Matt Love is one of those rare mythical beasts who publishes his own books and then sells them with the kind of zeal that borders on rock-n-roll. Founded in 2003, his Nestucca Spit Press has published eight books about Oregon so far, including The Beaver State Trilogy and Citadel of the Spirit: Oregon’s Sesquicentennial Anthology, as well as an online drinking guide to the Coast at www.letitpour.net.
Two recent books, Super Sunday in Newport: Notes From My First Year in Town and Gimme Refuge: The Education of a Caretaker, chronicle Love’s move to the Coast and his ten-year stint as caretaker at the Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge. His writing style is personal and honest, raw sometimes to the point of being bloggish, almost always with a pour of Oregon beer nearby.
A typical Google search on Mr. Love will lead you to Powells.com, where he blogs in a column called On Oregon, to a New Yorker review of the new album by Portland band Richmond Fontaine, whose frontman Willy Vlautin is one of Love’s favorite novelists. Love mentions it there because listening to Richmond Fontaine’s recent album, We Used to Think the Freeway Sounded Like a River, pulled Love out of a deep depression over the loss of his dog, Ray. Back to the blog, and it turns out Love and Vlautin are co-headlining a benefit April 9 in Tualatin for Community Partners for Affordable Housing (they’ll be joined by Debra Gwartney, April Henry, Bart King and Naseem Rakha, among others). And that’s the way it goes. Love’s projects are all a kind of DIY love note to Oregon, with wild adoration for the Coast, where he lives.
Love: I had a very specific audience in mind for my Oregon-centric books (and other writers too) and quickly realized that starting my own press was the best (and only) way to reach this audience. I took the name from a stretch of sand on the Oregon Coast that Bob Straub saved from utter desecration by the state when they wanted to relocate Highway 101 there in the 1960s.
NWBL: Publishing your own work is a bold move. Did you shop around for a publisher first?
Love: I did with an earlier version of Gimme Refuge, Vortex, and the big Oregon sesquicentennial anthology. I got close a couple of times and it still could happen down the road, but bigger publishers move at such a glacial pace with so many layers of decision and indecision that it becomes debilitating to me sometimes to wait around. I’ve also proved to myself that I don’t really need a publisher to sell books in Oregon. Nestucca Spit Press has moved nearly 10,000 books in Oregon in seven years, exclusively through events, indie Oregon bookstores, and hustling. I have aspirations for Gimme Refuge to reach a wider regional audience and will take some new marketing steps to pull that out.
NWBL: We all know there’s a stigma to self-publishing. I’ve always loved this quote from Craig Joseph Danner, whose self-published book Himalayan Dhaba won a PNBA Award and was a big hit with indie stores in 2001 and 2002. “Now, Beth and I have both worked in Emergency Rooms, and so we’re both experienced in talking to all manner of deranged patients, yet we both agree that it is easier to talk down a blood-soaked psychotic schizophrenic stoned on crystal meth than it is to walk into a bookstore with a self-published book.” What’s been your experience pushing your books to bookstores?
Love: I used to feel that stigma acutely but then over the years totally changed my mind. Readers don’t give a damn. If the book is good, the book is good. In indie rock you have street cred if you eschew the mainstream and DIY, tour hard, sell the product at the shows, release weird versions of this and that. In the mainstream literary world, no such mindset exists. But it does for me. I embrace that role now and it works out well for me. I know there are other writers who think the same way and they need to support other writers who feel the same way. Musicians do it, but not so much writers.
NWBL: An inspiring attitude. I wrote about this in an essay for Footnotes a couple years ago. Why do you think it is that we don’t trade intelligence about indie writers/publishers like we do with indie bands?
Love: That is a great, great question. I think I do about poets and I suppose the zine scene does some of this, but . . . it certainly isn’t happening with same fervor as music. Perhaps it could be if more writing was passed around like songs. The technology allows this but I haven’t seen it happen. Or I’m not aware of it. And I’m not talking about blogs.
NWBL: What’s your favorite Oregon bookstore?
Love: Wow, that’s tough. I grew up in Powell’s downtown so they are high on the list. Klindt’s in The Dalles is so old and so cool and their collection of weird Oregon stuff is out of this world. Godfather’s and Lucy’s in Astoria are also great. This summer I hope to complete my task of visiting every indie Oregon bookstore in the state.
NWBL: You don’t work with wholesalers or distributors. Why not?
Love: It is not sustainable in any way shape or form. Their service was a joke, they take too large a cut, they don’t pay on time, they force me to ship out of state to sell my books in Oregon. Forget it. I have a philosophy of sustainable literature, much like food: grown in Oregon, written in Oregon, printed in Oregon, sold through Oregon owned bookstores. Etc. You get the idea. I am passionate about it. Most of the indie bookstores are on board with me, and I couldn’t have made it without them, but there are some holdouts and I don’t get that. They want the customer to go the extra mile and shop at the local bookstore. I want them to go the extra mile (and perhaps hassle) to buy directly from me. We both win and make more money. Besides, my books sell and I gig them hard around the state.
NWBL: Many of the vignettes in your recent book Super Sunday in Newport: Notes from my First Year in Town begin in a bar with a notebook and an Oregon beer. What’s your favorite place to write and what’s your favorite Oregon beer?
Love: I begin almost everything I write while walking on Oregon’s publicly-owned beaches. But I write mostly in coffee joints or dive bars. Favorite beer? Blue Heron when it’s really hot. Something from Terminal Gravity if I want a buzz. Black Butte Porter when it rains.
NWBL: Reading Super Sunday in Newport reminds me that I don’t get to the Oregon Coast nearly enough. Although you might prefer it that way since I would bring my two kids and two dogs in my minivan and we might disrupt your peace. You seem really protective of your favorite places. Are you anti-tourist?
Love: No, not anti tourist at all. The coast needs visitors. It’s the people who transplant here and don’t know anything at all about Oregon’s legacy of publicly owned beaches that create the problem. And I love dogs on the beach! That’s the happiest sight in the world.
Love: I do, but mostly Oregon poets. I love this genre and it’s entirely overlooked. A Newport poet named Tim Sproul really impressed me with his stuff.
Love: Thirty or so years ago, a writer named David Shetzline wrote a classic and gritty novel set on the southern Oregon coast called Heckletooth 3. This is a must read for anyone who loves Oregon literature. I would love to meet this author one day, providing he’s still alive. I had heard he was from Eugene.
Love: Wow. Maybe he will read the piece and come.
NWBL: What’s on your nightstand?
NWBL: You’re working on a book about the filming of Sometimes a Great Notion. How did you get turned on to this topic?
NWBL: If you owned a time machine that you could use strictly for researching this book, which scene from the making of the movie would you visit?
NWBL: You teach English and journalism at Newport High School. What’s more rewarding– teaching kids, writing or publishing?
NWBL: Will you make up a question you wish I’d ask and answer it?
Love: Probably not. The state is my muse. The stories are endless. I do hope one day that I can take some of these stories to a national audience. But I might need some luck.