Unicorn-Level Books with Two Dollar Radio

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Show Notes

Eric Obenauf and Eliza Wood-Obenauf discuss the beginnings and evolution of Two Dollar Radio, an independent publisher, bookstore, and vegan café based in Columbus, Ohio. They share insight on starting a small press without a budget or connections; the origin of the “Two Dollar Radio” name; the benefits of being based outside of New York; what they look for when acquiring manuscripts; how they manage submissions; why they accept unsolicited and unagented manuscripts; their publisher mentoring program; publisher consolidation and industry challenges; why bookstore visitors are greeted by a unicorn mural; how a limerick by Lemony Snicket came to grace their menu; and a DIY spirit that extends to the bookstore and café, where Eric and Eliza have had a hand in making everything themselves, from the books to the furniture to the food.

Mentioned in this episode:



Eric Obenauf (00:00):
So there was this guy who came in and he was pretty drunk, and he said, "Don't mind me, I make more noise than a two dollar radio." So we've since come to realize that it's an expression for something cheap that might not function as well as it should.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:16):
Welcome to Page Count presented by the Ohio Center for the Book at Cleveland Public Library. This podcast celebrates authors, illustrators, librarians, booksellers, literary advocates, and readers in and from the state of Ohio.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:34):
I'm your host, Laura Maylene Walter, the Ohio Center for the Book Fellow and author of the novel BODY OF STARS. Today, we're speaking with Eliza Wood-Obenauf and Eric Obenauf, the founders of Two Dollar Radio, an independent publisher, bookstore, and vegan café based in Columbus, Ohio. Two Dollar Radio was founded in 2005 with the mission to reaffirm the cultural and artistic spirit of the publishing industry. Their books have received recognition from the National Book Foundation, Los Angeles Times, the New York Times Book Review, NPR, Slate, Salon, and many others. Eliza and Eric, welcome to the podcast. And thank you for being here.

Eliza Wood-Obenauf (01:12):
Thank you.

Eric Obenauf (01:12):
Yeah. Thanks for having us.

Laura Maylene Walter (01:14):
Well, let's start in the beginning back when you both came to Columbus and decided to start your own publishing company, can you take us back to that time and let us know how it all began and what your original vision was for Two Dollar Radio?

Eric Obenauf (01:27):
Well, I think in the time we were really just young and idealistic and probably didn't necessarily know any better. We didn't realize like all the actual work and elbow grease that would probably go into actually producing books. And so we were really just driven by this passion for books and enthusiasm for books and wanting to contribute to literary culture in a certain way. At the time, you know, we were both in our early twenties and we were reading a lot of books that were being put out by a lot of these small, independent presses. And for them, you know, I think it's coming on the heels of massive corporate consolidation in the post World War II era. And so it created this environment where independent publishers could come out of nowhere essentially, and craft an identity and make an impact immediately from the get go. And so we just had this idea of wanting to publish books without knowing the nuts and bolts that would go into it. And so I think that made us really crafty in our approach to publishing just hungry, I guess, in terms of trying to assert ourselves in that environment without necessarily like having a big budget or connections, any without having any budget or any connections.

Eliza Wood-Obenauf (02:47):
Yeah. It was an exciting time when we just had an idea and were not weighed down at all by the reality of what we were doing, because we didn't have any experience in the industry or knew anybody in the industry. So it was just like a pure idea that we were able to go forward with without the burden of insight.

Laura Maylene Walter (03:07):
<laugh> Yeah. Do you think you would have moved forward with the idea if you were more well versed in what the industry is like and all the challenges? I

Eric Obenauf (03:16):
Don't know. I mean, it's one of those things, like when you're young, you learn from experience and you learn from mistakes. And a lot of those mistakes that we made early on really helped us to not make those mistakes going forward throughout our career. So I think that it was all part of the learning process, but knowing everything that goes into it now, I think that we would be intimidated by starting a publishing company from scratch, which isn't to say that we wouldn't do it or that I wouldn't want to do it, but we'd probably have a lot more insight now after having done it for 17 years,

Eliza Wood-Obenauf (03:51):
Honestly, we probably would've been dissuaded if we had known more so. And everyone that all of the adults in our lives did basically try to dissuade us because they had more experience under their belts and knew what could go wrong, I guess.

Eric Obenauf (04:05):
But they always tried to dissuade us from anything, whether that's like kids or moving houses or opening a store, getting a dog, whatever.

Eliza Wood-Obenauf (04:15):

Laura Maylene Walter (04:15):
It's incredibly practical advice if someone tried to dissuade you from that, but also they were really, really wrong and I'm glad you proved them wrong because now you have Two Dollar Radio. Can you talk about the name Two Dollar Radio? It's an unusual name, so I'd love to hear the origin.

Eric Obenauf (04:31):
At the time we were living in San Diego and I was bartending at this hotel bar. And so a lot of times these people would come off the sport fishing boats and they'd just be like drunk. And so there was this guy who came in and he was pretty drunk and I was just like trying my best to ignore him and not serve him and just go about my business. And so he realized it and he said, "Don't mind me, I make more noise than a two-dollar radio." So we've since, you know, come to realize that it's an expression for something cheap that might not function as well as it should.

Eliza Wood-Obenauf (05:05):
But it was perfect timing because it was right. Like we knew we wanted to start a company together. We're both just really independent-minded and had finished college, but didn't wanna follow the normal track for job career advancement. It was just all these right things that came together at the right time, including that name.

Laura Maylene Walter (05:25):
The naming story, I think is even a bit inspirational to think that maybe you end up having one too many drinks and are being quite annoying to someone, but you might say something that, um, sets off the name of an independent publisher and bookstore. So maybe we can all take some inspiration from that. So I would love to know about operating as a publisher out of Columbus. So, you know, the corporate publishing world is largely based in New York. Can you talk a bit about what it's like to run a publishing house outside of New York? What are some of the benefits? Why does Columbus work for you and you know, maybe what are some of the challenges and has the pandemic shifted any of this either for you or for the landscape in general?

Eliza Wood-Obenauf (06:08):
Well, having lived in New York City ourselves, I can say the number one reason to not live there is the cost. It's just insanely prohibitive to be someone without financial means there. So we quickly learned that if we were gonna keep going on this path of having a startup business and having children, which we did at the same time, we couldn't keep going in New York City. So then it was just a matter of, well, where do we go? And with family roots here in Ohio, it made sense to help with our children. That's how we ended up in Ohio.

Eric Obenauf (06:43):
I think in terms of like starting out and being in New York initially and going over all those hurdles. I think that being in Columbus has allowed us to create an identity more so than if we were just another small press in New York and a lot of these mainstream publications, like the Washington post or the New York times when they do cover our books, they do for whatever reason, feel the need to point out that we're based in Columbus, Ohio, which they don't really do for anybody else. I think that we definitely feel like we're bringing a lot of this sort of like Midwestern punk ethos to the publishing company and that sort of thing. And so I think that it has allowed us to have this identity. I really appreciate being here and I appreciate the creative community of Columbus. When you might meet someone in a very like trafficked area with a lot of creatives, it's just like really dense. Like everyone wears their art on their sleeves I guess. Or like everyone's like a writer and you know that right up front. And I feel like being in Columbus, like everyone has these creative pursuits, but it's less in your face about it. And so I think that there's a lot more modesty and humility.

Eliza Wood-Obenauf (08:01):
Yeah. I was gonna say, I think what he's saying is there's more humility here. Yeah,

Eric Obenauf (08:05):

Eliza Wood-Obenauf (08:06):
Which we appreciate, we didn't say like Columbus, Ohio, that's where we need to be. But after we arrived here through other circumstances, we definitely wouldn't go anywhere else. Now that we have roots and feel so supported and included in the community, we're able to open a bookstore here, which has been even more exciting to reach people we wouldn't have otherwise reached because we were operating out of our living room for so long.

Laura Maylene Walter (08:32):
Yeah. I feel similarly about Cleveland. I think in terms of a place for writers and artists to live, it is a little more kind of behind the scenes, but that can be really good. And I've personally found it really good for my writing as well to be here and to have that time and low cost of living, to focus on it. Um, and I'll definitely want to ask more about the bookstore soon, but I was hoping you could describe the books that you publish. So, you know, your press has gained such a national reputation. I think your tagline is "Books too loud to ignore," which I would agree with. I always recommend THE BOOK OF X by Sarah Rose Etter, which is just this really strange, surreal ride. It's fabulous. A lot of fun. And you published in 2017 Hanif Abdurraqib's essay collection. THEY CAN'T KILL US UNTIL THEY KILL US, which really blew up, was really a sensation. So can you tell us about your list about the kinds of books that you're drawn to, what you're publishing and what you hope to publish in the future?

Eric Obenauf (09:29):
I think that we're drawn to bold literary fiction and topical essay collections. And I think that our tagline really encapsulates what we're searching for in terms of new manuscripts, which is just books too loud to ignore. And that can have many different faces. Like you point out Sarah Rose Etter's book, which is like a super dark feminist fairytale. And then Hanif's essay collection, which is that topical pop cultural essay collection. So like on the surface, those would seem really different, but they're both, I think really voice-driven. And in terms of the type of work that we're looking for, it can be stories that we might be familiar with, but if they're taking a creative or distinctive approach to how they're telling the story, that's something that's really attractive and then authority over the world that they're creating. That's something I feel like you can really pick out in the first paragraph.

Laura Maylene Walter (10:24):
I know writers listening to this will have a lot of questions about how they could get published by Two Dollar Radio. So first of all, how many books a year do you publish?

Eric Obenauf (10:35):
We come out with six books a year roughly, and we try to do those every other month so that they're not encroaching on one another sign. We didn't wanna be a book publisher that was publishing more books just because we could didn't want to necessarily contribute to that glut of book production. We're trying to take a really sort of like responsible tactful approach to the books that we publish. And we do accept unsolicited submissions. And in terms of the books that we take on, I'd say like half are agented and half are unagented, but I always tell writers that the best way to get to know us. And if we might be interested in their work is to read our other books.

Laura Maylene Walter (11:15):
Yeah, absolutely. I think writers hear this advice all the time, but writers, if you're listening really pay attention to it, it's so important to know, especially a small publisher like Two Dollar Radio that has distinct types of books or voices that they publish. I mean, very different, very original, definitely. But there is a certain flavor there. And so the only way you can get to know that is if you actually read their books and you should be reading their books anyway, I think. But yeah, I did wanna talk about that submission process. So if a writer is trying to get a book published by one of the Big 5 publishing houses, so the corporate publishing world, they need an agent, first of all. And then the agent submits their manuscript around to the publishers, smaller, independent presses. They can all work differently. Some of them only take agented submissions in kind of the same way others have a hybrid model.

Laura Maylene Walter (12:02):
And as you said, you take unsolicited manuscripts, which means you don't need an agent to submit to Two Dollar Radio. Can you talk about your decision behind that? Are you able to give us kind of a sneak peek into maybe roughly how many submissions you're getting? I imagine it has to be a lot. Can you just talk about that and both the benefits of opening it up so that you can hear from other types of writers who might not always have access to everything. So what are some of the benefits and also on your end? What are the challenges?

Eric Obenauf (12:32):
Well, I think in terms of the type of work that we're attracted to, it can be edgy and it might be considered esoteric to some, which is maybe to say that for an agent, it might be less saleable. They might consider it less saleable in terms of like approaching the big publishers. And so when agents do submit to us, they're typically like seem to be following one of two tracks, either they're super invested in the author's career and think that we'd be a good starting point for that author, or they've already exhausted all the options at the large publishers. And we're sort of like a last resort before they cut the author loose. But interestingly enough, the two books that we've been talking about that you mentioned, THE BOOK OF X and THEY CAN'T KILL US UNTIL THEY KILL US. Neither of those were agented. Hanif's book,

Eric Obenauf (13:20):
he had only put out a poetry collection at that point and had been publishing a few essays online. And so we actually approached him. And Sarah Rose Etter, the author of THE BOOK OF X, her book was unsolicited came to us through our general slush pile. And she just announced that she sold a new novel to Scribner that was preempted. So a lot of our authors do go on and publish with the big corporate publishers for subsequent books and that sort of thing. But it's very important to us to keep our submissions open because of the type of work that we're attracted to.

Eliza Wood-Obenauf (13:57):
I think it's just although our underdog mentality where we don't think that a writer needs to be preapproved by an agent in order for it to be considered by us. So I don't know if you said it already, but our catalog pretty much ends up like half agented submissions and half not. The only hurdle we throw up is a tiny $2 or $3 fee to do the submission. We use Submittable to manage everything. And that's just not because we're trying to get rich off of submissions, but because just to make people stop and think, you know, is Two Dollar Radio a good fit. And do you really, really, really wanna submit to us? So it's a tiny little fee and then we do ask them to fill out a paragraph, explaining why their manuscript would be a perfect fit for us. So it's kind of like asking if they've been thoughtful before they submit to us, but I don't know. Do you wanna answer how many submissions we get a year? I don't know the number off the top of my head.

Eric Obenauf (14:50):
I mean, it's just like, it all comes in waves. I've been feeling like since the new year I probably get anywhere from like, I don't know, five to eight agent submissions every day, either like new agent submissions or follow-ups on agent submissions. And then through our Submittable, I believe we get around 1,500 unsolicited submissions annually. So it's quite a few to sift through.

Laura Maylene Walter (15:19):
<laugh> Just a few. Yeah.

Eric Obenauf (15:20):
Yeah. I mean, all those things are so important and valuable, you know, in terms of like being a writer and pitching people on you actually doing the homework and know why you think an agent or a publisher would be a good fit for your work is really important. And I think cuts through a lot of the red tape in terms of getting us to pay attention to a submission, too.

Laura Maylene Walter (15:42):
Yeah. And I'm curious about the document. You ask everyone to submit a brief explanation of why they think Two Dollar Radio would be right for their book. I imagine that is a good way just to kind of feel out if someone has read anything on your list, if they truly have a sense of what you do. Can you talk a bit about how you read those statements, if the statement is missing or if it's not really the answer you would've hoped to see, how does that affect the rest of the submission?

Eric Obenauf (16:09):
Well, you can tell, I mean, definitely from people who are able to, you know, name, check books that they've read and stuff like that and what it's meant to them. And then there are people who just don't mention any books and say like, based on your catalog, I think that your interest in like family stories would make my work appealing to you. And so you can totally tell right off the bat, whether someone has actually read one of our books or not, it's pretty apparent.

Laura Maylene Walter (16:38):
And can you talk about the back-end process? Is it mostly the two of you reading submissions? Do you have a team of readers or a staff? How do you actually manage to get through that incredible workload of reading submissions? I edit a small literary journal and we are always overwhelmed by submissions and these are just short stories and poems. So I can't imagine having book manuscripts. So I'm curious to hear how you actually manage that process.

Eric Obenauf (17:02):
Well, I don't know that we have a good system. So if you have any tips <laugh>, but I think generally in the past, we've used paid interns and employees that work with us,

Eliza Wood-Obenauf (17:12):
But those people are people trusted with our editorial vision, you know.

Eric Obenauf (17:15):
But for the most part for the last year, I guess I've been the one to go through there and what we ask certain people who work with us, who do go through there, it's really just to call anything that might be of interest and not eliminate things necessarily, but just call attention to those that seem especially interesting, but I guess really to like drive home the point, a lot of our best-selling books have come to us unsolicited through Submittable.

Eliza Wood-Obenauf (17:45):
And there are cases where Eric will identify a manuscript that is not polished and needs a lot of rounds of editing, but there's just like a lot of promise in the author's authority over their story and a story that's interesting, unique, different. So we do, in some cases, a lot of heavy lifting on the editing. I mean, we make sure our editorial vision is the same as the author's, everyone is in agreement. Then we sign a contract and then we work further on the manuscript and then others come to us fully formed, ready to go. So every single book is a little different in how it comes to us.

Eric Obenauf (18:23):
And maybe to give an example, I mean, there is a year and a half ago, a submission came through that was about very specific time and place. And it was a time and place that I was totally unfamiliar with. And that was Kiev Ukraine in 2013, 2014 during the Euromaidan protests, which led to Russia annexing Crimea, and the police force in Ukraine killing a hundred protestors. And so it led to a lot of what's going on now between Russia and Ukraine. And so that was an unsolicited submission called I WILL DIE IN A FOREIGN LAND and we worked with the author a good amount on editing it, it was their debut novel. And so that book came out last fall, but of course with everything going on in the world right now, it's incredibly topical. And so a lot of people have been pointing to that book as a good source of information about the current conflict.

Laura Maylene Walter (19:22):
Yeah. And it's, it's interesting that you're so open in terms of submissions and to finding, just writing that speaks to you, quality writing that has some spark of something and that you are in a natural way landing on these things, instead of say, trying to chase a publishing trend, which I think is probably always impossible for publishers to do anyway. That's really great. What advice would you have for writers who either would one day like to be published by Two Dollar Radio or just writers who are perhaps on the small press circuit, trying to publish a first book, maybe with a smaller press?

Eric Obenauf (19:56):
The advice I generally give to writers would be consistent, even if you're getting published by a small publisher or a big publisher. And that's, you still gotta hustle. Even if you have someone who's doing bookstore outreach or publicity or something like that, too, it benefits you to shake trees on your own to seek out other writers who you think would find the work interesting to partner up with them, for events, to get them to blurb and endorse your book, potentially write reviews. I mean, I know a lot of people, several people who published with big publishers, who their editors then left. And so the person who's most passionate about the work, like passionate enough to take it on in the first place then is no longer you're advocating for you there and you're left without an advocate. And so I think they refer to those writers as orphans. So even if you are working with one of the Big Four, Big Five publishers, you still have to do a lot of advocating and hustling on your own. Yeah.

Eliza Wood-Obenauf (20:59):
I would definitely agree with that. Also, an author trying to get published should already know who their best publisher would be. I mean, there's publishers that specifically work on sci-fi work for example, or graphic novels. So we've published a graphic novel one so far, which was a pretty special, different type of graphic novel, but because we're not so well versed in the graphic novel, getting publicity, and we didn't have connections with bookstores that exclusively sell those types of books. So we had a lot of work to do to get caught up to speed in doing our best job in publicizing that graphic novel. I think we did a great job, but my point is that you should know what your book is and which publishers best serve that type of book. Once you do that work, you could probably identify three top presses for your book. So then you're already narrowing down who can best sell your book and advocate for it and get it attention. So that's what I would suggest the most for an author. And the same goes, if you want to find an agent, the same thing goes, figure out what your favorite books are that relate the most to your work. Look at who their agents are. Look at those agents' catalogs and who their publishers are. That's always where I start when people want advice.

Laura Maylene Walter (22:15):
Well, I think your answer also on the publisher side highlights how many different hats you have to wear to publish books. So you not only do the editorial work of finding the manuscripts, editing the manuscripts, but also there's design work, cover designs, promotion, marketing, PR, all of these things are involved in the process. It's really complicated. So I'm curious how this has worked for both of you. Are there certain areas that you felt most drawn to other areas you needed help in? What would you tell someone hoping to start a publisher of their own in regard to all the different jobs that are part of it?

Eliza Wood-Obenauf (22:51):
I can speak to that for a moment. So Eric and I, as mentioned, were in our early twenties and not part of the publishing industry when we decided to start a publishing company. So then it was just, okay, we're doing this thing. We started an LLC. Who does what? So it was just the two of us at the time. We didn't have a budget to hire people. So we quickly just kind of figured out who was best at what. So we knew we needed a website, for example. So we went to the library and got the book HTML FOR DUMMIES and learned how to code. I kind of became the defacto copy editor. We do a lot of self teaching and self learning, and we wear all the hats we have to wear to complete a task. So Eric kind of got designated as the contracts person. He obviously had to do a lot of research into that. We reached out to other indie presses. Akashic, which is a New York City press, was really kind and generous to us in our early days with their time. So we researched on our own for cover designs. We got Photoshop for interior layouts, we got InDesign and we self-taught, and then it turns out Eric's a really gifted graphic designer. So he's our cover designer.

Laura Maylene Walter (24:03):
Yeah. And your covers are great. I feel Two Dollar Radio has really distinctive covers. They're also bold I think, and too loud to ignore. So that's great.

Eric Obenauf (24:11):
Well, thank you.

Eliza Wood-Obenauf (24:12):
So as we've grown for a long time, we both had full-time jobs outside of also running the press. At this point, we're both working full-time for the press and are able to hire people as well. So we're both still wearing a lot of hats. So Eric is editorial. He also has a hand in publicity and marketing, and I do both of those things as well. In addition to bookkeeping crunching all the numbers, keeping track of who is owed, what in terms of royalty payments. So it's interesting, we're at an interesting time right now, where we are bringing on other people to help us. So identifying who is best at what, and that's how we dole out the work.

Laura Maylene Walter (24:50):
And along those lines, it looks like you have a publishing mentor program for other small publishers where people are hoping to get into this. Can you talk about that a bit? What does that entail and what kind of guidance or mentorship are you able to offer?

Eliza Wood-Obenauf (25:04):
Yeah, and that was inspired because of the guidance we were given as a young press. So we kind of wanted to pay it forward.

Eric Obenauf (25:10):
Someone told us this adage in publishing where it's like, how do you make fortune publishing? You start with a fortune <laugh>. And for us coming from not necessarily like having the means or like financial backing to come out of the gates, a lot of the recent other, I don't know, midsize or small publishers that have cropped up have had to have massive financial backing. And I definitely think with the trends in publishing and corporate consolidation, there were six big publishers, and Simon and Schuster is gonna be gobbled up by Penguin Random House. So we're going from essentially like six large publishers to four all within the last couple years. And so I think that creates an environment that's really inviting for people to potentially start their own presses. And I don't want it to be an industry that's just like dominated by rich kids. We really wanted to be able to provide that insight and ideally help people not make the mistakes that we made when we were starting out to. So just pointing them in the right direction towards printers, distributors, booksellers, conferences, anything like that. A few of them have actually been based in Ohio or starting out in Ohio. And one seems to be just about to get distribution with books coming out in early 2023, which is pretty exciting.

Laura Maylene Walter (26:33):
Are you able to name that publisher?

Eric Obenauf (26:35):
Yeah, I think so. They're Purple Palm Press. But yeah, they have like a really distinctive vision for what they're crafting with the press. And I think it's gonna be really exciting for them and exciting for like booksellers too, to interact with their books and sell their books. Because I think that that's an angle that's kind of lacking in book publishing right now.

Laura Maylene Walter (26:59):
Two Dollar Radio started out as a publisher, but you have since grown to include a brick-and-mortar bookstore and a café. Can you talk a bit about that? When did you open the bookstore? Tell us, you know, what is your bookstore like when someone walks in, what are they going to see and experience and why is this a place that matters in Columbus?

Eric Obenauf (27:21):
Well, when they first walk in, they're gonna see a giant unicorn mural that says "unicorn-level" underneath it, which was an expression that we got from a publicist years ago who was introducing us to someone and said they published unicorn-level books. And so we just took that and threw it up on the wall. But generally in terms of wanting to start the store in the first place, it's a bookstore and a café. And we had been thinking of it for a number of years. And then I think that what really provided the initial spark was the election of Trump in 2016, that really like greased the wheels and wanted us to have a footprint in the community to throw up a flag and not necessarily say like, this is what we're against, but just advocate for the causes and the groups that we truly believe in.

Eric Obenauf (28:07):
And to have a voice in our community to provide a space for people to gather and discuss these things that were of concern in our community and also to engage with people around culture in our city. Those are all really important things to us. And in terms of the books that we carry, we have a very strong focus on independent publishers. I'd say like 90 to 95% of the books that we have in the store come from small presses. There's a lot of books in translation. We have a design ideas and architecture section, which I think is really cool. We've got a lot of really cool photo books too. So the idea is to carry books that you might not find in other bookstores around town or at Barnes and Noble or things like that. And the idea was largely inspired by this bookstore that I went to in LA years ago, that I don't think is around anymore called Family Bookstore.

Eric Obenauf (29:03):
And it was a very small space, but everything they carried in the store, I just got like itchy hands. Like that I felt like I needed to have those books, even though I'd never heard of any of them. We also have the coffee shop bar and we serve vegan food. And ideally, that is just like additional ways that people come together, as opposed to, you might not say like, "Hey, you want to go wander around this bookstore?" With a friend, but you might be more likely to say like, "Hey, you wanna grab a drink or a cup of coffee or bite to eat together?" And then, you know, you can wander around the books.

Eliza Wood-Obenauf (29:37):
Well, I just wanna say that Eric is also the head chef <laugh>. So it's kind of like, just as much as the press, the independent publishing company is highly curated taste. The bookstore café is as well. The two businesses, the bookstore and the publishing company go hand in hand really well. They have, I feel like, similar vibes and we're in a really cool part of the city, on the south side. We weren't sure how the vegan food would go over, but everything is made from scratch. And so the highest compliment of course, is when non-vegan eaters compliment the food, we get a lot of that. And it's just really cool to see it very organically grow despite the pandemic. I think because we started the publishing company during the great recession. Basically we run our budgets really tightly. So we make really conservative financial decisions. We try to keep all of our costs really low, our overhead low. And so we were able to pivot during the pandemic and kind of navigate how to stay open through all of that, which was pretty stressful.

Eric Obenauf (30:37):
Also going back to opening the shop in the first place, Eliza is a master carpenter.

Eliza Wood-Obenauf (30:43):
I don't think the word 'master'...some people might scoff at that because there's a lot of two-by-fours,

Eric Obenauf (30:48):
But it's all repurposed wood.

Laura Maylene Walter (30:50):
Yes. I wanted to ask about this. You make the furniture.

Eliza Wood-Obenauf (30:53):
My father was a carpenter and kind of a DIYer. And so I spent a lot of time dumpster diving with him for building supplies. And so it's just kind of instinctual when I see a good piece of wood in the alley, I'm gonna pick it up. And so at one point we couldn't fit our car in our garage because all of my precious wood finds had overtaken the garage. So we used all of that wood to build the furniture in the store.

Laura Maylene Walter (31:18):
I love that. So you build and make everything pretty much from the furniture to the vegan food, to even some of the books in the bookstore that are your own titles <laugh> so you just, you really do it all. And Eric, I had wanted to ask you for a vegan recipe, you could share that might be too complicated, but is there a certain dish at the cafe that is one of the most popular or just one that you would really recommend?

Eric Obenauf (31:42):
Well, I always say the Pambazo sandwich would be my last meal, which is apparently it's like Mexico City-style wet sandwich. So we just take like a whole bun and dip it in hot sauce and then toast it <laugh> and then it's got all this other amazing stuff inside, but it's just like, got so much flavor and everything like that. I'm definitely into the sandwiches.

Laura Maylene Walter (32:03):
Can you tell me about the original poem that I think it's on your menu, a poem from a very famous writer. Can you tell us about that and how it came to be?

Eric Obenauf (32:13):
Daniel Handler, Lemony Snicket. He has supported our books that we've published in the past, mostly on social media. So he might share a book that he really liked. I mean, he did this for Scott McClanahan's CRAPALACHIA that we published and Sarah Gerard's BINARY STAR, and it was really nice of him. And so he's just kind of been quietly behind the scenes, like supporting us without necessarily like saying that explicitly. And when we announced that we were gonna start selling memberships to the store and he very generously and kindly got a membership, you know, despite the fact that he lives in, I think out west somewhere. And so I wrote him and I was like, thanks so much for this. I really appreciate it. You know, and just kind of floated this idea. Like, would you have any interest in like writing a little limerick or piece of advice that we could throw on the menu? And he said, yes, I have this poem that I had written out years ago that no one wanted to publish because it was Lemony Snicket. And they're worried about it being about alcohol. <laugh> he's like, if you want, you can use this just don't name, a drink after me. <laugh>

Laura Maylene Walter (33:26):
I have the poem right here, which I can read. Unless one of you would like to do the honors.

Eliza Wood-Obenauf (33:30):
No, you go ahead.

Laura Maylene Walter (33:32):
"It has been said that liquor has the power to depress. The antidote is writing from an independent press." <laugh> so thanks to Lemony Snicket for that perfect for Two Dollar Radio. And I think on that note, we should start to wrap up because we're running out of time, but I'm hoping each of you can mention one of the titles you've either published recently or that's coming out soon that you would like our listeners to be aware of.

Eric Obenauf (33:56):
Well, the book I WILL DIE IN A FOREIGN LAND that I mentioned before being really topical in dealing with Ukraine. I describe it as THE ENGLISH PATIENT, but set in Ukraine in 2013, 2014 during these Euromaidan protests, which led to the Ukrainian Revolution of Dignity and Russia's annexing of Crimea. And then also the world events that are going on right now. And that book came out in hardcover in November, and we're releasing it in paperback in early June. And the story itself follows four individuals from different backgrounds, different walks of life throughout the course of these Euromaidan protests in Kiev during the winter. It's a very intimate story, but it also incorporates a lot of Ukrainian and Slavic history. And it's told in an interesting epistolary format too, where you have this Ukrainian chorus of voices that is contributing and kind of providing a little context to regional history in addition to following these characters over the course of the protests. I describe it as an intimate epic.

Eliza Wood-Obenauf (35:04):
Yeah, it's really good. It's not publicly announced yet, but we also have a film deal signed for it.

Laura Maylene Walter (35:09):
That's fantastic. That's really exciting.

Eliza Wood-Obenauf (35:11):
The ink is dry on the contract, but it's not announced yet, but we're really excited. Yeah. It's a pretty moving novel. I mean, it's fiction it's historical fiction, but it does provide a lot of education for what's happening right

Eric Obenauf (35:23):
Now. And a lot of the news, like NPR came out with six books to read about Ukraine and it was one of the books and it's been featured on CBS news in the Washington post.

Eliza Wood-Obenauf (35:34):
Yeah. And then for my pick, so it's really difficult. I mean, Eric still devours books somehow outside of our own press, but I have trouble being able to read for leisure because there's a lot of work to be done for running a press. So I'm going to suggest Eric's book coming up in July. The second volume of a cookbook that is based on the recipes that we serve at the restaurant. It's a really fun project because it blends the two businesses we have and Eric is the head chef and comes up with all the recipes. He's also a writer himself. It's a humorous cookbook where there's stories that go along with all the recipes and basically poke fun at the typical recipe that starts with 10 paragraphs of the backstory. It's a fun quirky, but also really good cookbook for accessible vegan food made from scratch. So making your own meats, making your own cheeses.

Laura Maylene Walter (36:29):
Great. And what is the title?

Eliza Wood-Obenauf (36:31):
Two Dollar Radio Guide to Vegan Cooking. And this will be Volume 2.

Laura Maylene Walter (36:35):
Volume 2, right. Great. Well, this is how our listeners can get that vegan recipe. They can buy the second volume of that book when it comes out. And I will link to those books in the show notes as well. So thank you both so much. I think on that note, we will wrap up, but I really appreciate your time. Thanks for all the work that you do and for making Ohio proud that we are the home to Two Dollar Radio. Thank you both so much.

Eliza Wood-Obenauf (36:58):
Oh, thank you so much for having us. We really appreciate it.

Laura Maylene Walter (37:03):
Thanks to our guests, Eric Obenauf and Eliza Wood-Obenauf. Visit the Two Dollar Radio bookstore and café in Columbus or order a book from TwoDollarRadio.com. Page Count is presented by the Ohio Center of the Book at Cleveland Public Library. Learn more online at ohiocenterforthebook.org. Follow us on Twitter @cplocfb, or find us on Facebook. If you'd like to get in touch, email ohiocenterforthebook@cpl.org and put "podcast" in the subject line. Finally, follow me on Twitter and Instagram @LauraMaylene. Thanks for listening, and we'll be back in two weeks for another chapter of Page Count.

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