Michael Martone is the author of Four for a Quarter (2011), Michael Martone (2005), and The Blue Guide to Indiana (2001) from FC2. This interview was conducted by FC2 Fellow Rachel Levy in 2012 and published at fc2.org in 2017.
I was a grad student at Johns Hopkins and Moira Crone came into the office wondering aloud if she should publish her Winnebago book with FC2. She did. The next year I taught a class on little magazines and small presses and read all about the press.
Tell us about Four for a Quarter.
It is a collection of 44 fictions each on a subject related to four. The four winds, humors, blood types, corners, directions, seasons, the four chambers of the heart, the four chambers of a cow’s stomach, the four-in-hand knot, the four railroads of Monopoly, four eyes, four dead in Ohio, the four speeds of the record player playing quartets, Motown and Moptops. Etc. It refers to the old photobooth that gave you four pictures for a quarter. I was interested in exploring the photobooth as a narrative delivery device and the idea of a booth itself. A booth as a transformational space. The phone booth for Superman. The confessional. The toll booth. Four booths. The fictions then are micro collages that meditate on minute changes. Leap years and leap seconds.
FC2’s mission statement says, “The Fiction Collective Two is devoted to publishing fiction considered by America’s largest publishers too challenging, innovative, or heterodox for the commercial milieu.” Will you elaborate on what it means to write challenging, innovative, and heterodox fiction?
The mission might have to be rethought as the alternative publishing model collapses. Everything anymore is for the nation’s largest publishers too challenging, innovative, or heterodox. That is to say literary fiction. All literary fiction is no longer commercial. And I think of myself as a formalist. I am interested in exploring various forms of prose fiction and nonfiction. So for me all fiction is experimental. That metaphor, that binary is less and less useful. I believe that a future does lie in our collective effort in creating a new model for publishing as well as figuring out the effects of the new technologies and how to use them to make art.
Steve Katz has written that the Fiction Collective began with the desire to “make a literature.” What does that phrase mean to you?
See above. I think it is difficult for most citizens today to even begin to imagine making anything. Much of what we learn to do is to consume and we learn that mainly in a consumptive model, classrooms that are not generative but places of passive transmission of benign information. So I would say make anything not just literature.
For what FC2 backlist title are you an evangelist?
So many! But I am just mainly an evangelist for the backlist. When I started writing in 1977 the Thor Tool case destroyed the model of the backlist, making publishing all about the front list. So for me I am the defender of “the backlist” period. Keeping books in print, as many if not all, once they are made is a vital important necessary job.