Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Catching up with Greg Shepard and Stark House Press

Greg Shepard is like a literary archeologist, digging into depths of forgotten fiction and unearthing bookish treasures. Through Stark House Press, Greg shares his discoveries with readers around the world. Classic crime fiction is the Stark House forte, but they’re not afraid to branch out to sci-fi, fantasy, film scholarship, or original novels, as long as they’re well written. Stark House has superb taste. If you see their logo, you can bet it’s going to be well worth reading.

Back in Fall 2009, I interviewed Greg about the start of Stark House, as well as the Harry Whittington trio that had just come out. Almost two years later, Stark House is still going strong. 2011 has already seen the release of Peter Rabe’s The Silent Wall / The Return of Marvin Palaver and a collection of rarities by Don Elliott (an early pseudonym of Robert Silverberg), and there is more Day Keene, Harry Whittington, and Orrie Hitt to come. Greg was kind enough to answer a few more questions for Pulp Serenade about the recent Elliott/Silverberg publication, as well as what Stark House has in store for readers.

Pulp Serenade: How and when did you first encounter Nightstand/Midwood paperbacks?

Greg Shepard: As a collector, I’ve been aware of Nightstand/Midwood for a while. I’ve acquired a few of their books over the years, including some of the Elliotts. I never sought them out as such, but I’ve certainly been intrigued by them as publishing’s forbidden fruit for at least 25 years.

PS: What was it like working with the great Robert Silverberg?

GS: Bob is a pleasure to work with. There isn’t much else that needs to be said. He is one of the great gentlemen of the publishing world. And I hope to work with him again.

PS: Was it difficult to convince Silverberg to reprint these? Did he have any reservations?

GS: Curiously, I had contacted Bob about 3-4 years ago about reprinting some of the Elliott books, but he wasn’t interested. Polite but firm. Then out of the blue, he contacted me a year ago and asked if I were still interested. If he had any reservations, it was about how to market the books. He didn’t feel that he wanted the Silverberg name on the books as in “ROBERT SILVERBERG WRITING AS DON ELLIOTT.” He has a keen sense of his audience and didn’t want to confuse the sf readers with his erotica writings. Nor did he want them marketed as “Sleaze Classics” as many of these books are known today. He feels, quite rightly, that the books stand on their own, and that there is nothing inherently sleazy about them. So once we worked out the parameters, the project went very smoothly.

PS: Why Gang Girl and Sex Bum? Were there other titles you considered?

GS: Bob picked out the titles. Considering how many books he’s written as Elliott, not to mention his other adult pseudonyms, I thought I’d bow to his greater knowledge in this case. Once I read them, Gang Girl appealed to me because it was one of the first Elliotts, and Sex Bum because of its obvious crime angle. I’m not sure if there’s a perfect way to pick two titles out of 150 and come up with the ideal selection, so going with Bob’s choices seemed a good way to start.

PS: Did you hear from Earl Kemp (who originally published the Elliott books) at all while you were working on this reprint? If so, did he have anything to say about seeing these works in print again?

GS: Didn’t hear from Earl. I’d love to hear what he thinks about the reprints.

PS: What is the total amount of time it takes to put something like this Don Elliott anthology together, from conception to seeing the final bound product?

GS: That’s an interesting question. In this case, it took almost exactly a year between Bob’s initial email and the publishing of the book. It doesn’t have to take that long due to production, but because Stark House is only publishing four books a year, I have a schedule that is always at least two+ years out. I slotted the Elliott book in as soon as I could once the contract was signed, but if I were publishing more books a year, I probably could have had it out in less time--8-10 months easily. And if it ever becomes possible to publish Stark House full time, I probably will have the books out sooner.

PS: These two books were reprinted over fifty years ago. Do you think anyone involved thought they would be around today?

GS: Man, I seriously doubt it. I never asked Bob, but at the rate he was cranking them out back then, I can’t imagine he thought these books were going to have another shelf life 50 years on. I wouldn’t have.

PS: What is it about them that makes them still interest readers today?

GS: Bob Silverberg is just basically a great storyteller. You get caught up in his books. I recently re-read The World Inside. Completely different experience from the Elliott books. In the case of the Elliott books, story predominates. In the case of World Inside, theme is more important. But in both cases, the characters matter and the story propels you on. Gang Girl is the story of a woman who tries to manipulate her way into leadership of a gang. Sex Bum is about a guy who wants to be head of the mob. They both want power. They reach for it and fail. But in their reaching for it, they touch upon that basic instinct in us all to better ourselves, to strive, to achieve. I think they both have stories that are pertinent to today for the simple reason that they both involve the conflict between not having and wanting. It doesn’t get much more basic than that.

PS: And now for a couple questions about some upcoming Stark House Releases…You are working again with David Laurence Wilson on two collections: one of Day Keene and one of Harry Whittington. They both have so many great books out of print, how did you decide on these three?

GS: You can blame the Day Keene collection on me. I read a bunch of Keene books, and picked my three favorites. I’m not saying that there aren’t better Keene books—David is a big fan of Joy House, for example--just that these were my three picks from the books I read at the time. As for the Whittington collection, David and I discussed this back when we did the last Whittington book. I particularly like Rapture Alley and Strictly for the Boys, two of Harry’s social novels. David thought they’d work well with A Taste of Desire, one of the “lost” novels he wrote about earlier. So we put them together in one volume, another 3-in-1.

PS: I also see you have an Orrie Hitt collection coming up later this year. What can you tell us about the two novels that you are reprinting?

GS: The Cheaters is one of Orrie’s best noir novels, with a great crooked cop antagonist pitted against a guy who just wants to manage his bar while having his way with the previous owner’s wife. Dial M for Man has the distinction of having a TV repairman as noir hero Hitt’s characters are a bit larger than life, but they’re a lot of fun to read. I have no idea how well these books will do, but I’ve enjoyed working with Orrie’s daughters and some of the Hitt fans like Brian Ritt and Michael Hemmingson to produce the book.

PS: Lastly, does Stark House have any plans to offer ebooks in addition to print volumes in the future?

GS: I don't want to say anything against progress, but I'm not much interested in ebooks personally, and have a hard time getting excited about offering Stark House Books in this format generally. I could change my mind. It's not inconceivable. But at present, I don't have any plans to create an ebook line.

PS: Thank you very much for your time, Greg. It’s always a pleasure to have you at Pulp Serenade.

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