In these dark days of an Origami Zoo Press on the brink of closure, many of you may have been clawing at your bookshelves, screaming at your stucco ceilings, wondering what on earth will ever be able to fill the void when we go. It is with that in mind that we embark on a multi-part interview series entitled WHAT WILL FILL THE VOID? wherein we spotlight other small and/or independent presses we love (and hope you will love too!). You can check out part one, with Michael J. Seidlinger of Civil Coping Mechanisms, here, part two, with Justin Lawrence Daugherty of Jellyfish Highway, here, part three, with Leesa Cross-Smith, here, and part four, with Amanda McCormick and Tracy Dimond of Ink Press Productions, here.
Jedediah Berry: Ninepin Press is two people (Emily Houk and myself) in a house in Amherst, Massachusetts. It’s an evolving idea about experimenting with form in storytelling. It is also, at present, several dozen boxes of playing cards, a notebook of secret plans, and an ongoing conversation with some of our favorite writers and artists.
OZP: What are your goals as a press? You emphasize a love of “bestiaries, board games and card games, old maps, fairy tales, and cabinets of curiosities,” as well as “bold storytelling.” How do you see these all intersecting? One thing that immediately caught my eye about Family Arcana was the visual design, both in artwork and the artifice of it–tell me a little about the importance of form, presentation, or the package the story comes in. Do you have a response to writers who fret over experimental forms overshadowing the “writing itself”?
JB: I’m a fan of the notion that a strong structure (whether it be an alphabetized list, the rules for a game, or even the plot of an old folktale) can free a writer to focus on the story and its characters. In this sense, form can serve as a means for emphasizing—rather than obscuring—the heart of the tale.
I drafted “The Family Arcana” on a stack of index cards, limiting myself to what I could fit on one side of each card. That format forced me to get right to the most salient image, piece of dialogue, or bit of characterization for each section. It was a lot of fun, and also oddly liberating! Later, I started shuffling the cards and reading from them at public events, which is how Eben Kling got involved. When he heard the story, he immediately latched onto a few of the images and wanted to illustrate them. I was familiar with his work, and was thrilled at the chance to work with him.
OZP: So far you’ve released two “books” as decks of cards (one a standard deck, the other a set of 12 story-poem horoscopes). What have you liked about working with these kinds of artifacts specifically? Were the forms conceived by the authors or the press or in collaboration?
Emily Houk: Making beautiful objects that tell a story is a satisfying feeling. There’s so much history behind decks of cards. They’re this esoteric thing that has become mundane, this ancient form of entertainment that has remained popular throughout centuries. That’s powerful. And putting fiction on cards has been tremendous fun. They make the story unpredictable, throw in a dash of wildness and risk. Audience reaction is a treat. Faces light up. People get a little uncomfortable, in a good way.
The idea of starting a small press that would publish stories in strange shapes evolved along with the first publication itself. Jedediah knew early on that his ideal form for “The Family Arcana” would be a deck of cards. He also knew that shopping a story around as a deck of cards would be a pretty tough sell. Around that time he did several readings from “The Family Arcana,” and other authors began coming up to us afterwards, saying “I want to do something like this!” There was so much interest that we decided we wanted to take a step towards filling that need. There’s no place publishing stories as decks of cards? Great. We’ll do that.
That said, we aren’t limiting ourselves to cards. We definitely want the authors we work with in the future to come to us with ideas and visions of the forms they’d like to see their work take. We’re hoping to snatch up projects that haven’t found homes because they’re just too weird.
JB: We’re very excited about a poetry project which we’ll have coming out next year. Still a secret, but I can tell you that it’s also card-based, and that it’s thematically connected to Cosmogram (though it isn’t something we commissioned). We’re hoping to curate a few more projects with specific writers, then open the doors to submissions.
OZP: Given unlimited time and resources, is there a dream project you’d like to work on?
EH: I’d like to do something involving the fiber arts. Textiles, garments. Probably in the direction of folklore or fairy tale.
JB: An actual labyrinth built to house an interactive story composed over the course of several years by a group of visiting artists, writers, and designers. (Mysterious benefactors welcome.)