Interview with Craig Bezant, editor/owner of Dark Prints Press by Joseph D’Lacey

December 23rd, 2010

If it’s a bonkers decision to become a writer then setting up in publishing must occupy the farthest boundaries of insanity. This is a personal view based on the fact that I’m a lazy slob. My experience is that people in the publishing industry work long hours and long weeks – most of it not recognised as overtime – and the reward, if there is any, is unlikely to be financial.

And yet, without courageous – foolhardy, perhaps – folk keeping the world of books alive, we authors would have no outlet for our own deranged endeavours. Often, it’s those people who set up small, independent presses who have the greatest passion and the clearest vision of what needs to make it into print. Without these innovators and without their efforts, many new writers – especially horror writers – would never find an audience for their work.

Today’s guest is a writer and magazine editor from Australia, Craig Bezant. Craig recently made the decision to take his publishing to the next level, spawning a brand new imprint called Dark Prints Press.

I was curious about what could possibly have possessed him to enter a life of self-slavery…

Joseph D’Lacey: Hi, Craig, and a very warm – nay, fiery – welcome to the sulphurous bowels of Horror Reanimated.

You’ve published a couple of my stories over the last year or two and reviewed some of my other fiction but, in reality, I know very little about you – we live on opposite sides of the world, after all. So let me begin by asking which came first for you; writing stories or editing Eclecticism e-zine?

Craig Bezant: Well, thank you for having me at Horror Reanimated. It’s kicking into summer here in Western Australia so these sulphurous bowels are nothing.

The need to write stories has always flowed through my bloodstream, so to speak, so it was definitely writing that came first. Hardly a day goes by where I don’t write – that’s my exercise routine, I guess. And with the need to write came the need to read. My teacher gave me my first novel, ‘How to Eat Fried Worms’, in Year 1, and the collection grew from there (I just can’t give a book away!). That love for reading gave me a fantastic reviewing gig at HorrorScope, and earned me a spot as a judge in the Australian Horror Writers Association’s Australian Shadows Award in 2009 and 2010.

I’ve tried my hand at writing short stories and I do enjoy it, but not as much as writing novels. I just like exploring the longer format, and thought that possibly this was wrong, that I should start out as a short story writer to build a name for myself, but thankfully found out it is not a problem at all – you should write what you are comfortable with, what you enjoy writing. But I absolutely love reading short stories from other authors, and used this passion to create Eclecticism E-zine. It was never a platform to show off my own work (although I did have a story in the first issue – come on, it was my baby), rather a chance to give others a quality publication to show their writing and artwork, especially the new and emerging writers that often get squeezed out of slush piles in favour of bigger names. And this passion to print other authors’ work grew into Dark Prints Press.

JD’L: Do you see yourself primarily as a writer or an editor?

CB: I think that, at some point in the last couple of years, I have begun to cross that line. When people realise I do both they often look at me strangely and ask, ‘Don’t you get confused with what you’re writing and take ideas from all the stories you’ve been editing?’. I have to laugh. Of course not. I have drawers of own ideas, that arrived in my mind at various times, and often I’ll have a favourite or two that I will start to research and flesh out. The writing I read for Eclecticism, and judging, in my personal time, and now for Dark Prints Press, I would never have thought to come up with a lot of that. We all have different minds, and it’s amazing to see how authors tackle similar subjects. Editing, though, is always a great way to see what works and what doesn’t – I get a writing lesson every day.

JD’L: You write reviews for http://www.horrorscope.com.au/ but you publish work in a range of genres. Do you have a favourite genre?

CB: Looking at my bookshelves, it would have to be horror (it’s why I’m here, right?), but honestly I try to read a variety of fiction. As much as possible. Often I may read too much dark stuff, especially for reviewing, and just need a release, a switch of mind frames. Then I’ll delve into comedy (Max Barry, Ben Elton, Christopher Moore), or a tech-driven thriller (Matthew Reilly, Scott Sigler, Michael Crichton), or even literary fiction (Peter Carey, Tim Winton, Zadie Smith). Those names are but a few – I have too many favourites and can’t do enough justice to them all. I’ve also found myself reading a lot more nonfiction as I’ve aged, because there is just so much in this world that I don’t know.

These days the line between genres is even more blurred. I love crime fiction, almost equal to horror, and writers such as Stuart MacBride, Chris Simms and John Connolly often use very dark horror aspects in their work (a butcher who puts their victims in pies, a killer in the guise of a supernatural creature), which I absolutely love. I am a sick bastard, I guess. But I think I enjoy that particular writing because it is well handled. It is not excessive in the sense that the gore is the emphasis. I just don’t like that type of horror. You can unnerve a reader with more than just explicit gore. Psychological horror is my favourite, hands down.

JD’L: What is about horror that fascinates you?

CB: Well, perhaps when I was younger I was drawn to horror because of the way it could creep me out – fear as a kind of drug. I still like that rush, in a way. But as I got older, I realised the reason I loved this sort of writing was that horror as a medium is not afraid to look at the unpleasantness in life, without need for rose-tinted, Hollywood-clichéd glasses. Horror always takes those ‘What ifs’ and makes them real, often to the extreme. And within a horror novel you’ll often find so many elements of other genres. You can have the love story, the mystery, the adventure, even comedy, and still scare the crap out of someone. My wife’s friend recently read a draft manuscript of mine and said they had to leave the bedroom lights on at night – that’s what horror is about! Or it can be other reactions – it can shock you into action, into positive resolutions, by showing you just how bad a situation could get. I love it.

JD’L: So, what made you decide to set up a new imprint and what are your aims?

CB: Well, the desire to start Eclecticism E-zine had been bubbling away for a long time before it eventuated – we had moved interstate for my wife’s work and I was a full-time parent with nights to fill, so I thought that time was as good as any to launch the e-zine. And I think the desire to take it further started right after that, probably even before that to be honest. Little steps first, I guess. When Eclecticism grew beyond my expectations, I had an even deeper desire to print a ‘best of’, something for the fans. And the more I looked into it, the more I began to examine the larger publishing scene – focusing on Australia, at least. For the amount of quality writers in these fields, we are severely underrepresented here in the publishing sector. So my wife and I did our research, consulted a lot of writers and small press publishers, received a general ‘You’re bloody crazy, but go for it’ attitude, and decided it was the right time to launch Dark Prints Press.

Of course, I couldn’t have done this without the support of my wife, Avril, who co-founded Dark Prints Press with me. It’s nice to have two crazy people in the household. Avril is a keen reader and has a fantastic eye for picking out what does and doesn’t work in stories. Usually, I wouldn’t give my own writing to family, because you just get the general ‘It’s good’ without constructive comments, but my wife puts my writing down (in the nicest possible way). She isn’t afraid to tear it apart, which is pretty damn cool. So future Dark Prints authors beware… Plus, Avril is the logical brains of our business. She has the skills to run the imprint successfully, and her enthusiasm for this venture is more than I could have asked.

Our aims? I’ll keep it simple by stating our tagline: ‘Shining a light on dark fiction’. Another much-needed platform to show what dark fiction writers can do.

We also want to place a great emphasis on quality – not just of the work we publish, but how we publish/present it. eBooks are hard to do there, but if we are putting the money into a print version, it should be worth it. A small press doesn’t have to act like one – too many presses have terrible covers and use awful paper and binding, and that really makes me sad. We will be using great artists like Vincent Chong for future covers, and have good ties with Australia’s Griffin Press, printers who work with the major publishers, so we hope to keep that quality continuing.

JD’L: Which is harder – publishing or writing?

CB: Hmmm, I don’t think I’m ready to answer that yet – ask me again in a couple of years! I think they are both of equal merit, co-existing nicely (at times). I mean, you can’t have one without the other (if you want to extend beyond an immediate audience). Both can be fun, and both can be taxing. For writing, so much hard work has gone into crafting the story. So for publishing, the hard work has to go into presenting that story with the quality it deserves, and to give it the opportunity to find the audience it needs, be it a select group or the masses.
JD’L: What would you like to see more of in the world of horror publishing and what would you like to see less of? Do you think major publishing houses consider such things or are they merely looking to turn a profit?

CB: More of? Everyday horror. Not to scare a reader out of living their life, but to make them think about how to approach things with caution. To wisen up to the world around them. To survive. Especially now – embrace the way our world is changing and use the horror element of unknown change. How on earth will our world be soon, with the effects of out-of-control weather, increasingly-advanced technology and weapons, financial crashes, and so on? A horror novel like James Herbert’s ‘Portent’ is even more potent today, and I think we need more of this. Awareness horror? I’ll start my own subgenre there. Done.

Less of? Well, tropes in horror tend to have cycles, and right now we’re on Vampires and Zombies. I love these, zombies especially, but it’s pretty obvious it’s almost time to move on in our cycle. I think, keep them, but merge them with something else. What, I’m not sure. Not some corny match-up of the super-monsters, that’s for sure (though it would be fun). Something like a re-invention, like David Wellington has done with his monsters. I wish I could be more explicit, but I just don’t know.

I do think major publishing houses look for the new, unique tales in horror. It’s just that, once found, they take such an angle and exploit it as much as possible, by publishing hundreds of books along the same vein (take Twilight, that started a teen paranormal romance every lazy writer and his/her dog seemed to write for). There’s nothing wrong with that from a business sense – see a demand and fill it. It’s just that I often wonder: while one unique idea is being exploited, are others not even making it past the slush pile? I kind of hope so – those stories can come to us! Whilst judging for the Australian Shadows Award, though, I can say that it was evident a lot more publishing houses are taking risks with horror, especially with first-time authors, and hopefully those risks will lead to bigger things. We obviously want to be a part of that.

JD’L: Tell us a little about DPP’s first publication and how you decided what this first incarnation would be.

CB: This month we’re releasing an anthology, ‘An Eclectic Slice of Life’, our first Dark Prints baby. It showcases the best work (picked by myself and by using reader comments) from the first two years of Eclecticism E-zine. From these nine issues, I chose 13 short stories and poems. Although these were fantastic alone, I wanted to give more to readers who have had this for free from the online publication, so I also had most chosen writers contribute a new story. So in short: 14 authors, 26 tales (23 short fiction, 3 poetry). There’s even a new story by some guy named Joseph D’Lacey. Heard of him? Oh well, there are some very good authors in there. And these stories follow the Eclecticism model, in that they cross over quite a few genres – from horror to fantasy to crime and everyday drama – but they are all quite dark.

As I said before, I had always wanted to start a publishing imprint, but I initially wanted to do this separate to the Eclecticism venture. Then, as I began editing and the anthology took shape, it was clear it fitted in quite nicely with our Dark Prints Press ethos, and was a fantastic level of quality to springboard our name and future collections.
JD’L: And what does the future hold for your courageous new imprint, Craig?

CB: Well, we’re easing in to this publishing realm so that in a few years things will really take off. So 2011 is all about establishing ourselves – setting up distribution channels, marketing, schmoozing with the industry, getting our name out there, and research, research, research into the industry. During that time we will also be putting together two short story collections, one crime and one horror. These will be released early 2012. We’ve been very lucky to grab Lawrence Block and others for the crime collection (‘The One That Got Away’), and authors such as Jonathan Maberry and Will Elliot for the horror collection (‘Surviving the End’), but submissions will also be open to other writers during the first third of 2011. I encourage everyone to have a go (www.darkprintspress.com.au/submissions.html).

Also, next month I will be meeting with a well-known Australian horror writer with an interest in publishing their long overdue short story collection, which we would release early 2013. And we would like to start publishing novellas in the next two years, so submissions for these will open mid-2011. We want to embrace both digital and print publishing, so for the novellas we are interested in publishing a line (in various genres) of eBooks first. Readers will then get the chance to rate and vote for their favourites, and the chosen titles will be released as collectable print editions. So we’ll get the best of both worlds.

Then, all things going well, we would like to start publishing novels and Young Adult fiction within a few years. So Dark Prints Press has a nice long-term plan, and it’s going to be an incredible journey. I can’t thank people, groups, and sites such as yours enough for supporting us from day one.

JD’L: As you probably know, an interview at Horror Reanimated gives you temporary but immense power. You may confer The Sword of the Ultimate Darkness upon the work of horror in any medium that you regard as a timeless classic. Conversely, you may banish forever to the Plague Pits the work of horror in any medium which stinks so badly even Satan gives it a wide berth.

Please use your godlike status now…

CB: Hmmm, how to pick just one for The Sword of the Ultimate Darkness. So many titles floating through my head. ‘I am Legend’ by Richard Matheson (my favourite, but it’s already a classic), ‘Out’ by Natsuo Kirino (very dark crime novel dripping in psychological horror), ‘Patient Zero’ by Jonathan Maberry (redefining action with zombies), anything by James Herbert (especially ‘Others’)… Well, since I’m from Australia I’ll pick something local. I read it last year during my first stint as an awards judge: ‘The Dead Path’ by Stephen M Irwin. It’s old-school horror – haunted woods, spiders, witches, a man who can see ghosts – with a very distinct Australian flavour (it’s set in a very realistically-described Queensland suburb). Terrific, terrific stuff. I would publish that in a heartbeat.

And one for the Plague Pits? Well, I’ll make enemies here. This one won awards but I just think it is very overrated, from the angle of a writer and publisher. That would be Stephen King’s ‘Lisey’s Story’. In my opinion, the editing in this novel was appalling. Any emerging writer would have had their manuscript rejected with such tiresome, lengthy prose (how many pages does it take for a split-second bullet to be shot, for instance), yet King’s publishers just let him get away with it in order to make some more millions (well, I can see a certain upside to that, but I prefer integrity). When I think of this novel, I am reminded of Homer Simpson seeing a script to The Cable Guy. He grabs it and yells that the movie almost wrecked Jim Carey’s career. I think ‘Lisey’s Story’ was that piece of work for King, but he’s bounced back since then. So throw that one to the Plague Pits, along with any obscene comments I am now likely to receive.

JD’L: Craig, it’s been a real pleasure to get the inside curve on DPP and to find out a little more about you. You know that we at Horror Reanimated wish you nothing but the greatest of success in all your endeavours and we hope you’ll come back to us with more news as you go from strength to strength. Good luck to you, sir!

CB: Thanks for having me at Horror Reanimated, and allowing me to ramble on. Another piece of the dream come true; and I promise to write and keep you updated as we begin to grow up.

Craig Bezant is the co-founder of Dark Prints Press and editor of the Eclecticism E-zine, which is archived on the National Library of Australia’s Pandora Archive and was nominated for 2008 and 2009 Tin Duck Awards. He is also an Associate Editor and reviewer for HorrorScope, for which he was nominated for a 2009 Ditmar Award (Best Fan Writer).

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