We’re re-posting this interview, since Halloween is almost upon us, and Valancourt has a few exciting new releases, which you’ll find at the bottom of this post!
About a year ago a Goodreads friend messaged me to let me know about Valancourt Books. I remember discovering that they had recently published “The Amulet” by Michael McDowell and how excited I was since I had been searching for the book for two years. A few months later and I saw that they were on Goodreads and a wonderful relationship was born. Let me tell you what they do.
Valancourt brings books back from the dead and they do it out of love. Books that are out of print, books that are otherwise only available in special collections, and books that are hideously expensive that no one can afford. How great is that? Valancourt’s specialties are:
I’m most familiar with their horror and supernatural lines and today we’ll focus on that, the company itself, and the gentlemen behind it.
HAD: How did Valancourt get started? Ryan: In late 2004 while James was working on research for school, he realized the vast majority of Gothic literature was unavailable to the general public and even most academics. Titles by some of the most popular novelists of the 1790s were only known to exist in one or two libraries worldwide. If you wanted to see a book, you had to travel and spend a large amount of time in a research library in the special collections department. At the time, only one or two publishers were bringing some of these titles back; however, they were released in very costly limited editions. Not being able to afford to spend hundreds of dollars on a copy of a book, we set out to make these available again in trade paperbacks priced for the general public. With the exception of a handful of hardback copies (still very reasonably priced), we’ve remained loyal to our mission. In the last three years we started including much more recent fiction that has fallen out-of-print.
HAD: How did you and James meet? Ryan: I’d like to say our meeting was something more romantic, like a foggy churchyard at night, but in fact, we met at a bookstore in downtown Minneapolis. James was attending school at the University of Minnesota and God only knows what I was doing in Minneapolis. I had moved there on a whim from the dark swamps of Louisiana. We began dating shortly after we met and we’ve been together ever since. From there we moved to Seattle, where Valancourt Books was born, and we’ve relocated the company to Chicago and then Kansas City. Now we’re happy to call Richmond, Virginia home.
HAD: How does Valancourt go about selecting the books it wants to publish? Ryan: We’re very selective with what we publish. Since it’s just the two of us and there’s not enough hours in the day, there’s no reason to take on books we don’t love. It also helps build confidence with our fans because they know they can always find treasures on our website.
We find books all over the place: our own bookshelves, recommendations from friends, thrift stores, under the couch! Since we’ve been diving into more and more ’70s and ’80s horror, these are books we’ve been fond of for a while so it’s pretty cool for us to get to bring them back into print. Most of the other titles are ones we’ve come across online or in articles so we look into them further.
We receive a lot of recommendations on our website, too. I mean a lot. I personally look into every request. As long as I can get a copy of the book, I’m happy to check it out and see if it’s something that I think will fit in our catalogue. A few of our bestselling titles started out at recommendations by people who follow us.
HAD: It seems that Valancourt must be more than just you two? Judging from the size of your catalogue, there HAS to be more than two people! Ryan: If you count my personalities then we have a pretty large team! People are often surprised that it’s just the two of us behind all of this, but it is. We work very hard and do (almost) everything ourselves. The only thing we really look for outside the company besides the introductions, of course, is the cover art for our twentieth century titles. We’ve worked with a few people in the past but for the last year and a half the majority of our covers come from an amazing artist named Mike Corley.
I think it helps build trust and relationships knowing that we’re real people and have knowledge and love for the books we publish. We’re down-to-earth and like the interaction we have with our fans.
HAD: Once a book is selected, what does the process look like as far as bringing that book back? Ryan: Once we can track down the estate and manage to get an agent or publisher to respond (that’s another conversation!), we’ll put an offer in. From there we look into who we’d think would be good to introduce that particular book and contact them.
HAD: Do you have some books that you are interested in bringing back, but for whatever reason, you cannot? Ryan: Hell, yes! There are many books out there that aren’t just out-of-print because no one is interested in bringing them back, but there’s an issue with obtaining the copyright. In some instances, an author may have died and we can’t locate their children/grandchildren (assuming they had any). We’ve even had instances where the family members are embarrassed by the book so they don’t want to see it return to print.
In other cases the original publishing company might technically own the copyright but as decades went by and the publishing company was sold, the original paperwork can no longer be found. In that case, the book is in Limbo until further notice. To give you an example, one of the titles we were looking at recently was originally published by Franklin Watts. Taking a quick look at their Wikipedia page will give you an idea how many times Franklin Watts was sold and how many places you need to contact trying to get information. I can promise you none of the current operators have the slightest clue where the paperwork is.
HAD: I notice that the new introductions to these works are often written by authors like Michael Rowe and Poppy Z. Brite, and I’ve also noticed that Mark Valentine has written a number of them. How did that relationship with Mark evolve? Ryan: As far as the Mark Valentine question, (glad you asked!), either we contacted Mark Valentine or he contacted us (I honestly don’t remember!) about a Victorian title, Earl Lavender (1895) by John Davidson, way back in 2007. He ended up contributing the introduction for our edition. From there, we’ve stayed in touch with him communicating back and forth about titles we were interested in and a relationship formed from there. He’s a super nice guy and so knowledgeable about some pretty obscure works. He also does a lot of amazing work with Tartarus Press and the Wormwood journal. He’s worked with us a lot and has introduced 11 titles so far. And we have a few more in the works. He’s become a really great friend of Valancourt Books.
HAD: Is there a favorite author amongst those books that Valancourt has published?( I would love to have an answer from the both of you on this one.)
Ryan: I can narrow it down to two authors. The late Michael McDowell, whose The Amulet and The Elementals we’ve brought back, has become on of my favorite authors of all time. Stephen King dubbed him “the finest writer of paperback originals in America today” for a reason. The other, without question, is Stephen Gregory. We’ve republished The Cormorant in 2013, which is one of the top books I recommend to people. We’re also republishing The Woodwitch and The Blood of Angels next year. Words really don’t describe what you’ll find in his books. But I promise you’ll never look at birds the same way again!
(Update, October 2015-The Blood of Angels just landed!!)
James: I hate to butt in here, since Ryan is doing such a great job, but since you asked! I’d definitely echo what Ryan said – Michael McDowell is a true original and would be recognized as a great modern author of Southern Gothic if his publishers had sold his stuff in hardcover as literary horror fiction instead of cheap pulp paperbacks. And Stephen Gregory is fantastic – there aren’t many better (or more underrated) writers of literary horror today than him. Aside from those two, I wouldn’t want to forget Michael Talbot, whose vampire novel The Delicate Dependency is terrific, or Bernard Taylor, one of the best modern British authors of literary supernatural and horror – his The Godsend and Sweetheart, Sweetheart are classics of the genre and will be out in 2015 from Valancourt.
(I’ve read The Elementals and The Cormorant and they were both utterly fantastic!-Char)
HAD: Is there a volume that you both are most proud of bringing back? If not, I’ll take your individual answers. Ryan & James: That would be a title that is very special to both of us, and it might not be what you’d expect! … Ratman’s Notebooks by Stephen Gilbert. A fun little horror story about a man who befriends the rats infesting his home. The reason it’s so special to us is because our first movie date was the 2003 adaptation starring Crispin Glover, titled Willard. If you haven’t seen it, you should. But read the book first!
HAD: What do you guys like to do for fun? Ryan: We both love traveling. We take road trips as often as possible. In most cases it’s work related, but we always make a mini vacation out of our trips. We enjoy taking the backroads and stopping in all of the little towns to eat and rummage through thrift and antique stores.
HAD: Does Valancourt Books have anything special planned for October? Ryan: We’re so busy we tend to do poorly at planning releases for Halloween. They’re usually decided at the last minute. Our surprise this year for October is releasing a title we originally had planned for 2015: Golgotha Falls (1984) by Frank de Felitta. The tagline for one of the paperback editions is “Golgotha Falls…where Satan’s ultimate battle begins!” It’s a fun ’80s Gothic/religious horror book. Perfect for the season. We republished De Felitta’s The Entity earlier this year and it’s done very well. The author is still around and has published a book or two within the last few years. He’s been very happy with the work we do and is eager for us to do more.
-New Releases for October 2015-
(Click the book covers for more information.)
HAD: Thanks so much, gentlemen, for taking the time to talk to Horror After Dark! We wish you much luck in breathing new life into these older classics.