Ginger Nuts of Horror
Black Beacon Books are an Australian small press that have been in business since 2013, putting out anthologies and novella length works of dark fiction and suspense. We sat down for a chat with Editor in Chief Cameron Trost to learn more...
GingerNuts of Horror: Let’s start with the philosophy behind Black Beacon Books - when you set the publisher up, what did you have in mind in terms of the kind of work you wanted to publish?
Cameron Trost: There are countless small press publishers out there in the English-speaking world but surprisingly few in the niche that Black Beacon Books now occupies.
First of all, although most of our anthologies are open to contributors from around the world, Black Beacon Books is one of very few active independent publishers of dark fiction in Australia. My preference is for fiction written in British English, including the Australian variant of it, and prose that follows the rules of grammar and punctuation. It is depressing to see how many small press publishers are releasing books riddled with basic errors.
Secondly, Black Beacon Books is all about short stories and novellas in a world that is obsessed, for reasons beyond my comprehension, with the watered down form that is the novel. In particular, I love anthologies, bringing writers from different walks of life together.
In terms of content, Black Beacon Books publishes fiction that is a combination of dark, mysterious, and strange. We are particularly interested in psychological suspense and horror, unlike most publishers at the moment, who focus on the supernatural and fantastical side of horror.
All of this sets us apart as a unique publisher.
GNoH: What is it about the shorter form of fiction that you find preferable?
CT: There are several reasons I prefer short stories and novellas to novels. Most of them are related to style and content, others are more practical.
When it comes to plot, I love fiction with cleverly executed misdirection and a sting in the tail, and short stories are ideal for that. The genres of horror and mystery are perfectly suited to this style; the early masters such as Edgar Allan Poe, Ambrose Bierce, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle demonstrated that. There are epic novels in the horror genre (most of Stephen King’s work, for example) as well as in suspense and mystery, but they don’t work for me as well as short stories, mostly because they are generally drenched in description and subplot that detracts and distracts from the story. I always think of it like drowning a dram of Lagavulin in soda water. Similarly, when it comes to setting and characterisation,
I’m attracted to tales that don’t repeat the same details over and over again. I’m an imaginative reader, I’m pretty good a taking a hint, and I like to be able to read between the lines. There are dozens of short stories I could name as examples of perfection in storytelling (many of them written by Roald Dahl, Ruth Rendell, and Patricia Highsmith), but there aren’t many novels I don’t think would be better with at least a third of the content removed. I tend to find that shorter novels and novellas are more profound and engaging, and quite simply say more, than longer ones.
This preference tends to be very practical too, of course. During the week, I have little time to read. Most mornings, I have about fifteen minutes to dip into a book while I sit on the bus, so I can read a short story in one to three sittings. On weekends, I sometimes have a little more reading time, but not much. There is something to be said for reading a story over one weekend or even in one hour. I’m also quite a slow reader. I like to think about what has happened and guess what lies ahead, I also like to admire good prose. I’m not the kind of reader who gets through a chapter in a couple of minutes.
But don’t get me wrong, I do read novels from time to time. In fact, I’m reading Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn at the moment, and I’m really enjoying it.
GNoH: Your debut release ‘809 Jacob Street’ by Marty Young caused quite a stir. How did your acquisition of that book come about?
CT: It all happened quite simply. We knew each other by reputation and our fiction before we met. Marty Young is the founding president of the Australian Horror Writers’ Association and I am presently the vice-president. The horror writing community is small and geographically scattered, but we have a strong network. Marty contacted me and asked me to consider his novel for publication. Even though I was thinking about anthologies at that time, I read it, really liked it, and said yes. The novel then went on to win an Australian Shadows award.
GNoH: The Australian horror community seems very close knit and mutually supportive - do you agree with that assessment, and if so, why do you think that is?
CT: I absolutely agree. I don’t know why precisely, and I’m not sure how it is in other writing communities, although I think the crime and romance writing groups in Australia are also very supportive of each other. When it comes down to it, Australia is not a country that is known for its writers. We have a population that is obsessed with sports, cars, and the stock market. Music is definitely the best supported of the arts, and we have a vibrant rock scene here. When it comes to writing, especially genre fiction, we recognise that we are not competing against each other but rather against a public that is largely ignorant of the talent we have. We are supportive of each other because we want to promote Australian horror and because we want to read quality fiction written by our compatriots. On top of that, I think it’s just a matter of the individuals active in the scene at the moment. We are an open-minded and friendly bunch, and we often have similar views on politics and social issues, which is probably evident in much of our fiction. A few years ago, I met Robert Hood and Catriona Sparks at a convention. From the get-go, we drank beer together, posed for photos, and chatted like old friends. That’s a wonderful sense of fellowship to have, and if it’s not the same for horror writers in other countries, that’s a real shame for them.
GNoH: The themed anthologies have been a real feature of BBB releases.Can you talk a bit about what inspired them?
CT: We have two themed anthologies to date, and another on the way. The first, Subtropical Suspense, is dedicated to mystery and suspense stories set in my city, Brisbane. The main reason I wanted to publish such a title is that I love reading mysteries and I love stories set in my city. The second, Lighthouses, is a result of the name of Black Beacon Books. When I was deciding what to call my indie publishing house, I played around with a few mysterious tropes and tried to come up with something original. The idea of a beacon in the dark, either as a warning or a welcome, came to me. The imagery seemed to fit the kind of fiction I wanted to publish. I’m a fan of the English comedy, Black Books, too, and that probably inspired two-thirds of the name. Deciding to publish an anthology of wild and stormy tales about lighthouses and beacons was a natural progression for Black Beacon Books. There are plenty of other tropes that fire my imagination too, from caves to abandoned houses, artefacts to suits of armour, blackmail to burglary, poisonous animals to pretty seductresses. Who knows what will come next!
GNoH:More generally, how have your first two years as a publisher been? If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice about BBB, what would it be?
CT: It’s been a lot of hard work, but also a lot of fun. Last year was a very busy one, bringing Lighthouses to the world and also editing In Sunshine Bright and Darkness Deep, the debut anthology from the Australian Horror Writers’ Association. I’m absolutely delighted with both of these titles. This year is going to be a little slower on the publishing front, but another anthology dedicated to my city should be ready by 2017. More news on that later.
I’m passionate about Black Beacon Books and am happy with the direction it has been taking. It’s more of a project than a business; I haven’t made one single cent of profit out of it yet, and that’s fine, because it’s all about the art for me. I’m releasing quality stories of a quirky nature that may not appeal to a mass market or ever become commercially viable. There are plenty of moneymakers churning out unoriginal products in the world today, but far too few projects dedicated to thought-provoking and edgy creativity.
If I could go back in time and give myself one piece of advice? That’s a tough one. I’ve made a couple of little errors, like using a printer that was too expensive and not ordering enough copies of a title for a launch. Apart from that, I don’t know what advice I would give myself. I’m happy with how Black Beacon Books has grown and plan to keep things going at a slow and steady pace, always focusing on quality over quantity.
GNoH: To that end, what makes a story a Black Beacon Books story? What elements are you particularly looking for, and what are your turn offs as an editor?
CT: Basically, the ideal story for me is one that has an ending that makes me gasp, laugh like Vincent Price, kick myself for not seeing it coming, or get up to check that all the doors and windows are locked. After that, I prefer human characters to supernatural ones, but don’t mind ghost stories or tales that are ambiguous in that regard. I like characters to be eerily normal but freakish at the same time. I prefer subtlety to blood and guts. I like stories that have something to say about the human condition and the nature of society.
All of that needs to be presented in well-written, grammatically correct prose. I work as an English teacher and I’m the kind of person who is constantly scowling at newspapers and wondering why journalists aren’t taught how to conjugate verbs. As you’ve probably noticed, I’m old-fashioned and pedantic in my use of commas.
What turns me off? Unoriginality. Narratives written in the present tense or second person.... no, no, no! The misconception that horror fiction is about being disgusting. The idea that mystery fiction should be solely about a detective’s daily routine or sex life and that no actual mystery or puzzle is required. The zombie apocalypse… yawn.
That’s enough for now.
Potential contributor, are you still there...? Good, I like you already.
GNoH: More generally, what do you think of the overall state of dark fiction and horror?
CT: The self-publishing and small press publishing revolution has rocked the world. There is now more dark fiction and horror out there than ever before. Of course, most of it is atrocious, but there is also a lot of excellent work lurking around. It’s hard for me to talk about the overall state of dark fiction because I’m very selective in what I read. I guess I’d like to see less emphasis on glittery paranormal fiction and, at the other end of the spectrum, gratuitous violence, and more of a focus on telling chilling and original stories on a more personal level. At any rate, there are hundreds - perhaps even thousands - of great dark fiction writers out there. You won’t have heard their names, because most of the best receive little public attention, but you’ll find them if you dig a little.
GNoH: And finally, what’s in store for Black Beacon Books for the future?
CT: More anthologies, because I love them. There’s nothing quite like reading the work of several authors in one book. There is a real art to editing anthologies too; it’s all about making sure the stories complement each other without being too similar.
Buried in Brisbane is the next anthology. Contributing to our city’s cultural heritage is very important to me, so our next anthology is going to be a local one which will build on our first release, Subtropical Suspense, which featured tales of mystery and suspense set here. Buried in Brisbane will be an anthology of dark fiction (running the whole gamut from mystery and suspense to horror and ghost stories), as well as poetry and art. Contributors will donate their work and all proceeds will go to two Australian charities. All going well, it will be released in 2017.
At the same time, I am planning another dark fiction anthology which will be on a global scale and will pay semi-pro rates if possible. It will probably be short; maybe just seven or eight stories, all of exceptional quality and content. There’ll be more news on that later this year. In the meantime, join us on Blogspot, Facebook, and Twitter, and feel free to get in touch.
Black Beacon Books in an independent, award-winning publisher founded in Brisbane, Australia in 2013. We specialise in anthologies of imaginative and thought-provoking fiction in the genres of mystery, suspense, psychological horror, adventure, and the just plain weird.
You can read another fascinating interview with Cameron here