By Jeffrey Sykes
Two men who believe in the depths of the Winston-Salem creative scene have announced the formation of a new publishing initiative. Born of a passion for literature and a thirst for the fringe, 67 Press is looking for unpublished authors ready to step into view.
Spearheaded by Matt Ankerson, 39, and Alan Wright, 41, the initiative seeks to tap fresh talent in the formative stage and shrink the distance between creative frenzy and the marketplace.
“We are looking for the untypical folks, someone who is raw,” Wright said. “We want to be a stepping stone for them, to help them get to the right place.”
Any new publishing venture comes with plenty of room for failure, especially in the current economic climate for authors, publishing houses and booksellers. The giants of the publishing industry are moving toward the Hollywood blockbuster formula, seeking authors who can churn trilogies and characters able to be serialized out of the gate. At the same time, technology and social media give every author the ability to self-publish or market e-books to the literate masses.
But the brain trust behind 67 Press sees a well-defined niche. As Ankerson describes it, their goal is to be a catalyst for fringe writers and to help abate the fear many would be authors have of putting their ideas on the table.
“We want to provide a different way for people to get published,” Ankerson said. “We want to be that independent press that can help someone who has that talent of writing and telling a great story to get it out there.”
There are three book products currently in the works to get 67 Press off the ground. A website launched last month. A call for submissions went out across the vastness of possibility.
But perhaps the most exciting thing about 67 Press is the passion Wright and Ankerson bring to the table when talking about the effort. Both men tell similar stories about their path to the literate life. Both men cite their mother as their earliest literary influence. Various reading trails through childhood – Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein – led to sports centered reading in early adolescence. Where their paths converged is with discovery of the Beat Generation and then the one and only Hunter S. Thompson. Both men cite the gonzo style as a jumping off point for their current endeavor.
This passion for the underbelly of journalism and literature simmered while Wright and Ankerson followed independent paths through their 20s in the 1990s. Wright left Virginia Tech for California in the early 90s. Ankerson, from Providence, Rhode Island, lived in Chicago and Ohio after college. Both came to Winston around the turn of the century and met via employment at an education technology company in town.
Wright said he was familiar with Winston-Salem because he knew of Mitch Easter and his involvement with REM. He attended several concerts at the old Ziggy’s in the 90s but never explored the town. When he decided to move back to the east coast and came across a job opening in Winston, it was those memories of the city’s artistic history that interested him.
Ankerson came to Winston a few years earlier. The two hit it off at work through a mutual interest in baseball. That led to a joint blog, which grew immediately from sports to pop culture and critical reviews, in addition to snippets of what would become future fiction pieces.
Ankerson believes that the process of unleashing latent creativity contains important power. Several times in interviews he used the analogy of ripping off a band aid as a symbol of kick starting the creative process.
The collaborative blog with Wright brought a passion for the writing life back to the forefront.
“I always thought I had a creative side but I didn’t know if it was suppressed or if I was afraid to throw myself out there,” Ankerson said. “I’m always reading and so naturally we both have that interest. The passion (for writing) was there. There was a lot of stuff coming out once we ripped the band aid off.”
In trying to keep the blog active they put out a call for contributors. From that experience grew the idea to move forward into fiction itself and ultimately to try and create a publishing company.
People from Winston-Salem might think the name 67 Press has something to do with Reynolda Road, otherwise known as NC 67, a main thoroughfare through some of the most historic parts of town that leads out to rolling countryside in Forsyth and Yadkin counties. But the name actually stems from two unrelated events containing the number 67.
That was the age Hunter Thompson was when he died. It’s also the model of one of Ankerson’s favorite cars, a 1967 Chevy Caprice. The grill of an old ‘67 served as the header image on their first blog. Now the image is a metaphor for how they plan to approach the publishing business.
“We want to be that vehicle to help people get started,” Ankerson said. “A big, full barrel car rolling down the road is how we do things.”
To get started, 67 Press is accepting submissions for an anthology of short stories to be called The Salmagundi. So far they have a handful of submissions based on early calls for entries. The goal is to accumulate content for 300 pages. Using social media and word of mouth they plan to market the anthology as an e-book to build momentum and then place hard copies with local businesses.
From that, the next two projects will hopefully lay the foundation for continued success.
The second project is an e-book with two extended short stories by Wright and Ankerson. Vaguely sports oriented, the stories are also ambitious. Wright’s work Rampage in the Republic is a piece centered on former major league pitcher Pasqual Perez with the theme of sports as surrogate father. Ankerson’s piece is a Kurt Vonnegut style story about a down on his luck former basketball player. Called The Lunchtime Pill, the story examines physical and mental pain and to what lengths a person might go in a quest to endure.
The third project features an author that epitomizes the flavor of 67 Press. A surrealistic underground author, musician and self-described “goddess of debauchery”, Spider McQueen responded to a call for submissions on the web and 67 Press was hooked. The goal is to publish a fictionalized memoir by McQueen, described as “hard core experimental writing.”
A side conversation about literary influences with Wright and Ankerson wandered for an hour at a front table at Finnigan’s Wake on an early Saturday afternoon in June. Launching from Kerouac and The Beats, authors mentioned covered the gamut of late 20th Century icons. There was Henry Miller, Vonnegut, and Phillip K. Dick. There was Raymond Carver, Larry Brown and Harry Crews. There was everyone from the Lost Generation in Paris to Gen X’s own Alex Garland.
But most of all there was passion about literature. Passion about talent. Passion about exploring what it really means to be alive and aware, or at least curious, about the nature of the human struggle.
Expanding access to more immediate layers of existence seems to be the underlying theme of what Wright and Ankerson are attempting with 67 Press.
Going back to explain the writing of their first author, McQueen, Wright likens it to the early days of the punk movement.
“It’s brave. It’s horrible. It’s the underbelly of the world,” Wright said. “I want people to know these folks are all around us. It’s raw and beautiful and honest.”
And just like any kid with a four-track recorder could produce an album back in the punk heyday, so too can anyone put out a book these days. While Wright believes there is room for all comers, he hopes 67 Press can make a difference by bringing talent to the front.
“I think the more that you have out there the better,” Wright said. “But good is good and bad is bad. We know what we want to do and are going to work hard to do it.”
To submit fiction to 67 Press, visit HERE and click the “submissions” link across the top.