The Wonderfully Weird World of Back Patio Press

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.

…Back Patio at its heart is just people fucking around and having a good time.”

– Cavin Bryce Gonzalez (Back Patio Press Editor-in-Chief)

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.

Watertown by Dan Eastman courtesy of Back Patio Press

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.

I think indie lit can learn a lot from indie music.”

– Zac Smith (Back Patio Press Managing Editor)

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.

I Could Be Your Neighbor, Isn’t That Horrifying? by Cavin Bryce Gonzalez courtesy of Back Patio Press

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.

Still not sure where to get your ultimate reading fix??? It’s Back Patio Press—do yourself a favor and click the link!

The Road to “Tom Sawyer”

by jerome spencer

i love pickles

and you

you love pickles

and not me

“The cool thing about poetry ,” Joey Grantham tells me, “-or at least a lot of this poetry that we’re talking about- is how little is actually given to you on the page, but how much you feel like you can take away from it.”

There’s a lot to take away from Tom Sawyer. It’s a weird little collection of poems and Joey really disarms the reader with dry wit and clever observations before going right for the gut with relatable and heartbreaking sentiment. And the sadness that sneaks up on you while reading Tom Sawyer only seems to hit harder once it’s been filtered through such gloriously humorous musings. Tom Sawyer is comprised of nothing but raw honesty, whether it’s random observations from the bus, an assessment of the inconsistency of Stereolab or fragments of a lovelorn inner monologue, Joey offers nothing less than genuine and relevant poetry. The work is sweet without being hokey and powerful, but not overbearing. Tom Sawyer explores depression without feeling hopeless, while simultaneously celebrating the tiny beautiful things that are routinely overlooked; it’s the poetry of the mundane filtered through an uncanny intellect and presented as (mostly) minimalist poetry with no affectation or bluster to speak of.

Written mostly while living in New York and working at the independent bookstore McNally Jackson, Joey started Tom Sawyer organically enough:

 Tom Sawyer is out now via  Civil Coping Mechanisms
Tom Sawyer is out now via Civil Coping Mechanisms

“Sometimes I just felt trapped in that bookstore. And that’s why I would write these poems,” he says, “I wrote the majority of Tom Sawyer while I was at work. I wrote them on bookmarks and loose scraps of paper we had. Anytime I was stuck sitting at the register or information desk I would try to.”

Before McNally Jackson, though, Joey attended Bennington College in Vermont, which he describes as “a weird hippie school where you create your own major.” So Joey decided to major in writing.

“I’m sure I made up a fancy way of saying I want to write stories,” he confesses, “But really I just wanted an excuse to read and write. Bennington was where I built up the confidence to send out stories. That’s where I first wrote to Scott McClanahan and I kinda just reached out to people. And people were nice enough to reply back and help me.”

It’s at this point where the Joseph Grantham story turns into some kind of surreal independent literature fairy tale.

“I met Bud (Smith) through the press that I run with my sister because we published one of his books called Dust Bunny City.”

Oh yeah, Joey also runs the exceptional Disorder Press with his sister Mikaela, a fiercely independent press that champions some of the best contemporary authors.

“After I graduated from college and I moved to New York I was close to Bud,” Joey continues, “We were working on his book and I would call him and talk about edits. It made sense to finally just meet up in person and hang out. So I started hanging out with Bud every once in a while and after his book came out I threw a reading for him and I just started hanging out with him a lot more. Scott ended up writing to me when I was working at McNally Jackson. I remember getting an email from him saying like ‘hey, I like everything you’re doing with your press’ and he just started asking me questions like what are you reading and blah blah blah. When he came to New York to do The Sarah Book reading – him and his wife, who I’m sure you know is a really good writer, Juliet Escoria – they were like ‘you should just come live with us and work at Walmart’. And I was planning on being out of New York when my lease was up anyway.”

There’s a poem in Tom Sawyer, ‘poem for scott mcclanahan,’ that is so casually startling that I had to read it at least 3 times before I really absorbed the profundity of it. A lot of Joey’s work is like that, it just eases into the dark parts without warning. He just kind of pulls you down into the depths with his words and it’s hard to tell how you got there.

“As it got closer to the end of my lease Bud was like ‘Joey, why don’t you work at the bookstore for another month and just live in my guestroom and save up paychecks?’ So I lived with Bud for a month and then he drove me to West Virginia and dropped me off at Scott’s and I lived there for like a month and a half.”

 Joey and his kitties. He’s holding Tammy Wynette. The lil one in the corner is Possum.
Joey and his kitties. He’s holding Tammy Wynette. The lil one in the corner is Possum.

There’s a poem for Bud Smith in there, too. It’s a bit more light-hearted, but still meticulously frank and unadulterated. It’s sort of a light at the end of the tunnel, which Joey tends to pepper throughout the entirety of Tom Sawyer.

After a stay with Scott McClanahan, Joey ended up back in his parents’ house in a suburb right outside of San Francisco – a situation no one wants to find themselves in. He eventually landed a job at another well-known bookstore, City Lights, and got an apartment in the city.

“It was just recreating my New York experience, but with less friends and less stuff going on,” Joey laments, “So that felt like some sick fucked up joke that I played on myself.”

Throughout all of this moving and getting to hang out with other brilliant writers, Joey was turning his poems into a book.

“Michael Seidlinger, who owns Civil Coping Mechanisms, asked me if I had a manuscript when I was working at McNally Jackson,” Joey continues, “I think I had maybe 40 or 50 poems and so I said ‘yeah I have a manuscript I’ll send it to you in like a week’. And I think I sent it to him two weeks later. I started finding every poem I’d written in the last year.”

So, at this point, Joey knows he’s got a publisher and he’s got the content; he just needs to turn it into a cohesive book. This part is the most interesting to me so we’re going to get into the details:

“Some of those are exactly the way they were written on the bookmarks or whatever and then others I ended up working on a lot. I started finding every poem I’d written in the last year. And things I didn’t know were poems like the beginnings of stories. And I thought ‘that’s a poem’. I’d go through the notes in my phone and think ‘this could be in my book’. And I sent it to him and it was probably 90 pages at that point. 90 poems. A week after he got it he said ‘yeah, lets publish this. Let’s do it in like a year’. So I had a year to just look at this thing. I definitely had some time to do some editing. Anytime I was bored or not working on something I would go back to Tom Sawyer and I would fuck with it and move something around. And I’d write poems for Tom Sawyer once I realized it was book. And I really paid attention to the order of the poems. That really mattered to me.”

At a sparse 119 pages, it’s easy to see how much attention Joey paid to detail while writing Tom Sawyer. Each poem is scrupulously crafted and possesses a certain type of charming, if a bit discomfited type of beauty. It becomes obvious that Joey is spilling his guts in this work and he’s not pulling back or hiding behind any of the usual pretenses. In sad poem he writes:

we live in a world

where i write poems

about one person

who made me sad

a long time ago

It’s hard to miss the simplicity in that, but the candor and disaster are just as obvious. Tom Sawyer isn’t a traditional poetry collection because it’s so much more. It’s something that feels so instantaneous and urgent, like sleep-deprived confessions in the pitch-black darkness. Many of these poems read like something you weren’t supposed to see, like you know too much. Tom Sawyer is Joey’s life, but the inner-monologue of Joey’s life, the part of other people we don’t usually get to see.

“It started to become chronological,” Joey says, “It’s amazing when you gather all this stuff from like a year of your life that you don’t think you’ve been writing as one cohesive thing how much of it fits together. And how much of it is about the same kinda stuff. Still when I flip through my book I’m like ‘oh shit that thing relates to that other thing’ or I repeated myself in that poem and this poem over here. And I’m still kinda realizing that, but that’s kinda cool.”

I’m not sure what’s next for Joey and he’s not sure either. He recently moved to rural North Carolina with Ashleigh Bryant Phillips, who happens to be – you guessed it – another brilliant writer. They met through Bud Smith, started talking online and decided to be roommates. This next part has nothing to with the creation of or the content of Tom Sawyer, I just think it’s really fucking cute:

“It wasn’t like romantic at all,” Joey assures me, “I was attracted to Ashleigh, but I made it a point to not fall in love with this person. It was just stupid of me to think that I wouldn’t fall for this person. And when I got here it took me like two days before I was like’ oh fuck, I really like this person and if she doesn’t like me back I’m gonna end up writing another book of sad poems.’ It seems to be working out right now.”

Heart-On-Sleeve Word Vomit in “Quick Fix”

by Jerome Spencer

“i understand what it means to understand

i’m just tired of using language for it”

There’s urgency in Catch Business’ poetry. It’s as if she just pours her thoughts out as they come with little to no regard for a second perspective. I’m not talking about that pretentious, beat-worshipping, stream-of-consciousness word garble, though; it’s more like unabashedly candid, stark and startlingly intimate. The poems contained in Quick Fix are beautiful in their vulnerability and brave in their sincerity. There’s a cutting familiarity about Quick Fix, as well. Poems that capture that thousandth time you’ve checked your iPhone or opened the Facebook app to see if you’ve been ghosted or are just overreacting hit a little too close to home sometimes.

It would be a disservice to imply that Quick Fix is all heart-on-sleeve word-vomit and odes to smartphones, though. Catch has a knack for capturing the symbolism in commonplace situations, making the very personal appear boldly universal as well. It is because these poems are so current and immediate that they feel so personal. Catch is writing about the kind of things that happen every day and the tiny scenarios that play out in our heads, but she put a language to it. And that language is tremendous. There’s a tercet from “thinking of me” that I can’t stop thinking about:

for shock value we create miracles

i feel so small on my couch

ash on your belly

It’s so deceptively obvious, yet gets more mystifying every time I read it. And I’ve read this whole collection over and over again, each time discovering some new meaning or a different paradox to explore. No matter how often I thumb through the pages, though, Quick Fix never gets any less gorgeous.

Kind-Of Interview with Bud Smith on His Sort-Of Memoir, “Work”

by Jerome Spencer

“Do your beautiful thing. We don’t judge people who seek beauty in the dirt, we make fun of those who lay down in the dirt and do not dream.”

I was heading out on my lunch break with a copy of Bud Smith’s Work and some Oreos when my boss stopped me.

“Whatcha reading there? What’s it about?”
“It’s about this guy that works in a nuclear reactor facility, but he also writes a lot of books.”
“Wow.” My boss nodded, “Sounds electrifying.”
Silence.
“Get it?”
I didn’t.
“You can use that in your review.”
I did.

But Work is about so much more than that. Work is a memoir (of sorts) about splendor and how to seek it out every day. Work is about hanging onto your inspiration even when the monotony of the “real world” starts to grind you down. Work is a love story to the working class from the working class, and a love story about a man and a woman. Work is an instruction manual about keeping your head above water no matter how high the tide of capitalism rises. Or maybe it’s not that deep; I don’t know.

Somewhat of a non-sequential autobiography, Work tells Bud Smith’s story of growing up in New Jersey, working heavy construction, falling in love, moving to New York City after/because of a drunken argument and writing. What makes this story so extraordinary is how none of it is actually ever extraordinary. Work is compelling because it’s just so average; this could be anyone’s life, but, in the masterful hands of Bud Smith, it becomes so compelling that you can’t put the book down.

Many of the stories are anecdotal and funny in that heartwarming, been-there kind of way, but Work also becomes full of insight to anyone out there that has a dream beyond making ends meet. There’s a dialogue in which Smith is encouraging his co-worker at an oil-refinery to write a children’s book for his daughter as they drive through Jersey that effortlessly captures all of the beauty we all share yet rarely acknowledge. There’s a lot of idealistic languages here; big talk about how art can save us all and how we should never give up and persevere and follow our dreams. Yet it never feels pedestrian or corny or over the top. Rather, it seems hopeful and joyous and, at times, prophetic

Work is the story about a man going through the same bullshit as the rest of us and managing to find the beauty in the struggle and appreciate the love all around him and just keep doing what he’s passionate about. I messaged Bud Smith some sentimental shit about how this book inspired me and he responded:

“Aw thanks, man… I love being alive and every day is a stupid chance to make something”

And maybe that should have been the review. Either that or the thing my boss said.

 

“Something Bright, Then Holes” Filled with Profundity and Connotation

by Jerome Spencer

After garnering national praise for 2009’s Bluets and 2015’s stunning The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson has become a household name (in literate households, at least). And we all wait patiently for her next endeavor, (she’s been releasing poignant literature since 2001, and it’s all worth revisiting). Soft Skull Press has released a gorgeous reissue of Nelson’s Something Bright, Then Holes and, despite being originally published in 2007, it’s easily one of the best books of 2018.

A true master of her craft, Maggie Nelson elicits genuine awe with each turn of the page. Something Bright, Then Holes is an essential 76 pages, but I’ve easily earmarked 70 of them, struck by the passion and control of such a bold display of words. The poems within these pages are so full of profundity and connotation that I’m inclined to go back and read them again yet forced to stop and remember to breathe before my entire chest caves in.

The narrative of Something Bright, Then Holes is candid and heartfelt, blurring the lines between poetry and storytelling fluently and with thoughtful contemplation. There’s real being in Nelson’s lines and while it’s tempting to dissect her craft and praise such illustrious technique, I’d rather dive into the depths of her observations and the elegant aspects of life she finds symbolism in as she expresses them until they’re palpable. These poems swathe their reader and craft a voyeuristic sense of empathy; it’s as if you’re not supposed to be there. Yet, here you are.

When Nelson describes brushing the broken teeth of her teacher/mentor in the hospital after a devastating accident, you can smell the impersonal sanitation and feel the unreasonably white sheets. When she laments a summer spent on the polluted and neglected canal, you can hear the cackling of the wayward seagulls and the whirr of the propellers. It’s next to impossible not to get enveloped in Something Bright, Then Holes as Nelson creates a world so poignant and vivid that it almost feels as if you’re intruding and stealing from her, but Nelson’s remarkable vision and rumination on love, lust, loss and letting go dissuade any guilt or hesitation and invite you in.

In honor of #PrideMonth, email Soft Skull Publishing your shipping address and a donation receipt for $25 or more towards Transgender Law Center, and they’ll ship you a copy of the book.

Send it over to contact@softskull.com before June ends!