Microcosm has three seasonal internship opportunities per year, each for multiple interns. Due to the pandemic, the current internship is completely virtual! Here’s some info about the newest members of our team: Alana Baldwin-Joiner (she/her), Eli Humphrey (he/they), Ella Mankowski (she/her), and Michael Quinn (they/them).
Where are you from/ where did you grow up?
Alana: Hillsboro, Oregon!
Eli: I grew up in Denver, Colorado.
Ella: Born and raised in Portland, Oregon!
Michael: I grew up all throughout New York.
What first got you interested in publishing?
Alana: I was the copyeditor for my high school’s yearbook, and I always enjoyed editing my friends’ writing, so I thought it would be a career I would really enjoy. Plus I’ve always adored the idea of helping authors make their dreams of being published come true!
Eli: I studied writing in middle/highschool and put together a chapbook of my work. The experience got me interested in local zines and the publishing process.
Ella: I’ve always had an affinity for language. I was assistant editor for my high school newspaper for about a year and I really enjoyed the process of publishing that.
Michael: Books are something that changed my life for the better, and I feel like there’s so many important stories that haven’t been told yet!
What’s your favorite Microcosm book/ a Microcosm book you’d really like to read?
Alana: It’s been a wild ride! Because of the pandemic making all but one of my jobs remote, I’ve been able to work 4 jobs while I go to school, which is nifty. But it’s also been stressful, with lots of moving and too much computer screen time. I live with my partner and our monster of a cat, so I’m lucky to not be alone at least!
Eli: I’m living with my partner and a friend, so fortunately I haven’t been entirely on my own through all of this. Over the course of 2020, I also made an effort to reconnect with some of my old creativity (finally shaken off years of writer’s block).
Ella: It’s been crazy. I’m really lucky that I can safely see my girlfriend. I decided to take a gap year, so this internship is a great way for me to keep myself busy and develop new skills while still having a good time.
Michael: It’s been interesting to say the least! The last 10 months have felt like a lifetime – I’ve spent the vast majority of it documenting protests and speaking to people involved. It’s definitely helped keep me motivated, excited and hopeful throughout everything.
Do you have any pets?
Alana: I have a very round and very moody cat named Aurora!
Eli: I have a cat named Ozzy and a fish named Hades. The cat spends hours staring at the fish, but we have yet to have a serious incident.
Ella: I’ve got a cat named Willow, a dog named Rose, and three chickens— Pansy, Roxy, and Semolina.
Michael: I don’t, but my roommates have 2 cats: Moop and Tiny Cat.
What do you do in your free time?
Alana: I’ve been trying to watch new Netflix shows lately! I just finished Schitt’s Creek and Sweet Magnolias, which is a big accomplishment for a repeat-binger like me!
Eli: I’ve been watching movies and trying to catch up on books I’ve wanted to read for ages. I don’t know if this necessarily counts as free time, but I’m about to start classes at PNCA!
Ella: Recently I’ve been listening to podcasts— Ologies with Alie Ward is a new favorite of mine. I also like to draw, design houses, and play video games, and I love learning how to make new things!
Michael: Most of the time, I’m either programming, documenting a protest, filing FOIA requests so we can learn more about how the government works, or going on bike rides while blasting some Against Me!
What’s one piece of media you’d recommend to anyone and everyone?
Alana: Schitt’s Creek, for sure! Hilarious, heartwarming, and the first time I’ve had my sexuality represented on screen without homophobia, it’s amazing.
Eli: My favorite film right now is called Down By Law by Jim Jarmusch. It’s a pretty simple story about three men who get arrested and taken to jail. Two of them were framed by the New Orleans Police Department. Tom Waits, the stunning John Lurie, and a surprisingly incredible Roberto Benigni.
Ella:Coyote Doggirl by Lisa Hanawalt is fantastic. Beautiful art, fantastic storytelling, and tells a powerful story about sexual assault. Also, who doesn’t love a pink coyote-dog cowgirl (who designs and makes her own clothes!)?
Michael: This is a super hard choice, but I think I’d have to go with Nevada by Imogen Binnie. It’s a gritty, relatively dark coming of age story that I think will hit extremely close to home for anyone queer and help educate allies. Bring a box of tissues and be prepared to read it in one sitting though!
Each month we share a little bit about our selves, our staff, and our volunteers. Earlier this Fall, on her last day, intern Hanna B. wrote on her last day about her time here for this month’s issue. What she learned, loved, and hated.
A couple of months ago I was lucky enough to be accepted as a summer intern at Microcosm Publishing. I’m from California, which meant that I would be spending the summer moving to a brand new city completely separate from my family, friends, and basically everything I know. I won’t say that this wasn’t a little scary; it was. But the opportunity was far too great to pass up. So I moved up the coast and settled myself into the City of Roses.
Moving away from California was hard, it meant being on my own for the first time in my life. But Microcosm gave me a home. The experience has been one I am incredibly thankful for; I learned more than I could ever have imagined. Microcosm truly attempts to make the world a better place.
They want to bring books that diversify people’s understanding of the world, that help people’s voices be heard, that improve communities, to their readers. They are always looking for new experiences, new voices, new books, things that hadn’t been done before. I don’t have much experience within the corporate world, but it was touching to see how this company truly focused on things that mattered. I felt this in every single aspect of the company, from the books I saw being edited and published, to their outreach with the community, to every single detail.
And the company cares; about its readers, about its employees, even about the lowly interns. They wanted my experience to be positive; they wanted me to feel that my contribution was valid, that I wasn’t just doing busy work that no one else could be bothered to do. There was a purpose for everything I worked on. I got a hands-on learning experience that I would never have expected normally. I was able to work on and help edit actual books, and do tasks that I would never have dreamed of with normal intern duties.
I want to thank all of my bosses and co-workers for making me feel so safe and welcome – when I struggled or was confused they were there to support and teach me. I was able to learn with some great teachers, and I truly feel that I have grown and learned a lot over this summer. I know I am incredibly lucky in this aspect, many people simply do internships for the small line on their resume, they send meaningless emails for a couple of months, and then leave with no true impact being made. I hope that I have been able to leave my footprint in this company, and cannot express my thanks and gratitude enough to everyone working here for their support, the work they helped me accomplish, and the world-view they allowed me to see.
This internship, most importantly, succeeded in doing what all internships aim to do: showing me what it was truly like working in this industry, and showing me that it truly was what I wanted to do.
If you want to know more about volunteering or internships at microcosm, check out theFAQ and send us a message.
This post was researched and written with Microcosm intern Lydia Rogue.
As Microcosm kicks off its 23rd year, we’re taking a look at our history, starting with the building we now occupy with our office and bookstore. When we purchased the building in late 2013, it had already been around for sixty years! We painted over its dull beige exterior with bright green and purple paint that only upset one neighbor enough to leave some alternative sample paint chips taped to our door.
The location was always zoned as a small office space, even when it was originally built in 1953. The original owners were H.C. Plummer & Co, a real estate agency who sold houses all over north Portland.
But it was in 1957 that the most famous occupant moved in – the NAACP moved their credit union here from the house of the organization’s leaders, Otto and Verdell Rutherford; by 1964, the NAACP also had their chapter headquarters here and it was the place you went to register to vote.
The 14th Amendment graced the walls of the NAACP headquarters. Photo courtesy of Oregon Historical Society
Portland has a long history of racism, and during the 1950s and 1960s, the Albina district (where we call home), was one of the few places Black people were allowed to live. Most banks would deny them home loans – and real estate organizations deemed it ‘unethical’ to sell them a home in a ‘white’ neighborhood.
The NAACP advocated strongly for the community and against school segregation and racist real estate practices. Under the Rutherfords’ leadership in 1953, the historic Oregon Public Accommodations Act was passed, making housing discrimination illegal, among a wide range of other changes.
An undated photo taken at the NAACP headquarters – at the far right is Otto Rutherford, next to his daughter Charlotte. Photo courtesy of Oregon Historical Society.
The NAACP remained in this building until 1983, when they moved to NE Portland.
This Oregonian news article that ran on August 2, 1983.
The credit union, however, remained for several more years, until the building changed hands yet again in 1990. This time, CH2A & Associates took up residency in the building – a consulting firm that specialized in affirmative action, labor relations, conflict resolution, personnel management, and counseling.
Harold C. Williams Sr. co-founded the firm and was its president at the time of his death in 2012. He had been a community leader and on the board of directors for Portland Community College. His son (Harold C. Williams Jr.), following in his father’s footsteps, currently has an active political career.
Now, we hold down the fort in this building, trying not to freeze in the winter or melt in the summer, and trying every day to live up to the activists who worked here before us.
Recently we were approached about starting a new thing on a new platform that was all very top-secret, and we jumped at the chance (we like shiny things). That platform is Drip, Kickstarter’s new subscriptions program, and our project launched today in its inaugural class of creators.
We’ll still be using Kickstarter to fund the production of some of our individual books. Meanwhile, Drip is a little different: it’s about monthly support—it’s similar to Patreon, which we also use. It offers various levels of support; you can get ebooks or credit for our online store. By backing at our core level, you can have access to regular posts with advice about all aspects of our publishing work. You can ask us anything and we’ll do our best to talk you through it. And we’ll share regular windows into the life of our office.
Some posts we have planned for the near future include:
How to judge a book by its cover (and make sure yours has a good one)
How to run an effective publicity campaign in an era when traditional review outlets are dwindling and reviews don’t work as well as they used to anyway
When you SHOULD self-publish and why (spoiler, we don’t think it’s very often, but it’s definitely not never)
How our marketing department informs our editorial decisions (controversy alert!)
Regular “from the desk of” diaries
Whatever YOU want to know!
We’ve been doing this a long time, and we love sharing our books with you. Now, let us share our knowledge and lore, too.
Our 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.
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.
We’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.
The 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).
4. 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!
Meet 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?
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.
I 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?
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.
My 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 Firebrands—the 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?
As 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?
Before 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.
Cyn started out last year as an especially-committed intern, and is now is the newest member of our staff, our sales associate,working with Thea to get our books into stores and figure out new, mind-blowing ways to make google spreadsheets do our bidding. I asked her a few questions about her job, her hopes, and important matters of character and morality—like snacks.
1. What do you do at Microcosm? What parts of the work you do here (and used to do as an intern) are the most entertaining?
The short description that I really like is that I keep Microcosm fresh in people’s minds and remind them that we exist and make awesome stuff! Whether this is achieved via stuffing envelopes with catalogs and awesome stickers, emailing retail stores when we have new titles, or tracking down obscure sales leads. I imagine this will eventually lead to my becoming Microcosm’s unofficial mascot (second to Ruby, of course), as I spread the word and get Microcosm titles onto every bookshelf.
I have to say my favorite thing to do, though, is proofreading. Maybe that’s what everybody likes to do, but there’s something about getting to read a brand new book and help shape it for readers that draws me in every time.
2. You’re really passionate about publishing. What’s the story there?
I have no idea. Pretty much any bibliophile can tell you how great it is to just hold a book, and how the smell of libraries and ink and old books just feels comfortable and right. I’ve always loved books and writing in most forms. My dad read The Hobbit to me when I was a kid, and I remember spending a lot of time growing up with kids’ fantasy books and angsty teen dramas.
Books were something to do and something to connect to on a very personal, emotional level. I wanted to write, too, to tell stories, but I always felt like I lacked motivation and discipline. At some point, though, I realized that whether or not I wrote books, I wanted to be a part of making them. It’s this industry founded in expression and communication and language, throughout history, and I felt like I needed to be a part of it and help good books get to the people that want and need them. Along with that, holding a finished product that has so much context and history—that I got to be a part of making—is kind of amazing. It became the only thing I really, really wanted to do in my life other than travel.
3. What do you like to do when you don’t have to be at work?
Right now I’m kind of too busy to do anything, but when I can, I like to eat crazy foods from around the world and spend time with my husband and dogs. We moved to Portland last spring and once we both got jobs we stopped being able to explore the city. I’d like to go back to doing that when I have more time. Right now… we mostly watch a lot of tv.
– What’s your favorite Microcosm book? Non-Microcosm book?
The easiest answer is This Is Portland, because it was the first book I bought when I moved here. I didn’t even know it was a Microcosm book until I sat down to read it! In a similar way, though, Velocipede Races will probably always be special because I think it was the first book I proofread here, and YA stories are a soft spot for me, so it’s exciting to be a part of this newer chapter of Microcosm’s titles.
My favorite non-Micro book…. well, I love pretty much everything by Francesca Lia Block because she writes such poetic narrative, but lately I have also been incredibly addicted to Joe Hill; Horns and Heart Shaped Box really brought me back into books at a time when I had lost passion for reading.
Favorite snack food?
I probably love food too much to have a favorite…and I don’t eat that much junk food… Well, I love sushi, Indian, and Ethiopian, and I’d rather have any of them than a snack any day.
Favorite place in the world? Place in Portland?
So far, New York City is kind of my favorite place in the world. For a million reasons mostly having to do with diversity and variety and the intense big city feel. In Portland, I love when you’re on one of the bridges headed east, and you can see Mt. Hood and it’s huge and snow-capped and all-around amazing.
5. Anything else I ought to be asking?
My dogs names are Kaylee and Leelu. I feel like that says a lot about me. That’s about it.
Wait! I lied! My favorite snack is marshmallows toasted in the oven! I can eat like a bag at a time.
A big welcome to our newest Microcosm worker, sales director Thea Kuticka. Thea has been here for a month, getting to know our systems (aka, epic wading through lots and lots of spreadsheets), getting acquainted with everyone, and sharing her experience and insights from over a decade in publishing (and also her home grown blackberries, yum!). I asked her some questions over email.
You’re the newest staff person at Microcosm. How are you settling in? What’s your favorite part about your work space here?
I’m very excited to have landed at Microcosm and feel lucky to be working with such a welcoming group. My favorite part of my workstation is a hand-sewn Harvey Pekar mascot sporting a Microcosm patch. Pekar is an excellent reminder of the extraordinary events that can come out of ordinary life.
What’s been the most fun?
Spontaneous conversations about food and book cover art and the pink plunger. [Editor’s note: We learned something new in the office last week: pink plungers are designed for sinks with a flat bottom. Incidentally, we are always on the look out for books to publish about DIY handy work!]
You came to us with a whole lot of publishing industry experience. Can you recap some of the highlights?
I caught the publishing bug in Eugene, Oregon, where I started out watching friends assemble skate mags with glue and scissors and plenty of hours at Kinko’s. I soon volunteered with some literary magazines (Emergency Horse, Two Girls Review, and Northwest Review), and was lucky enough to get a job at Black Sun Books (I harassed the owner daily until he finally gave in). At Black Sun, I found an amazing mentor who taught me a lot about acquiring and selling books, by hand, by suggestion, and by listening. Later highlights include working for a nonprofit Chicana/o publisher in Arizona, then joining Dark Horse Comics at a time when the big box stores were clamoring for manga and comics in book format. More recently, I fell into an outreach role for a start-up publisher with a list of beautifully created children’s books.
What’s your favorite kind of book to read? Any recent standouts? Or long-time favorites?
My favorite kind of book to read is one that will inspire me creatively. I look for stories that come from a creative impulse. These are inspired novels and memoirs such as Woman Warrior or Blood Meridian or Giving Up the Ghost. I’ll read National Book Award books and then pick up a book on the Zodiac Killer.
I don’t like to admit this, but I am an impatient reader. If a book doesn’t grab me in the first few pages I tend to set it down. I love all types of cookbooks though (eye candy!), especially about fermentation (Wild Fermentation, yes!).
New favorites include Ruby by Cynthia Bond, a haunting ghost story of survival with a satisfying dose of magical realism. I recently discovered Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Livedin the Castle. A new edition had been released with this haunting cover art by Thomas Ott and I had to read what was inside. See how easily persuaded I am?
What’s your favorite kind of knotty publishing problem to figure out?
There’s something very communal about sharing a good book, and for me the question is: How to get a book that I love into everybody else’s hands. Once I discover a book, I can’t help but talk about it and want to share it. There’s something intimate about reading that touches all of the senses—this may sound weird, but if a book doesn’t feel good in my hand, I have a difficult time sticking with it for two or three hundred pages. I know, they say don’t judge a book by it’s cover, but the thing is we do. We judge the cover, the size of the text, the blurbs on the back and the people who are saying, read this fucking book, it’s a New York Times pick damnit!
It’s not enough to create a good book. Now you’re competing with all of these other forms of entertainment, because for most people, reading is such a commitment (wait! There’s a movie?) that the challenge for publishers is to overcome information overload. Readers think they already know what they want to read until they find the one book on the one subject they haven’t yet discovered. It’s like being the first on your block. It’s what makes you want to share. We’ve become such expert browsers that we may have forgotten that at the heart of all of this is a community, and for a publisher like Microcosm, books are the community that informs and inspires. All of the rest—the social networking, the online gamers, and niche markets is gossip that involves books, so it may as well be Microcosm’s books. There’s so much potential emerging in the industry and that bodes very well for readers and writers alike.
Can you talk a little about the direction you think the publishing industry is heading, but also what you would like to see the future hold for books and readers?
I’m optimistic! And this is coming from someone who tends to see the glass half empty. The desire to read is as strong as ever—it’s just how we read and the tools we use to access those ideas that have changed. It used to be TV that would kill the book, then it was gaming, now it’s ebooks. But what hasn’t changed is our insatiable need for more—we still want to be entertained, inspired, discovered—there’s a huge collaboration going on now between readers and publishers.
What this all means? The consolidation of big publishers has created opportunities for smaller publishers by providing a place where readers and authors can feel understood and appreciated. A company like Microcosm now has the ability to respond more quickly to market changes than a larger publishing house. Because readers are savvy, they adjust their habits to conveniently fit their needs. The variety of platforms also increases the ability for readers and publishers to get the word out. The downside is that there’s more of a strain on resources for small publishers when it comes to outreach. But that’s a different conversation.
How we discover, read, and access books may change, but if a publisher rethinks their strategies by printing closer to their distribution centers (domestic) and adjust their print runs to more realistic numbers, they will be more nimble in the long term.
Lots of books don’t find their readers no matter how hard you try, but it helps to take chances, and the digital world (because Twitter is free buzz) helps publishers do this—the tone is less formal, more collaborative, but the goals are similar. Rather than depending on the Oprah Factor or the coveted Publishers Weekly review, publishers can begin to understand that their readers have become some of the best advocates and sales people for the books they love. The difficulty I see now is how a small publisher can maintain an edge and still remain sustainable.
This is part of a series of interviews with Microcosm workers. The last interview was with Nathan Lee Thomas.