Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Interview: Sam Cowan of Dim Shores Press.

                                         

I have always been a great lover of books. Crisp white pages. The smell of a new book. Great cover art. Beautiful prose. Luckily this is a great time to be book lover. The small press scene is exploding with all kinds of fantastic limited edition tomes made with great love of the weird horror genre.  One of the newest and most promising small presses out there is Dim Shores Press. They make beautiful limited edition but extremely affordable books by some of the best authors in the field, authors like Jeffrey Thomas, Scott Nicolay, and Matt Bartlett. I recently had a chance to chat with Sam Cowan, the founder of Dim Shores Press.


Plutonian: First off thank you for taking the time to answer some questions.

Sam:  Happy to do so, thanks for asking them!

Plutonian: As a lover of books and genre fiction it has always been a dream of mine to have my own book press. How did you get into book publishing?

Sam: I had done a couple of nonfiction books in the past through my day jobs; I’m a production artist and technical writer, usually. One was a small book on computer security by Bruce Schneier, and the other was a textbook on doing statistics with Excel. The textbook was not fun at all, and I focused on other stuff for a while. I was unemployed for a good chunk of 2010 and 2011, doing freelance work but no day job. I got involved with a small press that was starting up in Davis and worked with them for a couple of years. I didn’t expect to get rich there, but I never made any money from that – like any, at all – so after seven print books and four e-books I left.

I enjoy doing layout and wanted to keep doing books but was having trouble getting work. I talked with a couple of larger genre presses but that never came to anything. Finally I said screw it, I’ll do it myself.

Plutonian: Can you tell us the origins of Dim Shores press and also how the name for it came about?

Sam: Once I decided to do something, I put together a spreadsheet and looked at a bunch of numbers. When my eyes unglazed I settled on short-run chapbooks as the least financially stressful way to go. I sold some of my books and records to get starting money while trying to come up with a name. I was paging through some of my books looking for inspiration when I came across this passage in Clark Ashton Smith’s “The Coming of the White Worm:” Beyond the verges of the ice he saw a sea that lay remotely and far beneath; and beyond the sea the low looming of a dim shore. I really liked the image that made in my brain, very mysterious and ominous. It also helped that dimshores.com was available.

Plutonian: Dim Shores has some of the most interesting weird horror authors like Nicolay, Bartlett and Thomas in its ranks, can tell us how you first came across these author’s work?

Sam: I met Jeffrey Thomas at NecronomiCon 2013. I spent a very enjoyable evening in a bar with Jeff and Justin Steele and we have stayed friends since. I have to admit I didn't know much about Jeff’s work at the time but he was such a great guy that I sought it out. I’m very glad I did. Scott Nicolay was actually my room mate at that same convention. We knew each other a little bit from message boards but had never met. Again, he was a great guy so I tracked down as much of his work as I could and liked it a lot.

And speaking of Justin Steele, it was his review blog The Arkham Digest that turned me on to Matthew M. Bartlett. He gave Matt’s “Gateways to Abomination” an excellent review and it sounded so intriguing I immediately ordered a copy. It turned out to be one of my favorite things I read in 2014. We struck up an online friendship, and I jumped at the chance to release one of his stories. I finally met Matt at NecronomiCon 2015 and we had a blast.

The weird community is absolutely brimming with friendly and helpful folks, and I probably wouldn’t be doing Dim Shores if I hadn’t gone to NecronomiCon and a couple of H. P. Lovecraft Film Festivals and met the people that I did.

Plutonian: Can you talk about what you feel the importance of weird horror is?

Sam: For me personally, it is a way to shunt the horror and general dread that comes standard with being alive. Weird horror is one of the few things that achieves that level of disassociation for me. I’m not a fan of the more extreme and/or graphic and/or realistic horror. While I was a gorehound as an angry teen-ager, I loathe the so-called torture porn genre and generally avoid splatter stuff. I’m much more interested in threats to the mind than the body.

In general, I think weird horror is most important for sneaking in new ideas and viewpoints to the larger horror and dark fantasy world. Weird fiction by it’s nature often takes an unusual approach, and sometimes that bubbles up in to the more mainstream areas.

Plutonian: What are the “ must read “ weird horror books ( novels and collections ) to you?

Sam: Man, there are a bunch. Like a lot of people, my introduction to weird fiction came via Lovecraft. I still think he is well worth reading, and I am very glad to see the weird community address the more problematic aspects of his work. Some stories are so virulently racist that it’s actually a little startling; that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be read at all, just that he should be read consciously. Of all his works, my favorites are “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath,” “At The Mountains of Madness,” and “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.” These are also some of his longest stories, which is funny because I think the weird usually works best in shorter pieces.

I am sorely under-read in the classics of the genre, but I can add Clark Ashton Smith as another essential weird writer. He is at time almost whimsical, and then there are pitch-black stories like “The Isle of the Torturers” that just pile on the doom and despair. For both Lovecraft and Smith, I’d say get the Penguin Classics editions and go on from there.

For more current writers, top of my list is Thomas Ligotti. I stumbled on to a copy of “The Shadow at the Bottom of the World” and it just blew me away. And Penguin Classics just released an edition of his first two collections in one book, an incredible value as previous editions are hard to come by and quite pricey. Unmissable.

“The Sea of Ash” by Scott Thomas is a fantastic story, also one of the best things I read in 2014, along with the previously-mentioned “Gateways to Abomination.” Richard Gavin’s “The Darkly Splendid Realm” made a huge impression on me, as did “Nightingale Songs” by Simon Strantzas and “The Wide Carnivorous Sky” by John Langan.

For another flavor of weird, Cody Goodfellow does things and goes places where few others venture. His collection “All-Monster Action” is by turns enthralling, gross, brilliant, and gross. I could say the same about his latest novel “Repo Shark” but I wouldn’t really classify that one as weird horror, more a bizarre adventure kind of thing. I do recommend it though.

Scott Nicolay’s “Ana Kai Tangata” is a very impressive debut collection that I loved. The stories are longer and Scott has room to stretch out and lay solid foundations for the very un-solid things that happen. The title story is a particular favorite.

Laird Barron has written one of the few weird novels I’ve read, “The Croning.” I loved it, and his short story collections are also excellent. He has a reputation for hard-boiled weird noir, and I really enjoy that, but he also writes from other perspectives and those stories are just as enjoyable for me. I recently read S.P. Miskowski’s “Knock Knock,” another weird novel that I really liked and highly recommend.

And pretty much anything by Jeffrey Thomas could be on this list, seriously. I’m happy that there is still a lot of his work that I haven’t read, because that means I still get to read it for the first time. I recently read his freaky “Subject 11,” maybe start there or with one of the Punktown books.

Joe Pulver’s “Blood Will Have It’s Season” was one of the more difficult books I’ve read. At times it is extremely graphic and those parts were hard for me to get through (I would take breaks and read from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” for balance), but it is worth the effort. No one else writes like Joe, and what he is doing is both important and very interesting.

This is a short list made up of what first came to mind. I’ll stop here in interest of time and space, but there are literally dozens of other authors and books I consider essential.

Plutonian: Do you have any favorite horror films?

Sam: I don't watch a lot of horror movies (or movies period) these days but I do have some perennial favorites. The first horror movie I saw on the big screen was “An American Werewolf in London.” I was 12 and it literally scared me out of the movie theater. I did eventually see the whole thing, a number of times. Most everyone I know would probably include “Alien” and John Carpenter’s “The Thing” on this list, and I will too. I love both unconditionally. The “Evil Dead” films and “Dead Alive” are so much fun. Stuart Gordon’s “Dagon” captures a truly weird and Lovecraft-ish vibe, not nearly as campy as the also beloved-by-me “Reanimator” and “From Beyond.”

About the only recent horror movie I’ve seen is “Beyond the Black Rainbow.” That will require another viewing or two to parse, but I was quite taken by the general atmosphere of the movie.

Plutonian: Do you celebrate Halloween? Any Halloween traditions?

Sam: I love Halloween but don’t really make a big thing of it anymore. My wife and I usually go to a party thrown by friends, or stay home and hand out candy to the few kids that actually trick-or-treat around here.

Plutonian: How has social media affected the small press scene?

Sam: It is hard for me to say, as I was not really involved with the scene in the days before social media. MySpace was the first social media thing in which I participated, and it was there and through the Thomas Ligotti forums (ligotti.net) where I first came across, and became friends with, a number of the people I’ve mentioned here.

I have always been a huge music fan, and I do remember what that was like before the rise of social media, or even the internet in general. I found out about new bands and records through zines and college radio, but if Tower Books didn’t carry it or KFJC didn’t play it, I probably wasn’t going to hear about it. These days most of the new stuff I find is through Facebook and Bandcamp.

There wouldn’t be a Dim Shores without message boards and a hub like Facebook. So far my marketing strategy has been fairly non-existent, just “I don’t know, post it on Facebook I guess.” While not the most effective, it is also basically free. And that is where social media really has an impact on all creative scenes: it is worlds easier for creators and people who are into what those creators do to find each other now. Social media and the ability to economically print short run and print-on-demand books revolutionized – are still revolutionizing – all aspects of the publishing process. It is incredibly easy to go to Facebook or Goodreads and find out about new authors and books. Digital printing allows people like me to do print runs of 100 or 150 chapbooks at a reasonable cost, and Facebook, blogs, and even (ugh) Twitter help spread the word and reach readers without costing anything except time.

Plutonian: What is the future of Dim Shores? ( where would you like to see it go? )

Sam: I am sticking to chapbooks for now, but some time next year I would like to expand to anthologies and maybe even single-author collections. I have an anthology idea and a wish list of authors to invite, but financially I’m not quite there yet. We’ll see!

Plutonian: What upcoming works are in the pipeline from Dim Shores?

Sam: I just sent the next chapbook off to the printer: “The Nectar of Nightmares” by Craig Laurance Gidney with art from Orion Zangara should be printed and in my hands before the end of the month. It is more fantastical than horrific, a little different from the first three chapbooks, and that is exactly what I want to do. Dim Shores books will always have a dark edge to them but will not always be horror as such.

After that will be a chapbook from S.P. Miskowski, scheduled to be published in December. Gemma Files is writing a story that should see the light of day in February, and I have a cool story in hand from Cody Goodfellow that I need to schedule.

There are three other projects in the works. One involves Jeffrey Thomas again, and one is with another alumni. The third hasn’t been officially revealed yet. I will be publishing an older piece by a currently active master of the weird who has not been named in this interview. It’s long, about 23k words, and I hope that will be out by Spring. Once I actually get into the layout and we have an artist attached I’ll spill more beans.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Review and Interview: Gateways to Abomination and author Matthew Bartlett.





Out of the blackest woods comes Matthew Bartlett’s self published collection Gatesways to Abomination. In Northeast USA a small town is under siege by an occult radio station. Emitting signals like gothic nightmares it corrupts the entire area in its dark spell. Evil rebirths, goat headed warlocks, things lurking in the night, Gateways is a series of vignettes that delight in startling mutations and personal dooms. Incredibly fun to read for the dark hearted. One of the best books I have read this year, this book by itself legitimizes self publishing. The writing style reminds me a bit of the early 20th century french transgressive writers like Bataille and Genet… but which a decidedly gothic aesthetic like a Machen or a Lovecraft. Bartlett is one of the most exciting new authors out there, Gateways to Abomination is a modern masterpiece of weird horror. With exquisite prose Gateways to Abomination’s macabre visions will keep you going back again and again to it’s infested pages. I have managed to track down Matthew Bartlett in his ghost haunted shack out in the fetid swamp lands and got him to answer a few questions on the books and films that have influenced him.


Plutonian: Gateways has a dedication to being transgressive and assaulting the reader with dark surreal imagery. Not really wasting time with any filler background story, it gets right to the point. Gateways seems influenced by French writers like Lautreamont and Bataille. What are your thoughts on mixing weird horror with dark eroticism and transgressive fiction?


Bartlett: It wasn’t a conscious effort on my part to be transgressive – I was trying to do something different, I think, a kind of distilled horror, and at the time I was writing the stories, I was doing so for myself and a few like-minded people. I didn’t think they would ever go any farther than that, so I had license to do whatever I wanted, and what I wanted to do was to bother people, for lack of a better word. There was no direct influence from the above-referenced writers, and, in fact, I must admit I haven’t read them. But having taken a look, I intend to now. So if my stuff gets weirder after 2016, it’s your fault.


Plutonian: John Carpenter made some masterpiece films with his takes on modern witchcraft, technology and paranoia. Gateways deals with a sinister radio transmission, mixing the occult with the modern. Did films like Halloween 3: Season of the Witch, In The Mouth of Madness, and Prince of Darkness have an influence on your writing?

Bartlett: While I liked In The Mouth of Madness, I have to say that Prince of Darkness and Halloween 3 were more direct influences, in particular the latter. At the time I was writing Gateways, I was curious as to the fate of AM and FM radio—with the advent of satellite radio and the prevalence of MP3 players, it seemed like terrestrial radio might be a medium in its death throes. And that fit in quite well with the theme of the vengeful dead trying to use black magic to fulfill an ancient prophecy in a modern world. The thing about radio, it’s not a communal experience, for the most part—the family doesn’t exactly gather around the radio anymore. It’s company in the car. It’s a kid in his room, moving the dial around. Whatever you see around you fades into the background. It’s like reading, in that it can put pictures in your head, but it has the added element of The Voice. The Voice can be conspiratorial, insinuating, persuasive, seductive.
Plutonian: Gateways has a dark mood to it that reminded me of early horror from the 20’s and 30’s that dealt with darkness, madness and black magic. Did films like Haxan, Dracula, Vampyr have an influence on you?
Bartlett: Funny you should mention it. I put Haxan and Vampyr on while I was writing, with the sound down. The look of those old movies, in particular Haxan, absolutely informed a lot of the more grotesque scenes in the book.
Plutonian: Gateways seems to take as it predecessors early weird fiction dealing with survivals of witch cults like The White People by Machen, The Festival by Lovecraft and The Salem Horror by Kuttner but also seeks to outdo them. What are your thoughts on the early weird tale and how it impacts your writing?
Bartlett: At the time I was writing, I hadn’t read much in the way modern or current weird tales at all. I’m not saying that with defiant pride or anything like that; it’s just the way it happened to be for me in the mid-aughts. My inspiration came directly from Lovecraft, Machen, Kuttner, Derleth and the like, along with other less likely, non-horror sources. The idea that even today these old cultists and shamans and ghouls and warlocks are still working their way through time right up to the present was very appealing to me. Still is. I also like the idea of the studious or bookish man falling prey to those old cults—that kind of protagonist suits me more than any kind of modern Everyman. A study is more evocative of horror than a “man cave”—for me, anyway. You mention “The Salem Horror.” I get out to Salem a few times a year, and all so much history is right there on the face of the city, and I’m not talking about the Halloween trappings, the banners, the decorations. Those are just a facade. The old houses, the narrow streets, the ancient cemeteries – you can squint your eyes and see old Salem. It’s wonderfully easy to picture all manner of diabolism going on there while everyone was busy putting innocents to death over in what is now Danvers. That Kuttner story could take place now; in important ways, Salem has changed little..
Plutonian: Gateways certainly feels like a Fulci film with its occult menace and its visceral dooms. Gateways could almost be considered a pseudo sequel to Fulci’s City of the Living Dead and The Beyond. Did Italian filmmakers like Fulci, Bava, and Argento have an impact on you?
Bartlett: Argento, definitely, especially Suspiria—that music!-- and Deep Red. As far as cinema goes, throw in Rosemary’s Baby and Don’t Look Now. There are great gaps in my horror reading and viewing—Fulci and Bava fall in those gaps--but that gives me more to check out in the future, and more inspiration.
Plutonian: If you could pick one director to adapt Gateways into a film…living or dead…who would you pick?
Bartlett: That’s a good question. I have to cheat a bit by going with a collaboration: Ben Wheatley and Ken Russell.
Plutonian: Do you have any films you traditionally watch around the Halloween season?
Bartlett: I do. Halloween and Halloween 3. Pontypool. Trick R’Treat. House of the Devil. Nosferatu (the Herzog version). The Funhouse. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.
Plutonian: What new projects do you have coming up?
Bartlett: I’m wrapping up the writing for my Muzzleland Press release “Creeping Waves,” which should come out early next year. It’s a sequel of sorts to Gateways, and it starts to get at certain questions:  What is the Real Leeds? How does one get there? There were peeks at the Real Leeds in Gateways and in Rangel, and more are forthcoming. Also I’m working on stories for a hardcover collection for Dunham’s Manor Press. The working title is “The Stay-Awake Men and Others.” After that, there’s talk  between me and an excellent writer about a collaborative project that will be, let’s say, unique.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Film Spotlight: An interview with experimental horror filmmaker James Quinn.

                                       

           Today we have an interview with experimental horror filmmaker James Quinn. He is making a film called Sodom and Chimera ( trailer above ) and it looks amazing. To finish his film he is trying kickstarter to try to raise the cash. So we are going to have a talk with him and if you are able and want to support the indie horror film scene please think about helping him out. Information on how to contribute will follow the interview.


1. Can you tell us about your film Sodom & Chimera?
Sodom & Chimera is an experimental horror film that visualizes the experience of schizophrenia. I believe it is the first film that tries to do this that is created by an actual schizophrenic. The film is not like other schizophrenia films, it focuses more on delivering the actual feeling of madness and going crazy, instead of telling a story that is built on human interaction. The film will have different chapters, with every single one showing a different side of the illness. For instance, Chapter III is going to be one big psychedelic trip, while Chapter IV will be less psychotic, but more subtle, with elements of a classic horror film. It will focus on the paranoia and delusions, providing a feel like reality is losing it's structure, which will intensify as the happenings become more and more bizarre and frightening. So basically, there will be very few moments in the film where you can relax, it's going to be very intense almost all the way through.

2. Love the title. How did you come up with it?
The title is something that I put much thought into. It was only after a significant amount of scenes were already done and I decided to split everything in chapters, that I started thinking about a name. I had previously started reading The 120 Days of Sodom, and the word “Sodom” just got stuck in my head. First, I decided to use it in the title of Chapter III, which is now called The Law of Sodom/The Eviscerated Mind. Sodom of course referring to the actual Sodom and Gomorrah. One day, the word chimera came to my ears. I had never really thought about it much before, but it instantly hit me. In the end, it was the perfect metaphor. Sodom stands for the downfall, in this case the downfall of the mind, and Chimera for the figments, the insanity, the madness, and, as a chimera is also a very dark mythical figure, for the evil and vicious. Besides that, it's an obvious play of words on Sodom & Gomorrah, which I also really liked.

3. Is this your first film and if not what other work have you done?
This my first feature film. I have finished another project earlier this year, an eight minute short film. This month, I will get information on whether it is going to be premiered at a certain film festival or not, then I will release more information about it, the title and some images of the film. All you need to know about it for now is the following: It's about a man trying to deal with his awful past by dedicating his life to god, only to face a horrible truth. It is completely different than Sodom & Chimera. While S&C is a film that is full of noises, loud music and grotesque imagery, this film is very nihilistic, quiet and completely in black and white.

4. Do you prefer film or digital?
Well, up until now I have only shot digital, as it was the easiest way so far, and it enabled new ways to shoot scenes for Sodom & Chimera. But I am very neutral on this subject, I think both options have it's positive and negative aspects. What I'm going to use for my next projects, I don't know yet. Time and budget will tell.

5. What are some of your favorite weird/experimental/horror films?
I have lots and lots of films from these genres that I like. Some major influences were David Lynch's Eraserhead and Inland Empire, even though my film is very different from these. But those are the two films that got me into surreal and strange cinema. I also got heavily inspired by the imagery of Lars von Trier's Antichrist, a film I absolutely love. It has these beautifully looking shots that look like moving paintings, and I tried a similar approach in my film. You can even see it in the trailers, there are several shots of woods, which are all very dark and thick looking. Other films I love in this genre are Karim Hussain's Subconscious Cruelty and The Abandoned, also two films that inspired me a lot, Taxidermia, Enter the Void, Tetsuo, a very important film to me that influenced some of the fast black and white shots, Begotten, Donnie Darko, the short film Haze, I also love french films very much, not only classic stuff like Martyrs, Irreversible and I Stand Alone, but also more subtle and weirdly disturbing flicks like À ma soeur! (Fat Girl) and Dans ma peau (In My Skin). Also I like lots of classic films, like the ones from Jodorowsky or Luis Buñuel. I could go on endlessly here, I have so many favorites as I've seen so much already. I'm really into abstract cinema and those I listed are only the tip of what I've seen. Some more classic and less weird horror films that heavily influenced S&C are The Shining and the newer The Canal. Also partly very surreal, but most importantly very creepy and atmospheric films, and atmosphere is what I'm going for.

6. What's next after Sodom and Chimera?
I have several projects in mind. I'm not sure which will come first, but I have tons of stories ready. One film that I've already started writing for instance is about misfortune. It tells different stories of people that have things happening to them that are emotionally crushing or just downright horrible. This is a film I really want to do, just not sure yet when exactly. Other projects include a story about a woman who is dying of cancer, when suddenly her husband reveals a shocking secret that completely changes their relationship until something horrible happens, a story about a man who, after witnessing several incidents of death, tries to actually “live” more, which takes a bizarre turn, and one that covers a subject that many people don't think about a lot, which is the private thoughts of people, showing different human beings and what's going on in their head, stuff that no one ever gets to know, focusing on the dark and sinister. There are several more, but I won't list all of them. I'm going to try to get them all made though, sooner or later. After the last chapters of Sodom & Chimera have been done writing, I will immediately start working on the next story. Hopefully, it will be easier to get the next one made, the process of creating Sodom & Chimera has already been a very long one with lots of obstacles. And it's still not done yet. It will most likely be released in 2016 though, if everything goes right of course. That is a date that I feel is very realistic and I'm hoping for it to be the first half of 2016. But in the end, as always, time will tell. 


Here is a link for his kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1314278794/sodom-and-chimera-an-experimental-horror-film

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Review: The Infusorium by Jon Padgett

                                    

From Jon Padgett, creator of Thoman Ligotti Online comes The Infusorium. In the back woods an old factory still stands. Long abandoned but seething with a kind of unlife. Black fog chokes the nearby town. Strange skeletons are found in the soil. A dark mystery unfolds. The Infusorium is a lot of spooky pessimistic fun. A chapbook from Dunhams Manor Press, it’s a quick read full of surprising twists and turns and left this reader quite excited about Jon Padgett’s forthcoming short story collection from the same publisher, The Secret of Ventriloquism. These chapbooks sell fast and I recommend interested readers grab a copy before they sell out. The Infusorium is pure macabre pulp at its finest.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Review: After by Scott Nicolay

                                         
 

After is a new chapbook out from Dim Shores Press, one of the leading Weird Fiction publishers. In After, by author Scott Nicolay, we are presented with a woman whose life is in a kind of free fall and only getting worse. An abusive boyfriend, kids gone to live their own lives, the death of a close friend. And then Superstorm Sandy hits. The story centers around her going to check out the damage of her house while the town is still considered a disaster area and evacuated. She, maybe strangely, decides to stay in the deserted house to get away from her abusive boyfriend. The story then descends into a Ballardian exploration of psychological landscapes and unconscious fears and desires. The story examines cycles of abuse and how someone who is abused will seek out another abuser to get rid of the current abuser and just keep being trapped in that cycle. But at the same time After pays homage to pulpy monster stories and has a lot of fun with the “unknown creature” plot. NIcolay also uses some siege dramatics ala George Romero. And like in a Romero film… not everything ends in a happy ending. All in all another masterwork from one of the most interesting writers in the Weird Horror field. Definitely recommended.