Brian Lam is the Publisher of Arsenal Pulp Press which is nominated for two of the 2015 finalist titles, Live at the Commodore and The Outer Harbour. Arsenal Pulp Press was first shortlisted for the Vancouver Book Award in 1998 for and a body to remember with by Carmen Rodriguez and they first (co)won the award in 2003 for Stan Douglas: Every Building on 100 West Hastings (Reid Shier, Ed.) along with their co-publisher the Contemporary Art Gallery.
We asked Brian about how he first started in publishing, what makes an Arsenal title, and how he published Aaron Chapman’s and Wayde Compton’s books. You can learn more about Arsenal on their blog arsenalia.com
Tell us about Arsenal Pulp Press..
How/when/why did you get into the publishing business?
I was a creative writing major at the University of Victoria in 1984, which has a co-op job placement program for students. My first work term was at Arsenal Pulp Press, and I never left.
How did Arsenal Pulp Press get established?
The company was started in 1971 as Pulp Press by a group of Vancouver writers and university students disenchanted by the academic pretensions of literary publishing at the time. A printing operation helped to offset the cost of publishing books and broadsheets.
What keeps you coming into the office in the morning?
Chasing the thrill of finding that great new author.
Describe an Arsenal Pulp book.
Arsenal is well known for publishing books outside of the mainstream, regardless of genre or format. There’s a political edge to them, whether it’s a literary novel, a regional history, or even a cookbook.
We’re curious about ‘Live at the Commodore’…
How did you meet or connect with Aaron Chapman?
We met with Danny Filippone, owner of the Penthouse Nightclub, to discuss a book about the Penthouse. When we were discussing possible writers, he mentioned Aaron Chapman, who had written an article about the Penthouse for a local newsweekly. Aaron subsequently wrote Liquor, Lust and the Law: The Story of Vancouver’s Legendary Penthouse Nightclub, a BC bestseller. Following its successful publication, we wanted to work with Aaron again, and he suggested a book on the Commodore Ballroom.
Why did you acquire Live at the Commodore?
The social history of Vancouver is fascinating, and I think both residents and visitors to the city crave stories about the city’s past. The Commodore has an amazing history not only as a music venue, but as a place where Vancouverites have gathered for decades.
What image, phrase, or person from Live at the Commodore stands out for you and why?
The one person who stands out is Drew Burns, the legendary former owner of the Commodore who saw the Ballroom through many of its ups and downs. Sadly, he passed away only a few weeks before the book was published, but he spoke with Aaron at length about the book, and had given it his blessing.
How does Live at the Commodore fit into your company’s list?
As a Vancouver-based publisher, we are extremely interested in the untold stories of the city. It joins other Vancouver-related books we’ve published such as Liquor, Lust and the Law, Charles Demers’ Vancouver Special, and Lani Russwurm’s Vancouver Was Awesome.
What impact does an award nomination have on a company, book, or author?
Any award recognition brings new attention to the book and author, as well as the publisher. If it means more people will read it, then we are thrilled.
Who should read this book?
Anyone who is interested in Vancouver’s past, or anyone with a passion for the history of popular music and nightclubs.
Share a little about ‘The Outer Harbour’…
How did you meet or connect with Wayde Compton?
We started an imprint called Advance Editions with author Michael Turner (Hard Core Logo) in 1999, dedicated to books outside mainstream literature. For the imprint’s first book, Michael suggested a new local poet who had impressed him, Wayde Compton. That first book, 49th Parallel Psalm, was a Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize finalist at the BC Book Prizes. Since then, we’ve published four more titles with Wayde over the past fifteen years, including the non-fiction book After Canaan: Essays on Writing, Race and Region, which was a City of Vancouver Book Award finalist in 2011.
Why did you acquire The Outer Harbour?
When Wayde told me that he was working on a collection of short stories, I immediately told him I wanted to see it when he was ready. What’s extraordinary about Wayde is his dedication to the craft of writing, regardless of genre – he started out as a poet, then became an essayist, and now a writer of fiction – as well as his passion for African Canadian history that figures in all of his work.
What image, phrase, or person from The Outer Harbour stands out for you and why?
I think what’s most memorable about the book is its playfulness with the form of fiction. There are stories with multiple points of view, stories that are imbued with nuances of the speculative fiction, and stories that are firmly grounded in contemporary reality. There is even a story told without words, only images.
How does The Outer Harbour fit into your company’s list?
As an Asian Canadian, I’m very interested in stories of “otherness” – the stories that until recently have been left out of the story of Canada. Wayde’s body of work fills a gap in the history of Canadian poetry and fiction, and in the history of the African Canadian experience.
Who should read this book?
Readers who crave an alternative experience in works of fiction, as well as Vancouverites who will be intrigued by Wayde’s imaginative depiction of the city in the future, which may not be far from the truth.
The 27th annual City of Vancouver Book Award will be presented at the Mayor’s Arts Awards ceremony at the Roundhouse Community Arts & Recreation Centre on November 12, 2015. The books on this year’s shortlist cover a range of genres: non-fiction, short stories, poetry, and a children’s book. The short-listed books create a street-level walk through our city to amplify our pride and understanding of the flawed and beautiful, young but wise city we inhabit.