BHP Celebrates the Little Sister of the Great American Novel

Getting some children and some adults to read is like giving cats a bath, no emerges unscathed. But, perhaps by making less frightening options available people will embrace reading in greater numbers; like literary catnip, rather than shouted threats and smacking rulers.

The Last Book Store in one of Downtown Los Angeles’ newly glamorous neighborhoods is a curious treasure. Long ago it was a bank. The old vault now holds all the crime and mystery books. There the Black Hill Press Anniversary party celebrated the little sister of the great American novel, the novella; not too long and not too short.

Black Hill Press (BHP) co-founder, Kevin Staniec said the novella “is the perfect format for a the new generation of readers and people who may not have picked up a book because a novel can sometimes be intimidating,” he said.

Personal struggles with attention span kept Staniec from reading. “For me, just so you know; ADD, OCD, like crazy and I would pick up a novel, I’d get through the first chapter.” By the second chapter, however, he’d read the first sentence over, and over again because he’d get distracted by an image or idea that came to him from the words.

It wasn’t until Staniec read Steinbeck’s novella, “Of Mice and Men,” that he found a passion for reading. It captured his attention in a way that no other narrative format ever had. His attention hasn’t shifted since; BHP has been in the works for six years.

January 2014 is the actual one year calendar anniversary of BHP, but the Oct. 19, 2013 celebration was in honor of a full year’s worth of published novella collections. For each quarterly collection, Staniec and his team curate three novellas from different genres and authors that compliment each other, but help encourage people to read out side of their comfort zone.

The variety of novella subject matter can range from a narrative of introspection over the tragedies of a young woman’s life to the ironic love letters a mother pens to her unborn child. And, as authors and artists discussed their work in panel discussions and interviews, a young father read to his small son on one of the big couches at the back of the book store. The boy couldn’t have been more than five years old and it was nearly 9:30 p.m. Most parents might have seen this as a display of bad or unstructured parenting. But, somehow the literary wonderland contained in the book store seemed more like an extension of a bedtime story.
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Childhood and structured living ended early and suddenly for author, Corrie Greathouse. When Greathouse was just 13 years old, her mother passed away. The experience led to many years of personal struggles. Her novella, “Another Name for Autumn,” while not autobiographical, does contain elements that parallel her life. “It touches pretty deeply on love, loss and isolation. What it is to go through those things… and what it is to come out the other side,” she said. “And that is where it really ties in most to my personal experience.”

She channels the lessons of her journey into helping others build hope for their own journey. In addition to writing, she works at a half-way house, raises money to send children of cancer patients to Camp Kesem and volunteers her time to tutor homeless children for Schools on Wheels.

Greathouse describes her novella as a “letter to a stranger. The letter to the author of a book of dreams, that the narrator finds one day,” she said. “She takes down from the closet a box of things that she never intended to unpack, and in this box she finds a book of dreams and she starts to read it and as she reads it, she writes a letter to the author and opens up about her experiences.”

The great purpose behind all of Greathouse’s work is connection; to connect people who are experiencing love, loss and isolation with “people who get it,” people who have gone through it, whatever it is and come out the other side.

Dealing with a very literal connection with a great existential disconnection, author Arianna Basco read from her novella, “Palms Up.” Her story explores the irony of her new role as an expectant mother compared to her formerly glamorous life. It is made up of humorous and poignant letters/journal entries to her unborn child; “Dear kid, my ankles and knees, what did you do with them? Hide and seek?”

BHP appears to be to engage and embrace modern readers by adapting to their needs, however traditional or progressive they may be. But, straddling the traditional and the modern isn’t without its ironic traps, like having a publishing house event at a venue called “The Last Book Store” when novella sales are almost evenly split between both print and digital formats.

“The novella is our core. That’s our mission,” Staniec said. “Our growing family of writers and artists are dedicated to the novella—a distinctive, often overlooked literary form that offers the focus of a short story and the scope of a novel. We believe a great story is never defined by its length.”

Though the cat bath scratches and reading battles may make great stories and possibly even a novella one day, it is wonderful that access to a greater variety of options can help minimize the scarring.

Black Hill Press titles are distributed by Small Press Distribution. Visit or email to request Black Hill Press novellas.

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