News, Views & Interview for CD #65

The following will appear as the “News and Views” and “Interview” sections of my Spotlight on Publishing column in Cemetery Dance #65.  The “Reviews” portion of the column will be comprised of reviews that have appeared previously on this website, so followers of this site are in essence getting the entirety of my column ahead of time, albeit in a different sequence.

NEWS & VIEWS

It seems there’s seldom a dull moment in the horror small press field, and the last few months have been no exception.

Let’s start by acknowledging the newcomers to our ranks. In recent months, we’ve seen new publishers Chômu Press, Noose & Gibbet Publishing, and Uninvited Books join the fray. Each of the three seems intriguing in their own way.  Chômu Press’s inaugural title, Remember You’re a One-Ball, by Quentin S. Crisp, lives up to the press’s slogan of “new vistas of irreality,” while their other announced titles display an affinity for the styles and settings of yesteryear. Witness Reggie Oliver’s The Dracula Papers, which opens in 1576; Daniel Mills’s Revenants, which is set in 1689; and Justin Isis’s I Wonder What Human Flesh Tastes Like, which is written in a style that’s compared to Oscar Wilde and Villiers de L’isle-Adam.

Noose & Gibbet also features a nostalgic bent, but of a slightly more contemporary fashion. Their sold-out debut title Back From the Dead is a tribute anthology of mostly new stories, dedicated to the Pan Books of Horror series that ran from 1959 to 1989, and their announced second title is the collection Party Pieces by Mary Danby, longtime editor of, and contributor to, the Fontana Book of Great Horror Stories series during the 1970s and early ‘80s. Uninvited Books, meanwhile, has so far been a bit all over the map, with the anthology Shadows, which contains classic reprints, and new novels from Greg F. Gifune (already sold out) and Robert Dunbar.

These new publishers have been added to the list of active horror small presses that I maintain online at www.twilightridge.net/blog/?page_id=19.

On the negative side of the ledger, we’ve recently seen a few presses apparently fall by the wayside, with the two confirmed cases being longtime publisher Necro Publications and promising upstart Full Moon Press. Necro, as many readers of this column will know, had specialized in edgy and explicit horror (with occasional forays into bizarro fiction via their Bedlam Press imprint), publishing the likes of Edward Lee, Jeffrey Thomas, and John Everson. In a statement on the Necro Publications website, founder David Barnett announced he was putting the press on hold indefinitely as he deals with some significant health issues.

As unfortunate as Barnett’s situation is, it’s trumped by the tribulations faced by Full Moon Press founder Paul Little, who announced via an email that, due to Lyme Disease contracted almost 20 years ago, he was unlikely to live to see 2011 and was thus shutting down the press. Full Moon managed to publish only two titles – Rick Hautala’s The Wildman and a reprint of Joseph Sheridan LeFanu’s Carmilla – but had an intriguing lineup planned, including titles by the likes of Scott Nicholson and David Niall Wilson.

In other interesting news, Delirium Press founder Shane Ryan Staley essentially introduced the concept of Personal Seat Licenses to small press publishing.  For the uninformed, Personal Seat Licenses, or PSLs, give the holder the right to buy season tickets for a certain seat in a stadium. The PSL holder can sell the seat license to someone else if they no longer wish to purchase season tickets. PSLs are generally regarded as a creative way for sports teams to make more money – or a borderline scam, depending on your point of view. Building on the concept of collectors who prefer to own the same numbered copy of each limited edition issued by a particular press, Staley auctioned off “first refusal” rights to numbered titles from his new press, Altar 13, which will produce 100-copy micro-editions. Staley clarifies the rights thusly: “These auctions are NOT lifetime memberships.  Winning bidders will not be getting any books; they will be purchasing ownership of the number upon the terms of first rights of refusal for every title published by Altar 13.” Buyers of Altar 13 numbers had better hope that the books hold their value better than season tickets have for some of those pro sports teams.

Finally…up until now, I’ve avoided covering digital-only publishers, either in this column or on twilightridge.net, but the changing face of publishing dictates that my approach should also change. I’ll start my coverage of digital publishers by briefly covering one promising newcomer and one example of caveat emptor.

Crossroad Press, the brainchild of author David Niall Wilson, produces both digital and downloadable audio books, and also acts as a reseller for ebooks from other publishers. Wilson describes Crossroad Press as being: “…dedicated to returning out of print titles in new, modern formats, and to creating original high-quality audio books by authors that have otherwise been ignored in that format.” Although the press offers titles across genres, their early titles show a healthy inclination towards horror, featuring authors such as Tom Piccirilli and Chet Williamson.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have Lovecraft Press, a firm that managed to both debut and (apparently) flame out in less than a year. As of this writing, there are numerous accusations from writers of contracts not being fulfilled, while the Lovecraft Press website consists of only a single page, unfettered by useful information. Perhaps H.P. Lovecraft can quit spinning in his grave in shame over the usage of his name, as Lovecraft Press seems to be trying to revive itself under the new name Afterlife Publications. At this point, Afterlife/Lovecraft appears to be another textbook example of how not to launch a small press.

INTERVIEW

Bad Moon Books is owned and operated by Roy Robbins in Garden Grove, CA. Robbins began operating as a bookseller in 1993 and then in 2007 made the move into publishing, and has already published more than 30 titles. Bad Moon Books’ publications include limited edition paperbacks and hardcovers (and the occasional trade edition).  Several Bad Moon titles have been nominated for Bram Stoker Awards, and John R. Little’s Miranda win the 2008 Bram Stoker Award for “Superior Achievement in Long Fiction.”

CD: You were a specialty bookseller before getting into publishing. When did you start the bookselling business, and what was the impetus for that?

BMB: First off, I just want to thank you for doing this interview. I have known Rich for over 20 years, and it is in honor to be in CD. I started selling books way back in 1982. I had given my wife a copy of The Dead Zone by Stephen King and she never read it. I picked it up, and was instantly hooked. I read everything by King that I could get my hands on. I bought a copy of the limited edition of Cycle of the Werewolf and was soon a rabid collector. It was the heyday of small presses like Dark Harvest and I started buying multiple copies and selling them to get my copy for free, and eventually even make a little money. I left my job at Hughes Aircraft Company in 1993 and started selling books full time. My first method of selling was printed and mailed catalogs, but soon the Internet took over. I have owned two brick and mortar bookstores but now am internet only.

CD: What prompted you to make the move into publishing in 2007?

BMB: Being in the business for as long as I have, I have gotten to know many people in the industry including a large number of authors. My right hand woman, Liz Scott, had been prompting me for many years to get into publishing and finally I just got tired of her bugging me. We sent out requests for manuscripts in mid 2006 and Wes Ochse’s Vampire Outlaw of the Milky Way was our first book.

CD: How did you settle on the Bad Moon name?

BMB: Back when I was doing stapled and mailed catalogs I figured that I needed a catchy name that would roll off the tongue, but still had a sinister aspect to it. I have always been a big fan of Creedence Clearwater Revival, and the rest is history.

CD: Who else, besides yourself, is involved in Bad Moon Books?

BMB: Liz Scott is my associate editor, office manager, shipper, and muse; Cesar Puch (who, by the way lives in Peru) is my designer and typesetter; Jamie LaChance and Leigh Haig are my copy editors; Matthew JLD Rice did my logo designs; and of course my wife Jeanine puts up with the countless hours of publishing-related work.

CD: In the first three years of your press’s existence, you produced six, six, and fifteen titles. Do you hope to keep expanding your production, or have you reached a level that you’re content with?

BMB: In all honesty, I would like to stay at about 10-12 titles per year. Just recently we have begun to do some print-on-demand publishing and I am very excited about that venture as it allows us to put out quality titles without a huge cash outlay up front. With the current economic situation, people are being much more frugal with their expendable income and we have to be sensitive to that. POD allows us to print the number of copies needed to fulfill orders and not carry large amounts of inventory.

CD: Publishing Clive Barker’s The Adventures of Mr. Maximillian Bacchus and His Travelling Circus in 2009 was obviously a major coup for you. How did you come to publish that book?

BMB: I have been friends with Clive for quite some time. I also be came friends with Hans Rueffert of Luna 7 and had been selling quite a few of Clive’s giclees (original looking prints), which are produced by Luna 7. I felt that Bad Moon really needed a heavy hitter author to give us a shot in the arm, so I asked Clive if he had anything we could publish and he turned over Bacchus. He had written Bacchus as a teenager but it had never been printed. At the time of this writing we are still planning on doing another Barker titled Candle in the Cloud that Clive wrote many years ago.

CD: Simon Clark is another relatively “big name” that you’ve published…how did you acquire his This Ghosting Tide?

BMB: Simon and I met at the World Horror Convention in Salt Lake City back in 2008. I asked him at that time if he had anything he would like to submit to us in novella length. About 6 months later he submitted This Ghosting Tide. I hope to work with Simon again in the future as it has been a pleasure.

CD: Up until recently, your largest print run had been 326 copies. But then you produced 1800+ copies of the Barker title, and three “unlimited” edition titles. Does this signal a change in your publishing philosophy, or will you continue to produce smaller, limited editions as well?

BMB: I feel at this time in the life of Bad Moon Books that it is a good idea to be realistic when it comes to print run sizes. Keep in mind that an “unlimited” print run does not always mean that it is going to be a huge one. In the past, we have printed 300 copy runs and had them around for awhile. Unlimited means that we can have the luxury of only printing what we need. I do not ever see us increasing our print runs much, unless it is for a Barker, or one of the other “heavy hitters.”

CD: Out of the 30 titles you’ve published to date, only six have been novels. Do you plan to publish more novels in the future, or will you continue to focus more on novellas and chapbooks?

BMB:  By the time this interview is published, it will be nine novels as Vintage Soul by David Niall Wilson, Sparrow Rock by Nate Kenyon, and The Dead Parade by James Roy Daley will have been published. Both Liz and I really love the novella format, so I would say that the majority of our titles will be novellas. In fact, we started out intending to only publish novellas, but had some novels offered that were too good to pass up. I like the novella format as it can introduce new authors and you can get your feet wet without having to take a whole bath.

CD: Besides the Barker book, which titles have been your fastest sellers?

BMB:  Gene O’Neill’s The Confessions of St. Zach sold quickly, as did Miranda by John R. Little (which, by the way, we have recently reprinted). Our latest publication Blood Spring by Erik Williams has had brisk sales (it has been favorably compared to Laymon’s The Wilds), and Gene O’Neill’s novels Lost Tribe and Shadow of the Dark Angel, and Cletus by David Niall Wilson also sold very quickly.

CD: You’ve published four titles by Gene O’Neill and three by John Urbancik – is it safe to say that those two authors are personal favorites of yours?

BMB: Even though I have not known Gene all that long (we first met in San Francisco at WHC in 2007), he is someone I consider to be a very special author, and more importantly friend. Our lives have some interesting parallels (even though he is MUCH OLDER…lol) and I feel as if I have known him for many years. Gene is a fine man, father, grandfather, husband, author and friend. I am proud to publish his work and call him friend. I don’t even like Urbancik, but he is always bugging me. Just kidding! I have never met John in person but I enjoy publishing his work because it is, to borrow a famous quote, “like a box of chocolates.” I honestly feel if we had been a better-known publisher when we did his novella Wings of the Butterfly, it would have won a Stoker for long fiction.

CD:  You’ve published six titles in your Eclipse series.  What are the criteria for books in that series? Do you plan to continue with the series for the foreseeable future?

BMB: From now on, any novel-length books we publish will be in our Eclipse line. Really, from now on, that is the only criteria.

CD: Who are some authors that you have not yet published who you’d like to add to the Bad Moon Books stable?

BMB: Well, one that instantly comes to mind is that unknown named Stephen King. I would also love to work with Joe Hill, Brian Keene, F. Paul Wilson, Ray Garton, Joe R. Lansdale, and a bunch more.

CD: Five years from now, where would you like Bad Moon Books to be?

BMB: I would like us to be pretty much the same thing we are doing today. I would love to see the economy turn around so we can begin to raise print runs again. I want to always be known for publishing quality dark fiction that is not considered to be “over the top.” Liz and I and our spouses are all devoted Christians so we will never ransom our faith to publish something that is too extreme. It would be nice to continue to have our authors win awards from their peers as this indicates we are picking some cool stuff to publish.

Bad Moon Books Publications List

Novels

  • Johnny Gruesome by Greg Lamberson (2007): 26- and 250-copy editions.
  • As Fate Would Have It by Michael Louis Calvillo (2009): 26- and l50-copy editions.
  • The Adventures of Mr. Maximillian Bacchus and His Travelling Circus by Clive Barker (2009): 1500-, 300-, 26-, and 10-copy editions

Eclipse Series

  • The Not Quite Right Reverend Cletus J. Diggs & the Currently Accepted Habits of Nature by David Niall Wilson (2008):  26- and 100-copy editions.
  • Little Graveyard on the Prairie by Steven E. Wedel (2009):  26- and 100-copy editions.
  • Lost Tribe by Gene O’Neill (2009):  26- and 100-copy editions.
  • Shadow of the Dark Angel by Gene O’Neill (2009):  26- and 100-copy editions.
  • Crimson by Gord Rollo (2010):  26- and 100-copy editions.
  • Monster Town / The Butcher of Box Hill by Logan Savile aka Brian M. Logan and Steve Savile (2010): 26- and 100-copy editions.
  • Vintage Soul by David Niall Wilson (2010): 26- and 100-copy editions.
  • Sparrow Rock by Nate Kenyon (2010): 26- and 100-copy editions.
  • The Dead Parade by James Roy Daley: 26- and 100-copy editions.

Novellas

  • House of Shadow and Ash by John Urbancik (2007):  150-copy edition.
  • Wings of the Butterfly by John Urbancik (2007):  26- and 300-copy editions.
  • Vampire Outlaw of the Milky Way by Wes Ochse (2007): 26- and 300-copy editions.
  • You In? by Kealan Patrick Burke (2007):  26- and 300-copy editions.
  • Restore From Backup by J. F. Gonzalez & Mike Oliveri (2007): 26- and 300-copy editions.
  • Plague Monkey Spam by Steve Vernon (2008): 26- and 200-copy editions.
  • The Scrubs by Simon Janus (AKA Simon Wood) (2008): 26- and 200-copy editions.
  • The Bitchfight by Michael Arnzen (2008):  26- and 200-copy editions.
  • The Confessions of St. Zach by Gene O’Neill (2008):  26- and 200-copy editions.
  • Miranda (AKA adnariM) by John R. Little (October 2008):  26-copy, 250-copy and unlimited trade editions.
  • The Gray Zone by John R. Little (2009):  26- and 100-copy editions.
  • The Hunger of Empty Vessels by Scott Edelman (2009):  26- and 150-copy editions.
  • The Better Year by Bridget Morrow (2009):  26- and 100-copy editions.
  • Necropolis by John Urbancik (2009):  26- and 100-copy editions.
  • The Lucid Dreaming by Lisa Morton (2009):  26- and 150-copy editions.
  • This Ghosting Tide by Simon Clark (2009):  26- and 300-copy editions.
  • Doc Good’s Traveling Show by Gene O’Neill (2009):  26- and 200-copy editions.
  • The Watching by Paul Melniczek (2009):  26- and 150-copy editions. Bonus chapbook Bad Candy was offered to buyers who pre-ordered copies.
  • Lord of the Lash and Our Lady of the Boogaloo by Weston Ochse (2009):  26- and 200-copy editions.
  • The Day Before by John Skipp and Cody Goodfellow (2009): unlimited trade edition.
  • 51 Fiendish Ways to Leave Your Lover by Lisa Mannetti (2010): unlimited trade edition.
  • Blood & Gristle by Michael Louis Calvillo (2010): unlimited trade edition.

Steve & Stephen – Steve Duffy’s “Tragic Life Stories” & the Stephen King art collection “Knowing Darkness”

Two new reviews this time….

In her insightful Introduction to Steve Duffy’s new collection Tragic Life Stories, Ash-Tree Press co-publisher Barbara Roden notes that Duffy has come a long way from the quasi-Jamesian ghost stories in which he specialized early in his career, calling the stories gathered here “light years away from those in Steve’s previous two collections.”

It’s an accurate assessment, as the nine stories collected (six original) employ contemporary settings and consistently feature a dark, gritty feeling, sometimes slipping over the line into outright hopelessness. Take “Tantara,” in which a couple on their first vacation together stumbles upon an isolated rural community that engages in some particularly nasty traditions, leading to a decidedly downbeat ending. A similar finale can be found in “The Fabric of Things,” wherein office-worker Donna is dismayed by the constant construction and maintenance work at her new job, not realizing just how vital the shoring-up tasks really are. In “Certain Death for a Known Person,” a college student spending the weekend with a friend’s family experiences a bizarre midnight encounter and, in order to save his friend’s sister, makes a bargain that he ultimately will regret.

The subject of “The First Time” is exactly the sexual encounter that its title implies, but it’s the surrounding details, involving a stolen grimoire and a deadly demonic presence, that make the story memorable. Likewise, the basic concept in “Someone Across the Way” is not remarkably original – a man spies from his window on an apartment a couple blocks distant, seeing some disturbingly familiar items and vaguely unsettling activities, leading him to investigate – but the execution is top-notch, ratcheting up the mystery and tension. In a couple of the stories here, the execution isn’t quite strong to overcome unoriginal concepts, but for the most part, this is a remarkably consistent collection – easily one of the strongest I’ve encountered so far this year.

* * *

I recall that when I first read about Knowing Darkness: Artists Inspired by Stephen King, I viewed the $395 price tag and wondered why publisher Centipede Press couldn’t also produce a (relatively) inexpensive trade paperback version. Well, once I laid eyes on the book – and, more importantly, laid hands on it – it became apparent that a cheaper edition might literally have been impossible. Given the book’s sheer size (more than 500 illustrations, appearing on 450 11 x 15 pages) and weight (a wrist-bending 15+ pounds), it seems questionable whether a paperback binding could stand up to the task, even if a lighter paper stock were used.

Dimensions aside, Knowing Darkness is a remarkable piece of work, employing four-color printing on heavy varnished paper between quality boards, housed in a custom-fitted, illustrated slipcase. The book includes artwork by the likes of Berni Wrightson, Michael Whelan, Bob Eggleton, Jill Bauman, Les Edwards, John Picacio, Rick Berry, Glenn Chadbourne, Alan Clark, Stephen Gervais, and Phil Hale, to name but a very few (and it’s nice to see illustrations from Allen Koszowski, whose work often appears in small press magazines, appearing here on such high-quality paper, and benefitting richly from it). In addition to all the reprinted work, there are many newly-commissioned pieces as well, including an explicit fold-out illustration for Gerald’s Game by Ned Dameron, and new illustrations for It, The Shining, ‘Salem’s Lot, and many other tales.

The reprinted work is drawn from all manner of sources, including out-of-print limited editions, US and foreign trade editions, magazine appearances, and film posters. Several book jacket illustrations that didn’t seem particularly striking when they originally appeared are much more impressive when reproduced here without title text or other elements to distract. It’s also interesting to see illustrations from foreign editions, which are sometimes vastly superior to the art used by US publishers. The accompanying text—primarily in the form of essays and artist biographies and interviews—is authored by well-known King scholar George Beahm and frequently serves to provide worthwhile insights and fascinating background information.

As for flaws, or at least desired enhancements? Well, I really wish Beahm’s descriptions of the art were cross-referenced with the actual page numbers on which the illustrations appear. Frequently, a compelling description of a particular illustration is several pages away from the actual appearance of said illustration, leaving the reader constantly flipping pages to try and view the art while Beahm’s comments are still freshly in mind. Similarly, “findability” would have been greatly enhanced by an Index.

And I do unfortunately have one concern to express about the otherwise stellar materials used—because it took me a few weeks to get around to reviewing the book, and then a couple more weeks to slowly savor it and work my way through it, Knowing Darkness sat here long enough for me to see that the art affixed to the slipcase began to peel back on both sides of the case. It’s easy enough to glue back, but when forking over the price that this book commands, one shouldn’t have to deal with such concerns.

Gluing issues aside, it’s perhaps telling to say that Knowing Darkness surpassed my expectations to a sufficient extent that, if I didn’t have a review copy, I would purchase one. Considering the price tag, that’s no faint praise. In fact, I’m highly tempted to spring for Centipede’s similar H.P. Lovecraft volume.