Interview: Daniel Parra Alvarez, Siete Vientos Publishing Collective

Feature photo of Daniel Parra and Kolin Jordan

Siete Vientos is a publishing collective that got started last summer and is working hard to bring forgotten literary geniuses and new unrepresented literary talent back in style. They have successfully reached their fundraising goal via Kickstarter to publish their latest project  “And the Hippies Came (Llegaron los hippies).” We are talking here with one of the founders, Daniel Parra, to learn a little more about the origins of this new enterprise and their plans to take over the world.

Talk to me about, how Siete Vientos was formed, is it taking the shape of what you imagined it to be?
The origin of 7Vientos is a tragicomedy; we were a group of three editors that got laid-off from a large publishing house. However, instead of throwing ourselves into depression at our newfound joblessness, we frequented a café (more like a bar, if we’re honest) where we drank our beer and discussed how we were going to take over the world of literature. We had so many crazy and cool experimental ideas. Eventually four other people (friends and family with jobs, so they could pick up the tab) joined us. We then realized that we had a very talented group, each of us with different backgrounds, but also with similar interests in literature. So, being seven of us in The Windy City (and “viento” meaning “wind” in Spanish), we launched our independent book publishing project, now known as 7Vientos. As far as the shape that this venture is taking, it’s definitely changing for the better, always evolving, as we continue working on it. We don’t have that much time for drinking “coffee” anymore, but we’re certainly learning a lot in the process. The titles that we’ll be incorporating into our catalog will continue to define and shape us. Right now things are moving along better than we dared to hope.

There are 7 founders and it seems that most of you are all good friends, the member profiles on your site are full of fanciful descriptions of yourselves, describe your working relationship with each other, how do you make business decisions?
Just as we have tripped-out artists in our group, we also have couple of business-minded geeks with publishing backgrounds, so based on previous experience in the industry we are trying to come up with the best possible approach to each situation. We absolutely have fun in the process of doing what we do, and we want to make sure that we can continue doing it. We work really well together. We have different approaches to everything we do, but the vision is always the same. We all have the same goal, which is to make 7Vientos a viable and powerful force in the literary world by following our mission to identify and publish works by up-and-coming or underrepresented authors in the United States and Latin America.

Your eyes light up when you talk about the first book on your list, “LLegaron los hippies y otros cuentos,” which was originally published in 1978 but now is currently out of print.  Why did you decide to resurrect this book from the dead and generally speaking how do you decide what books you want to publish, what is your process?
Few of us had heard of Llegaron los hippies y otros cuentos when we started this project. It was Rafa Franco, a published author, accomplished translator, fellow founder of 7Vientos, and a good friend, who brought the book to our attention. He grew up in the same town as Manuel Abreu Adorno and had read and studied the book in the past. He came to us and said, “We need to do this book. It’s been my dream to translate it ever since I first read it in school.” We found a copy and fell in love. Abreu Adorno was an amazing author. He has a cult following in Puerto Rico and for good reason. His writing style is unique and challenging and accessible and brilliant. It’s inexcusable and a bit inexplicable how he vanished, falling into obscurity like he did. We made it our mission to ensure he gets the recognition he deserves both in Spanish and English. And a year later, here we are, with Llegaron los hippies (And the Hippies Came) on the verge of being brought back to life. We’ll do the same for the next book, and the one after that. When a book is brought to our attention, we’ll read it, discuss it, vote, and if it passes, start the process to get it published.

You are using Kickstarter as a platform to raise funds for the printing of “LLegaron Los Hippies”. What do you think of this new funding model?  What are the strengths of your project and what you like to see improved?
Kickstarter has been fantastic. I would recommend it to anyone who has the ambition to do something but doesn’t have the capital to start. We looked for investors for the project but funding is scarce right now. The people with the capital aren’t putting it into obscure independent start-ups like ours. We presented it as a kind of “advance order” for the book. By pledging twenty dollars, you could reserve one of the one-thousand copies of the book and get a few extra goodies, too. That has worked really well because it’s not a donation; you’re getting something for your contribution. So you can feel good about getting a project off the ground as well as get something tangible in return. Our project’s strength is primarily measured in its content. The cover art, designed by Paco Barba, is gorgeous. We’ve talked to the printer, gone through a plethora of samples, and have hand-picked the specifications for the cover, paper quality, binding, end-sheets, and literally every other aspect of the presentation of the book itself. But that means nothing at all without the content inside to back it up. We’ve done our best to make sure that the exterior does justice to Abreu Adorno’s work. One thing I think we can all agree we’d like to see improved is the speed with which we get the project completed. With most of us working full-time jobs, it’s difficult to dedicate the time required for an ideal turn-around. But we’ve learned a lot during this first project and our next book should flow much more quickly.

I understand you are attempting to publish “LLegaron Los Hippies” into a single “bilingual book,” the first half of the book in Spanish and you flip it over to reveal the English section of the book.  How did you come up with this idea and will this be a trademark format for Siete Vientos in future publications?
We do hope that the “flip” book becomes a staple of 7Vientos publishing. That’s not to say that every book we publish will be a flip, but it’s a great format and we already have plans to repeat it. The idea occurred to us because we were a start-up company with no funds. So the question was, “how do we get this book into people’s hands?” A flip book allowed us to print one book and reach twice as many readers. We hesitate to use the term “bilingual,” it conjures images of books with facing-page translations, annotated and footnoted explanations of obscure terms or idioms, and what basically amounts to a distracting format. A “bilingual” book is something that is still firmly marketed toward the reader of one language; in the U.S., often that language is English. The flip book allows the reader to read the book in its entirety in one language without the distraction of line-by-line or facing-page translation. Somewhat unintentionally the bearded, long haired hippie on the cover(s) facing opposite directions, a mirror image of himself, alludes to Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and transitions. And that’s exactly what this book is in every sense. It’s a beginning for 7Vientos and for each of us. And it’s a transition to something new, unexpected, and exciting. The book looks back in time, honoring Abreu Adorno and the very beginnings of McOndismo while also looking forward into a future he only perhaps imagined, where his writings find a voice and flourish not just in his native tongue, but in English as well.

Tell me about upcoming titles Siete Vientos plans to pursue in the near future…
This project has consumed every free moment for the past year or so, and it’s strange to be switching gears to something new. But it’s also overwhelmingly exciting! Our second title will be Saturnario (Saturnalia) by Rey Emmanuel Andújar. Like Abreu Adorno’s book, Andújar’s is a slim compliation of short stories written in Spanish by a very capable Caribbean writer. 7Vientos will translate and publish a hardcover flip edition of this recent jewel of Latin American literature. We’re also talking to a unique architecture and design firm that has created some amazingly odd installations complete with back-stories and breathtaking photography. They’re interested in publishing a coffee-table style book with us, which would be a perfect addition to our catalogue.

In your one year of beginning this project, what has gone right?  What things were unexpected?
More things than we ever expected have gone right! We have a great group of people pushing the project along, without whom none of this would be happening. Thanks to Kickstarter and word-of-mouth, we have more backers and supporters, people we’ve never met, than we even dreamed! We were able to secure the rights to Abreu Adorno’s book, commission a first-rate translation, work with a great artist and graphic designers, and find a printer who can work with our budget while producing the high-quality finished product we’re looking for. So many of these things were unexpected, not the least of which has been the willingness of our friends and family to drop everything to help us. It’s overwhelming. We’ve been fortunate

What are your plans for Siete Vientos in five years?  I heard talk of perhaps the publishing of a magazine, how does that fit together with your overall concept of the company and what plans are in store for newly emerging fans?
The magazine is something we’ve wanted to do for a while. It started in the early ‘00s in Puerto Rico. Rafa [Franco] published two issues under the title “Huevo Crudo” [“Raw Egg”]. It was irreverent and funny and attracted writers and authors from all over the island and elsewhere, some of whom have gone on to do some really amazing things. We hear that what issues remain are still passed around. We’d love to bring it back but when is kind of up in the air. It would be a great way to discover new talent, people whose work we may ultimately publish, so it’s a distinct possibility.

Our five-year plan includes publishing no fewer than four books per year. With any luck we’ll be doing more than that and this little hobby of ours will become a full-time job. We’re working on teaming up with DJs, artists, bands, and overall cool people to put together some events. We’ll be inviting all our newfound friends and keeping people engaged and up-to-date on our newest projects. There will be plenty to do!

It’s funny to think this all started in that coffee shop where we found ourselves less than soberly bemoaning our having been laid-off. They say everything happens for a reason. Well, that’s bullshit. Things happen and only later do we discover the usefulness of them. 7Vientos is infinitely more difficult, challenging, gut-wrenching, blissful, and rewarding than that job ever was or could have ever been. With any luck, it’ll stay that way.

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4 thoughts on “Interview: Daniel Parra Alvarez, Siete Vientos Publishing Collective

  1. nice article gabi! somehow i missed this. can i borrow you’re copy of the book when its published???

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