An Interview with Lisa Vasquez of Stitched Smile Publications

Back in October, Cate and I attended a festival in Beaufort (South Carolina). Though it was only a one day affair, Cate and I made it a weekend get-away with no children. After the festival we went to the house we were staying in and settled in for the evening. Before I went to bed that night I checked the good old Facebook (don’t judge me, you do it, too). While scrolling through posts about politics, religion, kittens, memes and some book-related things, I came across one that simply read something about someone’s book being published by Stitched Smile Publications.

I had never heard of that publisher before. I took out a pen and wrote these words: Research Stitched Smile Publications.

After arriving home the next afternoon, I sat at the computer and started researching. I found a Facebook page and a website that was in the process of being built.

During the information gathering, I came to realize Lisa Vasquez was associated with SSP. I contacted her, and guess what I found out? She wasn’t just associated with SSP, she was the founder. Being that I know Lisa works very hard at everything she does, I wanted to interview her and learn a little bit more about Stitched Smile Publications.

Let’s hop right in, why don’t we?

AJ: Lisa, not too long ago you made a decision to open a publishing house. What led you to do this?

LV: I’ve been sitting on the idea for quite some time but I think the fact that I didn’t know the ins-and-outs sort of held me back. Which is a good thing, I think, because I sat back and learned and did my time behind the scenes. As an author, I understand the pain of wanting to put your work out and having more control over what happens to it. An author’s choices are:
1. Submit to a “Big House” Publisher and hope for the best.
2. Submit to an indie publisher and hope they don’t get screwed over.
3. Publish it themselves.
The problem with publishing it yourself is not having the skills to wear all the hats necessary. I used my own book as a guinea pig, helped and volunteered whenever I could, and then finally felt confident that I could do it. That’s when Stitched Smile was born!

AJ: When you say you sat back and learned, what do you mean?

LV: I have a background in graphics and have been doing it for about 20 years for various industries. Printing, however, is so much different. If you don’t know about dpi and bleeds, you kind of spend a lot of time tossing things out that you spent hours on. So that was the first thing I tackled, because let’s face it, people do judge a book by its cover.

The second thing was learning about the industry itself. What publishers were doing that were good, and what they were doing that left room for improvement. What I found was a lack of author focus and development. The author ended up losing their identity in a lot of cases or just became a “new release”. Fans love to know things about the author and engage with them. There were other things like contracts, distribution, and marketing. I did a lot of promotional work but the book world is its own animal. Same basic concepts but different language.

AJ: How did you go about learning the things you needed to in order to feel confident in starting Stitched Smile Publications?

LV: I asked a lot of questions, trial and error, talking to others in the industry with more experience, and then I took on a position with another publisher (Burning Willow Press) as their Design Manager and got to see firsthand how it was done in real time. I applied what I knew, added what I didn’t, did a lot of trial and error with my own book, which I still continue to do, and then realized my approach was definitely unique and had some good results. I set money aside and then dove into it.

I think you just come to that moment where you feel like the only way you’re going to know if you got it is if you try it. I love what I do, and I love helping people and that added the final touch to my decision. If you don’t love what you do, you’ll never give 100%. That’s how I decided to just put my ducks in a row and start the process. I had the support of my amazing staff who got the word out, and then Jackie Chin teamed up with me and things rolled without much effort. We all knew we had a winning formula.

AJ: Sounds like you’ve done your homework. Where did the name Stitched Smile Publication come from?

LV: I wanted to branch out from my normal “persona”. I had Darque Halo Designs, and I always used wings or a halo as a brand. I wanted something that was reflective of this other side of me. It’s dark, it’s scary. It was a smile…with the darker element added to it. I don’t think there’s anything more unsettling than a maniacal grin. Since the publishing company specializes in dark content, I wanted something that appealed to both men and women. And one that would appeal to the reader. So I sat there and thought, ‘what would be the epitome of this?’ Well, one of my favorite characters is The Joker. His most memorable feature is his grin. It hit me right then that this is what I was looking for.

AJ: My favorite bad guy of all time is The Joker, and his smile is what people remember about him. I like the name and the logo. I think it fits.

LV: Thank you!

AJ: How did Jackie Chin come to be on your staff?

LV: Jackie and I were friends previous to this. I designed her new logo for her. We bonded rather quickly and she had me on her show, Zombiepalooza Radio. From there we just kept talking and when I told her what I was doing she sat back and watched me. One day she grilled the HECK out of me—which I loved because it showed me that I was really ready for this.

Then she asked, “I want to be involved, what can I do?” Now see, this was a scary decision because I love that woman and I respect her, so now the stakes were high because I didn’t want to let anyone down but least of all her because she’d done a lot for me and I know others had taken what she’d done for granted. Slowly, we began formulating an approach for marketing and I just let her run with it. Since that first day, she’s really put her heart into it and I’m happy to say she feels like it’s her home, as well. I couldn’t be more excited that she believes in us.

AJ: I’ve listened and watched Zombiepalooza Radio and I think she does a great job. She’s also quite intimidating, but she seems to have a heart of gold.

LV: Jackie is a go-getter. She’s a strong woman and knows her stuff. She comes off as hard, but she is focused and knows exactly where she wants to go.

AJ: One or two more questions and I’ll let you get back to work. I’m a writer. What do you have to offer me that other small presses (or even larger ones) cannot?

LV: What Stitched Smile Publications offers is a personalized plan for each author. We find out what they are great at and what they aren’t so great at and we build up the weaknesses so that they are a well-rounded author. Let’s face it, you have got to sell your book. It’s a product. Some people don’t think they can sell anything but in reality, anyone can sell.

What we do is take away the “car salesman” selling and teach them how to just do what they love. Work their personality into the marketing and put it out there. We also allow authors that have the skills to format their books, or design their own covers, a higher portion of the royalties. Finally, we have Jackie’s radio show. So now we’re reaching a global network with numbers that are nearly unattainable in the conventional way. We aren’t spamming the link to amazon on every Facebook group we can join, we’re inviting the readers to come to us.

Other than that, we have a badass team who are loyal and sincere in their intentions. We hold weekly meetings and allow the authors to attend. Everyone is an equal and every person’s ideas are considered when we brainstorm. There’s no one more important than the author. If the author isn’t happy, you aren’t going to have a productive relationship. It’s like a marriage. If one person isn’t happy they’re going to be looking for a way out. When we put a ring on it, we try to keep the honeymoon going!

AJ: That is an awesome way to go at it, one I am not sure I have seen or heard from any other publisher.

One last thing: Lisa, where can writers and readers find out more about SSP?

LV: We have a couple websites. The first one is the Stitched Smiles Publication Website. This is our landing site and a good place to start. In addition to that we have our SSP on Word Press where every staff member is allowed to post, including the authors! So potential readers get a place to learn about the authors, what they’re like and what’s in the future for them. And finally, we are on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

AJ: Lisa Vasquez, thank you for your time. I’m sure you and your staff are going places

LV: Thank you, Jeff, for talking with me. It’s been fun!

AJ: Yes, it has.

An Interview with James Crawford

Good evening, Faithful Readers.  Today I would like to welcome James Crawford to Type AJ Negative.  Sit down, have a glass of your favorite beverage and enjoy our conversation.

AJ:  First, tell me a little about Manleigh Cheese.

JC:  Manleigh Cheese is the result of friends challenging me to write something other than horror.

AJ:  Where did the concept of Manleigh Cheese come from?

JC:  Since I live in the Washington, DC area, there’s a thriving food truck scene, and whispers of corruption every day. I thought they could be two tastes that taste great together.

I’m a foodie, and this great little cheese place, Cheesetique opened a few years ago, that was the inspiration for a cheese-based food truck.

AJ:  Nice.  What type of writer do you consider yourself to be?

JC:  Dialog-driven.

AJ:  Why dialog-driven as opposed to descriptive or action-based?

JC:  I’m a talker, so my characters tend to be. I’m in love with words and communication.

AJ:  I’m a talker, as well. Some tell me I never shut-up.  As a writer, what do you have to offer the readers?

JC:  Hopefully, well drawn characters who exhibit “real” emotions.

AJ:  As a writer, do you have a hard time focusing on one story at a time or do your thoughts tend to stay on point throughout a story?

JC:  For me, having more than one project running at a time is a pressure valve. I “go there” when I write horror, and a little comedy helps me balance out. A little sci-fi relaxes the humor…and so on.

AJ:  My mind tends to go in a thousand directions at one time. I never have just one project or story going on.  You are also a painter. What do you paint and is painting the same type of outlet as writing?

JC:  Since my living situation changed, I don’t have a workshop for my metal pursuits. Going back to fine art, where I started, is a way to keep that creativity sharp. Yes, it also helps to define a character by drawing him, her, or it.

AJ:  Okay, let’s shift gears, what’s your favorite food truck?

JC:  I’ve…this is a confession…never eaten at one.

AJ:  DOH! I’ve only eaten at three of them and I have loved all of them.

JC:  Yeah. I’m a poseur.

AJ:  Okay, Mr. Poseur, let’s switch gears again and discuss Permuted Press for a minute or three. How was your initial experience with them?

JC:  It was great. I was enthused, and so was Jacob. I felt like I’d succeeded.

AJ:  Truthfully, you had. Getting on with Permuted was something I wanted to do at some point, but never actually attempted.  Now, I’m glad I didn’t.

JC:  I got to watch the crazy up front.

AJ:  When you say watch the crazy up front, what do you mean?

JC:  The new ownership coming on, and their struggle to turn Permuted into (I’m thinking) some sort of cash cow.

AJ:  So, then Permuted switched hands and then things went nuts?

JC:  That’s how it seemed to me. Every six months, some new kerfuffle.

AJ:  How many books did you put out with Permuted?

JC:  My first trilogy is under Permuted, but nothing else will be.

AJ:  You left Permuted, but your trilogy is kind of stuck there, right?

JC:  I am stuck with them for that trilogy, and have to offer them first opportunity on anything else in that series.  Contractual obligation.

AJ:  That is crazy.  If you could do one thing over, what would it be?

JC:  Oooo. Ah. Argh.

AJ:  Yeah, I know.  Sometimes reflecting back is harder than moving forward.

JC:  Aside from voicing my displeasure in a louder voice, and more broadly…not submitting to them in the first place.

AJ:  Let’s move on. Manleigh Cheese came out recently, put out by Burning Willow Press. How did you hear about BWP and what has that experience been like?

JC:  I knew of Kindra and Sheron from Permuted, and I liked the idea of what they wanted to build. I submitted, and they accepted.

AJ:  What was the editorial process like?

JC:  Pretty simple. They handed the manuscript to their editor, she made some comments, I corrected a few things, and we were good to go.

AJ:  Nice.  So, do you prefer your cheese to be mature like in the Cheez-It commercials or immature?

JC:  Does it taste good? That’s my qualifier.

AJ:  Mature cheese it is!

Okay, time to get serious.  I’m a potential reader. Sell me on your book. Why should I buy it?

JC:  Do you like urban fantasy, but are tired of the old Sidhe in America thing? Do you like evil evil? None of the gray area stuff? How about characters you can like, and want to have a drink with?

That’s Manleigh Cheese.

AJ:  Good answer.  Now, sell me on you. If you had to pitch yourself to me (which I’ve had to do with a person face to face before she would buy my books), what would you say?

JC:  Honestly, I do my best to be a genuine person. I have a sense of humor, and really enjoy learning who my potential readers are. That’s the best thing about being a “small time” author.

AJ:  I like that.  I think the person who asked me the same question would like that response.

If you owned a food truck, what would you sell?

JC:  I’d try a zombie theme food truck. The burgers might be named for people. Amanda (avocado and other toppings); Bubba (extra bacon)…Guts on a bun. French fingers.

AJ Nice.  I like that.

JC:  There’s actually a menu for the Manleigh Cheese truck in the book.

AJ: Okay, we need to talk about the Menu a little.  That is a great idea

JC: The Bitch Set Me Up cupcake is based on what former DC Mayor Marion Berry said when they arrested him for cocaine.

AJ:  Hahaha!  That’s great.  What is your favorite item on the menu?

JC:  I’d be really fond of the Political Puffs.

AJ:  That’s the savory cheese puffs made with Manleigh’s own artisan cheddar.  It would be four bucks.  That’s great.

JC:  I had fun with it.

***

James Crawford’s Manleigh Cheese can be purchased on Amazon.  To whet your appetite, enjoy this excerpt:

“Pardon that interruption. My colleague took an interest in your intern.”

A quirk of his perfect lips sent a shiver down Lois Nasen-Hedges’ legs. She hated how gorgeous he was—tall, slim, long black hair, and those piercing emerald eyes—as much as she craved his attention.

“Certainly, Toll. Interruptions happen.” She tried to hide her feelings by smoothing her skirt—if it accidentally enhanced her shapely thighs, so much the better. “Where were we a moment ago?”

“Yes. We were discussing the return of the artifact to me, now that our bargain is completed.” He nodded, each movement carefully measured to increase Ms. Nasen-Hedges’ heartbeat.

“It will take me a few days to retrieve it,” Lois said, ducking her eyes, hoping he wouldn’t catch the lie she was trying to craft.

“A few days will be fine,” Toll crooned, “but I would remind you there are devastating consequences if you decide to break our bargain.”

He smiled at her from the other side of the desk, flashing pointed, pearlescent teeth. The threat was an old one, but effective: cross me, and everyone you hold dear dies, torn limb from limb. As an added bonus, Toll threw in something new (testing threats for effectiveness was his hobby and favorite way to pass the time).

The latest addition to the consequences was how failure to return the artifact would also bring about the destruction of the wall between the spirit world and the material world. Not a small threat—when added to the previously mentioned mayhem involving loved ones—and also a complete and utter lie.

“I don’t believe.” He whispered this time. “The nations you have built would survive the revelation that your reality is not the only one our world supports. We accept that humans exist, but we are myths and nightmares for you—never seen in daylight, or encountered on the street.”

She couldn’t bring herself to get defensive at him for reminding her of the consequences. He was right. Everything would go insane if Joe American had spirits to placate before cracking open a cold one… or if the military’s weapons were outclassed by spells and dark spirits.

It was also enough reason to keep the artifact in the possession of the United States of America. Leverage. Withholding the object of someone’s desire and keeping it beyond their reach was a tried and true method for securing good behavior. Lois Nasen-Hedges didn’t believe herself to be a fool.

Toll might be the sexiest creature in existence, but he was also cunning, manipulative, and powerful enough to break the tenuous balance of power in the normal world. Creatures like this, Lois believed, should to be kept in line through proper management and coercion. Especially when the entity in question was nearly immortal, and a bullet through the brain might not be fatal.

Fairies and supernatural creatures were not what she expected to be dealing with in the halls of government. Little green men were almost to be expected, but she never imagined anything supernatural might be real, or sitting on the other side of her desk.

“I’m pleased we see eye-to-eye on this issue, Toll.” Lois forced a smile, knowing full well she was going to play an incredibly dangerous game. “I would like to propose we meet again a week from today at this address.”

She slid the sheet of paper over the leather surface of her desk. He glanced at it, quirked his lips, and retrieved it with immaculately manicured fingers.

“An old quarry in Marriotsville, Maryland.” He leaned back in the chair, and smiled. “You make interesting choices, Ms. Nasen-Hedges.”

“It is easily secured, and no one will stumble across our transaction,” she paused, “at least, no one who would be missed.”

“As always, I am impressed by your practicality. Next Friday, at the time and location you’ve provided, is satisfactory.”

Toll stood up, bowed, and offered his hand. Lois stood, reached out and placed her hand in his. She gasped when his fingers locked around her palm like slim steel cables. He pulled her over her desk with no effort, leaving only the toes of her expensive loafers touching the floor.

“I want to remind you,” he said, as his honey and briars voice deepened into a growl, “crossing me would go poorly for you. I will skin you alive, and use your flesh to wipe my ass, before I feed you to things you do not wish to imagine.”

She couldn’t speak. His eyes held her attention like his hand held hers: without mercy.

Toll let her hand drop, deftly slitting her palm with the unnaturally sharp edge of his fingernail. Lois Nasen-Hedges gasped as she fell across her desk, eyes focused on the blood dripping from her outstretched hand onto the cream carpet below.

When she looked up, he was already gone, and she was left to wonder if the game she’d begun was worth playing.