Mark S. Deniz is an English writer, editor and publisher born in Burnley and currently living in Norrköping, Sweden. In 2001 he made his debut as writer when his short story, “Welcome to the Machine”, was published in the anthology “A Life Worth Living” edited by Bernice Summerfield. In 2007 he edited his first anthology together with Sharyn Lilley, “In Bad Dreams”, published by Eneit Press. Also in 2007 Mark Deniz founded his own publishing house, Morrigan Books , and its imprint, Gilgamesh Press. At Morrigan Books Mark published his next two anthologies, “Voices” together with Amanda Pillar and “Dead Souls”, with a third one scheduled for release later this year (both reviewed on my blog, here and here), “The Phantom Queen Awakes” edited again together with Amanda Pillar.
Mihai (Dark Wolf): Mark, thank you for your amiability and the opportunity of this interview.
You have experience as a reviewer, author, editor and screenwriter. But how did your passion for reading and writing start? How about that for cinema?
Mark S. Deniz: Thank you, Mihai, always nice to talk to other people passionate about the industry!
When I was six or seven I got a collection ‘Tales of Mystery and Imagination’ by Edgar Allan Poe. I’m still not sure who this says more about, me or my mother (as she bought the collection), and I was hooked. I mean everything just jumped off the page and I first thought ‘I have to read more of this’ before later thinking ‘I have to write like this’. Thankfully I’ve been able to succeed with the first…
Cinema…well funnily enough that was around the same time, in the summer of ’77, when I was six, my mother (again to blame) took me to see ‘Star Wars’ and everything came together at once: the love of an exciting story, good and evil, film, literature, the lot!
Mihai (Dark Wolf): Why an attraction towards the speculative fiction? What attracts you the most at the dark fiction?
Mark S. Deniz: I don’t actually like speculative fiction as a term, I think all fiction is speculative and this aim to group the areas of science fiction, fantasy and horror lessens them in some way. I am primarily a horror writer (and reader) and many years ago realised that some of the best horror is not horror per se but comes under so many other genres, as an element of the story. When I sit down and think of some of the films that have scared me the most, I notice that they are classed as something else.
Dark fiction, good dark fiction looks right into the soul, it examines the darkest sides of humanity and what we are capable of. It shows us that we are not alone in some of the thoughts we have about others, or indeed ourselves and that hate, contempt, disgust and fear are as prevalent as love, compassion, hope and happiness.
Mihai (Dark Wolf): As I mentioned in the first question you have an experience as a reviewer, author, editor and screenwriter, but which one is the most pleasant for you? Does one of this have priority for you?
Mark S. Deniz: Oh good question, and one that is hard to answer. Of those four you mention I would say that writing is the one I hark back to most often and the one I am seriously missing at present, due to not having much time to write. The one that is the main priority just now, is actually publishing, as that is craving more and more of my time and I need to do so much with that to make sure that Morrigan Books is a success. It’s a very rewarding job just now but it takes so much time it is unreal!
M(DW): You’ve published a few short stories and worked with Eneit Press before starting your own publishing house, Morrigan Books. How did Morrigan Books come to life? What made you decide to start an own publishing house?
MD: Well, it was actually Eneit Press that was my first publishing house as I co-owned that one. How that came about is that I worked with another writer on a project to edit a trilogy of horror anthologies, ‘In Bad Dreams’ (taken from a God Machine song title). After being knocked back by a few publishing houses, we agreed that the book was too good to be left on the shelf and set up Eneit Press to publish it. Five honourable mentions in Ellen Datlow’s Best of last year proved we were right in our assumption.
Morrigan Books was started last February when it was clear that the two of us at Eneit Press had very different ideas about how a publishing house should be run. I was very keen to get a foothold in the market and planned three books for the first year. Due to in-house editor, Amanda Pillar, and her support we got off the ground with work for ‘Voices’. Later came Reece Notley, Tammy Moore and Jenn Moffat and Morrigan Books then meant business.
M(DW): You also founded another publishing house, Gilgamesh Press. Is it difficult to run two separate publishing houses?
MD: Well Gilgamesh Press is an imprint of Morrigan Books and is there to fulfil my desire to see Assyrian works in print. The idea with Gilgamesh Press differs a little from Morrigan Books and so the workload is nowhere near as intense.
M(DW): How do you feel that your publishing houses developed so far? What are your goals with Morrigan Books and Gilgamesh Press?
MD: Gilgamesh Press is awaiting its first two books next year and I’m very much looking forward to seeing them in print. It’s very much a grey area with the company as we have no books on sale just now, so it really is new and exciting there. Morrigan Books on the other hand is moving along at breakneck speed, we have five titles out already, with another due in a couple of months. We are scheduled up the end of 2010 with a further five books, meaning the catalogue will be up to eleven next Christmas. We are being noticed in the industry and stories and books are being nominated in all manner of awards. I think we could do so much more too if it wasn’t for time and money hindering us (which I am sure is the same for a lot of indie press outfits).
M(DW): You have a three years plan, with five titles already published and with the sixth on its way in the first two years. What should readers expect for the third year? What follows the initial three years plan?
MD: As mentioned the readers should expect another five books, which include: the sequel to T. A. Moore’s debut novel ‘The Even’, ‘Shadows Bloom’, Amanda Pillar’s debut science fiction dystopia, ‘The Fallen’, an Irish crime anthology, filled with well known writers and edited by Gerard Brennan and Mike Stone, and my two pet projects, two anthologies inspired by God Machine albums (you see a God Machine thread here), one containing only Australian writers and the other writers from other parts of the globe.
As to after the three years, that remains to be seen. My aim was to throw everything I had at the company, in terms of time and money and see where we were at the end of the three years. If we were doing well then I would continue and if we hadn’t achieved what I expected/hoped then I would review the company and where it stood. That will more than likely be looked at in more depth next summer.
M(DW): One of the Morrigan Books titles, Gary McMahon’s “How to Make Monsters”, was nominated for the British Fantasy Award. How do you think that the Morrigan Books titles have been received so far? Are the award nominations a goal for Morrigan Books?
MD: Well I’d be happy to win a few too ;) I think it helps a publishing company as it gets them noticed. It’s also good for getting the writers noticed and seeing as one of our goals is getting new, exciting talent noticed (like Gary) then it works out well for all involved.
I think we’re being noticed, I mean we receive ten or fifteen queries a week from people wanting to be published by us to the point where I’ve had to close all the query e-mails from further people submitting.
I talked to several people at Fantasy Con in Nottingham in September, who had never met me before but knew all about Morrigan Books and what we were up to and I think getting names like Katharine Kerr, Elaine Cunningham, Ramsey Campbell, Anya Bast, C. E. Murphy, Robert Hood, Gary McMahon and Kaaron Warren writing for us can’t hurt either.
M(DW): At Morrigan Books you published two anthologies edited by you, “Voices” and “Dead Souls”, and a third due to be published, “The Phantom Queen Awakes”. How does an anthology start? What steps takes such a project from the initial idea until the final collection of short stories?
MD: Well ‘Voices’ and ‘The Phantom Queen Awakes’ have both been co-edited by myself and Amanda Pillar and so they have been different animals than ‘Dead Souls’, which is my first solo edit. How they start is dependent on how you wish to get the stories for them. There seems to be mainly three ways to get the stories for the books: one is an open call submission, in which you advertise the anthology everywhere you can and then read all the stories that come in and decide which are going to be accepted for the anthology. The second is closed call submission, where you invite a selection of authors to submit and then pick those you prefer to feature in the anthology. The final and more exclusive is commission based, where you choose the amount of authors you wish to have in the book and then hire them to write a story for it, before they have even written the first word.
‘Voices’ was completely open call, ‘The Phantom Queen’ was mainly open call, but with commissions for: Anya Bast, Elaine Cunningham, Katharine Kerr and C. E. Murphy, due to different members of the Morrigan Books team wanting to see their work with us. ‘Dead Souls’ was actually a mix of open call and closed call, giving us the chance to get some exciting new talent as well as seeing the Morrigan Books’ faithful in action too.
There are several steps involved, as first we have to read the stories and select which we want. We then have to edit those we have selected and make sure that while the writer keeps their own voice, that they fit in with the other stories and feel like they belong in the anthology. We then have to come up with a track listing (as I call it) and as someone who has done music compilations for friends all my life, I love this bit, deciding which story should start, what should be in the middle, how do we conclude, should we have section breaks, etc.
It is then down to proofreaders to spot our deliberate mistakes before we get ready for typesetting and eventual printing.
M(DW): How difficult is it to edit an anthology? How many submissions does an editor read for anthologies such as yours?
MD: It varies, ‘Voices’ was a dream, due to a few factors: Amanda’s desire and commitment to get the best product out there, the fact that it was a very manageable book and the fact that we were very much on a wavelength with the whole scheme, sections, editing, etc.
‘Dead Souls’ was much, much tougher. I was doing the whole thing on my own and it made me realise how hard that is. It’s by far the biggest book we have done, with 24 stories, some needing hardly any work at all and some needing extensive edits.
‘Voices’ had about 140 submissions I think, whereas ‘The Phantom Queen Awakes’ was nearer 240. I think if we were to advertise one now we’d be looking at around 400, depending on the theme/subject.
M(DW): What qualities do you look for when it comes to the submitted short stories? Are these qualities the same with those for the longer fiction?
MD: There are different things we look for but ultimately my two musts are an engaging story that is written well. There are so many stories out there that are one or the other yet not both and I feel both are essential. I am slightly different to the rest of the team here at Morrigan Books in that I would take well written over decent story, before the opposite. I mean badly written or passably written just doesn’t cut the mustard does it?
For me the first is a standard in writing whereas the second is extremely subjective. The comments and reviews we have received for our books confirms that.
Longer fiction is a whole other world when it comes to selection. The stories are built up in a very different manner. However the principal mentioned above is the same.
M(DW): In your latest anthology, “Dead Souls”, you have some reprinted stories and some original ones. With which one is it easier to work, with the reprinted ones or with the original ones?
MD: Reprints are, on the whole, much easier. I mean the story has already been published somewhere and so the editing of those is not too arduous. Also you’re usually taking a story you know and may already have an idea of how that could be tweaked to just take it up a notch. This is the first time I’ve worked with reprints and all of the stories were relatively painless.
On the other hand, if the original story is pretty much done, then you have as little to do with that as with a reprint. Gary McMahon’s ‘A Shade of Yellow’ was a prime example of this, as there was practically no editing required (save for a few typos) and the proofreaders found nothing amiss either.
M(DW): Did your experience as an editor improved with each collection of stories edited? Do you feel that you have more to learn about anthologies?
MD: It would be easy to say yes but it’s been a very different kettle of fish for each book and I have definitely learned a lot with each. Working with a co-editor and solo are two completely different worlds and they help to shape how I am as an editor. There are a lot of editors I would love to work with: Gary McMahon, Pete Kempshall, Ellen Datlow, Stephen Jones, Pete Allen, Robert Hood, Cat Sparks, Ian Whates, etc. and I would work with Amanda Pillar again in a shot, as I feel we are a perfect partnership when it comes to many aspects in the editing process. Yet, I loved the challenge of working on my own and am very excited about doing that again soon with the Ishtar book (no title as yet).
I have a lot more to learn about anthologies and about editing. I mean, I’m aiming to be as successful and well known as Datlow and Jones in the next twenty years or so and for that I need to learn a lot more, a hell of a lot more. Every book is a step in the right direction, even if it isn’t as acclaimed as a previous one, it has still taught me something valuable, something I need to learn to progress and improve.
M(DW): Does the editing experience help you improve as a writer? Do you think that an editor should avoid including his own stories in his anthologies?
MD: At the moment I have been feeling the opposite, which has scared me. I mean I can’t just sit down and write now, as I’m constantly analyzing what I do, making the whole creative flow that much more difficult. I’m thinking this will change with time though, as I remember when first read for pleasure after becoming an editor that that was a real grind too. However, now, only a year or so later I find reading for pleasure just as it was before.
I’ve just started working on a collaborative novel with somewhat heroine of mine, Carole Johnstone, and I’m hoping that can give me the kick I need to get writing again.
As to an editor having their own stories in an anthology, I think that is totally OK, as long as there is someone else to edit. Take ‘Grants Pass’, both Jennifer Brozek and Amanda Pillar have stories in the book. However, Jennifer and I edited Amanda’s and Amanda and I edited Jennifer’s. I have a story in ‘In Bad Dreams’, as originally I was a co-editor and so this was similar to the ones I have just mentioned. When we decided to publish that I feel I should have pulled the story then, as it was then into the realms of self publishing, which I am not as fond of. I mean if you are the publisher, editor and writer then where is the stop sign? I am a writer trying to make my way in the jungle of literature but Morrigan Books is not a vehicle to assist in that goal. This is why I removed my short ‘Russian Roulette’ from ‘Grants Pass’, as Jennifer had taken the story before Morrigan Books took the anthology.
M(DW): At what are you working now and what future plans do you have, as writer and as editor?
MD: Now, I’m co-editing the international version of ‘Scenes from the Second Storey’, an anthology inspired by the album of the same name by the band the God Machine. This is one of my all time favourite albums and has inspired so much of my work. The international version is to be a 40th birthday present to myself and will be launched on my 40th birthday next year. This will be co-edited by first time editor, Greg Ballam.
I’m also co-editing the first of the Gilgamesh Press anthologies, ‘In the Footsteps of Gilgamesh’, an anthology based on the old stories from Mesopotamia but given a science fiction, horror or fantasy edge. I’m working on this one with my sister-in-law, Berolin Deniz, who is making waves of her own in the area of gender literature in Sweden.
Then comes my next solo project, three novellas about the goddess Ishtar (also from Gilgamesh Press) and these will be written by Australian heavyweights: Deborah Biancotti, Cat Sparks and Kaaron Warren, three authors I adore and three I am very much looking to working with (again)!
As a writer I am working on a post-apocalyptic novel with Carole Johnstone, (mentioned above) which is an examination of free will, choices, sacrifice and love (all written in journal form).
And then it’s just the usual run of the mill publishing duties, which take up around 80 hours of my working week. ;)
Thank you very much for your time and answers.
Thank you for the very interesting and thought-provoking questions!