Maya Stein, Amy Tingle and Liz Kalloch (below, from the left) talk about their new life and bold publishing venture in Belfast, Maine


interviews by NANCY GORDON
photography courtesy TOAD HALL EDITIONS


The three of you are a unique mix of talent, friendship, business and marriage. How did you all come together in Maine?

Maya Stein: I would say it was one part coronavirus, but about 99 parts everything else: fate, magic, life trajectories and leap-taking. Amy and I landed in mid-coast Maine on a friend’s recommendation that we visit the area. We had no idea how quickly we would fall in love with this place or how a single day in October 2019 and a lunch at Chase’s in Belfast would seal the deal for our arrival here. All I know is that most of it (with the exception of the coronavirus part) has felt almost breathtakingly easy.

Liz Kalloch: Maya and Amy arrived here at Toad Hall in early 2020, and I came for what was to be a few days in September of that same year. A series of unexpected conversations and decisions and, 13 months later, I am also here at Toad Hall.

How did the small press Toad Hall Editions come about?

Maya Stein: The three of us have, in one way or another, been creating books together for a number of years. We each bring a different set of backgrounds and experiences to the mix, but these aspects have overlapped as a result of our prior work together. It seemed almost ridiculous NOT to create a small collaborative press. All of the elements were right here.

And the name Toad Hall?

Maya Stein: The house we live in was nicknamed “Toad Hall” by its previous owner, whose children grew up reading The Wind in the Willows. Since our small press is based right here, it seemed fitting. We were excited to create a logo with a toad in it!

Liz Kalloch: Amy and I in particular were The Wind in the Willows fans as kids, and so it was destined. Parenthetically, I’ve gone back to look at Wind in the Willows and have since discovered that Toad was quite the misogynist, so my secret hope is that we can give him a makeover in that department and change his attitude.

What types of books and magazines does Toad Hall publish?

Maya Stein: We look for those who are largely underrepresented in traditional publishing houses, and have focused almost exclusively on women, LGBTQ+, minority and gender-diverse writers. We are not married to one genre or another and are particularly interested in work that defies categorization. We also publish two literary magazines—kerning (for adults) and Buttered Toast (for young writers under 18).

Is this the first time any of you has owned your own business?

Maya Stein: No. Amy and I founded The Creativity Caravan (first named Food for the Soul Train) in 2013—we were based in New Jersey and facilitated creative arts workshops in communities around the country. I also have been facilitating writing workshops on my own since 2010.

Amy Tingle: Before Maya and I started The Creativity Caravan, I had a small business called Brave Girls Art. I taught a combination of creative arts and self-empowerment workshops for girls ages 6+. I had a shoestring budget so I used a beautiful studio my friends had in their home in a trade for letting their daughter, who was 8 at the time, attend all my classes. It was a wonderful barter and I know we all benefitted. I ran that program for about six years before Maya and I met and, of course, I made sure both Maya and Liz came in as guest teachers!

Liz Kalloch: It’s the first time I’ve owned a small business that wasn’t mine alone. I’ve worked as a freelance designer and illustrator for many years, but the experience of working and running a small publishing company with two other people has taught me a lot about how I work within a group. It’s expanded my understanding of my strengths and weaknesses and it’s brought me a tremendous amount of satisfaction, both professional and personal.

What role do you each play in Toad Hall?

Maya Stein: I am the editorial director.

Amy Tingle: I’m the creative director, which is probably a more amorphous role than Maya or Liz has but I consider myself the ringmaster. I’ve got a pretty wide lens and I know they say no one can truly multi-task but I’ve got a hand in all the pots and I keep them rotating on the heat. I’m part of both the design team and the editorial team and I handle a good chunk of the marketing. But that being said, we all have a hand (or fingers) in everything.

Liz Kalloch: I’m the design director, and that said, I think we all play multiple roles at Toad Hall Editions. My purview is the design and overall feel of the business and the products we create, but I’m deeply involved in the editorial decisions and discussions, as Amy and Maya are involved in design decisions and directions. We all bring different experiences and backgrounds to Toad Hall and I think my design focus is only strengthened by their input into what I’m creating, as I think my perspective adds to some of the editorial decisions.

Liz, what is your favorite part of book design?

Liz Kalloch: The first planning meeting—that moment where anything is possible, that moment when we come together and discuss all the hopes and dreams the author has, imagery, color and special printing ideas (like foiling on the cover, “French flaps” for a perfect bound, etc.) but that first ideation meeting is always so full of promise and excitement. Typically, budget changes that “anything is possible” feeling, but I like to hold on to the buoyant feelings of the first meeting.

Who are your alter egos/secret identities?

Maya Stein: I would say it is the head clown at Ringling Bros. Circus. (I met him once, by the way, in the late 1990s, during my stint at a PR firm that represented the Northern California tour of the circus.)

Liz Kalloch: My secret identity is a 1940s private detective, who solves missing persons cases. I might wear a trench coat, but it’s violet, not taupe.

Time for secrets … What’s one thing not many people know about each of you?

Maya Stein: I learned how to ride a unicycle when I was about 6. My grandfather taught me in the carpeted hallway outside of his apartment in Culver City, Los Angeles. Every time I get on a unicycle, which is about once every 10 years, my grandfather’s voice is in my ear.

Amy Tingle: Hmmm. I’m a pretty open book but maybe that I know a ridiculous number of song lyrics and can sing a wide swathe of songs that come on the radio from multiple eras. The funny thing is, I couldn’t sing them if you stuck a microphone in front of my face and asked me to recall the song. But if it’s on the radio, I’m belting out every verse.

Liz Kalloch: When I was in college I co-wrote a novel that was published by Harlequin Romances. The heroine was named Gwynn and she had gray eyes.

Amy, your early career was in children’s publishing. Does it still influence you today?

Amy Tingle: It does because I was exposed to so much whimsy in that job. I worked with great children’s authors—Eric Carle, Sandra Boynton, pop-up master Robert Sabuda, Andrea Davis Pinkney, Ian Falconer and so many more. I’m old enough that nothing was digital back then. We received the artwork from the artists directly in big cardboard packages, sometimes the artists carried it in themselves. It was magic watching the words and images come together. Books are magic. I’m lucky to still be working in this medium and publishing in print. A friend from back in my early publishing days said to me when she heard about our new venture, “full circle.”  She was right.

Maya, tell us about your coaching and how/if it impacts your own writing.

Maya Stein: I’m of the mind the how you do one thing is how you do most everything. I am a long-hauler in terms of my writing practice. Super patient. To me, it’s about small increments of change and progress over a long span of time. My writing practice has greatly informed how I meet people, where they are in terms of helping them to develop and deepen their own work incrementally. I am not a whip-cracker by any means. Instead, I believe in a soulful, earnest, tender attention, and celebrating meaningful milestones, no matter how small.

What do you each love most about what you are doing at Toad Hall?

Maya Stein: It’s like putting on a pair of jeans that fit in all of the places you want them to fit. It’s not like it’s not hard work, because it is, but what we are doing at Toad Hall feels so in line with our skills, our capacities, and the ways that we want to make an impact.

Amy Tingle: I love that we are creating a community. We recognize that there is a collective energy supporting us. We deeply believe in what we are creating and I think others can feel that and are cheering us on, yes, but they are also circling and giving us support in ways we can both see and feel. It’s amazing.

Liz Kalloch: Collaboration and working together with an ease that still surprises me.

Whose book would you love to publish and why?

Maya Stein: I would love to keep bringing into being quiet books that land in a deep and meaningful way to others. It’s really not about the “who.”

Amy Tingle: I would love to publish a book with Bisa Butler, the incredible fiber artist who is having one hell of a historic moment right now. Her work is incredibly inspiring and I’ve heard her speak a couple of times this year online; she’s a great storyteller. Getting the chance to reproduce her artwork and blend them with her family stories would be pretty high on my list.

Liz Kalloch: I’d love to publish a book co-authored by Debbie Millman and Roxane Gay about their life together and how they inform and advise each other as artists, as women and as co-creators.

“World Domination Table” in your kitchen? Tell us about the metaphor.

Maya Stein: That’s our dining room table, which is located in our kitchen. Everything happens there, from ideation to execution. Right now there’s a bowl of apples and a small glass dish of pistachios at the center of the table. Usually there are bills and flyers. It’s necessarily messy, with occasional moments of clarity.

Liz Kalloch: The table where all the work is done, from the ideas, and the “What if we …” conversations, to the editing and the design and the shipping and the planning. It’s Toad Hall Headquarters, and also the gathering spot, the watering hole and the place where all the good stuff happens.

Liz, how has living in so many places and having such a wide variety of jobs in your early life impacted your design work today?

Liz Kalloch: Hmmm, good question, and one I think about often. I feel like our origins, the places and the people we started our lives with, inform so many of the ways we express ourselves through our art, our writing and our voices. So I think all the places I’ve lived, the varied jobs I’ve worked, have gifted me with a wider lens, a deeper understanding of all the different ways we can possibly see things. I’ve not escaped wanting to run with “the herd” or fit into an easily describable demographic (though I’ve never really done that successfully), I know that my true self is always looking for that one thing that’s not like the others, that lone idea that’s standing just at the edge of the crowd. I think my early years gifted me with a yen and an understanding for what the larger world might call offbeat, or even out of sync, but I can see stories that will open our eyes and change our minds.

Liz, you’re currently living with your two married best friends, Amy (extrovert) and Maya (introvert). How would you describe yourself and the role you often play?

Liz Kalloch: I think I land somewhere in the middle—a dance-walker, if you will. On any given day I can lean towards being a solitary introvert and then swing into extravagantly long (and loud) conversations. The Myers-Briggs has me teetering into the Introvert category, but only by about 5 points, so though my Introvert is alive and well, when I’m feeling her, my Extrovert definitely comes out to play.

Amy, as a creative director, what aspects of motherhood have informed your creative practice?

Amy Tingle: How to keep a lot of freaking balls in the air and how to herd the stragglers. It’s my forte.

Maya, when did you first call yourself a poet?

Maya Stein: When I was 9 and I wrote my very first poem, “Papa Tree and the Seasons.” I have a copy of it that I bound into a sort of book with illustrations. I don’t think I have ever doubted my instinct to create. That first poem was a kind of launching pad into the world of words, but I have always been—as far back as a I remember—someone who is intensely interested in making things from scratch, in creating new worlds, in a kind of invention.

Maya, what inspired your book The Poser?

Maya Stein: The pandemic restrictions definitely got this book rolling—I started following a Dutch Instagram account of people re-creating classic paintings and then tried a few of my own. Amy suggested that I try using contemporary artworks in my re-creations and that got me on a daily kick of doing re-enactments. I think I knew there was a book in there somewhere right at the start, but I waited until I had enough re-enactments under my belt to make one. What makes this book different is that it’s not just images of the re-enactments or the original artworks that were the inspiration for them. I also interviewed the artists who created these works and wrote essays on the experience of each re-creation. There’s a lot in there!

Name three aspects or things you each love that makes Toad Hall’s publications so interesting.

Maya Stein:
1. That we are small and so there’s an intimacy of attention to everything we do.

2. That we are designing a model of publishing based on the equal distribution of profits to the writers and artists whose work we publish.

3. That we are based in Maine!

Amy Tingle:
Collaboration. Community. Commitment. Is that corny??

Liz Kalloch:
1. Women publishing women’s voices.

2. Our diminutive size and how that demands a focus and an attention to all the things we do.

3. That we are actively trying to develop an alternative publishing model, one that helps the author to thrive and demands that we look at the model that’s been in existence since pretty much forever, which largely favors the publisher and champions the mainstream voices.

What characteristics do you look for in books and magazines to publish?

Maya Stein: As with anything I read, I want to feel expanded, deepened, inspired, challenged and changed. That is also true for the work I want Toad Hall Editions to publish.

Amy Tingle: Voice voice voice. I LOVE a trustworthy narrator or even an untrustworthy one if they have a strong, compelling narrative voice that pulls me in and makes me want to cozy up to a fire with them and listen to them tell stories all night long.

Liz Kalloch: An honesty of voice. I think the work that we’ve received that I’ve been the most drawn to is writing that I immediately feel like I can trust the narrator completely, that they know who they are, that the journey they’re going to take me on will be honest and true. That their story challenges me to see new things—or old things in different ways.

What do you each hope to give people through the books you publish?

Maya Stein: A feeling of being seen, known and understood. A feeling of connection. A feeling of enrichment and growth. And hope. I’m a big believer in the relationship between creativity and hope.

Amy Tingle: A place to land, to feel transformed and mostly to feel seen.

Liz Kalloch: A sense of understanding. A sense that they are seen and heard, because the stories they read through Toad Hall Edition’s work reflects their story too.

If in 150 years, sciences fail to save us and all that is left is a book about your life… What would the title be and what would the blurb tell us about you?

Maya Stein: I think this poem of mine, from January 24, 2017, might suffice:

cut and paste

I wonder sometimes if I am writing the same poem over and over.
If I’ve lived in the rooms of the lines so long, I’ve left crease marks on the furniture.
Images, words have gone soft, sinking further away from their edges.
The hazy pattern of raindrops on the windows, the dim ache in the heart.
This isn’t the time to shuffle the tiles, hope a fresh arrangement will spell something else.
Today’s prayer needs its own incantation, separate from the old chorus.
I don’t know how to begin, exactly; my hands, like clockwork, reach for scissors and thread.
I stitch poems to the backs of those that came before.
Underneath, the table bears the marks and scraps of industry.
What has been discarded in the name of art is also art.

Amy Tingle: Taking a Leap in 8 Parts. And the cover would have a photo of me the day I jumped off a three-story high dive in Switzerland into swimming pool overlooking a majestic snow-capped mountain range. I believe whole-heartedly in pushing past fear and stepping directly toward your own life. The character Maude in the movie Harold & Maude said it best: “A lot of people enjoy being dead. But they are not dead, really. They’re just backing away from life. Reach out. Take a chance. Get hurt, even. But play as well as you can. Go, team, go! Give me an L. Give me an I. Give me a V. Give me an E. L-I-V-E. LIVE!”

Liz Kalloch: Do You Walk to School, or Carry a Lunch: How to Change Direction and Still Get Where I was Going.

. . .


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