Featuring authors with experiences ranging from surviving the near-capsizing of a crabbing boat to a doctor who found a passion for poetry after four decades of medical practice, WSU Press has launched a new imprint aimed at a wider audience of bibliophiles.
Basalt Books aims to publish general interest titles for readers ranging from young children to adults—all with a connection to the Northwest. It’s a departure from the norm for WSU Press, which traditionally publishes largely academic texts, said Editor-in-Chief Linda Bathgate.
“This new imprint expands our audience beyond the core group of historians and people interested in scholarly topics, and opens up our ability to publish good stories that have the potential to generate a stronger revenue stream than academic titles,” Bathgate said.
Books published by WSU Press have to undergo a rigorous peer review process and be approved by its editorial board. Works that have not been peer reviewed or approved by the board stood little chance, meaning that authors with potentially compelling projects have had to look elsewhere for publication.
In hopes of expanding its offerings and generating more sales, several members of the WSU Press team put together a proposal to start a new imprint that would cater to authors with great non-academic ideas. It’s a move many university presses are making in an effort to stabilize their bottom line, Bathgate said. WSU Press’ proposal to launch Basalt Books was approved in October 2020.
The preferred choice from a marketing survey, the name Basalt Books alludes to the connections between the Pacific Northwest—home to one of the volcanic rock’s largest accumulations—and readers in other places, since basalt is common all over the world. So far, Basalt has published one book and has two more in production, with three others planned for release this fall.
“Writing While Masked: Reflections on 2020 and Beyond,” was the first project to be published by Basalt Books. Originally self-published by a group of Seattle writers, the work includes essays and poems from the authors about life during the pandemic.
Laura Celise Lippman, a retired medical doctor, was among those who contributed to the project. The women’s writing group was forced onto Zoom, but members took the pandemic as an opportunity to write about its effects as well as those of the contentious 2020 election and the racial reckoning that unfolded following the death of George Floyd.
“We cold-called WSU Press,” Lippman said. “We told WSU we had a pandemic book that was doing well but we were in over our heads with marketing and distribution and asked if they had any interest. Linda called us back and said it sounded interesting and asked us to send it over, I thought, by god they are interested.”
Lippman’s poem “Psilocybe Love Story” is one of several of her pieces included in the book. Stuck inside during the pandemic, Lippman was reminded of days spent inside during harsh winters and the longing she felt for the outdoors. She tapped into a memory of her husband coming to live with her in Washington and the time spent foraging for mushrooms on the Olympic Peninsula.
“At that time of writing, instead of feeling overwhelmed with dread, it made me feel love for the cold, wet lush exuberance of the rain forest,” Lippman said.
Steve Orsini, author of “Nightmare on the Scottie: The Maiden Voyage of a Doomed King Crabber,” was searching for a publisher for his memoir about a sea voyage he had made some five decades prior. WSU Press was one of two publishers listed in a trade magazine as being interested in maritime stories, so Orsini reached out. He waited a year for Basalt Books to come together after pandemic-related delays and will have his book published in the coming weeks.
“I just trusted them,” Orsini said. “Linda was always excited about the book, and I figured WSU is in my backyard, so if things go crazy, I can drive to WSU to hash things out.”
In 1969, Orsini and a friend agreed to crew a new king crab
ber boat from Mobile, Alabama through the Panama Canal en route to Alaska, where king crab fishing had taken off. Almost immediately, the four-person crew was bombarded by 50-70 knot winds for nearly a week straight. Before reaching the canal, the boat was hit by a rogue wave off the coast of Honduras, sending the vessel onto its side. The ship righted itself, and the crew had the story of a lifetime.
Orsini wrote everything down during the trip, but “life takes over,” and the pages were put in a drawer for decades. After retiring, he pulled the pages out of that drawer and finished it. Among the pages and floppy discs was an exciting sea story, but Orsini had to spend considerable time rewriting prose that had become dated and bringing a more refined structure. He also reached out to his fellow crew member and has incorporated photos from the trip into the finished product.
Tom Haig, a WSU alumnus, is looking forward to his memoir being published by Basalt Books this fall. His book focuses on his journey from professional high diver to disability advocate after a bicycle accident left him paralyzed.
“It’s a story of a professional athlete who went from jumping off 80-foot towers to not being able to jump six inches off the ground,” Haig said.
Haig began journaling while traveling internationally as a professional high diver. For seven years, he never spent more than four months in the same country, and spent much of his time writing thousands of pages about his experiences. After his accident, he spent several years working for Adidas before traveling to India with his brother. While there, Haig had the time necessary to edit his writing into a cohesive book.
Over the next decade, he traveled across the world making documentaries about disability communities in Africa and Asia, adding those experiences to his book project. He also found time to earn a second bachelor’s degree, this one from WSU in broadcast journalism, in 2009.
After getting a contract offer for his book from Bathgate, Haig opted to travel to Pullman to meet the WSU Press team as well as see the Cougs play at Beasley Coliseum.
“I was super excited by how supportive they were,” Haig said. “I really see WSU as this land of opportunity, first while I was there as a student, and now again with my book.”