It’s my pleasure to host a special blog interview on the eve of a new release by one of my favorite storytellers, editors, and publisher entrepreneurs, Mr. D.L. Russell. Almost a decade ago, he started the e-zine Strange, Weird and Wonderful when the idea of delivering magazines via an electronic file download was still new and not in wide use. D.L. used SWW to explore that potential and built SWW’s reputation as a place to find new, talented voices in dark fiction and as an outlet that discarded word count in favor of giving storytellers the room they needed to tell their story. I am proud to be counted among the new voices that first appeared within its electronic pages.
D.L. has since shut down SWW and branched out into themed anthologies under the publishing label Black Books Publishing. It’s first release, 21st century Black Erotica, sets the tone for how D.L. intends to push boundaries and offer his press as an outlet to examine all realms of subject matter.
His latest anthology shows a return to dark fiction with Illuminati at My Door, an exploration of secret societies and those who dare to find them and draw their attention.
Hi, D.L. On the surface, secret societies have been a part of speculative fiction for a long time. Can you tell us why you felt that now is a good time to return to this particular idea? Perhaps it, maybe, seems particularly appropriate to the time we live in?
The main reason is because I don’t feel these stories have been told from an accurate perspective of the common man. This anthology has nothing remotely related to the “last honest man,” constantly looking over his shoulder as he attempts to tell the truth before it’s too late. There are no Fox Mulders in this anthology. In fact, it’s just the opposites, with the main requirement of each story being believe-ability and a straightforwardness usually bypassed in such stories.
In some ways, editing a short story magazine and editing an anthology would be very similar experiences. What makes anthologies a different experience for you? Do you have a different mindset when you consider the submissions? What priorities do you have to consider that differ from magazine fiction?
When we were doing Strange, Weird, and Wonderful, each issue needed to have enough variety to please readers of several of the Spec Fiction Sub-genres. We never had a problem getting the scary stuff, but there were times when it’s all we had to go with and I had to make calls to writers I’d worked with on earlier issues to see if they had any Fantasy or Science Fiction pieces.
With anthologies, it’s the basic or detailed theme of each story that ties the book together. With Illuminati at my Door, the basic theme was if an individual was approached by a member of a secret society, how would they handle it? Especially in today’s world, where secret societies and conspiracy theories are everywhere; almost every major and minor event is branded with its conspiracy element.
Talk about your stable of authors. I know you maintain contact with your SWW contributors. On a new anthology like Illuminati at My Door, how many new names appear in the collection and how many are talents you knew from before who stepped up for you? Did any of the “old guard” surprise you in new ways, or did you discover a new talent that appears in your pages for the first time?
One of my goals as an editor and writer is to maintain good relationships with people I’ve worked with, including other editors, writers, and even artists. We’re all at different stages of our careers, but I think by maintaining those positive relationships, we’re able to cross those career barriers.
There are a couple SWW alums that came on board the Illuminati at my Door project; one was Mary Patterson Thornburg, who is a retired Ball State University English Professor, not only supplied the Foreword, but also has been Copy Editor for every title Black Books Publishing Inc. has done to date. I’d have to say my relationship with Mary is the best example I could give a young editor to keep your professional relationships positive at all cost.
The other is Matt Adams, who’s an Indy native and appeared in SWW with a story I fell in love with called “Old-Fashioned Police Work.” When I contacted him about the theme of Illuminati at my Door, he liked the concept and wrote “What the Network Wants” relatively quickly.
As for new talent, Ronder Scott, Melanie Williams, Rosie Maureen, and Natasha Cage all had limited publishing experience but their stories show no signs of inexperience. The hardest part about working with a newer writer is getting beyond any hang-ups they may have as far as an editor requesting changes to their work, but every one of these women kept an open mind until we had stories they could live with as writers, and I could accept as a publisher putting together an anthology.
In all honesty, I feel this is the best group of writers I have every worked with on an anthology. I’m very proud of the job everyone did and the professionalism they all showed throughout every stage of the project.
What prompted the changeover from the magazine to standalone anthologies? Was it a personal decision or was it something brought on by a shift in the industry?
It was simply a financial decision. Strange, Weird, and Wonderful was a free ezine, our payments to writers and artists weren’t being covered by the minimal advertising we were generating so Sharon Black and I made the decision to start SWW Publishing. Two years later I wanted to do a few projects that didn’t quite fit under the SWW umbrella, and Sharon had a few things she wanted to work on, so we parted ways, and shortly after that, Black Books Publishing Inc. was born.
The more I think about it, it was publications like SWW that helped put our industry in the financial pit it can’t seem to get out of. Readers have come to expect their stories for free and their novels for 99 cents. We created that monster, and now small publishers and self-publishers don’t know how to fix it. I’ve seen publishers give away thousands of copies in a given advertising campaign and never recoup those sales through actual purchases.
We are the only form of entertainment battling this issue and I think publishers should band together and agree to certain standards when it comes to pricing, and giveaways. If we could guarantee a high quality standard for our work, I think readers would embrace it.
What is the long term vision for Black Books Publishing? The website indicates a couple of exciting imprints coming in the near future.
Long term, I would like to amass a library of books that are well written and entertaining. I’m being picky on purpose, with the titles I publish and there’s a reason you haven’t seen a novel from us yet. The saying, about 1st impressions is true. I don’t know if we’ll ever be a prolific publishing company, but I do know each book published will be the best we could accomplish at that time.
This is defiantly a marathon for us, not a sprint.
When you recall what you had in mind for Illuminati at My Door and considering the finished book, how close did you come to hitting your expectations for the collection?
I think its spot on! I wanted strong writing, good stories, and no “last honest man, looking over his shoulder while trying to get to the truth,” kind of stories. Again, I think this is the best anthology I have ever put together.
Yes, I hope the next one is even better, but this is my best work as an editor and selector of stories to date.
Give us some short one-sentence teasers to some of the stories contained within Illuminati at My Door.
I would rather just tell you each story is based on an actual secret society rumor. Most have been around for years, others have not, but each is based on something that’s already floating around out there. Readers who follow those rumors will easily recognize where the ideas came from and those who don’t follow them will simply be entertained.