Photo Credit: Jacob S. Knabb
You’ve heard of this place where writers and poets and reporters go, in-between stories and thirsty for drink and someone to talk to. It’s as dark and safe as a warmly-lit (writer) cave, and even though Ernest Hemingway never set foot, even though Tolkien and Lewis didn’t show up, night after night, to argue and banter in between the pages, even though Hitchens didn’t have one of his nine-hour lunches there, this idea of them sitting around a pint or dram or thimble-full feels as familiar and near as the Greek myths.
While not exactly Chicago’s version of Elaine’s — and thankfully so? — Victor David Giron uses his place, Beauty Bar (and The Empty Bottle), for events benefiting Chicago’s writing community. But more than play host, Giron mingles among the writers during daylight hours because he’s also a publisher and author.
I interviewed him a couple years ago at Beauty Bar (he’s co-owner) while he was hosting a fundraiser for Read/Write Library. I recently interviewed him again upon hearing that Curbside Splendor (the name of his publishing house) has been picked up by Consortium Books.
CN: Since I last wrote about you, Sophomoric Philosophy won the Latino Literacy Now’s 2011 “Latino Books Made Into Movies” award in the comedy category. Besides the prestige, the significance of this award is that someone is shopping your book around to folks who make movies. Can you talk about this? How’s it going?
VDG: When I won this award, the folks involved reiterated that movie making is a long, long process, that things like this can take years, and well, it’s been a couple years I guess and not much has happened. I’m assuming they did what they said they’d do: shop the book and press material we made, but to be honest, I haven’t followed up, so I don’t know for sure what, if anything, is happening. I also haven’t been involved much at all with the group that gave me the award — Latino Literacy Now — since then. I haven’t gone to any of their events here or in NYC or LA. I probably should have and perhaps this is a reminder that I should. The thing is since winning that award, I became consumed in publishing (Curbside Splendor) that I haven’t thought much at all about my own writing let alone Sophomoric Philosophy. It’s like SP served the purpose of acquainting me with a passion I never knew I had—producing, advancing and promoting the works of others—and since getting into all of that, I haven’t looked back. I haven’t done any kind of promotion for SP; I no longer do author readings or stuff like that; and I don’t care because that’s just not my focus right now. If were to get back into my own stuff, it would be to write something new versus revisiting SP. However, I’m very proud of SP. It was one of my great pleasures in life–writing it, editing it, seeing it come to be a book, and I wouldn’t change a thing. Would I be happy if were ever made into a movie? Yeah, absolutely. One of my best friends, Gabriel Hurier, who was one of the first people to read SP back when it was only in MS form, and who later went on to make the illustrations and cover art for it, said to me after reading it, “Man, this would make a great movie! Did you write this with that in mind?” I hadn’t, really, though one of my influences for the book was the movie, Dazed and Confused, by Richard Linklater. He’s still one of my favorite movie directors. But upon hearing Gabe say that, I agreed. I still do. It’s a very musical book. It has some hot sex scenes, crazy party scenes, and it’s really the all-American coming of age story, one that hasn’t been told so much—of second generation immigrants growing up trying to be “American” together despite their racial, ethnic differences while at the same time growing up from boys to men, and sometimes back again. Besides, you don’t see many movies…[with] a Latino male as a leading actor/character, at least not in the romantic comedy/coming-of-age genre, which is where SP would fall in.
CN: The reason why I’m asking you questions, as you know, is that you have recently joined forces with Consortium Book Sales & Distribution. It’s a clunky name – Consortium Book Sales & Distribution – but it becomes anything but after reading its publisher’s authors list including Neruda, Che Guevara, Howard Zinn, Charles Bukowski, Tony Kushner, and now, of course, Victor David Giron. Can you unpack further the significance of being an official member of Consortium? And maybe this is a better way to coral this question from the obvious, larger issue – that you now have the full force, weight, support and funds of Consortium – but what is this doing for your dreams and aspirations for Curbside? Or am I being too dramatic? I mean, I’m sure you’ve finished too many thoughts with, “If we only had more funding and support?” Er…
VDG: Yeah, I just call them Consortium, or CBSD for short. One thing to clarify is they don’t provide ANY funds. We, or I, are still bearing all the financial risk and responsibility. I wish, but they don’t. What they do provide is a strong partner that has strong relationships with retail trade accounts, bookstores, libraries, etc. They have a national sales team and are incented to sell our books because that’s how they get paid, based on a commission of what they sell. We could never build a sales team like that. Bookstores ordinarily don’t purchase directly from small publishers because there are so many of them, and they come into being and disappear just like that all the time. To consolidate their efforts and gain efficiencies, they purchase from distributors like Consortium. Being a part of their distribution network is kind of like a validation, a strong endorsement, and the benefit will be that our books will stand a greater chance of getting in front of more and more people. They are super picky — CBSD — they don’t just take anyone and it was quite a victory to get signed up with them. I owe a lot to Johnny Temple, president of Akashic Books out of Brooklyn (one of today’s BEST indie publishers who’s carried by CBSD). He gave us a strong referral to them. Because we were able to land this relationship, we’ve loaded up our catalog for this fall/winter, will be publishing 12 books this fall/winter and looks like 15 to 20 next year. I never would have attempted just an aggressive plan had we not been picked up by CBSD and had such access to distribution channels.
CN: Now, here’s something: Should the average reader pay attention to things like this, or is this just insider trade information?
VDG: For the average reader, it doesn’t matter. It’s that hopefully our books will be in front of WAY many more casual readers than would be if we remained on our own. Where it does matter is trade press, people in the industry, viewing us now differently, with more regard, because of this partnership. It’s a validation in that sense.
CN: Dark House Press: Discuss.
VDG: As a teenager, one of my favorite authors was Stephen King. I read all his books, almost. I also was a big fan of the author, Clive Barker, who is most well known for the Hellrasier movies. Later I was a fan of the George RR Martin books, the A Song of Fire and Ice series that is now the popular HBO Game of Thrones series. I liked these authors because of the large fantasy worlds they created — full of mystery and awe, but yet highlighted very dark and brutal elements. I’ve loved classic scary movies, ones that use sharp storytelling and build on a sense of doom without being in your face with graphic details. As an adult I haven’t really kept up with this genre. However, last year under Curbside we published a book of short stories by Washington DC-based author, Amber Sparks, called MAY WE SHED THESE HUMAN BODIES. Her writing is strong and very psychological, incorporating elements from mythologies and fantasy to write these short yet powerful stories. Some of them gave me the creeps and reminded me of the stuff I used to like mentioned above. We are going to publish another book of hers this fall she co-wrote with another author, Robert Kloss, called The Desert Places. It’s a short little pocket book but, again, packed with punch, a hybrid text of sorts examining evil throughout history. It’s illustrated by Matt Kish, in color, who is a brilliant artist (he did the critically acclaimed Moby Dick in Pictures, a book featuring an illustration for every page of Moby Dick). Then we started talking about publishing a speculative fiction/sci-fi trilogy called Joshua City by these two authors, Okla Elliott and Raul Clement. This is an epic story based in a post-apocalyptic world. It just made sense to develop a different side of Curbside, another brand, an imprint, whose mission it would be to focus on this type of work, and hence, Dark House Press came to be. We have a great local neo-noir author, Richard Thomas, who will be the Editor-in-Chief of DHP. Starting Spring of 2014, DHP will publish books of neo-noir, speculative fiction, sci-fi and horror. The books will be a short story anthology called The New Black, the best of neo-noir featuring reprints, followed by a Stephen King-like novel called Echo Lake by a writer from Ohio, Letitia Trent, and in the fall we’ll publish the first part in Joshua City:The Doors You Mark Are Your Own. It’s going to be fun.
CN: I suspect you think there’s a void that Curbside Splendor is filling. I mean, there just can’t be redundancy. Now that you’ve been up and running for about two years (I think that’s right?), how has the articulation of what you’re trying to do and for whom changed?
DVG: When I first discovered the world of “indie literature” a few years ago, while I was fascinated, I found it to be a bit too literary. Not diverse. These presses were either publishing mainly Caucasian men, and then were presses that published all women only, black only, Hispanic only, etc. When I first set out to state that Curbside’s mission was to publish “urban”’ literature, I thought that in the sense of gritty stories/poetry of the city, but now as we’ve progressed and with this upcoming catalog and what we’re planning for 2014, it’s become more clear that we’re aiming to be urban in the sense of showcasing diverse voices of modern urbanism that celebrate the delicate point where gritty life and art intersect. I see ourselves as not just investors/producers/agents of the work, but more importantly in the authors/artists making the work. It’s a conscious effort that our authors are white, black, brown, female, male, ranging from self-taught writers to those with lofty degrees. The work ranges from the highly artful/experimental to the very gritty, in your face. And ultimately, instead of this just being some kind of fun side project or university-funded, stale endeavor, I want it to be a viable business making a meaningful cultural impact.
CN: With Baz Luhrmann’s Great Gatsby in the theaters, everyone is once again talking about how a book has the power to capture the zeitgeist and beyond that, how a novel can push through and become timeless. Can you talk about the zeitgeist in Chicago right now that Curbside Splendor is helping to chronicle, one book at a time?
VDG: Hmm, yeah. I barely know what the word “zeitgeist” mean. No, but for real, I’m not quite sure. I mean, I don’t consider myself a publishing expert. I barely know how the industry works. I’m just learning it. I do hear over and over how people fear that publishing is dead, dying, changing. It most definitely is changing. Like everything else, all other industries, aspects of life, things change. I think what’s happening in Chicago, what you would call a zeitgeist happening now is that as the large publishers struggle to cope with the changing times, the smaller presses (keenly, here in Chicago) are seeing an opportunity to step in and define the future of publishing. Smaller enterprises, like us at Curbside, that are able to cater personally to the authors and take advantage of new forms of publishing (i.e. e-books, free books, etc). There’s a saying that big publishers publish books while small publishers publish authors. Like other indie publishers, we focus much on lifestyle, putting on events and showcasing literature as art versus entertainment, marrying it with other art forms like music, food, etc. So that’s what I think we’re doing now: helping define a new publishing culture centered right here in Chicago, where all the great talents from here and elsewhere will to look to us as a beacon for a thriving indie publisher versus the traditional places like New York or LA.
CN: The last time I interviewed you, you lamented the lack of Latino voices in the Chicago literary scene. That was back in July, 2011. What’s changed?
VDG: I think I just didn’t know any better. There are a lot of great Latino writers here. I have gotten to know a few very well, would know more if I were able to make it out more. I can’t wait to add some Latino authors to our catalog. Just hasn’t quite worked out yet, but it will.
CN: We’ve talked about this before, but it’s a fascinating subject. And so, what are you currently listening to while you write? Is it the soundtrack in your story or is it music that’s currently trending in the Giron universe? And more broadly, how do you use music in your writing? And even more broadly, can you chat a bit on your writing schedule? I know I’m not the only one who loves to hear about how other writers write.
VDG: I definitely listen to the soundtrack in my story. I like to think about the mood in what I’m writing and listen to songs that reinforce that. I like to reference the actual music in my writing, with the hopes that the reader will listen to the song as they read to amplify the mood also. I referenced over 70 songs in Sophomoric Philosophy: grunge, hair metal, new wave, classic rock — the stuff that defined me as a young adult. I’ve had people ask me if SP was really just writing about the songs, like every scene was a riff on a particular song. Though that wasn’t really the case, I kind of like the sound of that. For my next novel, that’s taking me a real, real long time to write — White Hallways — the references to music will not be as overt, but there is definitely a soundtrack I’m developing/listening to. WH is a much more somber, introspective piece of work, and so I’m drawing on my secret passion for 70s/80s love songs. Think Neil Diamond, Air Supply, ABBA, Chicago. Yeah, baby.
CN: Back to Dark House Press, are there other ventures Curbside is taking on?
VDG: We have a bilingual imprint, Concepción Books, that is publishing two books this fall: The Waiting Tide, a bilingual homage to Pablo Neruda’s The Captain’s Verses by Oregon author/poet Ryan W. Bradley and illustrated by Chicago artist, Brett Manning, and Always/Siempre, a bilingual and collaborative collection of poems inspired by photography by Helen Vitoria and BL Pawelek. We don’t have any projects slated for 2014 yet because the managing editor that was working on this abruptly left for Chile, but I’m working to find one that will take the reins and move Concepcion forward. I’d like it to evolve into a great little imprint that publishes work in English and Spanish and draws upon romanticism, in the classic sense of what that word means. That, and we’re in the early stages of developing a record label that will produce limited quantities of vinyl records, mainly drawing on the many great talents here in Chicago, and perhaps dabbling with re-issues of out-of-print 80s records we love. Obviously, one of my other pleasures in life is music, and this would just be a way to express that, just like publishing is a way to express my love of reading and writng.
Here’s the trailer for the book that started it all, Sophomoric Philosophy.