By Zé Burns
Weirdpunk Books made quite the splash in 2020 with four well-received novellas—two of which (The Wingspan of Severed Hands and Seventeen Names for Skin) have been reviewed by Babou 691 with the other two on the way. Before this, they published a number of anthologies including the Splatterpunk Award-nominated The New Flesh: A Literary Tribute to David Cronenberg.
At the helm is Sam Richard who recently won the Wonderland Book Award for his debut collection To Wallow in Ash and Other Sorrows. I got the opportunity to “sit down” and talk shop with him.
ZÉ BURNS: Running a press is no walk in the park. What got you into publishing? What keeps you going?
SAM RICHARD: I first got into publishing as an editor for the very first Weirdpunk release, Blood For You: A Literary Tribute to GG Allin. The press and that anthology were the brainchild of then Weirdpunk owner Emma Alice Johnson, who had asked me if I wanted to coedit the book with her. We collaborated on that one as well as the follow-up, Hybrid Moments: A Literary Tribute to the Misfits. The following year she was going to publish Zombie Punks Fuck Off, with me serving as sole editor, but that was delayed due to my wife’s sudden passing from an aortic aneurysm. That project meant so much to me, and so much to my late-wife, that I knew it needed to come out. About a year later I was in more of a headspace to push forward with it. Around that time Emma was winding down with her passion for Weirdpunk and wanted to do other things, so she handed over ownership of the press to me. Zombie Punks Fuck Off was the first release we did with me at the helm, though I didn’t really know what I was doing on the backend side of things, so I called in my friends Leza and Christoph at CLASH Books to help me out, which resulted in a co-release between the two presses. That, more or less, is what got me into publishing. Like all good things, I sort of stumbled backward into it.
What keeps me going is the drive to work with incredible writers and make a place in the world for books that are exactly what I’d like to be reading. I knew when I took over the press that I needed to pivot it slightly, as everything that had come before was expressly about punk music and weird forms of fiction colliding. Don’t get me wrong, I love punk and the ethos is a big part of what I do and how I approach things, but I wanted the punk aspect to be exactly that, the spirit in which the press operates, not necessarily the overarching aesthetic or theme of the books. I needed to make the press a reflection of my tastes, of the kinds of books that make me excited. The New Flesh: A Literary Tribute to David Cronenberg, which I coedited with my close friend Brendan Vidito, was really the book that was that turn. In the couple of years that I’ve been running the press, that is what has kept me going; aligning the releases with my personal passions and interests. Releasing books that I’d love to stumble upon and be blown away by.
ZB: What does a typical day at Weirdpunk look like for you?
SR: Like a lot of folks right now, due to Covid-19, I was laid off, so I have a tremendous amount of time to work on the press. I try to not burn myself out, but most days I’m usually working on a single release either doing editing or the internal formatting, getting marketing stuff done or talking with artists/designers, reading submissions, updating the website, also lots of emails keeping the writer(s) in the loop about what’s going on. There are a lot of little, more backend things to getting a book published, too, so it largely depends on where I am in the process of a specific book. Right now I’m in the midst of talking with an artist about the cover-wrap for our next book.
ZB: You describe Weirdpunk Books as a publisher of “weird horror.” Can you elaborate on what that means?
SR: Yeah! This is one that maybe feels a needless descriptor to some, but it really speaks to the aspect(s) of horror that I’m drawn to; the aspects that I like to write and publish.
It was a term that came to me initially in talking with a group of writer friends about where we saw our work fitting in with horror/weird lit/bizarro at large. None of us felt like our stuff was out there enough to really be pure bizarro, more in that bizarro-adjacent realm. But it’s also all very horror, but on the stranger end of horror. It’s maybe part splatterpunk part bizarro part weird fiction but all horror. I don’t want to be put into a box, so I made my own box that roughly means, “a mix of the things I like.” Haha.
I like to pitch it to folks like this. When people talk about horror movies, many people immediately think about either 80s slasher movies or Conjuring-verse stuff. No shade, I love me some 80s slashers, but when people talk about horror to me, I’m thinking about movies like Society, The Beyond, The Thing, Ghoulies, and Suspiria. The weirder stuff. The weird horror. Just like with horror literature, often people mean Stephen King and Dean Koontz, again no shade at all, but I’m drawn to the Kathe Koja, Gwendolyn Kiste, Joe Landsdale, Charlee Jacob, Brian Evenson, and Nathan Ballingrud side of things. The weird horror shit.
That’s the kind of stuff I try to both write and publish.
That probably doesn’t do a great job of answering the question, haha.
ZB: Where do you see Weirdpunk in five years? What are your hopes/dreams for the press?
SR: Fuck, I don’t think I’ve ever thought that far ahead, haha! I guess I’d love to still be putting out amazing books by amazing people. It’s a goal to always publish horror written by queer writers, so I see that being something that stays the same forever. Ideally, we’d have a wider audience for our releases and an ever-growing pool of great writers to work with, but that’s not really why I do this.
I’m not seeking money or fame, only that I can consistently release books that I believe in. I never want to put something out only because it will sell or solely because I’m friends with the author or they’re “known.” I only want to put out books that I love and believe in. And in five years, I’d love to look back and be able to say that I did exactly that. And thus far, I’ve stayed true to that vision.
ZB: What’s next for Weirdpunk Books? Any exciting releases in the near future?
SR: Yes! Our next release is a mini-anthology called Beautiful/Grotesque that has stories from Weirdpunk friends/alumni Joanna Koch, Roland Blackburn, Katy Michelle Quinn, Jo Quenell, and me. We all wrote stories with the concept of beautiful/grotesque as the theme. It runs the gamut from quiet horror to full-on extreme horror, yet all fit within the theme really well.
I just built out the inside of the book and am getting the art commissioned now, so hopefully, it will be out late Jan or early Feb.
I don’t want to jinx myself, as the contract hasn’t been signed yet, but I just picked up the first 2021 Weirdpunk novella, too. I am so excited to be publishing Eric LaRocca’s unsettling/upsetting Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke. I couldn’t be happier.
I’ve got a few more subs to look at before I open again, but I’m hoping 2021 will see more amazing novella releases.
Thank you, Sam Richard!
You can find Weirdpunk Books at https://www.weirdpunkbooks.com where you can purchase all their releases, including a bundle of their four novellas.
Zé Burns is a Seattle-based author of horror and the surreal, an avid proponent of bizarro fiction, and a lover of all things weird. He is the editor-in-chief and owner of Babou 691. You can find him on Twitter at @ZeBurns or on his site: zeburns.com.