Read the latest peek behind the curtain from Popscure writer Jerome Spencer with independent literature press, Back Patio.
I generally just review books I like. No one assigns me books or solicits my endorsement…and I certainly don’t get free books from publicists (anymore). I review a book when only I am compelled to tell others about it. Recently, I was looking at my stack of books that “compelled” me – a stack of unwritten reviews I was putting off – and had this epiphany.
Most of these books – particularly Cavin Bryce Gonzalez’ I Could Be Your Neighbor, No Glykon’s Numbskull, and Venice by TJ Larkey – were all on the same independent press. Back Patio Press. Not to mention, at the time of this epiphany, I was anxiously awaiting another package with Cavin’s latest offerings. So why not just do a feature of the press? If Back Patio is consistently delivering the good shit, why not just shine some light on this operation? Also, let’s be real…it sounds easier than writing four or five reviews.
So I reached out to Back Patio Press’ Editor-in-Chief Cavin Bryce Gonzalez and Managing Editor Zac Smith on Twitter (this is where things happen, folks), and we talked about making books, running a press, and monetizing our hobbies. Of course, it was chaotic and ridiculous and fun, but it also was a conversation with two people who are passionate about what they do and know exactly what they want, yet don’t adhere to rigid boundaries. And it certainly has me looking forward to the future of Back Patio.
Jerome Spencer: Start at the beginning. Tell me who y’all are and what you’ve done.
Zac Smith: My name is Zac Smith and someone on Twitter just recommended I look up this Shins EP that’s not on Spotify. And I’m listening to it now and it’s pretty good.
Cavin Bryce Gonzalez: My name is Cavin Bryce, and I started reading independent literature in 2017 when I was in college and still thought writing could be a job. I somehow found my way to Soft Cartel where I was an editor and when the other team members wanted to move on I was like, ‘Well, shit…I wanna keep publishing because it’s fun.’ Also, I do not listen to The Shins, but I have two of them…2shinzzz.
ZS: I got into the indie lit scene in like 2017, because I had written a novel and wanted to figure out how to get it published. Then I found the stuff that was going on, sort of post-alt lit, and started writing short stuff and got involved in the community. I met Cavin from submitting a long story about a head to Soft Cartel and we’ve been friends ever since.
CBG: Yeah, Zac submitted a story to me at Soft Cartel, and I was like, ‘I’m going to be his friend now.’
JS: So Back Patio comes from the ashes of Soft Cartel. Was there a gameplan there or just the desire to keep it going?
CBG: Absolutely zero fucking gameplan. I loved working at Soft Cartel, and I put together my first book under Soft Cartel. I love making books and working with people. It’s fun. That’s my whole motivation, having fun. There were all these amazing books and stories and poems and nobody was publishing them. So I thought: I can literally just publish these myself.
ZS: Cavin’s a great editor, and I think he and the community both needed him at the helm of a press. When Cavin said he was making books, I got excited and wanted to help because I wanted to make books, too.
JS: A website seems ambitious enough, but books…
ZS: I remember feeling proud of Cavin when he announced Back Patio and all these great people immediately started sending him writing.
JS: Cavin was the first person I ever submitted fiction to. I just felt like he would “get it” and I think that’s a thing.
CBG: I think homies having fun and riffing is the reason Back Patio continues. There’s a drastic lack of real friendship/genuine passion in the publishing scene. I was blown away. I thought Back Patio would just be this little thing, and I’d just publish my friends or whatever, but the support was amazing. I guess people just jive with the movement.
JS: It does feel like a movement. And it feels intentionally cultivated.
ZS: Definitely. I was blown away by his response when I subbed to Soft Cartel. Super enthusiastic, kind and really friendly. I think Cavin brings that energy so hard, and I think it resonates with people who love writing, but don’t feel like they fit into all the academic bullshit or pretentious lit mag drama stuff.
CBG: Running a website is cool and fun and all, but it’s the act of making a physical object of art that really invigorates me. There’s something magical about making a book from scratch.
JS: Your starting line-up is amazing. How do you find these authors?
CBG: Just like this, man. I’ll be talking to someone who enjoys reading. We swap stories and manuscripts and when I like something I think, ‘Oh, I’m going to publish this.’
JS: Is that informal method how you plan to continue? Or is Back Patio going corporate?
ZS: We’re selling out, baby. We’re getting that Long John Silvers money.
CBG: Dude, yeah. I’m just gonna publish really boring, marketable books and buy a new car and drive it into the sun. We’ll keep it informal, for sure. More structure moving forward, but Back Patio at its heart is just people fucking around and having a good time.
JS: Can you tell me what’s next? How many books have you got locked and loaded?
ZS: 2021 is almost all set. We did Cavin’s book with the bonus book. Next is Watertown by Dan Eastman, then Good at Drugs by KKUURRTT and Liver Mush by Graham Irvin. Dan [Eastman] originally sent me a draft of Watertown for advice on sending it as a chapbook to some loser press, and I said, ‘Don’t do that, this is a book.’
CBG: It is cool how many of our books wouldn’t have existed if we didn’t organically motivate our homies to write them. Or publish them. Feels cliché or whatever, but we genuinely love the books we publish. You read something so good that it’s GOT to be made.
ZS: I think there are so many presses around with print on demand and digital printing and everyone seems it as a get rich quick scheme. At Back Patio, we don’t like that churn-em-out mindset or plotting to make money. So, yeah, it’s basically making stuff by and for friends.
JS: So that’s the only motivation?
CBG: Absolutely. Nobody likes working. Back Patio isn’t work, it’s a genuine passion project. I see editors and publishers complaining about shit and it blows my mind. I don’t know why anyone would do this if it wasn’t incredibly fun for you.
ZS: I think my ideals about indie lit is that there’s such a huge discrepancy between the larger industry and indie publishing that there’s some sense of freedom in just saying yes to something weird and new. For so long, a printed book was just so expensive and hard to make, it required teams of people and huge investments. So there’s something really fun about being able to say, ‘Yeah, we can make nearly professional looking books, but when you open it, it’s about liver mush instead of sad New Englanders.’
JS: From the outside, Back Patio kind of looks like a really specific record label.
ZS: I can’t speak for Cavin, but I come from the indie rock world where my favorite labels are small cassette-only or limited edition vinyl-only doing weird, experimental music. I think indie lit can learn a lot from indie music.
CBG: We tend to skew toward real shit. There are so many fucking books already in existence, the same stories and tropes and the same poems getting rewritten. But when you can make a weird book, something totally different, that’s empowering. Zac has been teaching me about modeling Back Patio after indie music labels.
ZS: I think art that speaks to just a few people but really resonates with them has so much more value than broadly appealing art. Like, I really vibe with people who aren’t delusional about their art’s appeal to the mass audience.
CBG: The fewer people who will appreciate an artistic creation is directly related to how vastly they can appreciate it. When you just write for five people, those five people are going to absolutely love it.
ZS: Yeah, and I know I rely on small labels and presses to curate art that I know I’ll like. If a band has a tape on such-and-such label, I’ll definitely check it out and four out of five times I end up liking it. I want Back Patio to be that for people because there’s so much out there and it’s hard to find what you like.
JS: That is what Back Patio is becoming for me.
CBG: We’re just lucky to work with writers who have a realistic perception of what INDIE literature is. You see a lot of writers on the indie scene and their dream is to get like…agents and to be on Oprah’s fucking book list. There’s nothing punk about being on Oprah’s book list.
ZS: And I think that we can all acknowledge almost all of us have had that delusional mindset, but I wouldn’t send my stupid shoegazey, demo-quality music to Epic Records or whatever.
CBG: Back Patio Press: send us your shoegaze demo tape. I hope that the transparency and human connection Back Patio oozes continues to establish trust with people. I really want to be just homies having fun. The closer in proximity I get to “the scene” the more I realize it’s just people. No brand, just people. And some people are fucked.
ZS: I know it comes from a place of privilege to say this, but I don’t trust art that’s used as a source of income. I think it’d be impossible to truly write what you feel you need to write or express while knowing that it needs to end up being palatable to some big editor to pay your rent.
CBG: The desire to make money from writing is absolutely insane to me. I like being able to pay authors – that’s the best part – but it circles back to “work.” I fucking hate working. I don’t want to hate writing.
ZS: I like art that comes from people writing in their free time because it’s fun for them and it’s exactly what they want to write. And they’d be just as happy self-publishing or throwing it in a garbage fire at the end of the day.
JS: Isn’t that the loop? I don’t want writing to be work, but I want my job to be writing. Don’t we all want that?
ZS: Yeah? I don’t think I would. I wouldn’t want to monetize my hobbies.
JS: Sure. Me either. But I don’t want my job.
CBG: That’s why independent art is so good. It ISN’T inherently palatable or made to generate income. I’d rather read a book written in the notes app than a book written at a mahogany desk.
ZS: Basically, I think it just comes back to what people have been doing forever; just creating a space or community as an alternative to whatever happens in the boardrooms for the masses. We’re not really pioneering anything. We’re just having fun.
Featured image courtesy of Back Patio Press.
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