Callie Collins and Jill Meyers are the force behind A Strange Object, one of Austin’s finest independent presses. Conflict of Interest Co-Editor Thao Votang supported the press during their initial fundraiser and snagged one of their limited edition t-shirts (the best shirt you would have ever owned.)
Thao Votang: Please tell us who designed your sweet logo and what the concept behind it is.
A Strange Object (ASO): The logo sprung from the brilliant mind of Justin Cox. He’s part of the Austin collective Public School, which does work in design, illustration, art direction, photography, and video. We went to Justin with our thoughts about the aesthetic of the press—independent, a little wild, a little offbeat, spare—and he generated some beautiful concepts. What ended up being our logo was actually the very first concept he showed us. It stuck in our heads; it felt immediately right. And people seem to dig it. The red slash hits a nerve.
TV: ASO is putting out its fourth book next spring and the press is three years old. What is most exciting to you about reaching these two marks?
ASO: We feel like we’re settling in, which is both exciting and terrifying. We’re so pumped about our fourth book we can’t even tell you—its mood reminds us of The Twilight Zone. Its focus on moments of female initiation reminds us of Margaret Atwood. It’s an unsettling, bold book.
Hitting book four just reminds us how many strange, elegant, sly, gut-punchy books are in our future. And for year three, we’d just like someone to buy us this cake.
TV: When you decided to move forward with a small press, what were obstacles you knew you would meet and how are you dealing with those?
ASO: Oh, money. Sustainability. Feeling distant from or out of touch with the publishing hubs of New York and San Francisco. And, well, a lot of questions about the future of books, and indie lit in particular.
ALL small presses deal with this stuff. There’s a lot of warmth, solidarity, and idea-sharing in the community. We’re really grateful for guidance from more experienced editors and staff. And the reception our books have gotten has encouraged us. People do read literary fiction; they will pick up a book from a press they don’t recognize; they will fall in love with risky work.
Resources are always going to be an issue, of course. We don’t have a secret formula yet, but we’re always accepting applications for patrons.
TV: You planned to start Covered with Fur as you planned ASO. Why did you want to have a digital magazine? Why was it important for you to pay the contributors to Covered with Fur?
ASO: We were both working at a literary magazine before we started the press, and we didn’t have much warning when the umbrella nonprofit ran out of operating funds. We found so much joy editing a journal, in working with writers on shaping shorter-form pieces and stacking them to get to something larger. We knew we wanted to branch out into books, but we also wanted to keep doing that magazine work. We think about the magazine as a tool of discovery too, a way to build relationships with talented writers we don’t know yet.
The concept for Covered with Fur evolved over time to suit the sensibility of the press—it’s minimalist and designed to be as reader-friendly as possible, but also we publish a ton of weird shit. Experimental fiction, novel excerpts, one-off cartoons, critical micro-essays. And paying our contributors wasn’t really up for debate with us. It’s not a ton of money, obviously, but writers deserve to be paid for their writing.
TV: ASO is a work of love (i.e. you don’t get paid). Why do you do it and what keeps you going?
JILL: We’ve published three award-winning, critically acclaimed books—our last was selected by NPR as among the best books of 2014—have a fourth on the way, and keep an online magazine sparking with offbeat, provocative pieces. We’re happy with all that, but we are not done.
We’re inspired by the manuscripts that fill our inboxes; we believe in the work we publish and feel compelled to share it with the larger world. We have secret goals for our publications—prizes! larger print runs! maybe someday to be seen in the President’s TBR stack—that we haven’t met yet. Ah, dreams.
What keeps us going: a nuclear-fusion device. High-octane iced coffee from our downstairs neighbor, Sa-Ten. And this corgi.
CALLIE: Editing and publishing fiction is the way I relate to the world. Perhaps that’s simple as hell, but also it’s true. Like Jill said: we’re still unearthing new things—in book manuscripts, in the work we’re publishing in Covered with Fur, and in Austin.
There is a lot left to do! Watch the corgi video again! Will he never stop?
TV: What keeps you in Austin?
JILL + CALLIE: Tacodeli. Swimming holes. The good people who live here. Plenty of condo living.