This week Sapling talks with Patrick Barney, Xi Draconis Books.
Sapling: What should people know who may not be familiar with Xi Draconis Books?
Patrick Barney: Xi Draconis Books is an independent press that seeks to publish socially-conscious, book-length works of fiction, literary nonfiction, and poetry. We are currently still seeking creative nonfiction for our 2018 production year.
Sapling: How did your name come about?
PB: Xi Draconis is a star in the constellation Draco, and Draco was a great serpent that battled the Olympian gods for ten years. The gods, while much like human beings, have significantly more power, and so this leads them to commit all sorts of crimes. Murder, genocide, rape, torture. Pretty much any terrible act a human can do, the gods do on a grander scale. So the name is a metaphor for rebellion against social injustice. We should adopt Draco’s war against the gods.
Sapling: What do you pay close attention to when reading submissions? Any deal breakers?
PB: Well, I like to be drawn in from the very beginning of a work. Writers really only have a couple pages to make a reader interested, and I’m no different. I try to be a conscientious person, so I’ll probably read way past the point of disinterest, even though I’ve already got a good idea that a work isn’t for me.
I’m also very, very conscious of sentence-level issues and really hate ready-made phrases and clichés. For my part, writing, whether prose or poetry, should do something stylistically interesting, and ready-made phrases quickly tell me that nothing interesting is happening on the sentence-level.
In addition, I believe a work should have a clear and obvious theme, not just subject matter. So (if I can get away with a little bit of explanation), subject matter is simple: a work deals with love, or hatred, or technology. A theme, on the other hand, is a specific position on that subject matter. For example, our upcoming publication In Some Sense Innocent deals with the subject of sex crime, and takes the position that our traditional responses to it (hatred, repulsion, punishment), while understandable, might not be our best methods of curbing it. Often, I read work that is stylistically interesting but never comes together on the thematic level, and I’m really looking for both qualities before I say yes to a manuscript.
Sapling: Where do you imagine Xi Draconis Books to be headed over the next couple years? What’s on the horizon?
PB: Well, 2018 is our first production year, so my short-term goal is to simply build up a really good list of initial titles. After this first year, I’d like to secure a distribution deal with Small Press Distribution or Consortium. I’d also like to establish relationships with college English departments so that I can have a good avenue for our authors to do readings. (I’m currently planning a reading for Hans Burger, the author of In Some Sense Innocent, at the University of Cincinnati.) In general, I’d like to build up a good reputation for the press so that Xi Draconis is seen in the literary world as an excellent place for emerging writers to get their start.
Sapling: As an editor, what is the hardest part of your job? The best part?
PB: The best part is clicking with a manuscript, sending the acceptance letter, and working with the author to mold her book into the best shape possible. The hardest part, so far, is saying no to those works that are excellent but just not quite right for the press.
Sapling: If you were stranded on a desert island for a week with only three books which books would you want to have with you?
PB: George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, Robert Fitzgerald’s translation of The Odyssey, Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility
Sapling: Just for fun (because we like fun and the number three) if Xi Draconis Books was a person what three things would it be thinking about obsessively?
PB: Death metal, coffee, and revenge.