Tony and Nicole Nesca crave creativity, honesty, and more than a little grit in what they write. So what do they like to read?
Tony: I just finished reading Ulysses by James Joyce, and before that had read The Pornographers Poem by Michael Turner, my favorite Canadian writer. I also read a biography on John Lennon which I found to be pretty cool and Anais Nin’s Delta of Venus…and listened to a a lot of good music in between.
Nicole: I just read A Moveable Feast by Hemingway and it quickly became one of my all-time favorites. Before that I read The Great Gatsby and a collection of Gertrude Stein’s work.
Indie Groundbreaking Publisher
Screamin’ Skull Press
To Be Free, Alive, and Unfettered from Conventional Definitions of Literature
June’s Indie Groundbreaking Publisher is a small press in Canada founded by a husband-wife duo of indie authors. Sounds like a quaint little story, doesn’t it? But Screamin’ Skull Press is anything put quaint. Writers Tony and Nicole Nesca formed their publishing company for one main reason: they wanted to write raw, fearless, gritty pieces of work that few publishing houses would have the guts to print.
“I started Screamin’ Skull Press in 1994 because I was tired of hearing from publishers who said ‘love your work, but it just won’t sell,’” Tony said. “I received rejection letters for years from publishers that I probably wouldn’t have liked to be published from anyway. It didn’t take me long to realize that I would probably spend a lifetime in this routine without ever seeing my work in print.”
Tony has now published 10 novels and collections of prose and poetry, and Nicole has authored 5 titles (see the full list here). While Screamin’ Skull Press “is simply a vehicle for us to publish our own works” according to Tony, the Nescas are creating groundbreaking books that are unapologetic in their originality and boldness. Tony and Nicole weigh in below to discuss the writers that inspired them, the challenges of starting a publishing company, and what’s coming next from them.
IP: Tell us a bit about yourselves and the history of Screamin’ Skull Press.
Tony: I was born in Torino, Italy in 1965 and moved to Canada at the age of three. I was raised in Winnipeg but relocated back to Italy several times until finally settling in Winnipeg in 1980. As a teenager, I taught myself how to play guitar and formed an original rock band playing the local bars for several years, then at the age of twenty-seven I switched from music to literature and started writing seriously.
I wrote and published six chapbooks of stories and poems (which I used to sell straight out of my knapsack at local dives and bookstores while bar-crawling through the inner-city), six novels and four books of poems and stories, all of which I published under the Screamin’ Skull Press imprint. Do it yourself, that’s my mentality, that’s what I encourage all writers, artists, musician, filmmakers, to do.
Nicole: I was born in Youngstown, Ohio and I developed a love for writing, art and music at a very early age. Everyone around me knew that come hell or high water, I was going to be an artist of some kind. I started getting poetry published in online and print magazines a few years before I met Tony and was playing around with the idea of publishing my own poetry book. Then I met Tony and decided to join his Indie Press in 2007, making Screamin’ Skull Press a two-man operation. I’ve published five books of prose and poetry since then.
IP: Who were some of the inspirations for the mission of the press?
Nicole: The great songwriters have influenced me just as much as literature, including but not limited to; Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Leonard Cohen, Patti Smith, Neil Diamond and Neil Young. I’ve also been profoundly influenced by the paintings of Frida Kahlo and Salvador Dali. I’d be remiss at this point if I didn’t mention the literary influences of Neruda, Hemingway, Nin, Miller, etc., etc.
But the press was started by Tony, I’ll let him answer that.
Tony: Well, my influences are varied, but the renegade writers, the bad boys of literature, always spoke loudest to me—my favorite writer is Henry Miller, and his book Tropic of Cancer was a revelation. I don’t want to say the heavens opened up for me when I first read it, but pretty damn close. I remember grabbing my head, walking back and forth across the room as I read it. THIS IS IT, I said, this is it! I couldn’t believe what he was saying, the guts it took, the bravado, the absolute sneer at mainstream society. From there you have the Beats, especially Jack Kerouac—gave me a similar experience to reading Miller—then came Charles Bukowski, D.H. Lawrence, Raymond Carver, Hunter Thompson, know what I mean?
This type of writing is practically non-existent these days, and although I differ greatly from these writers, that was the tradition that I wanted to write in—free, alive, unfettered from conventional definitions of literature.
IP: What was it like to start your own publishing company? If you could sum up the experience in 5 words, which words would you choose?
Tony: Exciting, daunting, creative, frustrating and collaborative—now, I say frustrating because it is so damn difficult to get press or promo happening of any kind due to all the bias from established sectors of the publishing industry. If you are not somewhat famous, and if you are self-published, the magazines won’t do a piece on you—yet, how can I become somewhat famous without anyone doing a piece on me?
IP: The press is often described as “rebellious” and “spontaneous.” Tell us why those two descriptors are so important to your work.
Nicole: It is rebellious because we are rebelling against the genre-driven culture of today—there are no superheroes or zombies in our work, we are writing literature that is sexually charged and is anti-establishment—all forms of conventional literature are our enemies.
Tony: Look, let’s face it, the world has been on a systematic cultural decline since the 1970’s—the writers, the music, the films have become formulaic and driven entirely by commerce and the infantile need for “entertainment” as opposed to “literature or story.”
The spontaneous part is a description of our writing style. To write how you would paint, how you would play an instrument, to make the words sing and dance and flow down the page like a waterfall while saying something worthwhile, something not usually said… or even if it has been said before, say it your way, do it your way, pay no attention to conventional means of writing. Nicole and I have our own very distinct styles, but we share this philosophy creatively.
There’s nothing worse than a very carefully carved out piece of work…that dull working over and over of an idea and a sentence and a painting, that insecurity, that insistence that repetition and revision somehow make it right. A reader of mine, several years ago, called my writing “word music”, and it has stuck in my mind ever since. That is the best definition of what we mean by spontaneous writing.
IP: You focus a lot on making sure your work is original. How can writers avoid the pitfalls of following today’s trends?
Tony: I think the whole idea here is, why do you write? Is it to say something you deem important? Is it to leave poetry to the world? Or is it simply to entertain? To write a bestseller? Either way is all right, but if you want to be a writer who is trying to say something and is focusing on the stories of people, then it is imperative that you avoid all of the modern-day trends—especially if modern-day means the 2000’s. The trends in the 70’s were pretty damn cool, as far as I’m concerned.
IP: How do you two define success with your titles? Which book (or books) do you consider to be most successful?
Nicole: Well, publishing your own books under your own indie press can never be about sales (laughter). They are hard to come by and there aren’t enough of them…if you’re going to become an indie writer, then you’d better understand that right off the hop. But we do want to sell our books, as many as possible, we don’t want to come across like we are basement artists who are happy giving away their work. Our goal has always been to become full-time writers and to quit our ever-so-lousy day-jobs (night jobs in Tony’s case). Success starts from how we feel after we’ve typed that last word—that feeling dictates the rest, and I know Tony feels the same about it.
Tony: Then comes the outside recognition, which is always great. We get many emails by readers of ours that open up discussion about our various works, and we love it, of course! So yes, discussion, reader response, and most importantly, self-satisfaction is how we measure success.
IP: Any upcoming titles, events, etc. you’d like to discuss?
Tony: Yes, we have just finished our first collaboration—a screenplay—it’s along the same lines as our books. We are also both working on separate novels, in the initial stages. As far as events go, we are appearing and selling our books at the Envoi Poetry Festival Writing and Publishing Trade Fairduring the weekend of May 29–31, 2015, in our hometown of Winnipeg, Canada.
For more on Screamin’ Skull Press, visit their website at screamingskullpress.blogspot.com.
Jillian Bergsma Manning is a contributing editor for Independent Publisher. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in English. She welcomes any questions or comments on her articles at jbergsma (at) bookpublishing.com. Follow her at @LillianJaine.