Archive for the ‘small press’ category

Review of Damascus by Joshua Mohr


by Elena Makansi, BSP Summer Intern

I had the opportunity to read Damascus as an ARC after picking it up from the Two Dollar Radio booth at Book Expo America 2011. I began reading it on the road home, and finished it somewhere between Wilmington, DE and St. Louis, MO.

The characters Mohr weaves in Damascus are quite wonderful and wonderfully strange. The owner of the bar, Owen (my personal favorite) has a birthmark on his upper lip that makes him look like Hitler. To hide from his own self-consciousness and escape the judgment of others, he dons a Santa suit he buys for twenty bucks on the sidewalk. His daughter, Daph, is a writer, poet, and lesbian. Her friend No-Eyebrows is suffering the very last months of cancer, hairless and sagging, grasping for hope, feeling, escape. He becomes a loyal and rule-breaking client of Damascus’ own sort-of-whore, whose office is located in the bar bathroom and whose nickname is Shambles. Then there is Daph’s friend Syl, the artist whose live show seizes two sides of a political battle and forces them together, unwittingly and with meaningful consequences.

Mohr’s firm grasp on characterization is clear. His characters are broken but shimmering, just like the shattered-mirror constellations Owen glues to the ceiling of his bar. They’re mean, vaguely gross, crass, and misguided drunkards, artists, and war veterans, yet they have a gentle, glowing core that’s soft to the touch. The reader wants these characters to hope, to feel okay, to be okay. Heroism, triumph, success—these grand concepts are perhaps even grander at a small scale, more deserved for the down and out, and even more meaningful for characters we can believe in. They remind us that the arc of one’s triumph does not have to be large to be significant, and that anyone can be a hero in their own small way. Just like the stars in the sky, Mohr’s may seem small from where we are standing, but by the end of the novel we can feel their heat and light in full-force.

My biggest beef with Damascus was the portrayal of the characters acting the pro-War side of the conflict. These on the “other side” seem stupid, violent, quick to judge, and flat. Perhaps this is an attempt to exaggerate and personify Mohr’s feelings about the war (it is part protest-novel, after all), in which case I think it would have benefited from a more compassionate outlook. Mohr uses up all of his wonder and character-insight for his Damascus-goers, and leaves very little for the art-show protestors. All of the characters in this book are misguided, but the difference is that those on the pro-War side are only misguided. They are not misguided but beautiful, or misguided but compassionate. They are simply wrong.

The book seized my heart at the very first paragraph, in which we are introduced to the Mission district bar at the core of the novel as a “planetarium for drunkards: dejected men and women stargazing from barstools.” This first paragraph is a portent of what’s to come. The writing is potent, poetic, and beautiful in a rough-hewn, worldly way. Some bits are pure stargazing, while other bits are a bit more down to earth, such as thorough descriptions of handjobs for an almost dead man. Damascus is graceful at heart, but full of stumbling characters and stumbling lives. Mohr’s ability to mix humor and grief and sympathy together is enviable and brilliant. I hope this book does not remain his “most accomplished novel yet” because I believe there is still lots of potential for growth for Joshua Mohr, and I hope to read more from him in the future.


Collaborative Publishing Thoughts from Kristy


So…lately I’ve been thinking about publishing. About the business of publishing. We’ve put out two wonderful (and very different) debut novels and we’re getting ready to sign one more. But we have a very restrictive form of publishing with Blank Slate Press and I think we’re limited in what we can do with BSP’s regional focus.

In the NYTimes a couple of weeks ago, there was a piece about artists and the studio model where assistants do all the art….where pieces can sell for a gazillion dollars even when the “artist” didn’t even touch them. This is the same model that James Patterson uses…he has an idea for a book and puts his minions to work writing the actual book. The infamous James Frey is doing a similar type of thing with his studio.

I think that is inherently disingenuous…but, if no one really cares and the books and the art is still selling, then obviously the people buying the work don’t really care. The brand name is all that matters and it connotes a certain style or art or a certain style of writing.

Also, in the visual art world, there is the artists’ cooperative. Where artists band together to rent space together and show together but whose work is very different.

And in the film world, there is (was) United Artists which was founded by four film stars. Granted, I (and nobody I know) am not a film or a literary star, but the concept is the same. And because technology is breaking down barriers to publishing, the only thing that remains in the way of getting a well-written book out there is the system of gate-keepers called agents. Some agents are already responding to changes in publishing by starting their own e-imprints. But this is beside the point because you still have to jump through all the hoops to get the agent in the first place.

In the professional world, doctors, dentists, and lawyers get together to form limited liability partnerships (basically cooperatives) where partners own the company and split profits according to ownership percentages.

So, back to publishing. On the one hand there are the thousands of people who are taking advantage of Kindle/Nook/Smashwords to self-publish. Some of these writers are putting out high quality work and are having great success – including the now famous Amanda Hocking and John Locke, who were never traditionally published before they self-published. On the other hand, established authors (J.A.Konrath stands out) have turned to self-publishing (often starting with their backlist of books that never got published) after success with a traditional publisher. Now, Amazon has started its own publishing house with imprints for literary fiction, romance, mystery…all the established rules are in flux.

What I’m interested in is the idea of an author’s cooperative like an artist’s cooperative/professional limited liability partnership. I’m interested in charting a middle course between a publishing house and self-publishing. Where a group of authors gets together to curate each other’s work. Where an author can come to the group with a manuscript, have the group vet the writing and decide whether or not the author “fits” into the sensibility of the group, and then have two or three other authors help edit the work and get it in shape for publishing and then put it out there under the moniker of the single publishing house brand. When an author joins he or she invests a certain amount of money and then when the author has a title that is ready to go, so to speak, funds will be allocated to cover the cost of the book production (proofreading, cover art, printing/mailing ARCS, etc.) and then an agreed upon split of the proceeds will return to the author and to the cooperative/publishing house to support marketing efforts to promote the brand/house. There must be a consensus between the author and the author/editors as to when the book is “done” and ready for release.

It’s an author-owned and controlled publishing house. While there are/would be still lots of kinks to be thought through, I think it is an intriguing idea. What do you think?

Sincerity Means Never Judging The Book Before It’s Been Cooked


Here’s a review Regina Till, a fellow writer and friend, sent me after reading an ARC of The Samaritan. It is not only extremely gratifying, but it made me laugh out loud–especially since she’s eaten my cooking and lived to tell.  I’m delighted to present it in full:

Do you share this conundrum now and then, when a friend says something like, “I can’t wait for you to see my…taste my…meet my….”  (I.E. Hair style?  World class chili?  New boyfriend?) You pray there will at least be something there to which you can offer a positive comment or two.  (I.e. Green is your color!   Is that ketchup I taste?   His moustache looks so real …) Before you’ve even smelled the chili,  you’re warming up for ketchup?

A friend of mine started her own publishing company.  It features writers from the greater St. Louis region.   She and her partners leaped in with a concrete investment of money, time and know-how, and a faith that if you build it (offer excellent fiction) people (readers/investors) will come.  Their philosophy transpired out of their experience; that talent exists right here in river city and surrounds,  and with it a large pool of authors who don’t get the opportunity to be read, or the recognition they deserve, for a variety of reasons.  In addition to the pure talent of available authors, they ascribed to that time-tested (and largely cast aside in the rest of the publishing world) art of editor/author symbiosis that would nurture good into better.   It all sounded fine to me, even as I was a little doubtful that the result could challenge the stacks of unread books I have sitting next to my overflowing bookshelves.  It was that skeptic in me who prepared for a worst-case scenario. How would I kindly encourage if I honestly thought the result was at best a nice try, at worse, a one-chapter read and a painful glaze-over through the rest?   In the meantime, the chili was on the stove.

So when she announced last summer that her company, Blank Slate Press, had two new authors, and then more recently that the books were done, and the first author’s book was ready for release, I gave her the easy (for me) truth.  Congratulations!  And I meant it.  That, in itself, was an accomplishment.  Blank Slate Press fulfilled a promise to writers if nothing else.  And in only a little more than a year, no less!   That’s good news.   If the actual books proved to be only so-so, well, there is honor in trying.

But of course, the time came.  “I’ll give you an early copy, let me know, honestly, what you think,” she said.  Immediately my mind ran a treadmill of worn out platitudes and phrases.  (Fascinating premise.  The cover is eye catching!  Good use of semi-colons.)  But more importantly, how would I  (or should I even) let her down if, after reading, all I thought she was doing was feeding a delusion?  Beg off with the truth, that I am only one reader?  That I am a cranky one on top of it?  That I am, after all, no critic?

And then I read the book.  The Samaritan, by Fred Venturini.

Forget the platitudes, the semi-colons, my miss-guided B.S.  This book rocks, and I mean that literally.  It agitated my nerve, shocked my senses, punched holes in my understanding.  If you read books (maybe especially if you haven’t picked up a book of fiction in years), on the first of February you can get a copy and read for it yourself .  I urge you to do so.   With one caution:  If you’re squeamish or reticent about brutal or graphic descriptions of violence, (it is raw and explicit), then you may want to pass on this.  For everyone else, there is much more in this book than that disclaimer does justice.

The Samaritan is about loss and regret and regeneration (you read that right) and how hope slides into the crevices of our darkest spaces and moves us on, despite.  It’s about a guy named Dale, whose talents take a backseat to his humanity, and his friend, whose buried humanity regenerates along with Dale’s actual body parts.  It’s about the illusion of healing, and the ways we can, and sometimes do, sabotage the best we have to offer.  It’s about coming up for air every time, just because.  It’s also relentlessly fast-paced, with a meter in each sentence and phrase that comes at you like a line drive, scoring strikes along the way that keep you asking why?  What more?

“…they were one person back then, one voice meant to draw you into trouble, hypnotic as strippers and capable of the same broken promises.”

“It was an endearing reaction to behold, seeing the light beaming through the seams of his ego.”

“Funny how hatred of something causes sign-building, but a passion to defend something just causes anger.”

“I cradled his head and started bawling, a cry that no bite could control, the kind of blazing sorrow that puts a bellows squeeze on lungs.”

It’s a man’s book; (a book about men and the boy’s voice inside that spurs them on), that women will feel true.   And while the premise is fantastical, the yearning to make a difference in this world, to shout “I was here” that seeps from the flesh and dreams of these characters, is something I think most of us feel at one time or another no matter our gender, our background or our specific desires.

Bravo to the author, Fred Venturini.  And to Kristy Blank Makansi and BSP, this reader is sincere; I’ll be glad to recommend this book to anyone. Just don’t ask me about your chili recipe.

All I can say is THANK YOU to Reggie, who I knew would tell me the truth–no matter what. To read a chapter of The Samaritan for yourself, click on over to  Pre-ordering ability is coming soon.

Vote on Cover Concepts for BSP’s First Title


We’re gearing up to release our very first title: The Samaritan by Fred Venturini. We’ve been working with designers to come up with cover art that is at once arresting–i.e. that will make you pick the book up–and that conveys the feel, tone, mood, and essence of the book. This is no easy task because The Samaritan is one helluva book! And, because each of us here at Blank Slate Press has a favorite concept (arrgh!), we’re depending on you to help us decide. We started with 14 concepts and have had members of our Editorial Board weigh in with their picks. Now, we’ve narrowed it down to five. So, here’s what we’d like you to do:

1. vote on the cover that STANDS OUT the most, i.e., the one that you’d be most likely to pick up when browsing at a bookstore
2. read the short synopsis below
3. revisit the covers and vote again if you’ve changed your mind.
4. REMEMBER…these are just concepts…based on which concept wins, we’ll still tweak and fiddle a bit more…and who knows? We may even have another brilliant brainstorm of an idea that we all love so much there’s no question it will have to win.

PLUS – if you go to and sign up for our newsletter, you’ll be entered to win a signed hardback copy of The Samaritan. You can also read an excerpt from the book here.


The Samaritan – A  Synopsis
Dale Sampson is a nobody. A small town geek who lives in the shadow of his best friend, the high school baseball star, it takes him years to even gather the courage to actually talk to a girl. It doesn’t go well. Then, just when he thinks there’s a glimmer of hope for his love life, he loses everything.

When Dale runs into the twin sister of the girl he loved and lost, he finds his calling–he will become a samaritan. Determined to rescue her from a violent marriage, and redeem himself in the process, he decides to use the only “weapon” he has–besides a toaster. Although his “weapon” leads him to fame and fortune as the star of a blockbuster TV reality show, he learns that being The Samaritan is a heartbreaking affair. Especially when the one person you want to save doesn’t want saving.

The Samaritan is a searing and often brutally funny look at the dark side of human nature. It lays bare the raw emotions and disappointments of small town life and best friends, of school bullies and first loves, of ruthless profiteers and self-aggrandizing promoters—and of having everything you know about human worth and frailty questioned under the harsh klieg lights of fame.

Now…If you need/want to change your vote, go back up and vote again.

The Rumpus Becomes a Book Publisher


The Rumpus Becomes a Book Publisher.

BSP and other new publishers featured in St. Louis Post-Dispatch


Book editor Jane Henderson wrote a piece in the Post-Dispatch on the new face of publishing in the St. Louis area. The region, blessed with great universities and many talented writers, is home to a new crop of publishers one of which is, ta da!, us. Here’s the link to the full article:

Here’s the excerpt about Blank Slate Press:

But some new publishers actively avoid the self-publishing model.

Kristina Blank Makansi wants to nurture up-and-coming writers for Blank Slate Press.

The press recently chose two manuscripts for its first books, novels that it hopes to publish by Christmas.

“We will pay authors stipends, promote their stories and help them get started with blogs. … Our idea is to be a writer’s advocate from the get-go.”

She and her partners, Jamey Stegmaier and husband Jason Makansi, are writers themselves.

“We are looking at it from the point of view of aspiring novelists. We talk to a lot of other writers, follow writers’ blogs, go to writers workshops. So much of the frustration of being a writer is getting someone to pay attention to your work.”

Blank Slate Press’ partners pay the authors out of their own pockets, but Makansi hopes other individuals will invest in the press.

She said, “We’re like a new tech start-up with the idea that if a book becomes a best-seller, or is picked up by a commercial press, investors might make some money.”

‘A great match’

One writer they signed, Anene Tressler-Hauschultz of Kirkwood, took the book contract to a lawyer, who assured her that having the publisher in town is helpful: “There are times you need to do a face-to-face.”

She likes that Blank Slate is new and energetic: “They are starting out as am I. It felt like a great match. … The scale was right. I wasn’t going to be one of 200 people coming on board.”

Makansi knows publishing is a difficult business. “We’re not out to build an empire. We don’t think we’ll get rich doing this.”

We don’t think we’re going to get rich or build and empire, but we’re pretty darn sure we’re going to have lots of fun, meet talented new writers, and play our small part in bringing  great stories to readers anxious for high quality, well written work.

Anene & Fred Write


We’re delighted that both of our authors, Anene Tressler-Hauschultz and Fred Venturini, are hard at work creating awesome literary works. And we’re also delighted that they’re going to share insights into the writing process through their new blogs. Anene and Fred–while both extremely talented writers–have, shall we say, different styles. Take a look for yourself:

Fred’s blog (lits of pubs and an excerpt from The Samaritan are up. The first blog post is percolating in Fred’s brain)

Anene’s blog (first post is up)

Did I mention we’re delighted?

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