Mud Schematic: How do you find Chicago leaking into Ghost Ocean and Tree Light? How do your projects leak into the city?
Heather: I’m fascinated by how tethered to the urban landscape I feel (after living in Chicago for several years) but also to the rural, country landscape that I was surrounded by much of my life. I grew up in Arkansas and I’ve never lived more than maybe 30 miles from a body of water. Ever. That probably has something to do with the fact that I’ve never lived more than three blocks from Lake Michigan — which is the “Ghost Ocean” on our website — since I moved to Chicago, even though I’m in my third Chicago apartment.
We’ve published work that straddles these natural and man-made landscapes, such as Adam Morgan’s “In Our Dreams” in Ghost Ocean 6. Adam imagines Chicago as a city “hidden deep in a forest, covered in flowering vines and writhing trees.” I’m compelled by this vision—it would be my dream world were it not in such ruinous shape—as I am by similar settings, because they bridge these two worlds I love, which are often seen in opposition.
The majority of the time, we tend to select work that doesn’t operate in cityscapes. Maybe Chicago has a hand in this, because when I hop off the train, the last thing I want to read is a story about someone on the train. Then again, maybe that’s just me. If I were pressed to make another Chicago-connection, it would probably be to the urgency or energy in the work we publish. There’s an urgency here, in the city, that I would equate with the work of J.A. Tyler (not just his work in Ghost Ocean) and the work he publishes through Mud Luscious. But that work isn’t always set in urban areas. It’s the rhythm and the language — even the longer, more complex sentences — and, overall, the energy that feel uniquely urban to me.
I haven’t really answered your questions directly, though. Forgive me? (ed: forgiven!)
Mud Schematic: Has starting and running Tree Light Books changed the way you operate Ghost Ocean Magazine?
Heather: Absolutely. Something that’s challenging for me is delegating responsibilities—or rather, loosening my grip. When I started Ghost Ocean I had it in my head that I would read (at least twice!) every submission, regardless of genre or if everyone on staff had already said No way. That philosophy didn’t last long anyway, but since I’ve moved forward with the press I’ve realized I have to succumb to delegating certain things and not worry over it. I still read the majority of the submissions that come in, but I’m able to trust the instincts of the staff. They make my job easier, and if I didn’t have them to rely on, I’m not sure I could juggle both the press and the magazine on my own.
Mud Schematic: What would be your dream situation/growth for Tree Light?
Heather: Well, I think about selling digital copies of the chapbooks side-by-side with print, but I have this dedication/admiration/obsession with handmade chapbooks that is holding me back. We’re set to sell electronic versions once the originals sell out—we have less than half of the copies of our first chapbook left, so this may happen sooner than I anticipated—but maybe one day I’ll cave and sell them simultaneously. Not to mention, the more print copies we sell, the tidier my apartment is.
We have a handful of other projects in the queue, all manuscripts from our first chapbook contest, and they’re all projects I’m excited about publishing. Each chap has a central theme (or themes) that I haven’t encountered in chapbooks put out by other presses, so I hope Tree Light can add something interesting to the chapbook conversation. Susan’s chap, our debut, captures the essence of what we’d like to continue publishing, though I hope we can surprise and reinvent ourselves in the same way I feel that Ghost Ocean has started to cast a wider net in terms of what we’d like to publish, while continuing to put out things that are recognizably Ghost Ocean.
If we ever grew into a full-on publishing conglomerate, I don’t think I’d ever get a chance to sleep. So I’m fine with our smaller scope. I just want to focus on putting out good books, supporting our authors as best we can, and getting to know our readers somewhere along the way.
Heather Cox is a poet who founded and continues to edit the online literary journal Ghost Ocean Magazine and its imprint press Tree Light Books. Heather loves books, biking, typewriters, vinyl records, sunlight, and puppies. Heather was born in Texas and raised in Arkansas, and now she lives on Chicago’s north side with her partner and their two dogs, Milo and Roscoe.