Young and restless
Rose Metal Press breaks from the norm.
Every now and again, Kathleen Rooney pauses and asks, “I’m on my soapbox again, aren’t I?”
Often she is, but just as often she’s justified. The Chicagoan started Rose Metal Press in 2006—with D.C.’s Abigail Beckel—because of what she saw as a marginalization in mainstream publishing of so-called hybrid genres—verse novels, prose poetry and short-short fiction (stories that typically run no longer than three or four pages).
“When we decided to start our own press, we wanted to fill a need that hadn’t been met,” Rooney says. “We were both frustrated by the way the publishing industry wouldn’t look at some of this work. They’d deem it too hard to classify, which really just means too hard to market.”
Rooney points to the press’s third book, How to Build the Ghost in Your Attic, a verse novel by poet Peter Jay Shippy, as a prime example. Shippy had shopped the book around, and more than a few agents expressed interest before deciding not to take it, with one of them telling him it was the type of book she would like on her shelf, but not on her list to sell. Like each of Rose Metal’s releases—the first, a short-short fiction chapbook by Claudia Smith, sold out—Shippy’s book has found its audience.
Which brings us to the new book, perhaps the biggest bellwether yet for the press. In 2006, RMP found Smith’s The Sky Is a Well and Other Shorts, through its first annual short-short fiction chapbook contest, judged by author Ron Carlson. But Smith’s wasn’t the only contest entry the editors fell in love with; they had a handful of manuscripts they would have been happy to publish. So after Smith’s book went out of print, they brought it back with three finalists from the contest: Laughter, Applause. Laughter, Music, Applause by Kathy Fish, Wanting by Amy L. Clark, and Sixteen Miles Outside of Phoenix by Elizabeth Ellen. The four books have been bound together and dubbed A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness, after a line from an Ellen story.
“It’s pretty unorthodox,” Rooney says. “Abby and I found ourselves still really attached to those three manuscripts. And though we loved Claudia’s, we were kind of regretful that we could only publish one.”
The resulting book feels like a playground where the various authors interact with one another. Each brings her own style to bear: Where Fish’s work has a polished, precise concision, Ellen writes in a much grittier style, with tales of booze and blue collars. Clark echoes Fish somewhat but writes less about family, and Smith’s stories glide along with a more poetic, ethereal feel.
“Part of the reason we picked the title was because they all shared this feeling,” says Rooney. “There’s something about the vibe or the atmosphere of the stories, and the fact that they’re about relationships and the female experience of the world. That’s what made them hang together.”
Aside from the publishing of a new kind of book, it looks like 2008 could solidify Rooney as the hardest-working woman in the publishing business. The updated, paperback version of her cultural study of the Oprah Book Club, Reading With Oprah, comes out this spring, as does That Tiny Insane Voluptuousness, a book of collaborative poetry she wrote with Elisa Gabbert. Her first collection of poems, Oneiromance, won the 2007 Gatewood Prize from local press Switchback Books and will be published in the fall.
“Yeah, it’s a three-book year,” Rooney says, laughing. And then, look out, here comes the soapbox. “Part of the reason I got into indie publishing was because I think actions speak louder than words, and even though I feel pretty good about where I am, I feel like the commercial publishing industry thinks you’re not a success unless you come out with a quote-unquote big publisher,” she says. “To see success so narrowly defined is upsetting, so I’m glad we’re creating another venue for nonmainstream writers to quote-unquote succeed.”
A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness ($16) is out now.