Tag Archives: Swan River Press

Peter Bell’s Strange Epiphanies — A Serendipitous Discovery

From relatively modest beginnings in 2003, Brian Showers’  Swan River Press has gradually grown from small chapbooks to full-blown hardcover books. Recent titles of interest (most of which are sold out) include Rosalie Parker’s The Old Knowledge, Lucy Boston’s Curfew & Other Eerie Tales, R.B. Russell’s Ghosts, and the Peter Bell collection that we’ll be considering here in this post.

Like Swan River’s previous hardcovers, Strange Epiphanies is a beautifully-produced book, offered at a very reasonable price (€30.00 including shipping).

There are some consistent themes to be found across all seven stories (two of which are published here for the first time) included in this collection. For starters, virtually all of Bell’s protagonists are middle-aged, lonely (often widowed or otherwise left on their own) and melancholic — four of the stories feature solo female protagonists, and three utilize solo males. Furthermore, virtually all are on holidays or journeys — they are restless, wandering, and searching for something, usually something they’ve lost, whether they realize it or not. The sense of gloominess is impressively omnipresent, sometimes crossing over into dread in the stories’ darker moments.

Because it’s so apt, I feel compelled to quote a posting from a fellow member of the All Hallows mailing list, who said: “I might add that Bell is the absolute master of Weltschmerz…for depressive melancholics such as myself, this book is an extra special treat.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

As an example, the following passage perfectly captures the undercurrent of dark shadows and the general sense of melancholy that infuses virtually all of Bell’s tollings:

“The incident had enveloped him in a mist of grim foreboding; of precisely what, he could not put a name to, but it was no less menacing for being vague. One thing for sure, it had sabotaged any vestige of hope that this trip to the wild north country might resurrect him from the deep depression of the soul that had of late become his daily consort.”

And when Bell’s characters finally arrive at their destination, it should come as no surprise that it is neither peace nor fulfilment that greets them:

“She had felt uneasy ever since her arrival… the dwelling was unquiet, possessed… the things she had heard, sensed, imagined, glimpsed on the edge of sight… the feeling of being watched… the strange thoughts, the harrowing despair…”

Highlight stories include “An American Writer’s Cottage,” wherein the lone visitor to a remote Hebrides Island grows gradually more intrigued about the eponymous dwelling and the works of the writer who once resided there…but ultimately what she learns is nothing that she wants to know. The aptly-titled “Nostalgia, Death, and Melancholy” follows the footsteps of Sinclair, who has returned to a remote island he hasn’t visited since his youth, in order to attend his Aunt’s funeral and see to her estate. While going through her things, he finds an old, dimly-remembered photograph, which prompts him, in a fit of nostalgia, to visit a nearly-forgotten cove, where he discovers that even though it might be possible to go home again, sometimes you absolutely shouldn’t.

In “The Light of the World,” a forlorn widower, unable to move on from his wife’s death, visits a small village in the Cumberland mountains in search of some peace and quiet, but instead repeatedly encounters an unusual, unsettling older couple, whose appearance turns out to be the harbinger of an undesirable outcome. In “Inheritance,” Isobel’s visit to a friend in the German countryside prompts memories of her dead sister and a strange doll, and the tangled web that ensues is filled with both mystery and revelation.

Not every tale here is a resounding success — for example, “Resurrection,” cut from Wicker Man cloth, is a tad too predictable — but for the most part Bell delivers the goods on a highly consistent basis.

Strange Epiphanies is a truly dark and dreary collection, but I mean that in only the best way. For fans of quiet, subtly supernatural fiction, it doesn’t get much better than this. Although still in print as of this writing, Strange Epiphanies is limited to 350 copies and Swan River titles tend to sell out quickly, so if this collection is of interest — which it should be to the majority of readers of this blog — I’d suggest you move quickly to obtain a copy.

A round-up of new horror small presses

The list that I maintain of active small presses whose output is predominantly horror, dark suspense, or dark fantasy continues to grow, with the count growing to a rather astonishing 138 publishers. Over the last few months, I’ve added no less than 27 presses and imprints to the list, and I’ll summarize each of those 27 below.

The following presses are recently launched, recently discovered by me, or recently re-evaluated and found worthy of inclusion.

  • Acid Grave Press – an ebook-only publisher with one title to their credit so far — the anthology Living After Midnight, which contains six stories inspired by hard-rock/heavy-metal songs, by authors such as Randy Chandler, L.L. Soares, and David T. Wilbanks.
  • Altar 13 – a new imprint from Delirium Books publisher Shane Ryan Staley, which seeks to take classic genre titles that have only been published in paperback and reprint them in hardcover for collectors.
  • Bandersnatch Books – debuted in 2010 and has published a chapbook by T.M. Wright, a novella by K.H. Koehler, and an anthology, Dead West, containing some familiar names. Their website is currently a bit of a mess, however — among other issues, the “Bookstore” page offers no way to actually purchase any of the titles.
  • Belfire Press – a mult-genre publisher with 13 titles to their credit, including horror titles such as Gregory L. Hall’s At the End of Church Street, Aaron Polson’s Loathsome, Dark and Deep, K.V. Taylor’s Scripped, and several anthologies.
  • Black Room Books and the Zombie Feed – two new imprints of Apex Publications. The former will publish both horror and science fiction, with their first title being a reprint of Tim Waggoner’s novel, Like Death, while the latter is yet another zombie-focused publisher, with three novels/novellas and an anthology published.
  • Blasphemous Books – an ebook-only imprint of Black Death Books, with a single title so far, a min-collection by John Everson.
  • Camelot Books – restored to the active publisher list after previously assumed to be moribund (probably my mistake). Recent titles include a collection by Ray Garton and an anthology of four novellas that includes Brian Keene and Nate Southard.
  • Crossroad Press – formerly appearing to be only a distributor of ebooks from other publishers, but now publishing both print and ebooks under their own imprint. CP has quickly become a prolific publisher of ebooks, with recent titles from Elizabeth Massie, Tom Piccirilli, and Chet Williamson, among many others.
  • Dark Prints Press – Australian press founded in 2010, with three anthologies and a collection by Martin Livings to their credit.
  • Dark Silo Press – published a novel by Brian Kaufman, but an anthology originally scheduled for March 2011 still hasn’t appeared, so viability of this press may already be in question.
  • Fungasm Press – a new imprint from bizarro publisher Eraserhead Press, “Fungasm Press grounds its weirdest ideas in contemporary realities, meeting at the freaky juncture where genre and mainstream collide with indescribable strangeness.” Fungasm will publish 2-3 titles per year, starting with Laura Lee Bahr’s debut novel, Haunts.
  • Harrow Press – longtime publisher of The Harrow magazine began publishing POD books in 2007 and has so far produced two anthologies, with a third in the works.
  • Hersham Horror Books – UK-based publishers of the Alt-Dead anthology, with two more anthologies announced.
  • House of Murky Depths – UK publisher of a namesake magazine, several graphics novels, and four novels by Sam Stone.
  • Innsmouth Free Press – Canadian publisher of a novel and three anthologies, most recently Future Lovecraft, which features authors such as Nick Mamatas, Jesse Bullington, and James S. Dorr.
  • LegumeMan Books – an Australian press “devoted to extreme and/or unusual fiction for extreme and/or unusual people,” with twelve titles already to their credit, including novels by Steve Gerlach and Brett McBean.
  • NECON E-Books – Leveraging the connections he’s made from running the eponymous convention for thirty years, publisher Bob Booth has assembled an impressive roster of writers, including Ramsey Campbell, Christopher Golden, Charles L. Grant, Tom Monteleone, and Tim Lebbon. Despite the press’ name, they do offer print editions of some titles.
  • Necro Publications –  moved from moribund back to the Active Publisher list after recently publishing the Jeffrey Thomas novel Blood Society and an ebook-only collection by Edward Lee, Grimoire Diabolique.
  • Panic Press – UK-based multi-genre publisher with 11 books published already, including titles such as Jason Whittle’s The Dead Shall Feed and Nate D. Burleigh’s Sustenance.
  • Rainstorm Press – another multi-genre publisher, with apparent vanity leanings, as all four announced titles are either written or edited by the owner of the press. If Rainstorm turns out to be strictly vanity, they’ll be removed from the list.
  • Rocket Ride Books – SF/horror publisher who made an interesting debut with a new edition of John W. Campbell’s Who Goes There? (basis for three movie versions of The Thing), available in print and audio versions. Their second title is William F. Nolan’s Kincaid: A Paranormal Casebook, “in the tradition of The X-Files and Kolchak.”
  • Sinister Grin Press – launched at KillerCon 2011 with a chapbook containing original stories by Ramsey Campbell, Ray Garton, and Bentley Little, and have announced two upcoming novels from Wrath James White, one solo and one co-written with J.F. Gonzalez.
  • Strange Publications – taking a buffet approach since their 2008 debut by publishing a chapbook, three anthologies, and a collection (by Cate Gardner). As of this writing, their website appears to have been hacked, so it’s unclear how active the press still is.
  • Swan River Press – Ireland-based publisher of 28 chapbooks and mini-hardcovers, some of which are dedicated to writers from decades past (there are multiple Bram Stoker and J. Sheridan La Fanu titles, for example), and some of which feature work from contemporary writers such Gary McMahon, Rosalie Parker and Mark Valentine.
  • Terradan Works – announced as a multi-genre publisher, but their four titles published to date have all been horror or suspense fiction, including books by Jeffrey & Scott Thomas, and Wilum H. Pugmire.
  • Ticonderoga Publications – this Australian multi-genre publisher has been around since 1996, but I only recently concluded that they produce a sufficient amount of horror to be included on the list. Published authors include Terry Dowling and Kaaron Warren, and Ticonderoga recently launched an annual Australian Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror series.
  • West Pigeon Press – Putting forth a prospectus that is, depending on how one looks at it, either extremely ambitious or off-puttingly arrogant, WPP has one title so far, the collection You Shall Never Know Security, by J.R. Hamantaschen, which certainly sounds intriguing.

Conversely, the only publishers removed from the publisher list since my last column are Snuff Books and Twisted Publishing, both of which seem to have sunk without a trace. With 27 presses added to the list vs. just two removed, either the horror small press field is faring better than the overall economy, or the genre has a knack for converting overly-optimistic fans into would-be publishers.

While I’m talking numbers, the other thing I took the time to total up is how many of the 138 presses on the list are publishing at least some of their titles in ebook format. The result?  No fewer than 56 presses (40%) have jumped on the ebook train, strong evidence of the growing adoption of ebook formats.