Entries in 12 Questions (1)

Thursday
May122011

Q&A with Denver's Laughing Mouse Press

Typetrigger made its debut appearance in September, 2010, and it quickly left our circle of personal friends and found members in remote corners of the ether/planet. One of the earliest adopters and most intense supporters in those first months was NePlusUltra, a.k.a. Becky Hensley. We only later learned that she and another early Typetriggerer hauntologist Spencer Keralis are in the publishing world themselves, as founders of Laughing Mouse Press. Their interview blog, 12 Questions, asked Typetrigger founder Lily Pierson to participate not long ago, and we realized that we wanted to ask them a few things too. 


Spencer Keralis and Becky Hensley of Laughing Mouse Press/12questions

TT: What is Laughing Mouse Press? What do you do--and why?

 <Spencer> Laughing Mouse is a small press specializing in handmade books. The books are all limited editions and use a range of traditional binding methods from hand-sewing to your basic saddle-stitch. Some of the covers are hand silk-screened, others are digitally produced but hand-cut and bound. I'm a book historian by training, so I think keeping the book arts alive and meaningful by pairing handcrafts that are hundreds of years old with vibrant and powerful contemporary literary work is a significant and important thing. That said, we just started our first digital serial publication, 12 Questions. It's a questionnaire-based "blogazine" - so everyone, no matter how well-known they are or what field they're from, answers the same twelve questions. Eventually, I'd like to do digital editions of some of our print books, but we're not quite there yet.

TT: What genres is Laughing Mouse most focused on?

<Spencer> I'm most interested in poetry and short fiction. We've skewed heavily toward poetry in the last two years, but that's mainly because that's what I received as submissions. I'm very interested in work that combines text and images, and would be thrilled to see a proposal for a graphic novel or other image based form. I'm also interested in developing some 'zine retrospectives for long-time zinesters - where we combine their 'zines into one volume. I think that would be fun, and it's a good way to preserve ephemera that might otherwise be lost (again, the book historian speaking).

TT: How can small presses help emerging writers? Is there a big difference between small presses in what they can offer their authors?

<Spencer>The most important thing that LMP provides its writers is a supportive space to experiment with their writing. Several of my authors are working outside their principle media, so I have, for example, a photographer doing a book of poems. Becky likes to say that truly creative people are always "emerging" because they never stop pushing themselves to try new things. Traditional presses may be a little resistant to that kind of experimentation, but we don't have that hang up.

I think what I'm doing is different, though, from a lot of small presses. We're not making 'zines or simple chapbooks. Each book is a hand-made art object, but they also all carry ISBNs and are listed in Books In Print. So we're combining artisanal craftsmanship with the kind of professionalism you'd expect of a larger house. 

<Becky> I'm gonna throw in my two cents...
What Spencer says about traditional presses is true, but I think that another important aspect is the way that a small press can establish a invaluable relationship between the press and the author.
Intimacy regarding the direction of the writing and the presentation of the book as an art piece can only be achieved when the press listens and is willing to understand the author's intent - a collaboration.  It's really difficult to have any expectations of establishing that kind of relationship through a traditional press. 

TT: You guys are in Denver (right?), and seem to be working a lot in your community. What is the role of the local in the writing world? How does that differ from the globalism of online communities like TT?

<Spencer> I tend to privilege the local over the online in general. One of my best experiences as a writer was with a writer's group I had in Minnesota. We were extremely demanding of each other, and became very close as artists and as friends. You don't get that, or at least I don't get that, from online communities. There's a different dynamic between people you invite into your home for a meal, who also workshop your poems, compared to a virtual community of any sort. I don't think a virtual community can offer that immediacy and intimacy. I haven't found that sort of community in Denver, yet. But lately writing has been a very solitary, private activity, and I've been focusing more on scholarly work than on creative work.

12 Questions has given me a little bit different take on the virtual community, though. We've found that the respondents we don't know well, or who aren't local, tend to be a lot more conscientious about cross-promotion and sharing their posts with their virtual communities. A virtual community takes a great deal of care and feeding to make it work and grow. 12 Questionshas been a real lesson in how that sort of community can operate. We're only a few months old and already have an international reach - yay for Toronto! - which is amazing to me. That extended network is something I think local talent could benefit from.

<Becky> Hurrah Denver!

For me, finding a balance between the local and the global is where it's at. Denver has a vibrant scene of writers, artists and people seeking community and my focus is to reach out and include those people--supporting a local community is just the start! As you reach out you discover that it never just stops in your back yard.

Typetrigger has that small, but big, spirit! You might have your friends in the city that you live in reading your work, but then you have someone in Seattle, NYC, and Austin following you! I found, while using Typetrigger, that it feels small no matter the number of users. That kind of safety, especially when you feel shaky as a writer, is such boon to your writerly ego.

TT: NePlusUltra was one of the most pivotal early members on Typetrigger. How did you find out about TT and what made you such an advocate for it so early on? Are you always a promoter? 

<Becky> I was introduced to Typetrigger by a Twitter friend - someone I'd never met before, but who's opinion I valued.
She threw out that she had some invites and I grabbed one.
And honestly, I loved the name - Typetrigger.  That's what made me, initially, check it out.
I've always been one of those unsure writers - Never trusting myself or having the courage to call myself a "writer".
But Typetrigger gives you an outlet to practice...and practice is what makes a writer, a writer.
That's why I loved it!  It gave me a place to write that wasn't too huge of a committment, gave me prompts that got my creative juices flowing, and didn't expose me to the typical internet landscape of negative critique.

Am I always a promoter?  I don't know...it seems like this year has proven to me that I am.
I just like good ideas and I love supporting people who believe in what they are doing.
And I find that the more you support those doing good things...that your good things will get support.

TT: What do you like most about Typetrigger?

<Becky> Typetrigger creates a space for a writer to practice.
I've always wanted to be a writer my whole life, but I've never been disciplined enough to get up at 6:00 am and write before work.  With Typetrigger, you get the trigger, a convenient amount of time to attack it, and a place to publish it without regret.
It's a jump start and something every writer needs from time to time!

<Spencer> As I mentioned earlier, I've been focusing on my scholarly work - finishing a dissertation, in fact, and chunking out extracts for articles. What immediately appealed to me about Typetrigger was that it was a quick, finite escape from that other mode of writing. I think it's funny how on some of my earlier posts the fiction prose still has the cadence and tone of my scholarly writing, but later posts are more relaxed and a more creative voice comes through. Typetrigger's a great way to facilitate moving between those two modes of writing, and as an exercise in flash creativity I find it very effective.

Would each of you be willing to select one piece of writing on Typetrigger that you really enjoyed and tell us in a sentence or two what you liked about it?

<Becky> So, Praline was the person that introduced me to Typetrigger and her piece for the trigger "wish i had gone" resonated with me.  The anxiety of moving forward, making decisions or not, and dealing with what happens next is so relatable to me. It's brilliant when someone can verbalize what you can not.

<Spencer> carrotcarmen was one of my first "readers" on TT and I always try to reciprocally read her work. One my favorites was her response to the trigger "mother knows best." The economy of her language, especially when writing about a situation that could turn the best prose purple, is incredible. I found that post profoundly moving.