An Interview with Strix Publishing – The Book of Three Gates

Strix Publishing is at it again with another Kickstarter for fans of horror and H. P. Lovecraft in particular. This time it’s a collection of stories and essays called The Book of Three Gates. I recently spoke with Strix founder Simon Berman and the very talented artist Valerie Herron about their latest project. Check it out and see why you need to run right over to Kickstarter and support this bad boy.

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AR: So Strix Publishing has launched another Kickstarter campaign with another very intriguing product called The Book of Three Gates. Tell us about it. 

SB: I’m pretty excited about this one. It’s a companion volume to The Book of Starry Wisdom, the first book I published via Kickstarter. I’ve chosen three of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories as the centerpiece for the collection, and the brilliant Valerie Herron has returned to illustrate them. “The Dunwich Horror,” “The Dreams in the Witch House,” and “The Haunter of the Dark” were chosen for their common themes of alien horrors transgressing the thin walls between our world and others. “The Dunwich Horror” is one of my personal favorite Lovecraft stories, and this book also gave me the opportunity to bring in a good friend and talented cartographer to produce a map of the Township of Dunwich as the book’s endpapers. The book concludes with a selection of essays by some notable authors, all of whom were given the chance to write pieces that blur the lines between fact and fiction.

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AR: Again, you’ve assembled a fantastic group of writers to contribute to The Book of Three Gates. Tell us about some of the contributors. Any returning from The Book of Starry Wisdom?

SB: Absolutely! I’m pleased that a number of authors have returned, including Adam Scott Glancy of Delta Green fame, noted poet and weird fiction aficionado Bryan Thao Worra, Orrin Grey of Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings renown, C.A. Suleiman, known for his work on Mummy: The Curse, and artist and occultist, A.S. Koi. I’m particularly excited about that last one. Koi has promised me an instruction manual for how to bend time. The new authors I’ve chosen for this volume are all very accomplished writers as well. Evan J. Peterson, is a 2015 Clarion West writer, who is writing an extremely interesting academic essay on the queer history of Miskatonic University’s Apollonian Dionysian fraternity, and Don Webb, a noted occultist, is producing a piece on the history, theory, and practices of the Order of the Trapezoid of the Temple of Set.

AR: You’re also working with talented artist Valerie Herron again, so I’ll direct this question to her. How will your contributions to The Book of Three Gates differ from those in The Book of Starry Wisdom? 

VH: The obvious difference will be the subject matter. While Starry Wisdom focused on the Cthulhu mythos, the subject matter in Three Gates gets into witchier and inter-planar territory. The illustrations will be less character-driven and more atmospheric, so expect more use of unsettling scenery and evocative visual texture. I will be preserving more of the traditional elements in the work to try and capture this ambience. Don’t worry, there will still be monsters!

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AR: Another one for Valerie. You obviously have quite an appreciation for Lovecraft’s work. What about the mythos gets you drawing, painting, and creating?    

VH: This work is largely my way of processing my own sense of cosmic horror. It’s a reaction to these titanic forces that govern our lives with no regard for our existence and how insignificant I feel at their mercy. I make this art because it’s much more effective than remaining frozen in panic or hopelessness while all of these slow-motion disasters in the world play out around me. This is the way I feel like I relate to Lovecraft as a creator. The crushing weight of a materialist’s reality left him catatonic as a young adult, but he was able to channel that particular anguish into timeless allegory. I am honored to give visual form to these unbridled forces.

AR: Simon, you’ve become quite the old hand at this Kickstarter thing, and you’ve funded your first four campaigns. What is the secret to your success? 

SB: Being willing to go without sleep. Honestly, it comes down to having an idea for something that people want and then making sure you get it in front of them, treating your backers like the generous supporters they are, and being as transparent as possible about everything you’re doing. A high tolerance for sleep deprivation does help, though.

AR: Since The Book of Three Gates is a companion volume to The Book of Starry Wisdom, can we expect a third volume in the series?

I don’t want to say too much just yet, but if all continues to go well with Three Gates, there are two possible collections on the docket for a third volume. One goes beyond the wall of sleep, the other beyond the veil of death.


Simon Berman worked as a Social Marketing Manager and staff writer for Privateer Press from 2008-2016. He worked in both capacities for the award-winning miniatures war games, WARMACHINE and HORDES, and the Iron Kingdoms Full Metal Fantasy Roleplaying Game, winner of 4 ENnies awards. He also works on the ENnies nominated roleplaying game, Unhallowed Metropolis. He has also worked as a social media manager on Kickstarter projects for WARMACHINE: Tactics, Widower’s Wood, The Book of Starry Wisdom, the Problem Glyphs art book, APOCRYPHA: The Art of Jason Soles, and Orrin Grey’s Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings.

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With an enduring love for the unusual, Valerie Herron began expressing her interests through writing and illustration in childhood. Fantasy illustration, mythology, the occult, and the natural universe remain her greatest inspirations. Valerie’s work has evolved in time to be conceptually layered and mysterious. She collages together a powerful visual-vocabulary that is mystical and socially relevant. Valerie creates allegorical narratives that are poignant and beautiful, ugly and elegant.

Fascinated by contours, Valerie considers her primary medium to be line. She finds the synthesis of traditional wet media and digital media best communicates her visual style.

Valerie received her BFA in Illustration at Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, OR. She currently lives in Seattle, works for Privateer Press, and is also a freelance illustrator. Outside of her creative practice she spends her time listening to music and podcasts, being out in nature, writing, reading, and venturing a myriad of sorcerous activities.

Rejectomancy Exclusive – The Barghest by Orrin Grey

As I mentioned in this post, my very talented writer friend Orrin Grey is re-releasing his first collection of short stories, Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings through Strix publishing. You can check out the Kickstarter campaign right here. Orrin is a horror writer, and a damn good one, and he and Strix Publishing have given me permission to post one of the stories in the collection here. So, check out the “The Barghest” below for a taste of what you’ll get in the premium re-release of Never Bet the Devil & Other WarningsIf you’re a fan of weird fiction and horror in general, this is one you don’t want to miss.

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The Barghest

By Orrin Grey

I was standing by the side entrance when they brought in the bones. Would you believe me if I said that as soon as I saw them I knew they weren’t human? Or any other indigenous animal? I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t. It’s a difficult thing to credit.

It wasn’t any training that told me, or my experience at the museum. I didn’t see the bones long enough for that, just a glimpse of the brown skeleton–the wrong-size skull, the wrong-way legs–and some primal part of my brain said “monster.”

I threw away the butt of my cigarette and followed the men who were carrying the stretcher with the skeleton on it. I wasn’t surprised when I saw that they were carrying it to your part of the lab.

I remembered you on the phone, arguing with Kelso over a skeleton that was found out on the moors somewhere. You wanted it, you said. The museum had paid for the dig, and you were the senior paleontologist on staff so it belonged to you.

You were waiting when they laid the stretcher on the table. That’s when I got my first good look at it. It was the size of a big man, but it definitely wasn’t a human skeleton. Looking at the bones, I was hard put to say if it was a biped or a quadruped. I imagined that it moved like a bear, or like a great ape. Its hands were too big for a human and terminated in hooked talons, but they had clear opposable thumbs.

The skull was simultaneously apelike and doglike, a toothy muzzle like a baboon or a mandrill. I remember making some offhand comment about Lovecraft’s ghouls, but you were unfamiliar with Lovecraft. You never cared for anything you deemed “disposable culture.”

As the investigation into the remains went on I bought a copy of Tales of H.P. Lovecraft edited by Joyce Carol Oates, whose name I thought might lend it some credibility in your eyes, and gave it to you with the page containing “Pickman’s Model” tagged. I’ll bet it’s still on the shelf in your office, with the tag still on it. I’ll bet you never even picked it up.

If you had read it, though, you would have understood why I brought it up; you would have known what it was about the bones that left me at once intrigued and uncomfortable. How human they looked, and how inhuman. Not like the bones of some Neanderthal man, some earlier species of humanity, but instead like something that took an alternate evolutionary path, something that should have been human but became something else instead.

Those sorts of thoughts didn’t interest you, though. I know that. You were always dismissive of what you called my “supernatural thinking.” You always regarded the museum as beneath you, and me as beneath the museum. You treated me with a grudging tolerance, and never admitted that the reason we worked together was because none of the other interns would work with you.

“What is it?” I asked you that night, because for all your coolness you liked it when I asked you questions, and because I really did want to know what you thought. I was curious if you had some explanation that would take all the parts and somehow make of them something other than a monster.

“Something new,” you said, and that was all. It was less than encouraging.

Of course, it wasn’t something new, was it? It was as old as the dirt in which it was found, as old as men telling campfire stories. We learned that, you and I, but you learned it first.

#

            I remember how carefully you cleaned the bones. The peat in which they were found had preserved them, like a fossil without the stone. They were perfect; no flesh left for us to macerate, just those ossified brown bones. I remember watching you work over them with your little brush, your magnifying glass, carefully turning over and examining each and every tiny piece.

I wasn’t allowed to do any of the real work, wasn’t to handle the skeleton. When I was in the lab, I stared at the skull.

As with most carnivore skeletons, the skull seemed too big for the rest of the bones. It dominated the table, drew the eye. Those teeth that seemed too big for the mouth they filled, those gaping sockets. If I looked at it one way it was pure animal, like a wolf or tiger, if I looked at it another it was disturbingly human.

I’ve spent a lot of the time since then wondering how it happened. You were so careful. Was it your eagerness that was your undoing, or did something else render you suddenly clumsy? Were the teeth simply sharper than you imagined they would be, after remaining buried for so long?

You know how, sometimes, when you walk into a room, you can tell that something has changed before your mind has processed what it is? When I walked back into the lab that night, I knew that something was wrong before I took in any of the details. From where I was standing in the doorway, I could see the skeleton on the lighted table, and my eyes naturally traveled to where the skull would normally have rested, only to find a blank white space where it should have been.

Only then did I notice that you weren’t there. I walked to the head of the table. The skull was on the floor, teeth and pieces of jaw scattered across the tile. And mixed in among them were fat red drops of blood.

I went to the break room then, but you weren’t there, just more drops of blood spattered on the back of a chair and the surface of one of the round Formica tabletops. The first aid kit on the wall hung open, and pills in individual packets lay scattered across the counter and the floor.

Why did you go to the ladies’ room, I wonder? Was it shame, fear of appearing mortal and fallible in front of the help? Or did you know, even then, that something was wrong, more wrong than the gouge in your palm or the blood you were losing from it?

I knocked on the door, and you knew it was me. “I’m fine,” you said, without my even needing to inquire. “It’s just a scratch. Go clean up the lab, and be careful.”

At the time I thought nothing of that “be careful.” I assumed it was concern over the integrity of the bones, displaced anger at the damage to the skull. But since then I’ve wondered. Did you know, even then? Was your concern not for the bones at all, but for me? It doesn’t seem like you, but then adversity sometimes brings out the best in people.

I have a lot of questions that I know will never be answered, but the one that troubles me the most is how soon you knew. When did you first realize what was happening, and how long did it take that realization to become knowledge, to become acceptance?

#

            By the time you came out of the restroom I had already replaced the skull on the table and mopped up all the blood, both in the lab and the break room. If you were there I know you would have rolled your eyes at me, but as I put the skull back onto the table the black sockets looked darker and deeper than they should have, and I got the feeling that something was staring out of them at me.

I knew you’d been lying about it just being a scratch, I’d cleaned up too much blood for that, but it wasn’t until you came out of the restroom that I realized how bad it must have been. Your face was pale, the color bleached from it, like a person about a minute away from going into shock. Your eyes looked red, as if you’d been crying, and your right hand was swathed in most of the gauze and bandages from the first aid kit.

When you came into the lab you held your injured hand up to your chest like a cat with a hurt paw, and you put your other hand out to a table to steady yourself.

“That looks like it might need stitches,” I said, though of course I couldn’t see the wound itself. “You should probably let me take you to the emergency room.”

You nodded tightly but didn’t let me take you to the hospital until you’d examined the skeleton and verified for yourself that the damage wasn’t extensive enough to compromise the find. I noticed even then, though, that you were careful not to touch it.

#

            The doctor at the ER put eleven stitches in the palm of your hand, and just like that I became necessary to you. With one hand out of commission, you couldn’t do the fine work needed to examine the skeleton, and so I became your hands on the job.

Did you ever stop to wonder why I worked with you when no one else would? Why I was willing to pull down the same preposterous hours that you insisted on? Did you think that I was attracted to you? Or did you just think that I believed you were the genius that you believed yourself to be, and that I wanted to ride on your coattails?

Maybe you didn’t think about it at all. That would be more like you.

Someone else might have noticed something different about you immediately, might have caught on sooner, for good or ill. Had I watched TV or read the papers I might have heard about the girl who was mauled to death in a park near your house that week, might have said something to you that would have forced a confrontation, elicited some response in you that I could have interpreted. But by the time I came home from the museum I was exhausted and all I wanted to do was to curl up with my ghost stories, which you regarded so scornfully, and then sleep.

Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered what I noticed, what I said. Maybe you still didn’t know yourself. I’ve not yet determined how aware you are when it happens, how much of you is left.

You always said that the surest road to combat superstition is study, but no matter how much we examined the bones I was never able to shake the sensation that they were not the remains of anything wholesome or natural, not even the bones of some mutation or aberration, some lusus naturae. You, of course, were no help.

I bought a book of folktales from the British Isles and took to reading it before I went to bed. I read about Black Annis, a cannibal witch who lived in a cave under an oak and ate children. She hung their skins in the branches to dry, and then wore them tied around her waist. I read about Black Shuck, a dog the size of a horse with eyes like saucers, and the more recent “shug monkey,” which reminded me more than a little of the thing on our table, with its mix of primate and canine features. I read about the shapeshifting Barghest, which may have inspired Dracula’s transformation into a monstrous wolf.

If I ever told anyone but you what I’ve seen since then, what I’ve learned, they’d send me to a psychologist, and that psychologist would undoubtedly blame my “hallucinations” on those stories. They’d say that I’d been priming myself, and that when events occurred that I couldn’t deal with, I used those myths to give context to a truth that I didn’t want to admit. But, as you always said, psychology is a soft science, and what happened to you, to us, is anything but soft.

Looking back now, everything seems so inevitable. Maybe if you’d been allowed to keep the skeleton, things would have gone differently. Maybe the charade could have been maintained a little longer, but I think it was doomed to come down, sooner or later.

I remember when, just two weeks after the night you cut your hand, Ms. Trevayne asked you to come into her office. She didn’t draw the blinds, and I knew just by watching what she was saying to you. You stood in front of her desk, your wounded hand drawn into a fist at your side, your other hand gesturing as you shouted at her.

When you stormed out of her office you called her a cunt, a word I’d never heard you use before, and told me that she was taking the skeleton away from you and giving it to Kelso, which I had already guessed. This would never have set well with you, even before, but you would have approached it disdainfully, with an “it’s their loss” attitude, as though you were too good to get upset. Your desperate rage took me by surprise, and when you walked back to the lab you forgot yourself and slapped both your hands palm down against the table. That’s when I knew. Knew that you weren’t hurt anymore, that your hand had healed completely even though the stitches weren’t due to be taken out for another week.

“She can’t do this to me,” you said, an under-the-breath growl I wasn’t intended to hear. “She can’t do this to me. Not yet.”

#

            But of course she could, and when I walked into the lab that night and saw the table empty I knew she had.

You weren’t there, and I assumed that you’d already left in a huff. I almost just turned around and went home. How differently would things have gone then?

Instead, I decided to head across to the other side of the wing, to the lab that Kelso normally used. It’d be nice to say that some premonition prompted me, but I don’t think it did. I think I was just curious. I’d never seen you defeated, I was curious to see what someone else’s victory over you looked like.

As I rounded the corner I could see the light from Kelso’s lab flickering and swaying, like the illumination of some sideshow spookhouse. I think I ran to the door, then, but I don’t really remember. As vividly as I can recall everything else, the order of the next few seconds are jumbled in my memory. It’s as though everything I saw exploded into my mind at once, a kaleidoscope of snapshots.

The half-smashed light fixture that had come loose from the ceiling and was swinging back and forth, throwing its funhouse illumination on everything. The blood, shockingly red against the tile and the table and the wall. Kelso’s arm, in one corner, the rest of him crumpled behind the table. All of those things, though, were driven out of my mind when I saw the thing you had become.

It had taken only a glimpse of the bones for my primate brain to realize that they belonged to a monster, a teratism, something that should not exist. Seeing you like that took even less.

The thick black fur. The way you stood, crouched and bent, like a man who has been forced to crawl on all fours for years. The snout, like a wolf’s only crushed in, the teeth too large to fit in the mouth. The hands like Halloween monster gloves, only the claws making them seem real, reminding me of Black Annis and her iron talons.

You looked at me, I remember that. Your eyes weren’t big as saucers, but they were red and bright and amazingly clear and strangely human. I believe, to this day, that I saw recognition in them. That you saw me and knew me and chose to spare my life. Then you were gone out the window.

#

            I didn’t call the police. I stumbled over to the wall, hit the fire alarm, and then collapsed to the floor beneath it. The sprinklers kicked on and I sat in the artificial rain, with my knees drawn up to my chest, and didn’t move until the authorities arrived.

The sprinklers probably destroyed the crime scene, but the police would never have been able to understand what had happened there anyway. I don’t even remember what I was asked, or what I told them, but I know that I didn’t mention what I really saw.

I remember being told that I was in shock. I remember someone wrapping a blanket around my shoulders as I was helped into an ambulance and driven to the hospital. It was only then, while I was sitting in the emergency room in my wet clothes, that I remembered the thing that I had seen but not noticed earlier.

The bones, of course. They hadn’t been on the table, and in one of your big, misshapen hands you had carried a canvas bag just big enough to contain them.

They let me out of the hospital eventually and took me back to my apartment. They told me to stay there, but I didn’t. I changed into dry clothes and then took a taxi to your place.

It wasn’t the first time I’d been to your house, of course. You’d sent me to pick things up for you from the museum before. I even knew where you kept your spare key stashed, though it didn’t turn out to matter because the back door was hanging open, the knob torn out of the wood.

I can’t say what made me walk through that door into the dark interior of your house. Maybe I was still in shock.

I didn’t turn on any lights. I walked through the kitchen, letting my eyes adjust to the darkness. There were smudges on the walls beside the staircase that looked like chocolate syrup in the dark, though I knew they weren’t. I followed them upstairs.

You were lying facedown on your bed. The blinds were drawn, but a wedge of streetlight came in through a gap in them. You were naked, your skin pale and human in the dim light, looking as smooth and new as the flesh of a baby. The bag of bones was on the floor beside the bed. I stood watching you for longer than I probably should have, measuring the rising and falling of your breath as you slept. Then I took the bag and walked back out.

#

            I’ve not yet guessed why you wanted the bones so badly. Did you hope to extract from them the secret of a cure, some tincture of silver nitrate and wolfsbane? Or was it simply that you wanted to keep them close to you, your only connection to the thing you had become? Either way, it doesn’t matter anymore. I burned the bones in the incinerator in the basement of the museum before I made this recording. All but this one tooth.

Even if I hadn’t, though, it wouldn’t have made any difference. Cures are for movies, not real life. I don’t know what you are any more than I imagine you do, but I know it’s not something you get to come back from. Soon, though, you won’t have to be alone anymore. You’ll have something better than bones for company.

What does it feel like, when you change? I bet it isn’t like the movies, the gradual shifting and lengthening of bones, the sprouting of fur. I bet the beast just tears out of you, as though it’s been there all along and your skin is just a disguise that it’s been wearing. I’ll bet that’s what it’s like.

I don’t know if you’ll ever see this video. I don’t know how long it will take you to come for me, or even if what comes for me will be something that can properly be called “you.” But I know that you will come for me, sooner or later, and that when you do I’ll be here waiting for you, ready to meet you head on.

You see, I’ve torn my hand with this tooth, just as you did. I’m coming to meet you now, just as surely as you’re coming for me. I’m coming to join you in wherever you’ve gone, whatever you’ve become, and we’ll let nature–or whatever it is that governs things like us–take its course.

AUTHOR’S NOTES:

            This one had its origins in, of all things, a terrible movie called Werewolf that I saw on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Maybe not the most auspicious of beginnings, but I thought the idea of someone becoming a werewolf because they were scratched with a fossilized tooth or bone from a werewolf was a setup that deserved some better treatment than a film starring Joe Estevez.

That was where it started, but once I was writing I realized that I didn’t want this to be a werewolf story exactly. At least, I didn’t want to use the word werewolf anywhere in the story. Giving something a name like that is an easy way to dismiss it. “Oh a werewolf, I know what that is,” so instead I decided to build the monster up using suggestion and allusion. I’d wanted to do something with some elements from British folklore like Black Annis and, of course, the Barghest, and I found that this was the perfect story for it. Throw in some more allusions to Lovecraft’s ghouls, and there you go.

Never Bet the Devil: An Interview with Orrin Grey

Orrin Grey is one hell of a horror writer, and I’ve had the extreme pleasure of working with him a number of times in my previous role as managing editor for Skull Island eXpeditions. He just gets horror, and creepy, disturbing things fall out of his head and on to the page like a burst pinata full of spiders. To bring his particular brand of darkness to the world, Orrin has recently partnered with another of my favorite people in the publishing biz, Simon Berman of Strix Publishing. Together, they are creating the definitive edition of Orrin’s first short story collection Never Bet the Devil & Other WarningsI spoke with Orrin about this new project and some of the things that influence this master of the macabre.

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1) Okay, Orrin, give us the quick and dirty on your literary career. Who are you main influences? And where can we check out some of your work?

Primarily, I write what I like to think of as “fun, smart horror.” At least, I hope it’s fun and smart. But I’m also a freelancer, and as you are no doubt well aware, Aeryn, freelancers will (and do) write everything. So I also do stuff ranging from work for Privateer Press to writing website copy for car dealerships…

When it comes to influences, I have a lot, and I tend to wear them on my sleeve. But Mike Mignola has a story that he likes to tell in interviews, about how when he first read Dracula he knew all he wanted to do in life was draw monsters. My similar moment of clarity came not with Dracula, but when I encountered Mike’s own work on Hellboy. Since I can’t draw, I had to settle for writing monsters instead.

As for where you can check out some of my work: My second collection, Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts, is available right now from Word Horde. I’ve got stories out or forthcoming in a bunch of exciting anthologies, including Children of Lovecraft (speaking of Mike Mignola, who did the cover) and Eternal Frankenstein, which features my story “Baron von Werewolf Presents: Frankenstein Against the Phantom Planet.” I don’t have as many stories online as I would like, but right now you can read my story “Black Hill” on the Strix Publishing website as part of our Kickstarter for Never Bet the Devil, or listen to it at Pseudopod.

2) You’re currently working with Simon Berman and Strix Publishing to breathe new life into your first collection of short stories, Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings. Tell us about it.

Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings originally came out from Evileye Books back in 2012, but they recently decided to stop publishing prose books entirely, so it unceremoniously dropped out of print at the end of last year. When that happened, I knew I wanted to get it back into print, but also that I wanted to do so in a way that would reward those who had already picked up the original edition. Enter Simon and Strix Publishing, who are helping me put together what I think is going to be the definitive edition of Never Bet the Devil: hardcover, cloth-bound, gold-foil-stamped, fully illustrated, and with a new introduction by Nathan Ballingrud, to name just a few of the features.

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3) Which is your favorite story in Never Bet the Devil and why?

You know, I just got asked this on a podcast. I told them it was “The Seventh Picture,” and that’s definitely a favorite of mine, though right now if I had to pick a favorite story from Never Bet the Devil, it might be my odd take on a haunted house tale “Nearly Human,” which is one of those stories that seldom gets singled out by reviewers but that just really feels like it did exactly what I wanted it to do.

4) Are we getting any new stories in this premium collection?

There will be at least two new stories in the deluxe edition of Never Bet the Devil. One of them was previously published in The Mothman Files back in 2011, but has never been collected before. I wanted to include it in the original release of Never Bet the Devil, but rights issues prevented it, so now here it is, incorporated into the collection as I had always intended. The other is entirely new, written exclusively for this edition, and is a story about kids exploring an undertaker’s basement on Halloween night called “Goblins.” We’ve got several other stories planned as possible stretch goals, so if the Kickstarter does really well, who knows how many new stories might be in the final book?

5) I hear there are some truly kick-ass illustrations in the book. Tell us about the artist.

There are some truly kick-ass illustrations in the book! The original publication of Never Bet the Devil had a cover and some great interior spot illustrations by Bernie Gonzalez, which I loved, but they stayed with the previous publisher when the rights to the rest of the collection reverted back to me. When it came time to choose a cover artist and illustrator for the deluxe edition, M.S. Corley was my first and only choice. I’ve been a fan of Mike’s illustrations and cover design work for years, and we had previously worked together on a little chapbook called Gardinel’s Real Estate. For my money, Mike might be the best cover guy in the business, and when it comes to his interior illustrations, let’s just say that you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

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6) Who are the people that absolutely need to back this Kickstarter? What would you say to them?

Anyone who enjoyed my work in Painted Monsters or any of the recent anthologies that have featured my stories but never got a chance to pick up the previous edition of Never Bet the Devil. Anyone who has the previous edition and likes it well enough to upgrade to a fancy hardcover with more illustrations and new stories. Anyone who loves old-fashioned ghost stories, creaky old horror movies, fun weird horror, or Mike Mignola comics, I think you’ll find that I’m speaking your language in Never Bet the Devil. And even if not, I can guarantee that Mike Corley’s illustrations will be worth the price of admission all by themselves.


Orrin Grey is a writer, editor, amateur film scholar, and monster expert who was born on the night before Halloween. His stories of monsters, ghosts, and sometimes the ghosts of monsters have appeared in dozens of anthologies, including Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year. He’s the author of Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings, Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts, and Monsters from the Vault. You can visit him online at orringrey.com.

Interview – Apocrypha: The Art of Jason Soles

Today, I’m going to give up the spotlight (on my own blog, no less) and shine it on a profoundly talented friend and colleague. I’ve worked with Jason Soles for six years in his role as the lead developer at Privateer Press, and he’s one of the best game designers in the tabletop gaming industry. But Jason has other talents, just as noteworthy. He is a gifted sculptor who produces works in a variety of media that are both hauntingly beautiful and deeply unsettling.

Jason has partnered with Strix Publishing to produce Apocrypha: The Art of Jason Soles, a stunning premium edition art book that collects hundreds of photos of Jason’s work for the first time. I recently spoke with Jason about this essential volume for all fans of dark art.

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 1) Your work is very unsettling (in the best way possible). Where do you draw inspiration?

I draw a lot of inspiration from folklore and archaeology. As a kid, I loved books on Egyptology and witchcraft and heavy metal album covers. Later, I developed a fascination with horror movies, especially classical horror. And then German Expressionism via Fritz Lang. As I got older, I discovered visual artists I really appreciated, such as Hieronymus Bosch, H. R. Giger, Ian Miller, and Yasushi Nirasawa, but I have always drawn as much influence from science, anthropology, and the natural world. My earliest works look like the desiccated remains of Capuchin monks. I have also been influenced by what I have read, especially the works of H. P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe.

Resin Leviathan Cross  Watcher

2) What media do you typically work in?

I sculpt either in clay or with found objects. My found object work is fast and freeform. It is really an experimental process to rough out a shape in my head. My work in clay is a lot slower and methodical. I am always willing to tear down something I have spent hours on (sometimes weeks or months) if I cannot get it right and start over again. Once complete, I will cast it in a number of media. My found object works are never reproduced.

Originally, I reproduced my works in polyurethane resins that I would paint to a high degree of finish. Later, I discovered cold casting, which involves adding ground marble or bronze to a clear resin. The cold cast sculpture takes on some of the qualities of the added material. I especially like the look of cold cast marble, which looks like alabaster and polishes up to a fine finish. From there, I moved into casting bronze, which involves first casting your sculpture in a wax “pattern” that is later melted out to create a cavity for hot bronze to be poured. In recent years, I have really come to think of myself as a bronze sculptor.

3) The title of the book you’re Kickstarting is Apocrypha: The Art of Jason Soles. Tells us about the significance of the title.

One of the themes running through my work is the establishment of a false historical record, faux fossil remains that speak to a lost era of human, or proto-human experience. I like the notion that researchers are forced to redefine the origins of man with each archaeological find, and the facts as we know them are increasingly mercurial even as we move ever closer to likely extinction of the species. The title Apocrypha is a nod to that verisimilitude I seek to capture with my work.

Necromancer 1  Excarnate

4) You’re working with Strix Publishing to produce the book and handle the Kickstarter. What’s your connection to Strix’s Simon Berman?

Simon and I have a long history of working collaboratively together, first at Privateer Press and later on Unhallowed Metropolis, alongside Nicole Vega. Simon has successfully managed two publishing projects on Kickstarter via Strix, and I thought my book would be a good fit.

5) Okay tell us what folks can expect out of Apocrypha, the awesome rewards they can get through the Kickstarter, and how they can rush out and throw money at it.

The book itself is a retrospective of my work over the past eighteen years. In addition to some really great photography, the book also includes an in-depth look at my processes along with lengthy descriptions of my techniques.

The basic reward for the campaign itself is the book, which is going to be an impressive hardback. I am really happy with the look of the book. It is going to be incredible. Additionally, I have created a number of smaller sculptures that serve as rewards and add-ons for the project. These include a Cthulhu statuette and a bone-finished mask bearing the Leviathan Cross, an alchemical symbol for sulfur. Alchemical and occult symbols and themes are common throughout my work. A small number of these pieces will also be produced in bronze. The campaign will feature updates as I continue to work and finish the bronze through the month of July.

13450905_1763531783894310_731814454920194884_n  Cthulhu Statuette


Jason Soles is a Seattle-based sculptor and game designer. He is the lead developer of Privateer Press’ award winning WARMACHINE and HORDES tabletop miniature war games and is the co-creator of Unhallowed Metropolis, the gas mask chic roleplaying game of Neo-Victorian horror. As a sculptor, Soles works primarily in bronze and clay. He also possesses keen interests in history, folklore, anthropology, travel, and rare spirits.

 

Guest Post: Simon Berman and Problem Glyphs

When last I blogged on this hallowed page, Aeryn had invited me to promote my then-current project The Book of Starry Wisdom. I know for a fact a number of Rejectomancy readers backed the Kickstarter, so let me first say thank you! Aeryn and I go way back at Privateer Press where we worked together on a number of projects, and it’s a pleasure to see he’s gaining a loyal and adoring audience—even if they seem to be tuned in mostly to see his rejections—but I digress!

Since last I blogged here, my own career has taken a path somewhat parallel to Aeryn’s as an independent author. The success of The Book of Starry Wisdom resulted in a number of other projects falling in my lap, and I’ve subsequently launched a publishing company to support them. Strix Publishing is my new baby, and while I’m currently neck-deep in getting it off the ground, I’ll be blogging about my experiences as an independent publisher later this summer.

At the moment, my current endeavor is in support of an art book for Eliza Gauger’s Problem Glyphs project. Gauger is an established and prolific author who has collaborated with numerous high-profile creators, including Warren Ellis and Jhonen Vasquez. You may remember the original “baby head” logo for iO9, which was one of her earliest commercial works. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Gauger for several years on a not-quite-ready-for-prime-time comic book Black Hole Wizard and the gasmask-chic role-playing game of neo-Victorian horror Unhallowed Metropolis, about which I will have more news soon, but again, I digress.

03af2937ea55b2814f311e033d051338_original

PROBLEM GLYPHS

Problem Glyphs is a project I’ve had the privilege of observing since its earliest nights as something of a whimsical experiment with illustration software in the autumn of 2013. Since then, Gauger has crafted over two hundred sigils in response to the deepest, darkest problems submitted anonymously online by thousands of individuals. Drawing upon her background in fine art, mythology, and the occult, Gauger responds to these problems by creating intricate, symbol-laden glyphs that are published online with an accompanying descriptive title, free of charge

Gauger approached me about working on an art book sometime ago, but it was only after founding Strix Publishing that I felt confident I could produce a book to the standards required by a project that is not just illustratively beautiful but also emotionally important to thousands of people.

After months of discussion, mockup layouts, and printer samples, we settled on a format we think will do the project justice.

The Problem Glyphs art book contains 100 glyphs and their associated submissions, accompanied by an introduction by Eliza Gauger and a foreword by award-winning writer Warren Ellis. Problem Glyphs will be a premium edition, display-worthy art book, measuring 10″ x 12″ and featuring a Smyth-sewn, genuine clothbound hard cover with gold foil-stamped cover illustrations. The estimated 220 interior pages will be printed on beautiful matte coated art paper. Tremendous care has gone into every aspect of the book, from its binding to its typography, the beautiful and storied Doves Type. The choice of Doves Type was particularly special due to the strange circumstances in which the Type was thought lost in the depths of the Thames only to resurface nearly a decade later.  I’ve blogged about it elsewhere, but it may be of interest to anyone fascinated by typography or just stories that could come straight out of an Edgar Allen Poe tale.

[MAY WE BE MARTYRED IN SPACE]

[MAY WE BE MARTYRED IN SPACE]

As a thanks to Aeryn for letting me shamelessly promote here, and as a thanks to Rejectomancy’s readers for their support of my previous project, I’m happy to end this blog with the first excerpt from Gauger’s introduction to the Problem Glyphs art book. I hope you enjoy it and perhaps take a look at our Kickstarter.

Cheers!

—Simon Berman


Introduction from Problem Glyphs by Eliza Gauger

“I don’t know how to explain Problem Glyphs.

Usually I tell people I’m a career illustrator, and that I’m running a project where I “make drawings in response to problems sent in by the audience.” It started November 2013, making it my longest continual project. As of this writing, there are over 200 glyphs, each with a name and origin, almost all of which have accompanying problems submitted by the audience. That’s roughly twice the size of a standard tarot deck. The first glyph, [I STAND MY GROUND], was posted to the blogging platform/social network Tumblr on November 3rd, 2013. That’s about two glyphs per week. Each glyph takes between 5 minutes (the very earliest, simplest ones) and 5 hours (the most recent, complex ones), including research and an artist’s obligatory staring-into-space time. I use a specialized, free drawing program called Alchemy, and sometimes Photoshop. That’s the nitty-gritty. There’s a tutorial on the Problem Glyphs site if you want to know more.

[GOAT SWARM]

[GOAT SWARM]

Although you’re holding a book in your hands, my long term plan is to make the glyphs into a deck of cards, something like a tarot. To this end, they have five “humours”, like suits, for which I owe entire credit to my friend Ada Darwin, who writes a lot of music I listen to while drawing glyphs. She suggested humours as a system of classification and contributed the majority of the grunt work towards determining what those humors should be.

So every time I get the next glyph request, I start research. Here’s the one I’m working on now:

I am mildly manic-depressive, and I regularly fuck up my relationships by being incredibly sweet one minute and then sinking into a depression the next. When depressed I tend to start ring emails to my girlfriend blaming her for my problems. I always regret it: she’s great at helping me face my moods in person, but she’s devastated when she gets my angry email tirades. I need a reminder that it is wise to take a breath, take time out, and stay away from the keyboard when I feel like shit.

—Anonymous, July 9th 2014, 6:43:00 pm

This is how glyphs start: I mull over my own experience with the problem, and recall how it feels. How it feels to fuck up, or to be fucked up. To be frustrated enough to ask for help. In this situation I always feel “radioactive”, as if my presence was enough to sicken and wither the people I loved. And it is, sometimes. I have learned to avoid people, or excuse myself, when I feel it coming on. I opened four or five tabs about radiation sickness, radioactive half-life, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. Nuclear fiction is a passion of mine, Fallout 2 being one of my earliest obsessions. I remembered a PDF I read once about a think tank that had to come up with a way to warn intelligent beings, 12,000 years in the future, to stay away from the nuclear waste we are burying now. I looked that up. I spent hours reading the PDFs on the Waste Isolation Pilot Project and Yucca Mountain websites. I looked at official biohazard and radioactivity warning insignia, clicked through dozens of Wikipedia articles, sifted through forums and official archives. Then I sat still, and thought about it for a few hours.

Warren Ellis calls this the “compost heap” method of writing: You shovel enough garbage into a midden and it’ll start to stew; come back a few weeks later and something useful will be there. He’s right, although in my case it’s more like a garbage fire . The finished glyphs are the last pulsing coals, raked over and ready to be walked across.

I don’t agree with platitudes much, particularly “it’s going to be okay” or “this too shall pass”. Sometimes—most of the time, you could argue—it’s not going to be okay. It won’t pass. It stays exactly the same, or it gets worse. Medications don’t work sometimes, or they stop working. Sometimes we can’t afford them in the first place. People change, or die, or stop talking to us. We break up, we divorce, or, best case scenario, we get to watch the person we love most in the world die of old age.

[DAEDALUS]

[DAEDALUS]

There’s a lot of gloom in Problem Glyphs, which is an odd admission from someone who’s more or less running an advice column. I’m not prescribing despair, though, nor resignation. “Acceptance” also doesn’t feel like the right word, although it’s close. My message is more berzerk than zen. What I want to convey is that pain and illness, and realism, even fatalism, are not incompatible with ambition, success, love, or happiness.

I was eleven years old when I accidentally told an adult I was thinking about killing myself. Sent to a child psychologist, I learned two things: that people who really wanted to help me (and were qualified to do so) sometimes couldn’t, and to stop bothering people with my problems. I tried therapy, and a variety of different medications , during various times in my life. They simply weren’t effective, or the toll was too high; in one of medical science’s cruel little jokes, many antidepressants cause a total loss of creativity. For someone with a typical job, that feeling of numbness or “zombification” with which some people react to SSRIs can sometimes be tolerable, or even a relief. But for someone who trades off their ability to draw from imagination on demand, the loss is catastrophic. It is, without hyperbole, my entire life. The compost heap won’t digest, the fire won’t light. Eventually, I aged out of my family’s insurance coverage and stopped having access to medical treatment at all. If I wanted to survive (and I did, usually), I had to try something else.

That “solution” was to own suicide – keep it like an ace up my sleeve.

Decades later, I still think about suicide a lot. But I’m still here, and will be until I decide otherwise. There are a few glyphs about that. [FORGIVENESS OF DEATH URGE], [LET’S DIE ALONE TOGETHER], and especially [DEATH WAITS WITHOUT RANCOR], which was one of the earliest glyphs that got “popular”.

If Problem Glyphs has any kind of agenda, it’s to meet Doom with eyes, arms, and mouths wide open. Legs, too.

Eliza Gauger


Simon Berman is the owner and founder of Strix Publishing. He has worked as a staff writer for Privateer Press on the award-winning miniatures war games, WARMACHINE and HORDES, and the Iron Kingdoms Full Metal Fantasy Roleplaying Game, winner of 4 ENnies awards, as well as the ENnies nominated roleplaying game, Unhallowed Metropolis. He has also worked as a social media manager on Kickstarter projects for WARMACHINE: Tactics, Widower’s Wood, and The Book of Starry Wisdom. He currently lives in Seattle, Washington.

Eliza Gauger is an established freelance artist who has produced illustrations and flavor text for magazines, books, and role playing games. She has collaborated as an illustrator with Jhonen Vasquez and writer Warren Ellis, and has written for WiredKotaku, and Destructoid. She has taken part in solo and collaborative fine art shows in Berlin and Munich, including STROKE festival, and her work is in the permanent collection of the Hatch Gallery Berlin.