The next few interviews to be posted here were not conducted by myself, but rather by another Admin at wotmania, Kory. Before his tragic and untimely death in April 2003, Kory contacted several of his favorite authors and conducted interviews and Q&As with them for wotmania's Other Fantasy section. This one with Barry Hoffman of Gauntlet Press was his first.Hello Barry. Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. I know you have just moved your entire operation to Colorado from Pennsylvania this past month and have a lot of work ahead of you getting settled in. So, between your unpacking and granddaughter hugs, I’ll throw a few questions at you and get out of your way.
1 ) Gauntlet Press seems to be a dream come true; an amalgamation of topical expression through the magazine, appreciation of the art of the book through publishing, and storytelling through your own writing. Can you give us a brief chronology of how you came to have such a wonderful set of outlets at your disposal?
It all started when I was two. No, seriously, I trace the beginnings of Gauntlet with my own writing. I’d written a decent number of short stories and had several accepted by Cemetery Dance and other lesser known magazines. So, I knew I had some talent. But it was frustrating waiting six months to find out if a story would be accepted and then a year for it to appear, if it was published at all. I KNEW I could do as good a job or better. When I was relieved of my duties of writing/producing/directing plays at the school I taught at (the reason is below) I had a lot of time on my hands. Because I had been censored (see below) I decided to publish a magazine devoted to censorship. My main contacts were in the horror field so I relied on them for issue #1. When Ray Bradbury allowed me to publish his afterword to FAHRENHEIT 451 I had the credibility I needed. Other authors came aboard since Bradbury had confidence in what I was attempting. We published one issue a year for 3 years, then two a year after (to be more topical). After I’d published the magazine for a year I became interested in signed limited editions. I’d collected books from other publishers for years and knew I could do as good a job as they could. I was shocked to find that Bob Bloch’s PSYCHO had never been released as a signed limited. When he passed away after seeing the galley, but before the book was published, it made me realize that there were a number of contemporary authors who were getting on in years. Upon doing some research I found that both Matheson and Bradbury had a slew of books that had never been released as signed limiteds. So, the focus at the beginning was on books that had already been published by extraordinary authors, but given a special treatment so they became definitive editions not just signed limited reprints. Later we began to publish new material by both well-known authors (F. Paul Wilson and Poppy Z. Brite for example) and authors who had never been published before (Mick Garris). And now we’re focusing on publishing previously unpublished material by Matheson and Bradbury to enhance their legacy. As for my own writing, signed limiteds of three of my books have been published but ONLY when I also had a mass market paperback deal in place.
2 ) Your magazine deals with the heated topic of censorship. Is there something in your past that triggered this long lasting quest to bring the detrimental effects of censorship out into the light?
I taught for 28 years and in the eighties I wrote a play each year which my students would perform. I’d write the play on a current topic (running away, graffiti, being a loner, the homeless), hire a professional composer to set my 5th-8th grade students poems to music and a choreographer to teach the kids dances. It took an enormous amount of time as I was producer/writer/director/fund-raiser/ticket seller/head of promotions . . . and I could go on. I did this with no pay. The last play dealt with teen runaways. The head of the local PTA (who had endorsed and worked on our play dealing with the homeless) felt the play might encourage kids to run away, even though running away wasn’t glorified. Her child wasn’t in the play and parents of 60 kids in the play had seen the script and the songs and not one had a complaint. But this particular woman had the ear of the principal and he line-edited the play. He felt one character, who was in fact based on a white custodian, talked “too black” and demanded the grammar be changed. He made numerous other ludicrous changes. Then after the play went off without a hitch and to critical acclaim he didn’t invite me to write a play for the following year. So, I saw firsthand how one person (just as special interest groups) could adversely impact and in fact cause censorship of my work. Thus was born Gauntlet magazine.
3 ) Your publishing arm of the company works with many renowned authors and others who are on the rise or under-appreciated by the mainstream. How do you go about choosing which authors you pursue for the company?
First, as I explained before, after the untimely demise of Bob Bloch I was determined to publish as many of the classic contemporary authors as possible. Matheson and Bradbury have become Gauntlet staples. I liked the work of Nancy A. Collins so a short story collection of hers became our first book. I’d always been an avid fan of F. Paul Wilson and had written to him about publishing a collection of Repairman Jack stories. When he decided to write novels for the character instead that led to our publishing to date 4 Repairman Jack books and we are contracted for at least two more. Basically I publish authors whose work I like. I also want to work with authors who aren’t pains in the ass. That’s why you’ll never see a Gauntlet book by one major sci fi author whose name I won’t mention. There’s not a lot of money to be made in specialty press publishing, so why should I be driven to distraction by difficult authors when there are so many fine authors who are also gentleman (or ladies) like Matheson, Bradbury, Barker, F. Paul Wilson, Jack Ketchum and Poppy Z. Brite to name just a few? And to be honest this is a business. Some authors are wonderful writers but for some reason they are not collectible. So I have to take that into account as well.
4 ) How cool are Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson? They, along with others like Clive Barker, Peter Straub, Robert Bloch and William Peter Blatty, must be a thrill to work with on a regular basis.
I can’t say enough about Matheson and Bradbury (not that the others haven’t been wonderful to work with). I loved working with Bob Bloch, the ultimate gentleman and professional, but unfortunately I was able to work with him for only one book. My relationship with Matheson has really changed over the years. At first he was reluctant to have his books published as signed limiteds. Now, he asks if I want to see something that was unpublished. And both ABU AND THE 7 MARVELS, a young adult book, and COME FYGURES, COME SHADOWES which we’re publishing in March are wonderful reads. He’s also provided screenplays I salivate over that we’ll be publishing. He just a wonder. He’s very sensitive to the needs and feelings of others. And what can you say about Bradbury. He (along with Matheson) has been an influence on me as an author, so to publish Bradbury is an honor. When we publish one of his books it’s guaranteed I’ll get a call telling me what a wonderful job we did. That’s the kind of person he is. And now because he has so much on his plate and so many tipsheets to sign my son has gone over to his house twice to help him with signature sheets. I’m envious. Ray and my son chat for an hour or two while he signs and his wife Maggie is also wonderful. I still feel nervous when I speak to either. I admit it freely. They had so much influence on me I just talk gibberish when I talk to them. It’s gotten better over the years, but I’m still awed by them. Jack Ketchum and Richard Christian Matheson are also wonderful to work with. I’ve become good friends with both (and while I love their work, I’m not awed by them as I am with Matheson Sr. and Bradbury. Maybe it’s because we’re closer in age). These are not only tremendously talented writers but good people.
5 ) A term I have heard used for some of your other authors is “mid-list”. Can you elaborate on this term?
There are an awful lot of jealous people out there who like to post on chatrooms but won’t confront me personally. Personally, I avoid such forums like the plague and feel most of what is posted is gibberish. I don’t see Matheson nor Bradbury being considered mid-list authors. They may not crack the bestseller lists but they are literary legends. I think the term “mid-list” is a demeaning one. You have your superstars who sell millions of books. King, Koontz and Barker, for instance. And then in horror you have ALL the other writers. There are some who are more successful than others, but I find the term meaningless as regards publishing and writing. It simply means their books are not bestsellers.
6 ) I have read, enjoyed and collect the works of many of these authors, but wonder if you believe they are going to break into the mass market someday or are they unwilling to sacrifice their art for mass public acceptance?
Just who are you talking about here? Poppy Z. Brite does not write for the masses. I don’t think she will ever write a book just to elevate herself to best-seller status. All of the authors we’ve published have broken into the mass market, including Poppy. There’s a difference between being published by mass market publishers and becoming a best-selling author. F. Paul Wilson’s Repairman Jack books are gaining in popularity with each book and a film may be made of THE TOMB where Repairman Jack was first introduced. But he hasn’t sacrificed anything (there are writers who have, but I’m not about to get into names. It serves no constructive purpose). F. Paul Wilson hasn’t sacrificed his art. He’s just found a character that has captured the attention of a growing number of people. Because of the violence in the work of Jack Ketchum he probably won’t become a best-seller. But he’s only interested in writing the best book possible. He’s not going to sacrifice his voice for greater acceptance by the public. I lose respect for those who do that. There are some writers who try to anticipate the next “big” thing or authors who trot out a book soon after an event book has captured the public’s attention. That happened with JAWS. After that there were any number of books dealing with killer sea monsters. Most were crap, simply put.
7 ) The books you publish are limited edition, which allows a number of extras to be added to the book. What do you feel the future of the printed book is? Will there always be enough people who appreciate the beauty of a quality book around to justify the continued creation of them, or are we heading towards a more disposable and / or electronic time.
There will always be a demand for the printed book, especially those like ours which are definitive editions of the book and not just a reprint (the classic-revisited series). When we published DARK CARNIVAL we added so much that I believe it will become as sought after years from now as the original. And there are many books that mass market publishers won’t touch. They’re not going to become e-books. They’ll continue to be published by the specialty press. Short story collections in particular will continue to be frowned upon by mass market publishers and are best served by the specialty press . . . in printed form. A few years ago there was this hue and cry that printed books were on their way out. But e-books haven’t caught on as anticipated. Even King abandoned an e-book novel. It wasn’t due to poor sales, but he sold far fewer copies of THE PLANT than his printed books. So, I’m not worried.
8 ) Your own books seem to deal with women, particularly women who have suffered and gain strength to regain control of their life. Is there an event or person in your life that drives these storylines?
No, my focus on women as both the protagonist and often the antagonist is due to my career as a teacher. I taught 5th and 6th graders for the most part. At that age the girls have widely divergent personalities and are very open about their feelings. Boys are more like unmolded lumps of clay. It’s not until 8th grade that their shape takes form. So, over a period of 28 years I came into contact with an enormous number of female students who supplied me with a vast amount of material to base my characters upon (not to mention their parents and grandparents). When I began writing my novels it just seemed natural for my protagonist (and in my first four books antagonists) to be female. I have several as yet unpublished novels with male antagonists. And I’ve also written a young adult novel with a female protagonist. I think that’s important because girls 12-16 and older need role models. Too many books for young people featuring female leads have heroines who are bland and one-dimensional. My female lead in CURSE OF THE SHAMRA is like the females in my adult books – wonderfully flawed and intricate characters who evolve and grow over the course of the book.
9 ) Your books also have supernatural influences. Is this something you feel is out there in real life?
I do believe there are people who can read other’s minds. Since just something like 10% of the human brain is utilized there must be some people who have portions of the other 90% of their brain operating. It may give them more insight than the rest of us. It may allow them to read other’s minds. It may allow them to know whether someone is telling the truth. So, to that extent I believe in the supernatural. But ghosts, werewolves and vampires I find hard to believe and I don’t write about them. In my EYES books there is a supernatural forest than can heal, but also demands a price. It’s a living entity in and of itself. The forest itself has an intelligence. This comes purely from my addled mind and I don’t believe there is such a forest. I think most psychics are frauds, but as I said before I do believe that some people may have tapped into parts of their brain the rest of us have not, so I do believe there are true psychics.
10 ) There is a growing number of fantasy and sci-fi writers outside the English-speaking world. Are there any plans to publish any English-language translations of their works?
Gauntlet is able to produce definitive works and work directly with the author because we take on only 4-5 projects a week. We're not interested in quantity. We'd rather work on our 4-5 books and do them right. Personally, I foresee a large number of obstacles in translating a book in a foreign language to English and publishing it through Gauntlet. The tranlations itself would be expensive. And, I've read in any number of places that if a book is not translated properly it can lead to embarrassing and neausating results. At the moment, it's just not something we'd feel comfortable doing. We also don't publish non-fiction titles. We don't publish sci fi or mystery. It's not that we have anything against any of them. I enjoy all forms of literature and I would love to publish a sci fi or mystery title. But each of them (as well as foreign translations) is totally out of the realm of what we now publish. We don't have the staff nor the time to adequately research venues for these books. In 2002 we published our first young adults book (ABU AND THE 7 MARVELS by Richard Matheson). We did this solely because we believe so strongly in Matheson. But, I gotta be honest with you, the amount of time we had to put into researching this market was incredible -- so time-consuming it woke me up what it takes publishing out of the genre I am most familiar with. There are any number of sci fi and mystery specialty presses, yet we seldom cross paths. Some authors I was interested in had already been published by a sci fi or mystery specialty press I never heard of. And when I queried someone who knew the mystery collector's market I was surprised that of two authors whose styles are quite similar, one author did quite well in the collectible field and the other fared terribly. Why? I have no idea. To maintain our standards at this point in time I have no desire to spend the time necessary to do the research needed to get into foreign translations . . . nor the other genres I mentioned.
11 ) Conversely, would you have any interest in books that you have published being translated into a foreign language?
Since the great majority of our books are signed limited editions, the very nature of the book wouldn't allow us to print the book in another language. What would have to occur (and I've been queried about this before) is a foreign publisher would contact the author or agent for the author to obtain foreign rights to the book. That book wouldn't be a limited edition, but could be made available in any number of languages. I know Jack Ketchum has had good luck in Japan. But the bottom line is Gauntlet could not undertake such a project because it goes against the very nature of a SIGNED LIMITED edition.
12 ) Finally, how much reading outside of your own authors are you able to find time for and are there any other authors out there that you would encourage our members to check out?
Unfortunately, lately I’ve found less and less time for what I’d call recreational reading. Gauntlet, my own writing and now that I’ve moved, time with my granddaughter fill my days. I have a stack of books I want to read but seldom get a chance to. I think George Pelecanos is going to strike it big. He writes somewhat similar to what I write, without the supernatural twist. He’s this white dude whose main characters are black males. I’m white and many of my lead characters are black females. I love David Morrell. He’s another writer who is also a true gentleman. Donald Westlake is the only author of fiction who makes me laugh out loud when I read his books (and those under the name of Richard Stark are darker, but just as worthy of attention). One guilty pleasure was Dick Francis who churned out a book a year. It was rumored that he co-wrote them with his wife. His wife died two years ago and there hasn’t been a Dick Francis book since. I enjoy betting on horses which is how I got caught up on Dick Francis, a former jockey. I’ve fallen behind on my Koontz and King, but will get back to them at some time. I’ve enjoyed John Sandford and Michael Connelley but haven’t had a chance to read their books lately. I used to like books by Andrew Vachss, but I think he’s slipped lately. I wish I had more time for reading for pleasure, but sad to say my days are more than filled.
Thank you for your time Barry, I sincerely appreciate it. Good luck with settling in and give your granddaughter a hug for me.
My granddaughter and I have already bonded. I spend time with her everyday and it’s going to be wonderful seeing her grow up close and personal. I’ve written 9 short stories based on CURSE OF THE SHAMRA and each year I give Tyler one on her birthday. I won’t wait until she’s nine to read them all. I think as parents with so many responsibilities (like paying the rent) we tend to take for granted the little changes that occur with our children. Now that I’m my own boss and if I don’t want to work one day I don’t have to I think I’m getting a hell of a lot more out of my daily contact with my granddaughter.