In "Princess of Pop," a short story by the Central Florida writer Vanessa Blakeslee, a young singer checks into a hotel in Los Angeles, the same one in which Janis Joplin died in 1970. The unnamed woman has brought along an iPod, a copy of "A Confederacy of Dunces," bottles of Grey Goose vodka, Ambien and Xanax, and the intention to commit suicide. The paparazzi has followed her to the hotel, and the staff is impatient for her to leave. "Your presence is creating a disturbance for the other guests," a clerk tells the pop star, and his words echo in her head as she swallows the pills with a glass of milk.
"What else is there to do but create a disturbance?" she thinks, and then picks up the phone and saves herself.
Delivered in a less desperate, more positive context, that question could serve as the slogan for Burrow Press, the Orlando-based nonprofit that in March nationally released Blakeslee's debut story collection, "Train Shots," and "Songs for the Deaf," by Tampa area writer John Henry Fleming. The joint publication calls attention to the talents of these little-known writers — Blakeslee's stories are filled with tough prose and hard-luck characters, while Fleming's fanciful works read like campfire tales from the state's coolest scout leader — but also to the good taste and smart ambition of Ryan Rivas, Burrow Press' 30-year-old founder and publisher.
Rivas created Burrow Press more than three years ago, after graduating from the University of Central Florida with a bachelor's degree in creative writing. Instead of returning home to Miami, he chose to stay in Orlando, a city with a surprisingly healthy literary scene.
An affiliate of the nonprofit Urban Think Foundation, for which Rivas works as programs director, Burrow Press in 2011 published its first book, an anthology of stories by Orlando writers titled "Fragmentation." It has since produced two installments in a series titled "15 Views of Orlando," with a third due this summer and a Miami edition coming in November and featuring stories by Patricia Engel, John Dufresne and Lynne Barrett. The organization also hosts a quarterly reading series, and every week posts a new work of fiction to its website, BurrowPress.com. Rivas plans to publish four books a year, and says he has already set release dates for 2015. For now, he says, all Burrow Press books will be by Florida writers.
"There's no reason not to focus on Florida authors," Rivas says, noting the prevalence of "high-quality" writers in the Orlando area alone. "It's easy to tour these authors, and to interact with them."
Vanessa Blakeslee and John Henry Fleming will appear 8 p.m. Friday, April 18, at Books and Books, 265 Aragon Ave., in Coral Gables. Call 305-442-4408 or go to BooksAndBooks.com.