Talking with Lucy K Shaw and Sarah Jean Alexander of Shabby Doll House
Surprise, I returned to New York City for a week and a half. To see friends, to (low-key) party, and to host the Brooklyn rooftop reading for the release of Sarah Jean Alexander and Lucy K Shaw’s books, We Die in Italy and Troisième Vague. For those new to the world of literary readings, I should explain that hosting (usually) doesn’t mean you organized the event, or that it’s happening at your place, or really anything involving great responsibility. It just means you’re the MC. I got to intro all the excellent writers (Lucy, Sarah, Francisca Matos, Oscar D’Artois, and Peter BD) who read that evening against the Manhattan skyline and say nice things about them in front of a large crowd. It’s the best role.
Now allow me to say a few more nice things. Shabby Doll House (est. 2012) and ~Profound Experience (est. 2019) are online publishers of art and literature, founded by Lucy K Shaw and often edited with Sarah Jean Alexander. Over the last decade, they’ve published hundreds of artists and writers in these publications, but they’ve also created a real community of friends all over the world. I’m so grateful to have that community in my life, and I know I’m not the only one who feels that way. In 2021, Lucy and Sarah decided to make Shabby Doll House a book publisher and they started with their own books. It felt special to be brought together to celebrate this, especially when many people there hadn’t seen each other for a long time. After the party, I asked them a few questions about this new, exciting venture.
Kristen Felicetti: How are you feeling after the release party? Any highlights you want to talk about?
Lucy K Shaw: I keep thinking about this funny moment before it started, I had been there for a while setting up chairs and lights and whatever and then Sarah arrived and the last time I had seen her was when we were prepping in Manhattan, shopping for spotlights at Home Depot and buying boxes of wine from Trader Joes, a few days earlier, and that point we had been kind of counting out how many people we knew for sure were coming, because we only announced the whole thing a week in advance, and we didn’t know if anybody was actually going to show up. And then anyway, when Sarah arrived on the roof, she had a sort of panicked look in her eyes, and I asked, What is it?? And she said.... I think too many people are going to come!! And we were laughing a lot.
It felt especially intense because it was the first thing like that that any of us had done in a long time. When everyone was arriving and I was sort of wandering around in the crowd, I had so much adrenalin, and I was thinking, I need to not be around other people right now! I need to think about what I’m going to say! So I went downstairs to the apartment until right up to when the reading was actually starting, and then once things got going I felt so happy watching everybody else do their performances, Francisca and Oscar and Peter and your introductions, Kristen. But then, yeah, when it was my turn to read... I absolutely loved it so much. lol. I don’t feel nervous at all once I’m standing in front of everybody. I felt like I could say anything. I remember spontaneously bringing up my favourite Aretha Franklin performance and everybody was looking at me like ??? And then I had to warn them, okay I’m going to read something sad now.
You’ve done Shabby Doll House together for almost a decade, and published so many writers and artists with it (as well as in ~Profound Experience of Earth and Quaranzine). Publishing books seemed like the next step, how did you decide that now was the time?
Lucy K Shaw: I don’t know if it is the right time really, but it suddenly felt feasible. I watched a lot of YouTube videos by people who self-publish sci-fi and fantasy novels and learned how to do things step by step. They’re a very helpful crowd.
But aside from the logistical stuff, I think I’ve just reached a point where I feel like I have the understanding or confidence to edit book length projects now, which is something that has just come with experience.
I can’t wait to make more books!
Sarah, you went to visit Lucy in France to work on these books. I’ve always kind of romanticized the idea of traveling somewhere with a friend or friends to work on something. Like, I imagine working during the day and cooking meals together and then going out at night to have fun while still talking intensely about the project throughout the night. Lol. How did that time go?
Sarah Jean Alexander: Going to France was both the end and the beginning of the book in certain ways, it feels. I had initially thought that I would write a couple more poems that week, influenced by the Euro surroundings that are threaded throughout my book. But once I was there, I realized right away that the book was done! Nothing else could make it more complete.
Oh, you envision us working in a much more respectable way! Instead, Lucy booked us a 5-hour canoe expedition. We spent days swimming in the Loire river. We biked 2 hours to La Charité-sur-Loire, a medieval commune that made me feel like I was in The Da Vinci Code. Joan of Arc had been there! But we were always planning - figuring out the best way to host a book launch during bike-ride water breaks. Proofreading on the train from Paris to Nevers. Taking photos together sur la plage in the sun. We’d need them for press! For us.
By the time I was on the plane home, we were ready to start on the logistics, which is where the real learning process began and we transitioned from writers to publishers. But that’s much more boring to talk about. Vive la France!
Did you speak to anyone who had already published books for advice and did they have any? Or were you just like, we’ll figure it out?
Lucy K Shaw: I spoke to Dennis Cooper and told him that I was thinking of publishing my own book and he said there are a lot of great presses right now, are you sure you don’t want to send it out to some places first? And I talked about wanting to learn how to publish books, and how I felt like it would be easier if I did the first experiment on myself... and then he said, actually yeah, the first book he published on Little Caesar was his own... so then I thought, okay I’m doing it.
If you can say, what are your future ambitions for Shabby Doll House? Do you envision putting out another friend’s book soon or any other long term goals?
Lucy K Shaw: Yes I want to edit great books by my friends and make them available for people to read forever, though I think this is partly dependent on how successful these first books are, in terms of how many people take an interest in us. It takes a lot of time and energy to turn a manuscript into a book and I would want to feel confident that we could give other people the experience they deserve. But yeah, I mean, I’m going to work hard to make it happen.
Since this is a travel-themed publication, where do you want to travel to next?
Lucy K Shaw: All this talk of Italy has got me thinking...
I’m aiming for a Mediterranean winter this year.
✨One last thing✨
If you couldn’t make the Brooklyn rooftop reading, there will also be a Shabby Doll (Virtual) World Tour to celebrate these two books and it kicks off tonight.