In 2005 Jonathan Messinger and Zach Dodson formed Featherproof Books, an indie publisher based here in Chicago and "dedicated to the small-press ideals of finding fresh, urban voices ignored by the conglomerates." Featherproof's first title was The Enchanters vs. Sprawlburg Springs by Brian Costello, a book that was met with much critical praise. This week Featherproof Books releases Sons of the Rapture, the debut novel of THE2NDHAND editor Todd Dills. Of Dills's debut effort, Hairstyles of the Damned author Joe Meno comments, "It's powerful storytelling and a reconciliation of our shared conflicts and histories." (The release party for Sons of the Rapture will be held at The Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, Thurs. Sept. 14 at 7 pm.) Featherproof Books also publishes "mini-books," carefully designed short stories and novellas that may be downloaded from the press' website, printed and constructed by the reader. Featherproof mini-books have included works by Elizabeth Crane and Ambrose Austin, among several other accomplished authors. Messinger, who is also the books editor for Time Out Chicago, will co-host The Dollar Store at The Hideout, Fri. Sept. 1 at 7 pm. To discover more about Featherproof Books, Todd Dills's Sons of the Rapture and the mini-book series, visit its website at www.featherproof.com.
Q: There's a certain amount of incest that comes along with any collaborative/inclusive endeavor. Just as I rely on friends, or friends of friends, to get at the product of my column, so too does Featherproof Books to get at its releases. Yet, I think you'd agree, there's no doubt this "incest" is absolutely necessary: grassroots need to be practiced — grassroots establishes confidence, and produces a market return. As an independent entity, however, when does Featherproof stretch beyond — when do you stretch out to anonymity?
Messinger: In a way, Zach and I see Featherproof as the publishing arm of a community of Chicago writers who we think should be as known to the rest of the country as arithmetic. But we also have steadily reached out, via our website, for writers we don't know, and that's reflected in our mini-books and in the manuscripts we're currently reading for our third release. This is the most boring response I have ever given to the question.
But to your point: Are Dills and I friends? Yes. But we're friends because, a couple years back, I was really into what he was doing at THE2NDHAND — I still am — and so I submitted him some work, and he liked it, and we started talking, had a few beers, and collaborated in other ways. It's not a matter of "incest," but rather of shared artistic goals. We become friends with people because we like working with them. I don't think the strict employer/employee model would ever work for this sort of thing. Besides, Dills still regards me with a Southerner's skepticism for all things Yankee. We'll never be blood.
Q: Money is money; and it's only money that will keep Featherproof's free and necessary thoughts flowing. I'm sure that if you could you'd keep Featherproof Books alive with your very own currency — not needing or wanting to make a profit. However, making and wanting a profit is the only way the independent voices you choose to promote will be acknowledged by a greater audience. How does a press like Featherproof balance artistic independence and financial dependence?
Messinger: This would be an awesome quandary. The day we have to worry about keeping it real in the face of all that cash pouring into independent publishing is the day you see me riding around town in my brand new, sparkling red Italian road bike (a Wylie, probably) with a carbon fork and a six-pack — no, a 12-pack — of High Life in my bag. Yes, this is my idea of the Good Life.
We want to turn a profit, and we're working on it. If either of us could draw a paycheck from Featherproof, we'd do it in a heartbeat (the first to do it would be Zach, who is the business mastermind behind this operation and the hardest worker I've met). We are of the radical school of thought that people doing good work should be paid for that work. Writers of literary fiction have actually convinced themselves that their work is not of the type that they should be paid for. Ludicrous. Actually, we want to make as much money as Ludacris.
Q: OK then, within the business of indie publishing should anarchy be treated as a phase, or should a collective effort be viewed as a dictate?
Messinger: You know, some writers just want to write a book and let a company take care of the other stuff, and I can't say I blame them. A writer writes, after all, a writer doesn't necessarily edit or market or design. But this is how we've chosen to do it because it works best for us. We think a bunch of heads banging against each other produces a better book than a top-down arrangement. With Brian's book, he was extremely involved with the design, and Todd was integral to the editing of his. Both have been very active in the marketing. We're doing this because making books is fun for us, and I imagine that a more structured arrangement would just suck all that fun out of it.