Category Archives: Author’s Perspective

Fortune Favours the Bold at Tyche Press

What’s the recipe for a successful small press? Vision, a love for stories, a desire to discover new voices in story telling, a passion for speculative stories which awe and excite the imagination. Mix that with visionary Margaret Curelas, a lot of hard work and a small press specializing in science fiction and fantasy is created. Margaret’s authors speak highly of her and Tyche’s reputation is stellar. For these reasons, I had to interview Margaret about her experience owning a small press.

Tyche is an intriguing name with an unusual by-line Fortune Favours the Bold. What is the story behind the name?

We wanted to have a name that reflected our interest in both science fiction and fantasy, and Tyche (pronounced tie-key), does that. Tyche was the Greek goddess of luck and fortune. There’s also a planet in the Oort cloud named Tyche, which is the connection to science. And, with the goddess of fortune guiding us, the by-line followed quite naturally.

Tyche’s vision is indeed bold – that can be seen in the design of the book jackets and in the stories you’ve published. The book jackets are stellar – poster quality actually! Not only do they capture the spirit of each story but the jackets are also eye-catching and captivating. You take a lot of care in the design and presentation.

 

Thank you! Yes, our art director, Lucia Starkey, works very hard on the covers. After she reads the book, she’ll come up with a cover concept. With the concept in mind, she’ll contract artists best suited to that style and vision.

 

 

 

Your website does an amazing job of letting people know where your books, audio books and ebooks can be bought. However, distribution is cited as an issue when it comes to competing with the big firms. How do you ensure that the broadest number of readers have access to your books?

Print book distribution is not something we worry about. Most of our book sales are digital. Print books are available, of course, and in addition to the local brick-and-mortar stores stocking them, readers can ask their stores to order in a copy (or just order a copy online). Ebook sales are stimulated by discounting books, purchasing advertising for them, and participating in ebook bundles.

Anthologies are part of your repertoire and I see you have another one being produced this year. Is there a difference between producing an anthology and a novel?

I really enjoy the anthologies–I read a lot of short fiction. After not publishing one for a few years, it felt like the right time to publish another one, especially since Rhonda Parrish is the editor and her proposed theme was one I couldn’t resist.

There certainly are differences in producing an anthology versus a novel. The anthology requires more administrative work and higher upfront costs because of the number of people involved. Often an anthology will have twenty people or more, who all need contracts, to be paid, copies of the book, thing like that.

 

You do what few small presses do – your line includes audio books and also books written or translated into French. What was your business strategy in doing this and what has the reception to the expanded product line been both by authors and book lovers?

We started producing the audiobooks and translations because we wanted to try something new. Because we’re small, we’ve had to find cost effective ways to accomplish this. For the audiobooks, we worked with narrators who were looking to bulk up their portfolios, so they didn’t charge us an arm and a leg.

It was a similar situation with the French translations. Catherine Dussault wanted to apply for a translation grant, but in a Catch-22 type situation, she couldn’t apply for the grant until she already had done some translations. We were able to work with her because she needed that credit.

The new formats are hard! The audiobooks have done all right, but the French books have floundered, mostly because promoting in that market is a skill set we don’t have, and don’t have time to cultivate. As a result, our audiobook production has slowed, and we aren’t planning any additional translations at this time.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to start a small press?

A small press takes a lot of time and energy, so I would recommend not starting one when you have a young child at home like I did. But, you can’t let the press consume you either–make sure to carve out time for yourself, your family and friends, and your hobbies.

What are the advantages of publishing with a small press?

I think the biggest advantage is that we know our authors. They’re not just names.

 

 

 

 

Margaret Curelas lives in Calgary, Alberta, with two humans and a varying number of guinea pigs. After several years working in libraries, she’s now the publisher at Tyche Books, a Canadian small-press specializing in science fiction, fantasy, and related non-fiction. You can find Tyche Books on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/tychebooks/) and Twitter @tychebooks, plus on the interwebs at http://tychebooks.com.

 

 

Coffin Hop Press – Home of Weird and Wonderful Fiction

An Interview with publisher and author Axel Howerton.

Axel Howerton has a great sense of story – not only for those he writes, but also for those he publishes. What strikes me about Axel is his sincerity – he isn’t involved in the writing community as a marketing or publishing strategy – for him, it’s a passion for a good story told, to support authors, and to provide readers with access to the unique and weird tales they love. I asked Axel about his experiences as a publisher and what he sees in the future for noir and noir crime genres.

Axel, Coffin Hop Press serves the genre of horror and noir and embraces it in all the sub genres of science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, detective noir, western and literary. You belong to the Crime Writers of Canada and have had several stories published. What did you see or not see happening in the market place that spurred you to start Coffin Hop Press?

When I came back to writing fiction (after a decade of “entertainment journalism” doing reviews, interviews and articles on film and DVD), I started in horror. My first few publications were in horror publications, and I worked briefly as an associate editor for a quarterly called Dark Moon Digest. I found myself in a new community of horror and dark fantasy writers, and found that there were very few promotional avenues for us at the time. I started a blog hop event called Coffin Hop. Back then, all of the blog hops and online events were for romance writers.

By the third year of the event, it had exploded beyond expectations, and many of those involved wanted to put together a book. So, we chose a charity – LitWorld.org – and put together what became the first Coffin Hop Press book, Death by Drive-In. Once I had created that imprint, and had the systems in place, I used it to self-publish a few things, but something about that felt disingenuous, so I sought out a new anthology project. The first idea was for weird westerns, borne of my own love for weird pulp fiction, and the number of writer friends I have who have similar interests. As I became more involved with Crime Writers of Canada, and especially my local writing community in Alberta, I once again felt the need to build something to showcase the underexposed people I had been working with. That led to AB Negative, a collection of Alberta-based crime stories by Alberta-based crime writers. My new goal is to turn Coffin Hop Press into a solid business, to continue making great anthologies, but also branch out and help the world discover great new writers and unusual genres.

Coffin Hop Press has done a lot of interesting things to promote itself, its books and anthologies but also to promote the genre of horror and crime. I sense you’re having too much fun with it all! You have Noir at the Bar events, you participate in Canada Crime Writer and con events, you’ve sponsored several fun and twisted crime anthologies and now you’re launching Noirvellas.

I’ve long been known (in my own little publishing circles, anyways) as the genre guy, and particularly as the “noir” guy. My tastes have always run to the weird and wonderful – 40’s gangsters, 50’s sci-fi, 60’s sleaze, 70’s crime thrillers – and that’s what I want to publish. With novellas being more marketable due to the proliferation of digital readers, and “noir” becoming something of a catchphrase for dark crime thrillers, it seemed like a no-brainer to put the two together. I think the dark subject matter and shorter format go together like chocolate and peanut butter.

Noir at the Bar was another way to foster crime writing in my own community. It’s something that started a while ago in St. Louis and spread across North America. I’m proud to say ours was one of the very first in Canada, but more than anything, it’s a way to get people out to hear local crime writers and talk about that kind of fiction.

I’m also working with the Chiaroscuro Reading series, which is a national series sponsored by ChiZine Publications that focuses on the darker side of sci-fi and fantasy, as well as horror. All puddles that I still have my toes dipped in. My latest novel, Furr, and the upcoming Wolf & Devil series are a mix of crime and dark urban fantasy.

For a few years, you held the Coffin Hop which was a week of blog hops and tours held in October. What were your goals with that event? You eventually stopped running it. What were your take-aways from the event and would you recommend it as a marketing strategy for other niche presses?

At the time, an extended multi-author event was a novel approach for horror. We tried very hard to make it something special. We made it a week long, with required cross-pollination between authors. We added special events like poetry slams and art shows, and everyone was required to do giveaways. The problem was, the more popular it became, the more diluted it became, until it was just a flood of people demanding to be involved, yet unwilling to follow those rules, or provide those benefits to readers. The original participants began to get disheartened by the number of people who swooped in and just threw up a paragraph mentioning the hop, then spent a week blasting their own repetitive advertising, instead of working together to make the week a real event for everyone’s readers. Eventually, I got tired of explaining the rules to boorish spammers, and trying to enforce some semblance of fun and frivolity out of the chaos of hundreds of people trying to out scream each other. It had become something akin to a carnival barker convention on crack. At the same time, I wanted to use the imprint that I had created and owned the website for, etc. etc. to work on new book projects, so I suspended the hop and opened the press.

I do think that a similar type of event could work very well, if contained and managed properly. I blame myself for opening the floodgates and not being ready for the onslaught. It was definitely a wake-up call to see the difference between writers and self-advertisers. There’s a troubling ocean of people out there who are flooding the internet with product. They care much less about the art and value of their writing, about telling stories, than they do about getting attention and flogging their wares for a quick buck.

What is local and normal for some is exotic for others. You’ve made it a point to encourage and promote crime and noir stories set locally in the province of Alberta and in Canada. Why this strategy?

AB Negative was a way for me to try and foster the community that I’m in, my hometown crime writing community. There’s a lot of great talent here that is mostly overlooked. There are a lot more avenues for promoting your work in Toronto or Vancouver but, as I found in my dealings with the Crime Writers of Canada, the rest of the country is very much left out in the cold, if you’ll excuse the pun. I wanted to showcase some of the people whose work I admire, and put out the kind of collection I like to read, something eclectic and diverse, with different voices, different styles, and different sub-genres of crime fiction. Nothing annoys me more than using the label “Crime Fiction” and then only applying it to a narrow definition of cozy mystery stories, or quirky local detective yarns. Crime should encapsulate everything from Jim Thompson psycho-sheriff stories to Agatha Christie locked room mysteries; from James Ellroy’s serial-killer lit to Elmore Leonard’s Detroit hipster pulp; from Poe to Patterson and from Marlowe to Fargo.

Looking into your noir crystal ball, what do you see for the future of noir and the noir crime genre? What would you like to happen next?

Neo-noir is big business these days, mostly due to the amount of great television out there, and the ease of access to foreign crime shows and books. The Nordic stuff, especially, has had a great influence on our own culture through shows people are watching on Netflix and the like. There’s also a wider appreciation for the great history of incredible British crime programming. People are watching these dark crime shows and movies, and it’s resonating, much as it did in the 30’s and 40’s when the term “noir” was coined to describe nihilistic American crime flicks.

It’s a much slower, and more difficult process to see those trends in book selling (and especially book writing). It takes an incredibly long time for a book to gain traction, let alone cause a profound influence in our modern culture. Television and movies, current events, these are the things that tend to reflect more quickly in our fiction. The great thing about writing books – and I’m not condoning writing for the purpose of getting a TV deal or anything, I think a book should always be written for the sake of the story itself – but, the great thing about writing books is that you become a one-person production studio on your own film, your own epic TV saga. In the end they are all just mediums to carry our stories. When you produce visual media, you need hundreds, sometimes thousands of collaborators with individual interests and opinions. When YOU write a short story, or a novel, or a “noirvella”… YOU control the mood, the lighting, the sets, the actors.

That being said, the culture right now (as always seems to happen in times of social upheaval and political insecurity) seems to be leaning towards science fiction again. There’s already a number of great films and tv shows coming out, and the revival of old favourites like Blade Runner, Aliens, and Star Wars (albeit with a darker edge), seem to point to a coming resurgence of science fiction in our popular literature. It’s already been happening with runaway hit novels like Ready Player One and The Martian. I think there’s a lot more to come.

That’s partly why we have revived the Sci-Fi Noir anthology we had shelved last year. Keep an eye out for Black Hole Son in 2019. Before that we have an anthology of weird holiday tales, Weird Wonderland, coming this November and featuring writers like Jessica McHugh, Will Viharo, David James Keaton and the amazing Sarah L. Johnson. We have an anthology of “Ladies of Canadian Crime” called The Dame Was Trouble coming out in April next year to celebrate the “Year of Publishing Women”, and a second volume of weird western tales, Taller Tales of the Weirder West, next summer.

Right now, Coffin Hop Press has a sort-of dual presence as a publisher of “weird tales”, EC Comics-type stuff, and crime fiction – usually dark, almost always tempered with black comedy. We have plans to spread out more – take the weird side towards more horror, sci-fi and urban fantasy; expand from crime into more literary -tinged mystery and gothic fiction.

Any advice for those thinking about starting their own small press to fill void in a niche market?

Diversify. Serving a niche is fine, serving several works better. More than anything, just like writing what you love, publish what you love. While publishing is a business, if you’re smaller potatoes – julienne, even – why waste time on material you don’t believe in? Why waste passion on books you wouldn’t want to read. Here’s the tip. You’re going to have to read these books. Over and over and over. They might as well be the kind you really enjoy. Seek out authors that you find exciting, not just profitable names. If you help those emerging writers who are doing really vibrant and exceptional work, the world will eventually notice, and you may be the one who gave them that break. Surround yourself with authors and editors that you respect and really connect with, and treat them with respect in turn. Word gets around. If you do good work, and you treat people professionally, you can build a business. If you’re in it to make fast deals and crap out product en mass? You may make a little money to start, but you’ll be dead in the water by your second or third project, and nobody is going to want to work with you. Of course, if you’re treating it like a scam, you probably haven’t read this far because I’m not talking about revenue streams and Facebook ads. Be good. Be true. Tell stories. That’s what it should always be about.

 

Axel Howerton is a former entertainment journalist, and the author of the Arthur Ellis Award nominated detective caper “Hot Sinatra”, the modern gothic fairytale “Furr”, and the forthcoming “Wolf & Devil” urban fantasy series. His work – including short stories, columns, poetry and essays – have appeared the world over, in no fewer than five languages. Axel is a former Prairies director of the Crime Writers of Canada, and a member of the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association, the Calgary Crime Writers, and the Kintsugi Poets. He is also the editor of the books “Death by Drive-In”, “AB Negative”, and “Tall Tales of the Weird West”, and is the Calgary chair of the Chiaroscuro national reading series, and the organizer behind one of Canada’s first recurring “Noir At The Bar” events, #NoirBarYYC.

 

 

Using Voice to Set Yourself Apart

As my fellow Fictorians are showing you so far this month, there are many ways to set yourself apart as a writer. In my mind, the most memorable way to set yourself apart is voice, to the surprise of no one. In past posts, I’ve highlighted how you might create tension with narrative voice, and used well-known authors with distinct voices as examples. In this post, I’d like to dive into what voice is, the many ways one can use it, and highlight some examples that will hopefully give you plenty of ideas.

First, what is voice? Voice goes by many names. Style. Point of View. Vernacular. Narrative voice. Language. It is all of these things. For the sake of clarity, I defer to my friend Mignon, whom many of you may know as Grammar Girl. Julie Wildhaber writes on the Grammar Girl website:

Voice is the distinct personality, style, or point of view of a piece of writing or any other creative work. Voice is what Simon Cowell is talking about when he tells “American Idol” contestants to make a song their own and not just do a note-for-note karaoke version. (read more here)

It’s the thing that makes a reader say, “Ah. I can tell Kristin wrote this, because there are many f-bombs, and she ends every chapter on a cliffhanger,” for example.

If Socrates fermented goods, this would be his beer label.

Letting your voice shine is all about one important rule: “Know thyself.” This is not only my own personal credo for just about everything, it’s an important practice that will inform you of your strengths.

Are you funny, or at least have great confidence that you are? Can you translate or work on translating that humor into written form?

Are you good at calculating out the worst case scenario? When friends tell you their darkest fears and worries, are you able to take it another shade darker? Do you have no problem screwing with your characters and making their lives miserable?

Is your writing structure unique? Are you aware of grammatical rules and structures, but can’t help but twist and/or ignore them?

Here are some examples of authors using those very strengths and turning them into voice.

Maria Semple is one funny lady. She wrote for the television show Arrested Development, which banked on candid, awkward family dynamics to amuse their viewers. When it comes to her writing, Maria translates the same odd, character-driven situational humor into fiction. Her second novel, Where’d You go, Bernadette? may be a shade more sophisticated than Arrested Development, but you can expect the same wit and brand of humor that her television writing is known for.

Robert Kirkman doesn’t mind making a character suffer. He doesn’t mind making all of his characters suffer. As Robert has his hand in more and more projects, the common thread between all of them is his signature move: make the character(s) suffer. While reading The Walking Dead, one panel completely floored me. It was too dark, in fact, to be translated to the television version (though I dreaded I’d see it when the time came). If you’d like to read the comic books, skip to the next paragraph. For those of you who’ve read a good chunk of the comic books, you may already guess which part I’m talking about. It’s the Red Wedding of The Walking Dead. Instead of just Laurie taking a bullet, the bullet travels through her baby girl in her arms as well. The worst case scenario, one darker than I would ever dare to think up, becomes a reality in the blink of an eye. When I read it, I thought for sure I felt my heart drop.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out an author I’ve mentioned many times in my Fictorians posts who is, in my mind, the king of grammatical voicing: James Frey. If you’re currently in the beginning stages of your career and trying to get published and you’ve read James’ work, he might make you a little crazy. And it’s not because he isn’t good – oh he’s good. It’s because you’ll wonder how he was able to get away with his style and still get published. An example, from the first page I opened up to just now from A Million Little Pieces:

I stare at him.
Trying can’t hurt, Kid.
There is truth in his eyes. Truth is all that matters.
And trying’s nothing to be scared of.
Truth.
Just try.

Where are the quotation marks? Dialogue tags? Adjectives? And yet, from this short section, we can tell this is a conversation, or at least one person talking to another person. We can make very good guesses as to who is whom (given more context). This is James’ style. While different at first, it grows on you very quickly, and your eyes ease from one word to the next until, before you know it, you’re flipping the last page of the book. His style was unlike anything I’d ever seen before (Hemingway would be jealous of his brevity), and I immediately adored the rock-solid voicing.

The bottomline is this: you don’t have to be the next Maria Semple, Robert Kirkman, or James Frey. You just gotta be you! It’s as easy and as difficult as that.

First: know thyself. Next: write.

You never walk alone

Well friends, we’ve reached that time. It’s been a great month, but we’ve hit the last day of this topic and with April the Fictorians will bring you a whole new angle on which to explore. All throughout March our members and guest posters have explored the friendships they loved in fiction, the friendships they add to their own writing and how real life friends have helped them in their careers. On my previous post I departed from the model to address the friends of writers directly, but now I will return to the theme of the month and provide an example of each.

Like many people, my first *real* fantasy trilogy was The Lord of the Rings. I was maybe 10 or 11 when I read it, and I was very struck by the many strong relationships in that story: Frodo and Sam, Gimli and Legolas, Gandalf and Aragorn. Well trodden ground for most readers though, so for my fiction example I’d like to highlight a friendship from the *second* fantasy I read, which was The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. No, I’m not going to discuss that series’ extremely problematic main character (to me, anyway) but rather the Giants.

The Giants in the Thomas Covenant books are just such amazing friends to the people of the Land, and I found them as a group to be both inspiring and heartbreaking. Long lived and incredibly powerful, once stranded from their home they could have easily conquered the native people but instead they entered into a millennia of friendship and service with them. They built Revelstone, joined the Lords in their war against Despair and embraced the concept of service to the land itself. Their ultimate fate is incredibly tragic, yet their enduring legacy for me as a reader is one of positivity and optimism. The wonderfully named Saltheart Foamfollower said “Joy is in the ears that hear!”, capturing the spirit that embodied these friends of the Land so well.

In my own fiction, I wanted to explore the concepts of friendship on both sides of the story equation. My current project has a male and two females as the primary protagonists, all of whom end up friends but with no romantic entanglements added. As a trio they learn to trust each other and provide support, even as they endure some remarkable hardships. I also wanted my villains to have friends too though, and that dynamic has been a fun one to explore. The best antagonists for me are ones who have some redeeming qualities, and seeing my primary bad guy still show loyalty and even compassion I think makes him all the more interesting.

It would be impossible for me to provide all the examples of how my friends in real life have helped me. It is through friends that I first found the Superstars Writing Seminars, which led me to the Fictorians. Friends were there to encourage me through my first Nanowrimo and my first story submissions. Friends who helped me through rejections, revisions and beta reading.

Without my friends I’d still be that guy who had a novel in his head but that was it. Thanks to my friends I’ve written three novels, a novella and a whole bunch of short stories. Each person who offered support or advice has walked me a little farther down this crazy writing path I’m on. I may be by myself most of the time the fingers are hitting the keyboard, but I’ve never walked alone. I don’t suspect that will change anytime soon, and I hope I can be as good a friend to the writers I know as they have been to me.

Thanks for taking this journey with me this March. See you next month!