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Sunday, September 24, 2017


Who: Empty Mirror Books
Where: ,

Can you tell us a bit about how your magazine got started?

At the end of 1999, I quit my job. Over the course of my retail management career I’d worked at several bookstores. I loved books and in the 1980s and 1990s had published literary magazines, a couple of broadside series, and Ted Joans’ poetry collection WOW.

I thought I’d try self-employment and started an online bookselling business, Empty Mirror Books. EMB specialized in out-of-print and collectible Beat Generation, poetry, and art books.

Aside from selling books, I wanted the site to become a resource for information about the Beats. I wrote articles about the Beat Generation, and soon began to publish articles, poetry, photography, and art by others. Over time, EM became a de facto literary and arts magazine. In 2012, Empty Mirror re-launched in magazine format.

How did the name come about?

Because the site originally sold books, it was called Empty Mirror Books (something that’s still reflected in our domain name.) When we re-launched in magazine format, the name became simply Empty Mirror.

But Empty Mirror wasn’t my first choice.

Back in 2000, I had another name picked out. When I was ready to launch, I found that the domain name had been registered a few days before. I was crushed. I drove to a park that looks out on the sea, and just sat in the car for a long time, thinking what to do next.

Later on, a friend and I tossed around the idea of using the title of a book by one of the Beats. Looking down the long bookshelf, we began reading titles. On the Road Books? Dharma Bums Books? No. Desolation Angels Books? Howl Books? No again. Empty Mirror Books? Well, that one had a good sound to it.

Allen Ginsberg’s collection of early poems, titled Empty Mirror, was published by Corinth Books in 1961.

Empty mirror is a Zen concept. It means that the mind should be clear and free, egoless, a witness. A mirror’s reflections are transitory.

Seventeen years later, the domain name I originally wanted is still registered by the same person, but it’s never had a website on it. I have no regrets. Empty Mirror is here to stay.

Is it a physical publication or online-only or a bit of both?

EM is online-only. We’ve never had a print issue, although we’ve published a couple of broadsides and might do so again.

I like the immediacy of online publishing, and of course it’s much more affordable than print.

Can you tell us about the space where you run your whole operation from? Is it an office space, a kitchen-table/bedroom operation or just from inside a smart-phone or a laptop?

It’s a little of both. I have a home office (a small, unused bedroom) for both Empty Mirror and my web services business, Quanta Web Studio. It looks out upon the back yard. It’s decorated in bright yellows and oranges, and a large vintage printed fabric Yellow Submarine hangs above the desk. There are vintage music, theatre and poetry posters on the walls. Bookshelves line two walls and I’ve got a comfy chair.

But I don’t have air conditioning, and the living room is cooler. So, during the warmer months you can often find me sitting cross-legged in the corner of the sofa, working on my laptop. I also sometimes work at a table in our back yard.

Can you tell us a little bit about the city in which you are based and what influence, if any, it has on your magazine?

That’s an interesting question. Bellingham is just south of the Canadian border in the far northwest corner of the United States, a couple hours north of Seattle. It’s bordered by the Salish Sea (and beyond that the Pacific Ocean), farmland, and the Cascade Mountain range. The many landscapes feed my imagination.

There are thriving art, music, and literary communities here. I confess that I’m not involved with the local literary community (probably due to the fact that Empty Mirror is an online publication) but living in a city with such a thriving creative community does keep me inspired.

Do you see any commonality with the world of independent record labels and independent literary magazines? I suppose we’re thinking about how the two things share an independent spirit, small run fanzines/photocopied magazines, merchandising etc?

That’s an interesting question. Neither are created without passion, whether it be for music or words. Both expose the listener or reader to fresh voices, things they are not going to find elsewhere.

These days every writer can get connected to their own social-media channels and Tumblrs and promote and publish their own work, what do you see as the best role for the independent magazine these days?

It’s easy to publish your own work, but getting eyes on it is another matter. Even for established writers, and even with lots of social media followers, promotion is a challenge. Magazines can amplify a writer’s range and help to gain new readers.

That’s the sole reason that Empty Mirror exists – to expose readers to the work writers and artists they might not otherwise come across.

Do you focus a lot on distinctive design and take a lot of time over that or is it just about getting the words out there?

It’s important to me that the site look good – hopefully, distinctive and professional — without drawing attention away from the creative content. I do spend a lot of time on formatting written pieces, sourcing and creating images, and making small improvements to the site’s function. The goal is that it’s efficient, and an elegant frame for our contributors’ work.

Finally, can you swim?

I can swim, although I rarely do. When I was a kid I often swam in Puget Sound’s Mutiny Bay, which is only about 50 degrees in the summer. Seems crazy now, but it was heaps of fun.

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