Introducing a new indie press and a debut novelist: Kate Gray/Carry the Sky/Forest Avenue Press

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A few weeks ago, a note arrived from Laura Stanfill, the publisher of a brand-new press called Forest Avenue. Laura knew of my interest in the Schuylkill River. She'd been talking with a mutual friend (the fabulous Colleen Mondor, a fabulous author AND indie publisher). She wondered, she wrote, if I'd be interested in taking a look at a new novel by an award-winning poet named Kate Gray, a book, she said, that "is an unblinking look at boarding school bullying based on Kate's first year as a teacher, with a strong rowing emphasis, including a major plot point that happens on the Schuylkill." The book, Laura continued, "celebrates the river's strength and beauty—and its rowers." It has already been celebrated by writers like Hannah Tinti (about whom I once wrote here), Ron Carlson (whose work I love and mentioned here), and Christopher Buckley.

Laura went on to describe Forest Avenue Press, which has recently signed with a division of the distributor PGW/Perseus and which (pay attention to this) is opening nationally for submissions in January.

A new, award-winning press with promise, I thought.

An editor who deeply loves her authors and is committed to finding a broad audience for her work.

A poet novelist.

The river.

I'm in.

Yesterday and early this morning I've been reading Carry the Sky, this newly launched novel. Gray is a poet all right—a fierce one, a smart one, a writer who knows her rowing, her rivers, the claustrophobia of boarding school bullying, the ache of loss, Physics, and origami. She tells her story through the alternating voices of a Delaware boarding school's new rowing coach and the Physics teacher—both of whom are operating within a haunted psychic space. She tells her story with urgency and with details—physical and emotional—that are wholly unexpected. No cliches here, not in this urgent novel.

For example: Here is Taylor, the rowing coach, in a field with a boy who is different, a boy talking about death, a boy around whom the plot will soon turn:
The flocks of geese in these fields made the ground come alive. Their way of feeding and calling made a hum, something steady. "Why are you talking about death?" His face jerked left like a machine, then jerked right. Without looking at his face, I put the dinosaur on his blanket.

"Why do you like rowing?" he asked. The question was drum roll, cymbal crash, horn.

It was something to do with not wanting to feel pain but wanting to know pain. Like wanting to know fire. You light it in front of you, the colors all over the place, the heat all over your skin, but you don't want to burn or anything. I don't know, but I understand him a little more in the middle of that field, with geese all over everywhere, geese getting along with the swans, and all of us finding a place to land.
In a Q and A at the end of Carry the Sky, Kate Gray speaks of the road she took toward publishing. It wasn't an easy one. It required fortitude—eight years to write the book, two years to revise it, a series of rejections, and then the balm of a writing group:
After I had written and rewritten a complete draft, received rejections when I sent the manuscript out, my indefatigable partner gathered a group of twelve friends to our house for potlucks once a month, and we read the entire draft out loud. Their questions and insights were invaluable. Reading the whole thing out loud let me hear the gaps, the promise.
And so, to a riveting debut novelist, to a brand-new press, to the partner who cared, to the friends who listened, to the rivers that haunt and sustain us — many congratulations on a work of art.


Michael G-G said...

I know Laura Stanfill as a writer, editor, and friend--and you are right: she cares deeply for her authors and is an indefatigable champion for their work. I'm looking forward to reading Kate Gray's novel, and to celebrating the NATIONAL success of Forest Avenue Press. Thank you for introducing this great venture to your audience, Beth.

Serena said...

I love that idea of having a round-robin read of a novel to find the gaps, etc. I am intrigued by this one and the press. I'm always looking for new poet/novelists!

Nina Badzin said...

So good to know! Love to hear of new literary endeavors and people willing to take a chance.

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