Petaluma publisher discusses the fine ‘art’ of selling horror fiction
If writer-publisher Ross Lockhart knows anything, it’s how to get people’s attention.
Scaring people, at least a little, often helps.
“I’ve been doing these little Facebook Live videos - which I sometimes upload to YouTube - with me reading short stories from different authors I like,” says Lockhart, founder of Word Horde Books, a Petaluma-based “boutique” publishing company specializing in books of horror, science fiction, and dark fantasy. Through the Word Horde Facebook page, which currently boasts over 1500 “likes,” Lockhart does routinely keep his fans engaged by posting video of himself reading aloud from scary stories - or any other written works that catch his fancy.
Recently, he treated watchers to a performance of “Against Granting the King a Trial,” a political speech given in 1792 by the French politician and orator Maximilien Francois Marie Isadore de Robespierre.
“Sometimes I get a little extra-enthusiastic about something I’m reading,” he admits, recalling the Robespierre performance in particular, “and I’ll hear myself saying, ‘This is fun! This is exciting! This is neat!’ Later, when I look back on it, I sometimes think, ‘Wow! I’ve been reading this bitter, messed-up, French decadence as ‘Fun,’ but it’s actually a pretty grotesque piece of work. Yes, I had fun reading it, but …”
Lockhart began his publishing career as a writer, though as the owner of his own book publishing label, he’s yet to publish any of his own horror fiction through Word Horde.
“Yeah, that would be cheesy,” he says.
Lockhart’s knowledge of publishing became heightened during his tenure as editor with an East Bay publishing house which also specialized in scary fiction. There, he edited two best-selling collections of stories inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft: “The Book of Cthulhu” and “The Book of Cthulhu 2.” Eventually, he struck off on his own, and soon afterwards founded Word Horde, the company’s name taken from the epic Norse poem “Beowulf.” His first release was “Tales of Jack the Ripper,” and anthology of eerie, unsettling, sometimes funny tales about history’s most famous and mysterious serial killer.
Fueled by the whole Jack/Ripper notoriety, the book caught the attention of reviewers, and garnered a surprising amount of attention for an inaugural release by a brand new company. Instantly, Word Horde was on the map, having earned a still-expanding reputation as a publisher with a strong knack for identifying up-and-coming horror and science fiction writers.
Lockhart works hard to balance his releases between work by male and female writers.
“Some of the best writing in this genre is being done by women,” Lockhart says. “It would be stupid to ignore that.”
Last year, the Word Horde release “The Fisherman,” by John Langan, received stellar reviews, and ultimately won the Bram Stoker prize, among the most esteemed awards going for horror fiction. Clearly, Lockhart is doing something right.
Asked what the appeal is in reading, writing and publishing scary stories, Lockhart can’t avoid using the metaphor of a theme park ride. Taking a spin on a rollercoaster is obviously fun, but technically, it really shouldn’t be. You are subjected to forces out bodies were not designed for, spun through the air in ways we spend the rest of our lives trying to avoid. If someone used a time machine to snatch a Puritan out of the 1600s, and strapped them into a ride at the Sonoma County fair, the poor person would probably be driven insane by the time ride was over.
“But as modern humans, we’ll line up for a rollercoaster anyway,” Lockhart says. “We face the fear, and we enjoy the experience. I like that about us. We’re drawn to darkness. We’re drawn to weirdness. We’re drawn to ‘over-the-topness,’ excitement, thrills, chills and adventure. We are drawn to it to the point where we actually recreate those feelings in little fun house experiences, in movies, and in books.”
Currently, Worde Horde is releasing five new books a year.
“Generally, I do two novels, two collections, and an anthology,” Lockhart says. “Right at this moment, I’m three books into a five-book year. I just put out Tony McMillen’s “An Augmented Fourth,” which is basically Black Sabbath meets “The Thing.’ Talk about rollercoasters. It’s a ton of fun. A wild ride, and I’m really happy to be putting this out into the world.”
Prior to that, Lockhart released Kristi DeMeester’s mystery-horror novel “Beneath,” about an Appalachian snake-handling cult. He started out the year with Kristine Morgan’s “The Raven’s Table,” a collection of stories about Vikings.