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Royce Icon interviews John Edward Lawson for Red Scream Magazine 5/05
RI: Let’s start this off by talking about the history of Raw Dog Screaming. Before you and Jennifer launched Raw Dog Screaming Press, you were an audio engineer. I know you’d been into engineering for a long time, and I also know that it takes a lot of cash to get a professional studio going, so what made you decide to completely change professions? With all that time and money involved, it definitely seems like a major decision. How hard was it to get the company off it’s feet once you were sure it’s what you wanted to do?
JEL: The unifying thread in my business decisions has been to co-opt advances in digital technology to create guerilla art. I got certified not only in audio engineering but also in music business and artist management, at the Omega Recording Studios School of Applied Recording Arts and Sciences. It’s a huge recording complex, the biggest between New York and Miami. Anyway, that was in 1997, and I’d already been doing a lot of low-grade recording before that. It was right around the time that quality digital recording technology became somewhat affordable, so my studio cost less than $20,000 – as opposed to the $200,000 I would have needed before digital. The older engineers couldn’t understand digital and were on the way out, although they didn’t see it coming.
The publishing industry is at the same point now. We use POD (Print-On-Demand) digital technology simply as a printing method, not as a business model. That is, vanity publishers crank out a thousand titles a year using POD because they can just print one copy at a time instead of the thousands you’d have to get in days past – selling only 25 to 50 copies of each if they’re lucky. We create the same high-quality product “big” publishers make, focusing on heavy promo, so we can sell in higher amounts than your average POD publisher. It’s all just your mindset.
The shift in business started with producers being interested in my screenplays. I had written some for fun between recording sessions – as a teen I was in advanced writing programs – and figured, well, if I can get hundreds of thousands from selling one script why wait? I so closed the studio, chased after Hollywood, and learned that I needed to have a track record to close deals. So I switched from screenplays to articles, articles to stories and poems. Doing fiction earned me some award nominations and money, so I decided to give up the elusive screenplays and focus on fiction. Trying to get my weird stuff published lead me to Eraserhead Press, and I volunteered to help them out. That’s how I came to be in charge of their online literary journal, The Dream People, while also doing their promo. Dealing with all those great authors lead me to start editing anthologies, and the natural progression from there was to start a publishing company. Of course, after I did that all the local bands wanted to record with me – oh well.
RI: Describe the newest RDSP releases, and give us an idea of what we can expect from you in the future.
JEL: There are several new releases, as we’re doing one a month lately. Spider Pie is the debut collection from Alyssa Sturgill, whose unique blend of gothic horror and absurdism catches most people off-guard. Pseudo-City, the third collection of irrealism from D. Harlan Wilson, is out now in hardcover. P-C features stories all set in the futuristic, bizarre, ultra-violent Pseudofolliculitis City, with many of the same characters appearing throughout. Terror-Dot-Gov is Harold Jaffe’s second collection with us, and it expands on his well-known style of “docufiction.” T-D-G focuses on the war on terror’s causes and effects worldwide, and is both humorous and saddening. In late August Michael A. Arnzen’s gritty novel Play Dead will be released in hardcover, with a “Grim Grimoire” special edition to follow. This autumn we’ll be releasing the unusual dark fantasy collection Westermead by Scott Thomas, in both hardcover and special editions, along with the fringe-lit/spec-fic collection Fugue XXIX by World Fantasy Award winner Forrest Aguirre. These will be accompanied by the notorious Efrem Emerson’s debut collection The Unauthorized Woman, the next installment of the acclaimed Bare Bone anthology series, and the paperback edition of Pseudo-City. Through the Two Backed Book imprint we’ll release the extreme erotic horror novella Sin Conductor by yours truly, and editor Michael Amorel will publish Wrath James White’s collection The Book of 1,000 Sins.
RI: The type of fiction RDSP puts out is often times very different, from extreme horror to more surreal/ absurdist work. What do you think is the unifying link between these releases, if there is one? Are there certain things you look for in a book? How much does the marketability of a book come in to play? Have you ever gotten any submissions that you really liked, but had to turn down?
JEL: Sadly, we get manuscripts that, while good, we have to turn away. All the time. Either they don’t fit with our editorial vision, or we just released something too similar, or we’re overstocked on the format (usually collections or anthologies). In terms of marketability we usually want something that can be marketed to multiple audiences, whether it’s “marketable” in the traditional sense or not. We’re a cross-genre company publishing work that normally gets ignored by publishers who want something to fit neatly into one specific niche. There are plenty of readers out there who want something “different,” we’re finding more of them every day. Everything we put out has a dark twist, usually with some humor, whatever genre it is. The main thing is we maintain high literary standards across the board.
RI: Can you tell us a bit about your Two Backed Books imprint?
JEL: 2BB is hyped as being “unusual literature for adults.” What that translates to is bizarro literature and extreme horror that focuses on erotic themes, sometimes even delving into explicit sexuality. The first two releases were anthologies, one being Horror Between the Sheets, which is a “best of” Cthulhu Sex Magazine, edited by Michael Amorel, Oliver Baer, and Benjamin X. Wretlind. The other is Tempting Disaster, which brings together a wide variety of styles, from writers such as Carlton Mellick III, Jeffrey Thomas, and Michael Hemmingson. The imprint just launched in early 2005 and will keep a slow but steady pace, probably about four books per year.
RI: You’re a full time writer, editor and publisher. Which of those roles do you prefer, or are they interchangeable? Also, do you and Jennifer handle the same tasks, or do you both specialize in certain areas? I know she does the layout for some of the books…
JEL: It’s strange, Royce. You derive satisfaction from accomplishments in each area, but it’s a drastically different type of satisfaction. If I could pick only one pursuit it would be writing. That’s a given. Take that away and I’d whither to nothing. But making a cohesive anthology of fiction from oftentimes very different authors feels good – it helps the authors, the scene, and is something that only came about because of your will. And making a product from the ground up, every little detail of the product makes you proud. Text layout makes me very excited, perhaps I’m just a weirdo that way. I honestly feel that getting new and unusual talents out there helps the scene, and the stronger the scene is the better it is for everyone, including me as an author, so in the end it’s all kind of the same.
As far as running the company is concerned, we’re both skilled in all aspects of publishing. Jennifer is a career graphic designer, with a lot of prepress and text layout experience, so she can do it all. In fact, she created the artwork for the covers of Bare Bone 6 & 7, The Unauthorized Woman, and a lot of the interior art for the Westermead special edition. Mostly, though, I handle cover concepts and arrange for the art while she does about 75% of the text layout. We both make the ads, arrange events, deal with the authors, and read submissions. Even though I’m the author she does the bulk of line editing. She’s the English major, after all. We’ve recently added two interns, so a lot of the web promo and submission evaluation will go to them. Of course, there’s always the Street Pack (Cake Earthhead, Benjamin X. Wretlind, Nancy Jackson, Dustin LaValley, and Walter Goralski) which is the RDSP street team. They’ve been invaluable for spreading the word.
RI: What are some of the authors/ artists that have influenced you the most as a writer, and as a person in general?
JEL: Most of my artistic influences probably come from music and film. Skinny Puppy (Too Dark Park), KRS-ONE (Return of the Boom Bap), Babyland (Outlive Your Enemies), Foetus (Gash), The Jesus and Mary Chain (Barbed Wire Kisses), and Oneiroid Psychosis (Fantasies About Illness) all had huge impacts on me when I was in the music scene – I’m a former member of several industrial music projects. The wordplay and subject matter in all of their songs deeply affected the way I went about writing. In terms of poetry, I’ve been most influenced by the very poets I publish in The Dream People; they’re cutting-edge artists who express themselves freely, because it’s all for the love of the word and not for money. In fiction: Chuck Palahniuk (Survivor), Brett Easton Ellis (American Psycho), Barry Gifford (Perdita Durango), Clive Barker (Everville), William Burroughs (Naked Lunch), William Peter Blatty (Legion), it goes on and on.
Film has probably been the most important, though, as it combines visual art, music, and writing. There was this one scene in the first Dirty Harry movie, where the bad guy wants it to look as if he’s been attacked by Harry. He pays this thug to beat the living stuff out of him in a grimy basement. The extremity of the act, and the way it was constructed, left a big impression on me as a kid. There are plenty of others. If you can find Archangel by Guy Maddin definitely see it. Fight Club, Seven, Cronnenberg’s The Fly, Carpenter’s The Thing, The Exorcist – that scared the shit out of me when I was a kid. Breakfast of Champions and Slaughterhouse Five. Santa Sangre by all that’s holy, and El Topo. Anything by David Lynch. Requiem for a Dream and Pi. I could go on. Videodrome and Scanners, the work of Jim Jarmusch. Desperate Living. The films of Werner Hertzog!
RI: I think it’s safe to say that a large portion of Raw Dog Screaming’s success has been made possible via the internet. How important do you think it is for independent publishers/ authors to have an online presence? Is there any advice you could give beginning publishers/ authors?
JEL: Indie publishers have to emulate guerilla warfare to make inroads, which includes making use of every available tool. While larger publishers focus on selling to stores, we focus on selling to actual readers. Once the reader loves our product they spread the positive word of mouth that makes cult classics. This leads to increased sales over time, as opposed to releasing a book, seeing how it does for three months, then moving on. The easiest way to reach our target, worldwide, is through the Internet. Not by spamming people, but by maintaining a quality web site, by digging up the places our target audience hangs out at engaging them in conversation, etc. Plus, with digital printing we’re able to upload all our cover and interior files online. The sales reports are updated daily, online. Most magazines can take advertisements via files attached to e-mail. I’m able to work from home doing what I love because of the Internet. Without the web we’d never have a chance, nor would I have had a chance as an author.
What I said about guerilla warfare is true; you have to be doing this because you want to win, and it is said that every battle won is merely a plan that was adhered to. So have a business plan. Research publishing, contracts, and marketing online or at the library – your tax dollars have already paid for those books. While you’re there, ask for the library to order some RDSP titles, and some from other indie publishers. When they arrive compare the front cover layouts (because it’s more than just the artwork), the back covers, the interiors. Study those sons of bitches and see what you don’t like about the various layouts, what works but could be improved. Get your hands on a layout program like Quark, even used, and familiarize yourself with it. Do all this research in advance. You don’t want to be trying to learn this stuff while doing the actual work of publishing. Another thing I tell people is to give up television. You’ll have an extra three hours of productivity on the average day, and feel much more satisfied by all your publishing accomplishments, believe me. And hey, it never hurts to ask when you can’t find answers in books, so contact a publisher who’s been doing this a while. We like to spread the knowledge around, believe me, because somebody starting sloppy and screwing up makes all of indie publishing look bad.
RI: Which of the following is better:
* Freddy or Jason? Jason. He knows how to keep his fucking mouth shut and kill without remorse – what Michael Myers should have been. Plus, Jason Goes to Hell/Jason X were two of the great unrecognized comedies of recent years. Freddy just tries too hard. Although, the couple Nightmare movies that were tight were much better than the good Friday the 13th movies.
* Ju-on or Ringu? Ringu, no doubt. Although, to be honest, I’ve only seen the US version of Ju-on, which I found incredibly lame. The casting? The wasted creepy atmosphere they established early on? With Ringu/The Ring they managed to keep it up all the way through, and make it believable.
* Clive Barker or Stephen King? Bitch, is this even a question?! Barker! His skill runs the whole track and leaves King three laps back.
* Burroughs or Vonnegut? Vonnegut, because of his consistent quality/output. Although they are/were both inhumanly long-lived and talented.
* Swords or Guns? Both are phallic enough, but the sword takes it over the top; you have to penetrate what you hate, fuck it to death. Guns are just masturbating, pulling your trigger and shooting your load from a distance. Too impersonal.
* Sex or Drugs? Sex may not induce effects as extreme as drugs, but it’s built in – you can get off anywhere, any time, for free. Sex!
* John Holmes or Ron Jeremy? Holmes at least had supernatural endowments and met his end before becoming a sweaty, ancient, hairy, sweaty, tubby, sweaty joke. To Jeremy’s credit he’s funny, but humor does not a sex legend make.
* Twilight Zone or Outer Limits? Twilight Zone. Anybody who can scare you with social commentary and inspire a slew of imitators deserves some kudos.
* Christian Bale or Bruce Campbell? Christian Bale is the shizzo. American Psycho? Batman Begins? Equilibrium?? He’s just a bad ass.
RI: Thanks a lot for doing this interview, John. Is there anything else you’d like to say?
JEL: Well, my advice applies to both writing and publishing. The beginning always seems bleak. It’s easy to want to give up, and it’s hard to see the momentum building because it can be so slow. But your efforts always pay dividends, even if it takes six months. Eventually your successes multiply exponentially – a foreign publisher reads a review of your work and wants to sign your book, somebody you were in a freebie zine with just got into a forthcoming hardcover anthology and tells the editor to contact you, a reviewer at Booklist sees one of your postcards laying around and loves your authors’ past work and just has to review all your titles from now on…you never know where the break is going to come from, so stick with it. Six years after starting on the path to being a screenwriter, and moving on, I’ve kept my work floating around and now a UK producer (who found my screenplays over the Internet!) is in the process of making me an offer for my erotic horror script. If I can do it, anybody can. Michael Jordan’s mother always tells people it was his older brother that was more talented, but it was Michael who went out and practiced every day, who always tried out for the teams. That’s all there is to it. Come to http://www.mondobizarroforum.net and network with all the coolest underground authors, editors, and publishers to get your career going.
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