The Making of The Motion by Lucy K Shaw
This is the story of how I got to publish Lucy K Shaw’s first book, The Motion. Besides editing Real Pants, I run a small press called 421 Atlanta. The Motion will be released on March 31. That’s in three weeks. You can pre-order it now and I suggest that you do.
Here’s how it all happened. The story is a list, in honor of the stories in The Motion that are told in list form.
1. I met Lucy K Shaw at a bar on a July night in Baltimore. We played cards, and I ate a bad oyster.
2. This was at the end of a short impromptu trip I took to visit Adam Robinson. Nothing was settled between us yet, but we were hopeful.
3. I got sick every time I ate oysters for the next 18 months.
4. In September, I talked to Adam about starting a small press named after my street address in Atlanta, 421. We were in line at a Chipotle in Baltimore. Things between us were more settled, and we were still hopeful. I would need Adam’s help to start a press.
5. By January, I had published two chapbooks, my own and Daniel Beauregard‘s. Adam designed the covers and the insides. I had asked Mary Ruefle and Maggie Nelson for manuscripts, but they both politely declined. To figure out what to publish next, I held a short prose chapbook contest, judged by Mary Miller. We got 78 entries or something, and I picked 10 or 11 finalists.
6. Adam processed the entries so that I could read them without looking at who wrote them, but I knew or strongly thought that one of the finalists was Lucy K Shaw, based on her mention of a friend named Gabby and these lines: “I had just learned where the phrase, ‘What would you do for a Klondike bar?’ comes from. An instance which had reminded me, cruelly I felt, that I hadn’t grown up in America like the rest of my friends.”
7. At that time, the manuscript was called, Pain Always Produces Logic, Which Is Very Bad For You. It had 6 stories. I knew I wanted to publish it whether or not Mary chose it as the winner. Mary chose The Passion of Joan of Arc by William Todd Seabrook, who turned out to be an experienced winner of chapbook contests. It was great fun to publish Todd’s manuscript. We had two release parties, one with Natalie Lyalin and Seth Landman, and one with Laird Hunt.
8. In the meantime, I confirmed that Lucy wrote what I suspected she wrote, and I asked to publish the manuscript later that year. Because of the time difference between Atlanta and England, the email timestamp shows that she said yes 4 hours and 9 minutes before I asked. There’s no way to know what really happened.
9. By the time we announced in April, the manuscript didn’t have a title anymore. We planned to publish the chapbook in November.
10. That didn’t happen. But we were working on it. Lucy revised and added a story, and I sent editorial notes, and by November, the manuscript had a title—The Motion, a cover image, and 7 stories. The Frank O’Hara quotation that original title came from had become an epigraph. Six months before, Adam had moved to the house that I named the press after, and we’d made plans to start this website.
11. We launched Real Pants on January 1. On January 3, I ate oysters and didn’t get sick. We had oysters again at our launch party and I still didn’t get sick.
12. All that was involved with starting the website afforded me little time to devote to The Motion. I wanted to give Lucy’s manuscript the serious attention it deserved.
13. We got back to work when the time was right. Lucy had written two more stories in the process of moving to Berlin. I continue to be astonished by how Lucy works. The last story in the book, “Wedding,” is extraordinary. (There is a tenth piece after Wedding but it isn’t a story).
14. I didn’t know it yet, but “Wedding” took The Motion from chapbook to perfect-bound book with a spine.
15. We did a quick back-and-forth with edits and sent the manuscript to the 421 Atlanta design department (Adam). He laid it out as a chapbook but asked what I thought about publishing it as a small book instead.
16. With some trepidation, I asked Lucy what she thought. I loved the idea, but what if Lucy didn’t want The Motion to be her first straight-up book book, with an ISBN and an Amazon listing and all that? What if she didn’t want her first book to come out from 421 Atlanta? The press is very small and new, with no budget to speak of, and I didn’t want to assume that just because she entrusted her chapbook manuscript to me, that she would be okay with this bait-and-switch.
17. Plus, formatted as a small perfect-bound book, The Motion is 78 pages, which is a lot fewer than most full-length books of short stories. It is the length of a full-length poetry book, maybe, but The Motion is prose.
18. I phrased my email to Lucy more like a statement than a question, to inspire confidence and trust. I called it “a short collection of prose. A short book of short stories.” It worked. She reacted like this.
19. We decided to publish a first edition of 500.
20. It’s definitely the right way. A chapbook is a singular thing of its own. Chapbooks love to be read all at once, and they don’t love to be reprinted in new editions. They come in all different shapes and bindings, sometimes sewn and sometimes stapled, but I don’t think they ever have spines. They are invertebrates. I believe in the form, and 421 Atlanta will publish chapbooks again in the future.
21. A book is an elastic, expansive, enduring thing. A book, long or short, has bones and multiple systems within it.
22. The Motion is a book. It is Lucy K Shaw’s debut collection of stories and it will be published by 421 Atlanta.
23. It’s really an honor.
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