Fifth Avenue Press launches nine titles with a book release party

Fifth Avenue Press logo

Fifth Avenue Press launches on Nov. 5 with a book-release party from 1-3 pm at the downtown branch of the Ann Arbor District Library.

"Publishing is a business," writes mega-selling author Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook) in the "Advice for Writers" section of his website. "Writing may be art, but publishing, when all is said and done, comes down to dollars."

Except with Fifth Avenue Press, the new publishing imprint of the Ann Arbor District Library.

Fifth Avenue helps local authors produce a print-ready book at no cost -- from copyediting to cover design -- and the writers retain all rights. In return, the library gets to distribute ebooks to its patrons without paying royalties, but authors can sell their books -- print, digital, or audio -- however they choose and keep all the proceeds.

Fifth Avenue launches on Sunday, Nov. 5, with a reception from 1-3 pm on the 3rd floor of AADL's downtown branch, featuring author readings from the imprint's first nine titles:

Technical Solace by Rebecca G. Biber (poetry) ► PULP INTERVIEW
Ginger Stands Her Ground by Virginia Ford (memoir) ► PULP INTERVIEW
Tales From the Dork Side by R.J. Fox (humor, memoir) ► PULP INTERVIEW
Michigan Moon by Meg Gower (picture book)
Takedown by Jeff Kass (mystery)
Chad Agamemnon by Carolyn Nowak (comic book) ► PULP INTERVIEW
The Book of Ann Arbor: An Extremely Serious History Book by Rich Retyi (humor, history) ► PULP INTERVIEW
A Monster on Main Street by Emily Siwek (picture book) ► PULP INTERVIEW
Light From the Cage: 25 Years in a Prison Classroom by Judy Patterson Wenzel (memoir) ► PULP INTERVIEW


The Book of Ann Arbor: An Extremely Serious History Book by Rich Retyi

The Book of Ann Arbor: An Extremely Serious History Book by Rich Retyi

Q: Give us a short synopsis of the book.
A: A suicide submarine parade. Ann Arbor’s top 10 astronauts. Shakey Jake, the Embassy Hotel, and train/building collisions. The birth of Iggy Pop. Nazis getting punched. Visits from heads of state, from presidents to a dictator. The Music Mobile, the Naked Mile and a round-the-world flight. Plus, a few tales of murder, because it happens here too. These are a few of the stories that make up The Book of Ann Arbor.

Q: What was the most enjoyable part of writing your book?
A: Finishing. Writing is a lonely exercise, which I enjoy very much, but reading what I've written is the worst. It's never good enough -- never quite right. The fact that I'll never have to read these stories again is like a warm hug from a warm person. The most enjoyable part of the process was working with graphic designer Jen Harley, who not only did the covers and title page but created individual graphics for every story. It was delightful to have these texted to me a few apiece over weeks. Working with my editor Sara Wedell was also a highlight because she asks keen questions and calls me on bad writing. She also kept the train moving on time, which I sorely need.

Q: What was the most difficult?
A: Anyone who likes writing wants to write a book. Books are so cool. And they're SO hard to finish. I've been varying levels of obsessed about writing a book since college, and I've never had the willpower, talent and/or time to pull it off. There is a 0% chance I write a book without Fifth Avenue Press. All of it was hard, but Sara and the Fifth Avenue Press team made it actually possible.

Q: Do you have any writing rituals?
A: Location is big. There are a handful of great places in Ann Arbor to set up shop and get great work done. For the stretch run on Book of Ann Arbor, I was without a computer, so in three, four or five hour stretches every day for a week, I wrote and edited on the public computers at the AADL Westgate Branch. Some coffee from the cafe, a pretty quiet nook in the library -- I could have done a lot worse.

Q: People who like your book will also like ...
A: Let the record show that footnotes were not my idea -- though I LOVE footnotes in books. Oh gosh, I love footnotes. Hunter S. Thompson, David Foster Wallace -- it didn't take much to convince me to incorporate them. That's not your question though. I wish I wrote as well as those two guys, or Colson Whitehead or Mary Roach or Shea Serrano or Michael Chabon. I am none of these people. My stuff is my stuff. Hopefully it's not too derivative. Hopefully it's a slightly more accessible take on local history stories. Maybe I should use more swear words? Read these authors to experience how I wish I could write. The kinds of sentences that make me grit my teeth and pound my desk because they're so damn good.

Q: What advice would you give other authors who would like to submit their works to Fifth Avenue Press?
A: Do it! It's such a terribly difficult endeavor. Seek help. Get an editor. Copywriter. Layout. Project management. All of it. If not with Fifth Avenue Press, someone. Know there are writers 10 times worse than you who have books -- all because they had some help finishing. I'm one of them! You can do it, but try not to do it alone.


Tales From the Dork Side by R.J. Fox

Tales From the Dork Side by R.J. Fox

Q: Give us a short synopsis of the book.
A: Short answer: A collection of humorous, nostalgic essays looking back on a bullied childhood. And how I lived to write about it.

Full synopsis: Growing up is never easy. Growing up with bullies is even harder. And when you’re a skinny kid with no social skills, no athletic ability, and a speech impediment? You might as well be covered in bully bait. Bobby Fox was the boy eating alone in the cafeteria, playing alone at recess, and trying to stay away from the mean kids. But somehow, they always found him. And when they did, they tied him to a tree. Or tried to make him lick dog poop. Or got him in trouble with the police. But that didn’t stop Bobby. If he couldn’t play baseball, he’d make up his own version. If he didn’t have friends, he’d carry his pet Sea-Monkeys everywhere he went. And who wanted to play soccer at recess when there were holes to dig under the swings? No matter what the other kids said or did to him, Bobby always knew that someday, he’d be okay. His bullies didn’t defeat him. They simply gave him more to write about.

Q: What was the most enjoyable part of writing your book?
A: Turning negative experiences into something positive -- and most importantly -- funny and optimistic.

Q: What was the most difficult?
A: The editing process. The material was pretty raw to begin with and we -- my editor Alex Kourvo and I -- had a short window of time to get everything right, which includes trimming, revising, flat-out cutting, and even writing new pieces to create a cohesive, narrative thread. Even though it's a collection of individual essays, Alex really helped spin it into something with a narrative spine and thread.

Q: Do you have any writing rituals?
A: I have a really hard time writing at home. Too many distractions. Easy to fall asleep. I have two small children, so I do most of my writing after kids' bedtime. Or in the window of time between when my school day ends -- I teach at Huron High School -- and when I have to pick them up from school/daycare. So instead of falling asleep on the couch, I write until I fall asleep at a coffee shop or bar -- only half-kidding.

Q: People who like your book will also like ...
A: David Sedaris, Sarah Vowell, Augusten Burroughs, Justin Halpern, Bill Bryson, Sloane Crosley, Aziz Ansari, Mindy Kaling.

Q: What advice would you give other authors who would like to submit their works to Fifth Avenue Press?
A: You have nothing to lose! You get assigned a top-notch editor, you get to pick your own cover artist, you get fantastic layout, publicity, AND you get to keep all the royalties and the rights!


A Monster on Main Street by Emily Siwek

A Monster on Main Street by Emily Siwek

Q: Give us a short synopsis of the book.
A: Strange sightings are all around in this simply sweet story inspired by Ann Arbor's beloved Violin Monster. Rendered with loose, playful illustrations, this string-playing werewolf encourages readers to give scary things a second look.

Q: What was the most enjoyable part of writing your book?
A: Seeing the illustrations bring the text to life and working with the Fifth Ave Press staff who were so supportive and encouraging.

Q: What was the most difficult?
A: Finding just the right word or rhyme to go with the feeling of the book ... and then trying not to use that word on every page!

Q: Do you have any writing rituals?
A: Whenever I have a thought I try to write it down it before I lose it, that way I can always come back to it later and re-read it with fresh eyes.

Q: People who like your book will also like ...
A: Leap Back Home to Me by Lauren Thompson
Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle and Jill McElmurry
Frances Stories by Russel Hoban
The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson
The BFG by Roald Dahl

Q: What advice would you give other authors who would like to submit their works to Fifth Avenue Press?
A: Think about how your work might relate to the local community and convey how it's unique.


Technical Solace by Rebecca G. Biber

Technical Solace by Rebecca G. Biber

Q: Give us a short synopsis of the book.
A: Concise, vivid poems on themes of music, family, Jewish heritage, love, loss, and identity. Working in both free verse and structured forms.

Q: What was the most enjoyable part of writing your book?
A: The most enjoyable part of writing is the elusive instant when the parts of a poem click into place. It could be in the initial writing, or in the 10th draft. There is always a moment when ideas, sound, and meaning start to coalesce. So satisfying!

Q: What was the most difficult?
A: The most difficult part was putting the poems in a sensible order, thinking of transitions between subjects and styles.

Q: Do you have any writing rituals?
A: No writing rituals. Parts of poems, or fragments of lines, occur to me spontaneously (sometimes it seems arbitrarily). Then there is a lot of word jockeying and unplanned revision crammed in between other life activities.

Q: People who like your book will also like ...
A: I’m about to self-aggrandizingly lump myself in with some much better poets whom I really admire. People who like my work should, and probably will, also like Alicia Ostriker, Kay Ryan, Charles Simic, and Naomi Shihab Nye.

Q: What advice would you give other authors who would like to submit their works to Fifth Avenue Press?
A: Don’t hesitate! It’s a fun and fulfilling experience, and the library staff gives great help and advice. Writing and publishing a book is work that is fun, and fun that is work.


Light From the Cage: 25 Years in a Prison Classroom by Judy Patterson Wenzel

Light From the Cage: 25 Years in a Prison Classroom by Judy Patterson Wenzel

Q: Give us a short synopsis of the book.
A: The prison fence with its rows of razor wire stands as a powerful symbol, sending a message that the people inside are all bad and dangerous. The fence keeps people locked in, and it keeps the rest of us away from our fellow citizens who live behind bars. Judy Patterson Wenzel taught high school completion classes in prison in the only program beyond GED in the federal prison system and knew that the experiences with her students needed to be shared. Light From the Cage: 25 Years in a Prison Classroom spins out stories of and by the men she worked with as they accomplished the treasured goal of graduating from high school. The book is about journeys as both students and teacher work toward wholeness, men making amends for dropping out of school and becoming the students they were born to be, and the teacher learning as much as she teaches about what and how to teach her students. The book reveals a more complete understanding of the country and its continuing problems of racial injustice as the teacher witnesses the expansion of mass incarceration and the reality of more and more people of color filling her classes. Organized around themes of place, identity, community and the spiritual gifts of inclusion, gratitude, generosity and caring, these poignant and funny stories illuminate-old truths: Lines and fences cannot separate good people on one side and bad people on the other. And, the people we cast out and lock away often become sources of great wisdom and uncommon grace -- of light and love in a dark world.

Q: What was the most enjoyable part of writing your book?
A: Many of the men I taught were interesting and colorful characters, and what I loved most was writing about them to better remember who they were. I worked to describe them as accurately as I could by using vivid descriptions and dialogue with their own speech.

Q: What was the most difficult?
A: My biggest hurdle -- and one I failed at -- was developing an online platform big enough to attract an agent in New York. Talking to many groups about my students and my book was a joy and gave me needed energy to keep going.

Q: Do you have any writing rituals?
A: I didn't work seriously on the manuscript until after I retired. An old friend suggested I treat the writing like going to work every morning. That approach failed. It felt too much like the job I had just left. So, I worked on recognizing my own writing energy, and let that dictate when and how much I could get done.

Q: People who like your book will also like ...
A: Light from the Cage is about mass incarceration, racial injustice, and education. Three authors whose books guided me and gave me the encouragement to keep going were Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow, Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy, and Shaka Senghor's Writing My Wrongs. Anything by Parker J. Palmer guided my teaching, especially The Courage to Teach and A Hidden Wholeness.

Q: What advice would you give other authors who would like to submit their works to Fifth Avenue Press?
A: My advice to other writers is to develop good self-care and get enough time away from your manuscript to allow for better perspective. Also, go for it and get it out there!


Ginger Stands Her Ground by Virginia Ford

Ginger Stands Her Ground by Virginia Ford

Q: Give us a short synopsis of the book.
A: From the back of the book: Ginger Visel contracted polio in the winter of 1950 when she was not yet 5 years old. Her life would never be the same. By the time the virus was through with her, she had a withered leg, weak muscles, and hip trouble that required multiple surgeries. The University of Michigan Hospital became a second home, the March of Dimes a reliable support system, and leg braces an everyday part of her wardrobe. In the era before ramps and automatic doors, Ginger had to learn to adapt to a world not built for her. Surrounded by 10 siblings and guided by an unstoppable mother, she met every challenge with determination and an unshakable faith in God. With equal parts cheerful humor and honest vulnerability, Ginger recalls desperately trying to fit in at school, the terror of learning to drive a hand-controlled car, the near-impossibility of finding an accessible college, and the worry that she’d never get married and have a family of her own. Both a universal coming of age story and a look at the complexities of being disabled before the ADA, Ginger Stands Her Ground is an inspiring story of the meaning of family, the importance of faith, and the ultimate triumph of love.

Q: What was the most enjoyable part of writing your book?
A: Being able to write about my family. There's so many of them and they're so diversified, and I can look at them from the time they were little to how they ended up. I think that's interesting.

Q: What was the most difficult?
A: You know the literary term "bleeding on the page"? To open up about the emotional part of polio, that was the hardest part. Bleeding on the page.

Q: Do you have any writing rituals?
A: I live at Portage Lake. Just park me anywhere on the property, set me up with a yellow legal pad, sharp No. 2 pencils, a cup of coffee or fruit smoothie and I'm good to go.

Q: People who like your book will also like ...
A: I just read a ton of memoirs. Michael J. Fox's Lucky Man; he has Parkinson's. He was a good model for me. I liked his humor and I liked his love of his family. It was positive, too. I teach elementary school, so I have to put in my very favorite children's book: Charlotte's Web by E.B. White. A lot my book is from a child's point of view and I could relate to E.B. White like nobody's business. Also:
Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
The Florist's Daughter by Patricia Hampl
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Sea Glass by Anita Shreve
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Q: What advice would you give other authors who would like to submit their works to Fifth Avenue Press?
A: Don't rush through your work. Give it the gift of time. Go over it again and again until you've done your very best and then go for it. You'll know when it's time.


Christopher Porter is a library technician and the editor of Pulp.


Fifth Avenue Press' book release reception is Sunday, Nov. 5, 1-3 pm on the third floor of the Ann Arbor District Library, 345 S. Fifth Ave. Visit aadl.org for more information.