October 26th, 2009
A Chicago magazine ventures into book publishing
interview By Whitney Stoepel
Nestled among the rows of weathered neon furniture store signs on Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park is the Stop Smiling storefront. “Stop Smiling”, a Chicago-based magazine and soon-to-become book publisher, touts itself as the magazine for “high-minded low-lifes.” It panders to the intellectual set but also oozes with modest coolness, much like the subjects of their interviews with people like Steve McQueen, Oliver Stone, William S. Burroughs, and David Lynch. I asked J.C. Gabel, editor in chief, about expanding into book publishing.
What kind of books will you be publishing?
All creative nonfiction, in tune with the magazine’s editorial mantra. Our first three original books are “How to Wreck a Nice Beach: The History of the Vocoder” by Dave Tompkins; “Listen to the Echoes: The Ray Bradbury Interviews” by Bradbury biographer, Sam Weller; and a book companion to Cal Arts film professor, Thom Andersen’s brilliant video essay, “Los Angeles Plays Itself”. In a nutshell, the books will run the gamut from subject to subject. We’ll also be repackaging the classic, long-form Stop Smiling Interviews in three volumes, unabridged: filmmakers, authors and musicians respectively… one will be released each fall for the next three years.
Will the website and blog remain intact?
Yes, but it will be adapted to reflect the fact that we’re a book publisher now.
How does being a book publisher or magazine editor in Chicago (as opposed to New York, L.A., London) have an impact on you and your product, as well as on the rest of the publishing industry?
Being in Chicago has its advantages and disadvantages.
We still have an office in New York, and our publishing partner, Melville House/Random House, are also based there; meaning, a portion of our business will always be run through New York, which is where the publishing industry is centered. So technically our books will be published out of New York, since they’ll be printed on the East Coast and warehoused there. Our presence in Chicago as a publisher can only do us some good, seeing as how there are no publishers in the city that operate like our imprint will. I’m hoping this helps our impact throughout the city.
As far as being an editor, in Chicago, it’s really easy to zone out and brood about our projects here without the distractions that exist in New York. It’s also a lot more affordable to live and work here. But a great deal of our ability to gain access to story subjects requires us to go where the story is, and it’s usually in New York or LA. Rarely do we get to interview subjects in Chicago, unless they are coming through town to promote something; and even then, we abhor press junkets, since we can’t get the in-depth access we’d be looking for. I should note, however, that on a grass-roots level we have a storefront in Wicker Park, which we’ve used to galvanize support around our publishing endeavors as well as other non-Stop Smiling related projects of the publishing variety. We’re also going to start programming film events next year in conjunction with the Gene Siskel Film Center, too. Most of these will tie into our book projects on some level, as well.