Hayden's Ferry Review


An Interview with Caketrain Journal & Press

Here's our second installment in the Small Press series. Check out our past interview with Graywolf here.

What makes your press different from other publishers?

The small press world is so large and various that there is surely no single characteristic that is completely unique to Caketrain, but that being said, there are a few qualities that we’ve labored to cultivate.

We strive to release interesting and daring work to an audience at an affordable cost and to give attention to writers who may be overlooked by larger publishing houses. We aim for a vision that is at once distinctive and anonymous. Each Caketrain chapbook and each work in an issue of the journal is chosen to establish a thematic and aesthetic telephony with the others, a sort of collective concentration established primarily at the level of language in assembly. We’ve always been preoccupied first with the way a story or poem looks and sounds, and only secondarily with what it (literally) means, and we strive for this to come through in every book we release. But at the same time, if you’re properly engaged as a reader, we as editors, with our wants and wills, should be the last thing on your mind. If we’ve done our job, we should disappear from view. In the past several years, our visual identity has slowly ghosted away to the point where neither the cover of our journal nor the landing page of our website makes any prominent display of the word Caketrain—which, reflecting upon it now, seems all of a piece with this notion.

We take great care in the design and typesetting of our books: these characteristics, too often dismissed as superficial or inconsequential, can bring so much to bear, for good or ill, upon a text—and we recognize this and try to operate accordingly.

For seven years now we’ve held our price steady at $8 per copy, with free domestic shipping, so that anyone who wants to can affordably own a Caketrain book.

Because we are a two-person staff—a married couple working on the project in our home office—Caketrain is a part of our lives every day. Every correspondence you have with Caketrain, no matter how small, is an engagement with one of the only two people who make every editorial decision for the press, and with this in mind, we aim to be inviting, polite, kind and encouraging in all our interactions. We’ve actually been commended on the cordial nature of our rejections, and this is important to us—as editors, our work necessarily entails having to say no, often and unconditionally, and the best of efforts, in our estimation, is to shape a “no” into the sweetest epistle. We want everyone to walk away knowing that it means the world to us to have had the chance to consider them.

What’s a recent book you’re excited about?

There’s so much to be excited about right now. We’re releasing Cure All, a collection of linked fictions from Kim Parko, this month and we’re incredibly enthusiastic about that; Kim has always been, for us, one of those dream people who you start a small press with the hope of one day working with, and to have collaborated with her to bring her most complex, daring, accomplished work to life is an honor.

Recently, we’ve been engrossed in Scary, No Scary, by Zachary Schomburg; Envelope of Night, the massive collection of Michael Burkard’s earlier work; and In a Bear’s Eye, by Yannick Murphy.

Lydia Davis’s Collected Stories is easily the best investment of $20 the discerning reader can make this year.

In 2009, our annual chapbook competition yielded titles from Tina May Hall and Matt Bell, which proved very successful in limited-edition runs. In the fall of 2010, both chapbooks will return to print as part of full-length collections (Tina May Hall’s The Physics of Imaginary Objects from University of Pittsburgh Press and Matt Bell’s How They Were Found from Keyhole), which is very heartening news for us. These will both be must-read books, we have no doubt.

Also, one would do well to start following the work of Alec Niedenthal and Sarah Norek right away, voraciously, from journal to journal, and begin to envision the shapes their future collections may take.

What advice do you have for emerging writers looking to be published by a small press? What is it about a work that makes you want to publish it?

The efficacy of a carefully-researched submission, to a press that shares your vision of what writing can be and do, cannot be underestimated. To this day, we receive so many submissions which, regardless of their relative merits, are simply unfit for our mission. And while not everyone can afford to buy a sample from every press on the market, most small imprints are very generous with online excerpts. So we advise you to be well-versed: Do you enjoy and respect the other authors that the press has published? Does your writing approach the aesthetic of the press? Do you feel that your work can enhance the particular editorial vision of the press?

What prompted the founding of the press?

After completing our undergraduate degrees, we wanted to stay connected to the literary world and felt that starting Caketrain would fulfill our desire to be part of a support system for the literary community.

What is your relationship with small magazines/journals?

We see our fellow small presses, and hope they likewise see us, as friendly co-combatants. While we each try to carve out our own niche, and there is certainly a positive side to a competitive spirit, the real competition for small presses is not with one another, but with every other media engagement that might occupy a reader’s time. But books, when invested in, can reach out to an audience in ways that are unprecedented and unparalleled and completely personal—the very fact that a writer can touch a reader in that way is the thing we’re trying to champion; we want to connect writers to readers, plain and simple.