The Piker Press was born in April of 2002, but like any child, its conception took place several months earlier and at least one of the parents was drunk.
Some time in late summer or early autumn of 2001, my long time writing buddy, Josh Brown, tipped me off to an event called National Novel Writing Month. Write an entire fifty thousand word novel in a single month? Scorn quality in favor of quantity? I had been writing for very close to 20 years at that point, without ever having finished anything of note (aside from a few columns, an essay and a book review). I had hundreds upon hundreds of pages of the first chapter of a very good book, rewritten thirteen times with different perspectives and voice. I was a novelist without a novel. NaNoWriMo sounded like just the ticket.
Giddily, I described the event in turn to my then mother, Sand Pilarski. A remarkably talented person, Sand produced feature length comics for a small but devoted group of fans. She was an artist and did the occasional professional project, from oil paintings to banners to designing tee shirts. She had written religious education courses. She carried on long and clever correspondences in the style of the Mitfords of ere. But she hadn't written fiction since college. The idea of NaNoWriMo intrigued her, and being drunk, she agreed to participate.
Fast forward past the October jitters, the November dramas, the hours of unwashed struggles at the keyboard, wrestling with the five hundred word quota that had to be met before a shower was allowed. Fast forward past a giddy December, sharing snippets, congratulating each other, going over great moments in November in meticulous detail. Fast forward past January, when all the stories had been told a hundred times and no one really wanted to seriously take on the job of editing. Fast forward very quickly past February, when everything had been said a billion times and we were left staring at each other across the instant messenger programs and whining (well, I was, at least) about what we wished we could write.
At the time, I was interning for SimpleEnigma, Inc., writing web content and learning rudimentary programming. Part of that involved developing a web site and a web community. Staring at my site, I had a thought, harkening back to the days when my childhood best friend and I had written weekly newsletters for each other to amuse ourselves.
Why not take the concept of NaNoWriMo and apply it to a weekly e-zine?
Josh was game. Sand was intrigued. We started putting the screws to a couple of friends and on April 15, 2002, the first issue of the Piker Press hit the Net. We had "Ask Aser", an advice column written by a semi-crazed hedge shaman. Monique Jetton contributed a poem. Josh wrote the first installment of his short-lived but well-loved column, "Ramblings of a TV Addict" and the first episode of the long-running, world-hopping "Call of Destiny". I composed the first part of an illustrated short story combining fantasy, folktale and art that proved, within three episodes, to be too ambitious a project to churn out weekly. "The Grandmother Staff" was an early casualty of my inability to finish what I've started. But the first issue of the Press also contained: my first local news article.
I had suspected for quite some time that I could write a news article if I tried. But why try? Who would read it? A news article written just to see if you can is not the type of thing you can really make family and friends read. News articles are, by nature, a bit on the dry side. Even in the paper, they are bits to be skimmed, eliciting huhs and hmms instead of oohs and aahs. But the Press seemed to be a good vehicle for local news. And for travel pieces, and for gardening pieces, and for odd little essays about the Edo Era of Japan and for any number of things that one might like to write about, but couldn't otherwise justify.
That was the magic of the Press. It gave us a forum for writing things we wanted to try, but didn't have an excuse to. And as we continued writing, we evolved, we refined, we experimented. Assorted people pitched in and contributed, some becoming regulars, others remaining one-time wonders or occasional visitors. The actual readership of the Press remains modest, with anywhere from 50 to 500 readers each week, but the benefits and the quality continue to grow.
One of the most tremendous benefits to the Press was providing me with the forum to practice and experiment so that some time last year, I was able to hand a column to the editor of my local paper and say, "Wanna run this?" It was a reworked version of my National Nude Recreation week column, first run for the Press in 2002 and updated and rewritten for 2003. The editor skimmed it, snickered, and agreed. I started feeding him news articles, figuring that if he didn't want them, I would put them in the Press. He took them. Although I had been writing commercial copy for several years, there was a degree of satisfaction that came from being an actual journalist published in print, one compounded when he approached me and asked if I would consider doing a weekly humor column. With a year's worth of practice churning out weekly pieces for the Press behind me, taking on a weekly column was no sweat.
The Press is growing slowly, with new writers every year, but it has turned out to be exactly the vehicle that I dreamed it would be. A place for talented people to stretch out and play. It's fun to make, it's fun to read, and all my favorite authors currently write for the Press. I love watching good writers experiment with their craft, seeing someone who writes excellent non-fiction be able to branch out to excellent humor and poetry. I love watching good writers go from cathartic first tries to finding their true "voice" and producing drafts that inspire them to go shopping for literary agents. I love watching writers compile collected works of their pieces for the Press and have to get extra copies printed out at Kinkos because of high demand from family and friends. I love watching experienced authors find a venue that fits around their busy schedules. I love watching inexperienced authors finding out what works by trying. I love watching people say, "What I'd really like to try is..." and then watching them do it. I love reading what all my writers have to say. I love that the Press goes from silly and unpretentious to ambitious and meaningful, frequently within the space of one issue.
At our one-year anniversary, I was very pleased with the way the Press was developing. We had just picked up a fresh batch of writers, who had experienced the same NaNoWriMo progression that inspired Josh, Sand and me to start the Press. That batch included Cheryl Haimann and Tedi Trindle, whose influences truly rounded out the Press. Over this second year, I have enjoyed watching the Press expand slowly along the same lines, with new influences that I hope continue on through many future anniversaries.
My thanks to all the writers, poets, photographers and artists who have contributed to the Press over the past two years, including: Chris Barnhart, Josh Brown, Patrick Devine, Sara Dunn, Lupe Fernandez, Kellie Gillespie, Sara Glass, Cheryl Haimann, Michelle Heer, Holly Jahangiri, Monique Jetton, Kevin Landis, Lizzie Mayerle, Ed Moyer, Melissa Munger, John Queen, Bernie Pilarski, Sand Pilarski (who remains my mother), Amy Probst, Jon Renaut, John Trindle, Tedi Trindle, Jennifer Varner, and Jeff Vierra.