Alumni start publishing house for books that explore the fantastic

Alumni start publishing house for books that explore the fantastic

A Richmond-based publishing house with deep ties to Virginia Commonwealth University has recently launched with a focus on publishing literary novels with a metaphysical slant.

Metaphysical Circus Press was co-founded by authors Mary Boyes, an assistant professor in VCU's Honors Writing Program, and Melanie Lamaga. Boyes and Lamaga each earned a master’s degree from the Creative Writing Program in the Department of English, part of the College of Humanities and Sciences.

"We envision this as a press for authors by authors," said Lamaga, author of the press' first book, a collection of short fiction, "The Evolution of Reptilian Handbags and Other Stories," which was published in January.

Metaphysical Circus Press will focus primarily on publishing e-books and trade paperbacks, and will specialize in works that straddle the line between literary and genre fiction, including sci-fi, apocalyptic, magical realism, alternate reality, slipstream, psychological horror and supernatural horror.

"We're specifically looking for any of the fantastic modes," Lamaga said. "We want stories that are very entertaining on the surface but that in some way address the existential or metaphysical issues of life. What it is to be human. The last 20 years has seen a renaissance in fantastic literature. A lot of amazing work has been published, and I believe there is more where that came from. There is a hunger among readers for this kind of story."

Boyes said they are interested in creating a home for writing that often struggles to find a place in the academy and the market.

"We're hoping to basically create a new window, and a new way of doing things, as much as anything else," said Boyes, who teaches writing and research at VCU and who is the author of "Gingko, Pigeon, Light: A Fable" and co-editor of the anthology "The Way We Work: Contemporary Writings about Americans and Their Work Experience."

Metaphysical Circus Press will not offer advances, but will instead give authors the majority of profits earned by their titles, while also performing the tasks of a small publisher, including proofreading, layout, cover, formatting, marketing and sales.

"Artists, musicians and writers get a terrible deal in terms of the marketplace," Boyes said. "They don't have very much control over their work. It takes forever to publish, and then you get 8 percent. We'd like to be able to pick up a lot of people who create great things and disseminate that to the world while giving them authorial control and reasonable profits."

The rise of e-books has caused a seismic shift in the publishing industry, Lamaga said, and a publishing house like Metaphysical Circus Press is positioned to serve authors navigating the changing marketplace.

"The technology to create a professional e-book product can pretty much be in the hands of anyone. But it is very labor intensive and there's a steep learning curve," she said. "So while anyone can self-publish, that doesn't mean that it's easy. We're looking to provide another option to authors to get their work published. It's sort of a hybrid of the old model of small presses and the new model."

Serving on the editorial board is Dennis Danvers, an award-winning science fiction novelist and Richmond resident who also earned an M.F.A. in creative writing from VCU.

Boyes and Lamaga studied under Tom De Haven, an author and professor in VCU's creative writing program.

"Tom is a person who kind of writes outside of the stream," Boyes said. "And he is a person who I think is quietly adventuresome. He's remarkably helpful and respectful of his students and really treats people like colleagues. I would say that we kind of came out of his school."

De Haven said he "wasn't the least bit surprised" to hear about the creation of Metaphysical Circus Press, given the creativity of the people behind it.

"As publishing has changed, and the traditional outlets have become more restrictive and less nourishing for writers, it's become more common for creative individuals to seek new ways of getting their work into the world, and for many that involves selling their work to online magazines, posting their work on writers' blogs, or even starting their own small presses," De Haven said.

Greg Donovan, director of the Creative Writing Program at VCU, said the Metaphysical Circus Press is an "innovative response to rapidly changing possibilities and realities in the publishing industry."

"Many writers are taking advantage of new opportunities to become more directly involved in publishing," he said. "This talented and accomplished group of writers has embarked on a worthy enterprise and we wish them well in it."


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Mary Boyes
Mary Boyes
Melanie Lamaga
Melanie Lamaga
The logo for Metaphysical Circus Press
The logo for Metaphysical Circus Press