Full disclosure, here: I email Dan Cafaro more often than I email my husband. Two reasons for this. One, I see my husband at the dinner table every night, and plenty of things can wait until then. Two, with whiskey-sprinkled judgment one fateful winter night, Dan anointed me editor-in-chief of his newest literary undertaking, literary journal Atticus Review. So I already know him. Kind of.
Katrina Gray: Hi, Dan Cafaro. You sound Italian. Do you talk with your hands?
Dan Cafaro: If it were possible to talk with your hands while typing and drinking black coffee with Sambuca, I would do it, but since your hands are taken, I’ll keep to talking with mine. Really though, people who don’t talk with their hands seem awfully stoic to me. One of the first things I teach my non-Italian friends is to NEVER order spaghetti at a diner. This would seem like an obvious culinary faux pas, but for Italians, the simple act of ordering pasta when you’re out is an eyebrow-raising, egregious sin. The only time it may be considered acceptable is if you’re in a neighborhood Italian restaurant with no menu. And even then, the macaroni may taste exquisite and they may say it’s served with Bolognese sauce, but you never compare it to Mom’s gravy at home. That’s sacrilege.
I appreciate the tip. So, Atticus Books is like no other small press. Other than recruiting Frappucin monks to painstakingly produce each novel copy, and printing all press releases in wingdings, what else sets it apart?
Atticus Books doesn’t really exist. It’s a figment of everyone’s imagination, dreamed up one day by my literature-loving pooch, Gambit. Fortunately, Gambit’s dream sequence is recurring and it’s become a universal reality. Authors are finding us and they dig the vibe. You might say I’m committed to making the press last; I’m committed to producing high-quality print publications, while keeping my fingers in the digital pie, but it doesn’t work that way. Everyone around me keeps this metaphysical endeavor going. I just stay out of the way and flow with the ripple. Atticus Books is more mindset than publishing house. We’re a writer-driven participatory democracy. Sentences are our bread and water and words are our biggest turn-on.
Can you give me insight into how you managed to make the following scenario true? You wake up; you decide to start an independent press; your wife cheerfully agrees.
OK, I get it; you’re not buying it. I’ll have to play along and lay aside the canine REM-induced, Zen-ish description of the press’s origins. I actually woke up on my 43rd birthday and told my wife I wanted to go antiquing, like we used to in the old days. She agreed and we headed to Leesburg, Virginia, where merchants cohabitate in a time warp, an American wormhole where people play checkers and sell time-honored rubbish. Anyhow, we pulled into a gravel parking lot and as I got out of the car the first thing I noticed was a wooden sign for sale: ATTICUS BOOKS. Alas, I didn’t buy the sign, but it got me thinking and it led to many late-night, couple-on-a-mission discussions. Most of those back-of-the-cigarette-burn-holed-napkin conversations peter out , but the embers of our talks stuck with me, so like a wild-eyed fool, I set out to find commercial space in DC with the intentions of opening a bookstore/publishing house (a la City Lights, Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s iconic San Francisco-based hybrid business) … After months of skeptic looks from loan officers and real estate agents, I caved to the blasted coldhearted economics and went underground. Then apparently Gambit caught wind of my mind’s machinations and the next thing I knew I had a blog and the makings of an indie press.
Now, on to Atticus Review. What the hell were you thinking?
Blame it all on whiskey. And the buzz at AWP. And my realization that the community to which I most relate is made up of writers who read and support online journals and e-zines. Blame it all on my fascination with publishing and entrepreneurship. And my belief that the small press movement is here to save our culture from ruin and boredom and despair. Blame it all on the marriage of John Minichillo to Katrina Gray. And blame it on that frizzy-haired seer Malcolm Gladwell whose book, The Tipping Point, caused my mind to blow an embolism with its theories of connectors and mavens and stickiness and context. Blame it all on every publisher who’s dedicated his or her life to paying it forward. Who knows what the hell we’re thinking. It’s better than waiting around for the rapture, I guess.
The first issue was born this week, opening its eyes on a full moon. They say lots of literary journals are born during full moons. (More full disclosure: I too was born on a full moon, 15 degrees, 17 minutes of Leo.) Can you tell, at this newborn stage, what baby will be?
Baby will be a beautifully organic creation and much like the “Wonder” to which Natalie Merchant sings, my hope is for AR to confound readers and astound them. It may sound trite to quote a pop song, but like the parent of any newborn, I want to believe that “fate smiled and destiny laughed” on her arrival. I’m sure as she grows we’ll face our moments of doubt (whether she’s Ivy League-material, gin mill tramp authenticity, or headed for the dustbin darkroom in back of the shuttered bookstore in the sky), but in the end, I’m a hypocritical fatalist who believes that our moonchild, Atticus Review — with love, patience and faith — will make her way.
What’s your favorite part of this whole publishing gig?
This kind of thing is fun. So is corresponding with writers and getting to know them. My favorite thing is coaching and motivating a writer by coaxing her out of her cocoon and having our worlds connect with others. Good writers who deserve to be published don’t need people rewriting or substantively editing their work; they just need affirmation and TLC. That’s all most of us really need.
Katrina Gray checks in with Fictionaut groups every Friday. She lives in Nashville with the writer John Minichillo and their lovechild. She is the editor-in-chief of Atticus Review, and she blogs about mostly non-literary things at www.katrinagray.com.