Reading New England: Hidden View

Brett Ann Stanciu, Hidden View (2015)

HiddenViewIf you’re tired of seeing the same books from the same big-name publishers hyped everywhere, and would like to discover some quality under-the-radar fiction that not everyone knows about, I have got something for you. Hidden View by Brett Ann Stanciu is a true hidden gem, a novel with a distinctive and haunting voice that taps into universal, archetypal themes while being grounded in a very particular place.

The voice belongs to Fern, a young woman who became pregnant and married at nineteen, and now finds herself and her young daughter trapped on a failing Vermont hill farm with an increasingly distant and brutal husband. When her husband’s brother returns to claim his inheritance, love, fear, desire, and pain mingle explosively.

If this all sounds too depressing and maudlin for words, it isn’t — and that’s in large part what impressed me so much about Stanciu’s writing. Yes, she unflinchingly portrays the difficult realities of Fern’s life, but most of all she makes us feel the presence of Fern herself, the strength of her essential being that endures in the face of hardship and finds joy, wisdom, grace in this most unlikely of places. Through the precious, painful gifts of motherhood, by the cultivation of growing things, in her awe and wonder at the natural world, she grows toward the light and we suffer and grow along with her.

Stanciu’s prose is sometimes as flamboyant as a maple grove in October, sometimes plain as an unpainted pine board. She knows the art of suggesting much and stating little, of bringing together inner and outer images in a poetic alchemy.

I leaned against the barn’s cornerboard, wide as my back, stretching from my heels to far above my head. Make myself so, I thought, for my child, as solid as this barn that has stood here, uncomplaining, for so many decades. The weakness of my careening heart I could stamp into the earth and set my foot upon it. Who would need a heart when I had my strong hands? I pushed off from the barn and headed up the drive, snow whirling. Wind blew icy and wet on my face. It filled my bones and muscles, swooped me up in its great embrace, slitted my eyes.

Fern is no saint, and she doesn’t always make smart choices, but her story is all the more riveting thereby. Stanciu has shown how modern people in an ancient landscape struggle to make their way against the forces of nature and their own demons, trying to find and save what is of value in themselves and the land. It’s a story that deserves to find many readers who will love this brave, piercingly honest novel as much as I did.

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New England Publisher Spotlight: Green Writers Press

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Dede Cummings – Photo by Jeff Woodward

Today, I’m delighted to present an interview with Dede Cummings, publisher of Green Writers Press, a small publishing company based in Brattleboro, Vermont. Dede founded Green Writers Press in 2014, dedicated to spreading environmental awareness by publishing authors who proliferate messages of hope and renewal through place-based writing and environmental activism. In the past three years, Green Writers Press has expanded significantly, publishing such authors as Julia Alvarez, Neil Shepard, Syd Lea, John Elder, and Clarence Major.

So far, I have been highly impressed by the poetry collection Galvanized by Leland Kinsey, and the novel Hidden View by Brett Ann Stanciu (review to come). I appreciate Dede taking the time out of her very busy schedule to answer my questions, and hope that readers will look into all that this wonderful company has to offer.

ECBR: You’ve been involved in publishing for a long time as a writer, designer and literary agent. What made you want to start yet another publishing company in today’s challenging publishing climate? How did your background inform your decisions, and where did you want to create change?

DC: The term ‘localvore’ applies to our mission, which is to publish books, eBooks, and audio books that will spread a message of hope and renewal. We strive to build awareness to stop the global climate catastrophe. (Here is a link to an article about our inception in Publishers Weekly.)

One editor, a friend of mine, who works for a big 4 publisher in NYC asked me why I wanted to “jump from the frying pan into the fire” by starting a small press. Rather than sit back and continue to be a book designer, I decided to follow my passion and start my own company after working for other publishers for almost 30 years! I took out a home equity loan for $20,000 and an interest-free printer loan directly from our favorite Vermont printer for another 20k. The printer loan is totally paid back in less than two years and we are on the way to paying back the home equity loan with monthly payments. Our press is breaking even with net sales in two years of around 155,000. I have yet to draw a salary, but in our second year, I withdrew 3,000 for living expenses to supplement my design/consulting business. It is challenging, but I feel this is the best job because it is so rewarding!

My background as a book designer/book packager made it much easier for me to launch a publishing company. I knew so much already about the business and the learning curve was lessoned by that; however, I had to face the reality of book returns (the books that the stores don’t sell can be sent back free of charge), which is the hardest part of the business because it cuts right into sales and is a bit unpredictable.

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The Order of the Trees – 2016 Green Earth Awards Honor Book

What was the response to the launch of your first titles?

Our first list had an overwhelmingly positive response! I was able to find a distributor pretty quickly, due to the fact they already knew me as the packager for a bestselling book called Dr. A’s Habits of Health (which has sold hundreds of thousands of copies). It was our “local launch” that caught the attention of the Vermont and regional media, with TV, radio, and print interviews coming out; even the industry weekly, Publishers Weekly, did a feature on us! Our website exploded with views and submissions and emails praising us and our mission and our list of books started coming in. We have so many submissions, in fact, that we had to close for a few months (reopening August 1, 2016) to catch up.

Green Writers Press has a strong environmental mission: not only to publish authors who care about the earth, but to print and distribute books in a way that is as environmentally responsible as possible. Can you describe some of these practices and why they are important?

It is our mission, at Green Writers Press, to spread a message of environmental activism through the words and images we publish. We also publish books that segue with our mission that include other subjects that speak to quality of life and the beauty of nature. Printing on demand (POD), and using only FSC-certified papers printed at our Vermont printer, Springfield Printing Corporation, at Thomson-Shore in Michigan, Bookmobile in Minneapolis, and at our Tennessee printer, Lightning Source, we will adhere to GWP’s commitment to preserving and protecting the natural resources of the earth. To that end, a percentage of our profits will be donated to environmental activist groups.

How can a publishing company help to foster and create community?

Our vision is that, collectively, our printed and eBooks will become a chorus of voices of writers and readers, artists, and photographers, who care about the fate of the earth and want to do something about it. Though we believe our books will be interesting to Vermont residents, Green Writers Press has national and international (Gazelle, etc.) distribution and we hope to have a broad reach and impact. Our voices need to be heard, which is why we refer to our press as a global press. We are all connected on this planet we love.

It may be hard to choose, but could you pick three books with New England themes that you’d especially like to highlight for my readers?

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Vermont poet Leland Kinsey

Galvanized: New and Selected Poems by Vermont poet, Leland Kinsey, The Road to Walden North, a novel, by northern New England writer, Sheila Post, and Vermont Exit Ramps II with “localvore and found” poetry by Neil Shepard and photos by Anthony Rezcek. All three books explore themes of New England!

What are some of your plans and hopes for GWP for the future?

We are excited to be publishing our own authors, and we welcome your support to help us spread the word. In today’s world of social media and online transactions, here are GWP, we remember that your head and your heart need nourishment from the natural world. With that as our credo, we embark on a journey to bring the beauty of the published book as a tactile object, into the homes and hands of our readers, and we also embrace the technology of tablet and eBook publishing. It is our hope that we can create a community around our press and the books we publish, and, once each title is released, it is yours to receive and ours to share.

Taking action requires courage and risk. Our hope is that each person who reads our books will be inspired to take action in such a way that it reverberates in the community around them. Just as a book is made up of individual artists, it is each of our individual actions, coming together, that will create the change we need to stop burning fossil fuels and look to the future with sustainable energy that will create jobs and save the planet from heating up to the point where we cannot go back.

According to Publishers Weekly, our books of poetry, nonfiction, and fiction achieve and bear “. . . eloquent testimony to the mystery and beauty immanent in nature, now so desperately imperiled. Like all art, [they] ask that we look up and see.”

Thank you, Dede! Your passion is infectious, and your mission is an important and valuable one. I hope that many more readers will find their way to Green Writers Press and its books.

New Release Review: Galvanized

Leland Kinsey, Galvanized: New and Selected Poems (2016)

GalvanizedGalvanized came to me courtesy of Green Writers Press in Vermont (an exciting new publishing company about which I’ll be telling you more very soon). It arrived at the perfect moment, since my intention is to focus on poetry and drama during this month for my Reading New England Challenge, and I was looking to explore some contemporary voices of the region. I was so glad to meet a new-to-me poet through this marvelously rich and rewarding collection, which gathers selections from seven volumes of poetry published between 1991 and 2014, along with thirteen new poems.

Leland Kinsey’s Vermont roots go deep, as his Scottish ancestors settled there in the 1800s, and he grew up on the family farm. The hard work of rural living forms the bedrock of his poetry, which often deals with seemingly prosaic actions and events: repairing a chimney, making pickles, pulling weeds. But this is no prettified picturing of country life. Violence and injury are not uncommon motifs — one poem is descriptively titled “Small Wounds and Minor Ailments”; another begins “The whitewashed walls were smeared with blood / the day the bull rampaged inside the barn” (from “Surviving Bulls”). Kinsey’s spare, restrained, but strongly rhythmical style embraces and contains these extremes of experience, both the sensational and the mundane, while delivering insights that are visceral, unsentimental, luminous and raw.

Many of the poems are firmly based in the Vermont countryside, but others take us further afield, to Alberta, Havana, Tanzania. However exotic the setting, the basic needs and drives of human life remain constant, and are given dignity and grace through Kinsey’s thoughtful poems. Far better than my attempts to describe them is for you to read an example; thanks to Green Writers Press for permission to reprint the following in its entirety. Like many of the poems in this volume, it addresses the experience of New England families through the generations — what passes away and what remains. I hope that you will enjoy it, and will seek out more of this fine poet’s work.

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READING
by Leland Kinsey

I used to read Farmer Boy to my boy
just as my mother read it
to my siblings and me.
But I sit on his bed in bright lamp light.
My mother sat at the top
of the stairs, between bedrooms,
and read by candlelight
and later flashlight,
the wan column of light falling
on each of us when she was done.
The house had been wired
during the war by Rural Electric,
so only the downstairs was done
and poorly. She sometimes sat
in brighter light unseen by us
and played piano for us.
Through the open stairwell door
music flowed, the reverse of cascades,
rose up riser and tread and cold air well
as she played slow jazz, show tunes,
and fast paced hymns.
We slept after our chores
while father and she finished theirs.
I often sang to my son,
work songs from the thirties
or protest songs from my own youth.

The boy in the book knew cold —
driving oxen in deep snow,
cutting ice —
as did we. Water in winter
froze on our dressers,
and the iron stove in the morning
sat like fresh dug Arctic ore.
Woods work for firewood
or logs to sell often chilled
hands and feet beyond feeling,
but, Oh, the ache of its return.
My son’s known cold, but not that,
or the purple swelling of frozen ears,
or the agony of chilblains
after outdoor winter work.
But neither did his kinder childhood
allow him to know
the work he did helped pull
the family through.

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