From North County Times - July 16, 2005
voice in the city:
By Agnes Diggs
Some people believed that it was a shame for a city such as San Diego not to have its own literary press. So they recruited like-minded folks, gathered resources, and created one: San Diego City Works Press.
Its first fruit, a book titled "Sunshine/Noir: Writing from San Diego and Tijuana" ($12.95), is already enjoying success that exceeds expectations.
"It looks like a good start, so far," said editor Jim Miller. "Better than we thought, to be honest." Not that he and the members of the San Diego Writers Collective who "dared to think that one of the largest cities in the United States could support a small press" really doubted.
"It's remarkable that there was no literary press in a city the size of San Diego," Miller said. "It's kind of one of the markers of a world-class city."
The Collective was formed in 2003 by faculty members of San Diego City College, writers and arts boosters from around San Diego County. The group established a nonprofit account and began raising funds to operate. A matching grant received in 2004 from the American Federation of Teachers Local 1931, plus promotional support in 2004 from radio station Jazz 88 (KSDS 88.3), which broadcasts from the campus of San Diego City College, nurtured their efforts.
About 300 writers answered the call for submissions for the inaugural publication, which was designed to be a multigenre anthology. The process of putting the work together took about three years, Miller said. The first standard used to select the final stories was theme and quality, he said.
The goal was to present "a fuller, deeper, more multifaceted version of the city than the Baywatch-episode version" presented by the city's boosters, Miller said.
Once the submissions were screened and the cuts made, it fell to Miller to make the final choice of themes, order the anthology and decide where to put the art, he said. "But I had a lot of help," he said.
The layout and production work went through the spring, and the completed opus was launched in June.
"It's a long process because it's all volunteer," Miller said. "Folks were working (at their regular jobs) full time, so it was weekends and whenever."
Compilations are more difficult and labor-intensive than books by a single writer, he said. "It's tough to juggle 56 authors," he said.
The chosen writers retain the rights to their work and receive no money from sales. Profits go back into the running of San Diego City Works Press.
The book is divided thematically. Under the heading "Border Crossings," theoretical, philosophical and literal issues about borders are addressed in essays and poems. In the segment named "Where We Live Now," a long poem by educator Sharon Elise titled "The Sun Rose Again" seems to speak of cultural divides.
In "Eros, Poseidon and Me," Del Mar resident Scott Tinley describes a man, his dog, a force of nature and a moment of truth in a relationship.
"It wasn't like I'd been living with a person," Tinley wrote, "I'd been living with my imagination of her potential. The silence between us was growing louder every day."
Encinitas resident Lance Newman ponders the ancient mystery of the desert in a poem called "Anza Borrego."
"The writing deals with the grit and transcendence of living in San Diego," Miller said.
Innovative and traditional forms are welcome at City Works Press, Miller said. "We're interested in printing a diverse range of local ethnic writing. The kind of stuff that's not usually represented in the post card version of San Diego. But that doesn't mean we wouldn't print a traditional novel."
And he later added, "We're trying to kind of mix it up and get people to read something that they might not usually read."
In one month, the collective has sold a third of the 1,500-unit run, a standard size for a small, nonprofit literary press, Miller said.
"We're pretty much guaranteed to cover the cost of it, and expect to sell out the whole run," Miller said. "There seems to be a bit of enthusiasm for the work."
Putting a book like "Sunshine/Noir" together costs about $4,000, Miller said. The group has about $20,000.
"Every bit of the money the books make goes into making more books," Miller said.
The collective's aim is to produce four publications a year, "stay within our means and survive," he said. "We're trying to build our reputation slowly. We don't have a huge amount of money, but we have a large amount of knowledge about how things work."
Donations, he said, are what will keep the group alive for the future.
The ultimate goal is to create for San Diego a literary community of folks writing about local topics such as have been created by small presses in San Francisco and New York, he said.
"Most small presses are serving their community of writers, so we want to open up that sort of space in the city," Miller said.
Copyright © 2005 City Works Press. All rights reserved.