This new section features a different author, publisher or bookseller each month who has earned the RLK! seal of approval! We will highlight and review their books/company as well as providing author biographies (where available) and publishing information. We hope you enjoy the new RLK! Spotlight On... feature.

Ron Clinton, USA Contributing Editor of Richard Laymon Kills!, recently discussed small-press publishing with Matt Johnson of Obsidian Press, publisher of SHIFTERS and THE EXIT AT TOLEDO BOULEVARD. We at RLK! think you'll find the following interview entertaining and enlightening...

RLK!:

First off, Matt, thanks so much for spending some time answering these questions for our RLK! visitors and offering us all a glimpse into the world of small-press specialty publishing.

OBSIDIAN:

More than happy to do it, especially for a site like this - Richard Laymon Kills. What a great name. You know, Laymon almost killed me this past year. We were at a party at a convention joking about, and he tried to push me over the balcony, so I smacked him around a while.

RLK!:

What a great story! I can just see the headlines now: "Author Richard Laymon finally boils over in anger over US publishers' snubbing his work - tries to kill partying publisher!"

OBSIDIAN:

Of course it was all in jest, (and I didn't actually smack him around either) but at least I can tell people Richard Laymon tried to murder me.

RLK:

That's quite a claim to fame. So then, tell us about yourself - age, day occupation, marital status...whatever comes to mind.

OBSIDIAN:

I'm 28, I head up the credit department of a stock photography company, married with a chocolate lab named Rubb and a cat named Domino, no kids. I'm hooked on scuba diving, my office is always a mess despite my wife's wishes, I'm generally a lazy ass despite having a lot to do, I'm a New York Yankees fan living in a city that absolutely hates the Yankees, I tend to look grouchy even when I'm not, and that watery stuff that floats on top of ketchup when you don't shake it enough grosses me out.

RLK!:

What prompted you to delve into the rather risky venture of publishing limited-edition horror?

OBSIDIAN:

I mostly wanted to be able to have a book on the shelf that I could point to and be proud of. There are a lot of things about small press books to love. The rarity, the fact that they're signed, cooler artwork, how close knit the industry is, etc. I knew enough to know what was good and what wasn't, so I figured what the hell. Or course, I didn't know nearly enough, and still don't, but I get by somehow.

RLK!:

What is it about the genre that makes you keep going?

OBSIDIAN:

I stay because it's fun. It's a ton of work, and there are definite risks, but I just can't help it. I'm addicted now.

RLK!:

Limited-edition horror publishing seems of late to be undergoing a resurgence not seen since the "heydays" of the mid to late 1980's when Dark Harvest and others specialty publishers were churning out an incredible number of titles. In fact, the sheer volume of today's titles - as well as the quality of both book and text - would seem to exceed the '80's horror boom. How do you explain this?

OBSIDIAN:

I agree that it has definitely come back, but I'm actually hoping it doesn't get as huge as it was, because that would indicate another cycle, which means a big downturn again. Prices this time around seem to be more reasonable for the most part, and the books coming out are less "publish a limited edition right before the mass market edition" and more "publish the book as its own product, and see if it sells to mass market down the road". I think the resurgence is due mostly to the fan loyalty to horror as a whole, and to their favorite authors in particular. When mass market horror went a way for the most part, the fans wanted their horror, and the small press is where it's at. Small press is slowly edging into the territory of winning over people who typically read just mass market, big name paperbacks, and that has been another reason for a lot of books coming out with increasing print runs and still selling out. The acceptance is coming back, albeit slowly.

RLK!:

How do you feel Obsidian Press differs from some of the other specialty publishers in the horror field right now - for instance, Cemetery Dance, Subterranean Press and the like?

OBSIDIAN:

Mostly in style and how we choose to present the content. Every publisher either has or is trying to develop their preferred methods, and the biggest difference down the line is what the publishers see as an ideal product, given the resources. My style is different than Rich at CD or Bill at Subterranean, but it's in a lot of subtle ways. Then there are publishers that have very different styles than my own. As an example, my friend Dave at Necro prefers to do much smaller hardcover print runs and do a medium number of paperbacks, usually more abstract, stylish two color cover, few interior illustrations, etc. I prefer to do only hardcovers in medium volume, four color cover and interior art, you get the idea. Dave's style is very different, and I love his books. Here's my point - If everyone did it like me, small press would become, visually, boring as shit. You'd have a bunch of clones sitting on your shelf. No thanks. I love the fact that there are so many distinct personalities publishing their own style. I celebrate it every Saturday night with some frosty beers.

RLK!:

Not a bad way to do it.

OBSIDIAN:

Actually, I'd drink the beers anyway, but it gives me an excuse.

RLK!:

Okay, let's talk about some of your past projects and what you have upcoming in 1999. Your first book, SHIFTERS, was published in May of 1998 to great fanfare. For those that haven't read it, I think it's safe to say that acclaim was well deserved. SHIFTERS is now out-of-print, isn't it?

OBSIDIAN:

Yep, all out of print. 1999 will start with Dancing With Demons by Lucy Taylor in February, move on to Ushers - stories by Edward Lee in April, and also have a charity anthology called Outside Its Cage, and Mondo Zombie edited by John Mason Skipp sometime this year. I'm also planning a smaller work of Mark McGlaughlin stories which will be wonderful stuff. That's in the beginning stages, but we hope to get it out yet this year. I have other stuff in the pipe that I'd love to tell you about. I can't though, because the other people involved would put a hit out on me. Or at least hurl curse words at me.

RLK!:

Why did you choose SHIFTERS as your premier title and what can you tell us about the trial and tribulations of a first release?

OBSIDIAN:

The best way I can think of to describe it is like having a kid. It started out as a beautiful baby. But when it got to adolescence, joined a UFO cult, went to school, pinched the teacher's ass, beat up the principal, vandalized the lunchroom and got sent to jail. Then it got out and became a successful, mature adult anyway. The printing company created a colossal fucking black hole of wasted time, money, and energy. This was an experienced company, but it was like they had no idea how to make a book look like it was supposed to. It took 3 times longer than it was supposed to, cost much more money, and still wasn't even close to the way it was supposed to be. I have a printout of what the dustjacket is supposed to look like on my wall, and that ain't what the book looks like. I got an apology and some of my wasted money back from the printer, but I'll certainly never use them again. All the same, I definitely love the book. It's just different than it was supposed to be. I look at it on the shelf now and still have to shake my head, but lovingly so.

RLK!:

John Pelan and Edward Lee are both from Seattle, which is quite close to your operation in Auburn, Washington. How did the authors' close proximity contribute to this first effort?

OBSIDIAN:

It had a tremendous contribution. I had picked John's brain about some of the basics of book publishing, and he sold me on the idea of Shifters in a bar. I read it and signed the contract in a different bar. I'm not sure what that says about me...

RLK!:

Speaking of Lee and Pelan, one of your upcoming releases in 1999 is THE USHERS, Edward Lee's first short-story collection, scheduled for April, 1999. I knowpersonally that I am eagerly anticipating that particular title and I've heard many similar comments. What can you tell us about that book - and about Lee himself?

OBSIDIAN:

Ushers will be over 100,000 words and have at least 30,000 words of new material. Every story of the 20 will be illustrated and the cover art, which can be viewed at www.horrorcollector.com, was done by Alan M. Clark. It will be a print run of 26 deluxe editions containing an extra new story which will never appear anywhere else, costing $150.00. There will be 250 signed limited editions @ $45.00, and a trade paperback version at $16.00. I'm very jazzed about this project. It helps that I'm a huge fan of Lee's work, but even outside of that, the stuff in here is brilliant. We're also doing a full bibliography, afterword story notes for every piece, and an intro by Lee. I think this will not only be a cornerstone book in any Lee collection, but also a damn fine read.

As far as Lee himself, he's kind of an enigma. He's such a brutal writer, but he's also an extremely intelligent guy. He knows lots of big words. And to state an unforgivable cliché, he's a nice guy. We've become very good friends. He has an uncanny ability to pry me out of my house and make me go have a beer with him damn near every week, which is always a kick. Here's a hint for anyone who wants to strike up a conversation with him - study your shellfish. He's obsessed with lobster, shrimp, crab, and he LOVES to talk about that shit.

RLK!:

Your second title was Jack Ketchum's THE EXIT AT TOLEDO BOULEVARD, which I believe was also Jack Ketchum's first short-story collection. Do you find collections personally - and financially - more rewarding?

OBSIDIAN:

Financially, it's about the same as long as the collection has some new or hard to find material in it. Personally, I love novels, but I love collections even more. A book of short stories can be satisfying to a reader in ways a novel can't. The Ketchum collection was very broad in scope by design. I think it represented Ketchum's wide range very well. Even if a book is strictly horror, it can still have a wide range of styles, emotions, blah blah blah. I used to favor anthologies and collections just because it allowed me to sample work from many different people, but now I love them just for what they are.

RLK!:

By all accounts, EXIT was a terrific collection (with a great Richard Laymon introduction) and I've heard it's nearly out-of-print as well. What can you tell us about how this follow-up title came about?

OBSIDIAN:

Well thank you. Actually, thank you from the people who actually created it, since all I did was make phone calls and write checks. It's over 90% out of print as of this writing, and still selling. It came about as a result of Ketchum writing the intro for Shifters. We established a rapport from that, and I just asked him about a collection. He'd had some interest already from other parties, but he decided to go with me, thankfully.

RLK!:

Did this second title go any smoother than SHIFTERS, your first release?

OBSIDIAN:

As a project, it went much smoother than Shifters, except for my own mistakes. When it came time to send the proof to Ketchum for corrections, I screwed up and sent the previous version that was a very rough draft, full of mistakes, and even missing pages. I didn't realize it until I got it back from him with about ten thousand hand made corrections. I felt like a real schmuck. But he was very professional and forgiving about it, despite the extra work he went through because of my fuck up. I know that he is very pleased with the final product, which is what really matters. That mistake coupled with some mistakes I later found even in the final text have made me almost paranoid about text mistakes.

RLK!:

Even still, the final result is really tremendous.

OBSIDIAN:

EXIT was the book that looked exactly as I'd envisioned it. Alan Clark is just an amazing artist, and very professional business wise. I can still gaze at the artwork and get the emotions that are supposed to surface when you see those pieces.

RLK!:

Do you foresee publishing any other Jack Ketchum works?

OBSIDIAN:

That's a big fat hell yes. Besides his work having great demand in the collectible book arena, I'd like to do anything I can to get more people to read him and get him closer to the success he richly deserves. Plus, we clicked very well last time around. He's already done a couple of new short stories for anthology projects I have coming up, and we're discussing some other stuff that I of course can't talk about yet.

RLK!:

I believe your next title due out this month (February) is Lucy Taylor's DANCING WITH DEMONS. Largely recognized as a short-story author, this is only her second novel. Her debut full-length work, THE SAFETY OF UNKNOWN CITIES, was awarded the Stoker. How do you feel DANCING measures up - and can you give us any hints as to the storyline?

OBSIDIAN:

It's a different kind of book than SAFETY. There's much more of a suspense element, and no supernatural horror. The lead character gets involved with a man who not only becomes like a personal demon to her, but also makes the personal demons that already destroyed her life resurface. Lucy is very proud of it, as well she should be. It's one of those books that sneaks up on you and bites your hand off, then nurses you back to health, caresses you and says soothing things, then bites your arm off so it can have something to beat you with.

RLK!:

I've noticed that you generally do a print run of 500 signed and numbered editions and 26 lettered editions. How did you arrive at this number as being the most financially feasible? With all titles thus far nearly out-of-print, your ability to forecast demand appears exemplary.

OBSIDIAN:

That number is more or less a line. Any more, and I run the risk of it not selling out, and sitting on books for a long time. Any less, and the unit cost per book eats up any potential profit. I'm still fairly new, so 500's a good number. Once I get more established, I'll print more for things in demand, and still be able to sell out in a relatively short time. As far as the forecasting thing, it's probably the single most important thing, business wise. If you think something will sell, and it doesn't you've just sunk thousands of dollars into nothing. The best I can tell you is that I just kind of know who will sell and who won't. Someday, I hope to have enough of a base and enough salesmanship to sell a book I believe to be magnificent regardless of whether or not the author already has a following.

RLK!:

Time for some Barbara Walters questions. What's your proudest achievement with Obsidian Press thus far?

OBSIDIAN:

Making it through the first year!

RLK!:

What unforeseen event was the hardest lesson to learn?

OBSIDIAN:

The actual cost of printing a book. It adds up very quickly, and the temptation to cut corners can be hard to resist. One other trap that's easy to fall into is planning too many books, too far in advance. If you lock up a book project, people tend to want money. So if you lock up 7 more projects before your first one has come out, you may experience some sort of embolism later on. Not that I did that, of course...

RLK!:

If you could publish any author or book with no regards to finances or contracts, who or what would it be?

OBSIDIAN:

If I assume you mean a book that's physically possible (author not being dead, that sort of thing), it'd have to be a brand new Peter Straub novel, with exclusive lifetime rights, original cover art by H.R. Giger, and of course it would be dedicated to me. Then again, if I were able to go back in time, I'd publish a signed limited edition of A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, and convince him not to kill himself after only two brilliant novels. If I could go even further back in time, I'd publish a signed limited edition of Edgar Allen Poe's short fiction, which would of course have 10 brand new stories under contract to me forever, so if you wanted to read them, you'd have to read my publication. I could go on and on, but I'll shut the hell up.

RLK!:

Okay, time to reveal secrets: I've heard rumors that Richard Laymon may enter into your plans sometime soon. Care to elaborate?

OBSIDIAN:

He's written an original story for a charity anthology I'm co-editing and publishing with Mike Paduana from Sideshow Press. Aside from that, we've had the "do you want to do something with Obsidian someday? Yeah, that'd be great" conversation, so I'm confident it'll happen on a bigger scale than the anthology submission, but you'll just have to wait and see.

RLK!:

With the year 2000 around the corner, what trends to do you foresee specialty publishing following as we head into the next century?

OBSIDIAN:

The next century? I can barely look far enough into the future to remember my own friggin' birthday. I can only guess that the fundamentals of books will not change much. I don't think there are enough people that want to read a book on their computer to negatively affect the demand for actual books, even that far into the future. Making books has not really changed much in the past few hundred years, so why should it in the next? Focusing on specialty publishing, I think there will always be a demand. It's pretty basic - if people find something they like, they want the best of what that thing is. Obviously, there are varying degrees of that but people generally want the best of what they can get. That's what specialty publishing is based on, and I can't imagine that changing all that much.

RLK!:

Any farewell words on any subject I may not have broached?

OBSIDIAN:

Just to say thanks to RLK! and its readers, both for the interview and for reading, supporting, and being part of the whole big bunch of lunatics that enjoy this morbid stuff.

RLK!:

Well, thanks very much, Matt, for your time and entertaining insight into the world of small-press publishing. If our visitors want to get in touch with you regarding purchases or other information, how can they reach you - and do you have a website they can visit?

OBSIDIAN:

My phone number is (US) 253 874 5721. Address is 37800 38th Ave S. Auburn, WA 98001. Email is MJobsidian@aol.com. My website is at http://www.horrornet.com/obsidian.htm, and will be updated soon, I promise.




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