Interview: Amanda L. Blumer, Pyre Publishing

Photographs used with permission of Amanda Lynn Blumer.

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Amanda Lynn Blumer is a Michigan-based poet and prose writer. Owner of Pyre Publishing, a small press that promotes creativity, zero censorship and community, Amanda has published five collaborative works: the N series Volumes 1-3 and two issues of Ez.P.Zine, a four-piece thematic zine available in eBook format as well as hardcopy. The volumes thus far have featured the titles ‘Beast of Burden’ and ‘Bird in Paradise’, containing a mix of poetry and prose. Pyre Publishing is currently open for submissions to Ez.P.Zine Issue 3 ‘Reap What You Sow’.

[Fade into conversation]

ALB: We are doing a fundraiser for local ‘characters’ and Pyre Publishing is helping. We’ll be a vendor and we’ll be performing poetry during intermissions of music. So while the band is switching stuff, Pyre will be up on stage with the microphone and reading poetry.

HJ: Awesome! When is that taking place?

ALB: This one is next weekend, next Sunday. The co-ordinator, the owner of the non-profit, she’s been trying to get it together this year and she didn’t really get us all on board. I’ve already I’ve got new fancy bookmarks and a website domain. Stuff like this needs to happen in my life so I actually progress! I’ve noticed that the people I know and the friends I have help the most, we are all progressing and trying to do something, so we all end up hitching each other along.

HJ: That is how it should be, there should be that community support and looking after each other. It is what I’m trying to do with Selcouth Station, trying to get a load of self-published and indie authors, so we can help support each other. I do reviews of their books and like with Leo X. Robertson, I was on his podcast and I reviewed his book, so it all balances out and we all look after each other.

ALB: So I’m an itty-bitty press, not as itty-bitty as I was a year ago, I can tell you that! Things have gotten to a point where I am looking at a much bigger plan. One year from now, this is an idea I am putting into people’s heads, I want to host a massive poetry slam in this town, like big city Midwest style. Marquette is a really tiny community and the poetry community is even quieter. So it would be something for people from 200 miles around have never seen before and Marquette is turning into somewhat of a tourist attraction. So there is that and that the locals are also trying to start something different. I have a network who is fully capable of supporting three prizes, I could get sponsors for a poetry slam without even batting an eye, without sounding too cocky...

So one year from now, there will be a Pyre Poetry Slam and now we just need to work on a venue, a place to host it. I have my eye on a few places. The poetry scene here used to be underground and the music shows used to be held in the basement of a place we call the Merlot Mansion, and that was most of the music scene. Well we lost that house because of gentrification and because property taxes are going up in certain areas of town. So we have to have a new plan. I have friends who have been running some of the music scene since and I’ve just got off the phone with one of them, and I were like: what if the publishing and music scene banded together? That could work!

So I’m trying to get Pyre to the stage where we are just like: we have potential, let’s just go for it! The zines are helping, so the more you submit to the zines and the more you send me people to submit to the zines, the more you are supporting Pyre on this mission. I don’t give a fuck about censorship and will print just about anything, as long as we are not talking about a real crime.

HJ: So for those who have not heard of Pyre Publishing before, could you give me a few lines about what it is and what the zine is?

ALB: Pyre Publishing is a stepping-stone above anything else, as I am a small publisher and I am doing it by myself mostly. I have a team, but I run it, I co-ordinate it. My goal with Pyre Publishing was to always encourage writers. I started that with my Writer’s Open Mic four or five years ago called The Beat. I started with a good friend of mine who used to live in this house with me in the room next door. We started here in this house and it boomed! We had no idea that people were waiting for something like that or wanted something like that, so we kept it up. My friend moved away and I stayed here. Then a different friend of mine just said it. He showed up, he saw what I was doing and just said it to me: we should publish a book. And it just clicked and it was just like “oh yeah, we can publish a book!” I have always wanted to start a small business and once I got over the thoughts of disappointing everyone, I was just like: lets do this. So Pyre will always have The Beat in its heart, it is there to get people used to sharing. I pick up writers who don’t share or don’t get published or haven’t even tried yet, the ones who are nervous about it and who are good, and just need that encouragement.

So that’s the kind of people I look for in my N series. The zine is an extension and combination of new and experienced writers, they can work together. It creates more encouragement, especially when they are in there with really well-crafted pieces. It is like: yes that is your name next to that name that is your poem next to that poem. So the zine just kind of dawned on me and it has been a solely personal project. So I came up with four themes for each quarter of the year and that has been really working out! After I came up with the themes I just got on the phone and started pitching it to all the writers I knew, so the ball started rolling.

I’m very grateful for Shawn Wolfman, my cover artist for the zines. He is my tattoo artist and he is one of the most prominent artists in town right now. He has won gallery shows, he recently won a show at the public library. He is completely freelance and happy to work with me because we are friends too. The friend who initially gave me the idea is in fact my promoter and my booker, he books events, he has that skillset and network. He is also friends with Shawn, who does our posters too. So not only are we encouraging new writers but we are bringing along artists too. So I’m getting the visual artists in town on my side too and the next year, the next four zines, it will be a completely different cover artist. I will support someone and promote someone next year as my cover artist. I plan to make the first four zines in a bound book, as well as the next four, so whoever the artist is will do a whole new cover for the book and get their name out there too.

HJ: And it is great to have that other community involved and support artists as well as writers. You also get that extra ‘handcrafted’ feel that you might not otherwise of had.

ALB: I am pretty sure my licence says March 2016, so that is how long we’ve been an official business and we were kind of hobbyists before that. The licence cost me $10 and lasts five years.

HJ: So other than a publisher you are also a writer. Obviously you are a poet, but are you interested in other formats?

ALB: It’s not only poetry no. Prose is what I have always written and wanted to share with the world, I never expected to write poetry and be a poet. It wasn’t on my radar at all until The Beat happened. So the friend who I lived with, he was the one who managed to prise my poetry out of my journals. I had it all locked up, it was too personal and a lot of my old stuff was so deeply hidden inside of metaphors because it was too personal. I have changed that, I’m definitely a different poet from when I started. But I definitely like prose, I like stories. I have like a pretty big map of this series I was going to do, this plot and this idea that sunk in. It is kind of a fantasy-horror type deal. I realized that this plot in front of me was a way bigger bite than I could chew, and I took a step back and I worked on some poetry, I walked away from the plot for so many years that I could probably tare this all down and burn it. But I’m still writing it, as short stories instead. In N volume 3, I only put a short story in it and that was the first piece of this plot. I’ve been working on these characters for six years and I’ve just been waiting for the right story to introduce them, and finally found the introduction to my main male character. This is probably something people are going to see me deviate down now more than poetry. Poetry is so easy now, I’ve got to the point where I am relaxed with my style, so I don’t have to focus on that as much. My poetry has been stabilized and now I would like to do the same for my prose.

HJ: Get it up to the same comfort level. What kind of short stories to do you tend to write in general?

ALB: I think I’ve matured away from fantasy a little bit. It is still there a bit, there is usually some sort of magic I want to tie in, but it’s not the whole picture anymore. I have met so many interesting people that I have built this main character around, this character is half-a-dozen human beings rolled together. So the short story in N volume 3 is called ‘The Drifter’ and it is about six people who meant a lot to me. So my short stories are about the people. They are about human beings being human. I don’t know if I necessarily believe in heroes and villains. I feel that is for the kids, who are still trying to figure it out. So I just want to write short stories about how we are and give perspective.

HJ: So what was it about zines in particular that attracted you? The format of the zine rather than going straight into an anthology? Was it the connecting people factor that influenced you?

ALB: It definitely didn’t start as something that I realized could connect people. It started off that way because it seemed disposable, something I could experiment with and if it failed or no one submitted, I didn’t invest too much. It turned out after the second issue, which I was pretty happy with, that it was just going to get better.

HJ: What pitfalls did you find with creating your own business? Or was it all pretty easy?

ALB: It was easy and it felt natural. I think a large part of that was that the town was ready for it. So I came in at the right time, basically. I am still mostly the only one doing it at my level and in my generation. The pitfalls have been the writers. I’m sorry guys but some of you have more problems than I give a fuck about. I don’t want to hate anyone in particular, because it was surprising and I actually had to write a contract up because it almost derailed us. Right from the get go, it was people’s baggage. It was trying to get these writers to be supportive, especially as I was such a small business, I just wanted their help in return for publishing them.

So for the second book, N Volume 2, I had to write a contract to get help out of people. It was disappointing to me that I had to do that but it was necessary, because there is always that one person who will ruin it for everyone. I am really happy that N Volume 2 has a contract, because I was the most disappointed with the people in that book. It wasn’t just one of them, it was like everyone’s lives seemed to go a different way all of a sudden. I felt like they would have just communicated with me better, things would have gone fine. If they had just talked to me before they made a decision. But there was only one guy who kind of pulled through. Now I’m at the end of that tax season and I’m cashing in cheques for the writers, I only have three cheques to write. Because they didn’t uphold the contract.

HJ: Because they promised to help you and they didn’t. They took, took, took and didn’t give back. I like your style!

ALB: I hate for money to be a thing but one of the goals for Pyre Publishing was to get writers paid. Like my percentage compared to big publishers is way more, I give them 60% of the book profit and Pyre takes the 40%. So the writer’s split that 60%. It is more than most publishing companies would give them. The cheques aren’t too terribly big, I don’t earn a lot myself.

HJ: So with your writing are you a pen/paper or computer kind of gal?

ALB: Pen and paper. I have always been more of a long-hand type, I have my own short-hand that I use with my long-hand. I only type things up when they are finalized really or if I have to take them to a workshop. That’s only poetry. With prose, I type it out, because it is just way to much work to write it. If I’m drafting a first draft, I’ll have my metal on loud, I’ll put on some beats in the background so my mind doesn’t go anywhere else, it is like cornering my brain from leaving that spot. That’s definitely the first draft. The second is usually gentle, maybe some piano music. After that it has to be silent.

HJ: So is there anything else you would like to mention before we end this interview?

ALB: I think the only thing I have to mention at this point is the call for submissions for the third zine. The theme is ‘Reap What You Sow’, another generalized topic and something I am just going to be very liberal about. The submissions are open now. So send me things!