Interview with Origami Zoo Press’ Rebecca King

Interview with Origami Zoo Press’ Rebecca King

Robert Yune: Can you tell me a little more about the history of Origami Zoo Press? I know it started as a class project, but how did it go from being a project to a full-fledged press?

Rebecca King: Actually, I used to tell myself that I would never get into publishing. I was going to be a writer, plain and simple, but at Chatham, I decided to take the publishing class just to see the other side of the industry, and then I got hooked. I ended up falling in love with the process of making books. I love working with other writers and artists, collaborating with a bunch of creative minds to make something remarkable. After the first chapbook, Phantoms, I knew I wanted to do more.

Full-fledged press? I still feel like a fledgling most days. I will say that becoming a publisher has really allowed me to see what an amazing community the writing and publishing world has to offer. From the beginning, everyone has been so supportive and encouraging. Authors, readers, and even other publishers took the time to congratulate us and read our books. As a writer, you feel alone most of the time even though there are tens of thousands of us. However, as a publisher, I feel like I’m more aware of and even a part of this larger ecosystem. When I decided to continue OZP as a real press after I finished school, I knew I would need help, so I asked Sam Martone to be my associate editor. He and I enjoy similar types of writing, so it’s easy to have a shared vision. Plus, he’s one of the most talented and hardest working writers my age that I know.

Of course, what’s really sustained us is the writing and our readers. From the beginning, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with such talented and generous authors, and really, what is a press without great writing? I just feel honored that these authors trust us with their work. They’re the reason we’re here and writers like them are why we keep going: Chad Simpson, whose book Tell Everyone I Said Hi just won the 2012 John Simmons Short Fiction Award and is coming out soon from the University of Iowa Press; B.J. Hollars, who wrote Thirteen Loops: Race, Violence, and the Last Lynching in America and has edited multiple anthologies including Monsters!: A Collection of Literary Sightings; and finally, Brian Oliu, who wrote So You Know It’s Me and recently released his own anthology Tuscaloosa Runs This.

One thing that strikes me about your chapbooks is how great the covers are. From a design standpoint, what role does the cover and play in the reading experience? Or are aesthetics more important from a marketing perspective (getting someone to pick up and consider the book)?

Thanks! I’m glad you like the covers. After the publishing course, Mike Simms recruited me to do some design work over at Autumn House. It was really a great experience, and I guess that sort of dedication to the appearance of the book stuck with me. From the beginning, I was taught that the design of the book should always be in service of the text. Most of the time, this means the design, especially of the text, should be unnoticeable, almost invisible, so as not to distract from the important part– the text.

I agree with this idea generally, but I also think there are times when design can actually visibly enhance a text. A great example is The Avian Gospels. These books are actually laid out as if gospels, from the little subscript numbers marking every five lines on the white pages with golden edges. These touches bring the book to life and engage the reader on a different level. I think we were going for something similar with Level End. We wanted to play with the notion of video games in the same way Brian’s essays did. We wanted to bring the video game experience to the reader as much as we could. Hence, all of the bonus features, the case, the music, the warning page at the beginning of the book, and the health bars at the top of each chapter.

And we’ve been incredibly lucky to work with such great artists. Greg Leibach did the drawings for BJ Hollars’ book In Defense of Monsters and Nate Pierce did all of the artwork for Level End.

Did OZP authors participate in the design process of their books? In other words, is the chapbook design more of a collaborative effort, or is everything handled by your designers?

We do ask our authors to participate in the whole design experience. As a writer, I understand how precious the book is to the author, and I prefer for our authors to be involved in their manuscript development. Part of what got me into publishing was the collaborative process, and from what I’ve seen so far, collaboration between the different branches–writer, artist, editor, designer, and publisher–really pushes the project to the next level. Of course, as a micropress, all of these roles are filled by a couple people, so it’s easier to balance our opinions.

Aside from anything with “Mario” in the title, what is your favorite NES game?

Believe it or not, I didn’t have an NES growing up. I only played at my cousins’ house, so I was stuck playing their games. Duck Hunt was a favorite, as was Tiny Toon Adventures. I actually grew up playing my dad’s Atari. We played games like Donkey Kong, Pitfall, Space Invaders, and Frogger, at least until the end of elementary school when I got a Gameboy–as big as a brick back then–and, later, the N64.

What’s next for OZP?

I can’t yet say! We do have a couple authors we are working on manuscripts with currently, but I can’t name them at this time. I can tell you that we hope to have a contest at the beginning of next year, and we’re really excited to be opening up to submissions.

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