With this post, Small Press Picks continues its series of interviews with editors and other key figures at small and micro presses throughout the country. Here, we speak with Stephanie Bryant Anderson, publisher and editor of Red Paint Hill Publishing, a new press that is looking to publish full-length poetry collections, novels, plays, short story collections, translations, and anthologies.
How (and when) did Red Paint Hill Publishing get started? What motivated you to launch it?
Red Paint Hill Publishing began very recently. In fall of 2013, I organized a poetry reading to raise money for the Autism Foundation of Tennessee. Through that event I felt very connected to my community. When that event was over, I wanted to do more. So, after soul searching, I decided to venture away from Up the Staircase Quarterly, which I co-edited with my longtime friend April Bratten. I wanted to sell books to help raise money for the foundation. Putting my two passions (literature and advocating for autism) together just made sense to me. The name Red Paint Hill is a nod to my hometown. Red Paint Hill [located in Clarksville, Tennessee] was a navigational landmark–a rock bluff at the confluence of the Cumberland River and the Red River. Clarksville has an interesting history of writers, which is another reason why I chose the name.
I see that you have published two poetry collections: The Blackbird Spirituals by Jonathan Treadway and Windsock Etiquette by Zach Fishel. What drew you to these writers and their poems?
The Blackbird Spirituals is a brilliant collection of poems. The poet, Jonathan Treadway, is someone who is very connected to his Kentucky roots. The poems began from his time spent in Portland. There is a great dichotomy in his poems that I truly connect to. Some of us yearn for new people, new places, new experiences in life; place has such a strong impact on who we are – whether in staying or yearning to leave. His writing is a validation of my own emotions. He has what a lot of writers lack – intimacy. There is an incredible closeness between reader and writer. Spiritual tones carry the collection, and yet there is that sadness that weighs it down – the loneliness, the desire for acceptance and companionship. The poems are brutally honest. No one describes a woman’s moan like Jonathan Treadway!
Zach Fishel’s book, Windsock Etiquette, is a collection of sonnets. Each poem leads into the next poem. They are eclectic and intelligent. They are blue collar and front porches. There is a sense of spirit that cannot be broken. This is very different from The Blackbird Spirituals; in that group of poems the soul hangs from a precipice clinging to hope, but Zach’s poems are witness to this jolt of American spirit. His imagery is refreshing, well-crafted, and full of living and experience. I can’t say enough about Windsock Etiquette.
Essentially, both of these writers write from their guts, from their hearts. I have two more poetry collections about to release in April, Suzanne Burns’ Siblings and The Scattering Migration from another Kentucky poet, John Swain.
In terms of fiction, have you lined up any novels or story collections for publication? Are there particular things you’re looking for in works of fiction (types of stories, styles of writing, etc.)?
We are eyeballing three different fiction manuscripts right now. I don’t want to spill the beans on who those belong to, as we have not made any final decisions at this time. However, what I will say is that the three are very distinct from one another. One has very beautiful language, and is a soft, sad story, while another is unique in its nonlinear storyline, while the third manuscript has a great colloquial dialect alongside a socially relevant and honest story. Beyond those, we do have numerous fiction manuscripts to read through. Jesi Buell, my fiction editor, is a rock star in getting through those. Our visions match up nicely.
What I am looking for in fiction is easy. I want honest, gritty emotions, and of course, a good story. For me that means struggle, and overcoming adversities. I am a sucker for characters that are in our periphery – the ones that we see on the outskirts, and only if we are paying attention. I root for the underdog, always. When I think of a good story, I think of novels that possess those dark, pivotal scenes where you know things are about to take a turn for the worse. I admire the writing of Flannery O’Connor, Erskine Caldwell, Dorothy Allison, and Will Self. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers is a good example of the type of characters I enjoy. Flannery O’Connor was able to call out those opposing beliefs in stereotypes. John Steinbeck’s smaller novels, like Tortilla Flats, also portray characters who survive on hustle, street smarts, and luck. These are the types of stories that really draw me in. I like there to be a real struggle, because after all, I feel that struggle builds character, and creates sympathetic concern for others.
I notice that you have also started publishing an online quarterly that features both poetry and fiction. Do you see the quarterly as being connected in any way to your efforts to publish full-length collections and novels? In other words, does the work on the quarterly offer another way of identifying authors whose longer works you might publish?
I do see the quarterly as being connected to our efforts to publish manuscripts. I believe that if readers like what they read in the quarterly, they will know our tastes in writing, and in turn, we will sell more books. The third issue contains not only poetry but three plays as well. I am really excited for everyone to see the work in it.
Also, from submissions, I have propositioned a couple of writers to send me a manuscript when they get them ready. I have met some incredible writers through submissions, and I want to promote their brand of writing.
On your Web site, you note that a portion of the proceeds from any book sold by Red Paint Hill will go to the Autism Foundation of Tennessee. Can you say a bit about why supporting this foundation is personally important to you?
Autism is something very dear to my heart. My eight year old has Asperger’s Syndrome. He was diagnosed in first grade; he is now in third grade. In the beginning I did not feel a sense of community or know where to turn for help, for resources or anything really. The school system is a tough place for your child to spend time if he/she is not the “normal,” or “model,” student. My son is incredibly intelligent, but he has issues with behavior. However, that behavior is driven from different places than in most people. He has expectation of how his day should run, and his thinking is very logical, and if activities stray from how he feels they should go, he gets upset. For example, his last name begins with an A, so why is he not first in line? It displaces his sense of order. I learned the term “meltdown” when Jude was in kindergarten. I came to despise the term. It was incredibly tough for the first few years in school. I think I dreaded summer’s end more than he did! It was a very stressful time for us.
The Autism Foundation is a non-profit organization that can help families that do not have insurance. They are able to do this through donations. They specialize in behavioral therapy, and I feel that this is such an elemental tool for children and even adults, to learn coping skills. That is where I want to help. Places like Autism Speaks, while certainly admirable, receive many donations from lots of places, and no, they can’t ever have too much money either, but I wanted to support someone in my own community who needed the help.
Finally, is there anything else you’d like people to know about Red Paint Hill Publishing or about your experiences as a small-press publisher?
What I would like people to know about Red Paint Hill is that we are here to promote writing and writers. The ego of the press will not overshadow the desires of the writers, within reason, of course. We want to encourage young writers, as well. I have a couple of younger writers right now that I am working with, mentoring a bit, workshopping some poems so that we can get them ready for publication. We are here to lift up fellow writers, not degrade or discourage them in any way. With that said, Jesi and I do have a very high standard for writing, however. I have a lot of ideas in store for Red Paint Hill.
Readers, to make a donation to the Autism Foundation of Tennessee, please visit this link. And thank you!