If you’ve been reading the blog regularly (thanks, Mom!), you remember my last discussion about deciding what to read. Well, I had an epiphany the other day. I had volunteered to work at a book talk in San Francisco, and while I stood there at the back of the room listening to the author (a famous comedian) and the moderator talk, I realized that I was not going to buy either of their books. The piece that the author read was funny, and I think that if I had bought it and read it, I would find it enjoyable, but right this minute, I won’t be able to read the books I already own before I die.

Meanwhile, I keep going to events like AWP, Litquake, and Bay Area Book Festival, as well as various smaller events where one is faced with the possibility of acquiring more books. I’ve realized that I have one of three choices:

1. I can make this book a priority. 

I have done this with various books for various reasons, including that the author was a personal friend and has asked me for a review or a blurb, or I have heard from multiple trusted sources that the book is extraordinary and therefore worth reading. Books like these get to jump the queue of my reading list and go straight to the top. 2666 had to wait its turn, but H is for Hawk jumped to the head of the line. I’m not sure what I’ll read after it, but I have lots to choose from.

2. I can lie to myself about whether I’ll ever read this book.

A few times a year, I’m invited to an event where there are press galleys of books available. Normally, there’s an enormous table or a jumble of boxes, and there’s a single copy of each book. I can be counted on to take home an armload of books, because heck, they’re free, and I think to myself at the time that I might read them. But, although the book might sound interesting, and in fact might even be the best thing I’ve ever read (I’m always open to that possibility), they are put at the very end of the queue, behind the 2-year stack of The New Yorker taking up an inordinate amount of shelf space. Many of those books are likely to languish, having never seen the light of my beside lamp.

3. I can be honest with myself and not buy the book. 

This was the epiphany I had. I knew I wasn’t going to read the famous comedian’s book, because I’d rather read Neal Stephenson’s new book Seveneves, or Italo Calvino’s The Complete Cosmicomics, or Roseanne Montillo’s The Lady and Her Monsters, all of which are sitting on my shelf, pristine, waiting their turn. If a friend were to come to me with their book and ask for a review, or if I were to hear five friends all recommend the same book, that book would be purchased and  jump to the front of the queue. My future grandchildren will be pawing through my library wondering why Gamma (no, it’s not a typo, I’m just a very high-energy kind of person) has so many beautiful, pristine books, when I’d much rather they be reading my annotations in the margins, or wondering why I put five exclamation points next to this or that passage.

The realization that I will never be able to read all the books I want equates to the realization of my own mortality. The lights will grow dim, the words indistinct, and I will leave this world with so many books unread, but not unloved.


lise-quintanaLise Quintana is the publisher behind Zoetic Press. She is an author and inventor, and at any given moment is in the middle of reading 5 different books. 

The Importance Of A Balanced Diet

Just as it’s normal to reflect on one’s mortality after the death of a loved one, it’s normal to reflect on the state of publishing and the literary world after AWP.

One of the popular topics of conversation at every AWP is the VIDA count – a sort of scorecard of how many women are being published and hold editorial positions at various publications. Places like The New Yorker continue to underrepresent women both as authors of the pieces they publish and as authors of the books they review, whereas Tin House, which was slightly skewed toward men in 2010 has achieved parity by 2014.

Gender parity in publishing is the kind of issue that provokes such strong feeling that it’s creating a schism that might destroy the Hugo Awards, with Connie Willis declining to present and authors declining nominations. There have been other venues where white, heterosexual men have felt that the inclusion of more people who are not them is some kind of discrimination against them, and their cries of “Unfair!” baffle those of us who have been fighting for some kind of level playing field for so long.

At one panel on women in editing, a woman in the audience gave an anecdote about a middle-aged white man in a class saying that he now felt discriminated against, since so many publishers publish only women, or only people of a specific ethnicity, or only people who identify as genderqueer. She wanted to know how to gracefully respond to that man. Most of us in the room nodded our heads, because that feels like the conversation we’re all having in one venue or another. If we don’t include heterosexual white men they cry discrimination, but if they don’t include anyone else, they claim it’s because no one else measures up.

When I had my first kid, I fed her all sorts of stuff – sushi and tofu and weird vegetables – and she developed a taste for all of it. She would try just about anything, because that’s what she had been accustomed to. I know of other parents whose children will eat nothing but chicken nuggets or mashed potatoes, and so they feed their children nothing but chicken nuggets or mashed potatoes and figure that they’ll deal with the consequences later.

That’s exactly what’s happened to the literary canon – as school kids, we’re fed the chicken nuggets and mashed potatoes of heterosexual white male literature and told “this is what’s good and important.” It means that when we encounter a chayote squash or a star fruit, we have no idea how to approach it, and therefore reject it as not being as good as what we’re used to. Never mind that both chayote squash and star fruit are more nutritious than chicken nuggets or mashed potatoes, or that their delicate flavors demand a little more attention to appreciate – most people will never know, because they don’t even see those things as they’re making a beeline toward the chicken nuggets and mashed potatoes.

This is not to say that nobody should ever have chicken nuggets or mashed potatoes. This is only to say that there is a wide world of other things out there – from paella and tiny presses that publish the most esoteric, hard-to-read experiments to arugula and imprints of huge conglomerates that publish names you just haven’t heard yet – that one can incorporate into one’s own literary diet. And yes, it means that in some places, white heterosexual men won’t be first in line when they’re handing out bylines or book reviews, but it’s not like they won’t be in the line at all. With more books being published than ever before, and more than 7 billion people on the planet, I think there’s room for everybody.


Lise Quintana is the publisher behind Zoetic Press, the author of a considerable number of short stories, and the kind of person who will put jalapeño tabasco on just about anything. 


AWP: Obliterator of Intentions

I went to AWP with the best intentions – I’d see every booth and table at the book fair, I’d attend every panel even tangentially related to my interests, I’d hunt down all the authors I like and make them sign stuff, I would hang out with friends I don’t get to see very often.

Well, I got to see most of the book fair, and I hung out with friends (both old and new), and I even saw a couple of panels, but let’s be honest – AWP is BIG. Like a lot of writers, I’m an introvert, but I’m also the head of a small press and someone who’s deeply interested in the intersection of writing and technology. How do you find others of your kind, network on behalf of your business, and let people know you support their work without making yourself crazy?

Here are a few of my own strategies:

  • Have enough business cards. You don’t have to spend a lot on them, because nowadays, people will only hang onto your business card long enough to get the information into their phones, but having them is key. And while you’re at it, have a pen handy so that when someone hands you theirs, you can jot down why you want to contact them later.
  • Liquor is a wonderful social lubricant. Have a drink with a new friend at the overpriced venue bar. Bring a flask and offer a drink to a nervous speaker. As long as you don’t overdo it, liquor can be a conversation starter, a way to bond with people, and take away just enough anxiety to allow for that first “hello.”
  • Say yes anytime someone asks if you want to do something. “Do you want to put this rubber mask on your head and pose next to a cardboard cutout of a mountie?” YES. “Do you want to try this tiny letterpress?” YES. “Do you want to explore this interesting landmark on the other side of town?” YES. Don’t let swag be the only thing you bring home from AWP – take some chances, do some goofy stuff, make some fun memories.
  • Compliment people. Tell the editors at your favorite publication that you like them. Congratulate all your author friends on their publications (which you should also buy and read). Let people know that you love their writing, the way they dress, the fact that they are alive in the world. Make AWP your chance to bond with your tribe.
  • Know the signs that mean you’ve had enough. I’m still bad at this one, but an inability to process what I’m seeing, a feeling of profound fatigue, irritability and apathy are all signs that I’m done. I need to head back to my hotel and have a little down time so that when I come back, I’m ready to embrace the Disneyland-scale crazy of AWP.

If you’re an introvert who went to Minneapolis this year, how did you handle it? What advice to you have for the first-timer? What essential do you recommend everyone bring?


Lise Quintana is the publisher behind Zoetic Press. She is a fiction writer, head of a publishing empire, and owner of a legendary collection of taxidermied houseplants. 



2015: Year of the Poet

One of the pre-AWP rituals is the viewing of the schedule, where you try to balance going to the enormous book fair with getting to see all your friends and literary heroes at their panels, readings, and events. As I perused this year’s offerings, looking (mostly in vain) for electronic literature-themed panels that are about more than just letting grade school students use computers, I noticed that there were an awful lot of poetry events. More than I’ve seen in previous years. Which meant that if 2014 was the Year of Craft and Letterpress Books, 2015 is the Year of the Poet.

About time, too. While I myself am a fiction writer, I know lots of poets, and what I know is that good poetry requires a level and type of discipline that longer forms don’t. I’ve written in other venues about my search for what I call the “pixel of narrative” – the smallest fragment of text that can contain narrative meaning. I don’t think that it can be the word, because nearly all words carry multiple meanings and so rely on other words for context. The miracle of poetry is the poet’s ability to exploit that multiplicity of meanings to convey layered, nuanced, surprising imagery with a very small number of words.

Are you a writer of both prose and poetry? How does the one discipline inform the other? What do you get from each one? Tell us!

lise-quintanaLise Quintana is the publisher behind Zoetic Press. She is a fiction writer, software mogul and the sort of person who can totally pull off pairing plaids with polka dots.