Tagged meet microcosm

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!

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?


​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.

Meet the Microcosm Staff!: Cyn Marts, sales associate

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. 

cyn with snack1. 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.

cyn with family in car4. Favorites!

– 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.

Meet the Microcosm workers: An interview with sales director Thea Kuticka

thea kuticka at the beachA 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?

harvey pekar at the officeMy 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 Lived in 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?

we have always lived in the castle coverI’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.

An interview with Nathan!

If you call or visit our bookstore, chances are good that you’ll meet Nathan Lee Thomas. As Publisher’s Assistant and Community Relations guy, he’s learning the trade of publishing from the big picture to the nuts and bolts, often while sitting behind a barricade of catalogs, Slingshot planners, and new releases. He agreed to answer a few questions for us here.

What are three of your favorite books and what did you learn from them?

1. Finite and Infinite Games by James P. Carse  

2. Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach  

3. Illusions by Richard Bach 

I share these three with everyone I meet for the first time and take them to the metaphysical section of Powell’s to help them learn what I learned from them: Life is what you make it, so make it a good one :o)

You spend a lot of time in the bookstore, interacting with customers. What has been your most rewarding interaction with a customer so far?

I have to say my favorite interaction by far, and it’s the one I tell everyone, is when a German family came in to the store and after browsing around for a while, speaking German to one another, the father came over to me for help in locating a particular sticker he couldn’t find.

After several minutes of using broken English to try and describe the image to me he gave up in frustration and attempted to overcome our language barrier by exclaiming, “FUCK YOU MOTHER FUCKER !!” while raising his fist in the air.

 Of course, I knew exactly what sticker he was looking for :o)

What’s your favorite place in Portland? What about not in Portland?

Portland: Top of Mt. Tabor overlooking the city :o)

Not in Portland: When I lived in Germany for two years (ironically enough, this did nothing to help me prepare for German tourists here in Portland), I absolutely fell in love with Trier and would take everyone I knew to visit the city. By the time I left Germany, I must have taken a trip to the city at least half a dozen times or more :o)

This is part of a series of interviews with Microcosm workers! The next one is with sales director Thea Kuticka.

Meet the Microcosm Staff: Jeff Hayes, Warehouse Manager

jeff hayes music studioMy quest to interview all the Microcosm workers about their work and lives and favorite things has finally reached our warehouse manager, Jeff Hayes, who has been here longer than just about anyone else. Instead of a picture of himself, he chose to submit a photo of his recording studio. For an even better picture of the soul of Jeff, check out his staff picks Superpack.

What do you do here at Microcosm, and how did you end up here?

I like to call myself a “box-pusher.” But it could also be called “Inventory Control” or “Warehouse Management” or even Shipping/Receiving..? I mostly put everything (books, zines, shirts, patches, stickers, buttons, butt-bags, etc..) where it goes, so I know where everything is. Then I constantly count them all, over and over again, to make sure the numbers are correct on the website. And somehow they still get off every so often. I put most of the new stuff up on the website. I order more stuff when it’s low. I pull most of the orders. Sometimes I ship things off. I do a lot of t-shirt folding, re-arranging, box lifting, and a million other things. And I answer a lot of the emails from our wonderful customers. 🙂 

I’m not exactly sure how I ended up here but I’m certainly glad to be here. 🙂 

Inventory management is more complicated than most people realize. What is it about it that you especially get and enjoy? Is there anything that you wish more people knew about this side of things? 

It seems so simple in theory… When we get, say, 20 new zines into the store, I enter the information into our site for the product page (title, description, isbn, price, weight, so on…) then I put the number 20 into the Quantity field. So, it stands to reason that, as our site automatically takes away 1 when someone buys 1, it will go out of stock right when we really are out of that zine in the store. And most of the time it goes just like that. But often times it doesn’t. Because sometimes we’ll sell the last one in our storefront at the same time someone puts in an order on the website, or a few of them could be at a tabling event so I don’t have them here in the store to ship off… There’s so many things that could make that number incorrect. 

I’d say one of the hardest things to keep track of is the shirts. A lot of times the women’s and unisex cuts get confused. They’re actually pretty hard to tell apart sometimes, and the shirt companies often don’t label them correctly or at all. So someone might sell a women’s ME and think it was a unisex ME and they’ll put it in the system that way. So then we will basically have one too many of one and one too few of the other when they run out of stock. I do a lot of arguing with our website. It sounds like I’m just complaining but it’s all part of the job. I actually enjoy trying to keep track of it all. I like it when everything goes according to plan, and I like playing detective to figure out what went wrong. 🙂 

What do you do when you’re not on the clock?

Mostly music. I master and score stuff for Joe’s films, and I make my own music. I have a little home studio that I’ve been building up for a while and someone has to drag me out of it every once in a while. I like to take walks, it’s always an adventure in Portland. 

Favorites! What are you most into right now?

Books: I never have time to read all the things I want to, but somehow I still manage to read most of the Tape Op magazines I get. My stack currently consists of Mad Science, Humor, Modern Recording Techniques, How to Stay Alive in the Woods, Girl in a Band, Carsick, The Infinite Wait, and more… Who knows if/when I’ll finish them. 

Music: Radiohead has been my favorite since forever, and Blonde Redhead and the Notwist are always up on the list, but currently I’ve been really into Portishead, Fenton Robinson, Benny Carter, Curtis Mayfield, and I can’t stop listening to Stephen Malkmus/Pavement. There’s obviously tons more I’m not thinking of. I really like listening to random things on Bandcamp, also. 

Movies: David Cross’s new movie HITS was pretty good. I watched this movie the other day called Tabloid. At first it didn’t look very good but I played it anyway. I thought I’d shut it off any minute but it just kept getting crazier and crazier and before I knew it it was over and I was floored. It was pretty nuts. Oh and Muscle Shoals is pretty great! 

Places in PDX: Well, I reeeeaaallly miss the Vegetarian House, but uhhhhmmm… Purringtons is pretty cool. So is Brass Tacks Sandwiches, Homegrown Smoker, Old Town Music, Trade Up, Control Voltage, The Waypost, Voodoo Donuts, Sizzle Pie, The Doug Fir, Wonder Ballroom, The Abbey, El Nutri, Townshend’s, any of the bridges I can safely walk along, Irving Park, any of the weird little neighborhoods I stumble upon, the list goes on and on and on… Microcosm! 

 Places outside of PDX: The beach. The woods. 

 Snacks: Yes, please! 

This is part of a series of interviews with Microcosm workers. The last interview was with publicist Tim Wheeler.

Meet the Microcosm Staff: Tim Wheeler, publicist

tim wheeler communes with natureIn my quest to introduce our workers to the world, I sent some prying questions this week to Tim Wheeler, who’s been running Microcosm’s publicity operation since 2012, when he worked from a tiny desk atop a lofted platform atop ten teetering feet of stacked boxes of books. Now you can find him behind a comparatively spacious desk upstairs in our new office, barricaded behind stacks of advance copies of books that haven’t come out yet. Read here for more about Tim in his own words—and you can also scope his taste in his staff picks superpack and a list of his top ten favorite things we carry.

What’s your role here at Microcosm and how did you make your way here? Harrowing tales encouraged.

I mostly do the press and publicity type things for Microcosm—doing my best to make the world know our new books exist. I got here by way of Los Angeles. I lived there for about 6 years, spending most of my time there working in the most corporate parts of the corporate music world. I had more than enough of that and was looking for a change. I, along with my two roommates and another friend, did what most people do when they’re fed up with the expensive, stressful life that comes with living in Los Angeles…we moved to Portland.

I knew there was no music industry in Portland, so, having already been a fan, I jokingly told people I’d just work for Microcosm. After a few months of wandering aimlessly around town for no particular reason, I decided I should spend my time volunteering. I sent a volunteer application to Microcosm and got a job instead.

Can you share some publicity success stories that you’re particularly proud of / stoked about / baffled by?

My favorite type of publicity success is when I contact someone and it turns out that they not only took the time to respond, but that they’re a fan. When it’s something they’re into and looking forward to, it turns from business transaction to collaborative project. When the last Henry & Glenn came out I pitched one of the editors of SPIN, which is a big enough national publication to be a bit of a long shot for us, even for one of our most popular releases. But, as it turns out, he was already a fan, stoked to help out, and turned out to be the sort of dude I’d want to grab a beer with and grill about music and books.

Anyone who’s done publicity work or something similar knows that in between the successes there are a lot of days when it feels like shouting into the void. How do you weather those days?

It’s true, most of publicity feels like throwing books into a dark hole that never seems to fill up or shouting into the void or exercising various editors delete fingers as they ignore your emails. However you want to put it. But I can’t think of a single book since I’ve been at Microcosm that I have felt wasn’t worthy of attention. That, combined with the sheer volume of books and other media out in the world deserving of (or at least looking for) coverage, and the timing/luck required to get them into the right hands, means the ratio of shouting to response is just a part of the job. I don’t usually get discouraged because, for better or worse, the response aligns with my expectations. Sometimes a book will exceed those expectations, and then all the yelling feels justified.

You know the drill by now—share your favorites, please!

bikes bikes bikesa) Place in Portland: I feel like I need to split this into two categories, since Portland is a pretty great city surrounded by a lot of amazing nature. My favorite outdoor space is the myriad of hidden beaches, rocky outcroppings, and tree lined spots along the Willamette and Columbia rivers, but my favorite is actually a little outside Portland. Hog Island is south of Portland on a stretch of river dominated mostly (and unfortunately) by private estates with “No Trespassing” signs on their docks, but Hog Island is a small, uninhabited island close to a sheer cliff on the west bank of the river. Accessible only by boat (or in the case of my friends and I, a homemade raft of scrap wood and metal pieces with my bike strapped to the side), it’s really just a football field sized chunk of dirt with some trees and sandy beaches, but it feels like you’re hundreds of miles from civilization while floating in the calm stretch of water next to it. As far as indoor spaces, Saraveza happens to be my neighborhood bar, one of the best beer bars in the country (which I’m very much a fan of), and full of some really damn friendly people. It’s the perfect spot to hang out for a bit on a rainy day. 

b) Place in the world: That’s even tougher. I think the most I can narrow it down is to the California desert. However many endless miles it is. From Joshua Tree to the Salton Sea to Blythe to that Chinese restaurant in California City. I actually kind of hate the heat, but sometimes it’s important to feel tiny in an endlessly expansive place. 

big empty californiac) Snack food: My favorite foods are of the Mexican variety, but as far as snacks, I can endlessly shovel hummus into my mouth. All I need is a chunk of bread or cucumber or chip or finger.

d) Music genre: I’m not really sure what to call my favorite musical genre. Somewhere in the intersection of old country and new rock and dirty punk and too much booze. Things like Uncle Tupelo on the folk end and Country Teasers/Jon Wayne on the punkish end and Granfaloon Bus on the sad drunk end. But I’m really all over the map when it comes to music. It’s always been the main form of art and expression in my life and, up until Microcosm, my only profession. 

e) Craft/Hobby: As is appropriate for a Microcosm employee, my main hobby (and facilitator of most other things I do) is cycling. Whether it’s going fast, going far, on dirt, camping, freak bikes, socializing, or just avoiding having to drive somewhere, I’m into it.

This is the latest in a series of interviews with Microcosm workers. The last interview was with designer Meggyn Pomerleau.

Meet the Microcosm Staff: Meggyn Pomerleau, Designer

Slowly but surely, we’re aiming to introduce you to Microcosm’s hard-working, book-loving team. Here’s an interview with our on-staff graphic designer, Meggyn Pomerleau. She designs many of our covers, and sometimes illustrates entire books. 

I’m looking at your last interview here, with Eleanor Whitney when you were designing her book Grow, which was before you were at Microcosm full-time. Can you give us an update on your evolution as an artist, both art-wise and career-wise? 

I can say with full confidence that I’ve achieved the goals I set while in that interview, sans high stress agency job. My life is now devoted to design and Microcosm, and it’s a much better turn out than I could have ever expected. (I haven’t been inside a cubicle in over a year!!)


In the interview, there was even a mention on developing a style and I think I’ve nailed that. I feel more confident as a designer, illustrator, and artist. Basically this all has lead me to believe that if you truly set goals and want them, you will get them.

meggyn pomerleau

We went to the climbing gym the other day. It ruled. How’d you get into that, and what other pastimes and passions are you pursuing? 

The thought of falling off a cliff and not being able to simply pull my own body weight up has always terrified me. Recently, I’ve been trying things that will help me out if I’m ever in an intense survival mode, such as the situation I just described. When I was introduced to climbing by a friend, I thought that top roping (the one people usually see with 30 foot walls and being tied in with a harness) was all that was available….and then I discovered bouldering. Freedom. I fell in love. I had never done much physical activity like that before, and it motivated me to get in shape and push myself harder. Other than that, I’ve turned my side writing-gig into a side illustration-gig, drawing bands or people and my interpretations after seeing a concert or stand up show. I was never much of a writer and I now have the freedom to “review” with a drawing rather than words. I enjoy hiking with my dog, Padme Creampuff Blueberry Parmesan, and eating all of the burritos in the world.

You always recommend music for our Rampant Media Consumption posts. How does the music you listen to go with (or not go with) your design sensibilities and life philosophies? 

Most of the music I listen to inspires me because it reminds me of specific memories and takes me to a place where I can see, feel, touch, taste, and smell everything. I reflect on the past a lot because it’s a constant reminder of why I am the way I am now. I don’t think music shapes my aesthetic or even my philosophies, but it definitely keeps my drive constant. I’m frequently distracted by how much good music is out there, and I have to take a minute to step back and just pick something I can have on in the background…such as Las Vegas (my hometown) club music.

What are you working on right now? 

I’m currently finishing up Manspressions and Teenage Rebels, two of the hardest and most fun projects I’ve ever done. I’ve pretty much been laying low and holding my breath until their completion, and it will be nice to come out of hiding once they surface.

Favorites! What’s your favorite food? Favorite game? Favorite place in Portland? Favorite place in the rest of the world? 

My favorite food of all time are burritos. Traditional (vegan) burritos, non-traditional (full of mac and cheeze, fake meats, and veggies) burritos, raw vegan (collard wrap with seeds and nut pate) burrito, the list could go on. There are so many options! The most perfect handheld food.

My favorite game goes back and forth between Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter. I’m terrified of the day I invest in a game console and one of those….I’ll really never come outside.

My favorite place is Portland is the Multnomah Whisk(e)y Library….because it’s literally a dream. I’ve never had a terrible time/interaction/drink there and the vibes are so inspiring. It’s my favorite nighttime place to work. As far as exploring and nature, the hike to Eagle Creek is breath-taking.

My favorite places for the rest of the world are a bit sad because I’ve only been to the northern tip of Mexico and a few places in this country! It’s probably a tie between Chicago, Austin, and San Diego…all of which I plan to visit this year.

This is one in a series of interviews with Microcosm workers. The last one was with editor Taylor Hurley, and the next one is with publicist Tim Wheeler.

Microcosm Staff: Meet Taylor Hurley, our developmental editor

Taylor is one of the newer additions to the Microcosm work crew. She labors in every part of the wordstream, from big ideas to spelling specifics, working with authors to make sure that the books we publish are the most awesomely practical and grammatical versions of themselves that they can be. Here’s a list of some of her favorite stuff we have in the store.


So, what do you do here at Microcosm? 

I’m an editor at Microcosm, which technically entails me overlooking the structure of each book we have going to print. I look specifically at obvious things like spelling, grammar, tone, etc., but also whether or not certain ideas have been fully developed, whether main ideas have been adequately explained. Since this job allows me to work from my computer, I operate mostly from my bed or random coffee shops. I don’t like looking at books unless I have a lot of time to spend with them, so it often ends up being something I will set aside a whole day or so for anywhere from 3-5 days a week.

What was your path to getting here? 

I started in 2014 as an intern under Tim. I was interested in editorial, but Joe was touring with his documentary Aftermass so my application had been set aside until his return. Tim found it and I started worked on distribution lists and mail orders with him, asking too many questions and butchering more stamps than I was able to successfully print. When Joe returned, I began interning under him. At first I just looked for basic spelling and grammar errors, but I was given several books on editing and (again) asked an endless amount of questions, eventually developing a stronger sense for what I was doing. After a few months of interning, I was offered an official position as editor. 

How would you describe your philosophy, style, or set of rules and values around editing? 

My style of editing is best described as analytical. It is entirely different from the way I would approach a book I am reading for my leisure. It is easiest for me to make a list of things that are promised to be delivered throughout the book, so as I read I can check back to make sure these things are indeed addressed, and to what extent. Other things to consider are also the audience that is being targeted, the type of market this book will exist in, and what kind of author the person behind the book is. In editing someone else’s work, it is crucial to make sure you are not replacing the author’s tone with your own. I usually will look through a book two or three times before submitting my changes, and there are usually three to four rounds of this.

What are your favorite books (ours and others?) 

My favorite Microcosm book is probably Hot Pants. It contains so much important info not only about women’s bodies but also about herbalism. Lately I have been really into John Berger’s books, specifically his essay “Why Look at Animals”taylor

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? 

When I was little I wanted to work in theater. I grew up in LA, and my mom was like every other mom in thinking I should be an actor. As I got older, I wanted to be a journalist. I loved the idea of working for National Geographic, and I started taking photo and anthro classes at the community college when I was finishing up high school. I interned with a newspaper and hated it, quickly abandoning that dream.

What’s your favorite place in the world? How about in Portland? 

I don’t know what my favorite place in the world is, but one of my top five would be this bookstore in Ojai, CA called Bart’s Books. It consists of all shelves that together form a sort of maze, and there is no roof. They carry almost no new books, and primarily books you would not find anywhere else. They have a few small sheds offering art books and more delicate works that can’t be left outside. There never seem to be any other people there on days when I am, and I love that feeling of privacy. One of my favorite things about it is that the walls on the outside of the store are lined with shelves of books too. 

In Portland I really like the downtown library. Everyone else I tell this too says that it smells like pee and that they don’t see the appeal, but I think the combination of its classic architecture and the number of homeless people it attracts gives it character. Again, I like how quiet it is there and the privacy it offers. 

One of my newer favorite places in Portland is this coffee shop in the middle of Ladd’s Addition, Palio. They have a lot of space, and it is generally very quiet and an ideal place to do some reading or computer work. There is also this one review on Yelp that describes it as having “the prettiest coffee shop floor in Portland”.

More favorites, please! Snacks? Creative outlets? Colors? 

Some of my favorite things to snack on are kale chips and anything I can sample at New Seasons! A weird creative outlet is this app on my phone that is essentially the Paint program for iPhone, called “art studio”. I would say I’m best at drawing women or funny little nudes of women, and my favorite thing is being on the bus trying to draw one of these and seeing the looks I get from other bus riders who happen to be looking over my shoulder. My favorite colors to draw with are lighter shades of purple and blue, as well as red and grey.

This is one of a series of interviews with Microcosm workers. The last one was with sales manager Erik Spellmeyer, and the next one is with designer Meggyn Pomerleau.

Meet the Microcosm Staff!: Erik Spellmeyer, salesman extraordinaire

Microcosm is growing! Our team is working around the clock (yes, our schedules are all over the place!) to bring you the books, zines, t-shirts, patches, and of course the Slingshot Planners that you need to super awesome your life. I’ll be interviewing folks for the blog as they come up for air. Starting with our bespectacled Sales Manager…

Mr. Erik Spellmeyer

erik, man of adventureSo, what do you do here at Microcosm?
Ostensibly, I’m the sales manager, but I feel that Microcosm’s staff all work hard to ensure that each title makes it’s way into the world, so I take credit for my part, as being just another on that team. That being said, in an average week, I’ll do a little line editing, brainstorm with the crew, tend to the needs of our wholesale accounts, research new outlets for our titles, and a considerable amount of emailing and spreadsheeting! 

What’s your background, what path have you followed to get here? Definitely not a straightforward one, I know! 

I have a long background as an on-again off-again student. I finished a degree in Philosophy, but that was scattered amongst a lot of traveling and odd jobs. I grew up in St. Louis where I lived until I was 23. Once I left (in the middle of my schooling) I took off west and made my way through obscure work in Colorado and then up to Oregon. While in Eugene I worked at the brewery Ninkasi until I finally felt compelled to finish my degree. I took my degree to Prague where my wife and I taught English. After a year of that we moved back to Oregon and made Portland home. Microcosm’s ethics and published works suited my ambitions, so Joe Biel got a visit from me, mostly unannounced, we talked for about an hour and I began researching sales outlets pretty much the next day. 

You wrote a book for us! Brew It Yourself! Anything you want to say about that? 

brew it yourselfNot too long after I began being paid as a staff member, Joe asked me to take a look at a manuscript on home brewing. My experience in the brewing industry made me the ideal candidate, so I looked it over. The idea was to fit this title into our DIY series, and as I read on I realized so much was missing. I’d read home brew books before and worked in the industry, and as I compiled notes for the book, I took notice that they were growing beyond the size of the manuscript. Once I related this to Joe, he decided to scratch the original and have me write the book. I now had the chance to write the book I wished I’d had when I began home brewing. I never thought I’d publish a book on beer, but the more I wrote on, I realized the more I had to say on the subject. It was rewarding and fun to use the knowledge I’d accrued while working at Microcosm to guide me along, and in my opinion, it was all over too quickly.

Based on that experience is there any advice you have to offer about writing a book or the publishing process?

The publishing world has many metrics at play to measure up the success of any book. Things I kept in mind all along were, making sure what I was saying maintained a continuity with the title, making sure the book was offering something new to the market while not being genre defining (as new categories are more difficult to market), and most importantly, trying to make the writing playful enough to make the relatively dry information stand out and be remembered. 

Favorites please! Bands, books, philosophers, snacks, things to do on the weekend, things to think about while you’re waiting in line, etc.

As far as music goes, I’m quite old fashioned. I probably listen to more Beethoven than anything else, I still think it’s riveting! But I have a soft spot for old roots reggae, soul and obscure disco, basically I look for production quality and sometimes that takes me to to odd places. Albums like “Tusk” and “Soul Rebels” have little in common other than they are innovative in their production techniques, which always makes me listen. I like to keep Nietzsche by my bed, I find his optimism scathing! It’s typical to find me eating peanut-butter filled pretzels to fuel my need to rock climb and surf, which occupy most of my free time. Mostly when I’m waiting in line, I listen to other people and muse on how funny it would be to have the on-the-spot commentary, like in Annie Hall when Woody Allen pulled in Marshall McLuhan to debunk the pseudo-intellectualisms of the guy in-line in front of him.

Bonus: Erik’s top ten favorite Microcosm books

This is one in a series of interviews with Microcosm workers. The next interview is with editor Taylor Hurley.