interview: laura stanfill, talking about brave on the page

I've had this blog for a while now (seven years, actually) and I've never done an interview. (At last as far as I can remember. I do sometimes run across old posts that I've long forgotten...)

So, this is (I'm fairly sure) my first interview. I'm interviewing Laura Stanfill, who has just published a new book of interviews, called Brave on the Page: Oregon Writers on Craft and the Creative Life. Rather than describe the book, I'll just let her explain it.

This is one case where both form and content sound really interesting.

Anthony: Welcome to the blog, Laura. You're my first-ever interview. Why don't you describe your new book, Brave on the Page: Oregon Writers on Craft and the Creative Life?

Laura: Thanks for hosting me, Anthony! This is only the second interview I've ever done; as a former newspaper reporter, I'm used to being on the other side of the notebook.

Brave on the Page is a collection of interviews and essays full of advice, insights and personal reflections about what it means to be a writer. The project began as a way to collect some of the Seven Questions interviews I run on my blog in a more permanent form. The authors (and other creative professionals) always put so much time and effort into their interviews. While I enjoy having them online, accessible by anybody, I thought it would be exciting to turn them into a book. I had all the authors revise and update their pieces, often significantly, so the interviews are quite a bit different from how they originally appeared on my blog. I did new interviews with Lauren Kessler and Jon Bell for this book, but they will appear on my blog at some point.

To add some fresh content, I asked Oregon writers to submit 250- to 300-word flash essays responding to a question word, i.e., who or when, in relation to writing. That resulted in – amazingly – twenty-seven very different pieces on how people approach the craft. The subjects include where characters come from, getting ideas when running, using overheard dialogue in fiction and a poem on the "write life." One of my favorite parts of this process was figuring out a narrative arc to the essays, and for about a month I constantly tinkered with what belonged where. I changed the order many, many times, using small-print versions of each piece, printed out and cut up into rectangles.

I chose to focus on Oregon writers because I love buying local and fostering community. But the advice, insights and behind-the-scenes publication stories are relevant to any writer who enjoys reading about the craft and how other writers operate. This collection is the first in the Seven Questions Series, and I do have plans to produce future volumes featuring different writers.

Anthony: And how is this book being produced and promoted?

Laura: As soon as I heard about the Espresso Book Machine arriving at Powell's Books, here in Portland, Oregon, I knew I wanted to try out the technology. The machine prints books in about five minutes – as much time as it takes to get a latte made at a hip coffee shop. As long as the glue has heated up enough, that is.

There are Espresso Book Machines in 80 locations around the world, and 40 more are expected to be installed by the end of 2012. The Espresso folks recently signed a deal with Kodak, so Espresso machines will be arriving at CVS drug stores – making distribution even more widespread. The potential is limitless, I think, and I love the environmental implications of avoiding shipping if someone lives near a machine. The trick, of course, for anyone publishing this way, will be reaching potential readers so they know the title of the book and where to find a local machine.

Here's a link to the map of locations and a link to the list of existing locations.

Anthony: How can people get the book, if they don't happen to be in an area where there's an Espresso machine available?

Laura: It will be available online through You can search for the title, Brave on the Page, or for my name, or just click this handy link.

Anthony: Do you have plans to have the book available in e-book form as well? These days, that seems to be where a lot of small presses focus their attention, at least at first.

Laura: This is a great question, Anthony, and one I've gotten a lot. I know many people love e-books, but at this point, that doesn't fit into my mission. For one thing, the original interviews are all available online at my blog, so if someone wanted to read them on a device, they could. For another, this is an experiment with print-on-demand technology and the Espresso machine – not an experiment in online marketing or online promotion. Besides, since I didn't go through Amazon, I'm not sure how I'd get an e-book out to readers.

I know you're a big proponent of e-books and reading on your Kindle, so feel free to try to convince me and I'll think about it! After doing cost calculations, I do see why so many independent and self-publishers choose e-books. I'm aiming to make my investment back, and if I have any profits, I'll roll them into the next project.

Anthony: From reading your blog, I know you're thinking of using your new press (Forest Avenue Press) to publish other works. Any immediate plans or ideas in that area?

Laura: A few authors have contacted me about reading their manuscripts. I'm not open for submissions, because we're an ultra-small press, and because I have my hands full with this launch, but I have committed to talk about possibilities with a few people, and I have committed to read one memoir.

But yes, I am planning to publish other people's books with a focus on "quiet novels." I'd love to have a larger discussion on what, exactly, a quiet novel is – and that could be here on your blog or over on mine – but for now, I'm defining them as literary books that have been turned down by mainstream presses because they're too character-driven, or not full of fast-paced action scenes. Some of my very favorite books that I've read in manuscript form – full of tightly written scenes and strong arcs and compelling characters – have been called too quiet by agents and editors. That's what I want to focus on, the books that should be out in the world but haven't been read by the right advocate yet. I want to be that advocate.

You can read more of my thoughts about quiet novels on the Forest Avenue Press blog.

Anthony: Will the books from your press continue to have a regional focus?

Laura: In short, maybe.

I do want to publish more Seven Questions Series books, and it's likely the next one will have a national focus, as I just published all my Oregon interviews in this one. Volume Two will probably have a theme of some sort to make it cohesive, and I expect to do a call for submissions for flash essays on whatever that theme is. I do plan to publish another Oregon interview book, maybe in two years, since I have a huge (really huge) list of amazing local authors I want to ask for interviews. I hope in two years I have another book ready with forty-some totally different Oregon writers participating. But next, I think it's safe to say, I'll do one that's theme-focused, not geographical.

Anthony: From reading your blog, I also know you're in the middle of writing two novels. One seems to be near the beginning of the process, and the other perhaps near the end. How do you plan to balance all of these projects, and do you think the writing and the publishing projects will support and help each other, or pull in different directions?

Laura: I've been ignoring my historical novel, Lost Notes, for a month or two now to focus on Brave on the Page. In fact, I recently wrote an apology to my protagonist for ignoring him. My immediate plan – starting last week – is to focus on Henri for at least 15 minutes a day. That way he won't get lost in the marketing and book release hype. The poor boy is sitting in his sickbed, after meeting this beautiful girl, and he hasn't yet realized he wants to go to America. I'm still working early in the second draft, so I have a lot more to do. This fall marks the end of my second year working on Lost Notes. I had hoped to finish a full draft since I started this draft last November, but other projects have waylaid me, I'm afraid.

Body Copy, my completed novel, has been on the shelf (or rather in a "finished" file on my computer) for some time. I recently had a beta reader go through it, and he made some excellent suggestions, particularly in relation to shaping the material. I'm looking forward to reading it again, after two years of ignoring it, and making those changes. But that'll have to wait at least until January. Henri is my priority.

I hope, once the launch is complete, to fit my Brave on the Page and Forest Avenue Press activities around my work on Lost Notes, with maybe a 40/60 split favoring the novel. Most likely, though, it'll be the other way around, at least for a few months. When I finally catch my breath, I'll get going on Body Copy.

I expect the projects to pull me in different directions but they're also all exercising my writing muscle, and no matter what I'm working on, I'm learning something about the craft. I absolutely feel like I'm in the zone in terms of editing right now, after putting Brave on the Page together, and I expect that mindset will translate nicely to my work on Body Copy and Lost Notes. I've been thinking a lot about narrative arc, for one thing.

Anthony: Thanks for visiting, Laura. Best of luck with all of your projects.

Laura: Thanks so much for hosting me, Anthony! I especially love that you offered me seven questions to go along with the Seven Questions Series that inspired this project in the first place.

Bio: Laura Stanfill – novelist, award-winning journalist, freelance editor and Vassar graduate – believes in community. She is the founder of Forest Avenue Press and the editor of Brave on the Page. Her articles and essays have appeared in numerous small-town newspapers and regional magazines in Virginia, New York and Oregon.

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