(Which, in the case of this indie press, is a good thing.)
In my last column, I promised to go farther afield than the DMV in searching out small presses. That’s how I found myself talking with Malarkey Books. Maybe I just liked the name — a declaration that has received some negative press in Washington, DC, since the current president is fond of it. But I think it’s a charming moniker for a “small press in the middle of nowhere,” as noted on its website.
So, finding myself metaphorically in the middle of nowhere, I thought of a twist on that old dinner-party game — “If you were stranded on a desert island, what books would you want with you?” — and wondered, “What author would I like to have dinner with out here?” I think I’d invite Alan Good, a writer, editor, and founder of Malarkey Books, to share some barbeque and a beer with me. But for now, some small talk…
What’s the secret to keeping a small indie press — especially one run by writers and for writers like Malarkey — going and growing?
For me, if there’s a secret, it’s just community. I say this a lot, but even though we’re indie, we’re not independent at all; we’re dependent on our readers. Without a community behind us, we wouldn’t be here. Our readers, our supporters, our friends and co-conspirators have shown up for us time and time again. Building community is the real secret. My rule of thumb is be real, be kind, have fun. With us, our community doesn’t just consist of readers; it’s also the writers. We are a mostly volunteer operation. We pay for book covers. Most everything else, though, we do in-house. I do most of the editing and typesetting, and we all go in on marketing and PR. And the writers are great about sharing resources and contacts, looking out for each other, [and] promoting each other’s books whenever possible. It’s really beautiful.
Looking down the road five years, what do you see for Malarkey Books and, heck, for the small indie publishing world?
Looking forward, I think in five years, I’d like for Malarkey to be doing what we’re doing now, making books for the love of it, but with more book sales and less fretting over, “Good God, how are we gonna pay for this cover?” As for the small-press world, I like how vibrant and chaotic it can be, and I don’t want to lose that spirit or see it become consolidated and sanitized. I’d like to see collaboration and open sharing of knowledge and resources.
In 2023, Malarkey has published titles ranging from speculative fiction (Backmask by OF Cieri) to horror (Kill Radio by Lauren Bolger) to a quirky mystery (The Muu-Antiques by Shome Dasgupta). In August, it released the acclaimed Gloria Patri by Austin Ross, a senior editor at HarperCollins focusing on nonfiction who decided to take the independent small-press route with his fiction. As he noted in a recent Publishers Weekly essay, after frustrating years trying to secure a literary agent, “I placed the book with a wonderful independent press.” Ross added, “We can get so caught up in the rat race of wanting to break out that we lose sight of what made us want to be writers in the first place.”
Gloria Patri is a pulsating literary thriller told from multiple points of view — primarily of the Becker family — over decades from the 1980s onward. The opening foreshadows the darkness descending on this family from loss, alcoholism, and extremism:
“The fire spread as she slept. It climbed past the barn’s rotting wind braces and collar beams to the imitation gambrel roof until it was uncontrollable and violent, exuding its black soot until the air was filled and Naomi Becker was dragged from sleep by the smell of woodsmoke.”
I believe I’ll add Austin Ross to my invite list for that dinner party in the middle of nowhere. I’ll also pencil in Claudia Acevedo-Quiñones for her breathtaking blend of family history, poetry, and creative nonfiction in The Hurricane Book: A Lyric History, published last month by Rose Metal Press, an indie that commands the literary-hybrid niche.
Largely autobiographical, this slim but ambitious collection explores the author’s Puerto Rican heritage. She writes of the island’s difficult colonial history, of living with her grandparents there, of her family, and of the physical and emotional devastation wrought by multiple hurricanes. She also evokes the feel of ocean swimming in October, “That night there was also a tenderness between my dead and me, an understanding that we all do what we can to hold still in the thrashing. I haven’t stopped moving since.” The Hurricane Book is not only a lyric history but also a beautiful introduction to Acevedo-Quiñones and her stories.
Onward to the next “Small Talk” in January, when we’re going to run away with Alan Squire Publishing…and more.
Caroline Bock is the author of Carry Her Home, winner of the Fiction Award from the Washington Writers’ Publishing House, and LIE and Before My Eyes, YA novels from St. Martin’s Press. She is co-president of the Washington Writers’ Publishing House, a nonprofit literary press based in Washington, DC.