Image courtesy Chop Suey Books
The launch of the young-adult short-story collection, “River City Secrets," 6 p.m. on Thursday at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond, is reason to celebrate for Lana Krumwiede and the authors she edited, but also for Ward Tefft, founder of the independent Chop Suey Books, which in recent times has turned – somewhat unintentionally – into an occasional small publisher.
Krumwiede moved to Richmond seven years ago and fell in love with the place. The author of the Psi Chronicles published by Candlewick Press, she also convenes the Richmond Children’s Writers, a group of about a dozen authors. Krumwiede read the collections “Richmond Noir" and “Richmond Macabre,” themed stories set in and around the city. “I thought that was a really cool idea – problem is, none of them are for kids.”
Thus, Krumwiede sought to remedy this lapse and turned to her fellow group members for the project. They divvied up the city and its landmarks. Others were recruited from association with the James River Writers (which holds its annual conference Oct. 14-16).
The collection grew into 24 stories, each set in one of Richmond's many popular historic locations. “Families can go on field trips to see the places where these stories unfold,” explains Krumwiede about some of the method behind the work. “Kids need a good solid connection with what they’re reading – anybody does, really – and what better connection is there than a place you know and see?”
In November last year, Krumwiede attended a panel discussion at the Midlothian Public Library and mentioned the book to Tefft. Krumwiede’s own novels are published through a national press, but she didn’t know how to go about getting a collection of young-adult short stories with a Richmond setting out into the world. Tefft, intrigued by the concept, took the manuscript home, read the stories and immediately felt that the work was not only well-done but meshed with the Chop Suey philosophy. He decided that the store would publish and promote the book.
“You don’t see that many short-story books for kids,” Tefft says. “Here you have 24 different ones, some of them are about the supernatural – ghosts, weird portals, sorcerers – but there’s also some about social justice. Barbara Johns comes up; she was one of the students who protested in Farmville against the racial inequality of the schools.”
Krumwiede didn’t know that Chop Suey in recent times has published books. Tefft’s eagerness came as a pleasant surprise, as publishing is an industry known for dead ends and rejection.
Tefft emphasizes the complete Richmond-ness of the book: written by resident authors, published by his company and its look realized by Scout Design. “It’s a 100 percent Richmond book,” Tefft enthuses. You can look at the array of writers here. Phil Hilliker did double duty by creating icons for each story that appear on a map of the city locating the different settings.
“It’s not a book for Confederate sympathizers,” Tefft says with a slight laugh. “I’m very proud of that fact. It’s fantastic – what our writing for kids should be. It’s not about ‘What if the South had Won [The Civil War],’ but what we’re doing now and where do we go from here.”
As for the free and public event at the Visual Arts Center, Krumwiede will introduce the writers and says this is the first time she will have seen them all in one room. “Not all of them know each other,” she says. “So it’ll be fun. Also, I like how the plural noun of authors is anthology, so this’ll be an anthology of authors.”
“River City Secrets” is not the only Chop Suey title launching in the near future. The “Artists Coloring Book Volume 2,” with its 30 artists corralled together by artist and Virginia Commonwealth University professor emeritus Chuck Scalin, is getting released at a public event at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery on Sunday from 3 to 6 p.m. (details here.)
Also under the Chop Suey Books Books imprint, Shelley Briggs Callahan’s “The House of Life” will be rolled out Oct. 14. Callahan traveled across the country with Tefft in their Books on Wheels journey. This is an account of Dick and Barb Hammond, who in 1974 began their efforts to establish their Friends of the Children of Haiti, a medical and relief organization. The date is also the 80th birthday of Dick Hammond. An event is planned for Oct. 16 at Church Hill’s Tiny Space. The Team-Eight Design Shop created the book’s design. “They’ve been around even as long as Chop Suey,” Tefft says.
Of his emergence into the publishing world, Tefft says it came about without any plan. “We started with Noah [Scalin’s “Skull-A-Day”], and Shelley’s we, without question, had to do; Lana was perfect, and, of course, Chuck. He knew about us through our work with Noah. So, what we might do in the future, is whatever we’re interested in.”