NA: I’d love you to start by just giving a description of Etruscan Books.
PB: I know it sounds trite, but it's
difficult to describe the 40 books we've published or contracted to publish
since our beginning in 2001 because I love every one of them. I remember where
we first met; first grope, first kiss; when I first swooned. It's all so
sappy. I hide my blush behind the mission statement: "to nurture a
dialogue among genres." That works about as well as a cold shower.
But though I'm the last person to describe my love objects, I'll give it a shot:
They are engaged but not entangled in the world. They tell stories without plod. They offer lightning glimpses of a midnight landscape. They shake and stir. They yield more with each reading. They whisper to one another behind my back. I strive to learn from them and to learn them by heart.
NA: How did the press get its name?
PB: We did a lot of market research. Which means we called three or four buddies. Our first choice was Siena Press, in honor of Siena Oristaglio, our founding funder's daughter. But folks thought that we were linked to Siena College. Then we tried Tuscan Sun Press, to commemorate a trip to Tuscany that the Oristaglio's and I had taken many years ago. But that was about the time Frances Mayes published Under the Tuscan Sun.
Then our co-founder Bob Mooney pointed out that the Etruscans had settled Tuscany, and that in many ways the Etruscans' relation to the Roman Empire--underground, mysterious, somehow necessary even though powerless—reflected the role of the small press world in imperial America. Bob's good with stuff like that.
So for us, the question isn't where our name comes from, but whether we can live up to it.
NA: How is Etruscan different from other small literary presses?
PB: Not so different, we hope. We aspire to follow the example of presses we admire: BOA, Graywolf, Copper Canyon, Sarabande, Coffee House, New Directions, CavanKerry, Milkweed, and many others which have produced great books for the last thirty years or more. The small press world is burgeoning right now, filling needs—both aesthetic and economic—that aren't met by corporate publishers.
You know, Nin, I’ve been hanging out with a physicist—I won’t mention any names but his initials are Jim Andrews—and I gather from him that with strings and black holes and quasars and dark matter, cosmic scale is truly weird. Small press scale is wacky too: Immense effort is lavished on products of tiny consequence. The genius of the writing and the labor of bringing books into print are awe-inspiring, and yet most small press titles sell fewer copies than a teen has facebook friends. Now, this could frustrate, I suppose. But it makes me giddy as a charmed quark. I’m helping to produce something absolutely wonderful, something that very few people know about. We all sense that there’s something not quite right about the commercial equation between quality and popularity; but in the small press world, where merit is the only value, the infinitesimal can seem vast, in a weird way.
How is Etruscan different? Well, at ten years old we're a relatively new press, but because Mooney and I are...how shall I put this?--junior geezers?...we have a long history. We didn't begin as swashbucklers trying to publish impetuous younglings. We wanted to provide a platform for writing across traditional genres, writing with heart and seasoning. We wanted to feature work which emerged out of a sense that genre isn’t bound by a set of conventions but is instead a manifestation of a human impulse. There is an impulse to sing, an impulse to regale, an impulse to explain. Yes, genre solidifies into tradition. But the best work—the most new and most ancient—still thrums with that primal impulse. "Form in dread of power," as Emerson puts it. We were looking for work that carried the tradition but emerged from the source. So, we began by scanning our bookshelves, contacting some writers who for us had set that kind of example: Bruce Bond, H.L.Hix, and William Heyen. From them, came our next generation: Carol Moldaw, Jennifer Atkinson, Diane Thiel.