[The following is a reposting of an interview Scott Sell and I did with the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies, the graduate program where we met thirteen years ago. The text has been edited slightly: several of the links have been updated.]
Now and again, we’ll be sharing interviews with alums of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies at MECA about new projects and undertakings. Today, we talk to two Salt ‘05 alums, Scott Sell and Douglas W. Milliken, about their collaboration on In the Mines, a linked album of music and book of short fiction. Douglas and Scott also share some reflections on what they’ve been up to since Salt, what they’ve carried with them from the program, and some work of fellow Salt alums that they’ve been excited to see and hear out in the world.
1) Tell us a bit about your new project.
Scott Sell: Doug and I have been collaborating on projects pretty much since we left Salt in 2005. Although we didn’t get the chance to work together outside of our writing class at the time, we began sending each other letters and short stories by mail as a way to keep in touch. When I moved back to Maine a year later and started writing songs, Doug quickly became my producer and de facto band mate. We since have created a short film, recorded a split album, performed several times, and generally been good creative soundboards for each other.
Douglas W. Milliken: It was definitely apparent early on that our stories and characters inhabited similar–perhaps even the same–desperate world. It’s exciting to see, in this new project, these same characters achieving even a measure of saving grace.
SS: The new project, both a full album of music and a book of short fiction, is an intertwined work. Eleven songs. Eleven stories. This first edition of 100 handmade books comes packaged with a CD, digital downloaded included. Artworks by artist Richard Iammarino (my dad-in-law) reproduced throughout counterpose the worlds imagined by these stories and songs. The books have been handmade by top pal and fellow Salt alum Patrick Kiley, who runs Publication Studio Hudson in Troy, NY.
2) How can people follow-up or learn more about your work?
SS: Check out Bandcamp for the digital album at https://scottasell.bandcamp.com/album/in-the-mines, and Publication Studio Hudson for the physical book/album combo: https://publicationstudio.biz/books/in-the-mines/.
There will also be several performances in Maine this summer and fall: a book/album release at the Apohadion Theater in Portland on August 19th, CHURCH in Rockland on August 25th, and Engine in Biddeford on September 14th.
DWM: Many stories can be found at https://douglaswmilliken.com/publishedwork, although within the context of this book, representative stories might be “Fandanguillo” and “Integers.”
3) Give us a taste of what you’ve been up to since Salt.
SS: After Salt (and a bit of time working as a production drone at PBS in New York City), I moved back to Maine to work for the Island Institute as the William Bingham Fellow for Rural Education on the island of Frenchboro (year-round population: 65), teaching in the one-room schoolhouse and working with the town’s selectboard on municipal projects. I also went back to school, at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, to add more video production skills to my storytelling toolkit and soon after returned to Maine again to work once more for the Island Institute as their in-house filmmaker. I also got married. I now live in Rockland and work as a producer and editor at Compass Light Productions, a non-fiction documentary film company in Camden and have no intention of leaving Maine again.
DWM: While I grew up in far northern Maine, I didn’t really intend on sticking around. I guess sometime geography lays its claim on you. I worked as a horticultural specialist for the first few years after Salt and have since bumbled gradually into a position where I can spend more time on my writing and less as a seasonal laborer (landscaper, carpenter, LL Bean warehouse ghost, etc.). Now I’m freelance writing and editing full time while taking a “vacation” each fall to work the apple harvest. In that time, I’ve published a novel, a half-dozen chapbooks, and have a new novel and a full-length collection of stories due out in early 2019, all in addition to the regular work of hunting down magazines to print individual stories.
4) What have been your biggest takeaways from your time at Salt?
SS: Listening to people intently is the most important thing, as is learning how to stay neutral when it matters. And although working on something and seeing it through alone can be deeply satisfying, a collaboration with someone or a group of people is a whole hell of a lot of fun and the reason I keep doing what I’m doing.
DWM: Agreed. Our writing instructor, Jen Andrews, told us as our first lesson as storytellers that no matter the subject, no matter the people involved, our primary objective was to tell our stories with integrity and grace. In all the work I’ve written since–whether the characters were flesh-and-blood real or only real in my imagination–I’ve tried to treat them with this same level of compassion.
5) Are there any projects by Salt alums that you’ve been particularly excited to see out in the world?
SS: Galen Koch’s audio storytelling initiative, The First Coast. I’ve always loved Maisie Crow’s work, especially her photography. Some of Adam Kampe’s audio stories–another 2005 Salt alum–show up at Third Coast, too.
DWM: Patrick Kiley—who is the publisher of In the Mines as well as several of my other books—has been doing some amazing work with his imprint Pilot Editions, from art books to activistic pamphlets to the first English translations of Walter Benjamin’s sonnets. Samantha Broun has been behind some groundbreaking work with Atlantic Public Media, including her very personal radio essay “A Life Sentence.” JR Sheetz (who first introduced me to Salt and one time joined me in making a keyboard lose its mind) never fails to knock me speechless with his uncanny photography.