This interview is part of the Latinx Author Interview series. Michael Nava is the managing editor of Amble Press, an imprint of Bywater Books, which is committed to publishing diverse LGBTQ voices, particularly LGBTQ writers of color. He is also the successful author of a series of crime fiction novels featuring a gay, Latino criminal defense lawyer named Henry Rios and a series of historical novels, The Children of Eve, that begin in Mexico just before the 1910 Mexican Revolution and end in Hollywood in the early 1920s.
Dovalpage: Considering that Amble Press primarily focuses on publishing fiction and creative non-fiction from LGBTQ writers of color, specifically, what makes a book an Amble Press book?
Nava: I’ve been at this for little over a year now and at the beginning, I wanted to be as open as possible for all submissions without a preconceived idea of what makes a book an Amble Press book. In reviewing submissions and choosing books, though, a clearer picture has emerged for me regarding what kinds of books I want to publish. The most important quality for me is that the book tells a story. By that I mean, it has characters and a plot that interact and that the story is dynamic with a beginning, middle and resolution. Many of the submissions I’ve received are static—they are character studies that focus on the inner life of the characters but don’t actually tell a story. If someone wants to know more clearly what I mean, I suggest they read one of our books before submitting their own manuscript. The second quality is that the work has to demonstrate that the writer knows something about the craft of writing. Oh, and the book has to come from an LGBTQ writer writing about that community. I’m astounded by the number of books I get from non-LGBTQ writers who haven’t bothered to do the most elementary research about who Amble is and what we publish.
The most important quality for me is that the book tells a story. By that I mean, it has characters and a plot that interact and that the story is dynamic with a beginning, middle and resolution.Michael Nava
Dovalpage: Graphic novels are mentioned among the kind of books that Amble Press is looking for now. Very interesting because they aren’t always easy to publish. Could you tell me more about the kind of graphic novels you’d like to publish? Any graphic novels coming out soon?
Nava: They aren’t easy to publish because they are more expensive to produce and that means we have to charge more for them and this makes them especially challenging for a small publisher. That said, we are open to them. Currently, we have a manuscript that combines text and collage-like photography as well as original drawings that I would very much like to publish. At the moment, we are researching whether we can produce the book in a format that does justice to the art and won’t break the bank. So, again, I will look at any kind of graphic novel and if it’s a book I want to publish and we can work out the production, I’d be happy to add it to our list.
Dovalpage: That would be great because there’s definitely a market for them! Now, on the Amble Press submissions page it says, “So, if you have a manuscript that you believe is ready for prime time, please send it our way!” Could you define “ready for prime time”? What could authors do to help their manuscripts stay away from the Amble Press slush pile?
Nava: So again at the beginning, I was open to reading whatever came in but over time I realize that because I am the entire editorial staff for Amble (production and distribution are handled by our parent company Bywater Books), there are limits to how much time and effort I can put into a manuscript to prepare it for publication. All but two of the books I am publishing between now and 2022 are by writers who are previously published and who are professional writers, even if they don’t make their living as writers (very few writers do.) The two writers who have not been previously published have, nonetheless, taken the time to learn the craft of writing fiction and creative nonfiction by working on their books for a long time, having other people read and critique them, so that when they came to me they were the best and most polished manuscripts they could produce.
To be clear: I don’t want to discourage those who have not previously published from submitting their manuscripts to me, and I’m not saying you have to be an MFA student (in fact, I have my doubts about MFA programs and the kind of writing that comes out of them.) What I am saying is that I’m looking for writers who have been writing for a while, have thought about and studied (if only by reading other writers) how to create characters, write dialogue, plot the trajectory of a story, etc.
Writing fiction or creative fiction is an art, and just as no one could pick up a guitar and expect a recording deal or pick up a paintbrush and expect to have a gallery show, people should not think that, because they have an idea for a story, they can just write it down and send it to a publisher and expect to get published. The competition for publication is fierce and we only publish a few books each season. I turn down 9 manuscripts out of 10, so put your best foot forward.
Dovalpage: On a more personal note, how hard (or easy) is it to be a writer and an editor at the same time? Do you feel that editing someone else’s work takes time from your own?
Nava: Yes, acquiring, editing, and working on marketing for each title all take time from my own writing, but it’s time I’m willing to give up. I regard this gig as doing public service to the LGBTQ community and especially, I hope LGBTQ communities of color, by publishing books that speak about and document our human experience. I should add that I don’t get paid for this work. Any money I make comes from royalties from the sales of the two books I’ve published through Amble.
Dovalpage: That is a labor of love indeed! In a Southern Equality article you said “I’d like Amble to be a launching pad for emerging LGBTQ writers as well as a home for more established writers who, because of the polite but pervasive homophobia of the big publishers, find it difficult to place their work there. I am interested in publishing not only gay male writers but bisexual writers, transgender writers, and non-binary writers, particularly, again, writers of color.” A year later, how would you evaluate your progress toward those goals?
Nava: Some progress but more work remains. At the beginning of my editorship, I solicited queer writers of color from organization that the Lambda Literary alumni fellows (these are writers who studied at the annual Lambda Literary writing workshop held for two weeks each August), from VONA (Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation), from PEN’s writing fellows programs and by emails to people I personally knew who teach in creative writing programs. But over 90% of the submissions I receive are from gay or lesbian white writers. Still, I have been able to put together a fairly diverse publishing program that includes four writers of color (two Black, two Latinx, I count myself here), along with a transwoman writer, a writer who identifies as non-binary, an 83-year-old writer, and we are currently looking at this graphic novel by a bisexual Asian-American writer.
The books are also diverse in voice and subject matter. They include the debut novel by a young Black writer, Casey Hamilton, about being a gay Black man in the digital age; a mystery by veteran mystery writer Richard Stevenson set in 1940s Philadelphia during a vicious crackdown on the gay male community; a coming out novel by Calista Lynne where a teen-age girl summons a demon to take her into Hell to rescue her movie star crush; a work of speculative fiction by nonbinary writer Redfern Jon Barrett that imagines an alt history where Berlin is a gay and lesbian city-state, and Orlando Ortega-Medina’s novel about a gay, Latinx immigration lawyer who becomes involves with one of his clients at the same time his undocumented partner faces deportation.
Still, I really want to be publishing more queer writers of color and more trans writers. Also, I’m interested in regional diversity. Most of our books are by writers who live on one of the coasts and I’d like to be publishing writers from the South, the Southwest, and the Midwest. I know I need to make another effort at outreach, and I am grateful that you have given me this opportunity.
To find out more about Amble Press, visit https://www.bywaterbooks.com/amble-press/. To learn more about Michael Nava, visit http://michaelnavawriter.com.