Storyville: Publisher Interviews—ChiZine, Eraserhead, and PMMP

So this week we’re interviewing three publishers instead of three editors and we couldn’t have a more diverse mix of dark fiction presses. ChiZine has been doing this for a long time, and doing it very well. I’m a big fan of many of their authors (Craig Davidson, Brent Hayward, Paul Tremblay, Stephen Graham Jones, etc.) and even won a contest there a few years ago. They really are one of my favorite presses out there. Then you have Eraserhead, one of the largest and most respected publishers of bizarro and surreal fiction—an imprint for just about every variation on the bizarre and surreal. And then we have newcomer Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, who has been taking on eccentric anthologies and a wide range of new and emerging authors. So take a moment to read this and digest it, and if it feels like a good fit, send them some work.


ChiZine Publications
Brett Savory, Co-Publisher

BACKGROUND:

Year of inception: 2008

Genres they publish: Fantasy, science fiction, horror, surreal, weird, magical realism, and transgressive.

Titles for 2014: Get Katja by Simon Logan; Dead Americans and Other Stories by Ben Peek; The Door in the Mountain by Caitlin Sweet; Floating Boy and the Girl Who Couldn’t Fly by Stephen Graham Jones and Paul Tremblay; Fearful Symmetries edited by Ellen Datlow; Irregular Verbs by Matthew Johnson; Haxan by Kenneth Mark Hoover; Shadow & Tall Trees, Volume 6 edited by Michael Kelly; Head Full of Mountains by Brent Hayward; and Dawn Song by Michael Marano.

What makes a novel, collection or story a “ChiZine” selection?

That’s one of those infuriatingly indefinable things, unfortunately. A sort of know-it-when-we-see-it kinda deal. We know it’s not helpful for writers because it’s so nebulous, but when we reject people, sometimes there’s no other reason besides “It just didn’t quite feel ‘ChiZine’ enough for us.” Aggravating, I know.

Please tell us about a recent manuscript (and author) you signed—what made it stand out, what surprised or fulfilled you as a reader, editor and publisher, what ultimately made you say YES.

Three of our more recent acquisitions were Almost Dark by Letitia Trent, Probably Monsters by Ray Cluley, and The Lady ParaNorma by Vincent Marcone (aka My Pet Skeleton). For all three, it was the strength of writing (and artwork in Vincent’s case). The ideas are cool, totally in our wheelhouse, and the execution is stand-out. Again, these are all subjective terms, and every editor has different ideas of what constitutes “stand-out,” and “cool,” which is maddening for anyone trying to sell us something. The best way to find out what we buy is to read one (or several) of our books. As the saying goes, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.

What subjects and plots do you see way too often?

Vampires, zombies, torture porn, etc.—even typing the words makes me tired. Is bad writing a subject? We definitely see that way too often.

We have done a vampire book (Michael Rowe’s Enter, Night), and there’re a few CZP zombie titles, too (James Marshall’s Ninja Versus Pirate Featuring Zombies, and Zombie Versus Fairy Featuring Albinos, as well as Tony Burgess’s viciously nihilistic The n-Body Problem), but in those cases, something (indefinable, of course) elevated them in our opinion, and made them welcome in the CZP family.

What subjects and plots do you never see that you’d love for somebody to submit?

Again, it’s a know-it-when-we-see-it thing. If we could ask for a particular subject or plot to be covered, I would probably do just that: ask one of the writers we know—or even just put out a general call—for a book about subject/plot X, then sit back and watch the million$ roll in!

What one bit of advice would you give a new and emerging author—about craft, the process, submissions, the industry, etc.

Two things: 1) Always read and stick to the guidelines of any given publisher. The guidelines are there for a reason. 2) ALWAYS READ AND STICK TO THE GUIDELINES OF ANY GIVEN PUBLISHER. THE GUIDELINES ARE THERE FOR A REASON.

Eraserhead Press
Rose O’Keefe, Publisher

BACKGROUND:

Year of inception: 1999

Genres they publish: bizarro

Titles for 2014: We publish 3-4 books per quarter on each of our main imprints. In the first quarter of 2014, our releases are:

Eraserhead Press main line
Hungry Bug by Carlton Mellick III
Pus Junkies by Shane McKenzie
Bigfoot Cop by Kevin Shamel

Lazy Fascist Press
Witch Piss by Sam Pink
American Monster by J.S. Breukelaar
The Door That Faced West by Alan M. Clark

Deadite Press
Boot Boys of the Wolf Reich by David Agranoff
Clickers III by Brian Keene and J.F. Gonzalez
Technicolor Terrorists by Andre Duza
Suffer the Flesh by Monica J. O’Rourke

What makes a novel, collection or story an “Eraserhead” selection?

Eraserhead Press publishes under eight different imprints that each have a very distinct focus. What they have in common is that all of them appeal to the type of reader who likes unconventional, entertaining, weird fiction. We seek to bring readers the type of stories that they didn’t even know existed, but when they read, they absolutely love.

The Eraserhead Press main line focuses on high concept bizarro fiction and features authors such as Carlton Mellick III, Mykle Hansen, and Cameron Pierce.

Lazy Fascist Press focuses on innovative literary fiction and publishes authors such as Sam Pink, Stephen Graham Jones, and Noah Cicero.

Deadite Press focuses on extreme horror fiction and features authors such as Brian Keene, Edward Lee, and Wrath James White.

Fungasm Press focuses on smart, fun, irreverent fiction and features authors such as John Skipp, Violet LeVoit, and Laura Lee Bahr.

Fantastic Planet Books offers offbeat science fiction.

Spunk Goblin Press is our imprint for strange children’s books for adults or kids with open-minded parents

The Magazine of Bizarro Fiction publishes short fiction, non-fiction, interviews and book reviews.

The New Bizarro Author Series is our line of first books by new authors.

Please tell us about a recent manuscript (and author) you signed—what made it stand out, what surprised or fulfilled you as a reader, editor and publisher, what ultimately made you say YES.

A recent project that I’m very excited about is In Heaven Everything Is Fine: Fiction Inspired by David Lynch edited by Cameron Pierce. Released last summer, it is an anthology featuring authors Thomas Ligotti, John Skipp, David J (of Bauhaus), Ben Loory, Nick Mamatas, Amelia Gray, Kevin Sampsell, Blake Butler, J. David Osborne, Violet LeVoit, Jeff Burk, Kris Saknussemm and many others. As you probably have already guessed, Eraserhead Press was named after the 1977 film by David Lynch. In the early days of the press, referring to Lynch’s work was one of the best ways that we could describe the type of fiction we were looking for. A lot has changed for our company in the last 15 years, but we owe a huge debt of gratitude to Mr. Lynch for inspiring us through his work. This anthology is a love letter to David Lynch and his fans. I hope people will read it and be inspired.

What subjects and plots do you see way too often?

I hesitate to list specific subjects and plots, because I believe that there are always ways to put a new spin on something that seems worn out. But I will say that I am sick and tired of seeing boring, plotless, random nonsense. Stories that have a bunch of weirdness thrown into them without having the weirdness serve a purpose do not entertain me. Authors sometimes try too hard to be unique, belaboring their point, sacrificing clarity in an effort to sound different. When instead, what they need to do is focus on how the weird elements of the story can build character, create conflict, and propel the plot.

What subjects and plots do you never see that you’d love for somebody to submit?

What I love is when someone is able to take a ridiculous over the top concept that is really weird and out there and take the reader by surprise by actually making them feel something with genuine emotional impact. It’s especially great when it combines more than one conflicting emotion. The stories I like best are the ones where I don’t know whether to be turned on or grossed out, I don’t know whether to become enraged with anger or laugh myself silly. I can think of a dozen examples of books like this that we’ve released, so it’s not exactly something we never see, but rather, something I want to see more of. One of those examples would be The Haunted Vagina by Carlton Mellick III. It’s a story about a guy who discovers that his girlfriend’s vagina is haunted so he shrinks down to a small size and goes exploring inside her. What he discovers is a gateway to another world and a love for a ghost girl that lives there. The story seems ridiculous and crazy on the surface, but it actually has a lot of heart. I would like to see authors focus more on developing compelling characters and creating interesting conflict with their weird concepts.

What one bit of advice would you give a new and emerging author—about craft, the process, submissions, the industry, etc.

Write the books you’d love to read. Write something that when you think about it makes you laugh, brings you to tears, or makes you sick with desire. Write a lot. Practice your craft through doing. Get involved with a community of writers who can help you learn about the industry and your craft. Believe in yourself and the value of your creativity. Never stop trying.

Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing
Max Booth III, Editor-in-Chief

BACKGROUND:

Year of inception: 2012

Genres they publish: Dark fiction, horror, science fiction, YA, neo-noir, crime, humor

Titles for 2014: Tales from the Holy Land by Rafael Alvarez (January), Long Distance Drunks: a Tribute to Charles Bukowski edited by Max Booth III (March), Gory Hole: a Horror Triple Bill by Craig Wallwork (April), Destroying the Tangible Illusion of Reality; or, Searching for Andy Kaufman by T. Fox Dunham (May), Neophyte by Eli Wilde and ‘Anna DeVine (June), The Green Kangaroos by Jessica McHugh (August), Truth or Dare? edited by Max Booth III (October).

What makes a novel, collection or story a “PMMP” selection?

It has to hook us in the first page. If the author cannot make us want to continue the book, then why would a reader? It takes less than thirty seconds to download a different book to your kindle. Our attention spans are short, and we have to cater to them. After that, just your basic stuff: good plot, good character, good voice, etc. We like ideas that haven’t been tackled before. We like surreal storylines that could be interpreted multiple ways. We want stories that seem natural, not forced. Strong characters staying true to themselves. Plots that fall in the right places. Exceptional dialogue is a must.

Please tell us about a recent manuscript (and author) you signed—what made it stand out, what surprised or fulfilled you as a reader, editor and publisher, what ultimately made you say YES.

Back in October I accepted Jessica McHugh’s new novel, The Green Kangaroos. I was hooked from the very first line (“Mama threw my junk out in the cold.”) and each line that progressed only made me want to devour it faster. I actually ended up reading the entire manuscript in one sitting while at work (shh, don’t tell my boss). Then the next day I read it again, just to be on the safe side, although I knew from the very first ten pages that this was a book I wanted to publish.

The Green Kangaroos is a magical book: it excels in all the requirements for a PMMP novel. Its voice is very similar to Chuck Palahniuk, although not as restricted. Its characters are raw and real, and McHugh really makes you feel for them. The plot takes a twist very early on, making you realize that anything is possible in this story. The novel is about a drug addict, an imperfect character, as all characters should be. It’s full of great ideas and unique quotes, and the whole atmosphere is so in your face, you can’t help but love it.

In my mind The Green Kangaroos is the perfect PMMP novel. Look for it this August.

What subjects and plots do you see way too often?

We get a lot of zombie fiction, and while that isn’t necessarily bad, none of it is ever very original. The majority of the zombie submissions we get cover the initial outbreak, and it almost always is about a man trying to travel across a great distance to save his woman. Very stereotypical. We also receive a lot of strange rape fantasy stories. Most of the time the stories will not contain much of a plot; it will basically consist of graphic details of someone raping someone else. We get quite a bit of bizarro stories that never seem to make sense, too. Stories that are strange for no reason, just random scenes of absurdity. Sort of like a child standing up and shouting, “HEY LOOK AT ME DO THIS TOTALLY CRAZY THING.” Other submissions we get a lot of are cheap knock offs of popular series, like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. (Note: Harry Potter and the Hunger Games would’ve been an awesome book.)

What subjects and plots do you never see that you’d love for somebody to submit?

More neo-noir fiction, definitely. Stuff similar to Palahniuk, Craig Clevenger, Will Christopher Baer, and Stephen Graham Jones. We also dig time travel stories, as well as (dark) coming-of-age tales. I also really like horror stories/books that involve a radio station, and I do not receive enough of them. So if you have a radio station horror story, send it to me ASAP.

What one bit of advice would you give a new and emerging author—about craft, the process, submissions, the industry, etc.

Getting published is very easy, if you’re willing to settle just to see what your name looks like in print. Always do you research before submitting your story/manuscript somewhere. Do not settle. Once your manuscript is published, be aware that you are your best publicist. The biggest mistake an author can make is believing that they do not have to do any promotion. And also, do not quit your day job after just one book. You will eventually starve to death.

Image of Fearful Symmetries
Author:
Price: $12.15
Publisher: ChiZine Publications (2014)
Binding: Paperback, 400 pages
Image of The Haunted Vagina
Author: Carlton Mellick III
Price: $7.95
Publisher: Eraserhead Press (2006)
Binding: Paperback, 100 pages
Image of Cruel
Author: Eli Wilde
Price:
Publisher: Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing (2013)
Binding: Paperback, 192 pages
Richard Thomas

Column by Richard Thomas

Richard Thomas is the award-winning author of seven books: three novels—Disintegration and Breaker (Penguin Random House Alibi), as well as Transubstantiate (Otherworld Publications); three short story collections—Staring into the Abyss (Kraken Press), Herniated Roots (Snubnose Press), and Tribulations (Cemetery Dance); and one novella in The Soul Standard (Dzanc Books). With over 140 stories published, his credits include The Best Horror of the Year (Volume Eleven), Cemetery Dance (twice), Behold!: Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders (Bram Stoker winner), PANK, storySouth, Gargoyle, Weird Fiction Review, Midwestern Gothic, Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories, Qualia Nous, Chiral Mad (numbers 2-4), and Shivers VI (with Stephen King and Peter Straub). He has won contests at ChiZine and One Buck Horror, has received five Pushcart Prize nominations, and has been long-listed for Best Horror of the Year six times. He was also the editor of four anthologies: The New Black and Exigencies (Dark House Press), The Lineup: 20 Provocative Women Writers (Black Lawrence Press) and Burnt Tongues (Medallion Press) with Chuck Palahniuk. He has been nominated for the Bram Stoker, Shirley Jackson, and Thriller awards. In his spare time he is a columnist at Lit Reactor and Editor-in-Chief at Gamut Magazine. His agent is Paula Munier at Talcott Notch. For more information visit www.whatdoesnotkillme.com.

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Comments

voodoo_em's picture
voodoo_em from England is reading All the books by Chelsea Cain! January 23, 2014 - 2:52am

Great column, Richard. Hope to see more of these interviews :)

Benjamin Joseph's picture
Benjamin Joseph from Southern U.S. is reading Knockemstiff January 23, 2014 - 4:58am

Seconded. This should be a thing.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies January 23, 2014 - 8:36am

thanks. i did one with editors, this is my first with publishers. i hope that this CAN become a thing. it's something i find very interesting. if you have suggestions on editors/magazines and publishers you'd like to see up here, speak up.

Jeff's picture
Jeff from Florida is reading Another Side of Bob Dylan by Victor Maymudes January 24, 2014 - 5:48pm

Eraserhead's submission guidelines sound downright Faustian: "If you're not interested in labeling your work bizarro fiction or interested in having a long career as a bizarro fiction author, then do not apply."

On the other hand I checked out Chizine's "Imaginarium 2012" on Amazon and was really impressed by a David Nickle story called "Looker". 

Thanks Richard for continuing to push us with these windows into the real world of publishing. 

Vonnegut Check's picture
Vonnegut Check from Baltimore January 24, 2014 - 12:02pm

if you have suggestions on editors/magazines and publishers you'd like to see up here, speak up.

Tin House, The Paris Review, A Public Space, Threepenny Review.

Any of those would be rad.

 

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies January 24, 2014 - 2:05pm

Yeah, Eraserhead is proud of their bizarro history, and presence. They don't want people who "dabble" in bizzarro. I kind of get it. ChiZine is one of my favorite publishers out there. I've read many of their books, and even won a contest there a few years ago. High quality work—Paul Tremblay, Stephen Graham Jones, Craig Davidson, etc. PMMP is doing some cool projects, but obviously, a new kid on the block.