Friday, April 25, 2014

TC Publisher Interview: Neil Baker launches April Moon Books with anthology THE DARK RITES OF CTHULHU, edited by Brian Sammons, featuring 'The Half Made Thing,' now available for order


I'm pleased to announce the publication of my tale "The Half Made Thing" in the anthology The Dark Rites of Cthulhu, overseen by red-hot editorial force Brian M. Sammons, which is notable as the launch project of April Moon Books, a new speculative fiction indie press founded by writer and freshly minted publisher Neil Baker, whom I interviewed below.

In addition to the honor of joining the launch of April Moon, this is a special occasion for me personally, as not only will this be my first time working with Neil, who has been so lovely throughout and is sure to have a long career in this business, but "The Half Made Thing" also marks my first bit of published poetry as a fully functioning, semi-clearheaded adult (I don't count the snarky twaddle I published in Omaha's own groundbreaking indie mag Sound New & Arts back in college).  The story actually began as a poem/chanty, with the prose growing out of the verse.  As such, upon completion of the tale, I submitted both, as they tie together, and Brian was kind enough to accept them as a package, which now serves as the closing chapter in The Dark Rites of Cthulhu, finishing off an anthology of Lovecraftian tales dealing with themes of magic, sorcery, and dark conjuring, written by some of the premiere names working in Mythos fiction today.

So, give the interview below a read, pick up The Dark Rites of Cthulhu via either Amazon (Kindle edition going for only $2.99) or straight from the April Moon source, and hunker down with a bit of necromancy this spring.  As the days get longer, the nights become more meaningful, as all the best things happen under the cloak of darkness, or even just under the cloak.

Neil Baker, Galactic Overlord of April Moon Books

TC:  Give us a little bit of background on yourself, and on April Moon Books.  As a Writer, Editor, and now Publisher, what moved you to found your own small press?

NB:  Here’s the thing. I've always been a writer, but I've never allowed myself to write. As a modern-day Renaissance Man (i.e. work-shy fop), I've flitted from job to job; among other things I've been a prop maker, a dinosaur builder, a graphic designer, a teacher, a filmmaker and animator. I've chased a thousand mad dreams, and caught one or two, and at the core of all of my career choices has been the story. A few years ago, when I was coming down from a frenetic 4-yr production (a stop-motion short that is still on the festival circuit), I found some old stories that I had written many years ago. They were crude, but fun, and they prompted me to explore possible outlets. By chance, I saw an open call on Facebook for ‘steampunk infused Mythos fiction’, and so I wrote a tale which was influenced by Mark Gatiss’ Lucifer Box series of novels.

The Devil’s Mudpack was a romp and a half, but it didn’t make the cut. However, the editors, a couple of ne’er-do-wells named Sammons and Barrass, liked it enough to invite me to write for ‘Atomic Age Cthulhu’ – and Little Curly was accepted. In fact, one of them remarked that my story had moved him to tears. This was the kind of thing my dwindling ego needed to hear, and so I threw myself into story-writing with gusto. I got another couple of short horrors into two more books and then shortly after that my next story, The Turtle, was accepted into World War Cthulhu, and I realized that I could hold my own with the big kids. At the same time, I knew that selling a short story here or there wasn't going to keep my own kids in diapers, and so I decided to take the plunge, to invest some time and money into starting my own publishing house in order to create the kinds of books that I would love to read, while possibly making a bit of dough on the side.

How hard could it be?

I’m sure you've recently found the answer to that question.  In this vein, what are some the challenges you have faced in building your own publishing company?  Did anything surprise you?

The biggest hurdle I am facing while building my empire is me. This is a one-man show, with the occasional bit of reading done for me by good friends and a supportive wife, all of whom know a thing or two about story. Unfortunately I’m having to assume all the roles normally delegated in any given company, and you can bet your bottom dollar that ‘creative’ Neil trumps ‘business’ Neil Every Single Time.

I am never happier than when I am editing a great story, designing a book cover or sculpting a promotional gift. However, there is a sadly neglected XL spreadsheet that is crying to be updated, forms to fill in, Important Things to do, that force me to grit my teeth and get them done. This will get better as time goes on, but I still feel I have yet to hit my stride.

How did you hook up with editor Brian Sammons for The Dark Rites of Cthulhu?  Did he approach you with the project, or was it the other way around?

Ever since working with him on ‘Atomic Age’ and ‘World War’, I have enjoyed a great rapport with Brian as we gelled over movies and other shared passions. One day, I happened to remark in passing that I was thinking of starting up a publishing company. My words were like catnip to the feline Sammons, who pounced on my message board, lighting it up with an idea he had been bouncing around in his head. As the concept tumbled out via emails I made the decision to go for it, knowing full well this was a huge risk. To launch my company with a high profile anthology like this threw up many pros and cons. I knew I wanted to do this book, to create something that could sit on the shelf next to a Chaosium title or DRP novel, and I also knew that Brian had the connections to the talent required to make it happen. I knew the stories were going to be the best I could possibly hope for if I wanted to make an impact, but I was also acutely aware that I wasn't going to get all this for free. I had to make a commitment and so, after discussing it with my long-suffering better half, said yes.

What can readers expect when they crack open The Dark Rites of Cthulhu?

Firstly, I think it’s going to come as a bit of a shock to anyone unfamiliar with the authors just how exceptionally good the stories are. The contributors are all writers at the top of their game, well respected, award-winning, and best-selling. I have nothing but respect for small presses and anyone who self-publishes, but it is no secret that the quality of fiction is quite alarmingly varied. The decision to go with the sixteen authors in my book has meant that the reader will be dipping into top notch writing. It’s a benchmark I hope to maintain.

As for the content, I believe that Brian’s original concept, that of the intimate meddling of humans in the dark arts of the Mythos (as opposed to full-scale battles between mortals and Old Ones), sheds new light on Lovecraft’s creations. The acts depicted in this book are born from obsession, a dangerous thirst for knowledge and the craving of power, and it is no surprise that the people who immerse themselves in this insidious sorcery soon come undone, both mentally and physically. Not only that, but one of the stipulations for the story submissions was that the authors should steep their ideas in the lurid stylings of old Hammer films, something they have all embraced.

You just returned from the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland, and by all reports, sold out your complete stock of The Dark Rites of Cthulhu.  How was attending your first festival/con as a publisher, and what was the reaction like to the anthology?

It was a tremendous experience, and I am grateful that I finally decided to go. When it was suggested to me (by DRoC author Tom Lynch) I’ll admit I balked at the potential cost of travelling to Portland from Toronto. What with the flight, accommodation and other expenses, I would tip my original marketing budget well over the edge. However, a brief email correspondence with Gwen Callahan, one of the festival organizers, convinced me that this was too good an opportunity to miss, and so I made all the necessary arrangements and hoped I hadn't dug myself a deep hole.

As it turned out, my fears were unfounded, as I sold enough books on the first day to pay for my flight, and was actually able to pack up early on the final day having sold every copy, plus promotional sculptures and t-shirts I had made. The very public launch of The Dark Rites had been a huge success and, through chatting with customers, I learned that there was indeed a thirst for Lovecraftian tales steeped in magic and sorcery. I went all out on the promotional materials, ensuring that every visitor went home with at least a postcard or magnet whether they bought a book or not. I also printed new promotional posters every morning to keep my table fresh and informative, not least being the extraordinary testimonials from Cody Goodfellow, Wilum H. Pugmire and David Conyers, all procured by Brian. Then he produced the coup-de-grace, a new testimonial from Laird Barron, which I hastily printed up and which was responsible for a clutch of sales by folks who muttered, “Well, if Laird likes it…”.

On the last day of the festival, I was delighted to announce that sales of the physical book had hit 100, likewise for the Kindle edition, all in the first week of sales. This is a fantastic start for my company and, although I am acutely aware that I have a long way to go, I am cautiously optimistic about April Moon’s chances.

As a Publisher, what advice can you give to writers seeking to place their work in anthologies such as yours, or in selling their longer works (novellas, novels)?  What is April Moon Books specifically looking for from writers/artists?

As I have previously mentioned, I want to publish books that I would enjoy. By that reasoning, it is safe to assume that my influences growing up shape my desires, and so it would be a good idea to take a good hard look at the following entities, for these are the ingredients that I like to play with: Hammer films, Dr. Who (old stuff), Star Wars and other space operas, Amicus films, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Quatermass, Fredric Brown, Pan books, 2000 AD, monsters (of any shape or size), crimson blood and heaving bosoms.

What’s next for April Moon Books?  What are the long-term plans for your company?

The promotion for The Dark Rites of Cthulhu will continue throughout the month of April, with several major stages in the works including magazine campaigns, review campaigns and paid social media advertising. Then, at the end of the month, I will resume editing duties on my second book; a new anthology under my ‘Short Sharp Shocks’ banner, AMOK! This book will be a pulpy heap of psychotic, mostly contemporary horror dealing with persons or things that go on mental and physical rampages. Such is the nature of the beast that I have a pair of ‘office worker’ stories bookending the anthology, with a few (original) zombie tales in the mix, vampires, serial killers, giant alligators and monstrous pigs. It will be shocking, amusing and, ultimately, a lot of fun. A typical April Moon book. If that title does well, then I am looking further ahead to Short Sharp Shocks Volume 2: Stomping Grounds. You can guess the theme for that one.

Then I also have a children’s book in the works that I have written, and I have just secured the talents of an illustrator who I greatly admire and who will be working remotely with me from her home in Japan. I’m very excited for this book, not least because I've forced my children into it in a fit of self-serving madness. It’s based on At the Earth’s Core, and I have a follow-up planned that is based on At the Mountains of Madness…

Lastly, I have an author in mind that I hope to tempt into writing for my company. She writes adult fantasy fiction, and I’m intrigued to see what she can conjure up for me. That will be in the form of novellas, with an option to put out a collection.

So, horror anthologies, childrens’ books and eroticism. I think I've covered the bases.

Any closing thoughts?  Sartorial advice?  Folksy homilies from the Old Country?  

I think I've waffled on enough. If anyone has had the gumption to stick with my responses, then I thank you wholeheartedly for your support and interest. No matter what the outcome, this has been a glorious adventure so far, and I am delighted to have seen my social circle evolve in the past few years. If anyone reading this hasn't written before, or for a while, I urge you to go ahead and do it. If it turns out to be rubbish, that’s fine, do it again. At the end of the day you are creating – and that’s what’s important.

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