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Columbia College Chicago
Victor David Giron
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Victor David Giron

Photo Cred. Jacob Knabb
Doing It All
Interview conducted by Malissa Stark
Photo credit: Jacob Knabb
Victor David Giron is a literary dynamo. His publishing label, Curbside Splendor, was born with his book, Sophomoric Philosophy, the 2011 Latino Books into Movies Award winner. Curbside Splendor has been called “one of the most prolific independent presses born out of Chicago” by Chicago Literati. After landing a deal with Consortium Distribution, they are publishing more books than ever, including Samantha Irby’s essay collection, Meaty, a Barnes & Noble Writer Discovery winner. Giron is also part owner of Beauty Bar, fitting since he is also an accountant at Jim Beam. Yeah, that Jim Beam. He found time to sit down and answer some questions for the Publishing Lab about writing, his press, and sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll.

Publishing Lab: A lot of aspiring and emerging writers struggle to find time to write yet you manage to have a writing career alongside all you do at Curbside Splendor. How do you find the time?

Victor David Giron: Well to be honest, I really don’t, not these days at least. I am slowly trying to work on my next novel White Hallways but at this rate it will not come out until the next decade. The thing is, I don’t really consider myself a writer. What I mean by that is that besides writing my novel Sophomoric Philosophy, I’ve never really written anything of “creative” substance. I write all the time for work, as a financial controller, but that’s different. I’ve always loved reading stories, novels, and while in high school and college I had this secret yearning to be a novelist. I thought it would be a fun thing to be.

I ended up pursuing a career in business. However, I kept as a life goal that I would write a book just for the sake of doing it, and that’s what I did. In the process of working with my editor and learning how you go about getting a book published, I decided to explore self-publishing. But I didn’t want to just flat out self-publish. I thought it would be fun to create an identity, a faux publishing label, and that gave birth to Curbside Splendor. I had no intention of getting into publishing but I enjoyed the process of putting a book together so much—working with the editor, the artist, the designer, the publicity, the branding—that I decided to keep going. Now we’re publishing twelve books this fall, eight next spring and Summer, and hopefully lots more thereafter.

PL: So you just fell in love with the publishing side of the process. What would you say catches your eye in a submitted manuscript, what do you fall in love with? 

VDG: I think of the books we do in terms of projects, and that ultimately our authors are our agents, that we represent them and our job is to bring their artistic vision into full reality, and perhaps take it to a level they may have never imagined. With that said, it’s not just about the manuscript. For me it’s the author and the manuscript combined, and whether they as an artist are someone we feel will work with us to produce a great product and work to have it reach its potential. Sure there may be times when the art of the writing will stand alone, but to me that’s a bit rare. To really move the project, the author plays a critical role and we’re looking for authors who act as our partner in this sense. 

PL: Do you think you can pinpoint what it was about Sophomoric Philosophy that allowed it to be so successful?

VDG: Well that’s easy. It has sex, drugs, rock n’ roll, and a few brilliant high school party scenes. Ha, but seriously, it’s a very visual and auditory book. I think I reference over eighty songs in it. People have asked me if the book is really me just writing about music, like every scene is a riff on a particular song. Since the book mostly takes place in the late eighties and early nineties, I’m referencing music of that era. But also, what’s unique about the book is that although it’s the classic coming-of-age story, it features a main character who is first generation Mexican-American growing up in an diverse, hard-working suburb of Chicago surrounded by first-generation immigrants from all over the world. So, it’s the story of these kids whose parents grew up in different countries, and they’re not just growing up and figuring out how to be boys, and then men, but also learning to be “American”. It’s a very personal book in that it’s semi-autobiographical, and although I don’t spend much time these days thinking about it and promoting it, I’m very proud of it and from time to time I pick it up and flip through it and inevitably it brings a smile to my face. I would love to see the movie version of Sophomoric Philosophy. I think it would be rad.

PL: So you’re a fan of the “write what you know” philosophy?

VDG: Yes, completely. Understanding this concept is what allowed me to take the leap of faith and actually write a book. Sophomoric Philosophy initially started out as me writing down high school and college memories just out of sheer boredom. I never maintained a journal growing up so it was somewhat therapeutic. When I read books like Joe Meno’s Hairstyles of the Damned, saw movies like Dazed & Confused, and later realized these works were based in real life, it dawned on me that what I was working on was the start to my own novel. I am amazed when I read stuff that clearly isn’t based in reality, because I just don’t have that type of creativity or imagination. We’ve published a few books at Curbside that are on that side of the spectrum, surreal or fantastical, but ultimately I’m very passionate about stories that are clearly based in reality.

PL: You talk about your book with such enthusiasm. Which do you prefer, publishing or being published?

VDG: That’s a hard one. I love what I’m doing now as a publisher. I wish I could do it all the time, that it would be my full-time job. I get such a thrill in working with the editors, writers, artists, designers to see the whole thing come together, and then working like crazy to get folks to read and write about it. The joys I see the author is experiencing in seeing their dream come true. I can relate because I felt that in seeing Sophomoric Philosophy come to life. So although I’m not being published myself, I sort of re-live it every time we publish a book. In that sense being published and publishing has become synonymous for me. I would like to publish another book of my own, at some point, but that’s not my focus right now.

PL: What can we look forward to reading from Curbside this upcoming season?

VDG: We’ve got twelve amazing books coming out. What I love about our catalog is its diversity. Not just in the sense that we have authors from diverse ethnicities, and genders, but also in style and genres. Our mission is to publish work that celebrates the delicate point where gritty urban life and art intersect. This mission statement gives us a lot of liberty, a lot of range, and so in our catalog you’ll find work ranging from the in-your-face gritty reality of Samantha Irby’s essay collection Meaty that Barnes & Noble has selected for their Discover Great New Writers Program and will be carried and displayed prominently at all B&N stores nationwide, to the highly surreal and fleeting story collection Everything Flows by musician and novelist James Greer that Publisher’s Weekly has described as something “halfway between the mind of God and a vivid dream...” Then we have Zero Fade, an amazing young adult debut novel by Chicagoan Chris Terry, Kiss As Many Women As You Can, a lovely postcard/art book by L.A. based poet/writer Franki Elliot and Chicago based artist Shawn Stucky, and lots more. All twelve titles are amazing in their own way.

PL: There’s been a lot of buzz about Curbside Splendor recently. What’s your take on that?

VDG: I just think it’s that we’re putting out some really great books. The authors are really interesting people and artists, the books pop in how they’re designed, and the writing is fun to read. It’s also unusual for a venture like this to get started during the decline of the traditional publishing business model. I think that as the larger publishing industry changes there’s an opportunity for small, more agile, and more art and lifestyle-oriented businesses like us to thrive. I still and will continue to think of every single one of our books as art projects, with the goal of making a piece of art that can be accessed by many, in different formats, print and digital. We’ve also taken a pretty significant leap in less than three years, going from a self-publishing venture, to a micro-basement press, to now on the verge of becoming a thriving indie trade publisher. We’re a buzz about all of this every single day.

PL: Do you have advice for emerging writers who are starting to think about submitting for publishing?

VDG: Start small and think big. Think about the target audience and how you connect. Know your publisher isn’t going to do all the work and miraculously going to make your book sell thousands. You need to be ready to hustle and convince others who are not your friends and family that it’s worth their time to read your book. Be 100% committed to your project and really own it. Picture yourself marketing your book. In fact, get out and do live readings. Read it out loud yourself. Know that books generally don’t sell much at all and it requires a lot of hard work and luck to sell any in type of significant quantities.

Do a lot of research on publishers and be sure you’re submitting to publishers you’ve become familiar with and you think your work is compatible with what they are doing.

Don’t rush it. Publishing a book is general a very long and tiring process. Tons of patience is required. Ultimately, just do it, write it finally, and get it out there.