Ariana D. Den Bleyker on ELJ Publications, Poetry, Emerging Writers, & Mental Illness Awareness
Nicole Rollender: You founded your own press, ELJ Publications, so you could focus on publishing collections and chapbooks of poetry and fiction from new and emerging writers. Can you tell us about the history of the press? What kind of poetry and fiction do you publish, and as an editor, what do you look for in a manuscript or collection?
Ariana D. Den Bleyker: We aim to be a press for every writer. We offer two journals, one specializing in the work of emerging writers and the other specializing in edgy material, several serials/series focusing on different themes and genres, four contests, and a broad range of single author titles filled with manuscripts ranging from mini-collections (chapbooks) to full collections to novellas – anything a writer can dream and write, we want to read and have a chance to publish. ELJ looks for a work that speaks to us on a personal level, work that begs us for its attention like a little child pulling on our sleeves. It has to be tight and thematic with a definite arc. It has to be powerful.
Emerge Literary Journal was founded to provide new and emerging writers foundations for their work, their words. When I founded the journal in 2011, I thirsted for outstanding, fresh writing from never before published voices and other emerging writers with some publications under their belt with a few established writers in between because I, too, was a new writer. It’s fair to say it’s hard to get published if you’ve never been published before. That’s why this Henry David Thoreau quote resonated with me: “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”
So, always having been a fan of Thoreau, I knew if I had a lot of castles, other beginning writers must too, and I wanted to establish a journal that would be the foundation, perhaps the first credit, that could get a writer (at the time) started in their publishing careers. I wanted to make a difference for new writers. In 2013, I carried that sentiment over to the press’ first chapbook contest, and the press was born from there.
NR: The chapbooks and books you publish are beautiful. Tell us about the production process – the paper, the cover art, the fonts, what makes them special.
ADB: As a reader, I want to hold something in my hands that’s as beautiful as the words inside it. One of the reasons ELJ moved away from print-on-demand was to control the quality of the book more. We only publish on 60 lb. paper (cream for our single author titles and opaque for our journals) and 100 lb. glossy laminate cardstock. This combination, though more expensive to produce, gives a more polished final product. I orchestrate all parts of the production process from cover design to interior formatting, where Garamond is the press font of choice. I’m very particular about the aesthetic of all books ELJ produces.
NR: Under the ELJ umbrella, you have two print publications: Emerge Literary Journal, which you talked about, and scissors & spackle, to showcase experimental and edgy writers, which you took over from another editor. How do these publications add to ELJ’s mission?
ADB: ELJ Publications and all its publications stand firm on a belief in words themselves, what they have to say to the reader, and to the world. Scissors & spackle was founded on the belief that words have the ability to both cut and repair at the same time. Whether we start a journal or acquire one, it’s the press’ goal to round out ELJ Publications where we can. We want to be the press with something for everyone. So, whether you’re a new writer, an experimental or edgy writer, whether you specialize in poetry or prose, we want to host a special place for you to showcase your work. ELJ Publications is also now home to Amethyst Arsenic, founded in 2011, an online poetry journal and paying market.
NR: You also recently started The J.J. Outré Review, an online publication publishing fiction that mixes traditional genres and subgenres like slipstream, new weird, neo-noir, new wave fabulist in the style of Cat Rambo, Rae Bryant and others. What excites you about this publication and the submissions you’re getting?
ADB: This journal really excites me. My father is J.J. Outre, the journal’s main editor. He’s well read in pulp fiction and enjoys genre writing, as do I. What really drew me to start this journal was my own experience. I recently published a new wave fabulist novelette, Finger : Knuckle : Palm with LucidPlay Publishing. When submitting the manuscript, it was hard for me to find a home for it. The toughest part about writing something experimental that doesn’t fit an exact genre is getting it published, especially when the prose is more grounded in the literary. Genre fiction, for me, is really more formulated and less literary.
When I started the journal, I wanted to bend and mix traditional genres and subgenres. I wanted genre stories with heavy literary undertones, a clear concern for the language itself and not just formulaic plot and characters. At J.J., we’re looking for stories that exceed expectations, and surprise the reader in both context and form. We want experimental genre, weird, something nebulous, something gritty, insecure, radical. We’re hungry for surprising poetic prose, prose that leads to unknown wonders. Volume I, Issue I went live with a favorable response. We receive numerous submissions a day, but J.J. salivates for the ones that leave us thirsty for more.
NR: You run four annual contests for emerging writers, including The ELJ Mini-Collection Competition for emerging writers and The We Will Plan Big Things Prize for a debut full-length collection. Your Pioneer Prize is a chapbook poetry prize just for English major undergraduates or graduate students. What’s one of the manuscripts that you selected that made the most impact on you as an editor?
ADB: Even though I never personally judge any of the contests, I do take part in selecting the finalists to send to the judge. The one manuscript that has made the most impact on me is Opening the Doors of the Temple by Annalee Vileen Kwochka. It won the very first Pioneer Prize. It’s a story about the poet’s experience with dermatillomania, which is compulsive skin picking. It’s a very powerful exploration of the disorder and one of the many reasons I founded our Esperanza Editions series.
NR: ELJ Publications created the Esperanza Editions book series to facilitate mental health awareness. You also publish the annual Wood Becomes Bone collection, which publishes five micro-chapbooks from contributors about their experience with mental illness. How did you get involved with these projects and what role do these projects have in our literary community?
ADB: It’s no secret I’m bipolar and a lot of what I write about embraces that diagnosis, particularly Finger : Knuckle : Palm and prosthesis. I think it’s hard for writers to write about their own experiences with mental illness, let alone share it with the world. But, the stigma surrounding mental illness must be eliminated. ELJ Publications admires writers willing to tackle this theme through art, to share their stories with the world. We’re looking to remove the stigma of mental illness with powerful words of experience. We’re looking to write away the stigma one word at a time.
NR: You’re the author of three poetry collections, including Wayward Lines, numerous poetry chapbooks, the novelette, Finger: Knuckle: Palm, and the experimental memoir, prosthesis. What are you working on now, and how does feminism (explicitly or inexplicitly) factor into your writing?
ADB: Though the press dominates most of my time these days, and I do sleep and spend time with my family once in a while, I’ve managed to write quite a bit over the past year. I recently finished writing two crime novellas: Dark Water (Number Thirteen Press (UK), 2015) and Hollowed Out, which is currently seeking a home.
This past summer I finished a chapbook-length response poem honoring Emily Dickinson speaking to hope and fear. The hope portion, Strangest Sea, is available from Porkbelly Press; the fear portion, Knee Deep in Bone, is making the rounds. In the chapbooks, the narrator personifies hope and fear in hopes of coming to terms with her own dealings with these emotions, giving her a voice in an increasingly tumultuous world.
I also recently finished two new shorter chapbooks, The Peace of Wild Things (forthcoming from Porkbelly Press, 2015) and Beautiful Wreckage (forthcoming from Flutter Press, 2015), both centering on my experience with bipolar disorder or the constant give and take of mania and depression.
I’m a woman, so feminine experience is always explicitly or inexplicitly factored into all of my work, though I’d say the majority of my work has been therapeutic in the sense that it’s how I play out my own life experiences and survive my own mental illness.
Ariana D. Den Bleyker is a Pittsburgh native, currently residing in a small town in New York where she’s a wife and mother of two. She’s the author of three collections, including Wayward Lines (RAWArT Press, 2015), the chapbooks Forgetting Aesop (Bandini Books, 2011), Naked Animal (Flutter Press, 2012), My Father Had a Daughter (Alabaster Leaves Publishing, 2013), Hatched from Bone (Flutter Press, 2014), On Coming of Age and Stitches (Origami Poems Project, 2014), Strangest Sea (Porkbelly Press, 2015), Beautiful Wreckage (Flutter Press, 2015), The Peace of Wild Things (Porkbelly Press, 2015), and Birds Never Sing in Caves (Dancing Girl Press, 2015), the novelette Finger : Knuckle : Palm (LucidPlay Publishing, 2014), an experimental memoir, prosthesis (Lummox Press, 2014 print) and (Zoetic Press, electronic) and Dark Water (Number Thirteen Press, 2015). She is the founder of ELJ Publications LLC, a small press with big things to offer, home of Emerge Literary Journal, scissors & spackle, The J.J. Outre Review, Amethyst Arsenic, Wild Horses, Turn : Turn : Turn and Wood Becomes Bone. Visit her online at http://arianadenbleyker.com.
Nicole Rollender is assistant poetry editor of Minerva Rising Literary Journal and editor of Stitches. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review, Best New Poets, Harpur Palate, Salt Hill Journal, The Journal, THRUSH Poetry Journal and West Branch, among others. Her full-length poetry collection, Louder Than Everything You Love, is forthcoming from ELJ Publications. She’s the author of the poetry chapbooks Absence of Stars (dancing girl press, August 2015), Arrangement of Desire (Pudding House Publications) and Bone of My Bone, a winning manuscript in Blood Pudding Press’s 2015 Chapbook Contest. She’s the recipient of poetry prizes from CALYX Journal, Princemere Journal and Ruminate Magazine. She earned her MFA in poetry at the Pennsylvania State University. Find her here: www.nicolerollender.com.