Column from CD #63

NEWS & VIEWS
In my previous column, I mentioned four new publishers that I’d recently discovered—Cargo Cult Press, Dark Hart Press, Ex Occidente Press and Ghostwriter Publications—and promised to talk a little more about each this time around.

Cargo Cult (www.cargocultpress.com) was founded in 2008 and has apparently published five titles so far, although you have to go to bookseller HorrorMall’s site to determine that fact. The Cargo Cult website displays some nice touches of humor, but in terms of organization and timely info, well…it’s a bit of a nightmare, with very little in the way of updates since the initial blog entry in July 2008. Their most recent update does say that they have “…hired a web designer to assist us in keeping up our heretofore woefully lacking website.” So perhaps by the time you read this, the site will have had a nice makeover. The five CCP titles to date are authored by Gina Ranalli, Anderson Prunty, Michael McBride, Steve Gerlach, and Brian Knight. It appears as if the press is specializing in micro-editions—very small print runs of the sort popularized by Delirium Books—but it’s hard to tell for sure. I haven’t obtained any CCP titles yet, but I’m expecting to review one in my next column.

Dark Hart Press (www.darkhartpress.com) has published seven titles to date, including Lisa Mannetti’s The Gentling Box (Stoker Award winner for Best First Novel), Bryon Morrigan’s The Desert, and Robert Dunbar’s Martys & Monsters, which is reviewed below. Dark Hart has made some strong editorial choices to date, so hopefully that will be reflected on their balance sheet and we’ll continue to see more from them.

The vast majority of genre small presses that I’ve encountered are in either the US or the UK, but Ex Occidente Press (www.exocccidente.com) features a fascinating (if not exactly ideal for shipping purposes) home base of Bucharest, Romania. Since their debut in late 2008, they’ve announced an admirable line-up, with six titles published to date, including volumes from Joel Lane, Reggie Oliver, and R.B. Russell, with work by the likes of Steve Duffy, Mark Samuels, and Mark Valentine still in the pipeline. Unfortunately, my efforts to acquire review copies from Ex Occidente were rebuffed by EOP founder Dan Ghetu, from whose email I quote:

“With all respect and sympathy, Cemetery Dance is not, by any means, the kind of magazine for the Ex Occidente Press books…I am afraid I am not interested at all in horror fiction and horror magazines. I know this sounds at least foolish and naive but it is the simple truth.”

In reply, I pointed out that: A) my personal definition of horror is quite broad, and certainly encompasses the “supernatural”, the “weird tale,” and “strange stories,” all of which are terms employed on the Ex Occidente website to describe their books, and B) while I was editing CD,I purchased a story by Joel Lane, and would have been more than happy to purchase stories from other Ex Occidente authors like Steve Duffy and Mark Samuels, had they submitted to the magazine.

Alas, my pleas fell on deaf ears. I did subsequently purchase a copy of the aforementioned Reggie Oliver collection, but it had not yet arrived by the time that this column had to be delivered, so I can’t comment further.

Finally, UK-based Ghostwriter Publications (www.ghostwriterpublications.com) is only in its second year of existence, but publisher Neil Jackson has ambitious plans and an aggressive schedule, and has already published or announced eight novels, a couple collections, an anthology, 18 chapbooks, five audio books, and a graphic novel, including authors such as Scott Nicholson, David Niall Wilson, Guy N. Smith, and Simon Kurt Unsworth. (Full disclosure: Ghostwriter has published a story of mine.). It’s not difficult to call to mind past presses that have been undone by overly-ambitious initial plans, so one can only hope that Ghostwriter is able to live up to their lofty aspirations. I should have reviews of a couple of their titles in my next column.

To maintain my newly-established tradition of listing recently-discovered presses, here are the publishers I’ve run across (or, in a couple cases, been reminded of) since my previous column: Baysgarth Publications; Bitter Lemon Press; Bloody Books; Eibonvale Press; Exaggerated Press; Hooded Friar; House of Murky Depths; Midnight Marquee Press; Spectre Library. As space permits (a big if), I’ll try to take a brief look at each of them in the next couple columns.

REVIEWS
Generally speaking, I’m not planning on covering small press magazines in this column. I reserve the right to break that guideline every now and then, however, and I’m going to do so now, in order to talk about a very impressive bi-monthly magazine from the UK, Black Static.

Black Static is the new incarnation of the magazine formerly known as The Third Alternative. Publisher TTA Press (www.ttapress.com), which is owned and operated by Andy Cox, also publishes the remarkable Crimewave magazine, and acquired long-standing science fiction magazine Interzone in 2004, after which The Third Alternative was renamed Black Static, and its content fine-tuned to focus exclusively on horror and dark fantasy.

Despite a longer than expected hiatus during the changeover to the new title and design, Black Statichas, since its re-emergence, consistently appeared on a bi-monthly publishing schedule. Stories have been published by the likes of Steve Rasnic Tem, Joel Lane, Tony Richards, Conrad Williams, Gary Fry, and Scott Nicolson, to name but a few. In addition, the magazine features regular columns by Christopher Fowler, Stephen Volk, and Mike O’Driscoll, along with copious book reviews by Peter Tennant and film reviews by Tony Lee. What follows is a quick review of issue #10 (#11 was released just as I was putting this column to bed).

In addition to his usually-provocative column, Christopher Fowler has a story in this issue—“The Piano Man,” a New Orleans-based tale of crime and reanimation. It’s actually not one of the stronger tales here, although that’s a more a comment on the quality of the other work. More impressive are Gary McMahon’s “The Chair,” an enigmatic tale of a boy and his strange parents, which has something of a Ramsey Campbell feel to it, and Scott Lambridis’s poetic tale of war and spirits, “Washer Woman.” Also noteworthy are Maura McHugh’s “Vic,” which keeps the reader deliciously off-kilter throughout, and Shannon Page’s “Eastlick,” concerning a pre-adolescent witch who begins to master her latent abilities just in time to save herself from a nasty situation. Best of all is CDveteran James Cooper’s “Because Your Blood is Darker Than Mine,” a tale of a dysfunctional family that reads like a dark modern (and wonderfully weird) fairy tale.

Telos Books (www.telos.co.uk), a UK-based small press operating since 2001, seems to be moving more and more into media-related non-fiction titles of late, and Steven Warren Hill’s Silver Scream: 40 Classic Horror Movies; Volume One: 1920-1941 is the first of two Telos horror movie titles I’ll be reviewing here (the second, It Lives Again: Horror Movies in the New Millenium, I’ll examine next issue).

Silver Screamis an extremely well-researched volume, with each film’s entry featuring the following sections: Plot, Highlights and Memorable Quotes, Lowlights, Goofs, The Ongoing Story, Version, Trivia, Cast and Crew, Music, Critical Words, and Another Perspective. Over the course of forty entries, favorite sections (and “less-favorite” sections) emerge. For example, the section The Ongoing Story consistently presents very interesting historical context. Not nearly as interesting or useful is the Another Perspective section, which features opinions from one of three critics, whose primary qualifications appear to be that they live near author Hill. One of the three in particular offers some comments that can only be described as extremely amateurish.

Of course, half the fun in any list-oriented book such as this is in second-guessing the choices made. To Hill’s credit, however, there’s not much room for such armchair critiquing here, as all the obvious choices—Frankenstein, Dracula, etc.—are included, and there are no films that jump to mind as obvious oversights. What perhaps is possible to quibble about is the use of the word “classic” in the title, considering how negatively Hill evaluates several of these films. Fully 25% of the films discussed here are scored at 70 or below on Hill’s scale of 100, with The Cat and the Canary bringing up the rear with a paltry score of 42. At the other end of the scale, Hill gives his highest score (98) to Mad Love, Curse of the Cat People, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde(the 1931 version).

Minor quibbles aside, Silver Scream, Volume Oneis ultimately a very informative and entertaining book.

Until recently Robert Dunbar has largely been known solely for his novel The Pines, which achieved semi-cult status after its publication in 1989. My recollection of The Pines is that it’s a highly enjoyable but fairly straight-ahead thriller. I was thus surprised to discover the substantial amounts of panache and poetic insight in Dunbar’s collection, Martyrs & Monsters.

Witness efforts such as “Like a Story,” in which two kids attempt to gather evidence on a local recluse who they suspect of wrongdoing, only to see their plans go horribly awry. Or the purely primal sense of fear and a mother’s quest for survival captured in “Gray Soil.” Or the similar sensations conveyed through a labor camp prisoner and the endless attacking hordes in “Red Soil.” Or the dark twists and turns of “Getting Wet,” wherein the narrative of a tenuous relationship between two petty criminals constantly keeps the reader off-balance and on-edge.

All of the 14 stories reprinted here first appeared in small press markets. I don’t know if Dunbar has been submitting his short fiction to more mainstream markets, but if he hasn’t he should, as there’s much here that deserves a wider audience. And if he has submitted to larger markets, but has been rejected…then I have to wonder what some of those editors are thinking.

I am chagrined that I’m only just now getting around to reviewing Adam Golaski’s 2008 collection Worse Than Myself, published by Raw Dog Screaming Press (www.rawdogscreaming.com). I first started reading it quite a while ago, and was quite frankly blown away by the first story, but then rather quickly found myself drowning in metaphor and symbolism, and decided that this was not a collection that’s best enjoyed in one sitting. The book unfortunately became literally buried beneath a stack of other titles, and it was quite a while before I returned to Golaski’s collection. Fortunately, as I delved further into the 11 stories collected here, any prior feelings that piecemealing was required quickly faded, due primarily to the fact that there are several truly outstanding stories that help pave the way.

For example, the aforementioned first story, “The Artist’s House,” is a deliciously demented tale that uses an extended set-up—almost a framing device, really—to lead in to the core narrative, which concerns a little girl and her parents who take a break from a holiday drive at a very strange diner. “What Water Reveals,” meanwhile, wrings a substantial amount of frisson from the juxtaposition of a recovering alcoholic and a deluged town where mysterious subterranean holes are opening up beneath residents’ feet.

The titular character in the deeply disturbing “The Man From the Peak” is an interloper at a small private party, who whispers horrible things to the various party-goers, all of whom are held in his sway. Not quite as accomplished, but still highly engaging, is “Weird Furka,” wherein a part-time late-night DJ at a tiny radio station finds some old recordings in the station’s sub-basement and soon falls under their spell.

There are at least two more stories—“They Look Like Little Girls” and “A String of Lights”—that could have achieved a similar standard of excellence, but instead frustrate due to Golaski’s over-reliance on the enigmatic.

Make no mistake—I’m eager to read more of Golaski’s work and to see what heights he attains with his clearly substantial skills. But in this reviewer’s opinion, he would benefit from an occasional reminder that ambiguity does not necessarily equal excellence.

Brian Evenson is the new black. As in black humor. Very black. Noir to the nth.

Such is my conclusion upon completing Evenson’s latest novel, Last Days, from Underland Press (www.underlandpress.com). The novel is a fix-up of sorts, employing Evenson’s previously-published novella “The Brotherhood of Mutilation” as part 1, and adding about 75 pages of sequel material.

Still recovering from the violent amputation of one of his hands, our hero Detective Kline has what’s left of his arm twisted by the aforementioned Brotherhood, who rather forcibly convince him to privately investigate a crime that’s occurred within the confines of their religious cult. As the Brotherhood’s name might imply, their members are distinguished by having lost a limb or a few digits—and given that the more parts that one has lost, the greater their stature in the group…well, let’s just say that the trend toward self-mutilation has picked up a good head of steam. Against this surreal backdrop, Kline reluctantly seeks the truth, all the while struggling in a web of deceit and frequently fending off attacks on his life and remaining limbs.

The darkly tongue-in-cheek tone is so pervasive throughout the book that it’s somewhat difficult to extract brief quotations…but here are a few attempts to capture the grim flavor.

“By the time [Gous’s] amputation took place, Kline had had a few drinks, had drunk enough in fact that he had trouble making his eyes focus. To see reasonably well, he had to cover one eye with his stump.”

The organization’s peculiar obsession inevitably leads to some…unusual sexual ramifications:

“He opened the cabinet. It was full of stacks of calendars, each month featuring a woman in various states of undress, smiling furiously. He looked at the first picture for some time before realizing the girl was missing one of her thumbs. With each month, the losses became more obvious and more numerous. March losing a breast, July missing both breasts, a hand, and a forearm. The December girl was little more than a torso, her breasts shaved off, wearing nothing but a thin white cloth banner from one shoulder to the opposite hip, reading ‘Miss Less is More.'”

And, finally, sticking with the theme of nude women…

“And then the woman sashayed across the stage and reached up with her remaining finger and thumb to tear free her [prosthetic] ear. She spun it around a few times before tossing it out into the audience. Kline saw a group of men rise up in a dark mass, trying somehow, with what hands they had left between them, to catch it.”

As these quotations likely show, readers are likely to find themselves deeply disturbed at the same time they’re snickering. With Last Days,Evenson establishes himself as a master of the literature of the Absurd…and I mean that in only the best of ways.

Joel Lane has been sporadically delivering powerful fiction for nearly two decades now, and his slim new novella The Witnesses Are Gone,from PS Publishing, upholds that tradition.

I’m going to cheat here, and borrow the publisher’s description of the book, since it summarizes the plot so well:

“Martin Swann…moves into an old house and finds a box of videocassettes in the garden shed. One of them has a bootleg copy of a morbid and disturbing film by a little-known French director, Jean Rien. Martin’s search for Rien’s other films, and for a way to understand them, draws him away from his home and his lover into a shadow realm of secrets, rituals and encroaching decay.”

The key word in that description is the last one: “decay.” It’s used no less than 16 times in the book, which should give you an excellent idea of the general tone that Lane strives for, and attains.

As the story begins, Swann is involved in a relationship of mutually-assured-destruction. With his partner Judith continuously offering blunt assessment such as this—“Why did you buy the house?” she said quietly. “The world’s in crisis and you’re living in a dead industrial district, watching films about madness.”—it’s no wonder that Swann is so easily led to stare, and step, into the abyss.

His viewing of the aforementioned videotape leads him to dig up from storage a nearly-forgotten magazine called Screen Bizarre,which contains an article entitled “The Enigma of Jean Rien” by Will Padgett. From there, he tracks down Padgett, and the trail then leads him to Paris and beyond.

The bleak, surreal tone of Rien’s films is summarized well by one character Swann interviews:”I think I’ve seen something else of his… Something about an icon, a hunched thing with black teeth and empty eye-sockets, that ruled a village.” (Incidentally, some of the descriptions of Rien’s films reminded me of E. Elias Merhige’s Begotten, a desolate dirge of a film which you may want to go look up. Or not.)

But not everyone Swann encounters is sold on the rumors and legends surrounding Rien, “It’s all a hoax,” says one angrily, claiming Rien never even existed. It is all, as the saying goes, a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.

Swann’s search ultimately leads him to a climax of sorts in the Mexican desert. Along the way, Lane namechecks the likes of Kim Newman, The Fortean Times,William Hope Hodgson, and Hertzan Chimera, and there are some sublime moments of dry wit. There’s a feeling of immersion here, much like Swann’s dive into decay.

Acting as a constant backdrop throughout the story is the run-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and although the frequent references sometimes cross over into heavy-handedness, the common thread is nicely summarized here: “…the weapons of mass destruction proved as elusive as the films of Jean Rien.”

The Witnesses Are Gonecontains many excellent passages, and comes a hair’s-breadth from achieving that same standard of excellence overall, but at times the narrative feels a bit too aimless, like Swann himself near the story’s end: “For the last few months, I’ve drifted from city to city, heading nowhere in particular. I feel the need to keep searching, though I don’t know what I’m searching for.” Despite this occasional wandering, Lane’s latest is definitely recommended.

Slim and slimmer. Given that I described The Witness Are Gone as being slim at 64 pages, it’s only fair to label Scott Edelman’s The Hunger of Empty Vessels as slimmer, coming in as it does at 49 pages. I’ve long been a fan of Edelman’s occasional horror fiction; as a matter of fact, I included his “Is This a Horror Story?” in the anthology Quick Chills II the early ‘90s. The Hunger of Empty Vessels is published by Bad Moon Books (www.badmoonbooks.com) and it’s a rather short, sharp bit of nastiness, featuring a divorced father whose legally-enforced separation from his son has pushed him to the breaking point.

This is an admirable effort to try and put a (fantastic) face on the inexplicable actions of a crazed, divorced parent, as one sometimes sees featured sensationally in the news, but it’s somewhat encumbered by a very unlikeable protagonist who spends a lot of time wallowing in self-pity. As mentioned above, the self-destructive bent of the lead character in Joel Lane’s novella was a bit difficult to accept at times, and here, in Edelman’s tale, it can be extremely hard to swallow.

On the plus side…it can perhaps be said that irony is a dish best delivered unexpectedly, and Edelman deftly unveils the entree here. Also, although the familiar devices of unreliable narrator and (possible) emotional vampires are employed, there’s a relatively fresh slant given these themes, particularly the latter.

In light of my pre-existing high regard for Edelman’s work, I have to say I was a mite disappointed by this tale, although it’s worth noting that I literally read this on the heels of the Joel Lane novella, and the excellence of Lane’s tale likely overshadowed The Hunger of Empty Vesselsa bit. In my estimation, you can find considerably better Edelman elsewhere, but your reading mileage may vary.

INTERVIEW
This issue’s interview features PS Publishing, the prolific UK-based firm that’s responsible for an impressively wide range of titles. The press debuted in 1999 and has since gone on to publish over 150 titles.

In addition to its book line, PS began publishing Postscripts magazine in mid-2004 and 18 issues have appeared as of this writing, although the magazine has relatively recently morphed into a full-blown anthology series. Several issues have featured a predominant horror theme, with issue #10 of particular interest, as it was a special commemorative issue to mark the Guest of Honor appearances of Peter Crowther and Michael Marshall Smith at the 2007 World Horror Convention in Toronto, Canada.

CD: You were already on your way to establishing a strong reputation as a writer before getting into publishing. What prompted you to make the move into publishing?

PS: It was something I hadn’t done. That may sound like a glib answer but it’s actually quite true. It’s been my attitude to life—to a degree, of course. You’re only guaranteed the one ride on the merry-go-round so it makes sense—to me, anyways—to fill that ride with as many experiences as you can muster. But I’d always wanted to produce a magazine (God help me!), way back when, as a youngster of 12 or so, I would devour issues of Astounding and F&SF and even, thanks to a warehouse find, 1940’s and -50s copies of Weird Tales, Fantastic and Amazing (I loved WT but I found the other two pulps a little clunky—hey, we’re talking about a real precocious little prick here: aren’t you glad you didn’t know me when I was 12?). Anyway, like I say, I wanted to do a mag at the same time I wanted to write so, in many ways, the whole publishing company thing was probably my subconscious desire to become Ed Ferman or John W. Campbell.

CD: The name of your company, PS Publishing, would seem to be a reflection of the Postscripts magazine/anthology series, but the first issue of Postscripts didn’t appear until five years after you launched the company, so ¦what’s the story behind the name of the magazine and the company?

PS: The company was originally started as a collaborative venture between myself and Simon Conway. Simon was—still is—a good friend and, at the time, I was doing some consultancy work for his communications company. Now you have to bear in mind that these were the days before extensive desktop publishing and design capabilities, so when I decided the time was finally right to have a go, I needed some design and layout skills. I went to Simon and, to his credit, he said sure, let’s do it. Thus PS was born—Peter and Simon. That was late 1998—the first four titles appeared in the summer and fall of 1999.

For the record, Simon met and married an American girl and thus, in 2000, he wound up his business and moved to the US. We did consider trying to continue the partnership even with the 3,000-mile gap between us but, in the end, we decided that it wouldn’t work. So, as everything to do with PS’s philosophy was of my doing and Simon’s only (important though it was) contribution was to do layouts and typesetting etc, I assumed full ownership and responsibility. It was a case of “Hey, any shmuck can lay-out a page!” Well, all I can say is take a look at some of those early Crowther-designed book interiors (thankfully all sold out now) and you’ll see how wrong I was.

When it came time to do the mag, I considered lots of names which I can’t recall now (probably a good thing). But I’d kind of hankered after calling it Postscripts simply because the parent company is PS.

CD: Who else, besides yourself, is involved in PS Publishing?

PS: My wife, Nicky—she left teaching some five years ago now to take up some of the responsibilities of PS. Since then, she’s become my right-hand (well, one of them)…running the office, chasing late invoice payments, dealing with artists and authors, dealing with our printers on design issues (she’s the force behind The Colorado Kid and Secret Histories plus a couple of other upcoming design-heavy projects), answering customer inquiries, dealing with trade customers and, of course, most important of all, looking after me. It’s Nicky who has finally allowed me to return to my own writing. Just a little at the moment but it’s building.

In addition to Nicky, there’s our design team headed by Robert Wexler (my second right hand) and featuring Michael Smith (who also handles our website) plus Luis Rodrigues, John Klima and a couple of others. And operating as my third right hand—the one that decides on what we buy and what we don’t buy—Nick Gevers, senior copy-editor, editor on Postscripts and commissioning editor on the full PS line. Then we have David Taylor, proofer and copy-editor, and Paul Raven, who handles all of our PR and advertising. Outside of that lot, we’ve got Theresa Loosley, at MPG Biddles, who supervises and co-ordinates all of our print needs. It’s a great team.

CD: In each of the last few years, you’ve produced around two dozen titles—sometimes more, sometimes less, but right around that level. Is that the annual output level at which you expect/want to continue?

PS: Yes, I think that’s about right for us. We’ve actually turned out in excess of 30 titles this past couple of years (if you count Postscripts) but I reckon that two titles a month is about right for the future.

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

PS: That was probably Stephen King’s The Colorado Kid. We did between 6,000 and 7,000 copies of that. We’d do it again with the right project but, particularly with limited-editions and collectibles, you really do have to restrict the numbers…unless you’ve got a hugely popular author—Stephen is a fine example, of course…and, as we all know, Joe Hill is a similar prospect. But I do push the boundaries as much as I can even with writers and books that—at least commercially speaking—are not going to ‘set the world on fire’.

CD: Along with Subterranean Press, your press is notable for publishing one of the broadest ranges of fiction, across fantasy, horror, and science fiction. Do you try to achieve an ongoing balance between genres with your titles: i.e., x number of fantasy titles, x number of horror titles, etc. ? Or do you simply publish whatever you think is worthy, regardless of genre classification?

PS: Basically, I publish only what I like. If something is a good commercial proposition then that’s great—obviously, I want the press to be a success both critically and commercially. But it’s the critical part that I’m most interested in. Let’s face it, we all read across the artificial genre boundaries. I just got back from vacation in Greece where I read the first two Frank Corso novels by G.M.Ford, the first Frank Coffin novel by Jon Loomis, a police procedural by Graham Hurley and Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn. None of these is horror or fantasy or SF and yet most of what PS puts out is.

The best example of what I’m trying—slowly but surely—to do with PS can be found in the old Saturday Evening Post magazine…when, behind Rockwell Americana covers, you’d have war stories, romances, westerns, SF and crime all rubbing shoulders with each other. I also love reading comics—DC’s archive series is a must for me. Pity other publishers didn’t follow suit—particularly the Archie people and whoever has the rights to the old ACG lines.

Boy, that’s a bit of a rambling answer isn’t it! So just to sum up, I guess Nick Gevers and I do try to even out the spread a little but I can say hand on heart that we don’t set out on any particular day and say “Hey, we need a fantasy!” Doesn’t happen. And nor will it anytime soon.

CD: Speaking of crossing genres: some of your titles, such as David Herter’s On the Overgrown Path, Richard Calder’s Babylon, and Robert Edric’s The Mermaids, are particularly difficult to categorize. Would you just as soon see genres and publishing categories go away, or do you think they have value?

PS: I suppose we need some kind of classification or categorization but I do believe it’s gotten out of hand. I’m always spouting about this on convention panels so apologies to readers who’ve heard it all before. In many UK stores we’ve got shelves set aside for Gay Writers and Black Writers. Now where’s the sense in that? I really don’t care a jot about a writer’s color or persuasion (or religion or gender). But I do care that bookstores have a very limited buying budget—and storage space—for the books they offer for sale and, particularly when it comes to older so-called classics, they’re limited to being able to stock only one copy. So, my question is this: where does one place Chip Delaney’s Dahlgren? Black Writers? Gay Writers? SF?

But, okay okay…I recognize the old chestnut about someone having a limited time available to buy a new book and they want to go right in and just check a few cover-blurbs and get the hell out of the store. Fair enough. In that instance it makes sense to be able to go straight to the Crime section or the Horror section (even though it maybe has only King’s books, a few by Peter Straub, a couple of Clive Barkers and maybe an Anne Rice) or the SF section. But we don’t need it broken down any more. Okay, sermon over.

CD: Your PS Showcase series is billed as “mini-collections of short stories from some of genre fiction’s best up-and-coming writers.” Of the first five volumes in that series, the collections by Gary Fry, Mark Samuels, and Douglas Smith are likely to be of particular interest to CD readers. How do you select the authors for this series, and how have the books in this series sold for you?

PS: Sales are a little patchy on some of the Showcase titles. But that’s fine. It was always going to be a mixed bag, commercially speaking. The way we choose them is that we see a story or two from someone who’s a newish writer—either submitted to us for Postscripts or something from someone else’s magazine—and we like it and then we drop them a line and suggest maybe they’d consider our doing a mini-collection. Simple as that.

CD: Publishing Joe Hill’s debut collection, 20th Century Ghosts, in 2005 was obviously a major coup for you. How did you come to publish that collection, and at what point did you learn Hill’s true identity?

PS: Only when we’d gotten virtually to the print stage. And this is one thing—of several—I owe Rich Chizmar for. I got a note from Rich, out of the blue, saying there was this guy—Joe Hill—who’d got a fantastic collection available and was I interested in seeing it. The truth was that the last thing I needed at that stage was a collection from a brand new author. But Rich kind of made it difficult for me to say no because he said that this Hill guy was the best short story writer he’d seen since two fellas by the name of Crowther and Partridge. So I said for Rich to tell Joe to drop me a line and so he did. I suggested he send me a couple of stories across and I’d take a look. he sent me ’20th Century Ghost’, ‘Pop Art’ and, as I recall, ‘Voluntary Committal.’ Well, these stories just blew me away. I mean almost literally. I just wept at ‘Ghost’ and ‘Pop Art’—that last line there is an absolute killer. And by the end of the third one, I knew I had to have the collection for PS.

I made an offer for our usual slipcased and signed editions but Joe had kind of set his heart on a paperback edition as well. Well, I just loved that book so much that I decided the time was right to have a shot…and we did the three editions. And the deal was done.

By now, we’d built up quite a rapport—particularly where music was concerned…with each of us emailing or phoning the other to rec a great new album—but one day I had to make a different call. Someone had mentioned the dedication in The Shining and I’d looked it up. And that very same week, I came across an article in one of our newspaper color supplements talking about Steve’s motorcycle ride around the US on a signing tour: the article mentioned the three King children, each with their first names only…and there was Joe Hill.

I read back through some of those stories and tried to spot a clue, something that would confirm the connection. But there wasn’t anything—at least nothing except that both Joe Hill and Stephen King were bloody good writers. So I decided to bite the bullet and call him on it. He came clean immediately, explaining that all he wanted for his book to sink or swim on his own merits and not because of who his dad was. I agreed. So we kept it as quiet as we could and it seemed to work okay…until he appeared at FantasyCon to promote the book. The best part of that was a rather inebriated Mark Morris telling Joe that he looked just like a young Stephen King: “Yeah?” Joe mused, “You know,” he went on to say, “I do get that a lot.”

And there you have it.

CD: Speaking of the famous family…publishing a limited edition of Stephen King’s The Colorado Kid was likewise a feather in your cap. How did that title come to be?

PS: I love that book—it’s one of my absolute favorite King tales. And when I read it in that lovely little Hard Case Crime paperback edition, I couldn’t help but feel that it should have a nice hardcover. So I dropped him a line and he obviously felt the same, so he passed my note to his agent and we just went from there.

CD: Ramsey Campbell is a true PS Publishing stalwart, with seven titles published so far and two more announced. How have you forged such a strong working relationship with Campbell?

PS: I love Ramsey’s work. Simple as that. And I say here and now that PS will publish his books so long as he lets us. Nobody does it better than Ramsey…plus he and Jenny are great fun to be with at Indian restaurants!

CD: On rare occasions, you’ve dipped your toe into non-fiction waters, with Mark Morris’s Cinema Macabre, Stephen Jones’s Basil Copper: A Life in Books, and John Berlyne’s Powers: Secret Histories. What attracted you to these titles?

PS: I’ve said this before and each time I say it, it sounds a little more cracked than the last time. There are some books that come along that just have to be published, even though they’re a little short on the old commerciality. So, in the absence of anyone else standing up and doing the honors, we filled the gap. We went a little crazy on the Secret Histories project but I’m pleased to say that we’ve pretty much covered our investment. And, for those who want to know, I’d do it all again in a second.

CD: You’ve started publishing the collected stories of Ed Gorman. Although Ed has written across many genres, he’s most closely associated with crime and suspense, and he’s essentially the only such writer you’ve published to date. So, why Ed?

PS: Well, Ed isn’t the only one: we also published Larry Block’s Random Walk. But I’ve enjoyed Ed’s short stories for decades now—don’t get me wrong, his novels are fine (read The Marilyn Tapes or Cage of Night if you need convincing)…but his short stories are like literary caviar. And he’s one of the quartet of folks who have helped and championed me in the US (the other three are Rich Chizmar—who I’ve mentioned already; Marty Greenberg and his Tekno Books operation; and Bill Schafer over at Subterranean Press) and I just wanted to get Ed’s stories to a wider audience. I’ll do more crime stuff in the fullness of time—I love that expression—but I can tell you right here that we’ve bought Robert Edric’s masterful long novella about Bonnie and Clyde, so keep checking the website for details.

CD: Christopher Golden’s The Hiss of Escaping Air is one of the infrequent chapbooks you’ve published: how do you choose your chapbook titles—do you solicit them?

PS: Chris is another guy for whom I have a lot of time, both as a writer and socially. We hung out for a while at NeCon on the two occasions Nicky and I attended (and we’re hoping to go back there next year) and we spent some time with him and Joe (Hill) when we had a few weeks in New England last year. When I read his The Boys Are Back In Town, I knew I wanted to do something by him: so I bought the limited rights to that title—a very fine novel indeed—and I asked him to write something for us that I could put out to tie-in with his guest-showing at FantasyCon. He gave us Hiss.

CD: We touched earlier on Postscripts—what prompted you to convert that series from a magazine to book-sized anthologies?

PS: Well, you know, it really is a book already…has been all along. And so many people have mentioned that to me that I just decided to go ahead and call it a book. You know the old Marx Brothers saying about if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck? Well, Postscripts is just that. (A book, not a duck.)

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

PS: I hate these questions—like everyone else who gets asked them, I suppose—but I’ll have a go. Please note that this truly is the tip of the iceberg. Okay, here goes: Peter Straub, Alice Hoffman, John Irving, Robert B. Parker, Jonathan Aycliffe, Tom Ligotti, Patrick McGrath, Jonathan Carroll, Charles de Lint, Ursula LeGuin, Robert McCammon, Connie Willis…I could go on an on. But I won’t.

CD: Some of your announced forthcoming books will definitely be of interest to CD readers, by authors such as T.M. Wright, Terry Lamsley, Sarah Pinborough, Rick Hautala, and Ramsey Campbell. Any other horror-oriented titles not yet announced that you’d care to mention?

PS: Once again, all in the fullness of time! Be patient, dear boy…

CD: Tell us about the PS Holiday Chapbook series—what are the books in that series, and why aren’t they listed on your website? In a recent review of chapbook #4 in the series, S.T. Joshi says “I am unsure whether Pete Crowther is attempting to revive the centuries-old tradition of the Christmas ghost story…” So what about that? Are you trying to revive, or at least honor, that tradition?

PS: Yeah, ghost stories are great aren’t they? And the best time of year for a ghost story is around Christmas. So it kind of figures that we’ll aim to keep the tradition going. So far, we’ve done Gene’s Christmas Inn, Liz’s Illyria, Joe’s The Saved and Ramsey’s The Long Way. I’m already in negotiations about this year’s. And yes, if all goes according to plan, it’ll be a ghost story.

CD: At the end of March, PS Publishing announced, in conjunction with the British Fantasy Society, that PS Publishing would no longer be eligible for the BFS Small Press award. How did that decision come about?

PS: It no longer made any sense for us to be taking the Best Small Press Award every year and eclipsing the fabulous work done by other genuinely small presses—you know, I mean, come on—we’re doing 25-30 books a year: that’s just not so small. And, really speaking, we’ve been that way for a couple of years but I just didn’t know how to go about addressing it because I didn’t want folks thinking we’d gotten too big for our own boots: heck, if it were up to me, I’d be happy to get an award every damn week! Then I hit on the idea of bowing out and offering to supplement the award with a cash amount (just £250—currently around $400). It seems to have been received okay.

CD: Five years from now, where would you like PS Publishing to be?

PS: Still publishing great books by great writers, with Nicky and I still working with the same team. We have the best and most loyal readers in the world—bar none!—and I value that support more than you could imagine. So we’ll keep on trying to push the boundaries—all we ask is that people keep on buying the books and seeing what we’re about.

SIDEBAR #1 – PS Publishing List of Titles
1999
Graham Joyce, Leningrad Nights
James Lovegrove, How the Other Half Lives
Michael Marshall Smith, The Vaccinator
Kim Newman, Andy Warhol’s Dracula

2000
Paul J. McAuley, Making History
Stephen Baxter, Reality Dust
Tim Lebbon, Naming of Parts
Peter F. Hamilton, Watching Trees Grow
Ian McDonald, Tendeléo’s Story

2001
Ken MacLeod, The Human Front
Adam Roberts, Park Polar
Alastair Reynolds, Diamond Dogs
Keith Brooke and Nick Gevers (Editors), Infinity Plus One
Tracy Knight, The Astonished Eye
Eric Brown, A Writer’s Life
Conrad Williams, Nearly People

2002
China Miéville, The Tain
Stephen Gallagher, White Bizango
Stephen Baxter, Riding the Rock
Stephen Jones (Editor), Keep Out the Night
Ramsey Campbell, Ramsey Campbell, Probably
Michael Moorcock, Firing the Cathedral
Geoff Ryman, V.A.O.
Mark Chadbourn, The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke
Mark Morris, The Uglimen
Ramsey Campbell, The Darkest Part of the Woods
Paul Di Filippo, A Year in the Linear City
Steven Erikson, Blood Follows

2003
James Barclay, Light Stealer
Terry Bisson, Dear Abbey
Keith Brooke and Nick Gevers (Editors), Infinity Plus 2
Cliff Burns, Righteous Blood
Ramsey Campbell, Told by the Dead
Paul Di Filippo, Fuzzy Dice
Elizabeth Hand, Bibliomancy
Stephen Jones (Editor), By Moonlight Only
Adam Roberts, Jupiter Magnified
Lucius Shepard, Floater
Robert Freeman Wexler, In Springdale Town

2004
Stephen Baxter, Mayflower II
Ramsey Campbell, The Overnight
Steven Erikson, The Healthy Dead
Stephen Gallagher, Out of His Mind
Gary Greenwood, Jigsaw Men
Tim Lebbon, Changing of Faces
James Lovegrove, Gig
Adam Nevillm Banquet for the Damned
Paul Park, No Traveller Returns
Lucius Shepard, Trujillo
Lavie Tidhar, Michael Marshall Smith: The Annotated Bibliography
Lisa Tuttle, My Death

2005
Steven Erikson, The Devil Delivered
Mary Gentle, Under the Penitence
William Hope Hodgson, The Wandering Soul
William Hope Hodgson, The Lost Poetry
Stephen Jones (Editor), Don’t Turn Out the Light
Paul J. McAuley, Little Machines
Juliet McKenna, Turns and Chances
Ian Cameron Esslemont, Night of Knives
Steven Erikson, Fishin’ with Grandma Matchie
Vera Nazarian, The Clock King and the Queen of the Hourglass
Mark Morris, Nowhere Near an Angel
Michael Swanwick, The Periodic Table of SF (a collection)
Mary Gentle, Under the Penitence
Michael Bishop, A Reverie for Mister Ray
Eric Brown, The Extraordinary Voyage of Jules Verne
Graham Joyce, TWOC
Ray Bradbury, R is for Rocket
Ray Bradbury, S is for Space
Jeffrey Ford , The Cosmology of the Wider World
Brian Aldiss, Sanity and the Lady
Ramsey Campbell , Secret Stories
Joe Hill , 20th Century Ghosts
Gene Wolfe, Christmas Inn

2006
Richard Calder, Babylon
Ian C. Esslemont, i
Dennis Etchison, Fine Cuts
Mark Morris, Cinema Macabre
Mark Samuels, The Face of Twilight
Brian Stableford, Streaking
Zoran Zivkovic, Impossible Stories
Steve Aylett, Fain the Sorcerer
Richard Bowes, Streetcar Dreams
Ian Watson, The Butterflies of Memory
Garry Kilworth, Moby Jack and Other Tall Tales
T.M. Wright, I am the Bird
R. Andrew Heidel, Desperate Moon: Three Collections
David Herter, On the Overgrown Path
Ian R. MacLeod, Past Magic
Robert Reed, Flavors of My Genius
Chris Roberson, The Voyage of Night Shining White
Robert Charles Wilson, Julian

2007
Elizabeth Hand, Illyria
Steven Utley, Where or When
Conrad Williams, The Scalding Rooms
Ramsey Campbell, The Grin of the Dark
Robert Edric, The Mermaids
Steven Erikson, The Lees of Laughter’s End
Ed Gorman, The Collected Ed Gorman, Volume 1: Out There in the Darkness
Ed Gorman, The Collected Ed Gorman, Volume 2: The Moving Coffin
Richard Parks, Hereafter and After
Stephen King, The Colorado Kid
Zoran Zivokic, Twelve Collections and the Teashop
Jack Dann, Promised Land
Steven Erikson, Bauchelain and Korbal Broach: The Collected Stories Volume One
Philip Jose Farmer and Danny Adams, The City Beyond Play
Lucius Shepard, Dagger Key and Other Stories
Eric Brown, Starship Summer
Mark Justice and David T. Wilbanks, Dead Earth: Green Dawn
Gary Fry, Sanity and Other Delusions (PS Showcase #1)
Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine 50th Anniversary Edition
Arthur C. Clarke, Tales from the White Hart
Michael Coney, Hello Summer, Goodbye
Michael Coney, I Remember Pallahaxi
Rhys Huges, The Crystal Cosmos

2008
Stephen Jones, Basil Copper: A Life in Books
Lawrence Block, Random Walk
Christopher Evans, Omega
David Herter, The Luminous Depths
Jeff Vandermeer, The Situation
Zoran Zivkovic, The Last Book
Ian C. Esslemont, Return of the Crimson Guard
Ramsey Campbell, Thieving Fear
Nancy Jane Moore, Conscientious Inconsistencies (PS Showcase #2)
Jack Dann, The Economy of Light
Robert T. Jeschonek, Mad Scientist Meets Cannibal (PS Showcase #3)
Will Elliott, The Pilo Family Circus
Matthew Hughes, Template
Ian R. MacLeod, Song of Time
James Barclay, Vault of Deeds
Ed Gorman, Cage of Night
Nicholas Royle, The Engima of Departure
Mark Samuels, Glyphotech (PS Showcase #4)
Steven Erikson, Revolvo
Christopher Golden, The Hiss of Escaping Air
Ray Bradbury, The Day it Rained Forever
John Grant, The City in These Pages
Joe Hill, Gunpowder
Darrell Schweitzer, Living with the Dead
Douglas Smith, Impossibilia (PS Showcase #5)
Terry Bisson, Planet of Mystery

2009
Stephen Baxter, i
John Berlyne, Powers: Secret Histories
Quentin Crisp, Shrike
Paul Di Filippo, Harsh Oases
Alex Irvine, Mystery Hill
Joel Lane, The Witnesses Are Gone
Uncle River, Camp Desolation and an Eschatology of Salt
Marly Youmans, Val / Orson
Zoran Zivkovic, The Bridge
Zoran Zivkovic, The Writer, The Book, The Reader
Sébastien Doubinsky, The Babylonian Trilogy
Paul Witcover, Everland and Other Stories

SIDEBAR #2 – Halloween in the Small Press
As one might expect, there has been no shortage of Halloween-related titles in the small press. In order to not take up a huge amount of space with an exhaustive round-up—not to mention to preserve my own sanity—I’m going to focus solely on the Halloween-oriented anthologies that have appeared from the small press.
At the risk of sounding egotistical, first and foremost among these ranks is October Dreams, edited by Richard Chizmar and myself, and published by Cemetery Dance Publications in 2000, in a trade edition and limited editions of 450 and 52. This sizable tome features 22 stories (half original and half reprints), as well as 30 “Halloween memories.” The contributor list is a veritable who’s who of the genre.
Late, latented UK publisher Pumpkin Books produced Horror at Halloween in 1999. Edited by Jo Fletcher and published solely in a trade edition, the anthology featured five original stories set in Charles L. Grant’s Oxrun Station milieu. Authors included Grant, John Gordon, and Craig Shaw Gardner.
In 2002, Jack Fisher edited the trade paperback anthology Octoberland for Flesh and Blood Press, 2002, unnumbered trade pb format featured stories by the likes of Stephen Mark Rainey, Charlee Jacob, and Bev Vincent, as well as yours truly.
Finally, starting in 2005, Earthling Publications has produced an annual chapbook featuring stories from each autumn’s Rolling Darkness tour. The tour, which consistently features Glen Hirshberg and Pete Atkins, along with a rotating cast of other contributors, travels to several bookstores in the western US to perform readings of mostly original stories. Other authors featured in the chapbooks include Dennis Etchison, Nancy Holder, Robert Masello and yours truly (are you starting to get the impression that I kind of like this whole Halloween thing?).

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