“I’ve always thought of myself as a little bit of a rebel,” says Lori Shwydky, a fourth-year Creative Writing student at VIU.
That was Shwydky’s thought process coming up with the first part of the name for her new publishing company, Rebel Mountain Press. The second part? Well, she loves mountains, but not actually climbing them. “I’m an armchair alpinist because I’m afraid of heights, so I have to read about it.”
Rebellion. Reading. A set of seemingly contradictory elements that blend together better than you might think.
It takes a certain kind of person to start a publishing company in an industry that has withstood sensational headlines such as “Ebooks overtake paperbacks: is this the death of the printed book?” (Telegraph) and “The printed book’s path to oblivion” (idealog.com). It takes someone who is willing to take a risk, yet cares deeply about books and the magical portals they can open.
Shwydky, small in stature, with short brown hair, is wearing a blank, logo-less t-shirt and blue jeans. She walks into VIU’s campus coffee shop with her backpack slung over one shoulder, blending seamlessly, at 53 years old, with every other student who walks through the door. She seems a little nervous at first, but when books get brought up, her passion is palpable.
“I think I always kind of had a dream of having a publishing company. I love the whole book world, and just the idea of being part of it—it always struck me as something I really wanted to do,” she says.
Shwydky moved to the Island from Vancouver five years ago. She has studied everything from Environmental Sciences at Langara College to Video and Integrated Media at Emily Carr University, but the Creative Writing program at VIU will be her first completed degree. Her work background includes 25 years of accounting—not exactly what you would expect from a Creative Writing major.
Shwydky started her studies at VIU in hopes of writing and developing her own young adult fiction. She had the dream of one day starting her own press, but never put much thought into really doing it—until she took an Introduction to Publishing class taught by Joy Gugeler.
Gugeler, who is also a publishing executive at Chameleon Consulting, is an industry veteran, having held editorial positions at a long list of presses, such as ECW Press, Beach Holme Publishing, and Raincoast Books. She also teaches at Simon Fraser University in the summer, and is an online instructor in Substantive and Stylistic Editing at Ryerson University, a course she created.
“After taking Joy’s courses, I started to think that it was actually realizable. Before that, I thought it was just a pipedream,” says Shwydky.
Shwydky’s pipedream became a reality when Rebel Mountain’s first title, In Our Own Voice – 2015: An anthology of creative fiction by Vancouver Island young writers, was released in August of this year.
In Our Own Voice is a collection of creative fiction and poetry by students from grade eight to 12 on Vancouver Island. Submissions were received as part of the first year of the In Our Own Voice contest, created by Shwydky and her spouse Cherly Ann, offering winners cash prizes and publication of their submissions in the anthology. The prizes were paid out of Shwydky’s own pocket, and she says that the revenue from the anthology will help pay the printing costs. Five contributors— Morgan Cross, Lucy Dabbs, Andrew Jutte, Holly Moonen, and Ashianna Ralynn—read some of their work from In Our Own Voice at Word Vancouver, one of Canada’s largest literary festivals, in September.
Cross, who won first prize in the grade 11-12 fiction category with her story “Sunday Morning,” says her experience with Shwydky has been immensely rewarding. “Lori has been a great mentor over the last few months. From helping me through editing, to giving me the chance to read and have my work publicly known, she has been a very important person in my life.”
The theme for the contest was “issues facing teens,” such as self-identity, relationships, gender issues, body image, stress, sexual orientation, and environmental sustainability.
“I want to do issues that are relevant to teens. Things that they want to read about, things they want to write about,” says Shwydky.
Gugeler believes the In Our Own Voice contest is a great opportunity for young student writers. “I think that so many high school students have creative aspirations and turn to writing on or offline to express the turbulent feelings they experience at this stage of their lives in order to make sense of them. Some publish fiction or journalism in newspapers or yearbooks, but a contest to be published in a book is a real boost to their career goals, as an impressive portfolio piece early in their life as an aspiring writer. It is a huge vote of confidence and great practice for their future.”
Ralynn, who won the poetry prize for her poem “On Survival,” says the experience has been dream like. “When I found out that I won the poetry prize, I was astonished. I had never won anything before, and I never thought that I would win a prize for my writing. I never dreamed that I would be published and get to speak in front of so many people, and especially at an event like Word Vancouver.”
In Our Own Voice is available in several bookstores throughout Vancouver Island, in high school libraries in Nanaimo, Comox, and Courtenay, and in the VIU and Vancouver Island Regional Libraries. The first printing of 100 books is nearly sold out. From young authors getting their first taste of publication, to the new friendships being formed, Rebel Mountain Press has been a success for everyone involved.
That success, Shwydky hopes, will help bring in young adult novel submissions in the future. Shwydky is excited about the prospect of Rebel Mountain Press publishing its first novel and says she has learned many lessons through the challenges she faced.
“The biggest challenge was the amount of work the whole process took. From the initial call for submissions to schools about the writing contest, to editing the stories, typesetting, design, and then organizing the book launches, and marketing of the book, it was a lot more work than I had originally anticipated,” she says.
Gugeler says she is proud of Shwydky and thinks she is exactly the type of person that the publishing industry needs to thrive.
“I think it’s a very ambitious and brave act in 2015 to start a press, but it’s also what the industry needs—a new vanguard of publishers with new business models and economies of scale that can spot talent and audiences and put them together. All hail the new generation.”