Lisa Diane Kastner is the Founder and Chief Executive Editor of Running Wild Press. Her writing has been published in numerous magazines and journals, as well as speaking at conferences such as AWP and Pennwriters.
Curtis Smith: Tell me a bit about Running Wild Press—its prehistory and birth? As someone who writes, I’m always thankful for those who start journals and presses, especially ones so ambitious.
Lisa Kastner: Thank you for this opportunity to chat about Running Wild. I started Running Wild after nearly 15 years of writing, editing, and teaching fiction and nonfiction. In numerous instances, I had the pleasure of reading wonderfully unique stories and I would tell the writer that I thought the story was ready for publication. I’d give them suggestions on where to pursue publication and was often surprised that the piece wasn’t picked up. When I followed up with the author regarding the feedback provided by those publishers, the author often said that the feedback was along the lines of, “it wasn’t quite what they were looking for” or agents would say that they didn’t know where to place it. Upon deeper investigation, the bottom line was that the piece didn’t fit neatly into a genre or as I like to put it, the stories didn’t fit neatly in a box. To me, that’s a sin. These were great stories and great writing. They belonged in the hands of readers. My husband encouraged me to start Running Wild so that these fantastic stories would make their way into the hearts and minds of readers all over the world.
CS: I’m sure you had some idea of what you were getting into—but I’ll also bet you’ve found some unexpected things—both positive and negative. Can you share some of these experiences?
Positive: We’ve had a few unexpected pleasant experiences.
- The sheer volume of great writing and great stories. That volume caused us to break our 2018 novella anthology into two books instead of one. We don’t put a limit on the number of pieces that can be in an anthology. Instead, we allow the number of strong submissions to dictate how big (or small) the anthology will be.
- The amount of support we’ve gotten within the publishing and writing world. We’ve had amazing conversations and advisement by other small to mid-sized publishers who’ve been incredibly generous with their time. We’ve also been blessed with finding fantastic talent from those interested in publicity to social media marketing to editors to writers to cover artists.
Negative: Yep, we have a few of those, all are true learning experiences.
- We are a Print On Demand (POD) and although our POD distributor is one of the top in the industry, we’ve gotten feedback from some bookstores that there has been long lags between when they order books to when the bookstores receive them. In some instances, it resulted in the books arriving after in-store events.
- We are located in the Los Angeles area and although fellow publishers and writers have been incredibly supportive, I cannot say the same for bookstores, which surprised me. We’ve called around to many bookstores (both independent and chains) and received a cold shoulder. When I called about having an in-store signing or event to Barnes and Noble, I had several respond that they only have events for local authors like Kim Kardashian. They put me in my place in terms of pecking order. This said, many of our authors are from smaller towns have been granted great support from their local independent bookstores. I’ve attended a few events by the generous Mysterious Galaxy bookstore in San Diego. Other bookstores could learn a lot from them about supporting independent presses.
CS: Many new presses start because their owners see something lacking in the market. Was this the case with Running Wild? If so, what’s unique about your vision and mission?
LK: To expand a little on my previous answer – when I researched my favorite books, I discovered that most didn’t originate with a big press. Instead, many started with small presses or were supported through foundations (Life of Pi, Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, to name a couple). I also realized that these stories weren’t literary and they weren’t genre. They transcended genre and in some cases opened up doors for other similar stories. I personally think that the world has so many great stories, and to limit the tales based on what readers may want, instead of offering them fresh slices of life through story, is a huge mistake.
Our mission is to find those stories that don’t fit neatly in a box and get them to readers. If I had my druthers, these stories would also transcend form and be translated into other forms like television, film, comic books, and graphic novels. If it’s a great story then it should transcend form. And we only publish great stories.
CS: Tell us about the books and authors you’re excited to introduce.
LK: Oh my. We’re excited about all of them! We just put out Frontal Matter: Glue Gone Wild, which is a memoir by Suzanne Samples that explores her experiences after being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. The writing is fresh, alive, funny, heart breaking … and so much more.
We also published our second novella anthology, Running Wild Novella Anthology Volume 2, Parts 1 & 2. We found so many fantastic novellas that we had to break it up into two books. These stories are simply breathtaking and truly span multiple genres and forms.
In 2019, we will publish our third anthology of stories (nonfiction and fiction). We are in the midst of selecting those stories now. We’ll also publish our third novella anthology. We have a short story collection coming from Reuben Tihi Hayslett that explores the lives of those in LGBTQ lifestyles as well as people of color. We’re also publishing Tommy Hahn’s debut novel, Open My Eyes. I had the pleasure of reading early versions of both pieces and am thrilled to have them as a part of the Running Wild family. And, we’re tagged to publish the third in Jack Hillman’s Magic trilogy.
CS: You’ve been on a couple AWP panels. I’ve never been to the conference. What’s your take on it? What do you enjoy most about the experience?
LK: Well, the first time I went to a conference, I didn’t know any fiction writers. I knew lots of journalists and corporate writers, but no fiction writers. So going to a conference felt like nirvana. I had found a place where others were seeking the same truths I was … they wanted to know how to make their writing better, create stronger stories, envelop readers into their worlds. After a few years, I was presenting at conferences and it gave me joy to be able to share the knowledge I had obtained.
Now, conferences are a great way to meet new people and catch up with old friends. I truly treasure chatting with others of a similar ilk and helping those who are starting their creative writing journeys.
CS: How has stepping into the role of editor and publisher impacted your own writing?
LK: It’s interesting. I never thought of myself as an editor. Only when I was in grad school and then in workshops did others point out to me that I was a fantastic concept editor. That really surprised me.
I would flip this question around, being a writer and instructor has impacted my roles as editor and publisher. I’ve always approached editing and the construct of story with the intent of writing an engaging and well-written story that emotionally engages readers. I know some editors who interject their own preferences in terms of style into their authors work. I don’t believe in that. I view the roles as editor and publisher to identify talent and help that talent shine. Not to force the talent to write in a manner or tell a story that isn’t natural to him/her. As a writer, I prefer having a collaborative relationship with my editors. So as an editor, I take that approach as well. I typically perform line edits and ask lots of questions of the author to help strengthen the narrative. At the end of the day, it’s all about great writing and great stories that engage readers.
LK: I was an instructor for Savvy Authors years ago. I taught a few classes that I had also taught for Pennwriters and for Running Wild Writers Community. It was a good experience in how to structure a class for a purely online audience.
CS: Your recent anthology is dedicated to novellas and longer stories. I love the novella form—what is it about it that attracts you?
LK: Novellas are this wonderful form that enables a more complex story to be told in a briefer period of time than a novel. You can get the same (or better) fulfillment from a novella and finish that story in one day. It’s ideal for today’s society, in which we all experience time constraints. Novellas went out of vogue in publishing circles for a bit and seem to be making a resurgence. I’m guessing others came to similar conclusions.
CS: Where do you hope to see Running Wild ten years from now?
LK: Ten years from now, I see Running Wild having a partnership with production companies and/or studios to translate our stories onto the big or small screen so that they can engage an even broader audience. We will continue with our mantra of great stories and great writing that don’t fit neatly in a box. We will continue to seek out unique voices.
CS: And in the shorter scope—what’s next for you?
LK: We have a docket of upcoming books for publication through 2020 that is quickly expanding. We’re currently in search of a social media, publicity, and marketing hands-on guru to drive our author and book publicity. And of course, I continue with my own writing projects.
Curtis Smith has published more than 100 stories and essays, and his work has appeared in or been cited by The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Mystery Stories, The Best American Spiritual Writing, The Best Short Fictions, and Norton Anthology New Microfictions. He’s worked with independent publishers to put out two chapbooks of flash fiction, three story collections, two essay collections, four novels, and a work of creative nonfiction. His latest books are Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, Bookmarked (Ig Publishing) and the novel Lovepain (Braddock Avenue Books).