I was tagged by Beth Barany to take part in “The Next Big Thing,” a web-ring of authors who describe their work-in-progress and then pass the gavel on to someone else.
What is the working title of your next project?
I’m referring to it frequently as “The Cromwell Quarterly Review,” although it only says “Cromwell” on the cover. I ran out of cute names after folding up The Bohemian, my very-short-lived alternative newspaper in Ann Arbor (in 2009), and I remembered the advice I got from one of my former bosses when I started the Bohemian: Stick to what you’re good at, which is writing (not selling ads), and just promote your name rather than a publication. That’s how my surname ended up on the nameplate.
Will your work be self-published or represented by an agency?
I wouldn’t want anyone to get the impression that agents are knocking on my door–They’re not–but I’m planning to represent myself and keep it that way. I imagine that publishers and agents would want me to write a different kind of book, or would expect me to tirelessly promote it and allow them to keep most of the moneys. I’d rather do what works for me and sell fewer copies, but get to the right readers.
Where did the idea come from for the project?
It evolved over a decade of trying to figure out where I want to be as a writer. Before The Bohemian, I tried a couple of different blogging projects, which honestly didn’t catch fire because they didn’t feel quite right. I also contributed to a couple of small publications and worked on my own poetry and fiction. I realized that one thing I want to do is continue to explore nonfiction and narrative, but without having to file routine stories about the planning commission.
What genre does your book fall under?
I just call it nonfiction and hope people will enjoy it enough to keep reading. I’d prefer to be found by readers who are searching for a topic, rather than a genre, because I doubt that people think of nonfiction, even literary nonfiction, as a genre that they can be loyal to.
How long does it take to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Probably a year or more. I’m planning to collect the best stories from the quarterly into a small book. I hope to be prolific enough that I will also have some good pieces that didn’t fit into the quarterly.
What books would you compare this work to, within your genre?
I’d compare it to other collections of shorter nonfiction by journalists, for example Tom Wolfe’s “Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby” and Joan Didion’s “Slouching Toward Bethlehem” or “The White Album.” That’s the direction I’m attempting to go, anyhow.
Who or what inspired you to do this project?
It’s the best project right now for my abilities and interests. I’ve come to think that finding the right project for you is like trying to balance a dinner platter on your index finger–there is a central point where everything will balance, and you have an idea of where the point will be, but you have to experiment and there is always the risk of catastrophe. And of course the job is more difficult if you have things piled on your platter in an irregular way.
For me, this project is the best attempt so far at balancing everything I’ve accumulated as a writer and publisher. I started out at a weeklies, as a straightforward news reporter, but then discovered alt weeklies when I contributed to Metro (San Jose, Calif.), which was more my speed because of the magazine-like style and the ability to routinely question the status quo. (I worked for Metro Newspapers, but I was assigned to a community weekly the entire time, although I contributed to Metro and asked to work there.) Instead of journalism, I finished my degree in literature at The University of Michigan, where they don’t have a J-school, but they have one of the best writing programs in the country. Then after a couple of years in fiction and poetry workshops, I went abruptly back into the journalism trenches, working for a small daily paper in a rural community.
My best accomplishment at The (Owosso, Mich.) Argus-Press was probably my work writing feature articles, although people probably remember me as a muckraker who endlessly annoyed the cornstalk Republicans and various chiefs of police. My best articles were picked up by the Associated Press and distributed statewide (which at least made my grandmother proud). I also won awards from the Michigan Press Association and the Associated Press for feature writing and editorial writing.
The Bohemian started out as an attempt to give myself room as a writer, but I became so involved in selling ads, editing and pre-press, that I didn’t have much time to write. It died partly because nobody had money to spend on advertising in 2009. I also think the content was too edgy for Ann Arbor merchants and that they wouldn’t have bought advertising even if they’d had a lot of money. (Because the articles contained homeless people, punk rockers and other undesirable demographic groups.)
As a writer, I have two halves that are always at war, because in practice I have learned to write as a journalist, but on the other hand, I have studied poetry and fiction and collected a truckload of books. I guess I am trying to recapture the experience of sitting at a small table next to the heater in the student union, watching snow fall, through a leaded windowpane, and writing verse in my spiral notebook, attempting to tame imagery and metaphor on the page. But I’m also trying to recapture the experience of witnessing a house fire or a car wreck, down a two-lane blacktop somewhere, and translating the shock of it into a cohesive bit of communication that clarifies and intensifies as only good writing can do.
What else about your project might pique the reader’s interest?
I’m planning to hand-print the quarterly, by screen printing, which is not a typical method for producing a tabloid-sized printed page. But it might be the best way to produce a page of that size in a small press run. I don’t think very many people have tried it before, and I doubt that anyone has used it for more than one issue of a periodical.
How can people get their hands on your writing?
To subscribe or buy a single issue, just send me an email. (ClarenceCromwell(at)hotmail(dot)com.) It’s only available in print for now, although I’ll have an ebook edition soon.