I'm James Maxey, the author of numerous novels of fantasy and science fiction. I use this site to discuss a wide range of topics, with a heavy emphasis on cranky, uninformed rants about politics and religion and other topics that polite people attempt to avoid. For anyone just wanting to read about my books, I maintain a second blog, The Prophet and the Dragon, where I keep the focus solely on my fiction. I also have a webpage where both blogs stream, with more information about all my books, at jamesmaxey.net.


Thursday, May 18, 2006

W.H.Horner interview

The following interview was written for the Writers Group of the Triad Newsletter:

My short story, "Pentacle on His Forehead, Lizard on His Breath" saw print at the end of April in the anthology MODERN MAGIC: TALES OF FANTASY AND HORROR, published by Fantasist Enterprises, edited by W. H. Horner. The anthology is the best I've yet had a story appear in, with twenty-six terrific tales and thirty-five gorgeous illustrations by artist David Seidman. Fantasist Enterprises is a small press that is developing a reputation for high-quality books. One key to their success is their pay-rates, which are competitive with larger presses. But the real key to success lies in the hard work and dedication of publisher W. H. Horner.

I knew something special was going on when, wearing his editor hat, Horner did something very strange: He edited me. I've had stories appear in about a dozen magazine and anthologies, and usually the story has appeared in exactly the format I submitted it, with editorial feedback limited to correcting typos (if that). But Horner made several suggestions to improve the flow of the story. One exchange that impressed me was a series of emails where we discussed the sentence, "Sure, my stuff is illegal," versus, "Sure. My stuff is illegal." (Note: In case your browser is as unreliable as mine, in the first sentence "sure" is italicised, while "my" is italicised in the second.) I wanted the "sure" to be heard as sarcasm, but as I had written the sentence, it could easily have been read as an affirmation of the illegality of the speaker's product. Horner's attention to detail wasn't restricted to correcting grammar. He actively worked to help me sharpen the music of the story. It was a rewarding experience that earned my respect.

To find out more about W. H. Horner, I conducted an e-mail interview where I asked a few questions about Fantasist Enterprises:

JM: What inspired you to start Fantasist Enterprises?

WHH: I have always been in love with story. Especially stories that inspire awe and wonder. I wanted to create books that carry that spark of imagination. During my college years, I also discovered that I have a passion for helping other people say what it is they are truly attempting to say. I love helping my authors make a story the best it can be. FE is truly a labor of love.

JM: Professional short story markets are disappearing, at least in the genres of science fiction and fantasy. Markets like the now defunct Amazing Stories were gateways for new talent. Do you see the small press filling that gateway role?

WHH: I love small presses because they are more likely to take chances and stir things up. I see anthologies and the fiction magazines as excellent opportunities for writers to start up their careers by putting some short story sales under their belts, and to learn a bit about the publishing world. Not that it's a requirement in order to sell a novel to one of the big houses, but having those credits will make you look a bit more professional and dedicated.

Small presses can also give authors a chance to play with new concepts and characters. One established author in MODERN MAGIC was recently requested by her agent to take characters from her story and write a novel centering on them. It's very exciting to be able to say I was there in the beginning of something.

JM: One interesting aspect of the themed anthologies you've brought to press so far (2004's CLOAKED IN SHADOW: DARK TALES OF ELVES and the just released MODERN MAGIC: TALES OF FANTASY AND HORROR) is that they are heavily illustrated by a single artist. Which comes first for you? Does a particular artist's work inspire you to think of a theme, or do you think of the theme and then search out an appropriate artist? Am I correct in assuming that you have the artist signed on before you start signing authors?

WHH: It depends on the book. With CLOAKED, Star Sutezzo sent me a sample of her art, including the piece that eventually became the cover. It inspired me to see what people could do with the theme of evil elves. MODERN MAGIC came about because so many of the submissions to CLOAKED were set in modern times, and I wanted to see what other stories people could tell in our world with fantasy and horror elements. David Seidman had sent me his portfolio months before the idea struck, and I knew he would be perfect with his ability to create very real images of fantasy. It was a similar process with BASH DOWN THE DOOR AND SLICE OPEN THE BADGUY and BLOOD AND DEVOTION, with Chris Chua and Michael Dixon, respectively. So far, I've had an artist signed on before I made a final decision on the lineup of stories. In a way, it helps with the selection process, because as I read, I look for scenes that would make great illustrations in the artist's style.

JM: What inspired you to use interior artwork in the first place? In most books, the artwork is restricted to the cover. Also, you mention BLOOD AND DEVOTION and BASH DOWN THE DOOR AND SLICE OPEN THE BAD GUY. What's your normal time from conceiving an anthology to seeing it come to fruition?

WHH: In the history of books, it's a rather new phenomenon to not have illustrations to go along with the text. In the late 19th century, with the proliferation of books aimed at children, it slowly came to be thought that books with pictures were just for kids, but again, this is not historically accurate.

In the early nineties, I read THE GIANT BOOK OF FANTASY AND THE SUPERNATURAL, edited by Stephen Jones and David Sutton, which contained 39 stories and 24 illustrations. That book affected how I came to envision what I wanted to do with the books I publish. I'm also a fan of the speculative fiction magazines such as REALMS OF FANTASY and WEIRD TALES which combine art with words.

My decision to make art such an important part of FE books goes back to that sense of wonder I mentioned earlier. I want readers to turn the page and see a new illustration and say, "Wow." That will hopefully draw them right into the next story since they can't wait to find out what inspired the artist to create that particular work of art.

As for the time it takes to get an anthology out the door, it has taken much longer than I would like! Both CLOAKED and MODERN MAGIC took probably three years from when I came up with the idea to when it finally hit presses. As we get the infrastructure of the company running a bit more smoothly, I'm hoping to cut that time in half, which I know is asking a lot, but I have high hopes.

JM: You call your anthologies a labor of love. But have you also found a way to make money off these books?

WHH: I certainly have faith that a small, well run press can turn a profit with anthologies. I'm not expecting to get rich off this endeavor by any stretch of the imagination, but I do hope to be able to keep the company off the ground and eventually flying steadily.

JM: What kind of reading load does finding stories for an anthology entail? Are you able to read all the submissions yourself? Do you read each story all the way through, or do you know early on if a story isn't going to make the cut?

WHH: Depending on my work load, I try to personally read every story, though with some books I have brought on trusted friends and associates who I know are competent writers and editors to go through the stacks of manuscripts and pull out the top 75% for me to read. The call for submissions for MODERN MAGIC resulted in about 125 submissions, while the most recent, BLOOD & DEVOTION, resulted in about 150. The selection process for B&D was definitely the hardest I've yet to experience. There were so many good stories that I would love to publish, but there is just not enough room. And there were a number of wonderful stories that did not quite fit the theme tight enough to get in.

As to how many pages it takes to know if a story is "in" . . . well, it depends. I can usually tell in about a page and a half if the story is written well enough to warrant taking a serious look at, but I usually try to stick it out for about seven or eight pages to see if things get better. If a manuscript is written well, I usually hope to see confirmation that it will fit the theme within the first ten pages or so (this, of course, depends on length). With B&D, there were a good dozen stories that I read all the way through, since they were so good, and the theme requirements were almost there, in the hopes that something would happen to make it more of a thematic fit--and ended up being disappointed.

JM: What's the best way to support a small press? Would you prefer people purchase books directly on your website, via Amazon, or go into a bookstore and request a copy if it isn't in stock?

WHH: It's good to have a mix of all three of those options. When someone buys books direct from us, that means we and the authors make more from that sale. But most book purchases are impulse buys in stores . . . and if people don't buy a company or author's books in the stores, then stores will not stock them, obviously. Lastly, a book that does well on Amazon.com or B&N.com always gets more attention in other places as well, besides the promotion that those websites give their better-selling books.

To see illustrations from MODERN MAGIC, read story excerpts, or order your own copy, visit the links on the side of this page!

No comments: