I first met Theresa Beckhusen when I was pulling together The Downtown Writers Jam, Vol. 1. A staff editor at Indianapolis-based Metonymy Media, she listened to our pitch and then introduced us to several great authors. She was able to do that because along with her day job (which involves lots of reading, writing, and editing), she also runs Vouched Books Indy, a guerilla literature group that runs pop-up sales tables that can be used by small presses and independent writers, hosts live events, and reviews books.
But that’s not why I’m writing about her. I’m doing that because she’s also the co-operator of Corgi Snorkel Press, which she runs with her fiancé Salvatore Pane, an assistant professor of English at the University of Indianapolis. The press publishes chapbooks and other bits of longform writing that otherwise may slide through the cracks of traditional publishers.
In other words, she and Salvatore are smack in the middle of what’s happening with literature in Indianapolis. That’s exactly the kind of operation I want to get behind, and more importantly, that I want you to get behind. So…read up, visit the site, order the chapbooks, and enjoy the words.
Q: What’s the antecedent for you both in terms of Corgi Snorkel Press? What’s the genesis or lineage of literature, ‘zines, or small presses that led you to launch your own?
TB: I’d say Sal is the more impetuous of the two of us. I’m the type who has to ruminate over things before making decisions, but he’s very much, “Hey, I think this is a cool idea, so let’s do it!” So, when he suggested Corgi Snorkel, I was intrigued but had to think about it a little, think about the ramifications and the how. But I’d taken Editing & Publishing in college where we read and talked about a variety of journals — print and online — and chapbooks and ultimately the class published two chapbooks and hosted a reading. So, I had some familiarity with the process, but that doesn’t compare to, you know, actually doing it. Besides that, I just really like seeing handmade books, things that look like they’ve been handled and you can tell what materials they’re made from.
SP: I really adored the little books put out by Tiny Hardcore Press, Origami Zoo Press, and NAP Magazine. So a few years back, I submitted a short fiction chapbook to NAP and, through a bizarre set of circumstances, ended up moving to the same city as NAP Editor Chad Redden a few weeks before my book was about to come out. I got to see the process up close and personal with Chad, and when Theresa and I decided to start a chapbook press for ourselves, we really picked his brain over dinner and beers. His input was huge for us.
Q: I’m fascinated by the idea of a chapbook for what today we’re calling longreads or singles, but previously would have been novellas (I’m guessing). Why the emphasis on print and audio versions of these books? Why not digital?
TB: When we started, I wanted a project that would require making things by hand. When I want to be, I’m crafty, and the first summer, I made fancier handmade versions of each chapbook. Like, I was pulling apart old books and making covers from file folders and burning paper over our kitchen sink. Really fun but very costly and time-consuming considering what we’re really doing. So we scaled back to just the simple handmade chapbooks this summer. For me, we just read so much stuff online these days, and studies have shown that there is a difference in reading on a screen vs. paper, and I like paper. I like holding a book in my hands. Plus, with a physical chapbook, you get to order something, and it arrives in your mailbox. That’s a treat, mail that isn’t credit card offers or circulars.
SP: I love the digital space, and I’ve even begun reading books on my tablet, but for me, there’s something very DIY and punk rock about chapbooks. My ideal chapbook is something that looks like it was put together at Kinko’s in a couple of hours, and that’s how Theresa and I try and do it. The aforementioned Tiny Hardcore and Origami Zoo do really beautiful books with just astounding designs, but I want our books to look like something you might buy from a bootlegger at a punk show.
Q: I’ve equated what we’re doing at The Geeky Press as “professionalized amateurism,” which is just a fancy way of saying that our writers go through a process, but our publishing is done more like an indie rock label. From the outside that’s what Corgi Snorkel Press looks like. But what’s the process — from soup to nuts — to find and publish writers.
TB: Well. So far we’ve drawn on people we know personally or people we know through the online indie lit community. And we’ve had one contest winner so far. So, we’ll tap people to send us a collection if they’re interested, and those usually come to us in really good shape. I don’t think we’ve ever needed to do any major edits on anything. Then we take what they’ve written, plop it into our template on Word, and head out to Staples or FedEx office to have a master printed and then make copies. I write this now, and it all sounds so simple, but we had a minor blow-up when we couldn’t get a file to print correctly on our own printer. We spent hours trying to print it correctly until we gave up for the evening, feeling a little sheepish. We went to Staples the next day, and they printed it, no problem. We vowed to never try printing the thing on our own ever again. Anyway, we make the copies and staple them into our cardstock covers, which I’ll hand-stamp with the title and author’s name and our logo on the back that my friend Natasha drew for us.
Q: The one part about the modern literary scene I’m most concerned about is the “Labor of Love” trap, where we undervalue writers and writing. And yet that DIY spirit is an integral part of artistic movements, whether it music, film, or literature. When you think about Corgi Snorkel Press, where does it fall into that world? Is this a small business in the making? Is it a one-off press?
TB: We don’t expect to make money. At least, I don’t. We mostly cross our fingers and hope to break even. But, yeah, the whole “Labor of Love” thing is a difficult line to walk because if you love writing, you want to do it and get it out there. It’s similar for a lot of art. When I performed in two plays last year, I had zero expectation that I’d receive any kind of compensation, and I would have been just as happy to act for free, so it was a delight to get a little something in return. But, also, I have no aspirations to make acting my profession. But for others involved in those productions, they did have those aspirations. So, the “Labor of Love” thing can come down to motivation, and that’s also dangerous at times.
SP: The kind of stuff we’re really into publishing via Corgi Snorkel isn’t really the most marketable work in the world. It’s not Twilight is what I’m saying. We’re interested in essays about action figures and stories about sadness museums. It’s fringe work, and our writers have been able to sell large stacks of their books for cash during readings, but I’ve always viewed chapbooks as the EPs of the writing world. They can be used to showcase some early work, but really they exist to whet an audience’s palette for a longer book.
Q: How do authors and writers fit into Corgi Snorkel Press? Do they just come through for a one-off, or are there writers you’re working with that you hope to cultivate through their careers?
TB: I don’t know that we’ve given this a ton of thought yet. Like I said earlier, we know most of these writers personally, so I know we’re going to keep in touch in some way and see what they’re up to and share their work around.
SP: Ideally, I’d like to see them all go off and excel with bigger presses for their next projects. I like thinking of Corgi Snorkel as a place where we can publish people today who will have major books five or ten years from now.