the small press. That is partly because we are much more in touch with what our readers actually want from us and also partially because we are able to adapt much more easily and quickly. I really enjoy how the publishing industry has changed and that’s where I differ from most of my peers. I feel like it gave me a new game to learn and become proficient at. Title development will become increasingly important and thus increasingly refined at Microcosm. Data will inform our best practices.

Microcosm spent several years trying to find a mentor, a business that was larger than us but still independent without being owned by investment bankers. We found only one company so  far that fits this bill, which is disheartening. But for me this is a better reason to succeed on our own terms and these are the kinds of things that motivate me. I would guess that our backlist will more than double in the next 20 years and we’ll have produced about 800 original books by our 40th. ​

One important area where we are changing is no longer relying on one book each year to be a fly-away bestseller. Instead, we are much more comfortable expecting each book selling 3,000-5,000 copies and if one does better than that, we know how to handle it but we aren’t reliant upon it like we were in 2009.

I now organize our cash flow a year in advance and budget that far ahead as well. It prevents a lot of stress and hair loss.

Anything else I should ask?

omaha bicycle company storefrontBefore my diagnosis, I suspect that ​I’ve been hard to work with over the first fourteen years. A lot of people have done a lot of work around here and I don’t feel they get acknowledged enough. Nate Beaty has been programming our databases and website since 2002 and created a lot of our data-driven systems. He is probably the only reason that Microcosm was organized enough to exist past 2007. But more importantly, we were able to work together on creating tools that allowed individuals to make informed decisions without having to pull out giant file stacks and dig out records. Nate has created enough that Microcosm staff can be informed every day about what best practices are.

​It’s been really neat to see the Aspies come out of the woodwork and how many old Microcosm fans reappear ​for the anniversary. They all have really great stories and, Buddy Hershey, the oldest customer that I know of who still orders, sent me a really sweet gift for the occasion. Because of my Asperger’s my life has mostly been solitary and as much as I have picked up social skills in the last decade I mostly think back to the times that I was alone as the happiest so it’s nice to create a new narrative where I can be happy and around other people at the same time.

This has been an interview with Microcosm founder Joe Biel. Read more in his new book, Good Trouble.

Indie Bookstore Love: Main Street Books in Minot, North Dakota

main street booksFor Microcosm’s 20th Anniversary (it’s February 12th!) we decided to turn the whole year into a party celebrating the survival of indie books! Part of that is singing the praises of independent bookstores, keeping the world bookier and better for everyone. To that end, we’ll be shining our nerdy spotlight every month this year on a different indie bookstore that we love.

Our first featured bookstore is one of our very favorites in the country: Main Street Books in Minot, North Dakota. We go to Minot every year for the WhyNot?!?! Fest (if you’re in the Dakotas-ish or in a band that’s touring this August, join us there!), and we always look forward to combing the shelves and getting to talk to Val, who owns the bookstore and her cadre of charming workers. One year we turned up and they had dedicated a whole small bookcase in the store to our books! We swooned. When it came time to ask booksellers to participate in our 20th anniversary year, we asked Val right away and she said no problem. So we asked her some questions over email about running her booming book business in an oil boom town, and she sent us these photos of her shop.

straight outta portland sign1. What’s the story of Main Street Books? When and why did it start and what’s it’s role in the community?

Main Street Books is celebrating their ten year anniversary in March of this year. The owner, Val Stadick, started Main Street Books in 2006 in a location that was about 1/3 of the size of their current location. This year, in their tenth year, Main Street Books was proud to receive the Minot Daily News Reader’s Choice Award for best Bookstore in Minot beating out the large mall store chain competition for the award. Go Main Street!!

2. How did we meet? Was it through the WhyNot Fest? And how the Microcosm shelf at Main Street Books come to be? You’re the only store we know of that devotes a whole display to us—we’re very flattered! And we also wonder if it’s something that we should encourage other bookstores to do, or if it works for you because of the particular cultural mix that is Minot.

We were introduced to Microcosm Publishing through the WhyNot Fest and some participants involved in the WhyNot who were also large supporters of the bookstore. In particular, one of our staff, Lindsey B. who is now attending an out of state University, loved the selection of Microcosm titles so much so that she suggested putting all of them on a single display. We feel that this not only celebrates the uniqueness of the publisher, but also of Main Street Books.

val holding rad dad3. What’s your favorite Microcosm book?

I have always carried and loved Rad Dad. It’s a great title to handsell any newbie dad and to say ‘Hey! Fatherhood is cool and can be fun. Embrace it and be the best dad possible.”

4. Minot is at the heart of the North Dakota oil boom… do the fluctuations in the local economy (and water levels) affect the types of books that Minot residents tend to read? Are there other trends that you notice as the area changes and grows?

I don’t think it does—current oil prices are causing an out-migration more than growth. In the beginning we saw mostly younger single men or men without their families moving to the area—catering to families during this early growth wasn’t much of a boon to our business. Later the families followed the men and it was exciting for us to see new people in town that weren’t in the Air Force. I love diversity and this is a positive that the oil boom brought to Minot. It also offered families who had lost nearly everything in the economy a fresh start which brought a positive spin to the oil boom. I heard lots of stories from families being grateful to have a roof over their head and a place to call home again.

worker and book shelf

Hurray! This profile of Main Street Books in Minot, ND is part of our 20th Birthday Celebration of Independence! Customers take note: If you buy two of our books from Main Street or any other indie bookstore during the month of February 2016 and send us a pic of your books + receipt, we’ll send you a Microcosm logo t-shirt! 

microcosm at main street