Valancourt Books' Ryan Cagle on Re-Releasing Classic and Modern Out of Print Horror Stories
Tuesdays are when new books are typically released, and horror fans usually don’t have too much trouble finding something to read. There is Amazon of course and publishers like Samhain and Cemetery Dance…
We also boast authors ranging from "The King" himself to Dan Simmons, Robert McCammon, the late Thomas Tryon, Tim Curran, Aussies Stephen Irwin, Brett McBean, and Aaron Dries as well as Brits such as David Moody, anthologist Stephen Jones, and Mark Morris, to name just a very few.
But what if you long for the paperback originals which seemed to flood bookstores back in the 80s or want to read even earlier horror that is long out of print? What to do? Well, you turn to Valancourt Books to assuage those yearnings. And we recently spoke with Ryan Cagle, one half of the publishing team that brings those long unavailable titles to life for readers to enjoy again, to learn more.
DC: Hello, Ryan, and thank you for taking time to interview with Dread Central. How did Valancourt Books first come into being? What is the publishing house’s philosophy regarding the kind of books it reprints?
Ryan Cagle: Hi, Elaine, and thank you so much for the interview! Valancourt Books was formed in 2005 when James [Jenkins], the head publisher, was interested in resurrecting some of the classic Gothic novels that were originally published from the 1790s to the 1830s. Most were only available in a couple of university rare book collections worldwide, sometimes only on microfilm. We decided that wasn't good enough and that these classic books needed to be available again for today's readers to enjoy them. We later moved into Victorian-era classics like Sheridan Le Fanu's lesbian vampire novel Carmilla and the works of writers like Bram Stoker and Richard Marsh. In late 2012, we decided to move into more modern fiction after discovering that there was a ton of classic 20th century fiction that, for one reason or another, was out of print and unavailable.
DC: What was the first title published by Valancourt, and how was it chosen?
RC: Our very first book was an anonymously written title called The Animated Skeleton, first published in 1798. It's a highly Gothic terror tale that takes place in the Dark Ages in France. The title is of course what jumped out at us the most. After reading it and doing some research, we knew this would be the perfect title to start with. The Animated Skeleton was a bestseller when originally published but shortly after fell into obscurity. Our edition was the first in over two centuries, and it really defines what Valancourt Books is passionate about doing.
DC: How large is your catalog, and how many titles do you publish a year?
RC: At this writing we have grown to 230 titles in print over the course of our 9-year history. Last year was our busiest ever with over 80 titles coming out. Although it's extremely exciting for us, we hope that this year we may get a chance to take a breath!
DC: What goes into how you choose the titles and authors you publish?
RC: Basically, we publish what we love. Sometimes it's a book we read a long time ago and can't believe it's gone out of print. Other times we get lucky and stumble upon a great title at a used bookstore or online. We also get a lot of great recommendations from fans and readers.
DC: You are a two-man operation – how did you come together and how do you manage to run a publishing house with just two people? Tell us a little about your partner.
RC: James is the head publisher and founder of Valancourt Books. We are married and have been together since 2003. We're very lucky to share the same passion for Gothic and horror literature and dusty old books in general. Running a two-person publishing house has probably been our biggest struggle. We have enough work for a large staff but try to keep the costs down as much as possible so we can continue cranking out affordable editions.
DC: What would you say is your percentage of horror titles, and what are some of the more “known” horror authors/titles you have “resurrected”?
RC: Well, it depends a lot on how you define “horror”! Most of our titles cross genre boundaries and may be mysteries or thrillers with horror elements or may be weird, supernatural, or occult tales that aren't terribly horrific. We also do a lot of Gothic fiction from the late 18th and early 19th centuries and classic Victorian penny dreadfuls and things like that. But at least half — or more — of our catalogue is definitely horror-related.
Probably the most famous authors and titles are some of the classics, like Ann Radcliffe and Bram Stoker, but we're really excited about some of the more modern authors we've helped to rediscover, like John Blackburn, Michael McDowell, Gerald Kersh, and Frank De Felitta.
DC: How do you get authors like Poppy Z. Brite and STEPHEN KING (I'm a huge fan) to write intros to your publications?
RC: When we're looking for someone to write an introduction, we usually try to find someone who has said they're a big fan of the novel. Sometimes well-known authors have written about a book that we're publishing, or they've said in an interview that it's one of their favorites. We've been very fortunate to have great horror authors like Poppy Z. Brite, Ramsey Campbell, and Kim Newman contribute introductions to some of our recent books, and of course, it was very generous of Stephen King to allow us to use his introduction for The Monk -- he's always been a great supporter of small presses. In general, we've been really excited about how supportive the community of horror authors has been for our series.
DC: Are you a horror fan, and if so, which titles have you been excited to reissue? And what are some of your favorite horror novels in general?
RC: I'm a major horror fan! I've been into horror films since I can remember. I was born in '83 so grew up during an amazing time for the horror community. I am still a devout fan of VHS. I also started reading horror literature here and there at a pretty early age. I remember getting into Frankenstein and The Turn of the Screw and things like that in elementary school. I obviously had no idea what the actual themes of the books were at that age, but they must have been foreshadowing my years to come! I also read a lot of Clive Barker, Poppy Z. Brite, and stuff like that in my teens. When we were able to get PZB to write an introduction for our edition of McDowell's The Amulet, it was one of the most exciting things to happen in my life! So hopefully that means we'll get to work with Barker in the future.
DC: What horror titles do you have upcoming?
RC: We have a lot of great horror stuff coming out soon. There's John Blackburn's 1960s pulp classic Children of the Night, about terrifying creatures who live underground and have the power to kill using mind control, and Michael McDowell's The Elementals, which many horror fans think is one of the scariest books ever written. We're also really excited about Michael Talbot's The Delicate Dependency, which came out in 1982 and has been long out of print but has a huge number of fans, some of whom call it the best vampire novel ever written. Our recent release of Frank De Felitta's The Entity (the basis for the classic Barbara Hershey movie) has been our most popular title over the past few months, and we're hoping to be able to offer some more of his soon.
DC: You were kind enough to send me a copy of the late Michael McDowell’s first novel, The Amulet. He is one of my favorite ‘80s paperback horror authors. Do you have plans to publish any more of McDowell’s books, especially his seminal 6-part series The Blackwater Saga?
RC: We would love to do his Blackwater series! At the moment we don't have any plans to republish it, but we do have another one of his fantastic titles, The Elementals, coming out this summer with an introduction by Michael Rowe, whose new novel Wild Fell has been getting rave reviews. But we'll definitely keep Blackwater in mind!
DC: Where can horror fiction fans find your titles?
RC: Our website is the best place to start (ValancourtBooks.com). Although we don't sell directly through our website, we have links to where they can be purchased. Most of our titles are available in paperback as well as Kindle. Valancourt Books is a big supporter of independent bookstores so we always encourage people to request our books through their local store first.
DC: Of your horror titles, which ones would you most recommend to genre fans?
RC: It's a hard question since I love all the ones we publish! But a couple of my recent favorites have been Jack Cady's The Well from 1980, a really unique and creepy story about a house that's possibly haunted by the devil, and M. G. Lewis' The Monk, one of the earliest Gothic horror novels (from 1796), about a monk who sells his soul to the devil in order to get his hands on a young woman. We were excited to republish the novel with an introduction by Stephen King and a number of rare illustrations from the early editions of the book.
DC: What other genre books does Valancourt publish? And how many titles do you publish a year? Is there a physical catalog fans could get their hands on?
RC: Most of our books are hard to fit within a single genre — many of them have elements of horror, fantasy, science fiction, mystery, or thriller — but we generally focus on horror/supernatural books, gay interest titles, and neglected literary classics. Within each of those categories we have 18th/19th century classics and modern titles. At the moment we're issuing about 75-85 new books each year, which is quite a bit for just the two of us! We don't have a printed catalogue, but we're working on a digital version, and in the meantime we constantly update our new releases on our website and Facebook page so be sure to follow us there!
DC: Is there anything you would like to add that I haven’t touched on?
RC: Valancourt Books has only been able to stay alive (undead?) the last 9 years because of our great fan base. We love interacting with our customers and hearing recommendations of what they would like to see return to print. Our Facebook page has become our forum so feel free to visit us there leave us comments or suggestions. We hope to continue doing this for a long time to come!
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