James Sabata writes:
Doug Murano is the Bram Stoker Award-Nominated co-editor of the best-selling, critically acclaimed horror anthologies Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories and Shadows Over Main Street. An active member of the HWA, he was the co-recipient of the HWA’s 2014 Richard Laymon President’s Award for Service. His upcoming anthology Behold! Curiosities, Oddities, and Undefinable Wonders features some of the biggest names in horror and hits shelves July 28th.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Doug during Phoenix Comicon to discuss these books and how he keeps stacking his tables of contents with the hottest writers possible.
Bleeding Cool: One year ago, we sat here discussing your upcoming anthology Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories, which went on to be a big success in the horror world, becoming a Bram Stoker Nominee for Superior Achievement in an Anthology. Can you talk a little about the success of Gutted and what that validation means to you as an editor?
Doug Murano: First off, thank you for taking the time to interview me about my work. It’s great to catch up again. The past year has been wild, and I’m blown away by the positive reception Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories has received from critics, readers and my peers.
Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories was a real personal project, and (as with anything) you never know how people are going to react…especially to a book that might strike some as counterintuitive. That concept of “beautiful horror,” we knew what it meant to us, but we had no idea how our particular take on that would translate into a whole book of stories or how readers would respond or whether we were out of our minds to try it in the first place.
When the publisher puts enough faith in you to hand you a bag of money to put a book together, and the authors give you their best, at the very least, you hope they don’t immediately regret their decision. Sales were well beyond our expectations, which is great — but more than that, I can’t think of a better feeling (at least professionally) than to see readers engage in meaningful ways with our book.
We put our hearts into this thing, and tried to force readers to look at horror through a new lens. Watching that vision succeed has been a huge thrill and it has gone a long way toward helping me trust my professional instincts. That’s not to say everyone loved it, but those that didn’t like it seemed to REALLY HATE it, and I’ve always said that if I can’t make your day with one of my books, I’ll settle for ruining your day.
Beyond that, the book’s success has made it easier for me to make these anthologies. The word NO will always be a part of the process, but I hear it a lot less often these days. As an editor, the success of my vision depends upon people’s willingness to take chances on me and my crazy ideas. So, things keep getting a little easier, bit by bit.
BC: Each of your horror anthologies has been invitation-only, meaning there’s no slush pile to dig through to find the story you want. Can you give us some insight into how you pick the authors you’d like to work with? What are you looking for when you’re thinking about the contributors to your next anthology?
DM: I’ve been reading horror novels and short stories for the better part of my life, so right out of the gate, I had a pretty big bucket list in terms of authors I’d like to work with. You’ve seen some of those authors (Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman, and Ramsey Campbell, for example) already in my anthologies. Every time I start a project, I put my feelers out to a number of authors on that list. I’m hoping to get around to most of them before I drop dead, but these things take a lot of time and you never know how the books will shape up, and that’s part of the fun.
Aside from that, it’s important to stay current with who is doing what in the horror genre. I’ve enjoyed reading outstanding work from some who have made/are making waves, like Paul Tremblay, Josh Malerman, Mercedes Yardley, Michael Wehunt, Stephanie M. Wytovich, and Lucy A. Snyder and then going on to collaborate with them.
Also, thanks to my participation in the Horror Writers Association, and my past work as a jurist for the Bram Stoker Awards, I’ve been able to get a pretty broad sense of who’s doing exciting, innovative work right now. Do I have blind spots? Absolutely. But I’m always on the lookout for work that excites me, and I’m always willing to learn.
In a nutshell, my process cultivates stories from established names, authors who are hot right now, those who soon will be and a few I think ought to be. But the bottom line is always the story. The story absolutely has to work in the context of the project or it doesn’t make the table of contents, period — meaning a big list of talented invitees can only get you so far if the stories aren’t working. So it’s all about seeking out talent, building relationships with writers and hoping they deliver when they send their stories in.
I’ve been fortunate on all fronts thus far, and to a degree, I think that ‘s because I got started doing this right in the middle of a golden age for short horror fiction. There’s just so much incredible talent out there right now.
BC: Your next book, Behold! Oddities, Curiosities, and Undefinable Wonders, comes out on July 28th. The table of contents includes some of the hottest names in horror. What can we expect from this anthology?
DM: I’ll paraphrase something I said a friend of mine the other day, because I think it more or less captures the anthology’s essence. If Jim Henson‘s Creature Shop had a baby with Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, which was then raised by Guillermo del Toro and David Lynch, and the child grew up listening to Nick Cave, Neutral Milk Hotel and Tom Waits … you’d have something a lot like Behold! Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders.
In other words, the book is a strange beast. It’s not exclusively a horror anthology, though you’ll find there’s plenty of darkness and dread throughout the book — particularly in stories like Clive Barker’s Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament, Ramsey Campbell’s Fully Boarded, and John Langan’s Madame Painte: For Sale.
For readers who grew up in the 1980s (as I did), some tonal touch-points for much of the book are Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal — particularly in the Undefinable Wonders section. As mentioned above, when selecting stories, I also drew tonal influences from Guillermo del Toro’s filmography, especially his Spanish-language films like Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone. As in those films, there’s terror and darkness here, but there’s beauty, wonder, and magic as well. You’ll see that in pieces like Brian Hodge’s The Shiny Fruit of Our Tomorrows, Lisa Morton’s Larue’s Dime Museum and Christopher Coake’s Knitter.
When I made reference to Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, what I meant to say is I tried to draw in some comical, darkly surreal elements into the book — and fans of Pee-Wee know there is an unhinged edginess — even menace — there, just under the bright, colorful surface. Contributions from Lucy A. Snyder (Hazelnuts and Yummy Mummies), Brian Kirk (Wildflower, Cactus, Rose), and Neil Gaiman (Chivalry) highlight the aspect of the book I’m getting at here.
In short: The book is willfully bizarre, wide-ranging, and beautifully strange.
I can’t help but be me, so there are similarities that run through all the projects I’m involved with. That means fans of Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories ought to find lots to love in Behold! Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders.
BC: The book trailer for Behold! Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders is available here. How important is a good trailer to the marketing of your book?
DM: I hadn’t planned on doing one for Behold! Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders, but on a lark, I put together a very short mini-trailer for the book using a few of the brilliant illustrations Luke Spooner did for the book and the response was quite a bit beyond what I’d expected. The video earned significant traffic, so I decided to give a full-length trailer a shot and see what happens.
Doing so gave me an excuse to showcase much more of Luke’s art in one place (always a good thing … Luke is brilliant) and provided me with the chance to reach out to and work with the very talented Jesse Munson of Rainbow Danger Club, who offered to provide the gorgeous, haunting music you hear throughout the trailer.
We’ll have to wait and see with regard to results — it’s debuting here at Bleeding Cool, so we’ll know fairly soon — but at any rate, it was a lot of fun to put together, and I never consider collaborating with other artists to be a waste of time.
BC: How do you create the work/life balance that allows you to work on these creative projects while raising children, holding a full-time job, and living your daily life? Any tips you’d give people who say they can’t find the time?
DM: It has been difficult to balance everything. I fall asleep feeling like a failure more often than I’d like to, but I’d rather feel like a failure from time to time than to lose sleep every night wondering what it felt like to try.
Everyone has to do their own math when it comes to whether the effort is worth the outcome, but it’s hard for me to imagine a life without creative projects like these anthologies. It’s a compulsion…so I have trouble imagining a scenario where I didn’t make time for it. The better question for my circumstances might be how I keep it from taking over my life at the expense of everything else. Again, some days are better than others. It’s a constant struggle, and I’m guessing my way through a lot of it. I’m beginning to think that to be successful, you have to be okay with the feeling of guessing your way through things.
As for other tips…if you have a spouse or a long-term partner, it helps if they’re fully on board. My wife’s unwavering support and willingness to be my confidant and partner in all things has brought me through the hard times and has made the victories that much sweeter.
BC: What does the next year hold for Doug Murano?
DM: I’ll spend the next few months working to make sure Behold! Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders enjoys a strong launch. In the fall, my co-editor D. Alexander Ward and I will release Shadows Over Main Street Volume 2 with our partners at Cutting Block Books. This is the follow-up to our very first outing, the small-town Lovecraftian fiction anthology Shadows Over Main Street. We’re thrilled with how the book has turned out, including stories from Joyce Carol Oates, Damien Angelica Walters, Joe Lansdale, Gary Braunbeck, Michael Wehunt, and many more, with a foreword by Laird Barron.
I’m also working on something potentially huge for 2018, and I wish I could say something more about it but we’re not quite there yet. It’ll definitely mark a new phase in my career and the table of contents I’ve brought together makes my head spin, so I’m eager to move on it.
You can follow Doug Murano on Twitter @muranofiction.
If you want to keep up with Behold! Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders, head on over to www.facebook.com/beholdbook.
Fans of Lovecraftian fiction can follow www.facebook.com/shadowsovermainstreet.
Behold! Cover Art by: John Coulhart (www.johncoulthart.com)
Interior Artwork by: Luke Spooner (www.carrionhouse.com)