interview

My Coyote Cal weird western "El Diablo de Paseo Grande" is one of 30 stories included in the new Arcane anthology. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview editor Nathan Shumate about Arcane and the work involved in bringing these tales to the masses.

MJF:  While Arcane itself is a new venture, you're no stranger to publishing. Tell us a little about your history with speculative fiction.

NS:  Somewhere around 1994, I decided that I'd really like to publish a magazine called Arkham Tales. Owing to my power of procrastination beyond those of mere mortal, I finally made it a reality in 2008, right at the absolute worst time to launch a magazine; the economy hit the crapper during the time I put out calls for submissions and the time I officially launched the first issue. The business model was one which was especially vulnerable to the tightening economy; it was a free, ad-supported PDF, and I never could make it break even. I published five issues on my own, then another three with Leucrota Press acting as publisher and retaining me as editor, but they couldn't get it into the black any easier than I could. (All five issues I published are still available for free download at NathanShumate.com, by the way.)

One of the issues at the end of the Leucrota run was the standard ebook formats. Kindle had barely been a blip on the radar at the beginning of Arkham Tales' run, but it had become the mover and shaker of ebook formats by the end. So I decided to try again, jettisoning the ad-supported format, selling in the major ebook formats. Thus was Arcane born a similar name, but distinct so there wouldn't be any intellectual-property issues with Leucrota Press.

MJF:  Arcane was originally going to be a quarterly magazine instead of a yearly anthology. What changed your plans?

NS:  It's the Wild West out there in ebook land. I planned for a quarterly publication schedule, but as I was (and am) still carrying debt forward from my run on Arkham Tales, I made a pledge that I would only publish each successive issue when the previous issue had paid for itself. What I didn't figure on was something that has become apparent as e-publishing gains more of a track record: the majority of successful ebooks are successful as evergreen content selling a minimum over a number of years rather than on what's been called the "produce model," as used by Barnes & Noble, which counts on the first six weeks of a book's release to account for the majority of its sales. Simply put, an independently published ebook could very well earn more than something with a major distribution push, but over a longer period of time. That shot my "every issue in the black" model all to hell. I also realized that dating each issue would short-circuit their evergreen status no one wants to pay full price for a back issue.

So I spun everything around. An anthology series would have more evergreen appeal than magazine issues, so I took a whole bunch of stories I had planned for future issues of the magazine and assembled the anthology. I took the contents of the already-released issue #1 and re-released it as a 99-cent Arcane Sampler, sort of an "Issue #0."

MJF:  The Arcane anthology boasts 30 weird and unsettling new tales. How did you go about collecting them? What were you looking for, in particular?

NS:  The stories were originally accepted for the magazine, for which I had a broad acceptance policy: no particular theme, and fuzzy edges to genre. I wanted horror, but not just horror gore and splatterpunk really don't appeal to me, especially story after story in a single publication. I really appreciate the old "weird fiction" designation that applied to Lovecraft, Poe, and the rest of the Weird Tales "cool kid" crowd, but I didn't want a whole collection of Cthulhu and Conan pastiches.

What I really wanted, more than anything, was writing that was good and interesting. That, and a macabre or weird element in the story.

MJF:  When will you be accepting submissions for your next anthology? And what would you like to find in your inbox?

NS:  Current plans are to start accepting submissions in July for the next couple of months, and release the next anthology in January of 2013. (The first Arcane anthology was released in December of 2011, which was ABSOLUTELY INSANE, both from a promotion standpoint and in terms of my own time management.) What do I want? More of the same that was in the first one, by which I mean, stories which surprise me, keep me reading, and make me say, "I wanna let someone else read this."

MJF:  As writers, we all want to see our work appear in quality venues. But how can we do our part as a community to ensure markets such as Arcane live long and prosper?

NS:  Buy it. Give it as a gift. Recommend it to friends. Give it positive reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, your blog, wherever. I'm not looking to get rich off Arcane or any other publishing venture, or even to make my house payments, but even indie publishing has to look a little like a for-real business; if it doesn't break even, the only way to justify it is as an expensive hobby, and I don't know that anyone is really looking for another one of those.

MJF:  True that. Thanks, Nathan!

If you'd like to pick up a copy of this anthology for yourself (complete with "El Diablo de Paseo Grande" by yours truly and "Destination Unknown" by Anthony J Rapino, among some awesome others), either in print or for your Kindle, click here.  Just don't forget to leave a light on...