Sunday, February 27, 2011

Pro-File: Creeping Hemlock Publishing

Creeping Hemlock Press was founded in Gretna, Louisiana by the husband-and-wife creative duo R.J. and Julia Sevin (seh-VAN). As sometime writers, oftentime readers, they found themselves frustrated with the scarcity of generous-paying, atmospheric and bizarre short story anthologies. They took matters into their own hands in late 2004 when they began to accept submissions for their own anthology. Many months, one baby, two hurricanes, and one soggy home later, Corpse Blossoms was born to critical success and a nomination for the Horror Writers Association’s Bram Stoker award. As their homeless wanderings carried them to Texas and back, the Sevins also produced an original limited-edition novella by Tom Piccirilli, Frayed, to terrific reviews and enthusiastic reader sentiment.

What motivated you to establish Creeping Hemlock Publishing?

The desire for wealth, drugs, and long, sweaty nights filled with dripping with sexual depravity.

It’s not working out.

But seriously: Newly-married, my wife and I decided to start a home business. I was reading a lot of small press horror, and we sort of looked at one another and said, “We can do this.” We could, and we couldn’t—it’s been seven years since we decided to launch Creeping Hemlock, and we’ve learned a lot since then. Learned the hard way, in many cases—but how else does one learn?

Describe your line to those unfamiliar with it.

We’re all over the map. Initially, our emphasis was on limited editions, but we’ve decided to shift our focus on affordable trade paperbacks and eBooks. We owe our collectors a few more special editions, and we do pride ourselves in producing some of the prettiest books the small press has ever seen, but our primary focus from here on is affordability.

Since 2005, we’ve published a horror anthology, an oddball mystery, a brutal family drama, a neo-noir novel, a futuristic/post-apocalyptic SF/Dark Fantasy , two zombie chapbooks, and a ‘60s soft-core porno.

One way to get a sense of your publishing program is to ask what type of fiction you prefer reading.

I didn’t grow up in a literate household. In many ways, it’s a miracle that I can even read. My love of monster movies and comic books translated into my buying Stephen King’s NIGHT SHIFT when I was eleven or twelve. For many years, I was a horror guy, not venturing very far from that particular dark pool. I still love a good horror novel, of course, but I don’t read much new horror these days. Noir/Crime has become my new mistress—though, between family life, my writing, and my work as a publisher/editor, I don’t have much time for leisure reading. I think I read a whopping three novels last year...

I read an article recently that claimed that small publishers now discover and develop new writers far more often than the big publishing houses in NYC. How do you feel about that?

If it’s an accurate claim, I can see how it makes sense. We’re smaller, and we’re not as thinly spread as editors at big NYC houses. When we edited CORPSE BLOSSOMS, we sent out something like 550 rejection letters—and every one of them was personalized in some way. We tried to give substantive suggestions to everyone who submitted, and it was very appreciated. We’re currently working with a few first-time novelists, helping them to hone their craft—and this is only because we are small. It’s the difference between having three kids and twelve kids, I guess—you’re just not going to be able to put the same amount of effort and energy into twelve as you are three.

What are two or three of the biggest problems small publisher face?

There are problems without and there are problems within. Without—the changing market, the economy, technology’s impact on the distribution of information. Within--getting into the business before you know what you’re doing, before doing as much research as possible.

Being cheap is a bad thing, too: I wish more small publishers would look to NYC publishing to get an idea what real books look like. Too many small presses want to save money and do their book covers in house. The results are sometimes grotesque.

Do you feel that that tsunami of self-published books get in the way of legitimate small publishing?

Eh. The cream rises. The consumer usually–usually—can tell the real thing from some shoddy pretender. For some time, it seemed like vanity publishers were giving Print on Demand technology a bad name. People associated one with the other. Not the case, and of course the line is blurring—self-publishing through Kindle and other eBook platforms is becoming an acceptable practice among professionals who would have, just five years ago, frowned upon the behavior.

That tsunami has receded over the years, in some cases. The crap is still out there, and always will be, but booksellers have learned the hard way the avoid them. Six or seven years ago, stores were getting stuck with non-returnable POD vanity titles. They wised up…

Small press publishing is a perilous task--how are things going so far?

Perilously, to use an adverb that would make Stephen king twitch. One needs to make wise decisions, or to learn from the poor ones quickly enough to start makin’ wise ones…

Which title has been your biggest success so far?

THE FEVER KILL, by Tom Piccirilli.

Tell us about your future plans for the press.

In six years of publishing, we’ve only published two novels. This year alone, we will release at least SEVEN novels, starting in March with the launch of PRINT IS DEAD, our zombie-themed imprint. The novels that we have lined up are spectacular examples of their genre, and given the seemingly endless popularity of zombie fiction, we expect PRINT IS DEAD to be a runaway (or shambling, depending upon your zombie preference) success. The endorsement we received from George A. Romero can’t hurt, either.

In addition to the zombie line, there will be another Lawrence Block reprint (APRIL NORTH, our follow-up to CAMPUS TRAMP), and we’re hoping to follow that book with a reprint of one of his classic crime novels. We’re planning something pretty big with T.M. Wright, and there’s a few other things that I can’t mention yet—too early. In short: this ship ain’t sinking, and we’re not going anywhere.

How are you planning to deal with the e book stampede?

PRINT IS DEAD is a big part of that. Our zombie books will debut as Kindle eBooks, and so on…

Where do you hope Creeping Hemlock will be two years from now?

Wealth, drugs, and those sweaty, sex-filled nights.

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