NA: The first question I have: who comes up with your cover art? I think everyone should click onto your website to see the beautiful covers.
AR & JR: About 90% of the time, the cover art is sourced from the existing work of an artist, and so it comes from all sorts of different places. For the issues of the journal, the decision is ours and we basically go on a wild search through artist portfolios on the web until we find something that seems to make some intuitive sense to us. For the single-author titles, we always try to consult the author first—many of them have some loose idea of what they’re interested in, and we go from there. In a couple of cases—Claire Hero’s afterpastures and Elizabeth Skurnick’s Check-In, for example—the author actually selected the cover art themselves; other times—like Ryan Call’s The Weather Stations and Kim Parko’s Cure All—we tried out a number of different options before landing on the one we wanted; and very occasionally—as in the case of Ben Mirov’s Ghost Machine and Matt Bell’s The Collectors—we’ve actually designed the cover illustration ourselves.
Perhaps the best story of a cover coming together, though, was in the case of Bird Any Damn Kind. We went through mock-up after mock-up, always ending up either unable to find the rights holder or unsatisfied with the results, and it got to the point where the deadline was fast approaching, the layout was done, and we still needed a cover. And then Lucas Farrell, the author, finally let slip that his wife, Louisa Conrad, is an accomplished visual artist. A quick scan of her portfolio and we knew we were on our way; there’s a real conversation going on between his writing and her visuals which made her the perfect choice.
NA: How would you best describe your press? How many books do you publish each year? Are all of your books contest-winners?
AR & JR: Caketrain is an independent journal and press imprint run by two people out of their apartment in Pittsburgh. We champion the broadening of literary horizons and reward literature which demonstrates daring and a willingness to experiment. We publish four books each year: the winner and runner-up of our annual competition, a single-author title acquired by us outside of the competition, and an issue of our annual journal.
NA: You are located in Pittsburgh. Do you do a reading series in Pittsburgh? Do you have a local presence?
AR & JR: Our efforts to date have been concentrated entirely on the books themselves. We haven’t really done much in the way of readings, not only because we lack the time and energy for a reading series, but because there are plenty of groups in the city—The New Yinzer and Open Thread, for example, not to mention the many universities—who already build literary community through local events more effectively than we ever could. While we’re not very prominent in that community, we do feel it’s important to give attention in venues like this to the fact that one could scarcely imagine a better place to make books than here in Pittsburgh. From the very beginnings of Caketrain, we’ve experienced an outpouring of support and a feeling of shared concerns on a local level that has been instrumental to keeping us in the mindset of sustaining this project.
NA: I first heard about your press from Tom Whalen, whose book, Dolls, was selected by Denise Duhamel as the winner of the 2006 Caketrain Chapbook Competition. Have you published other collections of prose poetry and flash fiction?
AR & JR: There’s a lot of flash fiction and prose poetry in the journals, but as far as the collections go, a lot of our books blur lines in this respect. All the Day’s Sad Stories and The Collectors are novellas told in what is essentially flash fiction; Ghost Machine and Cure All both have elements of prose poetry and flash fiction in them; our next book, due in early 2012, is a memoir told in paragraphic blocks that are something like poetic flash fictions. We don’t really concern ourselves an awful lot with where these things belong in terms of genre.
NA: It looks as if you have chosen not to sell many of your books on Amazon. Am I correct?
AR & JR: Caketrain paperbacks are available exclusively through Powell’s Books and www.caketrain.org. Our growing catalogue of ebooks is available through both Amazon and Barnes & Noble, as well as directly through www.caketrain.org.
NA: Tell me about some of highlights of the press. Feel free to provide links to interviews, events, or reviews.
AR & JR: The past year has been incredibly exciting for us. Ghost Machine was selected as one of the top 20 poetry books of 2010 in The Believer’s annual reader survey; after several reprints, it now holds the distinction of being our best-selling title to date. Sarah Rose Etter’s Tongue Party was released last May and is presently giving Ghost Machine a run for its money. Perhaps most incredibly, just last month, Ryan Call—whose debut collection, The Weather Stations, was published by us this past March—received a Whiting Writers Award. All of this leaves us exhilarated, proud, thankful, and hopeful for the year to come.
Amanda Raczkowski and Joseph Reed are co-editors of the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based Caketrain Journal and Press. Their work consists of editing and publishing an eponymous literary journal, nine issues to date; and a press imprint, which has issued chapbooks and full-length titles from Elizabeth Skurnick, Tom Whalen, Claire Hero, Matt Bell, Tina May Hall, Kim Parko, Ben Mirov, Lucas Farrell, Ryan Call, Sarah Rose Etter, and Sara Levine.
Nin Andrews received her BA from Hamilton College and her MFA from Vermont College. The recipient of two Ohio Arts Council grants, she is the author of several books including The Book of Orgasms, Spontaneous Breasts, Why They Grow Wings, Midlife Crisis with Dick and Jane, Sleeping with Houdini, and Dear Professor, Do You Live in a Vacuum. She also edited Someone Wants to Steal My Name, a book of translations of the French poet, Henri Michaux. Her book, Southern Comfort was published by CavanKerry Press in 2010. Follow Nin's blog here.