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Crossing Chaos

Wayne Groen interviewed by Tom Bradley.

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3:AM: Please tell us about the name Crossing Chaos Enigmatic Ink.

WG: “Crossing Chaos” transcends the everyday norms of both reality and fantasy. Many of the “chaotic” central themes found in fantastic literature and art are not a far stretch from what we find in our everyday lives. Sex, depravity, greed, sloth, violence, death, etc., are all, for the most part, simplistic and mundane reflections when applied to art without the addition of true originality. These books challenge the greater imagination with both stylistic experimentation and conceptually explorative themes, and give higher priority to beauty, humour, perplexity, poignancy, etc. rather than overly clichéd shock antics. They attempt to stimulate curiosity rather than provoke gut response. Granted, much of this is highly strange…but wonderfully so.

“Enigmatic Ink” is self-explanatory. The deepest meanings, the more profound concepts, are hidden beneath the surface in the layered subtext and potential interpretations. Just as with Zen, where the meaning is not written directly into the words nor found in the immediate answer, but in the contemplation. Alternatively, consider, as another very different example, Lewis Carroll‘s well-known Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Seemingly, it is a fabulist children’s story. Yet structurally it is experimental/pre-modernist. And in truth, even though widely considered as literary nonsense, it’s an anarchistic social satire that spoke out against the corruption of the monarchy, social injustice, sexual abuse and more.

A recent review of Snail by V. Ulea demonstrates well how that particular book is ideally suited to Crossing Chaos Enigmatic Ink…

“It’s a beautiful book, with probably the best production values I’ve ever seen. The cover art (and indeed, the art all throughout) is absolutely stunning…The reader is bombarded by meanings so dynamic that they can’t possibly be definitively isolated—this is where, for me, the Quantum Genre becomes immediately evident. The characters can be seen as representing archetypes, individuals, psychological phenomena, philosophical principles, or many other things, but function best when considered as a combination of them all…For me, it features nearly every aspect of good surrealism.” (Kyle Muntz)

3:AM: Why and when did you decide to publish books?

WG: It seemed to me there was a void out there when it came to certain types of books, the ones I’ve scoured bookshops and the net in search of yet seldom found. Initially I was setting up to produce surrealist graphic novels but then quickly realized that such a restriction might leave a lot of extraordinary work floating in limbo.

I also felt I could do something more inventive than was currently being done by many publishers (big, small, and POD). Many have lost or seem to be on their way to losing their artisanship, possibly their passion. In some cases, like with POD invisibles, publishers, artisanship and passion never existed. Publishing for them is just a process of data entry. The reason perhaps, that so many bookstores have become such sterile, emotionless environments is that a very large portion of the industry has conformed to “standards” set by massive, mechanical corporations.

So I decided to become involved myself. The unique books I am interested in deserve production styles and formats influenced by their contents. We cannot match the authors’ creativity, but because we are a traditional publisher, we can enhance what they have entrusted to us by providing a higher degree of hands-on savoir-faire.

3:AM: You have made a distinction between small press and POD. Particularly, what do you mean by the invisibles?

WG: I’m not opposed to POD per se. It’s very effective when used in conjunction with a full publishing program, even though its abilities are still very limited. It’s common enough throughout the entire industry for keeping back list and low selling titles available.

The invisibles are publishers who operate exclusively through POD and regardless of whether or not the writers have talent or if their books hold merit. I don’t consider them to be a part of the small press industry. Small press, at its heart, is independent press; so considering the invisibles’ strong allegiance to corporations like Book Surge and Lightning Source, and the mail order “distributor” Amazon, they are far from qualifying as independent. They are invisible because there is no capital investment on the part of the publisher. There are no physical copies of books held by the publisher and not enough anywhere else to quantify as inventory. There is no publicity or author support. There is no actual distribution or real world circulation. Their true existence…is invisible.

They are more like vanity press than small press, except instead of billing the author an upfront fee for the “privilege” of carrying a logo and a few simple services, they bill on a royalty basis for half of the gains on every copy sold by the author, because that onus is on him. And if you take into account the 55% plus cut that the mail order “distribution” company pulls (compared to true distributors whose take is 15% to cover all operations), the author’s percentage is verging on invisible.

The only advantage I suppose is that an author can assume that at least one person enjoyed his /her book. Other than that they stand almost as good of a chance of becoming successful in the bloated POD market if they self publish, because in truth, they are still effectively on their own.

3:AM: Your catalogue is remarkably eclectic. You have so many different styles and genres of fiction and poetry, as well as fusions of art and word, including some genres that are unique to your list.

WG: Indeed. Quantum Genre, Noise Novels and Word Music are almost exclusive to us. We also of course have a great interest in all things enigmatic: from absurdist to surrealist, irrealist all the way through to Zen. In addition, we have some books that superficially might be considered along the lines of dark fantasy or spec-fic, though conceptually and stylistically postmodern.

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3:AM: How does this reflect your own reading habits, personal reading history, your experience as a painter, etc.?

WG: I was given a steady diet of pulp as a child. Sci-fi and fantasy was my thing. I read everything I could get my hands on. After I had consumed Heinlein‘s more serious works (Stranger in a Strange Land, Time Enough for Love, JOB, etc.), I knew that I was finished with the pulpy genre fiction like he had based his early career on. Effectively, Heinlein’s coming of age was my coming of age. Speculative Fiction not only offered me all of the fantastic elements to spur my imagination but also dealt with topics like metaphysics, psychology, sociology and much more.

Two writers not generally related to fantasy who steered me clear away from realism were William Burroughs and Carlos Castaneda. Even though their works are so vastly different from one another, they both dealt with reality by traveling away from it in a way that no others could transcribe. They convinced me that in fiction and in reality, there could be much more than meets the eye. Through my teen years and beyond my reading interest has stayed mainly with magic realism and postmodernism.

As for art, my painting has always ranged between surreal-metaphysical to non-objective. For influence, I will point to Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) from early 20th century Germany. Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc, et al.: a small “outcast” group of artists, each with a distinct style, theme and philosophy, united only by their rejection of traditional art, all of them key players in the creation and evolution of the Expressionist movement, avant-garde experimentation and abstract art.

As the aforementioned artists and writers demonstrated in their time, I don’t believe any art or literature should follow a formula or hardened genre style. When it does, when innovation is lost, art becomes design and literature becomes a trivial word exercise

3:AM: How do you come by such a wildly disparate gang of authors and artists?

WG: An easy twenty percent of our line-up has been personally invited or least ways, gently nudged. These are people who I may have previously worked with as an editor, or whose work I had been following prior to my becoming a publisher. Others, who I may or may not have known of before, usually come in through word of mouth or by following a link to our “always open” submission window.

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3:AM: You must be deluged with submissions. How do you handle this?

WG: Undoubtedly, some people will say our procedure is rude, but because of our need to prevent time wasted from all the off-target and robot submissions, the process has become very well tuned. We only take queries. We don’t like sending rejection letters so will only respond to work that we might be interested in, and for those we respond right away. But our first line of defence is in our email spam blocker. Any queries containing certain phrases like “epic romance,” “sword and sorcery,” or “space saga” are automatically bounced away. Before anything makes its way to our submission desk it also goes through at least one screener who eliminates any queries that would qualify as “traditional” sci-fi, fantasy, horror or realism.

3:AM: How closely do you work with your artists and writers in the editing, designing, and so forth?

WG: For me, having friendly personal relationships with the artists is as important as the work itself. After all, we are going to be partners for years to come.

I prefer to oversee as much as possible, if not take an active role in every project. All writers are involved with the editing and are encouraged to input ideas for artwork, and more often than not, those ideas are implemented in some way or other. Editors are assigned to writers based on compatibility, common interests and mutual respect. An author who works in an irrealist form would of course be best suited to work with an editor familiar with authors such John Barth or Jorge Luis Borges.

Some projects come in solely as concept and then through our guidance and support begin to actualize. We connect writer to artists and/or other professionals from the trade whenever need be. With graphic novels, after the initial Q&A, our tendency is to leave the collaborators alone to work and then we never pressure them for a deadline.

3:AM: Your books come in such a wide array of sizes and shapes. Is there something about each work that suggests a tall or wide, large or small format?

WG: The “pocket novel” is our post card sized answer to the trade p-back novella/short novels and the reaction to it has been absolutely positive.

The content of these books are as unique as the artists that created them. The stories are all less than epic length, and because of that, I don’t think they need to be in the same big casing that has become the norm since the onset of digital printing. A short novel need not be so cumbersome. It should be able to go with you just about anywhere without being a burden. A person can take one of ours on the subway or a bus while heading out for a night, then slip it away into any pocket and not have to worry about it again. I myself am a hiker and rock climber, so I don’t need nor want a lot of extra weight in my backpack. At the park or the beach, with a drink in one hand and a book tight in the other, there’s no problem.

They’re small in stature but the word counts are no different from trade style, and if you consider the weight of the words themselves, these babies are much, much heavier. Next year we will be urging shops to use our counter-top display units that hold 12-16 titles from that line.

For poetry, the dimensions match the writer’s style. Duane Locke (Yang Chu’s Poems) generally writes long poems with reasonably narrow sentences, so the ideal setting for his work is like a vertical scroll, tall and slim. In contrast, Prakash Kona‘s book, Nunc Stans, has many long sentences, so this book is laid out like a horizontal scroll about twice the width of its height. I would have loved to have had this 2000-line poem laid out on an actual scroll, but the folks at the printer persuaded me otherwise.

The graphic novels, as much as possible, are published as the artists create them. The hardback collector edition of Jase DanielsThe Grubby End is whopping 16″ tall, but because of distribution and shelf size consideration (and cost to the consumer), we were forced to trim down for the paperback version.

3:AM: The artwork is always extraordinary. Talk about your relationship with art and artists.

WG: I come from a family of artists, so creativity was always encouraged. I’ve never walked past an art gallery or museum and not gone inside. When I examine a piece, I don’t just look at the aesthetics of it. I consider at what point during the artist’s career it was created, the culture of the time, all possible exterior and interior influences the artist may have felt. The emotion. That’s important to me: understanding the expression, not just the impression.

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3:AM: Tell us about Brain Spackle.

WG: Brain Spackle is a collection of underground artists who, regardless of various styles, schools of art, and place in the world, have generously expressed themselves (off canvas and on) through prose and poetry, memoirs, cultural or political criticism, etc. It’s a very cool project… a straight line into the minds of many artists. Robert Connett, Jeff Hughart, Tony Max and Steven Somers to name a few. Originally, the concept behind the book was “painters who write, writers who paint,” but it has since evolved and is still growing. Best estimate for the bookshelf is September this year, but we may bump it into March 2010 since it is still snowballing.

3:AM: How important are book fairs? Public readings?

WG: Book fairs are essential for public and industry awareness. Nothing beats book in hand, face-to-face, communication, especially when it comes to the unique contents and styles of our books.

Public readings, while fun and/or popular with literary groups and some authors and their followers, don’t really achieve very much for sales or public awareness. Most people who come out to these events are already familiar with the author. Even a big name author usually only draws an audience of a couple hundred fans. However, with proper pre-publicity and a great location, readings and signing events can be very positive and productive, so we support all who wish to participate in such things.

3:AM: On your website you mention that you use all-green technology. Please explain.

WG: Our print shop has more of a salad-like fragrance and no longer smells like toner and chemicals. Using all vegetable-based inks, a chemical-free pre-press (plate creation), and printing on 100% recycled paper, makes for ease of mind when it comes to “doing our share.” It’s a good thing and output quality is not affected whatsoever.

3:AM: Please talk about Canada as an environment for publishers.

WG: Canada is a Mecca for independent publishers. There is a wealth of extraordinary presses throughout the entire country. Scratch the surface with some of my favourites by checking out Gaspereau Press in Kentville, Nova Scotia, Conundrum in Montreal, BookThug in Toronto, Biblioasis in Emeryville, Ontario, or Arsenal Pulp Press in Vancouver.

There exists a kinship between most of the publishers. Everyone is connected through only one, two or three degrees of separation, so a pretty tight web. The non-profit publisher associations take an active role with creating and implementing marketing and promotional projects for their members as well as supplying an ever expanding knowledge base. Beyond that, there are countless numbers of academic and private foundations that provide educational support for writers and publishers along with project grants and financial awards. Our governments, municipal, provincial and national, all have “Councils for the Arts” helping out with a variety of grant programs, promotional initiatives, and educational scholarships.

It’s still a struggle though, especially for an emerging press practicing traditional methods, but it’s great to live in a country where art and culture take high priority over pop culture and celebrity lifestyles, and military offence doesn’t even exist.

3:AM: Several book publishers also bring out periodicals of one sort or another, such as literary journals. Are you planning anything like that?

WG: We have Saucytooth’s Webthology, an online quarterly anthology that features short fiction and poetry suited to the Crossing Chaos Enigmatic ethos. There are no designs at the moment to turn it into a full journal with reviews or critiques since there’s a blog roll for those sorts of things. We also do a couple of print anthologies per year. This fall we will release Quantum Genre on the Planet of the Arts and The Futurists.

3:AM: How about podcasts, videos and other multi-media web stuff as means of promotion? Any plans or ideas?

WG: Yes. Top secret. Will let you know when complete.

3:AM: How about the movies? Do you have any connections to the Canadian or American film industries? Are any of your novels being considered for screen adaptation?

WG: We currently have three screenplays in circulation. Again, if/when successful, will tell. However, if any one of our books reaches sales over 100,000 copies, it will lead our venture into independent film with the emergence of Crossing Chaos Enigmatic Productions.

3:AM: Thanks, Wayne.

WG: Any time.

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ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Tom Bradley‘s latest books are Vital Fluid [Crossing Chaos Enigmatic Ink], Even the Dog Won’t Touch Me [Ahadada Press], Put It Down in a Book [The Drill Press], and Hemorrhaging Slave of an Obese Eunuch [Dog Horn Publishing]. He is presently collaborating on a graphic novel in verse with artist David Aronson, to be published by Crossing Chaos Enigmatic Ink, and a nonfiction flip book with Deb Hoag for Make It New Media. Further curiosity can be indulged at tombradley.org and Wikipedia.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, August 3rd, 2009.