Interview of Marianne K. Martin and Fay Jacobs by Stefani Deoul
SD: I’m delighted to get the chance to communicate with both of you. It’s not often we can have two independent publishers on hand, Marianne K. Martin from Bywater Books and Fay Jacobs from A&M Books to ask about their businesses. So, Marianne and Fay, how did you get to be publishers in the first place?
MKM: Well, becoming a publisher was totally unplanned and unexpected. I was busy trying to finish building our house, and writing, and learning how to better use the internet when I had a pivotal conversation with Kelly Smith. Unlike me, Kelly had a real desire to be a publisher. She had interned for a year under Barbara Grier at Naiad Press, and when Barbara and Donna retired, Kelly founded Bella Books. She had a strong vision of what she wanted to do in lesbian fiction, and when her business partners did not share the same vision, she left Bella after four years.
The more we talked, the more we both realized that we wanted the same thing for our literature, and before I knew it I was taking small business seminars and going into partnership to establish Bywater Books.
FJ: It’s ironic that there’s a Naiad Press connection here too. Anyda Marchant and Muriel Crawford, who were founders of Naiad Press with Barbara Grier had retired to Rehoboth Beach to start A&M Books. I met them when they were in their late 80s and early 90s. Anyda, who wrote under the pen name Sarah Aldridge, became my mentor and published my first book. I then became the managing editor of the press.
Anyda and Muriel had been together 57 years, when, in 2005, they passed away within four months of each other and left me A&M Books. I call myself the accidental publisher.
SD: What’s your favorite part of the job?
MKM: Without a doubt, for me the best part of being a publisher is being instrumental in adding new, gifted voices to the world of lesbian fiction. A close second would be bringing back books by talented authors whose work has been out of print and unavailable to readers who will be discovering them for the first time. We are in a position (at Bywater) now to bring many of those voices back very soon.
FJ: I love working directly with the authors, editing, promoting and giving them the opportunities Anyda and Muriel gave me. Of course, a writer and editor working together is like a marriage – it’s hard work, involves lots of compromise and can get very vocal at times! But it really is the part I enjoy most.
SD: How do you stay focused on your own writing when there is so much to do with a publishing company? And what is your favorite time and place to write?
MKM: For me, this is the most difficult part of being both an author and a publisher. What happens is that Bywater responsibilities always take precedent over my own writing, which means that not much writing gets done on any given day. I try to carve out as much time as possible on the least busy days, and find a place where I’m not looking at other tasks that need to be done. Many times I end up writing in a restaurant, where strangers and white noise are much less of a distraction than looming tasks. In the summer, I’ve found that writing in the pool really helps my concentration. Unfortunately, Michigan weather only allows about four or five months of pool weather, so then it’s back to the restaurant.
FJ: Making time for the writing is tricky, as there are always more chores for A&M Books than time to do them. In a way, I’m lucky, because as an essayist, when a topic falls in my lap – something infuriating I’ve read, or an incident worth telling, I usually drop everything to get the story down. Of course, then I’m up at 1 a.m. doing press releases, ads or facebooking.
And I write either in my home office, at the computer desk, with two snoozing Schnauzers at my feet or in my RV camped some place fun with those same snoozers on hand.
SD: What are you writing right now?
MKM: Currently, I am writing the story of the early life of one of my favorite characters, Nessie Tinker from under the Witness Tree. It begins when she is ten and has me doing a ton of research about life in the early 1900’s. It was a time when Southern gentility and manners covered the dirty reality that born free did not mean born equal, and it presents a perfect setting to challenge the friendship and love between a young black woman and her white best friend.
FJ: I’m actually working on putting my stories into a 90-minute reading to perform. Somebody suggested calling it “Funnier After Two Drinks…” Oh, I think that was you, Stef! I’m working on that, plus my next Letters from CAMP Rehoboth column, about surviving holiday excess. If I survive it. Pass the mashed potatoes.
SD: Can you tell me a story about your publishing career than nobody might know?
MKM: Many people have heard the Barbara Grier stories, since I’ve shared many of them at different events in the past. And, I’ve mentioned in a number of interviews that I wrote originally as a form of inexpensive therapy. So, probably the thing that most do not know is the journey of choices that brought me full circle to a career I never contemplated seriously.
It seems like I’ve always written in some fashion, always chose the written over the oral assignment in school, always wrote journals and diaries. And, as a senior in high school one of my favorite teachers, Ms. Pitts, made a comment at the top of my last English paper for her that I have never forgotten. In fact, I still have the paper, which probably should have been an omen. She simply said, “You must write”. And, I did. But, not until I had upset my art instructor by turning down an art scholarship to Michigan State, and majoring in physical education at Eastern, and teaching and coaching for twenty-five years, and finally realizing that, indeed, I needed to write.
FJ: Wow, similar story. My 11th grade English teacher, whose name is lost to time, but whose mustache made him look like a walrus, wrote on the top of one of my papers “Fetching detail.” I couldn’t figure out what that meant. I recently found a school newspaper from that same year where I announced I wanted to be a comic writer. The weird thing is, I did everything BUT write comic stuff after that: newspaper editor, obituary writer, theatre director, PR person. It wasn’t until much later, when I started to freelance for The Washington Blade, that I found out I loved doing the comic essay thing. Life is funny-weird and just plain funny.
SD: So what are your thoughts for 2012?
MKM: My thoughts and wishes are for a year filled with inspiration and good literature. We are so blessed to be surrounded by wonderful writers and colleagues and to be working in a field we love. My hope is for a wonderful, exciting year in lesbian publishing, and to have time to hang out with good friends like Fay Jacobs.
FJ: Happy New Year to all our writer colleagues and our wonderful readers. The ever-expanding world of lesbian publishing is chocked full of great people and rewarding experiences and I am so thankful to be a part of it. And of course, I hope the Mayans were terrible at math, and 2012 is not the end of the world. But just in case, I intend to eat more chocolate, read more books and go as many miles as I can with my partner and my pups in the RV. Hope to see you along the way!
Causes Marianne Martin Supports
HRC, Michigan Equality, Gay & Lesbian Task Force, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, ASPCA, HSUS