What Will Fill the Void? pt. 1: CCM

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!).

This week, we have an interview with Michael J. Seidlinger, the Publisher-in-Chief at Civil Coping Mechanisms.

CCMLogoOrigami Zoo Press: Who/what/where is Civil Coping Mechanisms?

Michael J. Seidlinger: Civil Coping Mechanisms (CCM) is a DIY kind of independent press that focuses on publishing work that remains as innovative, honest, and true to the authorial voice of the text. What that means, basically, is that CCM looks to publish titles that orbit their own unique range of emotion, often the sort of book that commands its narrative as much as it does the language used to navigate it.

The press exists because of the community that surrounds and contributes to the press, its online magazine, Entropy, and the blogspace, Enclave. Via a dizzying array of compassionate contributors and like-minded editors, the press is able to function without any geographical home. The press, much like the brand, is deeply embedded in the fluidity of the online social space. It almost always surprises me to think that we all live in different timezones.

OZP: What are your goals as a press? You talk about wanting work “so new, so different, that they renovate our notion of what literature can be.” How do some of your current titles achieve this?

blackcloudimportMJS: The aim, like the main aesthetic, is to continually explore what literature can be; this means being aware of new voices as much as the new choices/experiments being designed and administered by authors to invent new structures and means to tell a story. One such example is how Heiko Julien used social media to almost exclusively construct the material that became I AM READY TO DIE A VIOLENT DEATH. Another example is how Juliet Escoria helped promote her book, BLACK CLOUD, using Vimeo and the artistic expression that comes with transferring each story in the book into a filmic interpretation. A third? How about how Jamie Iredell utilized an incredibly difficult dual-layered narrative, complete with an immense amount of research, to explore his relationship with the Catholic religion in LAST MASS. It’s this sort of interplay and exploration that continues to excite me as both editor and reader and that’s what continues to be the main drive of the press: Discover and promote the passion for language.

OZP: CCM has developed a fairly extensive catalogue in the past few years. What do you recommend for a new reader? What’s the ideal CCM “starter kit”?

MJS: The ideal CCM starter kit? Hmm, tough one, mostly because I wouldn’t ever exclude a single title from the Catalogue. Hmm, I guess if I needed to answer, I’d focus on an assortment of work that whets the reader’s appetite. The kit would most certainly include Sean H Doyle’s THIS MUST BE THE PLACE (memoir), 40 LIKELY TO DIE BEFORE 40 (anthology), Joseph Riippi’s BECAUSE (novel), Juliet Escoria’s BLACK CLOUD (short stories), Brandi Wells’ THIS BORING APOCALYPSE (novella), and Shane Jones’

PAPER CHAMPION (illustrated novella). From there, I’d hope that the kit would provide some sort of wormhole effect, dragging them deeper into the Catalogue.

OZP: What’s in the works for the near (or distant) future?


MJS: Haha, we certainly have quite a bit on tap, both in terms of new books and new ventures. I can’t talk much about the latter but I’m always up for shoutouts so—we have the final quarter of 2015 set for publication, December 2nd:

Everyone Gets Eaten by Ben Brooks
Nothing but the Dead and Dying by Ryan W Bradley
I/O A Memoir by Brian Oliu
You and Other Pieces by Corey Zeller
Rules of Appropriate Conduct by Kirsten Alene
The Daydream Society by Evan Retzer

In 2016, CCM will be publishing a number of titles including the following:

The Sky Isn’t Blue by Janice Lee
The Depression by Mathias Svalina
The Last Book of Baghdad by Justin Sirois
Remember to Never Get Better by Madison Langston
Transitory by Tobias Carroll
Careful Mountain by Sara June Woods
Bruja by Wendy C Ortiz

And more. Wish I could go on and on but I have a tendency to ramble so I’ll shut up now.

OZP: Readers unfamiliar with the press may recognize you from the press’s catchphrase, which you tend to leave in the comment section of posts about CCM books on Facebook: “We’re coping.” I love what you say about this in a Poets & Writers interview: “We adhere to the idea that literature, especially bold literature—writing that doesn’t shy away from the problem, the pain, the worry, the doubt—can be one of our best coping mechanisms.” How do you see this idea interacting with your interest in the innovative, postmodern, surreal, and avant-garde, which some readers may categorize as art that actually obscures the problem and/or lacks a strong human/emotional core?

MJS: What some readers might find obscure others might consider enlightening. It really is relative, but the beauty of literature can be found in the way the structure of a piece and defy as much as it informs. One book might use more evasive, esoteric language to tackle a subject or series of subjects, but there is still something in the author’s act of writing it that adheres to that idea of a problem. Because there’s a reason a book is written—it isn’t written as merely an exercise. Well, I should clarify—our titles are not written under the idea of an exercise. It’s ultimately up to the reader to meet literature in the middle. But we’re all coping and it’s the reason a book, the one you needed at a specific point in time, has the power to energize and excite even the most jaded of readers.

OZP: If CCM had a superpower, what would it be?

MJS: To motivate and inspire any/all that read its titles to finish the project currently on their plate.

FOUND: The Laura van den Berg Interview

 With Laura van den Berg’s debut novel Find Me seemingly taking over the internet, we wanted to celebrate with the author herself, so we brought her back for an interview at the Origami Zoo. We visited a new enclosure, the Post-Apocalypse Exhibit, which featured all manner of Origami arthropods and birds and rodents who will surely survive any world-ending event. Together, we watched the mutated origami chipmunks scuttle around, storing paper nuts and berries in their two-dimensional cheeks, and van den Berg told us about place, genre and lists.

You can order Find Me here, and if you want even more Laura van den Berg, we are happy to supply you with There Will Be No More Good Nights Without Good Nights, now only $6!

Laura van den BergOrigami Zoo Press: So, Find Me is your debut novel after two collections of stories (and one chapbook from a really excellent small press, I hear). How does the experience differ? Did Find Me begin as a story and simply blow up or did you always envision it as a novel? Did you feel working on short stories helped you in moving to a novel or was it hard to get out of the short story mode? And finally, this is your first published novel, but is it your first novel ever? I feel like so many writers say they have to write one novel that they put away forever before getting to what becomes the first published novel.

Laura van den Berg: It was a big transition for me. The difference in scale, of course, but also in process: when I’m working on a short story, I can work in small increments, in the course of daily life, and actually have it add up to something. With Find Me, I found that incremental approach didn’t work at all. I ended up taking a lot of long break and doing the most crucial work at residencies, where I could disappear from my life and into the world of the book. I agree that a lot of writers typically have a few novels in the drawer but Find Me is the first novel I saw through to the end. I have a handful of novel openings in the drawer, but I never made it past seventy or so pages before losing interest.

OZP: At the outset of the novel, we find ourselves in a relatively familiar genre setting: post-pandemic hospital quarantine. Did you enjoy playing around with this genre? What were the challenges that came with it, especially given the popularity of collapse-of-society stories lately? (I feel like certain tropes quickly become very distinct or subverted as the novel progresses, which was fun and exciting to read.)

LVDB: I love playing with genre. I’m naturally drawn to quixotic and idiosyncratic characters, and genre can be a way of helping their story to find a solid shape. It can be fun to nod to certain tropes and equally fun to mess with them. The novel is divided into two parts and while the first part is set entirely in the hospital, the second place takes place on the open road, where the more traditional dystopian elements fall away and a slightly more tilted narrative emerges. I love books that change the rules on the reader. It can be a lot to ask of a reader, to make that leap with you, but that’s what I aspired to do with Find Me.

OZP: Place has always been hugely important to your work in my mind. What stays with me the most from Isle of Youth are all the ever-shifting landscapes and locales the stories take us too. At the beginning of Find Me, place works really different–in a way, there’s a lack of place, given the blankness of the hospital, the limited access to what’s going on in the outside world and of course the fact that the outside world has drastically changed from the one the patients used to know. Did you go in with certain goals or ideas for the use of place in your novel? Or did it just arise naturally? How did you negotiate the strange confining space the characters inhabit in comparison to the characters in your stories, who are often explorers or wanders in sprawling natural landscapes?

LVDB: In many ways, the two books [of the novel] stand in opposition to each other tonally: the cold of winter vs. a movement toward warmth (Joy is journeying toward Florida); landlocked vs. coast; stasis vs. movement; coolness vs. heat, in both place and in Joy’s voice. I was interested in how these two settings might contrast each other, though there are some mirrors as well. The stasis of the hospital was a challenge and the pilgrims that appear in the beginning of the book and recur later on initially were an attempt to address that challenge; I needed something alive in the landscape, an exterior narrative that Joy can track.

61jMqLx1ofLOZP: I love lists. Find Me is more or less structured around the lists our narrator Joy makes in her head, for pretty much everything. They work in part as memory exercises as prescribed by the hospital, but it also seems Joy has been making lists for longer than that. How did you arrive at lists for this kind of scaffolding? Did it lead you anywhere surprising? Was it difficult to sustain? I think Find Me‘s use of these lists is fantastic, but I can also imagine a novel that might not employ them as well, where they may become exhausting to read or too repetitive or simply not interesting. Was there anything you consciously did to make sure that didn’t happen here?

LVDB: At a certain point, I knew there were layers of Joy’s character that I had not yet accessed and that I needed to find a way to get there. The lists began as a kind of exercise, a way to access those deeper layers, but then they ended up becoming absorbed into the book and became pretty integral to the structure. It made perfect sense for Joy’s character, given her desire to order the world.

With any kind of structuring device, repetition can be a real risk, so I wanted to make sure the lists evolved. As we near the end, they become progressively more abstract, whereas the earlier ones are more practical. A list of facts about Kansas or the rules of the hospital vs. a list of things that live forever, for example. That evolution reflects Joy’s shifting relationship to the world.

OZP: Joy’s relationship (or lack thereof) with her mother and her attempts to reconcile her abandonment with her love/need for this person are big driving forces in this novel. There’s no dearth of father/son relationships in all genres of fictional media, but I feel like there are fewer analogous mother/daughter stories (some come to mind in books, like Swamplandia! and No One is Here Except All of Us, but the TV/movie landscape seems pretty barren or, when there are these relationships, they are often secondary or even tertiary). Am I not looking in the right places or do you find this to be the case too? I’m not sure there’s more to it than the obvious sexism/marginalization at play here, but I’m curious to hear your thoughts on all that in relation to Find Me and your other work.

LVDB: Interesting! Well, I love the mother/daughter relationships in Fiona Maazel’s Last Last Chance and Miriam Toews’s All My Puny Sorrows and Barbara Comyn’s The Vet’s Daughter and Marguerite Duras’s The Lover and Heidi Julavits’s The Vanishers and Elliott Holt’s You Are One of Them. I wouldn’t say any of these books are “about” mothers and daughters, but those bonds are certainly important. Sometimes people do ask me why I write so much from the point-of-view of women and my answer is: voice. I start a lot with voice, and the voice is always a woman’s voice, and so that’s that. I really admire authors who can seamlessly cross the boundaries of gender, but I’m not particularly stressed about not being in possession of that gift. There so many narratives that attend to the stories of men, and I’m happy to attend to the stories of women for as long as those voices grab me.

OZP: What are you reading right now? Any recommendations? Any books coming out this year you’re super excited about?

LVDB: I’ve just started Satin Island by Tom McCarthy—I love his work, so I’m very excited for this book—and I am anxiously awaiting Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant. Also Tania James’s The Tusk That Did the Damage and James Hannaham’s Delicious Foods.

OZP: And finally, what’s next for you, writing-wise? Have you got another project (or projects) in the works yet or are you just focusing on the release of Find Me at the moment?

LVDB: I’m making creeping progress on a new novel, set in Havana, and I’m also working on some new stories.

An Interview with Lena Bertone, author of BEHIND THIS MIRROR

As runner-up of our chapbook contest (judged by Matt Bell!), Lena Bertone got a special tour of the Origami Zoo. We took her to the marsupial enclosure. Origami kangaroos opened their pouch folds to reveal baby origami kangaroos. Origami sugar gliders soared paper-thin on the wind. An origami koala bear spent an inordinate amount of time looking at its two-dimensional reflection in a pond. As we sat among these pouched and paper mammals, Lena Bertone answered questions about her forthcoming chapbook, her current reading list, and what she keeps behind her own mirrors.

lenabwOrigami Zoo Press: If you were an animal in the Origami Zoo, what origami animal would you be?

Lena Bertone: I’d want to be a cat that when you turned it around, it looked liked a chicken.

OZP: Congrats on being runner-up in our chapbook contest! Aside from this, what’s the coolest contest/raffle prize you’ve ever won?

LB: Definitely the best thing I’ve ever won was The Lit Pub’s prose contest, and Molly Gaudry is publishing Letters to the Devil as a result. It will be out super soon!!

OZP: Many of the stories in Behind This Mirror are obviously fairy tale influenced. What’s your relationship with fairy tales and how do they interact with your work? What other writing/writers do you feel influenced these stories?

LB: I have no idea how to answer this question. Looking at my stories, they are obviously fairy tale-influenced, but mostly I do not set out to write fairy tale-influenced stories. I think that often, when I wrote these stories, I was thinking about beauty and ugliness, deception and irony, love and darkness, all of which, of course, are fairy tale topics, but they’re also the topics of everything. I remember my dad telling me the story of Pinocchio over and over when I was a kid, and how it changed a little every time, and how dark and complex it was. I remember my mom telling me the story of Cinderella and very naturally adding the gory, bloody details of the version she knew from her childhood. These were stories of intrigue and magic and horror, not mere fairy tales.

Maybe another part of it was growing up in a two-language household. There’s this great ferocity to Italian/Sicilian; it’s so phonetic and perfectly structured, but idiomatically, it’s crazy violent and hilarious. My sister and I like to remember the things our relatives used to say to us as kids—which we never thought twice about then, the violence was so normalized. Sample: Vi pighiu a bastunati = I’m going to beat you both with clubs (which beating never actually occurred).

As an adult, I’ve read lots of versions of fairy tales and also read and loved authors who combine real and magical worlds; I also love the kind of poetic-puzzly prose that can be squeezed into short spaces, a la Lydia Davis.

Behind This MirrorOZP: What are you working on right now? Any exciting projects in the works? Any sneak peeks you can give us?

LB: I have a few things I’m working on. My Ettore Majorana stories that have been in Wigleaf, Hobart, and Nightblock are a continuing series that may turn into something bigger.

OZP: What are you reading right now? Anything you’d recommend?

LB: I’m reading the new Grimm’s fairy tale book with the earliest renditions of the tales that the Grimm brothers wrote down. They’re gruesome and wonderful. I just got fellow ASU alum Todd Kaneko’s book The Dead Wrestler Elegies in the mail last week, and have been reading Bill Konigsberg’s first novel, Out of the Pocket. He’s also an ASU alum. It’s exciting when your friends have books! I’m lucky that I have a lot of friends with books these days.

OZP: Most of the stories in this chapbook are very short. Tell us a bit about that. How do you see a large number of very short stories interacting within a collection vs. fewer, longer short stories? What was sequencing this collection like? I have trouble putting ten stories in an order, so the task seems daunting. What do you like about the short-short form?

LB: I have a kick-ass writing partner, and we have been exchanging writing almost daily for a few years. We generate little bits of things, and sometimes they become stories, and sometimes they don’t. This process is a big part of why I’ve written many short pieces in the last several years; but honestly, I don’t think I’m very good at constructing the traditionally structured, “longer” short story, and even the longer stories in this collection are segmented and not-plotty.

One theme that runs through many of my stories is the idea that there’s often some confusion between the sleeping and waking states. I was thinking about that when I put the stories in the order they’re in now. This collection may represent one long sleep cycle.

BehindThisMirror_FPOZP: Is the Magician who appears in a couple of stories in this chapbook ever going to make a return appearance? What will his final trick be? Do you see any of the other stories as being interconnected/concerning the same characters?

LB: That magician is kind of a jerk. He’s also the most obvious performer of any of these characters, and I think the magician stories are a little Brechtian in their starkness and darkness. The magician might come back. He will definitely have a twirly mustache if he does.

There’s a smart-mouthed woman in one of the magician stories, and I see her as a sister to many of the other women in the collection—many of my women are a little rude, a little ugly, a little horrified, and a little horrifying.

OZP: If we were to break into your house while you weren’t home and look behind all your mirrors, what would we find?

LB: Dust? The inside-out of a potato-chip bag?

BEHIND THIS MIRROR by Lena Bertone is available for pre-order now! Make sure to check out all our great holiday deals, too: buy one, get one free, or five books for $20!

The Anne Valente Interview (pt. 1)

To celebrate the release of Anne Valente’s debut collection, By Light We Knew Our Names, we sat down with Valente in the Origami Zoo to talk about the wonderful and wondrous stories populating her book. We conducted our interview at the overlook above the origami giraffe habitat. As the paper giraffes showed us how they endlessly unfold their necks to reach leaves on higher branches—and even all the way up to us, licking our faces—Valente told us about titling stories, blurring realities, and the role history and science play in her writing.

You can order By Light We Knew Our Names here, and if you want even more Anne Valente, we have an excellent chapbook of short-shorts for sale that we of course highly recommend.

Anne ValenteOrigami Zoo Press: The children in the opening story “Latchkey” are set apart from other children by their strange gifts—including a halo of planets, a fishbowl stomach and a tiny librarian, as well as the mysterious gift for Sasha, which she has not yet discovered. I’m curious about how the idea for all these gifts come about, but my real question is: What would your magical “Latchkey” gift be?

Anne Valente: I wrote this story at the beginning of my MFA program at Bowling Green State University, and at the time, I think the gifts seemed to come from other fascinations of mine: the solar system, my husband just beginning his career as a librarian. Looking back though, I can’t help but think that the gifts were also some expression of my awe at the talents of my classmates, and that I got to share a classroom with writers like Brandon Davis Jennings and Matt Bell. Everyone’s work blew me away. I had just started writing stories when I got to Bowling Green, and this story feels now like the latent hope that my gifts in writing could be just as magical as those of my peers. More tangibly speaking, if I had a magical gift that I could open, opening a package and finding a baby giraffe wouldn’t be far off the mark.

OZP: I really admire all of your titles. They’re usually extracted in some way from the story, but they’re rarely direct lines—you seem to be able to paraphrase in such a way that lends a grander feel to your titles. They have a weight to them, that a direct line lifted from the text might not, though they still seem to perfectly capture the heart of the story. How do you come up with titles? Do you begin with them? Or do they not come about until after the story is finished? Has a story ever been particularly challenging to title for you?

AV: Titles have always been difficult for me, so I’m glad to hear that these titles are succeeding in some way! My process is usually one of waiting until I’ve completed the story in order to see where it takes me, then going back through to find the sentences or brief moments of language that seem to encapsulate the story’s heart. I’ve been tempted before to pull phrases straight from the story, but then there’s the weird effect for the reader of reaching that passage and thinking, Oh, here’s the important passage. Here’s the story’s main theme. Other writers have pulled this off in smart ways, but when I’ve done this, I feel too obvious and too directive as an author. I do still go through and find the lines that seem to speak most to the story as a whole, but I usually alter them in some way. As for a particularly challenging story title, “Latchkey” was actually one of the hardest. The word appears nowhere in the story, and I’m still not sure if other people associate the word of this title with what I do: a group of kids being watched after school until their parents can pick them up. But something more direct felt too obvious and heavy-handed for this story, especially one that is fairly light in tone.

OZP: There’s a big tug-of-war between the fantastic and the real in this collection. There are a few stories that are outright realist or outright fabulist, but most leave the reader wondering: though we see ghosts and shaking mirrors and disappearing teabags, there’s always this lingering doubt—maybe those characters were imagining it, maybe the narrator is remembering this moment from their childhood wrong, etc. It works in reverse, too—for instance, I was totally willing to believe everything that happens in “Mollusk, Membrane, Human Heart” was grounded in scientific fact. How do you view the relationship between the real and the fantastic in your stories and how do you hope readers will interpret these moments?

ByTheLightWeKnewOurNames_ValenteAV: I was just listening to a Radiolab podcast yesterday about a paranormal team investigating a haunted house, and I noticed that the more intangible the experience became – once flashlights started blinking, once spirits started communicating – the more technical and scientific the language became. A chemist was consulted to explain what happens inside a flashlight’s bulb, and how this reaction could cause what appears to be ghostly communication. In the end, this scientific explanation becomes one among many – it might explain what is happening, but it also might not. To some extent, I feel this way about the relationship between the real and the fantastic in my own writing: I love the informational excess of scientific explanation, and I love how its tangibility comes up against everything we can’t explain. The process of writing feels similar. I’m constantly using the tangibility of words and language to try to describe what can’t be contained. Language is always an asymptote. I don’t know that I look for a specific interpretation that readers should take away, but instead the experience of liminality, that multiple realities and a blurring between them might be at play.

OZP: You have quite a few stories where the fiction intersects with historical events (“Dear Amelia,” “Everything That Was Ours,” “Until Our Shadows Claim Us”). Tell us a little about that. What role does history play for you when writing fiction? What’s the importance of the historical interacting with the fictional (particularly in a story like “Dear Amelia,” where there are explicitly fantastical elements)? What was your research process for these stories like, and where/how did you decide when to take liberties?

AV: Much like the tangibility of scientific fact, which I love but which I feel only provides one answer among many, history seems very similar. I absolutely adore research out of sheer curiosity, and of trying to imagine a particular moment in history such as how young girls might have imagined Amelia Earhart at a time when a feat like hers was an anomaly among women. But like science, history is authoritative. It assumes a single, all-encompassing narrative. I like to reimagine history to some degree, to make sense of what we think we know through alternate perspectives. I’m less interested in historical fiction than in the possibility that history didn’t happen the way we were told it did.

The Anne Valente Interview will return… on Friday!

SUPER BRIAN OLIU 64: The Interview (World 1-2)

[This is the second part of a two-part interview. Check out the first part here, and take advantage of our fortnight-and-a-half of Oliu book sale here.]

bookcover_final_2AOZP: The pieces in Leave Luck to Heaven often read like video games themselves, and there are pieces (like “1up” and “Plants, Flowers, Vines”) that examine different elements of video games as opposed to specific games themselves. How much like a video game do you want Leave Luck to Heaven to Be and how much like a collection of essays do you want it to be? Given infinite time and resources, would you want to make a book that’s even more like a video game?

BO: I’m all about artifice: I love the idea of writing being “more” than writing. If there was someway to make the entire thing playable, I’d be super into that—especially to add to the interactivity of the whole thing. I think the biggest critique so far is that it is a good that uses videogames instead of being “about” videogames, which is true: it was never my intent to write a book “about videogames” but to try to make sense of the space between the player and these games. I’m in the process of working on trying to make the cover playable—there still might be a chance for some sort of strange interactivity; at the very least bridging that gap a little bit.

OZP: Can you tell us a bit about the cover art and artist? It’s pretty incredible. How many of the games did he manage to fit in there? I’m not sure if this was intentional on the part of Uncanny Valley Press, but LLTH is the exact same height as Level End, making them lovely companion pieces, too.

BO: Mike mentioned that when he got the first copy of the book, he was so excited to create a book that “felt like the right size,” so I’m pretty sure this means that OZP were trailblazers in regards to “book ergonomics.” The artist is David Wells, who is a friend of Mike’s, who also did the screenshots for The Navigators—he did an absolutely insanely awesome job. Mike & I talked about how we wanted the cover to ideally look; a kind of Divine Comedy through videogames. He did an early sketch of the cover & David just absolutely crushed it. It is the greatest book cover of all time. I’m not speaking in hyperbole. There’s so many gaming nods in there; I’m pretty sure all of the images were crafted by him, so it’s more pastiche rather than collage. But the game feels simultaneously Mario, Ninja Gaiden, Life Force, Metroid, and Mega Man. It’s the best.

OZP: What are your influences outside of video games? What writers were driving forces behind your work in LLTH? Any recommendations?

BO: I read more poetry than I do prose—although nothing is more exciting to me than a well written essay. As far as writers that were driving forces, I’d have to go with Lia Purpura and Albert Goldbarth: with their ability to take something super small and blow it up to gigantic proportions; I’m always fascinated by that. I really fell in love with how Beth Ann Fennelly poems can so easily turn on a dime & get downright vicious: they do a beautiful job of scene setting before hitting as hard as possible. So great.

Level EndOZP: What else have you got in the works? I’ve seen pro-wrestler pieces by you and pop song pieces by you. How are those projects coming? And can you tell us more about i/o, your forthcoming memoir from Civil Coping Mechanisms?

BO: The pop song pieces are fun things that I’ve been writing when I’m feeling like “hey! I should write something today!” I’ve really enjoyed writing them & they’re kind of endless. They might make it into a book or a larger project someday. The pro-wrestling pieces are my main project as of right now; I’m taking a long time to craft those essays, which I think is a good thing. I’m working at a similar pace I had with Leave Luck to Heaven: we’ll see how they all come together. I’m also working on a more straight-forward memoir about long distance running; my grandfather founded the Barcelona Marathon & wrote a book in Catalan. I’m in the process of translating everything—it’s a very long and large undertaking, & something I’ve been thinking about for years now. It’s nice to finally get it off and running. And finally, I’m writing a book about NBA JAM in a month, because, why not? It’ll be fun to have this type of challenge, as I’m not one who writes every single day. I’m pretty excited about it.

I’m really happy i/o is seeing the light of day: it’s a very strange book. It’s a re-telling of the beginning of The Odyssey through memoir and also through computer viruses. I wanted to create something extremely experimental & I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of flarf/the language of computers. It was originally my graduate school thesis & has grown from there. It was an important book for me to write, as it had a lot of room for error (as it is a book primarily about error) & it allowed me to understand the workings of language, especially at a sentence-level. It’s a book I’m tremendously proud of, & easily the thing that I wrote where looking back I’m like “whoa. I can’t believe I actually did that.”

OZP: Finally, what’re your top 5 favorite games of all time? And what’s a contemporary game that you think more writers should play?

BO: I get asked this question a lot, & I’m pretty sure it changes every time I answer! I think the SNES is where videogames really hit their stride; it was a perfect marriage of storytelling and simplicity. My favorite game of all time is Earthbound, which is a popular choice for “favorite videogame of all time,” but rightfully so. I also love Super Metroid, as well as Link to the Past. As for NES, I have to go with River City Ransom, as well as Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!. I’ve died so many times in Ninja Gaiden. As far as contemporary games, everyone should play any of the modern Grand Theft AutosGTA IV might be “The Great American Videogame.” They are achievements in storytelling as well as scope. It’s astonishing to me how much work that game must’ve been to create.

An Interview with Ben Hoffman, author of TOGETHER, APART

As winner of our first chapbook contest, judged by Matt Bell, Ben Hoffman got a behind-the-scenes look at the Origami Zoo: we took him to our hatchery where origami eggs were unfolding to reveal the origami animals within. Of course, they all start out looking like a flat sheet of paper, but Hoffman got to see as each one was folded into shape and welcomed into the world. While a baby paper sea turtle wiggled into the pinched corners of its newfound paper shell, Ben talked to us about self-help books, nuclear meltdowns and what to do with the bubblegum in your egg baby.

Ben HoffmanOrigami Zoo Press: If you were an animal in the Origami Zoo, what would you be?

Ben Hoffman: A kudu, and here is what a kudu looks like. How fun is it to say kudu?

OZP: You were the winner of our very first chapbook contest. How’d that feel?

BH: Amazing. It’s great to win anything, of course. (It’s great to be published, period!) But when the judge is a writer you admire, and winning puts your work alongside the work of writers you admire, it’s even better.

OZP: The stories in Together, Apart are pretty wildly diverse in content and length. What is it that you think unites them? How did you decide to bring them together in chapbook form?

BH: I view the two longer, more traditional stories, which open and close the chapbook, as bookending the series of flash fictions in the middle. But the stories all share common strands, or themes, if you prefer—among them the wreckage of our desires and our struggle to find safe harbor, even as we have the feeling safe harbor is only temporary.

Some readers prefer perfectly cohesive collections, but I’m a fan of collections in which one story somehow bursts out of the web the other stories are building with each other. Even as that story is escaping, however, it still ought to be linked by a thread or two, right? In the chapbook, that story is “Next Time They Will Wow Them With The Shiny Stuff,” which is radically different in content and tone from the other stories, but still contains the strands mentioned above.

OZP: What else are you working on right now? Any exciting projects in the works?

BH: Yes, thanks for asking! I’m trying to wrap up—knock on wood one hundred times—a collection of stories, one of which is forthcoming this summer in The Missouri Review. And I’m about 75 pages into the first draft of a novel about which I won’t say too much, except that it begins during the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear meltdown—begins, basically, with “One For The Road,” one of the stories in the chapbook. I’m in the stage of writing just before despair sets in and I’ll have no idea where to go next, so things are going great right now!

OZP: What are you reading right now? Anything we should check out?

BH: So many things! I was a terrible reader in 2013, and I’m trying to make up for it this year. I’m currently bouncing around between Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Need New Names, Jamie Quatro’s I Want to Show You More, and Eric Tran’s Affairs With Men In Suits. I recently devoured Pamela Erens’ The Virgins in two sittings. And based on past OZP crushes, I think you might really like Ramona Ausubel’s A Guide To Being Born.

Together, ApartOZP: Any advice for the proud new parents of the egg babies that came with the deluxe editions of Together, Apart?

BH: Put your baby to bed before you read the stories, unless you want your baby to grow up really fast. Don’t leave your baby with teachers; you can’t trust them. Finally, you’ll need to decide: is the enclosed Bubblicious the beating pink heart of your egg baby, in which case it must stay forever wrapped in the egg? Or is it merely gum, which you should remove and chew immediately upon arrival, recalling the very taste of your own childhood? Really, it’s a choice each parent must make for him or herself.

OZP: If you were to write a self-help book a la Three and a Half Paths to Happiness, which appears in one of your stories, what would it be? What kind of self would it help readers become?

BH: Much like the mother in the story, I’m skeptical of self-help books, because they often paper over the world’s complexities, which writers ought to be interested in, and because there are rarely shortcuts. (And yet! The idea of a shortcut or of any one particular path to happiness is so incredibly alluring, isn’t it?) But if I were to write a self-help book, I’d strive to help readers become more empathetic. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to teach empathy to adults. I can only offer the basics: travel; get a dog; stay hydrated; remind yourself you don’t know very much and ought to learn more; spend as much time as possible outdoors on sunny afternoons.


Together, Apart by Ben Hoffman is available here.

The Making of Floater

Our bookbinder Angie Dell joins us today to tell us (and show us!) the process of putting Floater together. You can order this beautiful chapbook, written by Kate Bernheimer and illustrated by Noah Saterstrom, here.

One of the most important things I’ve learned about making books: almost every tool you’ll need you can either make using household items, or hunt down at the local hardware store. To make a guide for where I want to drill the holes in each book, I cut apart the spine of a study folder, measured along the book’s length, and punched holes in the guide, which I can then lay over each book to save time on measuring. Binder clips from any office supply store are really helpful if you want to hold a simple book together while you bind it, but for my purposes they didn’t keep the pages straight enough and left imprints on the covers. So I got this huge but amazing wooden handscrew clamp from the hardware store. It was much cheaper than clamp systems I’ve seen advertised for bookbinding, and I love how this one can be adjusted with the twist of the wrist to squeeze pages tightly without leaving a mark.

Because the book is 40 pages, I can’t use an awl (the sharp tool pictured) to punch through all the pages together, so I’m starting by placing holes in the covers. You can use a cutting mat beneath this to protect whatever surface you’re working on, but I’m using a slab of wood (again, from the hardware store) because I’ll need a thicker surface for when I get into the drilling.

With the holes placed in the cover, I can clamp each book together and use a small hand drill (you guessed it—hardware store) to drill accurate holes the whole way through. I’d never used a hand drill before getting involved in book arts, and they are amazing. How is it possible that a hand crank and a small twisty piece of metal can be so effective at making holes? You can pick up all different sized drill bits too, for all kinds of holes—probably not a revelation to some of you, but it blew my mind. After I bought my drill I went on a drilling spree, making little holes in the surface of everything I own.

Drilling away.

Effective tools are so empowering. I need to figure out a way to install the clamp into the worktable, though, to keep it from wobbling as I tighten the handles.




Generally, the thread you use for binding should be thicker than sewing thread and be waxed to keep it from fraying or losing its tight hold as you bind. You can buy binding thread online or from some arts or craft stores, and it works great, but it’s also really expensive and limited in colors. Alternately, you can buy a chunk of wax and wax your own.

Hold the thread taught, press one end of it into the wax, and then whip the thread through and away a few times. The speed and friction create heat, melting the wax better to coat the thread. Repeat until the whole thread is waxed.



At this point, I have threaded my needle and am sewing the cover together. There are many binding styles out there, but for Floater I used a simple Japanese side stitch.



It may look complicated at first, but after you’ve done a few, it gets fun and methodical (if, like me, you enjoy repetitive tasks that can keep your hands busy with while binge-watching movies. See #11.)


Depending on how you start the stitch, you can either leave the tie-off exposed or bury it inside the front or back cover, as I did here.

Mr. Orange.


Angie Dell is a writer and bookmaker currently living in Tempe, Arizona. Her most recent book arts project (aside from Floater) is her story, “The Candy Man” inside a tin of homemade chocolates. The story instructs you on which chocolates to eat at specific points in the narrative. If you live in the Tempe/Phoenix area, she is happy to deliver locally! Contact Angie through www.angiedell.com for more information.

Interview with Anne Valente, author of Elegy for Mathematics

We took Anne Valente on the first tour of the Origami Zoo this week. We sat outside the big cat habitat and watched the paper tigers slink through the tall grass while the paper cheetah ran so far we were worried it would tear. As we popped a bottle of paper champagne to celebrate the upcoming release of her chapbook of small stories, An Elegy for Mathematics. Anne talked to us about neighborhood quails, her ideal robot, and Justin Timberlake dressed as a loaf of bread.

Origami Zoo Press: If you were an animal in the Origami Zoo, what would you be?

Anne Valente: I would be a paper quail. There is a family of sixteen quails in my neighborhood, now that spring has returned, and they’re fascinating. All that scurrying for cover! All those plume hats!

OZP: Tell us a little bit about the stories in An Elegy for Mathematics. The stories in the collection have a pretty wide range in terms of tone, form and content, so how do you see them fitting together?

AV: I wrote these pieces across a span of time that included experimenting with forms, and how those forms could potentially mirror content. Regardless of the form, I think the content of each piece shares some thread of frustration, whether that is the frustration of desire, of growing up, of being defined, of connecting with others, or of tolerating the absolute intolerability of losing those we love. I am interested in how quantification fails – how, despite our best human efforts, our attempts to control the uncontrollable elude us.

OZP: What are you reading right now?

AV: I just had the flu for three weeks, which was tiring but also gave me time to just lie on the couch and finish Murakami’s 1Q84. He’s one of my favorites, and his latest didn’t disappoint. I’ve also been fortunate enough to read B.J. Hollars’s new collection, Sightings, and Matt Bell’s novel, In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods, both of which are truly wonderful. In addition, I just finished Brian Kimberling’s Snapper, a novel about birdwatching in Indiana that I loved (I’ve been reading a lot about the Midwest lately). I’ve also been reading books on mapping: Rebecca Solnit’s Infinite City, Denis Wood’s Everything Sings, and Judith Schalansky’s Atlas of Remote Islands, all of which are magical and highly recommended.

OZP: Obviously, we love B.J., and that collection is fantastic! What are you writing right now? Any other publication news we should know about? I hear you might have a book coming out…

AV: Yes! Thanks for asking. I do have book coming out: my first full-length collection, By Light We Knew Our Names, will release from Dzanc Books in October 2014. I couldn’t be more thrilled about it. I’ve also got stories forthcoming in the next issues of Ninth Letter and Heavy Feather Review. In the meantime, I’ve been revising a finished novel manuscript and working on a new collection of stories centered on St. Louis history and the Midwest.

OZP: If you got to host Saturday Night Live, who would you want as the musical guest?

AV: Since artists can only play a song or two on Saturday Night Live, I’d invite the Pixies just to hear the slow version of “Wave of Mutilation” live. I did just see Justin Timberlake’s most recent performance on SNL though, and he was charismatic, as always. He might boost the ratings for my hosting duties, but that would also mean we’d have to do a Glutenville sketch together, him dressed as a piece of bread. He would without question steal the show.

OZP: What would your ideal robot do for you?

AV: This sounds ridiculous, but if I’m being completely honest, my ideal robot would accompany me on airplanes. I have a debilitating fear of flight. I’ve tried listening to podcasts that explain the mechanics of flight and aircraft, but it hasn’t helped – I still have no idea how millions of pounds become airborne. So: my ideal robot and I would always book our flights with two seats together. My ideal robot would sit next to me and explain everything that’s happening – “That noise is just the wheels going up!” or “An air pocket! HA!” – and we would play cards and drink ginger ale.

OZP: One of our favorite stories in An Elegy for Mathematics is “The Archivist,” which features a woman who highlights every facet of people’s lives when they die (from the number of times they blinked to the number of times they’ve been kissed to the number of cups of coffee they drank). What would be highlighted in your “Archivist” records?

AV: What a can of worms you’ve opened! I could tell you everything that I believe is in my record, but suffice it to say that this story was born of a childhood obsession: I used to lie awake at night filled with anxiety that someone, somewhere, was keeping tabs on all cartoons I watched, how many times I’d ever brushed my teeth, all the mean things I’d ever said, all the Oreos I stole from the kitchen cabinets when no one was looking. Today, though the anxiety about this has mostly passed, I think my Archivist record would include about 1.2 billion cups of green tea, 926 episodes (including reruns) of Saved by the Bell and Beverly Hills, 90210, seven instances of singing terrible karaoke, zero instances of a bowling score above 100, and 329 snapped photos of neighborhood birds.


An Elegy for Mathematics is available for pre-order here, in both a regular and UnArchived Edition, which will come packed with goodies and extras. Due out in April!

Interview with Laura van den Berg, author of There Will Be No More Good Nights Without Good Nights

Laura van den Berg came by the Origami Zoo the other day so we could chat about her upcoming chapbook, There Will Be No More Good Nights Without Good Nights. For this interview, we went and sat on the floor of the zoo’s dimly lit paper reptile room. As an origami python bent and folded around itself and the origami chameleon changed the color of its papery skin, Laura talked with us about strange pets, Rafalca and the best fortune cookie fortune she’s ever gotten.

Origami Zoo Press: If you were an animal in the Origami Zoo, what would you be?

Laura van den Berg: Each day, I aspire to live as the Honey Badger does.

OZP: Tell us a little bit about the stories in There Will Be No More Good Nights Without Good Nights.

LVDB: In 2007—or thereabouts—I took a short-short class with Pamela Painter, during my time at the MFA program at Emerson College. I had long been an appreciative reader of the form, and working on short-shorts for a semester made me want to spend more time writing them. Many of the stories in There Will Be… grew out of drafts written in that class.

OZP: A few of the stories in Good Nights center around strange pets (parakeets that speak French, box turtles that may or may not tell the future, etc.). Growing up, did you have a lot of strange pet experiences?

LVDB: Yes! In addition to the usual—regular cats, stray cats, dogs, gerbils, fish, etc—we had, at different times, in the urban suburbs or Orlando, FL, a wolf and a small flock of chickens, which actually turned out to be roosters.

OZP: If you could add an event to the Olympics (and compete in it), what would it be and why?

LVDB: Horse dancing! Who doesn’t want to be Rafalca?

OZP: What have you been reading lately?

LVDB: I just finished A Hologram for the King, which I loved, and I’m halfway through The Naked Eye by Yoko Tawada, which is unnerving and dazzling and dreamy in equal measure.

OZP: Aside from Good Nights, what else is going on with your own writing? What are you working on?

LVDB: I recently finished two new projects, and now I’m diving into a third crazy thing, set in Cuba.

OZP: Good Nights’ title comes from a mysterious fortune cookie fortune found by a character in one of the stories. What’s the best fortune cookie fortune you’ve ever gotten?

LVDB: I once got one that said “you are not liked for who you are”—this was a long time ago, but that was the gist. Naturally this fortune led to intense insecurity. Do you just pretend to like me because I have a wolf as a pet? And so on.


You can pre-order Laura’s There Will Be No More Good Nights Without Good Nights, to be released September 10, here.

Interview with Brian Oliu, author of Level End

Recently, we hung out with Brian Oliu near the Origami Zoo’s paper polar bear habitat. We laughed as the paper polar bear dived into the water, but then became sad as he unfolded, fell open and apart. We fished him out but he was too soggy to fold back into a bear, so Brian, never without a pair of scissors, solemnly cut the bear into paper snowflakes and hung them from the ceiling. Then, Brian told us a bit about his upcoming collection of video game boss battle-inspired lyric essays, Level End, as we watched the snowflakes spin and growl above us.

Origami Zoo Press: Tell us a little bit about Level End. Why video games? And, more specifically, why boss battles? How’d you go about writing these lyric essays?

Brian Oliu: Level End is a collection of lyric essays inspired by videogames–most specifically the boss battle. In games when you reach the end of a level/dungeon, there is usually a much larger and scarier enemy that you must defeat to move on to the next stage. Typically, these battles fall under certain videogame tropes: there’s always a battle against some sort of dragon, another against a robot, a version of the hero, etc. I have a larger collection of videogame pieces that deal with specific 8-bit Nintendo games: Metroid, Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and I wanted to include more winks to those who enjoy videogames throughout the large collection–I started thinking about other elements of videogames and the first thing that came to mind were save points and boss battles.

OZP: Is there anybody else writing video game-inspired stuff that you’re digging right now? Will anyone ever make a good film adaptation of a video game

BO: I’m really enjoying Mike Meginnis‘ Exits Are project–he did a collaboration with various authors over GChat where he pretended to be an old-school text adventure game. Really fun stuff. I participated in one of them as well & it should be up there soon. I’ve always considered putting together an anthology of videogame writing: wouldn’t that be fun? As far as a good film adaptation of a video game, I sincerely doubt it. I mean, maybe Zelda? You could pull that off as a nice adventure film. Of course I’d love to see a Bioshock movie but I’d be absolutely terrified that they’d screw it up incredibly.

OZP: Do you have a favorite gaming experience? Something that stands out in your mind as a pivotal moment for you as a gamer?

BO: I remember having an incredible amount of joy when I finally beat Super Metroid–I had rented the game, had to return it, and actually just turned around & rented it again so I could finish it. Still one of the best games of all time in my opinion. My favorite game of all time is Earthbound–one of the best endings ever, as with its sequel, Mother 3, which were huge inspirations for ‘Level End’. I’ve also had a lot of great sports video game moments: playing against friends and snatching undeserved victories.

OZP: You seem to be pretty consistently working on new writing. What other projects are in the works right now?

BO: Let’s see! I’m in the process of translating some work from Catalan into English: first my aunt’s book of poetry which was originally published in the ’70s. That’s a pretty straight-forward translation. I’m also translating my grandfather’s book, which was about the essence of running. That is a little less literal and is more of a book project/a biography/a lyric essay. Other than that I’m writing some lyric essays based off of pop/dance music, which has been a lot of fun.

OZP: Tiny Hardcore Press is our Press Crush of the Month. What’s working with them been like?

BO: So great! Roxane Gay is the hardest working woman in show business & it is an honor to be associated with her. The books are great and were a perfect fit for ‘So You Know It’s Me‘–the care she took with the book and making sure it wound up in the right hands is something that I will always cherish and appreciate. She is one of the great champions of indie literature and I absolutely adore and respect her and the work that she has done for me and other writers.

OZP: If you were a boss, what would the game be like and how would we defeat you?

BO: What’s the Jay-Z line in ‘Monster’?  ’Everybody wants to know what my Achilles’ Heel is?Loooooooooove.’ I could probably be easily defeated with a hug. The game, I imagine, would be a game that involved a lot of leveling up, climbing, and buying cool stuff ala River City Ransom.


You can pre-order the regular or gold edition of Level End here.