Bloodshed and A Debate On Horror with D.M. Youngquist
Small presses. Here today, gone tomorrow. That’s been a disturbing trend over the last few years. There have been quite a few upstarts who believed they could do what the big boys do, but didn’t have a concrete plan in place in order to stick around long enough to be remembered as anything buy a fly by night publisher. Because of that, a lot of other small presses have taken a beating because of it. Folks don’t want to trust them with their work for a myriad of reasons.
However, there are publications out there who do everything they can to put out great work. Necrotic Tissue comes to mind. So does Shroud and Morpheus Tales. Graveside Publications fits in there as well.
But, what about Dark Continents Publishing? They are new, but, as I found out when I sat down and had a chat with D.M. Youngquist, one of the founders of DCP, they have a plan.
Will it work? That remains to be seen, but I think there’s a good chance it will. Read on and enjoy this in depth discussion between him and I. Feel free to add your thoughts as well.
AJ: Who is D.M. Youngquist?
DM: Hmmm. . . that’s a tough one. I used to carry a business card with me that started with: “Wars fought, tigers casterated, virgins seduced,” and ended with “. . .and tapes carefully erased.” This kind of describes my careers to this point. I’ve trained horses, taught high school history, cleaned hog barns, and currently my full time job is working as an order filler in a hardware retail support center.
Now, as for my writing, I have been writing for as long as I can remember. At least as long as I could read. I became a professional writer when I worked as a reporter for The Western Courier while I attended Western Illinois University in the early 1990’s. While I was working in a legit line of writing, I wrote horror and submitted it to contests and publishers. (You have to realize, in a lot of circles horror and its sub-genres are looked down on as not real writing.)
I since grew bored with journalism. I turned to my love of the wierd, and started writing Dark Speculative Fiction on a regular basis about 2006. It’s grown exponeltially since then. I’ve had a lot of work published, including two books of ghost stories that I spent about three years researching, and a pretty good story published on Tales of the Zombie Wars. This has built until as of August 2010, I got together with five other writers and founded Dark Continents Publishing.
Other than that, I’m a husband for 12 years to a patient wife, and father to two pretty great kids. My son is in college, my daughter is in fifth grade.
AJ: A man with many hats, I see. I’ve often said that it takes a person well lived to right well, and having worked several jobs, you would know your ins and outs of diffeent careers and how to deal with different folks.
DM: Yeah, I’ve been around a bit. People have asked if I ever worry about running out of ideas for charectors or plots for stories. I never do.
Let me hit on something you said: You have to realize, in a lot of circles horror and its sub-genres are looked down on as not real writing. Let me ask you this: why do you think this is so?
DM: There are several reasons for this, in my opinion. On a personal level, I’ve gotten flack because I’m a self-taught writer. I don’t have an English or a Lit degree. I hold a BA in History. So to a lot of people, I’m not a “real” writer anyway.
As for horror itself, it goes back a long way. Longer than a lot of folks believe. There has long been a division between what the upper classes (read nobles, merchants, upper classes) listen to, read, or participate in for entertainment and those working class folks like myself do. While Mozart was being kept on his leash by royals in Austria, and having to cash in his estate, common folks were keeping the local writers of plays and musicals busy and putting money in their pockets. These were people who were dock workers, day laborers and street sweepers. They paid their copper for a differant type of humor or scares or tragedy that appealed to them. Mozart wrote for nobilty, and that work didn’t interest them.
Now, fast forward a few hundred years. That division is still there. Seen mostly in literature. There are people who write “literature” who do great works. Every word has a meaning beyond what it is written as. College profs teach whole classes around the work. I’m not knocking that. Some of it is great work. Some of it I enjoy, but as a rule, it’s not really for me. Most work out there is made to entertain. It’s made to take people out of their lives for the time it takes them to read the book. To pick on “Native Son.” I’ve read it. It’s a great book. I enjoyed it, and we dissected it for several weeks in lit class. But, all you have to do is turn on CNN to get the same story in a 30 second news blurb.
In addition, most people look at horror writing as the early pulp stuff that came about back in the 40’s and 50’s. Rather cheesy work that was written to make a fast buck, and damn the quality.
In my mind, horror began the turn around back in the ’70’s when Stephen King came onto the scene. Here’s a guy who had already taught himself hoe to write, then went on to get a degree in English. He brought a quality to horror that had not been seen before. In this era, there is a lot of quality in the horror world. A lot of people want to do more than just spill blood. They want to tell a damned good story too. One of the qualifications I wanted from my team is that everyone had to be a good story teller, not just throw blood around the page.
AJ: You make a compelling argument—I’ve said many of those things in the past. One thing I will say for the difference between ‘literature’ and horror is I think it is so much harder to scare people than to entertain them or to write a slice of life type of story. And that makes it harder to get published—not only in the lit fic area, but in the horror publications as well.
Not only is it harder to scare people, but the horror genre is viewed by many as being limited to monsters over the years, so many folks veiw horror as just monsters like vampires and zombies and so on. But, honestly, the real monsters are the guys down the street or the girl next door with a long knife and a seductive smile or the individuals who stalk others only to hurt, rape and/or kill them.
Do you think maybe one of the negative viewpoints on horror as a whole is partially the horror genre’s fault? I mean, those that came before us—until King—didn’t do much to help the genre. This of course, excludes individuals like Poe and Lovecraft. So, could this viewpoint be partially the fault of those who are involved in the horror genre?
DM: It is harder than HELL to scare people. That’s something that a lot of beginning writers don’t get. How do you scare people after they’ve watched CNN or Headline News and watched the civil war in Sudan. People with limbs chopped off? The slaughter in Rwanda, or Pol-Pot in Cambodia? You’re right in that. Even if the horror doesn’t come at you from some battlefield, what about people like Jeffery Dahmer? Again, real life holds a lot of horror.
What young or just starting out writers don’t get is how hard it is to actually scare people. I’ve had beginning writers tell me they’re going to write a horror story because they’re easy. The impression is, you write a story with some kind of monster in it, throw in some blood, some half-naked (or fully naked) co-eds, and you’ve got a story. Doesn’t work that way. People have seen too much of it, both in film and in stories.
On the other hand, you can make a decent straight lit story work as long you follow the basic rules and make sure there’s a beginning, middle and end. I’m not saying it will be a great story, but it’ll be passible.
The horror genre has suffered over the years for a number of reasons, and the writers are just one of them. Traditional monsters aren’t necessarily a problem. Historically, monsters such as Frankenstine, Werewolves, Vampires and Demons served a purpose and gave a focus to people’s fears. The problem came around when they became a joke. Think “Abbot and Costello Meet the Wolfman.”
That trend followed for a long time. Authors weren’t as worried about the quality of a story as much as they were getting a book into the market and making a buck. For about 30-40 years, the horror genre slouched along just putting out reworks of the same old story.
In literature, that changed with people like King, Clive Barker and others who came along in the 70’s and 80’s. The stories were good, they scared the hell out of people, and sold a ton of books. Quality stories were easier to find, and the authors began to gain some respect in literary world. The books turned more away from monsters (though we still write about those dusty old demons and vamps from time to time) and more to psychological mind screws.
It stayed level for a number of years. Nothing really new came along, nothing old really died off.
Then, some folks had the idea to give some old stories a few new twists. Vampires were now moody creatures who only drank blood because they needed to. They weren’t the preditors ol’ Drac was (with the exception of Barlow in ‘Salem’s Lot). They glitter in the sunlight. They take human lovers. Werewolves were enslaved by the vampires and have been fighting for thier freedom for hundreds of years. Zombies were no longer slaves of witch doctors, but walking (or running) corpses bent on eating what surviving humans there were left.
Again, the cycle repeats itself. Horror got so hot over the last five years, publishers printed any piece of crap that came across their desk to make a buck. Now, again, it has become somewhat of a joke. When you have movies like “Fido,” or books dealing with gay zombies in love, it’ll crash again. And again, it becomes harder to sell a manuscript.
I believe that horror has more problems with this than other genres. Fantasy, Sci-fi, Romance, Mystery, they all have a pretty level sales and publishing field. The same ideas that worked for Sir Arthor Conan Doyle, and Agatha Cristy works for J.A. Konrath and Berry Eisler. The stories are grittier, and the writing is much faster, but the idea of solving a crime and finding the bad guy is still basically the same.
Horror (or Dark Speculative Fiction as we call it at Dark Continents) doesn’t have that consistancy. I’m all for trying new things and stirring things up, my zombies shuffle AND run, but lets keep good quality along with the experimental work.
So, long way around getting to the answer, yes, a good portion of the image problems horror has, can be laid at the feet of some of the writers.
AJ: I’ll say this about lit fic and horror, regardless of the genre, the main goal should always be to write a compelling story with characters that the readers can fall in love with or hate. Not all stories have that beginning, middle and ending.
You mentioned Dark Continents just now. Tell me about that.
DM: Quality writing is a must. Not just mechanically in regards to punctuation and such. That’s important, but you have to have good writing. Good charectors, good plots, good stories. Quality. Regardless of what genre you’re writing in, or publish in, quality should be the number one requirement.
Dark Continents Publishing is a little company that came about when six of us writers came together to get more control over our careers. Myself, John Prescott, Sylvia Shults, Serenity Banks, Tracie McBride and Adrian Chamberlin organized Dark Continents as a co-operative publishing firm. All of us are published authors, and have been writing and involved in the business for a number of years. We had seen the direction that mainstream publishing was going, and weren’t impressed with what we saw.
It was an idea we tossed around for a few weeks before we took the plunge. Believe me, there was a lot of issues we wanted to cover before we invested our time, money, blood, sweat and tears into a small press that was going to fall apart even before it even got off the ground.
So in August of ’10, we became official. The name Dark Continents Publishing represents two things. Firs, we are all horror writers in some form or another. Second, we came from three differant continents. The US, Europe and Austraila.
Since then, we’ve added five more writers, Simon Kurt Unsworth, also from the UK, John and Mureen Irvine from New Zealand, Carson Buckingham who’s here in the US, and most recently, Dave Jeffery who’s from Britian as well.
Since we are such a diverse group, we write what we like to call Dark Speculative Fiction.
AJ: I would say diverse is an understatement. Seeing that you guys have developed this Co-operative, are you going to be accepting submissions from other authors as well?
DM: Most definitely. Right now, we have eight books to launch at World Horror Con in April. We’re also going to do a five book push of ghost stories around the end of September, 2011. By the end of the first year, we’ll have about 20 books, give or take on the market. Both in print and electronic formats.
That being said, after WHC, we will be open to submissions. Right now, we’re concentrating on that push for WHC. In May, I figure we’ll have a number of new submissions waiting for us. We’re looking for good writers who can tell a story. People who are looking for a career, not just hobby.
One thing we have discovered is we’re breaking new ground in a number of ways. While co-operatives are successful in a number of businesses, it has rarely been tried in publishing. We started with a sewing thread for a budget. None of us has left our day jobs. We decided the most effective way to start this, was as a co-op. That way, everyone contributes something beyond their manuscript. We all pitch in with the publicity. We all put the word out, make the connections. Some of us are good in business with contacts in wholesale and distribution. We’ve even got a couple of editors involved.
That said, those coming on board after WHC will be more along the lines of a traditional writer’s role. If they want to pitch in, great! We’ll take the help. Every hand makes the load lighter, and everyone has their own talents and connections.
One thing that has been a long standing policy is to build new and promising writers. I want to give writers more control over thier careers. I want to give writers more input on thier covers, how their books are marketed, and give them a time frame to complete the manuscript they’re working on that they are comfortable with.
I can’t promise every writer who submits will be published with us, but I can promise I will look at their work. I can say that we will not only take those who’ve been around awhile and become established, but also new writers with the potential to have long term careers.
AJ: You said something I want to touch on for a moment here: you want to give writers more control over their work, let them have input. This is and has always been one of my biggest gripes about the mainstream markets: the writers really are at the mercy of the editors and publishers in many, many cases. I’ve also noticed that indie publishers—those who are not in it for the money—tend to show more of their human side and are more willing to work with writers on their projects.
With this being one of your policies, have you had a negative experience where you felt you didn’t have much say in the final product or even how the story got to the final product?
DM: HAHAHA! You want that alphabetically, or order in which it pissed me off?
Seriously, we can take this one all the way back to 1992 (I think. It might have been ’93) when I was writing for The Western Courier. The student publisher at the time had hired me as an Opinions Columnist. Now, keep in mind I grew up a farm boy in rural Illinois. This guy was a uber liberal law student from Chicago. We butted heads on a number of occasions. He refused to run a number of my columns because he didn’t agree with what I had written. I actually quit the paper for a semester until he graduated. I went back to work, and enjoyed the next three years.
Now fast forward to 2006. I’d been publishing non-fiction in a number of magazines and newspapers since ’92. I’d had short stories, both horror and sci-fi published on a number of websites, and finished in the top 50 and top 10 in a couple of contests.
My publisher contracted me to write a collection of ghost stories that take place the along the length of Interstate 80 (Ghosts of Interstate 80 was released in 2007) Inside, he added clip art randomly throughout the book. Much of it had zero to do with the story it appeared in. He used clip art so he didn’t have to pay for the rights. The cover was also a cheesy, ugly cover made of clip art that had nothing to do with the book.
AJ: Clip art in a book? Seriously? I can only shake my head at that.
DM: Yeah, I still get aggravated at that.
He did, however, like the first book enough to offer me a contract for a second book. Ghosts of the Illinois Canal System was released in 2008. I fought like hell for the cover of that book. A local photographer shot some great, moody work of one of the local canals one fall morning with the mist just rising off the water. Beautiful work. I fought and argued for several weeks to get that shot as a cover, and in the end, I worked out a contract with the photographer and won the idea of using her art as my cover. With a great cover, my Canal book outsold the I-80 book about 3:1.
I’ve had a falling out on a major scale with that particular publisher. I appreciate the break he gave me with my first two books, but honestly, with his business practices, I don’t expect him to be in business within five years.
I added a bio for Paula inside the book and we talk on a regular basis. With that cover, she’s gotten about twice the work she had gotten prior.
Another of Dark Continents policies is that any artist who does a cover for us will get a full bio with contact info inside the book.
It has been my personal policy to promote and bring other talented people up the ladder with me. This year, I will sponser the Fifth Annual Gathering of Midwest Authors in Bishop Hill, Illinois. We have about 20 authors each year, and draw about 400 people out to meet the writers and buy books.
AJ: I think what’s important is not necessarily the vision of the publisher, but the vision of the writer—I have a vision for a collection I want to put together and it’s something I am not willing to compromise on, so I can see many publishers barking about it. However, as my dad has said over and over, you must stick to your guns no matter what the outcome.
DM: I fully believe that the author has a far better idea what he or she want’s on the cover of their book, what will sell the book, and what they want in an artist. It’s just my mindset to allow the two to work together and create a better product.
AJ: I like the direction Dark Continents appears to be going in and I hope your goal stays all about working with the authors and artists and being ‘writer-friendly.’ I definitely think you have the right template to move forward and make an impact in this business.
AJ: Can I asks, why is Dark Continents waiting until WHC 2011 to debut your publications?
DM: It’s simple really: Logistics. When we first started, we had six books to edit, fix, get covers for and set up for press. Even with two editors on staff, and connections with artists, it’s a lot to tackle in a short period. We added two more manuscripts to that number since opening our doors.
We simply want to make sure everything is perfect, and that we present a good face for our company before we put out multiple books.
We also have tons of paperwork and other related things to accomplish as well. Everything from a bank account, business papers, wholesale contracts. All the little stuff that can become a big glitch if we don’t have it taken care of before we’re ready.
That being said, we have two books out there at the moment. John Prescott’s book Pray, was released on Black Friday to a limited regional area. The book is a great re-telling of the Book of Revelations with a horror twist. In addition to the Anti-Christ, humanity has to deal with his allies of werewolves and vampires. The book can be ordered through our website, Dark Continets as a signed hardback or softback edition.
We also have released The Spectrum Collection, which is an anthology that allowed each of our team members to tackle the Dark Speculative Fiction field to their heart’s content. That volume can be ordered from our site as well, or downloaded onto your e-reader.
AJ: Sounds like you folks have a plan and a pretty good one at that. Put your best foot forward and everything tends to take care of itself.
DM: Plan wise, we didn’t want to end up like a lof of other small start-up presses that are around one day, and gone next week. We want to be around publishing great, Dark Fiction for as many years as we can.
AJ: Now, before we wrap this up and Herbie takes the needles out, how about D.M. Youngquist, the writer. Do you have a website we can send our readers to other than Dark Continents?
DM: I used to have a blog, used to have a small website, but I got so busy I let them slide. Now, it’s easiest to find me on my writer’s wall on Facebook under my name, or on the Dark Continents wall on FB. I’m there with updates on a regular basis. More info too, can be found over on the Dark Continents webpage.
I have to say, AJ, that I’ve enjoyed our talk. Thanks for taking the time to learn a little more about us at DCP, and maybe we’ll get to meet up at World Horror. Take care, and be sure to let me know if anything else crosses your mind.
AJ: And thank you for hanging out and not screaming like a few others have when Herbie brought out the needles. Feel free to drop by any time. We enjoyed having you.
(Herbie’s Note: There was bloodletting a plenty during this interview. I have been left to mop the floors while AJ takes all the credit for my hard work. Never the less, I have a plan and with that plan I will.., oh wait, I can’t divulge that yet. Mwahahahaha…)