Dark Arts Books was founded in 2006 with a simple game plan in mind: each year they’d publish a “sampler” anthology featuring four authors writing stories of horror and the fantastic.
So far, so good. Their first five books attracted talent such as Christa Faust, Cody Goodfellow, Gary A. Braunbeck and Sarah Pinborough. Their sixth book, When the Night Comes Down, is similarly loaded and has been receiving rave reviews since it’s debut at last month’s World Horror Con in England. Editor Bill Breedlove was kind enough to answer a few questions for us.
BG: To begin with, tell us a little bit about Dark Arts Books. How did it start, who’s involved, and what’s your goal as a publisher?
BB: Well, I will let you in on a little secret that no one has been told before: One of the key reasons we started Dark Arts Books is Martin Mundt. John Everson and I are both friends with Marty, and huge fans of his writing. But, Marty hates to do stuff like go to conventions, even though that’s where editors, agents and other networking opportunities are. So, I asked him if he was going to WHC in San Francisco in 2006, and he said no, mainly because he didn’t have a new book to promote. I said, “if you had a book to promote, would you go?” and he said “sure” thinking he wouldn’t have anything out in time. So, that’s when I called John and said, “We need to do a book.”
We had talked about doing a book of “Chicago authors” before, but it was all very pie-in-the sky. John was always going to one day start a small press, he’d done some work for our mutual friends at Twilight Tales in the past, and really liked many aspects of putting books together. So, it was some weird kind of serendipity that led to us deciding to try and put one together on EXTREMELY short notice. I think we ended up getting the original copies of Candy in the Dumpster just a few days before we left for SF. John was able to do a great job of putting the book together with no margin for error, time-wise. We were also lucky that another good friend (and spectacularly talented writer) Jay Bonansinga very generously volunteered to be involved with this project, sight-unseen and on short notice. There were so many things that could have happened to end disastrously. Somehow, though, it all worked out.
Marty ended up going to the con (and winning the flash fiction contest), Candy got some very good reviews (and still continues to sell well to this day), and so John and I looked at each other and said, “You know, if we had more time, I bet we could do something even better…” and now we’re on our sixth title, so hopefully we’re getting a little bit better with each one. I think we’re certainly learning more as we go along.
John and I have been doing it since the beginning, and then we somehow convinced our good friend (and also another great writer) Martel Sardina to come on board and do some stuff with publicity and at cons and parties, and she has been a huge help.
Dark Arts Books has a very simple goal: to publish authors and work by authors that we are passionate about seeing in print. That’s pretty much it.
Each of your releases has followed the same format of stories from four different authors. How did you arrive at this concept, and what about it works so well? Any plans to stray from this with future releases?
I think what helps the idea to work so well is not necessarily that it is several stories from each author–although that helps–but that it represents that author’s best work. Because the writers have more that just one story to work with, that gives them a little extra freedom. We think that by allowing our authors that freedom to explore whatever styles they want, with no restriction on theme, word count, etc. that in turn allows them to create the best work possible. We’ve had everything from short-shorts to novellas, from an unconventional piece like Jay’s “Deal Memo” in Candy to Mort Castle’s brilliant 11,000 word story “Dreaming Robot Monster” from Mighty Unclean (Mort’s story was so brilliant, in fact, it was nominated for a Stoker in the Long Fiction category). They can try something maybe that isn’t in their usual wheelhouse, that maybe they’ve wanted to try but just haven’t for one reason or another.
One of our other beliefs is that, for the most part, good writers will produce good stories. So, if someone is talented but only writes, let’s say, splatterpunk, chances are good he or she will also be talented at writing a more Gothic type story. And, seeing someone work in an area that may be new to them, and take chances, is also very interesting to us. Those stories seemingly “out of left field” sometimes turn out to be the best ones.
We’re planning to keep going with this format, at least for the time being, because it is still interesting to us and to the authors we work with on the books. As long as we’re producing books that are interesting with great stories, we’re happy.
When the Night Comes Down features work by Joseph D’Lacey, Bev Vincent, Robert E. Weinberg and Nate Kenyon. How and why did you arrive at this lineup?
When we started Dark Arts Books, we had a list of people whose work we absolutely loved and wanted to publish. Some of those folks we have gotten to so far, and some we still have yet to get to. So, there’s that list. Then, both John and I do a lot of reading, both inside and outside the genre. When we come across someone who is really interesting, we usually jot their name down and try and find more of their work.
A good example of this is Joseph D’Lacey. I had heard some good things about his novel Meat, and at the time, he had just published a new novel called Garbage Man. I got ahold of that book, and read and was completely blown away. Not only was the writing fantastic, but he was wrestling with some really big ideas in the book, and doing it in a way which was very smart and very clever. So, I read some more of his stuff, and told John about how amazing he was, and John took a look and agreed, and we contacted Joseph and he turned out to be the nicest guy in the world, and the next thing we knew, he was on board.
With Bev, I had met him a few times and read most of his nonfiction and his blog and entries to “Storytellers Unplugged” and such, so I knew he was also very smart and a talented writer–and, by reading some of his stories in various magazines and anthos, not just of non-fiction. Since Bev is–right now, at least–known primarily for his excellent nonfiction work, I am really excited to see the reaction to his fiction, because I think he is a supremely talented short story writer.
Bob is the very embodiment of the term “living legend” and he is someone both John and I have been looking to work with since day one. A lot of people, especially those just getting in the genre, may not have read much of Bob’s work, or think he is only a “pulp writer,” which couldn’t be further from the truth. So, this was a great opportunity for us to showcase some of Bob’s stories to a perhaps a new audience. Anyone who has ever been to a con will truly appreciate “Elevator Girls,” which is so dead-on not only about conventions but about the business, it’s like “The Player” for the horror genre.
John was actually the one who first turned me on to Nate’s work. Aside from them being stablemates with Leisure, John had been a big fan of Nate’s writing. I had read some of his stories, and then The Reach, and I knew he was a great writer; he writes with such a confident and interesting voice that is so compelling. Nate and I got to hang out together at the Stoker Awards in Burbank, and after having a few too many cocktails, we decided that we should work together sooner rather than later. Which is probably good, since in a little while Dark Arts probably won’t be able to get Nate to take our phone calls, he is going to be such a big star.
The thing we really like about this lineup is the breadth of the talent involved. Joe, Bev, Bob and Nate are all gifted writers, but are all very different, in terms of style, subject matter, etc. However, they do have quite a few similarities, which is intriguing. They definitely all have a great sense of humor, which translates into their work, sometimes at the most unexpected moments. For example, I think a lot of people who have read only Bev’s nonfiction will be very surprised by his story “Knock ‘Em Dead” which is essentially a very dark comedy.
Obviously you have faith that the writers you choose are going to deliver good work, but has anyone every surprised you with something that just knocked your socks off with how good it was? What have been some of the most exciting discoveries you’ve had as editor and publisher?
I think one of the perks of this gig is I am continually surprised by the quality of the writing I see and the stories themselves. So, my socks go flying with fortunate regularity. In fact, I would say that every single author we have worked with has, at some point, delivered something either wonderfully unexpected or just jaw-droppingly good. In that respect, it’s difficult to recall specific instances, but I can say that one that immediately springs to mind is working with David Thomas Lord, who is primarily known for his vampire novels, and he gave us one of the most beautifully-written stories I have ever read, “The Great White Ape,” (from Like A Chinese Tattoo) which had no vampires in it at all. In fact, the entire tale is essentially set on an 18th century ship sailing to Africa and what happens when it eventually arrives. But the language is so amazingly lush and beautiful, and the story proceeds at such a languid and assured pace, you can almost feel the heat of the African sun on your face. I wanted the story to go on forever, and it was already 10,000 words!
Another story was “Buried a Man I Hated There” (from Waiting for October) by Adam Pepper. Now, Adam is rightly known for his very descriptive, in-your-face, no-holds-barred fiction. I think his most recent book is called Super Fetus, if that helps give you any idea. But, “Buried a Man…” is a very quiet, very thoughtful, almost lyrical piece where almost all of the action takes place in the interior of the main character. Not only was it an amazing story, but it was completely unexpected to what people might imagine coming from Adam. Not that anyone doubted he could write a story like that, but almost that he would. Of course, in the next story he submitted, someone violently repossessed a kidney they had donated under false pretenses, so we were back on more familiar ground!
I think it honestly has been like that with every author, even John, way back in the first book. He gave me a bunch of stories–and I have read just about everything John has written–but one of them I had never seen before. I started reading it, and I completely forgot what day it was, I was so enraptured. Talk about a perfect Gothic story, there it is. That story was “The White House” and I still think it’s the best story of his in Candy in the Dumpster.
You debuted When the Night Comes Down at World Horror Con back in March. What did you do to commemorate the event, and how did it go?
The World Horror Convention in Brighton last month was a blast. It was great to see so many old friends, as well as folks I only knew from corresponding with, and all of the new friends I met. A huge amount of praise needs to go to the organizers, who put on one of the best cons I have ever attended–and the first one that was outside of North America. It definitely had a very “World” feel about it.
For When the Night Comes Down, we had a book launch party one night, that was supposed to go from 10 p.m. until 12 midnight. It started off quietly, but soon turned into a huge bash. We had folks singing and dancing until the wee hours, when the hotel finally had to kick us out of the bar! People got to meet some of our authors, we sold some books, but, most importantly, I think everyone had a great time.
What kind of feedback are you getting on the book so far?
So far, the feedback has been amazing. We’ve already gotten some great reviews from Famous Monsters of Filmland, Dark Discoveries and Monster Librarian, just to name a few. The book is selling pretty well, and the word we have heard from people who have read it has been unanimously positive. The authors are happy, the readers are happy, it’s all good.
Any hints on whats coming in the next anthology, or the next Dark Arts project?
Well, we are planning some surprises, but I am under strict orders to keep them under wraps for the time being. I will say, however, that, since World Horror is being held in Austin, Texas next year, and Austin may well be John Everson’s favorite city on the planet, he has already nailed down some BIG news for our book that will be debuting there. So, we do have some BIG news to share with that, but, alas, for the meantime, it will have to remain a secret….