Column from CD #62

NEWS & VIEWS

A few readers wrote in response to my last column, expressing interest in my informal count of 80+ horror-related small press publishers (some expressed incredulity, some just curiosity).

I’m including my list of known genre publishers in a sidebar with this column, and will also make it available online, where I’ll keep it updated (in fact, I’ll be updating the list significantly between the deadline for this issue and the time it finds its way into your hands). To warrant inclusion on the list, publishers must regularly include horror, dark suspense, or dark fantasy titles among their publications, and must publish physical books; digital- or audio-only publishers are not included.

Using these guidelines, I came up with an updated total of no less than 101 publishers. Admittedly, I’ve deemed 26 of those publishers as “borderline” inclusions, for one of the following reasons: they publish a significant number of titles outside of the genre, they’re bordering on being dormant, or they’re still embryonic. But, nonetheless, these robust numbers would seem to speak to the relative health of our genre’s small press…or perhaps to the insanity of the folks operating those presses!

A few recent casualties have been pared from the list. For example, Thomas Loring & Co., which published only one book —  an expanded version of Emma Frances Dawson’s 1898 title An Itinerant House — before closing up shop, but had previously announced an ambitious schedule of reprints of 19th and early 20th century fiction, including titles by Gerald Bullett and Bernard Capes (Ash-Tree Press recently announced that they will now be publishing the latter volume).

Other relatively recent subtractions from the list are Humdrumming Books and Elastic Press. The former debuted with fairly significant fanfare in 2006 and managed to publish several notable books, including titles by Tim Lebbon, Peter Crowther, and Gary McMahon, before suddenly announcing their demise in November, 2008. Elastic, meanwhile, had been around since 2002, publishing 31 books, including titles by Mike O’Driscoll, Tim Lees, and Steven Savile, before ceasing operations (also in November, 2008 — apparently a very bad month for UK-based publishers).

On the plus side of the ledger, recent additions to the list (in some cases, these publishers may not actually be new entities, but rather just newly-known by me) are Dark Hart Press, Ex Occidente Press, Ghostwriter Publications, and Cargo Cult Press. I’ll talk a little more about these newcomers next time, along with any others I discover in the meantime.

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REVIEWS

Due to space constraints, I only have room for a couple of quick reviews this time around. Given that I was traveling through Great Britain while finishing up this column, it only seems appropriate that I use the available space to talk about a couple of recent titles from North Yorkshire-based Gray Friar Press.

Operated by Gary Fry, Gray Friar Press (www.grayfriarpress.com) published its first title in 2005 and has published 12 books to date, including titles by the likes of Conrad Williams, Steve Vernon and Nicholas Royle. Today we’re going to take a look at The Catacombs of Fear by John Lewellyn Probert and Passport to Purgatory by Tony Richards.

The Catacombs of Fear is a collection of five stories with a framing narrative, the same format Probert used for his earlier Gray Friar collection, The Faculty of Terror. This time around, the framing device involves the Reverend Patrick Clement, who’s arriving at Chilminster Cathedral to assume his new position, only to find that everyone wants to tell him their stories, and, as one character says, “Oh, it’s a rather horrible story. In fact I may as well tell you, if only to illustrate how working in a parish such as this can sometimes cause one to encounter lives affected by the most unbelievable cruelty.”

The five stories, which more often than not deal with the topic of obsession, vary considerably in quality, with the best displaying energetic narrative, offbeat characters, and spot-on pacing, while the less stellar are plagued by clumsy dialog, melodrama, and torpedoes through the suspension of disbelief. An example of the latter category can be found in “Mors Gratia Artis,” which initially engages the reader with a very interesting theme but ultimately fails due to the villain’s prolonged explanatory monologue, complete with “mocking laughter.” Disappointment also awaits the reader in
“The Markovski Quartet,” which likewise contains melodramatic speeches from the villain, and “A Dance to the Music of Insanity,” which must surely set a short-story record for the greatest number of characters who are snuck up on from behind and struck/stabbed.

Stronger efforts can be found in “At First Sight,” wherein the hapless protagonist is obsessed and ultimately cursed by a stranger’s pictures found in a photo-booth, and “The Neighbourhood Watch,” which depicts a horrid fate for some rather pompous home-owners. The framing story, as well, is ultimately quite moving.

Probert clearly possesses considerable skills, but it seems he’d benefit from a strong editor, or at least refinement of his work through further drafts.

Passport to Purgatory is one of four collections of Tony Richards’ short fiction published in the last two years, and it focuses on both work from early in the author’s career — eight stories written in the 1980s — and very recent work – seven stories from 2002 to the present. (Full disclosure: I purchased five stories from Richards that were published in the pages of Cemetery Dance, and two of those are reprinted here.)

It’s easy to see the maturation in Richards’ style between his earlier and later works. Most of the earlier stories feature the innovative ideas that are the hallmark of Richards’ fiction, but they’re sometimes flawed by inconsistencies or lapses in logic. Exceptions are “Discards,” which chronicles one man’s descent into the ranks of the homeless…and the particularly nasty group that he joins; “The Irrigators,” a quietly disturbing tale about an alien invasion of sorts that can only be seen by the blind; and “Streets of the City,” concerning a man cursed by a long-ago act of cowardice who develops a sort of anti-Midas touch.

Among the more recent tales, the two that previously appeared in CD – the chilling “Siafu” and the hauntingly melancholy “Hanako from Miyazaki” – both retain their power, and a couple others are notable as well. “Gone-Away Bay” involves a darkly alien presence in a secluded Caribbean bay, while in “Lords of Zero,” a down-on-his-luck young man is offered the chance to join a gang with a very unusual leader; in a way, this is a more upbeat version of Richards’ earlier story “Discards.”

Richards’ stories are frequently distinguished by their unique settings, and the stories here are no exception, with 8 of the 15 utilizing unusual locales, such as Hong Kong, Jamaica, and Tanzania (all of which, incidentally, Richards has actually visited).

For a taste of other cultures, and the otherworldly, I recommend that you obtain a Passport to Purgatory.

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INTERVIEW

This issue’s interview focuses on the recently-named winner of The Horror Writers Association 2009 Specialty Press Award, Bloodletting Press, which is based in Modesto, California and operated by Larry Roberts and his wife, Debra. In addition to Bloodletting Press, Larry Roberts also co-owns and operates horror-mall.com, one of the leading online genre booksellers.

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

BP: I started collecting small press horror books in 1987 with some Dark Harvest titles. It was Dark Harvest that introduced me to folks like Joe R. Lansdale, Ray Garton, Robert R. McCammon, Dan Simmons and many others. Before I knew it my book buying habit outweighed my pocketbook. I found that if I bought five copies of a title, the publishers would give me a dealer discount and if I could sell four of those five books I could get mine for free. Before long, I was toting a backpack full of small press horror books to the factory and selling them to the employees on my shift. In a rather short period of time, I had enough of my co-workers hooked on small press horror to not only pay for my books but also put some extra cash in my pocket.

Within, a year I was printing up catalogs and advertising in antiquarian and small press horror magazines as a bookseller. This was in the days when there was no Internet, so booksellers had to mail out catalogs to show off their stock to collectors. I was also doing some book scouting for other booksellers in other genres to help build my bookstore with hard-to-find genre fiction.

CD: What prompted you to get into publishing in 2002?

BP: Publishers have always been my heroes. When other folks were wearing the jersey of their favorite sports figures all I wanted to be was a Richard Chizmar or Joe Stefko. I had decided in 2000 that I wanted to throw my hat into the publishing arena, but I didn’t want to announce my first title until I could pay for it entirely with my own money and not have to rely on advance orders. It was slow going as my wife and I had just purchased a new home and were raising two young boys. After nearly a year, I only managed to scrape together about half the money that I needed.

Then the Twin Towers were attacked and the stock market took a rather serious downturn. I felt pretty confident that the stock market would bounce back quickly from the initial shock of the attack so I put all $3,000 into the market. The market then proceeded to go down even further so I chewed my fingernails and bought more. Within a couple of weeks the market began to bounce back and then moved quite a bit higher. When I had nearly doubled my money, I sold the shares, opened my Bloodletting Press checking account and started contacting authors.

CD: In your most prolific year, 2007, you published seven titles. Did you foresee publishing that many titles in a year when you started? Do you have ambitions of publishing more titles than that per year?

BP: I always wanted to make publishing and bookselling my fulltime career and was able to do so in July of 2006. Since going fulltime I’ve added three new imprints: Morning Star, Arcane Wisdom and Infernal House (co-owned with Shane Staley). I’ll likely be putting out between 10 to 15 titles a year now.

CD: What prompted you to create the additional imprints?

BP: Morning Star was created because I needed a place to publish some stories that just didn’t fit into the Bloodletting Press niche. Things like plays, novellas, or bizzaro type fiction.

Infernal House was created because both Shane Staley and I wanted to throw my hat into the high end, exotic editions market and produce books in the same range and quality as Charnel House, Centipede Press and Lonely Roads Books.

Arcane Wisdom was really a reflection of my need to publish some of the old and new “Weird Tales” and ghost story fiction that I love so much.

CD: All 38 titles you’ve published to date have sold out, which is a pretty amazing track record. In view of the overall economic meltdown, have you seen any slowdown in sales as of late?

BP: My business model has always revolved around collectors rather than casual readers and those collectors thankfully continue to enjoy and buy our product, so we’ve seen little slowdown in the number of copies sold for our imprints.

CD: What has been your largest print run to date? Are you planning on going beyond that number in the future?

BP: My largest print run was 500 copies. At this time, I have little interest in going over that number because to do so would mean that I would have to seek distribution and I’ve always preferred to market and distribute my own titles. I enjoy talking with fellow collectors about my titles and if they were purchasing them at Borders or Barns and Noble I wouldn’t have that opportunity. However, I may soon start a trade paperback line to complement my hardcover imprints, and would seek distribution for that.

CD: Which have been your fastest-selling titles? The slowest?

BP: My fastest-selling title was Terminal by Brian Keene. My slowest-selling title was Siren Promised by Alan M. Clark and Jeremy Robert Johnson. Keep in mind though that even the slower sellers sold out pretty quickly.

CD: Roughly what % of your sales are made directly to customers, and what % to dealers and distributors? Have the %s changed much since you first started publishing? If so, how?

BP: About 75% of my sales are direct to the customers and 20% direct to bookstores and 5% through distribution.

This has changed over the years, as I used to sell closer to 70% to independent bookstores. Unfortunately, there are very few of those left so the percentage sold to these stores has dropped significantly.

CD: You’ve published some authors whose work is known for being fairly extreme – folks such as Steve Gerlach, Edward Lee, and Wrath James White. Have you ever gotten any negative feedback from customers who got a little more than they bargained for, so to speak?

BP: I did get some angry letters from a few readers that bought Evernat by Edward Lee but other than that most folks know what they are getting with an Edward Lee, Wrath James White or Ray Garton story, and aren’t surprised when they read it. In fact, a recent review of the novel Hero by Wrath James White and J.F. Gonzalez had the reviewer complaining that it was a good story but he expected more gore given the authors and publisher!

As a small press publisher I publish what I like to read and more specifically what isn’t available through the mass market. Much of the extreme fiction I publish would never see print if it wasn’t for the small press. This is a niche in which the small press can effectively compete with the large press. However, the small press can also compete with format rather than content. The small press publisher can effectively sell lengths of work such as the novellas, novelette and chapbooks that the large press normally has no market for.

CD: The authors who’ve appeared most frequently in Bloodletting’s line-up are Brian Keene (six titles), Steve Gerlach (five), Ed Lee (three), and Ray Garton (three). A few questions about these authors, starting with Garton…

You’ve reprinted his novels Darklings and Shackled. Have you bid or negotiated for any of his other novels? How did you wind up with the two novels and the chapbook that you have published?

BP: I’ve always been a huge fan of Ray’s work and felt that his paperback original novels should be reprinted in nice hardcover limited editions. Both Darklings and Shackled were favorites of mine so I contacted Ray and the rest, as they say, is history.

CD: You published three titles by Ed Lee in 2003, and then nothing until 2009’s Trolley No. 1852. Why the long hiatus for Lee from your line-up?

BP: I love working with Edward Lee, but the last few years my publishing schedule and his writing schedule just didn’t match up. Lee has been very busy with his mass market paperbacks through the Leisure imprint of Dorchester along with several hardcovers from Necro Publications. However, I recently purchased three novels from Lee: Haunter at the Threshold, which will be published through the Infernal House imprint, Trolley No. 1852 and Going Monstering through the Bloodletting Press imprint. All three titles are based in the Lovecraft Mythos with Trolley No. 1852 having Lovecraft himself as the main character. I think Lee’s fans will really find these books entertaining and perhaps even have Lovecraft rolling over in his grave.

CD: Given that all three of the forthcoming Lee titles involve the Lovecraft Mythos, why are you using two different imprints to publish them?

BP: Infernal House is our high-end exotic brand and we needed a great follow-up to our very popular first publication, Darkness on the Edge of Town, and Haunter at the Threshold fit the bill perfectly. Trolley No. 1852 is a novella rather than a novel so we felt it fit in better with the Morning Star lineup, plus we didn’t want two titles by the same author coming out back to back under the same imprint which is what would have happened if we published both Trolley No. 1852 and Going Monstering under the same imprint.

CD: Steve Gerlach is an Australian author who hadn’t had any books published in the U.S. before Bloodletting published Rage in 2003, so how did you come into contact with his work?

BP: I read the Australian edition of Love Lies Dying and was very impressed with his work. I contacted Steve and asked if he had any new manuscripts. At the time he didn’t but he did have a manuscript called Rage that had only been published in Australia and only in a 26-copy edition. To make the manuscript even more enticing there was an extra chapter that had been removed from the original Australian version because it was deemed to violent and disturbing. Which was perfect for Bloodletting Press as we rarely shy away from such content.

CD: Whose idea was it to have Gerlach sign Rage using some of his own blood?

BP: That was my idea. Though I must admit that it wasn’t a unique one. Both Edward Lee and John Pelan had both signed in blood in the past. However we did have pictures of our authors bloodletting…(no pun intended) to prove blood in large quantities was spilt.

CD: With regards to Brian Keene…he’s become a very popular author in the small press, and has also had titles published by Delirium Books and Cemetery Dance Publications, so how have you managed to acquire and publish six titles by him?

BP: I think it’s a combination of reasons. First and foremost we asked him; secondly we paid him well; and lastly we put out a product that his readership found value in. Brian has always been a pleasure to work with.

The first title we published by Brian was Terminal (novella). Brian had three ideas for a book in his head and he explained each to me over the phone. Out of the three I chose Terminal and later The Rutting Season.

CD: Two of your first four titles were Doug Clegg books, but you haven’t published anything by him since — any particular reason?

BP: Doug took a great chance on Bloodletting Press when we first got started and I’ll always be indebted to him for his generosity. I would love to publish more of Doug’s work and I hope that we can find something of his to work on in the future. Most of the fiction Doug has written in the last few years has been in the dark fantasy area rather than the type of horror that Bloodletting Press is known for. However with our new Arcane Wisdom imprint we’ll be publishing more dark fantasy and weird tales fiction.

CD: Some of the more recent additions to the Bloodletting roster have been William Ollie, Greg Gifune, Brian Knight, Steve Savile, and James A. Moore. What attracted you to each of these authors, and made you decide to publish them?

BP: All of the authors you mention have scared me, which is the main criteria for getting published by Bloodletting Press. But not only is the fiction scary, it’s well-written and distinctive in that they may be using some well used horrific themes but they are incorporating them in ways that are unique and new.

William Ollie’s new book The Damned is likely one of the best first novels by an author I’ve read since The Rising by Brian Keene. I think he’s going to be a force in the genre in the coming years.

James Moore always tells an interesting, well-written story. His prose is so smooth that it feels as though you’re talking to a buddy rather than reading a book. He is a master at his craft.

Greg Gifune is simply the best writer in the genre. I know this is a bold statement but I believe it. How this guy is not on every bestseller list, I’ll never know. If you’re reading this article and haven’t read a Gifune title run out and pick up The Bleeding Season and you’ll be hooked on Gifune’s work.

CD: In general, when deciding who to publish, how much does your personal taste come into play, and how much your perception of the author’s popularity?

BP: A small press publisher always must be cognizant of an author’s reputation and fan base. Fortunately many collectors have grown to trust Bloodletting Press for both the quality of the books and the fiction itself, which gives us a great opportunity to publish new authors and get them into the hands of readers. We don’t take this trust lightly. It takes years to build a great reputation and a minute to destroy it, so we work very hard to ensure that each book we publish will be well received by our supporters.

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

BP: I would likely cut off body parts if I could get Thomas Ligotti to send me a new book. Robert R. McCammon, Bentley Little, Joe Hill, Dan Simmons and Thomas Harris also come to mind.

CD: What forthcoming titles do you have, besides Lee’s Trolley No. 1852?

BP: Here is our tentative schedule:

  • Going Monstering by Edward Lee (Bloodletting Press)
  • Dreams In Black And White by John Little (Morning Star)
  • Urban Gothic by Brian Keene (Bloodletting Press)
  • Shadow of Darkness by Kelli Dunlap (Morning Star)
  • Corporation by J.F. Gonzalez (Morning Star)
  • He Stepped Through by Nate Southard (Bloodletting Press)
  • The Great God Pan and Other Stories by Arthur Machen (Arcane Wisdom)
  • Moonchild by Aleister Crowley (Arcane Wisdom)
  • The Severed Nose by Jeff Strand (Morning Star)

CD: Based on those first two Arcane Wisdom titles… will that be a reprint-only imprint?

BP: Most of what we publish will be hard to find reprinted material but we will throw in some new stuff as well that is written in the “Weird Tales” or gothic ghost story fashion.

CD: Five years from now, where would you like Bloodletting Press to be?

BP: I want to continue to grow the Bloodletting Press brand name and all its imprints. I would also like to see a trade paperback imprint well off the ground and successful within the next five years. It would also be very cool to publish some of those authors I mentioned earlier.

CD: Last words….any interesting publishing anecdotes to share? Any questions I didn’t ask that you’re dying to answer?

BP: I’ve had a lot of folks ask what my toughest and easiest projects have been.

My easiest project was The Cleansing by Shane Ryan Staley. It was delivered in a package that for all intents and purposes was ready to go to the printer. My toughest project was Shackled by Ray Garton. Ray didn’t have a copy of the manuscript so we had to tear out the pages from the paperback and scan each page. The optical character recognition software left a lot to be desired, and proofing and copyediting took months. But the book turned out to be one of our best in my opinion, and was well worth the effort.

SIDEBAR #1 – Bloodletting Books Publishing History
(all titles under Bloodletting imprint unless otherwise noted)

  1. Douglas Clegg, Breeder (2002)
  2. Edward Lee, Mr. and Miss Torso (2003)
  3. Edward Lee, The Baby (2003)
  4. Douglas Clegg, Neverland (2003)
  5. Steve Gerlach, Cell Candy (2003)
  6. Edward Lee, Ever Nat (2003)
  7. Steve Gerlach, Rage (2003)
  8. Ray Garton, Darklings (2004)
  9. Jeffrey Thomas, Boneland (2004)
  10. Elizabeth Massie, The Fear Report (2004)
  11. Brian Keene, Terminal (2004)
  12. Alan M. Clark & Jeremy Robert Johnson, Siren Promised (2004)
  13. Shane Ryan Staley, The Cleansing (2005)
  14. Tom Piccirilli, Thrust (2005)
  15. Ray Garton, Eye of the Guardian (2005)
  16. Steve Gerlach, Lake Mountain (2005)
  17. Wrath James White, Succulent Prey (2005)
  18. Charlee Jacob, Wormwood Nights (2005)
  19. Jack Ketchum and Tim Lebbon, Absinthe (2006)
  20. Steve Gerlach, Love Lies Dying (2006)
  21. Brian Keene, The Rutting Season (2006)
  22. Kealan Patrick Burke, Vessels (2006)
  23. Michael Laimo, Desecration (2007)
  24. David Niall Wilson, Ancient Eyes (2007)
  25. Brian Keene, Tequila’s Sunrise (2007)
  26. Steven Savile, The Hollow Earth (2007)
  27. Ray Garton, Shackled (2007)
  28. Wrath James White & J.F. Gonzalez, Hero (2007)
  29. Steve Gerlach, Hunting Zoe (2007)
  30. Jack Ketchum, Book of Souls (2008)
  31. James A. Moore, Patchwork (2008)
  32. Brian Knight, Apocalypse Green (2008)
  33. Greg F. Gifune, Judas Goat (Morning Star, 2008)
  34. Brian Keene, Darkness on the Edge of Town (Infernal House, 2008)
  35. Brian Keene and Roy C. Booth, Terminal: The Play (Morning Star, 2009)
  36. James A. Moore, Vendetta (2009)
  37. Brian Keene, Castaways (2009)
  38. William Ollie, The Damned (Morning Star, 2009)

SIDEBAR #2 – William Peter Blatty in the Small Press

This issue’s featured author, William Peter Blatty, has a relatively meager resume of small press titles – not surprising, really, given how little of his work falls into the horror and dark suspense genres (and how few titles he’s actually produced overall).

Blatty’s first small press title was The Exorcist: 25th Anniversary Edition, which was published by Gauntlet Publications in 1997 in a 600-copy limited edition and a ??-copy deluxe edition. The Gauntlet version features introductions by Blatty, F. Paul Wilson, and Matthew R. Bradley. As a side-note, the signature page correctly states “25th Anniversary Edition,” but on the title and half-title pages, the text mistakenly call it the “40th Anniversary Edition”.

In 2009, Cemetery Dance Publications doubled Blatty’s small press total by publishing Elsewhere, a short haunted-house novel featuring interior artwork by Alex McVey and cover photography by Bruce Haley, in three editions: trade, 350-copy limited and 52-copy deluxe.

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