The puddle-wonderful story of Mud Luscious
Mud Luscious Press was a small press run by JA Tyler from 2007 to 2013. It began as an online journal but quickly expanded into publishing chapbooks and then perfect bound books, including the novel(la) series they were best known for.
Mud Luscious was one of the very first indie presses I discovered and was extremely important to my development as both a reader and a writer. I subscribed to receive every book they published and read each one the day it arrived. Some of those books are still favourites that I consistently go back to when I need comfort or inspiration.
It’s hard for me to put into words why Mud Luscious was so special to me, so I’m going to leave that job to some people who were involved with the press:
I learned more about writing and myself in the three years I worked with J.A. Tyler and Mud Luscious than in all the writing programs and creative writing classes I’ve been in, combined. MLP gave me a home and a purpose and a direction back when my sense of what I wanted out of writing and literature was yet at the edge of my vision. Those were my favorite years writing, except perhaps when I was a little boy, making books out of yarn and notebook paper and crayon.
JA Tyler gave me a reason to try to write a book, and then gave that book a home. His edits made sense, and he let me win a battle about the cover. He was present, supportive, and it wasn’t so much that is was easy to work with him as it was that it was real fulfilling to work with him. Mud Luscious was so beautifully committed to the idea of blowing up flash, or whatever we’re calling it. Everything was meant to hit and to be over. There was an aesthetic that felt attractive and effective. There was an aesthetic that was attractive and effective. It was a home I was glad to have.
I’ve shared this story before but here it is again: We Take Me Apart wasn’t always the WTMA that ended up getting published. It started out as a 10-page poem/story thing that I didn’t know what to do with. At that time, J. A. Tyler at Mud Luscious Press was making those tiny hand-stapled chapbooks, and I believed my strange poem/story would be a good fit, language-wise, but it far exceeded the series’ 1,000-word limit. I queried whether he might consider it anyway. He said yes. While he had it, I blogged about thinking it could become a longer work, maybe even a book; and when he responded, he asked if I’d meant it in my post: Did I really want to make it a full-length book? If so, he might be interested in publishing it, as he’d been considering the possibility of publishing full-length titles. I said yes. We set a deadline for a first draft, and I got to work. And then I floundered. Days, then weeks, went by, and I had nothing. Just before deadline, I went back to the drawing board and sent a few brand new pages and a ridiculously long email explaining my thought process. He said, I trust you. I trust your process. Do what you need to do. And we set a new deadline. The words came, and in only a few months We Take Me Apart was written, edited, edited again, designed, printed, and delivered into the world. My first book. MLP’s first book. It felt . . . as if I had arrived.
When the news broke that Mud Luscious was, or soon would be, gone, I was unable to respond. I think my Facebook status was: “It sure isn’t fucking easy, is it.” Anyone who’s read slush, edited for a magazine, put their own money toward a magazine or other writers’ books, whether staple-bound or perfect-, anyone who’s given time, anyone who’s ever written a review and then another, or even a blog post and then another, you know it isn’t easy to sustain. The time the energy the effort the money the worry. And then something, who knows what—an emergency, the desire to start or reprioritize a family, a new job, a lost job, lost house or health insurance, a graduation, the need to move back or away from home, the need to dip into savings, the fact that there are no savings—comes along and upsets that fragile balancing act that was already always teetering either ever-so-slightly or more likely wildly. But listen, we are meant, I think, to accomplish great things, new and ever-newer things, in small pockets of time. I think we owe it to ourselves to move forward when new possibilities present themselves, even if hesitantly, but surely curiously, bravely, proudly.
Good luck, Jason. I’ll never forget you or the care you put into my book, and I am and will always be so, so grateful for MLP, which changed the course of my writing life profoundly, ever after.
When Mud Luscious Press opened, I had just moved to the puddle-wonderful banks of the Puget Sound. When Mud Luscious Press closed, I had recently moved to the matted-welcome desert of the Mojave. For me, the geographical metaphor is apt—my experience with Mud Luscious was entirely mud-luscious. Without Mud Luscious Press, those years would have a giant hole in them, a desert-sized hole.
– Andrew Borgstrom
JA Tyler answered my questions about MLP:
What was the initial idea behind Mud Luscious Press? Why did you start it and what did you envision it being at the beginning?
Kevin Sampsell was running his chapbook series at Future Tense Books, and I read about how he had a long-arm stapler and a printer, which meant he could publish whatever he wanted. Before then, it had never dawned on me that all you needed were the simple elements, the basics. That was the start of it. From there on, it was all about the writing and writers I loved and the instinctual push to make their work sing on the page in a production worthy of the words.
Why the name Mud Luscious?
E. E. Cummings is one of my all-time favorites, and “[in Just-]” is a poem I particularly adore. Plus, the phrase “mud luscious” had the nuance of being both poetic and beautiful but also gritty and raw, a combination I longed for in the work I published.
How quickly did the press develop? What was the process of going from online journal to chapbooks to novellas to indie empire like?
We never reached indie empire status, unfortunately, but that sure sounds awesome. The press developed basically as quickly as I could imagine it. I’m a gut level person in every facet of my life, so when the online was rolling and I decided I’d like to run print, I just went for it. The same was true when we added novellas and then the nephew series. It was 2% business and 98% intuition.
MLP books had a very distinct style/aesthetic. How much of the work you published was solicited versus coming from open submissions?
It was a 50/50 split in the end, but at the beginning it was all solicited. I found work I loved or authors I admired and asked what they had, what they were writing, and I almost always found work that was compelling and stunning and exactly what I wanted to publish. Once the press was bigger, the submissions started showing some of the same tendencies, and that was a pretty special moment, when other writers start getting what you want, what you are publishing.
All the MLP books used the ampersand symbol instead of the word ‘and’. What was up with that?
In the beginning they did, but we let that fade as the press grew. But our use in the beginning was based on the idea that presses can do more than simply publish works – they can change readers, change minds, evoke difference – even at the linguistic level. To that end, I always found it fascinating that you could take a work like “and” replace it with “&” and a reader could still mow through the book as if it was unchanged.
What did you most enjoy about running the press? What gave you the fuel to keep going with it?
I love to create, and getting to take someone’s words and make a book that is as lovely or as terrifying or as beautiful or as monstrous as what they wrote was a delightful challenge and a constant source of inspiration.
Why did MLP close? Was it something that was a long time coming? How did you make the decision?
Everything has a shelf life I suppose, and though the closing of the press was certainly something I never took lightly, it was as much a gut level decision as starting the press. We grew big, fast, and in some sense the machine became too unwieldy for the operator. I knew if I wasn’t giving absolutely 100% of my creativity and energy to those words I’d contracted, then it wasn’t fair to the writer. And the writer was always, always, at the heart of what I did with MLP.
When MLP came to an end, you still had a number of books forthcoming on your schedule. How many of them found homes with other publishers and did you play any role in that process?
I did my best to foster connections for those authors who wanted the support or help in finding a new home, and most of them found homes either way with publishers who did an equal, if not superior, job in production.
What about the books you had already published? Have many of them been picked up elsewhere for new editions?
Many of those were also picked up either as reissues or in ebook versions, which kept me at least from grinding my teeth as much at night.
The MLP website is gone, replaced by a ‘Holiday Magazine for Travel News’. Is there anywhere people can go to find out more about the press? Does the archive of the online journal still exist anywhere?
The archive along with the print editions have gone the way of the dodo, though I’m not sure how anything on the internet ever really disappears completely. There is nowhere for people to read about MLP other than in interviews like this or other archived conversations I’ve had with various sources. So it goes, as Mr. Vonnegut cooed.
Looking back at MLP is there anything you would have done differently?
I would have grown in smaller, more sizable bites, and I would have held on longer in the end. But I have semi-daily regrets and a guilt complex that has spooled since childhood, so the answer here is probably far longer than I could ever write.
You’ve been pretty quiet since MLP closed down. What have you been up to since then? Working on anything we can look forward to?
Part of the reason I had to let MLP go was to focus on my own work, and in the years immediately following the closure I completed my longest and most ambitious novel, Goners. It has yet to find the right publisher or agent, but I hold staunchly (and perhaps stupidly) to hope. In the meantime, I’ve moved on to a westernesque novel called Into the Hills, which will come in fits and starts over the next several years.
You recently changed your facebook cover photo to display the Mud Luscious Press logo and motto. Is this possibly a hint at a resurrection?
I might have a problem letting things go. I might also have purchased book binding materials and started learning how to make novels by hand, from the spine out. What else is in store, who ever knows.
[If you’re interested in finding out more about Mud Luscious Press, I highly recommend this interview Adam Robinson did with JA Tyler soon after the press closed down.]