Interview With Four Chambers
Author: Jake Friedman
What is the story behind the name Four Chambers?
To give a very long, circuitous answer; when I first moved to Phoenix in August of 2011, having just graduated college and looking for ways I could become more involved with a writing community (and, through that, develop my own artistic practice), I started going to a writing group that had a small zine called the Palo Verde Pages. Naturally, the logo for the Palo Verde Pages was a Palo Verde Tree, which we liked because (a) it had a strong reference to Arizona but could still read independently of it on a national level and (b) it symbolized the idea of providing shade in the desert, creating a micro-climate, allowing other vegetation / life-forms to grow under it, etc etc. So when we began to design some of our marketing materials, we had this vision of a big Palo Verde Tree spreading over the skyline of Phoenix—branches above, roots below, so on and so forth.
That project ended up falling apart (as many projects often do), but the image really stuck with me—the idea that this thing could be both under and above; radiating, in a sense; touching—and after a lot of less meaningful ideas—Sunflower press (because I liked Sunflowers), Orange Press (because I liked orange), I ended up turning to the sun, which led me to the latin root cor-, which eventually led me to the heart. I played around with that for awhile this for a while, and after more bad names—Corona (which sounds too much like the beer), Vital Heat (which sounds too much like an 80s rock band), I ended up going with Four Chambers. It was the least worst name we had.
Tl;dr: Four Chambers is a reference to the heart. A lot of times we’ll be out tabling at festivals or farmer’s markets or other public events and people will come up to us and start talking about one of their relatives being in the hospital, or some other kind of cardiac condition before we get the chance to explain that it’s just a metaphor, we only think of ourselves as a heart: something centralized, organic, and part of a larger body; that connects, supports, and circulates life. We do this out of love (not money). We work hard. At one point my blood actually went into the business (I was up all night stamping fliers by hand, it just sort of happened). We’re publishing work to build community.
What are some of the joys and challenges from starting and maintaining Four Chambers?
I think the biggest joy of Four Chambers is being able to run your own business—to bring something into the world the way you want it to, to have an effect, to mean something in people’s lives, to actually do something good and right. Everyone I know is because of Four Chambers. I’ve become an adult with and through it. We’ve had the privilege and opportunity to meet so many wonderful people here in the Valley, to work with touring authors and other institutions. It’s given me so much.
The biggest challenge, of course, is running your own business. Switching hats all the time (even though I don’t wear hats—I have a good skull but a bad face, it just doesn’t work). Doing everything that needs to be done. Learning how to do new things. Lately, the biggest challenge has been trying to move Four Chambers from a place of individual or small group activities to an actual organization that can exist on it’s own. I think a lot about what an organization means, insofar as the state of things being organized, especially in the context of a body, of a living and breathing thing, in that each part is performing a specific, interdependent task towards a larger purpose or greater good. And so it’s really hard, then, to move from doing everything yourself to letting other people doing it, empowering them, trusting them, advising them, and really being content to direct the organization rather than simply doing everything yourself (and, what’s more, to trust yourself enough to actually do this). I work a regular job, too—I wait tables—and also have an internship at the moment, and before I was in a relationship I would pretty much be manic-depressive and have crazy sleeping cycles / eating problems and work all the time. Which is what it takes to start a business for some people, I guess, but is not sustainable.
The other main challenge is money, though we’re developing a business model that goes beyond sales, and are working towards transitioning to a non-profit structure within the next two years.
Who are some of your favorite writers?
It’s a little embarassing, as somebody who runs a small business and works a lot I don’t get to read as much or as often as I’d like to, I’m still getting to know what the contemporary literary field looks like—a lot of my consumption of literature, too, happens on a local level, in writing groups and performances and reading submissions / conducting editorial processes, rather than reading per se—but recently, I’ve been into
- Natalie Diaz, who I just saw read from When My Brother was an Aztec with Hugh Martin at ASU, who just accepted a position at ASU according to Twitter and is one of the best readers I’ve ever seen
- Claudia Rankine—I picked up Citizen a month ago (a year too late, but better so than never) and was really intrigued by some of the devices she was using, the lyric form (I actually found a lot of sympathies with my own work, it was interesting to see somebody using 2nd person, too). We’ve been having a lot more conversations around diversity, too.
- Paul Mosier is a personal friend of mine, he just signed a two book deal with Harper Collins for his middle-grade work Train I Ride, he self-published a novel a few years ago called Breakfast at Tuli’s that he was bringing to writing group a few years ago and I absolutely died
- Another friend of mine Charles Brownson, who is retired now but used to work at ASU, he’s got a memoir project called Pronouns that he’ll be self-publishing soon
- A local author named Alicia Ochoa Brall who we’ve published in a few special projects, who we keep trying to get to write more
- Dexter L. Booth
- Patrick Michael Finn, who is another friend (if I may be so bold to use the term)
- Josh Rathkamp
- Natasha Murdock
- Allyson Boggess
- Shevaun Brannigan
- Rosemarie Dombrowski (one of our editors)
- Jia Oak Baker (who used to be an editor)
- Bill Campana, who we have a mansucript with
- Elizabeth McNeil, who we will have a manuscript with
- Eric Wertheimer, who we’re in the process of discussing a manuscript with (one of the nice things about running a press is that you get to publish your favorite authors and be friends with them)
How does being an editor at Four Chambers influence your own work?
Honestly, being an editor at Four Chambers just keeps my critical side sharp. It gives me a greater awareness of what my own work means / is trying to do. It allows me to see where my work is successful and where it could be more effective. A lot of times lines or ideas from people work will rattle around in my head for a while only to be rearticulated/interpreted at a later date. There’s so much influence. I think it’s helped me think about my work in a larger context, both historical and contemporaneous. I see things I really like that other people do and want to do them myself. It’s inspiring.
What are some of your favorite pieces from Four Chambers Issue 3?
I loved Patrick Haas’ poem Jaguar Parable (which was interpreted into the cover). Michaela Loewer’s we’re all in love with our own happiness and none of us are happy about it. Anthony Fair’s Desire’s to Go Unnoticed was hilarious, too. Nate Fisher’s My Mother’s Body, with Voice (A Microcosmographia). Melissa Tramuta’s work is so fantastic, too.
Are there specific things you look for in a submission that a surprising numbers of writers don’t include?
It sounds really dumb, but a lot of times we just want people to read our directions and follow our submissions policy. Beyond that, we’re working on crafting an editorial statement for the journal that will give people a better idea of what we’re trying to do with it, but in the meantime, the only thing I would venture to say is that we’re looking for work with very thoughtful messages or developed voice. Technique is important, craft is good, but we’re really looking for something we’ve never heard before, we believe you can still do that with literature, and we want originality and personal truth. Or like, in a word: content.
What are you working on now within your own personal writing?
I’ve been writing seriously for about four years now, mostly poetry, I have a relatively disciplined practice of spending one or two hours every day in front of the notebook, but over the past year and half or so I’ve been working almost exclusively on a manuscript called The Waiter Explains, the very under-developed pitch / summary would go like this: you, the reader, have just graduated college, moved to Phoenix, and gotten your first job working in a restaurant. The narrator, the Waiter, is going to train you. Over the course of the year, you will: work through a season of the restaurant; deal with people; develop a relationship; move in together; have meetings; explore capitalism; take a vacation; and much more.
It started out as a book of poems that turned into prose poems that turned into continuous prose. I hesitate to say it’s a novel because I think a novel connotes certain expectations—first or third person perspective when this is essentially written as a monologue, as a first person addressing a second; satisfaction derived from plot or character when I think it’s more about a poetic / semantic meaning—but saying I’m writing an experimental prose work sounds pretentious and also hard to sell, so it’ll be a novel. There are a lot of weird things going on in it too, but this is neither the time nor the place. The novel takes place over one year, I have a few months to work out towards the end but I’ve basically finished conceptualizing it, I have six or seven hundred pages of free-writing / notes I’m in the middle of transcribing, and once I get through that I’m expecting to have something I can show to people that will prove I’m not bat-shit crazy / have actually been working on something over the past year.
I have also recently stepped back from that manuscript and am now working on: a short story called “Don’t Be a Melvin,” which is based on a series of air conditioning ads / billboards put out by Parker & Sons, a local air conditioning repair service, in which Melvin shows up to people’s houses—the people being mostly middle aged white women, the houses being mostly suburban–and does inappropriate things like eat doritos, taste some middle aged white woman’s pasta sauce, clogs the toilet, breaks something, steals money, etc; a poem called “Ted Cruz eats a booger” that is about that one time Ted Cruz may or may not have eaten a booger during the March 3rd, 2016 Republican Presidental debate; a short story that I can’t talk about, there are serious liability issues, I’ve already said too much; and, maybe, something I want to revist called “Best Friends Forever: Dennis Rodman and Kim Jong Un in Love,” which would be a reinvisioning of Dennis Rodman’s three or four trips to North Korea and the political events that followed as a love affair between the former basketball player and the North Korean head of state.
What type of opportunities will the press be offering in the future? What is the next exciting thing happening at Four Chambers?
The big thing for us here right now are chapbooks and single-author works which, after several years of literary magazines and special projects, we will finally begin producing, our first release being Bill Campana’s Poems from Deep South Scottsdale (his third collection). After that we plan on releasing Ms. X’s Ocean from Elizabeth McNeil this Summer, with future manuscripts to be released in the fall and spring (as summers here are really really hot).
Beyond production, we’re looking forward to getting through the nearly 4000 submissions we recevied for issue 04 (1400 in April, the last month alone) and really developing a business that works (in terms of positions, processes, policies, revenue streams, etc). We’re looking to open some kind of chapbook / manuscript contest this Fall. We need to re-design our website. Developing increased partnerships with other arts and culture organizations here in the Valley to broaden our programs and more effectively serve our community. At some point, taking a break.