All in Culture

When Paper Darts was introduced to poet Anis Mojgani at the 2012 AWP Conference, we knew we were in the presence of greatness, just not in the position to worship appropriately. Here, for your reading (and our bragging) pleasure is our sacred offering of questions to this two time National Poetry Slam champion—and his godly gift of answers.

Paper Darts: How did you come to be involved with Write Bloody Publishing?

Anis Mojgani: I first met Derrick in 2006, when we did a feature together in Chicago. We had a number of mutual friends and I had heard of his work for a spell. We and some other poets started a tour in 2007, which came to be known as the Poetry Revival. Derrick had started Write Bloody a few years prior and was starting to expand its catalog. At that time I had a manuscript which was sort of in publishing limbo, and Derrick was interested in putting out a book of mine if I was game. I was, and so I put together a manuscript titled Over the Anvil We Stretch, submitted it to him, and they published it in 2008.

PD: You have this killer quote from Chuck Close on your blog:

“The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself…Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.” Chuck Close

 How do you relate to this?

AM: I love what Chuck Close has to say here! I completely agree with it and wholeheartedly relate to it. When I was younger I found more direct inspiration. Inspiration that would directly lead to a poem or painting, but even then most of the longevity of the work and the outcome of the product would come from being inspired by being present in the moment of creating.

My process for writing is primarily based on getting out of the house, sitting somewhere to write, and then seeing what comes out. Sometimes nothing does and I spend three, four hours at the coffee shop with a sentence and a lot of time wasted on Facebook and Wikipedia. But I feel that is often, unfortunately, part of the process—putting in the time, making myself available for the writing to come. Punching the clock, so to speak. When the work does come, it’s then a matter of being observant and open to what may excite me or what patterns may emerge and to then follow them and shape them into something that may become more solid.

I liken my creative process to running down a hill. The more I run, the more my speed is taken out of my control and controlled by gravity implementing itself on the force of my kinetic energy. The more I write, the more I can write. I am inspired by the act of writing and pushed by it itself to continue forward.

Some years ago I was introduced to a single Jeffrey Lewis song, "Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror," which I encourage you to listen to right now.

In fact, and I feel pretty bad about this, but until recently I hadn't ever taken the time to listen to any of his other songs—as it turns out, his music is really fantastic. However, the time since I first heard the song, I've forced countless creative friends and acquaintances of mine to listen to this song during low points in their creative careers, as a way to let them know that they aren't alone. Sure, being a creative is hard and uncertain, but we all feel it.

It occurred to me recently that I could probably email Jeffrey Lewis and ask him about the song, so I did. Here is the result.

Paper Darts: There's something about "Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror" that's almost too true, making it enjoyable in a painful way. Did writing this song achieve any sort of important catharsis for you as an artist? 

Jeffrey Lewis: All of my songs and comic books hopefully bring me to some greater understanding or appreciation or catharsis or whatever it might be…just putting your thoughts and feelings and creativity into a form in the world is an amazing experience, you can then stand back and look at it. Your mind is like a pool of mud, you can sink your hands into it and feel around but that's too blind and amorphous. It's good to reach into that shapeless swamp and bring something out into the light, as a song or a conversation or an abstract painting, whatever it is will suddenly have edges, a beginning and middle and end, a shape and a sound and a taste, so you can actually interact with it and get something back from it. And if you're lucky, or skilled, or both, then you can dredge up some shape that hopefully other people will also be able to get something out of.

Pretty much anything that I put out into public means something cathartic to me (I make a lot of other songs and comics and stuff that I don't bother putting out), but it's true that certain songs resonate with more people than others. “Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror” has been a big resonator, but that might pass as the people and situations involved might not mean much to people in a few years. For myself, yes, it felt great to get all of that out.

PD: Did that catharsis last?

JL: Yeah, like I say, the act of making art out of thought puts things into a solid, lasting form. Thoughts themselves are just soup, but songs and art can last. Also, for that particular song, it came at a certain turning point for me. At that time I was really feeling very anxious about the fact that I seemed to have this music stuff as my job—it wasn't what I had ever intended as a job or career. I was getting into my late 20s and feeling like my life was taking a shape that wasn't what I had envisioned, wondering if that was okay. It's certainly okay to write songs about your own feelings, but is it really okay to make a living at that? To get used to making a living at it, to even expect and take for granted that there's a living to be made at it?  Not just as a living, but is it okay to make a life out of it?

I was able to answer some of this anxiety for myself by beginning to make a lot more art and songs about topics other than myself, it was around that time that I started working on my History of Communism series, and just generally challenging myself to expand what I could do. I still write personal stuff, but I feel a lot better with a wider range of social interaction, I feel like with people paying some attention to what I do I have more of a responsibility to put more thought into what I'm putting out into the world.  

I feel like with people paying some attention to what I do I have more of a responsibility to put more thought into what I'm putting out into the world. 

PD: I know that you also are a comic artist—between your music and your visual art, which causes you the most pain?

JL: Too many different kinds of pain associated with each to really answer… not that it's all about pain or anything. Comic books are strongly attached to the pain of loneliness because of the isolated time it takes to create them. Music doesn't have that problem; it's infinitely more social.  

PD: Has Will Oldham heard the song?

JL: Yes, and he's probably really sick of people asking him if he's heard it! I say this because with some regularity I meet people who tell me that they've asked him if he's heard it. Like, I'll play on some radio show in Germany and the station manager will say, "You know, Will Oldham played here a couple years ago and I asked him if he had heard your song about him!" Then the next day I'll do some art for a music magazine in Chicago and the editor will say, "You know, I interviewed Will Oldham last week, and I actually asked him if he'd ever heard your song!" Seriously, I think Will must really be tired of all these people who think they are the first person to ever ask him! It's been years already.

Here's a funny related thing—I do have this other song that mentions Leonard Cohen, and a couple of years ago a friend of mine was on tour in a band that was opening for Leonard Cohen, traveling with him on his private plane and everything. She was going to ask him if he'd heard my song, but I think she chickened out. I should also say—I don't make a habit of writing songs about other songwriters! I think those are maybe the only two, out of hundreds of songs that I've written!


// Interview by Matt Beachey 


Jerry Belich is something of a Renaissance man. He’s a longtime passion programmer who works at Clockwork Agency but always makes time for a plethora creative side projects. He’s spent the last few months mixing his technical and creative impulses, and the result is the Choosatron Deluxe Adventure Matrix, a homemade arcade-style choose-your-own-adventure game, complete with a quarter slot and a thermal printer readout of the story you experience. The Choosatron will be available to play at the Volume 4 launch party, so bring your quarters and your wits.

We shot Jerry a few questions about his electronic tinkerings and his propensity for working on a variety of disparate projects at once.


PAPER DARTS: What got you interested in choose-your-own-adventure? Did you read a lot of choose your own adventure as a kid, or was the draw more in the technological creative challenge?

JERRY BELICH:Both really. I loved Choose Your Own Adventures as a kid. They weren't all that brand, but as with Kleenex it's pretty synonymous with interactive fiction. Anyway, two favorites of mine were The Forbidden Towers by Carol Gaskin and Adventure in the Lost World by R. W. Stroh. I went through each of them again before writing this to see if they had held up over the score of years since I last read them, and as a testament to my hopefully good taste, they really do!

Interview By Regan Smith     //    Photos By Louisa Podlich


For those of us that live in Minneapolis, Jay Peterson is best known as the unofficial purveyor of all things bookish. For over ten years he’s made his living reading books and booking author readings as the manager of the Uptown independent bookstore Magers and Quinn. With his lanky figure, Buddy Holly glasses, and long, blond tresses, Jay has become an undeniable icon in the Twin Cities lit scene. You may have never actually talked to the guy, but chances are you know who he is.

Jay reads voraciously: “I typically like long, sad stories and bleak, simple books.” Deals with famous people on a day to day basis: “Gary Louris from the Jayhawks complimented me on my shirt today. One of the Doomtree guys was in the store yesterday. Dessa popped in this weekend.” And really, really enjoys his work: “There are frustrations with any job, but mine just has so many damn perks. We have the nicest fucking customers. Part of it’s the city, the neighborhood, and book culture, but I can’t imagine going to an industry that isn’t full of people like that.”

These are the things most of us know about Jay, and this is who we think he is, based on that limited knowledge. Many of us, in Minneapolis particularly, are guilty of idealizing our hodgepodge cast of local icons—the Dessas, Andy Sturdevants, and Scott Seekins of any city—and creating an image of them in our minds that is based more on caricature than content. We ask them the same questions in interviews, we use the same taglines for articles, and we only recycle the quotes that serve our thesis. We build a persona that encapsulates exactly what it is we want them to be in the media, and are disappointed when they inevitably fall short in real life.

So, when Jay invited me over for dinner and a chat at his place in Uptown a few months ago, I went in expecting to merely flesh out the gaps in my hologram image of Who Jay Peterson Is. You know—reader, writer, strong opinion-holder on the state of the print publishing, that sort of thing.

After a really badass meal, a few glasses of red wine, and three hours of almost totally undirected conversation, I ended up coming out of it much more enamored with Who Jay Peterson Is Not.

Jay D. Peterson is NOT a natural-born leader.

At Magers and Quinn, Jay wears a lot of hats. He organizes events—sometimes as many as eight a week, helps with merchandise buying, and handles the online business. His main responsibility, though, is scheduling and managing the store’s small staff. While it’s obvious he loves the people he works with, Jay doesn’t take to the role of Mr. Manager quite as readily as, say, George Michael Bluth.  

“I’m really bad at it. I’m so shitty. I’m just so passive-aggressive. We have a bunch of really, really smart people, and everyone has their strengths and everyone has their weaknesses. It’s just a challenge to keep everyone happy and busy and working toward the same goals. We have very low turnover, though, which means I must not be that big of an asshole. But I’m pretty sure I’m an asshole.”

Despite his reticence as a manger, Magers and Quinn isn’t the only place where he’s found himself in that position. In 2009 Jay co-founded Rock Star Supply Co., a nonprofit that trains tutors to work with at risk youth and places them in Twin Cities high schools. As Board Chair, Jay has to keep a group of twenty- and thirty-something volunteer board members with full-time jobs on-task, engaged, and working toward the same goal.

“I have two jobs where I manage people; I don’t know how I ended up with that. With Rock Star I have to head a group of eleven people who are all my peers or older. They’re really passionate, really intelligent people, but everyone’s just fucking busy, because everyone works full-time already. I’m a pretty laissez-faire leader.”

Jay D. Peterson is NOT a celebrity.

I first met Jay in the summer of 2009. I was at the Red Stag with my much cooler, older boyfriend and his much cooler, older friends, feeling out of place and socially inept. There was a quiet, bespectacled blond guy sitting across from me—a mutual friend of someone in the group, and he was just unintimidating enough for me to say hi. We ended up talking for 45 minutes about books, writing, college, and life in the “real world,” with him graciously entertaining my 21-year-old, freshly graduated English major zeal.

It wasn’t until six months later—after Meghan, Jamie, and I started Paper Darts—that I realized who I’d been talking to that night. Jay Fucking Peterson: Face of Magers and Quinn, the epicenter of everywhere you want to be when you’re just starting out in the Twin Cities lit scene. For two years I remained star-struck, a book nerd in the presence of the Grand Ayatollah of book nerds, incapable of exchanging more than a few pleasantries every time we ran into each other.

When I told Jay about this during our interview and asked how he dealt with his minor celebrity status, he laughed. Apparently this is not something that happens often.

Even if Jay may not have to deal with a clamoring fan base, his job requires him to be pretty adept at interacting with writers who do.

“I like to have completely normal conversations with those people and joke around. I try not to talk about their work. I never fawn. But it’s a challenge not to suck up. Bill Holm is one of my favorite writers of all time. I chatted with him, introduced him at a reading, and he dedicated a poem to me. I guess I may have fawned a little bit with him. I can’t recall what we talked about, but I might have told him that I loved him.”

The slow decline of the publishing industry over the last decade has caused despair, confusion, and lots of swearing among people in the business of books. Some are stubbornly sticking to the same model they’ve always used, which simply doesn’t deliver the way it did twenty years ago. Some are finding ways to make publishing relevant in a digital landscape. But Concord Free Press has found an innovative way to negate the adverse effect of diminishing profits: eliminate profits entirely.

Concord Free Press gives away books for free. Go to their website, give them your address, and you’ll get their latest title in the mail. It takes ridiculously little effort. The only caveat is that they ask you to make a donation of any amount to anyone besides themselves. It could be your favorite charity or someone you met on the street who’s in need of a few bucks. Once you donate, you can report on their website how much you gave, and to whom. Then you pass the book on to someone else and ask them to make a donation in return.

Without the demand of being profitable, Concord Free Press can publish a variety of new and unique voices. They have a limited marketing budget, but their unconventional non-business model tends to attract enough attention by itself. Authors donate their works, but they often end up getting deals from pay publishers after all of Concord Free Press’s initial print run of 3,000 has been distributed.

Their unique plan mixes the free-content spirit of the internet with a powerful and unprecedented giving incentive. Paper Darts got a chance to shoot Concord Free Press a few questions about their so-crazy-it-totally-works publishing model.


Above: The latest CFP titlePaper Darts: Your publishing model is very purpose-driven and certainly makes a statement. Does your charitable philosophy influence your selection of the manuscripts you publish?

Concord Free Press: Our books are linked more by the author’s willingness to join an intriguing publishing experiment than by any aesthetic doctrine. That said, we like unusual and bold works that have some sharp edges and strong opinions. In short, books that connect to readers on a more visceral level than entertainment.

PD: On the surface, many of the books you publish seem dark and satirical. In contrast, your publishing model is quite optimistic. Is this an intentional balancing act?

CFP: Yes. If we published books related to generosity and doing good, we’d bore ourselves and our readers. I’d say the Concord Free Press books are more on the lighter side of satire. The Concord ePress ebooks definitely run the gamut, with some dark ones on the list. We’re focused on creating a new approach to publishing, one based on generosity (versus the anxiety of the bottom line). The actual tone or subject of our books is almost irrelevant, though we certainly publish the most intriguing books we can.