Mason publishing house releases first book

"Helen on 86th Street and other stories," by Wendi Kaufman. Cover designed by Paul Gormont, with art from Sheep Jones.

“Helen on 86th Street and other stories,” by Wendi Kaufman. Cover designed by Paul Gormont, with art from Sheep Jones.

Mason’s student-run Stillhouse Press debuted their first book “Helen on 86th Street and Other Stories” by Wendi Kaufman this year’s Fall for the Book.

Stillhouse Press was created in collaboration with FFTB, a book festival that ended last week, and Relegation Books, a small publishing house founded by Master of Fine Arts alum Dallas Hudgens.

Stillhouse Press’ goal is to give students hands-on experience in the publishing industry and force students to look at the production side of writing instead of solely the writing itself, according to William Miller, the writing program director at Mason and director of operations at Stillhouse,.

“[It] helps students see the ‘we’ of publishing instead of ‘I.’ Publishing is never a solitary job,” Scott Berg,  the faculty advisor and managing editor, said at the FFTB event.

Hudgens provided the funds to FFTB to initially establish Stillhouse Press and established a model for the students to use based on his own.

“Relegation Books started Stillhouse Press, but Stilhouse stands independent of Relegation.  I wanted Stillhouse and the students to be free to make their own decisions and create their own vision,” Hudgens said. “With Stillhouse’s first book, Relegation has been here to provide support, guidance and a model they could either follow or customize for their own use.”

This model is a print-on-demand and e-book model, meaning that the number of books printed depends on the number of book orders being processed.

Instead of “warehousing,” in which the publisher gets a large book order to sit in a warehouse, POD starts with a small print run and prints more if needed.

This model enables Stillhouse to remain at Mason’s campus and is cheaper than other printing options, creating greater potential for publishing new work.

“It’s like I said the print on demand, the e-book has lowered hurdles, financially and logistically,” Hudgens said. “You don’t have to make a big financial commitment to have a large print run, warehousing, making your own distribution deals, that type of thing. It’s not a perfect model but it opens things up for getting somebody’s work out into the world.”

The major positions of the press are run by students. Editor and MFA creative writing student, Marcos Martínez, explained that students work with the author in all steps of the process, from selecting the manuscript to proofing and editing the text, to the interior layout and design of the book.

“So as a writer I have gained really good insight on what it takes to put a book together. I think every artist gets so immersed in your own work, that you lose objectivity. You think you are communicating one thing and it takes someone else’s thoughts and insights, to let you know what’s working and what isn’t,” Martínez said. “Serving as an editor I have been able to look at someone else’s work and see things like point of view, verb tense, dialogue versus interior dialogue or overheard dialogue. Looking at other people’s writing has helped refine my own writing and look at it objectively.”

When working on “Helen on 86th Street and Other Stories,” Martínez worked with Kaufman on publishing aspects likeselecting stories to include in the final copy, which sentence to end a story on or appropriate comma use.

Regrettably, Kaufman passed away from cancer just weeks before her book’s debut. The FFTB event and the printed book will serve as a dedication to her memory.

Miller and Hudgens were both close friends to Kaufman and felt her short stories deserved to be published as one book. Since Kaufman is a Mason alum, they felt her book was fit to serve as Stillhouse Press’s first.

“If you read some of the jacket copy, they talk about the common themes, the portraits of young women struggling, trying to understand themselves, trying to make a way for themselves in the world, and that was we thought a poignant beginning for something like Stillhouse Press,” Miller said. “So much literary fiction these days is about vulnerability and over and over and over again Wendi’s stories are about vulnerability. So it just seemed like a very fitting place to begin. Even if Wendi had not been sick at all, we probably would have chosen that collection because that theme is so popular in literary fiction.”

Stillhouse plans to explore submissions beyond the Mason and Northern Virginia community, serving as an opportunity for writers who want a more intimate and personal experience with publishing.

“I got involved because I believe in Stillhouse Press,” Berg said.” I’ve been with Mason for a long time, 20 years, I believe this is the single best thing to come along with Mason’s MFA program since I’ve been familiar with the program. It’s a real feather in our cabinet. It can be a significant press with a significant voice.”