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Chelsea Hodson Wants Your Weird Books

Photo by Amelia Gray

It’s high noon on a Saturday when I meet Chelsea Hodson in New York City’s restless Washington Square Park. Hodson is the author of the alt-lit essay collection Tonight I’m Someone Else—though lately, you’d more likely know her as the founder of Rose Books, a new independent press she started out of her Sedona, Arizona home. In spite of the heat and humidity, Hodson is draped in all-black attire—though her hair, folded into a single braid, is adorned with a long pink ribbon. It’s also worth noting that she is pregnant. “Don’t worry, it’s not a secret,” she tells W, tilting her head back to emit a belly laugh that fades into the noise of the park, fusing with the Gloria Estefan song booming out of huge speakers nearby.

It’s a happy scene, one that sits in stark contrast to the first dark-but-perfect project Hodson edited and published under Rose Books: Someone Who Isn’t Me, a psychedelic debut novel authored by Thursday frontman and musician Geoff Rickly. The book is an exacting mix of transgression and beauty, and is the start of what Hodson calls her “contribution” to the monotonous, mass market-saturated industry. “I see really good books not being published because they are ‘too weird.’ But I get excited about people with a vision and voice in their work,” she explains. Following Rickly’s sold-out release will be Christopher Norris’s The Holy Day in October, which Hodson hints is “circular and untraditionally structured.” Below, Hodson speaks on her independent press and shares her current Culture Diet, which includes the likes of Lana Del Rey’s automatic singing and contemporary film noir.

How would you describe your style as an editor? How is it different from your writing style?

When I’m editing my own writing, it’s about making it as tight as possible. I write my early drafts so they’re very bloated, like free writing. In the editing I’ll shave it way down. When I’m editing someone else, I find what they’re trying to do and clarify their vision, which brings me a lot of pleasure and satisfaction.

How would you characterize the books you’ll publish at Rose?

There’s no obvious throughline, but they’re all taking risks on the page. It’s not that I’m looking for things that couldn’t be on a mainstream press. They’re good enough to end up anywhere, but for some reason, I am lucky to have them.

How has it felt tackling the do-it-yourself nature of an indie press?

I’m very independent and self-motivated. I have no issue working alone. But Geoff’s book has grown to such proportions that I now am in a position of needing help. For instance, last month I packed mail for 12 hours a day for the whole month in order to get all the pre-orders ready. Every time I thought I had a handle on them, I would get 30 more orders in one day. My husband helped a lot. I’m pregnant, so I can’t lift anything; he had to carry everything and help me get books to the post office. Between my husband and I, we sent over three thousand books.

What’s your perspective on genre? Does it play a role in the books you’ll publish?

Genre is mainly a marketing ploy and is overrated. Writing is writing, and I think good writing transcends genre. Even with Rose Books, I’m not saying I’m going to publish fiction, or poetry. Whatever good books come my way, I’ll publish. I don’t have that restriction when I read, either.

I’m most familiar with you as leading the Morning Writing Club, where writers write for two hours together every morning from eight to ten EST via Zoom. How did you have the idea for the group?

I realized that I always show up for other people’s work, whether it be the students I’m helping or writers I’m working with. But there are times when I won’t show up for myself. That probably makes me a better publisher, because I will put someone else’s work in front of my own. But I still want to be an artist and a writer myself. I know other people have this same problem, and so I thought, “What if I combined those needs?” I dreamed up [a group] that allowed me to be accountable to someone else and myself.

On a logistical level, I also needed money to start Rose Books, especially when founding the LLC, hiring a copy editor, and hiring a designer. Morning Writing Club makes it so I can offer a service that also gives me some monthly income to put toward the press.

In 2020, you moved from New York to Sedona, Arizona. How has the change impacted your writing?

I feel totally content living in the middle of nowhere, not being influenced by what’s popular. I hope that doesn’t sound too snobby. At the same time, New York offers so much and I’ve benefited from living there by meeting different writers, my agent, and my book editor. It was amazing to have access to everything you would need as a writer. You can go to a party and suddenly meet the right person and have an agent. That doesn’t happen where I live.

In 2020, my mentality shifted: I don’t have to go to the readings. I don’t have to go to the parties. I felt this resistance to my life in New York. I quit my job at an MFA program and went fully self-employed. And that made room for Rose Books.

Photograph by Noel McGrath

Let’s get into the Culture Diet questions. What was the last film you watched that you loved?

My friend turned me on to this Mike Leigh movie called Naked that helped me with the book I’m writing. It has a lot of intense scenes that were built from improvised dialogue. I’m also obsessed with this A24 movie called Under the Silver Lake. It speaks to the desire for mystery in a way that I find really intriguing. It has this noir element to it, but takes place in contemporary times in Silver Lake. I watch it, like, once a week.

Which musical artists have you had on repeat?

I really liked the newest Lana Del Rey album Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Boulevard. She did automatic singing for it—she would go into the studio without music and sing whatever came to her mind. Then, a producer would help her add music later based on melody. There’s a strangeness to this record, and it doesn’t sound overly polished. I also got into the album I Don’t Feel Well by Pluralone. It’s mostly piano, and I love piano-based music.

What books or magazines are currently on your nightstand?

I’m currently reading “The Passion According to G.H.” by Clarice Lispector. I like Forever magazine, too, which was started by Anika Levy and Madeline Cash. Anika was in a class I taught before she did Forever, so I’ve known her for a couple of years.

Where do you usually like to shop?

I love Catbird jewelry. I still buy from there all the time. I buy a lot of clothes from COS—is that basic?

I will also shout out McNally Jackson bookstore. They have been amazing about working with an independent press. Not only are they competent, but they also care. Their recommendations are great, too. I can’t get enough of them.

Source: W Magazine

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