We’re celebrating the twentieth anniversary of Stark House Press this month with a discussion of hard boiled fiction with Joe Lansdale, Tim Bryant, Josh Stallings, and Stark House editors, experts, and writers Rick Ollerman and John Vorzimmer. One person who can’t make it is Greg Shepard (pictured), Stark House’s founder and publisher, who has been bringing back great genre fiction gems from the past back in print. We took some time to talk to the man about his twenty years of his great work.
1. How did Stark House Press get started?
My dad, Bill Shepard, was a magazine and newspaper editor and writer for many years. In 1998, he had the idea to start a family publishing venture. Several of my family members joined in as artists and editors. Our first book was the hardback collection, The Oracle Lips by Storm Constantine. Unfortunately, it didn’t sell as well as we had hoped. One by one, family members drifted away, leaving me with the basis for Stark House Press. My brother, Mark, still serves as our graphic designer, and my wife Cindy runs our website. I also have several friends and associates who help with writing, proofing and occasionally suggesting authors.
2. What do you see as the mission of the press?
The main goal of Stark House Press is to act as a reprint publisher, bringing back genre fiction of the past, and specializing in mysteries and noir fiction. We will occasionally promote new authors, but roughly 80% of our business will continue to focus on reprinting gems from the past.
3. Much of the crime fiction you publish are from the fifties and sixties. What do you think was quintessential about that era?
The 1950s and 60s were the golden age of the paperback, a time when all those pulp veterans and fledgling crime writers had an opportunity to expand their ideas from magazine short stories into the novel format. Fostered by the generous advances of Gold Medal Books, many of the classic mystery authors we celebrate today—John D. MacDonald, Charles Williams, Gil Brewer, Peter Rabe, Vin Packer—could make a living doing what they did best: tell a great story. The post-war, boom climate of the 50s also generated a lot of angst, giving rise to some very dark fiction via authors like Jim Thompson, David Goodis and David Karp. It was just a very fertile time for crime fiction.
4. While you have some of the bigger names like Gil Brewer and David Goodis, you have also brought back some lesser known authors. Who are some that you wish more readers would know of?
Douglas Sanderson, who also wrote as Malcolm Douglas and Martin Brett, is a favorite of mine. I love his lean, mean prose. I’ve been hyping Elisabeth Sanxay Holding to the point where we’ve reprinting all but two of her mysteries, but I still feel she could be better well known. And I would love to see more sales of James McKimmey, Bill S. Ballinger, Richard Wormser and John Flagg to justify more reprints of their forgotten treasures. This year we have also added a lot more women mystery authors, like Jean Potts, Bernice Carey and Dolores Hitchens, with more to come. The list of “lesser knowns” could go on and on.
5. Who is an author or book you’d like to get back into print, but haven’t yet for whatever reason?
I’d love to get David Karp back into print but have yet to track down his heirs. Same goes for Don Tracy and Robert Edmond Alter. And then there are authors like Edward S. Aarons and Marvin Albert, whose heirs doesn’t seem interested. And authors like Cornell Woolrich and Geoffrey Homes, whose agents are just charging too much for the rights.
6. Where would you like to see Stark House in the next twenty years?
I should live so long. Seriously, if Stark House is still in business in 20 years, I hope it’s still bringing back more great authors of the past. I’d love to see a wider range of genres by then—more science-fiction, horror, fantasy, westerns—and a lot better balance of both men and women authors on our list. More anthologies as well. But other than that, I hope Stark House continues to be known for reprinting the authors who deserve another shot in print. And I hope we continue to have the resources to keep books in print, as well as making them available as e-books. But in 20 years, who knows what new changes in the publishing business will have occurred.
To hear more about Stark House Press and from the contributors and editors of their latest publication, The Best of Manhunt, join us on BookPeople’s third floor on August 31st at 2PM for a paneled discussion headed by Crime Fiction coordinator Scott Montgomery. The talk will feature Jeff Vorzimmer, Rick Ollerman, Josh Stallings, Tim Bryant and Joe Lansdale.