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Fort Wayne horror writer David Russell finds a home in e-publishing
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
David Russell remembers very clearly the day he decided to get serious about being a writer.
A fan of the horror and sci-fi genres (he counts Stephen King, early Anne Rice, and Harlan Ellison among his favorites), Russell had written stories for as long as he could remember, but it wasn’t until he had graduated Wayne High school and found himself in the army that he realized that that was what he really wanted to do. “During Desert Storm, me and a bunch of guys in my unit were all sitting around talking about what we were going to do when we got out of the army,” he recalls. “For some reason, I just said if I survive this, I’m going to be a writer. If I can make it out of here, I’m going to do it.”
So when he got out of the army, Russell began the long process familiar to every fiction author looking for the big break — writing stories, honing his craft, and submitting his work to magazines that specialized in the horror/thriller genre. “I write weird tales,” Russell says of his apprenticeship. “Everything I write is out there and ridiculous. It could never happen. But when you write something like that, you still have to pull the reader in, you still have to make them care about who you’re writing about, and you have to make it believable. If you develop your characters and bring your reader along, you can make anything believable.”
He says he submitted hundreds of stories, and even got a few bites. A horror magazine based in California called Aberrations accepted one of his stories and sent him a contract, but that’s when Russell ran into one of the problems plaguing the fiction magazine market — the magazine folded before his story could appear. “The smaller ones come and go by the month,” Russell says. “You have to get lucky to find a publisher that’s actually going to make it.”
“Lucky” is the word for it. Once upon a time, there were dozens of small magazines publishing fiction, from mainstream “literary” work to genre fiction. But the rising cost of printing and distribution and the competition from other entertainment options has meant hard times for small presses. Even book publishers are reluctant to take many chances on work that might sell well in its particular field but probably won’t become a blockbuster best seller.
Russell began to look for other options, and eventually found a home with Eternal Press (www.eternalpress.com.au), an Australia-based e-publisher specializing in genre fiction. Two of his short stories (he writes under the name D.L. Russell) were accepted for an anthology called Paranormal Bedtime Stories, which was just released last month.
Founded by Julie D’Arcy and K. Celeste Bryan, two novelists in their own right, Eternal Press is part of a burgeoning industry of online publishing companies, letting readers download books and stories directly to their computer or hand-held device.
K. Celeste Bryan says that the demand for e-publishing comes from younger readers looking for an alternative to “the cookie-cutter template stories (offered by) New York mass market publishers.” Bryan says many of their customers read while commuting or traveling, and find an iPOD, say, a less bulky alternative to a typical print book.
“I think there will always be paperback books because many readers still like to hold a book in their hand,” Bryan says. “ But there are millions of young readers who could care less whether they hold the book or read it off a computer or hand-held.”
Of course, there’s the publishing industry factor, too. Due to smaller shelf space at the book stores and cuts in budgets to promote and market, it’s getting harder to get accepted by large publishing houses, and those places don’t want to take a chance on something unfamiliar. “E-books offer a viable opportunity to reach readers with less expense,” Bryan says. “It costs more to produce a print book than an e-book, and this savings is passed on to the reader. They seem to appreciate it.”
As far as submissions go, Bryan says that Eternal Press has the same standards as any print publisher — sentence structure, basic rules of writing, etc. But above all, they look for a compelling story. “Does the story click? Does it evoke emotion in a reader? Will the reader remember it long after they've put it down?”
Apparently, Russell had what they were looking for. Russell submitted a short story called “Dreams Still On You” for their anthology Paranormal Bedtime Stories. Within two weeks, he got a response, and a contract. His second story in the anthology, “Raymond Doesn’t Remember” was accepted shortly after that. “A lot of publications, you can wait six months or more to get a response,” Russell says. “Eternal Press has been very aggressive trying to get their company off the ground. And they’re very hands-on.”
And yes, Russell gets paid: it’s a small press contract, with royalties from sales, and while it may not put him in the same tax bracket as Stephen King or allow him to quit his regular job at Fort Wayne Foundry, it’s more rewarding than the token payment plus a few extra copies that the print magazines usually offer. Plus, he says, it gives him a chance at a worldwide readership, something print magazines can’t offer.
This month, Eternal Press is bringing out another work by Russell, a novella called Maxwell: the Last Vampire. The publishers asked their authors for a “fresh take” on a vampire story, and Russell happened to have written one earlier this year. Russell calls it an action adventure story where the Maxwell of the title is trying to outwit the other “creatures of the night” intent on killing him and ridding the world of vampires once and for all. “The big trend in vampire stories right now seems to be romance, and I didn’t want to write that,” Russell says, adding that he tried to create a more barren vampire myth for Maxwell. “The way I figure, vampires living for hundreds or thousands of years… it’s got to get old. Maxwell is really tired of being around.”
“To me, every horror writer should write their own version of a vampire story, or werewolf story, or whatever classic horror subject,” Russell continues. “That’s the basics of horror. Everything is tied into one of those, and most of it has been done to death to be honest with you. But if you can take that subject and put your own twist on it and come up with something new, readers will go for that.”
Russell is talking to Eternal Press about bringing out a collection of his short stories entitled That Ain’t No Chicken and other weird tales.
Paranormal Bedtime Stories and Maxwell: the Last Vampire are available now at www.eternalpress.com.au