Books

Robert S. Wilson talks Ashes and Entropy, Kickstarter, the state of Horror Lit and more

 A sneak peak at some of the incredible artwork by Luke Spooner for Nightscape Press

Here at Signal Horizon we have found that the most dynamic, vibrant, and terrifying work in horror literature is coming from small and medium size presses.  One of the projects on the horizon that we have identified as particularly strong is Ashes and Entropy from Nightscape Press and to learn a little more about it and the current state of the genre we sat down with publisher Robert S. Wilson.  Robert is one of the founders of Nightscape Press, you can find out more about them at the Nightscape Press website and you can head on over to the Ashes and Entropy Kickstarter page to help them fund this amazing collection.

Signal Horizon:  Robert, thanks for chatting with us today!  Signal Horizon is very excited about the Kickstarter you launched this month for Ashes and Entropy– a short fiction collection where neo-noir meets cosmic horror.  A strong theme is important for making a successful collection like this, what can readers expect in Ashes and Entropy

Robert S. Wilson:  Thank you for having me! I’m very excited myself. I’m glad I’ve been able to share that excitement with so many like-minded people like yourself thus far. I agree, a strong theme is important. As an editor, I’ve found that what makes a strong theme for me is allowing it to breathe and evolve. The Vandermeers did an interview recently where they really hit the nail on the head about this. I believe it was Ann who, and I’m paraphrasing here, said you can’t be afraid to let the stories revise or expand your original concept.

I’ve been a part of three anthologies prior to Ashes and Entropy, the first two unthemed and co-edited, and the third, my first solo-edited antho, was vampire/SF themed. And like with that anthology, I had a much more rigid idea of what I wanted starting out with Ashes and Entropy. But as I began considering stories for inclusion, certain tales stretched the boundaries of my original core idea and, I think, made for something far more interesting than what I originally conceived.

So where my original vision had been of something more specifically noir, gritty and hardboiled, what I’ve ended up with has spanned more of a kind of noir/neo-noir rainbow with some far less traditionally noir-esque themes counterbalancing the more crime-centric stories.

And then more consistently, the cosmic horror elements in these stories are pretty solidly supernatural with a few detours into a more esoteric and/or subtle cosmic horror.

Starting from the solid anchor at the center of this collection, Paul Michael Anderson’s longer tale, “I Can Give You Life,” a gruff and gritty state trooper tale about a rookie investigating a strange impossible highway accident, to Kristi DeMeester’s “For Our Skin, A Daughter,” a more esoteric tale of same-sex coming-of-age infatuation, to the occasional experimental detours like Lisa Mannetti’s “Houdini: The Egyptian Paradigm” where we see the terrifying conclusion of a friendly rivalry between the famous Harry Houdini and H.P. Lovecraft, and Matthew M. Bartlett’s “Dr. 999” a story of spiraling cosmic madness told strictly through a number of Amazon product reviews for a mysterious brand of shampoo.

Signal Horizon:  What inspired this project? (From the Kickstarter page it looks like there could be good story there!)

Robert S. Wilson:  Generically enough, and a bit full circle given some of the authors in this TOC, the first season of True Detective was a big inspiration for this anthology. I enjoyed the mix of gritty crime drama and the hint of something cosmically weird at the center of it, but wondered, how much more interesting it would be in my opinion to have a collection of stories that mixed these same qualities while not hesitating to allow the cosmic horror elements to fully blossom.

Signal Horizon:  I’ve seen the author list and it looks killer, who have you got lined up on this great project? 

Robert S. Wilson:  Well I really got to work with a lot of folks I haven’t worked with before on this project. I’ve mentioned a few folks: Mannetti I’ve worked with on Nightscape Press editions of her books The Gentling Box and Deathwatch plus she had a story in Nightscapes: Volume 1 which I co-edited with my wife and Nightscape Press co-owner, Jennifer Wilson, and former Nightscape co-owner Mark C. Scioneaux. Anderson, Bartlett, and DeMeester, I hadn’t previously worked with.

Laird Barron had stories in two of the three anthologies I worked on before (Horror for Good and Blood Type) and I recently worked with Tim Waggoner for the third time when we put out his latest collection Dark and Distant Voices earlier this year.

Nate Southard had a fantastic story called “Mouth” in my editorial debut Horror for Good: A Charitable Anthology. Damien Angelica Walters, John Langan, Jon Padgett, Lucy A. Snyder, Jayaprakash Satyamurthy, Jessica McHugh, and nearly everybody else in the book I hadn’t had the opportunity prior to work with and it’s been a joy of an experience to be able to do so. Greg Sisco’s story “The One About Maggie” is actually one of his very first pro story sales and I think going forward, you’ll be seeing a lot more from him.

The full list of authors that will be included in Ashes and Entropy, holy cow what a lineup!

Signal Horizon: The artwork from Luke Spooner looks fantastic!  Tell us about your vision for the artwork and there is a cover contest too right?

Robert S. Wilson:  Honestly, I’ve found that working with Luke almost entirely consists of me saying, “Here, read these stories and then create something from what resonates with you, what lingers in your head, etc.” and then I just stay out of the way and let him get to work. On one or two occasions I’ve felt it necessary to have him revise or start over on something but out of the many pieces he’s done for me, that number is staggeringly low. He’s just that good at translating fiction into gorgeous illustrations.

There is a cover contest! We’re accepting submissions right now through the end of the month. The details are available on our submissions page. Each artist is encouraged to submit up to three potential covers to us and we’ll be paying $500 to $1,000 to the winner.

Signal Horizon:  What is it like to be a horror publisher?  What kind of trends are you seeing in the genre? 

Robert S. Wilson:  Well, we’ve been around since 2012 and we’ve seen a lot of things come and go even in that short time. Initially we were strictly a horror or, more accurately, a dark fiction press, but we have since expanded our scope to encompass science fiction, fantasy, and, through our imprint Past Curfew Press, young adult genre fiction. But horror/dark fiction is still very much at our core and always will be a major part of what we publish.

The genre is definitely always transforming, maybe not always into something new, but that fluidity is a pretty consistent process. From day one we’ve made use of print on demand. To be frank, without it, and like many other small presses these days, we might have never been able to get into this business. It really allows for a lower financial risk starting out and that gives new presses an entryway that didn’t exist before. As well as a lot of freedom all around. That said, the quality of what you publish in both content and presentation inside and outside of every book, is imperative. But that’s not to say, in hindsight, some mistakes aren’t going to be inevitable from time to time.

And the publishing landscape these days is constantly changing, so what worked well when we first got into the business isn’t even a consideration now. Things like Kindle Unlimited have simultaneously made reading cheaper and easier for many people while also making it harder to sell books. KU also really sort of bottlenecks what most writers can make these days from eBook sales and that’s unfortunate. It’s really more tailored to give Amazon money than the artists it puts on offer and in the end, only a small percentage of books actually really comparably profit from it.

And yet, it’s something you avoid at your own peril as Amazon seems to noticeably throttle the visibility of books that aren’t within its KU library. So the landscape isn’t quite as smooth these days. Especially with all the saturation in the market now.

Signal Horizon:  Everyone is trying to find innovative ways to connect with readers, what are some new and creative ways to market books to fans, or new products that might not have been considered in the old days of publishing?

Robert S. Wilson:  Well, I think you’re definitely seeing a shift toward a more visual experience as the amount of artwork involved is growing. Since our relaunch from hiatus, we’ll be doing interior artwork in all of our titles going forward, some black and white, some color, or like in the case of Ashes and Entropy, some of our books will be available in both options.

I think collectible and limited items have really transformed and become of more interest to readers these days, specifically within genre fiction. And after six years of publishing, this is now something we’re getting involved in. Although our approach is more true to our roots.

Back in 2012, that aforementioned anthology Horror for Good (which continues to contribute to amfAR The Foundation for AIDS Research) was the sort of seed that started Nightscape Press and we have since published two other charitable anthologies, Blood Type: An Anthology of Vampire SF On the Cutting Edge (which contributes to The Cystic Fibrosis Trust) edited by myself and Fantasy for Good (which contributes to The Colorectal Cancer Alliance) edited by Richard Salter and Jordan Ellinger.

When we went on hiatus, we knew we wanted to transform our business into something more charity-driven and upon relaunching we announced our new charity novel line accompanied by our first foray into limited books, our Charitable Chapbooks line. The debut for that latter category, The Broker of Nightmares by Jon Padgett, actually just became available for pre-order and is nearly halfway sold out already. These are signed, numbered, color-illustrated, and limited to only a hundred copies.

The concept behind both of these lines is to give something more back to both the authors and, well… not to sound too cheesy here–the world. Our model allows for the author to choose the charity they would like to contribute to, and in the case of our Charitable Chapbooks line, the physical book’s proceeds are split three ways between the author, the charity of their choice, and Nightscape Press.

For Broker, Jon chose the ACLU, an absolutely wonderful charity that we’re quite pleased to be able to co-contribute to. And when the limited physical chapbook edition sells out and all payments are processed, we’ll then be able to turn around and send a payment of $1,000 their way and that’s just this one chapbook. It’s exciting and very gratifying to think how many charities we’ll be able to contribute to as time goes on.

And that’s just the beginning for each of these. Six months after the initial print run we’ll also be doing a Kindle edition that will give the author and the charity a bigger cut of incoming royalties.

And our charity novel line will work somewhat similarly though we haven’t unleashed the full details with that just yet.

But getting back to rare and limited items, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the rare and limited perks on offer on the Ashes and Entropy Kickstarter. We have individual author story chapbooks for each story in the anthology, 18 tales in total, each chapbook signed and numbered with its glorious anthology interior artwork on the cover. There’s also now a bundle of these chapbooks on offer with some additional bonus items thrown in too.

And we have some other really cool and unique items like signed test press copies of Jon Padgett’s Cadabra Records LP “20 Simple Steps to Ventriloquism” (there are only 17 of these in existence I believe) as well as chapbooks of the same story with illustrations by Yves Tourigny, all of which signed by the author.

Speaking of Yves, we have some cool Matthew M. Bartlett Witch Cult postcards with artwork by Yves as well. And some interesting creative rewards like story critiques from authors in the anthology and a couple of the authors will write custom stories utilizing information the backer provides, for example Matthew M. Bartlett is offering to write a Leeds-based story in which he will write you as a character and you will “be psychologically and existentially ruined.”

We also have a Caribbean vacation package that includes some Nightscape Press books, a color paperback of the anthology and a five night stay for up to six people just off the beach in Costa Rica! So there’s a lot of cool ways you can help support the anthology over there.

Signal Horizon:   Who are some young, under-published authors out there that you think could be the next Barron or Padgett?

Robert S. Wilson:  I think the thing about Barron and Padgett that make them stand out is that they are fully unique and their work is eloquently produced. But I think writers like Kristi DeMeester, Nadia Bulkin, Nate Southard, Matthew M. Bartlett, Lucy A. Snyder, Jayaprakash Satyamurthy, and Autumn Christian have already been producing work just as original and beautifully written. And many of those writers are getting noticed to varying degrees, some not as much as others unfortunately, but I have no doubt that that will change for the better.

But one writer I definitely have my eye on right now who has a lot of potential to sit within the above list is Christopher Ropes. His story “Singing the Song of My Unmaking” in the first issue of Vastarien is a brutal unflinching look at depression and suicidal thoughts through a variety of lenses including fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. And that story left my jaw hanging open when I finished it.

Want to know more about Vastarien?  Click here to find out why Signal Horizon thinks it is the most exciting thing in horror lit right now!

Signal Horizon:  Weird fiction has had some mainstream success as of late, how far do you think that will go?

Robert S. Wilson:  I mean, in at least a couple of instances it has ramped right up to the top with Jeff Vandermeer’s success with his Area X trilogy and with popular showrunners like True Detective’s Nic Pizzolatto acknowledging the influence of authors like Barron and Ligotti and bringing them larger audiences. I hope to see that spread to many more of the best writers working today, including but in no way limited to the many folks I’ve already mentioned and the authors in this anthology. I think any one of the authors in ASHES AND ENTROPY have the potential to reach those kinds of heights if given the opportunity.

Signal Horizon:  Has horror largely officially swallowed up Ligotti’s influence along with other classics of the genre? If so, what do you think that means and whose work do you think will be a driving influence in the future?

Robert S. Wilson:  Ligotti is definitely a major classic voice of the genre now and it’s about time. His work has clearly made a huge impact and I’m sure it will continue to do so if not even more as he moves even more to the forefront. I think that means that modern horror is growing up. Maturing. Transforming into something more complex. Allowing itself to get back to its philosophical roots while also venturing out into the dark woods of the world with new and different moral compasses.

I think, speaking of getting back to its roots, now more than in its infancy, the heart of horror is being driven by short fiction collections. But it’s not just the same old standalone short stories randomly tossed into collections. We’re seeing writers like Padgett and Bartlett tear away the dividing lines between short fiction and novels and witnessing the creation of something that truly bridges that gap in a startling and exciting way.

Signal Horizon:   What kind of projects might Nightscape Press have on the horizon?

Robert S. Wilson:  Well we have a couple of fantastic novels coming in the near future.  The Coming by Bryan Hall is a unique take on the demon possession trope. I think of it as The Exorcist if it were about an entire town being possessed.

Talons of the Green by Jonathan Templar is a horrific steampunk novel based in the same world as his previous Nightscape Press novella The Angel of Shadwell.

And then of course, The Broker of Nightmares by Jon Padgett will ship out to folks around Devil’s Night at the end of October. And there are several more Charitable Chapbooks in the works that I can’t talk about just yet.

And with that said, the month of September will mark our first open submissions call in some time. We’ll be opening our doors to novel submissions for both Nightscape Press and our young adult imprint Past Curfew Press. And if we hit a couple of particular stretch goals on the Ashes and Entropy Kickstarter, we’ll be opening up to submissions and pitches for short stories to be included in the anthology as well.

Signal Horizon:  What is your dream project as a publisher?

Robert S. Wilson:  Seriously, right now I feel like I’m doing several dream projects all at once. With Ashes and Entropy and the Charitable Chapbooks line and getting to work with authors like Jon Padgett in such an extensive way. All of these projects are really so amazing for me. I really feel very blessed right now.

But there are a couple of other projects sparking behind the scenes that I can’t talk a whole lot about just yet. Both are charity-driven and were more or less born out of Ashes and Entropy. All I can say right now is that at least one of them could be announced fairly soon in the final stretch goal for the Ashes and Entropy Kickstarter. The sooner we get funded, the sooner we can let that proverbial cat out of the bag. But that’s all I can say for right now.

Thank you again for having me, I had a great time!

Signal Horizon:  Well there you have it guys, an inside look at the horror genre from one of the people that is bringing awesome works to life!  You can help to bring Ashes and Entropy to reality by backing it on Kickstarter and check out more of the unique horror and other genre fiction that Nightscape Press has to offer on their website.

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