Saturday, June 28, 2008

Meet the Artist

It was last July that I ran my interview with Michael Paige Glover, July 4th to be exact. I chose July 4th because I felt his work captured that sense of Americana that I was looking for. His has the ability to take a scene from everyday life and twist it, temper it with a unique feel of nostalgia and deliver a striking image. It is his use of nostalgia that prompting me to contact him to help with this project.

I also felt that he might connect with both Ben and the book, and I felt it would be that connection that would spark an idea for the cover. I feel that Michael has really delivered a great image that will translate in any format and really fits well with the book itself. After reading one of Michael's blog entries I knew I would have to ask have to share his views and feeling about the project with everyone. Of course, he was happy to answer a few of my questions.

Orange Alert (OA): This is your first experience creating a cover for a novel. What are your thoughts in general about the process?
Michael Paige Glover (MG): First let me say I'm very thankful to have the opportunity to work with you guys.This has been a great experience and has opened up new territories in my own work.
As far as the process of making a book cover is concerned, I can honestly say it's been exciting, challenging and in the end very rewarding. Since this project was something new to me, I felt very free with the creative process but most important was the fact that I really connected with Ben's characters. I think a writer has done his or her job when the reader can effortlessly live inside in one of the characters and stay emotionally connected throughout the book. Ben's novel did that for me. I felt good about the story from the very beginning and everything just flowed from that point on. As I mentioned on my website, I love the dialog and the humor. I found it to be very refreshing and original and the story moved by itself. The most challenging aspect was translating my interpretation of the figures into the actual painted piece. You can go in several directions with how you think they're suppose to appear on the cover: what pose are they taking?, what are the individual expressions and mood?, the type of clothing, hairstyle, etc...and so I experimented with different styles until I came up with something that felt right. I particularly like the heart emblem on the girl's tank top.

OA: How did you approach the initial image?
MG: I started off with basic pencil sketches in a notebook. They were mainly for placement and compositional purposes. Like my paintings, I tend to juxtapose images and off-set things in order to break up the picture plane. I wanted to do the same with the book cover.

Since the story takes place in New York City, the four figures were to be set against the City skyline. I have a stock-pile of photos which I store on my computer and also stacks of vintage books and magazines which provide an endless amount of visual resource. I had a photo which centered on the Empire State building and showed various buildings and the East River. The photo was taken at dusk and so everything was slightly out of focus, which was perfect. From there, I took it into Photoshop and began to play with the colors, tones and texture. I wanted to keep the forms flat and simple because it served as a backdrop to the characters but they had to both compliment each other. I wanted it to be clean and simple but the sky had to have plenty of breathing room. The effect of scattered clouds tends to move the eyes around from the title, the city and the characters. It's cyclical.

We decided that the colors of the skyline would be a turquoise or a cerulean type of blue and the figures would be rendered in sepia tone. I thought this was a great combination. Sepia tone and black and white photographs, not to mention art in general, posses a timelessness and nostalgia that color imagery does not. To me, it's just more powerful and direct. I think the effect is intensified when they're overlapped on top of a color background. It becomes somewhat psychological and creates a mysterious setting.

With the figures, I wanted their overall look to embody photography, illustration or representational painting. I know that's a huge combination but it was my initial response to the characters that prompted this. Somewhere between the three disciplines, I knew the right image would appear. I did a study where the figures were painted with very loose and expressive brush strokes but it quickly fell apart because in the end, it was too contrived and forced.
So, I went back and focused on the linear aspect of each figure. The resulting image falls somewhere between the illustrative and the photographic and that's exactly where I wanted it to be. I ended up replacing the middle figures with new ones because at first, they looked unhappy and a bit cynical, which was not my intention. The two new figures purposefully stare back at the viewer/reader while the other two are looking off into separate directions. I think within all of them, there are feelings of uncertainty, confidence, vulnerability, humor and the need to find love and be loved. I kept thinking of the dialog between each person and so that's how the figures emerged. Visually, I wanted to have movement between each one.

OA: What do you personally look for in a book cover? Do you find yourself looking a books differently after working on this project?
MG: I think my mind unconsciously seeks out the simple and concise book cover because if it's too busy or cluttered with pictures and information, then my eyes will purposely skip over it. I don't want to deal with it. The title has to have room to breathe within the confines of the book cover. The art has to envelope the reader and draw them in without much effort. There has to be plenty of free floating space between the title and image for the reader to get an immediate response of what the book may be about and if they can connect with it. This is usually a quick, visceral response to the title and artwork which is followed by curiosity and leads to the opening the book and of course, reading the synopsis.

If anything, the whole process has made me a little more aware of negative space, the choice of a specific font, what colors are being used and if the synopsis has anything to do with the cover art or vice versa.

OA: You are also working on a book of your own. How is your art book coming along?
MG: It's going well and constantly changing! I made a small book of my current work and it was really my first attempt at making anything that resembles a publication. Although it still needs tweaking, I have to say, I absolutely love the process because I feel in complete control of the production. The only thing that I have no control over is the printing process. Printing is an education in and of itself! My intention was to make it for personal reasons and not publish it but it keeps expanding and after looking at several other art books, I don't see any reason as to why it shouldn't be published. That's a future project still in the works though.

I was writing frequently while making the new work and I had thought of combining passages from my journal with the images to explain my thought process behind each painting. Not only text but sketches, photos and anything that illustrates my creative process. I've always been intrigued as to how artists' create their work and what goes on from beginning to end. I'm even more intrigued when they open up and explain their reasons for each painting. Sometimes this can take away from the piece itself but not always. For me personally, it just helps me understand where they're coming from and what led them to the final piece. So it's started to become more than just an art book. I'm not sure where it's going right now but I'm enjoying the path it's put me on.

In the last interview you gave me, I mentioned that I wanted to make a Graphic Novel based on the subject of my paintings and life. Well finally, I've started this project and although a Graphic Novel takes a considerable amount of time to complete, it's been a great experience thus far. Writing a story and creating illustrations to accompany it can be a complicated endeavor but it's also incredibly addictive and fulfilling. I've had plenty of stories in my head for a long time but never gave myself the chance to express them in words.

OA: Your newest pieces seem to be going in a different direction. There seems to be more going on, and more vibrant colors. Do you feel like you are changing your process in anyway or adding new elements to your work?
MG: Recently, I've been drawing and painting almost exclusively from imagination. I was trained academically to paint from real life and use photos as reference, and it's a great way to hone one's skills and understand your medium but after a while, it becomes restrictive. A lot of the change is also due to drawing and writing comics. Although I've read them for most of my life, I'm new to creating comics and telling stories and so it's really enriched my creativity. I do feel myself being pulled from one side to the other but I think all of it can be unified and used in harmony. Each discipline complimenting the other.
I'm trying to create the thing that I don't think I can create, if that makes since. Extracting this thing out of your mind that looks like nothing you've ever seen before. It's the agony/ecstasy principle. I love vintage photography and nostalgic imagery but it can easily become a crutch and everything you do reads as photo realism. If you get too comfortable in what you're creating, you end up repeating yourself and going around in circles.

In the past year I would say the narrative element in my work has definitely changed shape and is evolving into something more specific. It's difficult to explain exactly what this is because I'm in the middle of it for the moment. I see the earlier work as a little more ambiguous and symbolic but now, I believe it's shifting into the imaginary/surreal realm where my own characters are being developed and new worlds are being discovered. The nostalgia is still there but not as obvious as before. The chromatic colors are a result of this change. The way I'm feeling at any given time in my life is what's being reflected in my work and so at this point, I feel myself wanting to saturate the canvas. I want things to explode all over the place but in color. Overall, the work has been concerned with childhood memories, adult anxieties, functional/dysfunctional relationships and the typical modern family. I think the work will continue to progress with these themes while taking on new forms.

For more information on Michael Paige Glover please visit his website.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Meet the Author

One of the main benefits of working on What to Wear During an Orange Alert over the last year and a half has been the quality relationships that I have formed. I have had the good fortune to met and interview hundreds of writers, artists, and musicians. It has truly been and will continue to be a magical experience. Back in June of 2007, I read an interview with a local writer named Ben Tanzer. In his interview and through the stories I found on-line I could detect a genuine sense of humor that triggered my interview with him in July of that year. Over the next few months, I read his debut novel Lucky Man (Manx Media) and became addicted to his youtube videos.

Meeting Ben for the first that Fall at a RAGAD reading, it was clear that we would become friends. As our friendship grew we both knew that we would eventually work together in some form or another. In March, the launch of This Zine Will Change Your Life was our first taste of working together, and we both felt it was a good fit. It was also in March that Ben sent me the initial manuscript for Most Likely.... Little did I know that the cleaver title of his blog (This Blog Will Change Your Life) would become more then just a title.
Here is a brand new interview with Ben.

Orange Alert Press (OAP): What would you like everyone to know about this book?
Ben Tanzer (BT): First off, people should know how much I have enjoyed working with Orange Alert Press and your crew, Chris and Michael, everyone is cool, and creative, and we have a great rapport, so it’s been a lot of fun. Second, for some, reading this book might just change their life, maybe for only five or ten minutes, but that’s not bad, right? Third, my thinking with this book was to try to tell the story of a relationship where a couple comes together quickly, implodes just as quickly and then tries to find their way back together again. I would add that for the two or three people who read my first novel Lucky Man, and thank you for doing so, that if you read “Go Your Way…” you will not only re-encounter some of my favorite themes, pop culture, fractured families, New York City, substance abuse and fathers and sons, but some new ones I’ve been playing around with as well, including mothers and daughters, siblings and well, porn of course. I would also add that the characters in this novel in many ways are who the characters who survive Lucky Man and that lifestyle might move on to become. The people I know who took a lot of drugs and drank too much, were exposed to violence and loss, may have had different problems, but they figured out ways to cope and move on, take less drugs and moderate their drinking. They got older, mostly got into relationships, some of which are even healthy, and some of them looked like the characters in this book as they rolled fitfully through their twenties. Finally, I think it’s also important for me to stress, that everyone is welcome to buy multiple copies of the book. They make great gifts, paperweights and chew toys.

OAP: The title is taken for a Bob Dylan song. What was it about that song that seemed to fit with what you wanted to accomplish with this story?
BT: I probably need to start by saying that I listen to music all the time and almost always listen to music when I write. I was listening to “Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine” on some random afternoon while working on the book and in a mood for some Dylan and it just struck me as the right vibe for this work, the right title certainly, but even the tone, and what it invoked in me. I don’t necessarily listen to lyrics, but while the song isn’t exactly happy thematically, it is sung with a certain kind of lightness and humor, and I like to strive for that when I write, dark but laced with humor, streamlined, but with dialogue that resonates. What’s tricky is that Dylan is so loaded, he’s a genius, a poet, a god and so on, and I didn’t want that association per se, but this song on that day, was perfect. On another day it could have been something by Avail or Bruce Springsteen or Other World, and some day it probably will be.

OAP: As with Lucky Man, you seem to use nostalgia for specific actors, products, events, to draw the reader into the story. I feel it gives your fiction a stronger sense of reality. How important is that nostalgia and various reference to this story and your writing in general?
BT: This is a great question and it’s funny really, because I don’t know that I think in terms of nostalgia, though I’m sure that’s exactly what I’m looking to evoke. I’m interested not only in how people talk, but how they express themselves, and the people I know use these sorts of references. At times it’s lazy for sure, but this kind of commentary is a short hand of sorts, a touchstone for people, and a way of identifying who you are, what you like and what influences you. These references can also be funny, which is always good when writing a story, though more than that there are moments in a book where I specifically try and think in terms of certain references that hopefully move the story along because they generate certain memories or frames as people read, almost like a code. I’m not super interested in providing lots of back story for the characters, I’d rather just hang certain pieces of information off of them along the way and let the reader draw whatever conclusions about the characters that they want. If a character references Deenie or Martin Scorcesse, or the urban legend about Richard Gere and the gerbil, the reader will form some kind of opinion or have some kind of association and whatever that is works for me. Another piece of this though, is that while I want people to have a certain feeling for the characters, and while I want the reader to feel like I’m inside their head as they read, I also want to give them some insight into some of the things that have influenced me along the way, which in my case are things like the books of S.E. Hinton, Ray Bradbury, X-Men comics, The Basketball Diaries, Star Wars, Dallas, John Hughes and Bob Dylan.

OAP: Following Lucky Man you went on a personal media blitz, using blogs and youtube primarily. Do you plan to approach the promotion of Most Likely... in a similar way? Do you feel those video or interviews helped Lucky Man in anyway?
BT: I had a lot of fun with the blitz and would be really into trying to continue that with the new book. I should start by saying that from the start I wanted to use the monorail episode of The Simpsons as my model for marketing Lucky Man – in essence, we have a cool product that you don’t really need, but we will convince you that you do anyway. Hence, This Blog Will Change Your Life was created as a mock platform for my faux corporation Lucky Man, Inc. When I realized that ideally Lucky Man would not be the only book I would publish, my fake marketing team re-branded the corporation TBWCYL, Inc. so we could push all future products as well. We also decided that TBWCYL, Inc. should probably have multiple platforms so it became the base of our faux media empire, which isn’t even really so faux anymore with the other things I’ve been working. So, the blogging will definite continue because now we get to celebrate the release of “Go Your Way…,” and with the videos they have always been driven by being inspired by some random idea or some video I want to riff on so with a new book I expect there will be new ideas. Well, at least I hope so. All that said, I don’t think any this stuff helped sales, but on the one hand it made the whole experience more fun and entertaining, playing around with grassroots marketing, and pretending Lucky Man was a product people can’t live without, and on the other hand it probably helped with rising above some of the clutter, a little extra buzz, the sense that maybe something was going on, and that maybe, just maybe Lucky Man was something you want to know more about. Probably most importantly though, trying different things like blogging and shooting videos gave me confidence to keep exploring other opportunities, like podcasting and the creation of This Zine Will Change Your Life, and that led me to meet more people and keep trying new things I wouldn’t have done without the book as an excuse to make time for them.

OAP: Do you feel there are things that a small press can offer that the bigger publishing house can't or won't?
BT: You know it’s really important to me that I get to work with people I would like to work with, people who love books and want to be creative, people who have encouraged me and been supportive, not to mention people I have, or might be, sexually involved with like the super hot staff at Orange Alert Press. It’s all very personal for me in terms of how I want to live and create, and it has to be fun and kind of grassroots. Does a big publishing house operate like that, maybe, but do my friends and the people I want to partner with work at such place, I’m not sure, and even if they did, would they want to go to a recording studio with me, talk cover art or take a showers with me while we act like our only intention is to save water, no, I doubt it.

OAP: Back in March you started a zine that on the surface is a lit journal, but there are extra elements involved. Why did you want to start a zine, and how has the response been to the format?
BT: As we sought to expand our faux media empire at TBWCYL, Inc. I got really excited about trying to launch a zine as well, This Zine Will Change Your Life, which is something I had always wanted to do. Part of it was my interest in finding ways to be involved with writers and meet more writers and maybe even building some kind of community of writers and artists who would feel like they were part of something and had a home. But I also wanted to find a way to explore my other interests, art and music, and see how these things might all hang together. As I thought about it and talked to friends like Adam Lawrence who shoots street art in New York City and you, Jason Orange, who has access to all this great independent and mostly unknown music I started thinking about how we could match stories and poems with a photo of Adam’s and stream a song of your choice and package them together. The response has been great, with a lot of submissions from writers we love, S. Craig Renfroe, J.A. Tyler, Tim Hall, Jill Summers and Sam Pink among others, and in fact we’ve had so many quality submission, that I recruited the most excellent writer Pete Anderson of Pete Lit blog fame to be a reader, well actually he begged us to help out, but we were into it, I mean the dude’s a legend and all. And so we built this team, and I was able to engage all these people I really wanted to work and hang with, and ultimately, people have been excited about the format. In fact VAIN magazine recently picked TZWCYL as its spring zine contest winner, so it’s pretty good man, and again lots of fun.

OAP: What are your thoughts on Chicago literature in general? Is there a growing community of writers or a just a few big fish?
BT: There is a really rich scene here and a seemingly ever-growing community. There are definitely some “big fish” to the extent that great writers like Joe Meno, Anne Elizabeth Moore and Elizabeth Crane - the latter being the ongoing muse for This Blog Will Change Your Life and a really awesome and gracious friend of the blog and Lucky Man - have really broken out the last several years, while Todd Dills and the THE2NDHAND crew and Jonathan Messinger and the Featherproof Books gang are really on the verge of doing so if not there already. You also have Columbia College as this amazing incubator and launching pad for these writers and others which is such an awesome thing. But then there’s so much more happening, maybe slightly more obscure, The Parlor Reading series with Joanna Topor Mackenzie and her crew, The Fixx reading series hosted by killer Chicago writer and Pilcrow empress Amy Guth, the new series QUICKIES! Chicago led by Mary Hamilton and Lindsay Hunter, who are too cool, Reading Under Influence and Robert Duffer who I just had lunch with recently, also quite cool, and Spencer Dew just a great writer and my favorite live reader, Jill Summers, who I mentioned earlier and we’re going to publish in the zine soon, she just totally rocks, and I have a bit of crush on her - she’s not going to read this is she, Nick Ostdick and RAGAD, a great writer, reading host, supporter of mine and great dude, Tim Hall and Pete Anderson who I mentioned before and I just really admire as writers, bloggers and dads, Jason Pettus at CCLaP, a lover of writers and books. And these are all great people, people who support one other and come out for things, and its neat because most of us have to work as well, but still want to write, and I’m not sure if it’s always been like this, but either way, something is definitely happening, and I’m really excited to be part of it in any way I can.

OAP: What's next for Ben Tanzer?
BT: Wow, big question. I’m definitely going to be watching Spongebob Square Pants with my kids today and changing more diapers for sure. I may cut down on my carbs and Tim Hall and I have been exploring moving out to California and adopting Nick Ostdick which we’re all really excited about. The guys and I from the original line-up of Wham! continue to talk about a reunion show, we were hoping for Bonnaroo this summer, but I have had some hair plug removal issues, cash-flow stuff, so we’ll see, maybe Lollapalooza 2009. I’m also hoping Diane Lane will return at least one of my calls. Beyond that, hyping “Go Your Way…” for sure and continuing to nurture and expand This Zine Will Change Your Life. There’s a little short documentary thing I’ve been playing around with and hope to dive into more fully and I am very excited to have been invited to guest edit VAIN magazine’s fall issue. I have been talking to someone about publishing a short story collection of mine which I don’t want to jinx, but it represents a certain group of pieces I wrote, mostly published over the last three years and I have always loosely thought of them as the Binghamton stories. All very grandiose I know. Longer term I would be really interested in running a small press of some kind, even more grandiose for sure, but something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, so, we’ll see. Finally, I am at work on the first draft of my next novel, tentatively titled “You Can Make Him Like You,” a story about three guys that gelled for me during a Hold Steady show at the Metro. It will be my first novel set not only in Chicago, but present time, and I hope Orange Alert Press will want to run with it some time in 2009. Not sure if we discussed that yet.

Stay tuned for part 2 of our interview series, a new interview with artist Michael Paige Glover.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

It's Layout Day

Here is the initial design of the book. The one thing that might change is the spine. We all know how important the spine is, and we want to get it right. We may pull some of the brown into the spine, or use the fading technique that was employed on the Orange Pulp CD cover. This layout was designed by Chris Szostek, and he will also be helping with the layout and typesetting of the text.

We also have put together a quote page that will go inside the book. Here are a few of the quotes.

Ben Tanzer is a wizard. No doubt. A force. The power of the writing lies in the cracks between the big moments, Tanzer a sorcerer of subtlety and subtext. Most Likely You'll Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine is simple, pared back, up front, and beautiful, and Tanzer elevates the prose through rich scene and dialogue. Wizard Tanzer's magic book of spells is deep, and Most Likely You'll Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine is his most powerful and resonant potion.
-Nick Ostdick, editor of RAGAD and author of Sunbeams and Cigarettes.

After reading many passages from his book, I connected with it from the very beginning. I love the dialogue between the characters. Sometimes all you need is a few distinct lines or sentences to get your imagination rolling. And the title: "Most likely you go your way and I'll go mine" is compelling to me. It has a kind of "punch" to it that most titles do not. I think it's a feeling or mood we can all relate to on a personal or emotional level. It stays with you.
- Michael Paige Glover, Artist

In the way a forgotten song can bring to mind an afternoon twenty years ago with bittersweet detail, Tanzer's world is hauntingly comforting, with his trademark ability to capture days in the details for which we remember them, and remind us of all the ways the songs we loved, and the language and popular culture we shunned or embraced shaped us, perhaps even on levels we'd yet to realize only moments before. In this follow up to "Lucky Man", Tanzer further demonstrates his remarkable skill in capturing the zeitgeist of micro-eras in recent decades, seemingly drawing on a combination of observation, memory and an intuitive understanding of situational layers in his storytelling. Utilizing sharp, personal and, at times, no-frills dialogue to create achingly familiar places and wonderfully relatable moments, Tanzer so cleverly utilizes otherwise surface pop-culture references to hypothesize beginnings of social and cultural movements through decidedly recognizable characters and moments, again demonstrating his innate understanding of the inseparable if not ethereal qualities of sounds, emotions, symbols, words and other simple, sacred life details.
- Amy Guth, author of Three Fallen Women

Monday, June 9, 2008


The cover of a book is vital to its success especially in the small press. When I comb the shelves at The Book Cellar or Quimby's or especially Border's, the spine draws me in, the cover makes me look inside and the first paragraph of the story brings it home. Maybe it is just me, but I really think this applies to most book consumers.

When selecting who would help create the first cover for Orange Alert Press, I had a few different artists in mind. All of whom had been featured on Orange Alert, and who's work I respected deeply. I had no concept of cost or ability to pay what these individuals would deserve for their work. However, I approached them honestly, respectfully, and the response was very positive. The artists I reached out to included Jennifer Davis, Nick Volkert (the OA banner designer), Tony Philippou, Leanne Biank, Chris Szostek, and Michael Paige Glover.

As you can tell with that group, the selection of Michael was not an easy one, but Ben and I both wanted a cover that was clean, classic, and with a unique style. Michael's work contains all of those elements, and he is from New York which is where Most Likely... takes place.

Within a week, Michael had a background concept, and he began reading the current edition of the book and working on the images of Geoff, Jen, Paul and Rhonda.

Font, positioning, general design, cropped, negative space.... choices and more choices. Michael gave options and all of them quality. The original cover design featured the four characters, but we all thought that the two center images may be a little dark. Michael went back to the drawing board, and just this week presented the perfect cover. Here are a few of the options we had.

The font on this one was a little too much, but I did like aspect of this cover.

Here are the lighter images with the negative space. The front cover is complete, and now we flip the book over!