Introducing Iron Twine Press

LB_website_versionI’ve always been a jump first, learn later risk taker. I know the situations I want to see myself in and when the opportunity presents itself, I’m willing to go in ignorant and learn my way out. As long as I have me with me, I know I can do it. All the best things I have done, gained, experienced, learned in my life have come to me this way.

Now, in the immortal words of Shania Twain, I have again “doggone gone and done it”. And that’s the point of this post today:  In October of last year, I started a small, independent publishing company, Iron Twine Press (if you’re a follower of this blog, I invite you to click over and follow the Iron Twine Press blog too and follow @irontwinepress on twitter). At the end of March, we published our first book The First Honeymoon: New and Selected Stories, by Lyn Coffin.

I’m very proud of the book. A lot of effort went into it—obviously, and most importantly, Lyn’s writing, but also custom design by a great photographer, Mariana Jasso. And for me it was a fascinating experience to receive more than two dozen short stories from Lyn in Word document format, then to read through all of them, curate the best of them into a collection, then reformat, edit, arrange according to themes and tone (much like putting together a musical album I’ve decided), then to send the collection out to readers to get feedback, reviews, back cover blurbs, then to publish and now to pursue the daily task of marketing the book, building awareness, arranging readings, placing the book with bookstores…all while also starting work on three new books that I hope to bring out in the next year (one of which will be a collection of my own writing). Even as a lover of books—both as collections of art, and as objects of art themselves—I’m more appreciative than ever of the painstaking work that goes into making a book of quality. I invite you all to go check out the book (it’s available online at Amazon and Barnes&Noble; or if you’re in the Kirkland, WA area you can buy the book at Kirkland Parkplace Books, and if you watch the Iron Twine Web site or sign up for the Iron Twine newsletter, I’ll keep you posted as it becomes available in other locations).

Here I deliver copies of The First Honeymoon to Kirkland Parkplace Books with two Iron Twine Press staffers.

Here I deliver copies of The First Honeymoon to Kirkland Parkplace Books with two Iron Twine Press staffers.

Now some words about Lyn Coffin, because knowing her and working with her has been an inspiration to me. I started out by telling you that I am willing to jump into situations guided only by intuition. That’s true. But doing that requires courage and, being human, as I am, my courage sometimes falters. Then I look at Lyn Coffin:  award-winning writer, 16 volumes of poetry, drama, fiction and translation, her writing selected for publication in The Best American Short Stories by Joyce Carol Oates, honored by the country of Georgia for her work translating their beloved native poems and children’s stories, her work appearing in journals and anthologies, Time Magazine, an honorary PhD from the World Academy of Arts and Culture for “poetic excellence and her efforts on behalf of world peace”, teaching literary fiction at the University of Washington. She’s one of the most accomplished people I have ever met. And she’s done it, as far as I can tell, by only pursuing what is interesting to her. Sometimes that leads her onto the well-lit red carpet of recognition and opportunity, but more frequently she has moved through pathless frontiers of obscurity. But she has just kept working, just kept accomplishing and just kept true to an idea I’ve heard her repeat many times: In life, don’t wait to be invited down the path, don’t wait to be shown the way. “Make the way by going”.

It’s a philosophy I admire and one I feel deeply akin to. There is nothing that can kill you except death, and, it’s going to get you when it’s going to get you. Until then, keep yourself interested, keep yourself inspired, enjoy the way you burn off your finite resource of time. That’s why I started Iron Twine Press.

I don’t know what comes next. But I do know this is the first step down the next way I want to be going.

And so I go.

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What is it to be Writer?

Earlier this week I published an anthology of short stories titled Declaration: Stories. I have a story in the collection and served as Editor-in-chief. <shameless self-promotion>It’s available for $9.95 on Amazon.com or Createspace.com</shameless self-promotion>. What follows is the introduction I wrote for the collection. I thought you might be interested.

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Declaration cover photoWhat is it to be a writer?

Speaking for myself, I can answer the question this way: You know the old philosophical question “If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?” We writers often feel we are the trees falling alone in the forest. I don’t say this to make you feel sorry for us – we like being alone making noise with our imaginations. But at a certain point we do want you to hear.

Then the question becomes one of timing: when is the right time to let the world hear the sounds we’re making? We don’t want to invite you too soon, for fear you may not appreciate the quality of the sound. We will invite you to hear, but only if you understand that we are really never fully satisfied with the sound we’ve made. To be sure, there are parts of it that are OK, but we’re under no illusion that what we’re showing you is our best. Our next effort will be our best. Always the next. We need you to understand that.

One of my favorite writers, Andre Dubus, once described the experience of writers this way:

Unless they live in a community of writers, like at a graduate school, they don’t have friends who really understand what they are doing. They don’t get published. They work and of course, don’t get money for it. There is no one to set the alarm clock for. There is no one who cares whether they get there to work, no one who can threaten them with firing or reward them with money, and you put all that on one poor young man or woman’s back, and it takes an awful lot of courage, because it comes down to that person believing in him or herself and saying, I will do it. While having a job that supports me. And you finally do publish in something as lovely as Tendril or Ploughshares, for example, and you call your mother or father and tell them, and they say, ‘What’s that?’ I think that is why young writers can be persuaded so easily to change things to be in The New Yorker. Not for the goddamn money. What’s three thousand dollars going to do? You can’t live in Mexico on it and write. Not for long anyway. Won’t change your life. I think they do it because it takes care of those blank faces when you say, ‘Yes, I’ve published,’ and they say, ‘Where?’ and you say, The New Yorker, and they say, ‘Ooh! You must be real!’

That’s it: we love what we do. We do it for the love of it. But we spend a lot of time doing it, we take a lot of time away from our families to do it, and sometimes we’re cranky about it. So at some point we want to show you that we’re making progress. We want to prove that we’re real. We want to prove it to you. We want to prove it to ourselves.

The stories included here all emerged during the Fall quarter of 2012 when these eleven writers came together to begin the program for the Certificate in Literary Fiction at the University of Washington under the guidance of our instructor, Lyn Coffin. At the start of the quarter, Lyn asked us to introduce ourselves to each other and, among other things, to explain why we had come. “I used to write, I don’t anymore. I want to write again,” we said to each other. “I have always written, but I have never called myself a writer,” we said. “I have been writing stories since I was a child, but I have never shared that part of myself with the world,” we said.

Then Lyn told us to “make the way by going.” She said, “write.” And so we wrote. We shared, we discussed, we questioned, we work-shopped each other’s work. We saw that we already were writers; we started as good writers, we learned from each other, we got better.

Consider the power of words. Reality is constructed on the backs of precise phrases: “With this ring, I thee wed”; “I claim this land in the name of the king”; “I [your name here] do solemnly swear”; “Dibs on the last cookie”; “Shotgun!” Our world is because our words make it so.

In these stories are worlds that did not exist before these writers imagined them. In these stories are people and events and experiences and thoughts and feelings that cannot be denied or undone. They are real because these real writers gathered words to make them so.

Here are eleven real stories by eleven real writers.

They don’t need me to say that, the work declares it. If we are trees in the forest, these stories are the sounds we have made. We want you to hear them.