One thing sorely lacking in this industry are people who are willing to tell it like it is, and that’s why Neil Jackson is such a breath of fresh air. Piloting the fledgling small press Ghostwriter Publications through the stormy seas of a crippled world economy, Jackson is a hands on kind of guy, with a clear vision and no shortage of creative ideas. And he’s got no interest in pulling punches. As I’ve recently been accepted into the fold, I thought it was high time that I showed you why I was desperate to work with the man, and what better way to do that than to shine the Occult Detective Spotlight on him…
Before I draw you into a discussion about Ghostwriter Publications, I thought we might first concern ourselves with your own writing. What can you tell us about Celeste, the tale you contributed to Gaslight Grotesque: Nightmare Tales of Sherlock Holmes? Is it true this is your first published piece?
First submission and first acceptance, so I’m batting one for one…I’ll quit now, while I’m ahead. It came about when the co-editor of Gaslight Grotesque, the wonderful Charles Prepolec (who is one of those guys you wish you could be like), put out a call for a couple of stories. The length, canon and time line was challenging…8000 words in 5 days…especially when I only knew Sherlock Holmes from the movies. But a speed read of a few stories…a reading of the Arthur Conan Doyle letters, to get a feel of the author…and I was away. I combined an old sea mystery fave of mine, the Mary Celeste, added King George, a dash of the X-Files…and (can’t say any more…you’ll have to buy it later in the year).
I’m curious as to what books have influenced you as an artist? Do you lean toward certain authors or is there a particular genre that draws you in?
Artist?…now there’s a word I don’t think I’ll ever see anywhere near my name again. But for those who know me, it’s an easy answer. I love my creature features…especially anything yeti/bigfoot based along with water based creatures. Authors, that’s a bit harder, as I tend to go through phases in my reading choices. Guy N. Smith for the ‘nature amok’ stories, Steve Alten for the ‘Meg’ series and the underrated ‘The Loch’, Dean Koontz and more recently Brian Keene and William Meikle. In fact, if there was anyone that was tuned in to exactly what I like, it’s Willie. For me, he’s the sort of writer who deserves success and a wider audience…he’ll get it.
What writing projects are you working on now? When you don your writer’s cap are there certain rituals you undertake to invoke your muse or are you more of a craftsman with a set regimen?
I always have a number of projects on the go, but I prefer to concentrate my efforts on the work of other authors rather than my own. We didn’t set up Ghostwriter to publish my work, I’ll leave that to other egos…oops…publishers. I couldn’t concentrate on the work of authors who trust me to develop their work, if I was spending time working on my own, there would be too much of a conflict of interest. But I do have two novels and a couple of novellas sitting in my drawer, waiting to be unleashed.
The one that I hope will see the light this year is Boar…about a vengeful…pig. Jaws with tusks. And then we have one planned for spring release… Antarctic… and this one combines two faves, one of my heroes, Robert Falcon Scott and some creatures that come looking for Scott and his crew from out of the snow storms. I’m very much into historical novels and if I can get a twist on any events or period from the past…then I’m game. Outside of my own stories, I’m coming to the end of ghosting two novels (both outside the genres I prefer)…and it’s not something I’m keen to do again.
I’m in no hurry to release my own work. If I can do a short story, now and again, I’m happy.
With regard to the ‘craft’…I’m structured (read boring). I tend to go with a title and idea first….then design a cover…now I start. A one page synopsis with the meat of the idea, the ‘what’s it about?’ Then we go into my favourite part, the step outline…basically what happens in each chapter. This takes about a week at the most…and is usually a paragraph or two in length. At this stage I can see mistakes in the storyline, pacing etc., so here the first changes are made. After I’m happy with the basic structure, then I dive in and look to get 45k done in a couple of months. I write with pencil and paper for the first draft, just to get the ideas down as quickly as they come to mind. Once this version is done, the typing, editing and honing begins. And, for me, that’s it. A few rereads, a few changes and we’re good to go…next book please. I’m not precious about my writing at all, I get a bigger thrill seeing a smile on someone elses face when we’ve produced their work in whatever form we are working in.
I’m aware that you got your start in film, wearing all the proverbial hats afforded, from screenwriter to producer. What was it that drew you to making movies, and I guess, as an extension of that, what has led you away from them?
I really got my start in local cable commercials…I much prefer commercials to working anywhere near film. I suppose it’s because it’s more solitary and that I can do 90% of the work alone. Like most, I was drawn to the thought of big lights and huge salaries. I studied like a nutter, reading anything and everything I could get my hands on. It wasn’t until about five years ago…when I met a serious industry professional, who was top of the production tree during the 70′s and 80′s, that I realised that I knew almost nothing that was of any value when it came to the business side of film. I learned fast when I was mentored and after a couple of false starts…I actually managed to complete a low-budget (aren’t they all) film, Toy Room, a couple of years ago, and will be releasing it in October.
I’ll dip back into film eventually…but for now, I can’t put up with the egos and the long lead-in times. If I’d had the business knowledge of the last few years and was able to go back fifteen years, I’d probably have committed myself to film and TV. I wrote a screenplay, Legion, about 16 years ago and began to develop it into something meaty. I was introduced to a number of sci-fi names…and sold the project. I thought I was the greatest thing since sliced bread…oh, how the mighty fall. And after signing a 35 page contract, was the first to be fired…about six weeks later. In hindsight, I was lucky, as the project then developed into Legionairres…the script to be shot bore nothing to my own work and the whole project became a bit of a nightmare for those involved. There are a few muppets out there who would love to tie me to the failed project…but sorry, I had nothing to do with it…my own failures were to follow.
Of course this brings us to the heart of why I’ve asked you here, being that you have launched a most ambitious publishing house, Ghostwriter Publications. You attracted me straight away by showcasing a stable of authors known for their pulp style. Was this a conscious choice on your part?
Ambitious?…well, I suppose so from some peoples perspectives, but I tend to meet many people over here, in England, with small minds and smaller aspirations. When Sarah and I set up Ghostwriter Publications, we had no idea how it would develop, I still don’t. We knew that there was a lack of those entertaining, pulp novels of the 60′s and creature feature novels of the 70′s and 80′s…we just wanted to see some of that style of work, back in vogue. And with the authors on our roster, I’ve only ever solicited one…the others ‘came a knocking’…and I’m glad most did.
The initial launch of titles from Ghostwriter, from the likes of the legendary Guy N. Smith no less, as well as such notable wordsmiths as Scott Nicholson, David Niall Wilson, and William Meikle (to name but a few), shows a clear dedication to providing what is almost like a throwback to the classic days of horror. What has impressed me by this is your honoring of a time honored tradition, while at the same time embracing new technologies and creative marketing. Tell us a bit about your game plan and strategy for revitalizing horror for the new millennium.
I think that I bit off more than I could really chew in 2009, and spread myself a bit thin. A few bad debts and that dents your cash flow – we experience the same problems as many other businesses, but we cut our cloth accordingly. If that means that books are delayed, so be it, I’m running a business not an ego rubbing clinic….there’s always an alternative for authors who don’t like it.
I’ve already nailed the submission list for 2010 (ok, I’ve left a few gaps)…and some from 2009 will be added to that list. I wish I could publish more, but it’s not just printing them…it’s distributing them. The majority of my time is spent on building quality distribution channels, not just putting up a website and getting a few books into a High Street store…and that takes time….especially in a market that is so fragmented.
I have to be careful when I’m looking at submissions and not make the choices all the same, just because I like it. Again, it’s a business first and foremost and I have to look at potential markets developing. I like merchandising and so we have key-rings, t-shirts and even desk clocks (stop laughing, you know you’d love one with your book artwork)…not meant as money makers per se, but to help create awareness and keep it there.
I’m always looking at new markets and to that end, we are moving into the YA market with best-selling childrens author David Jeffery next spring and will be developing his Beatrice Beecham character…but keeping it close to the genre with bags of supernatural action.
We are developing a new franchise, with Bob Freeman, in the guise of Wolfe and Crowe, two FBI agents who delve into the darker sider of the supernatural. This is something I’m really looking to getting my fingers on, as I see the opportunity to move into audio drama with them…especially as radio is making such a big comeback.
But the thing I’m really keen to develop is our ‘The Penny Dreadful Company’. We have released a number of chapbooks in the style of those from late19th century…and they are a proving a hit…so we have set up The Penny Dreadful Company…and it’s something that, for me, is more immediate. I can turn out a chapbook from submission to completion in less than a week (and that’s good for the author impatience).
But 2010 is basically for me to learn from the mistakes of 2009, hone the list to those authors who are not just talented, but a pleasure to work with. I don’t do overt negativity…and if you need someone to stroke your ego…that’s for your partner, or Mommy, to do.
We’ve already put out 40 odd products this year with more to come. Sarah and I will just keep working hard, learning and doing our best to hit sales targets that I think are achievable.
I look to market 5000 units, worldwide, of each title (not product), over a period of 12 months…and through all the various distribution methods available. That is a realistic target over that period of time. But I’m one of those people who needs goals and I’m fiercely competitive in reaching them.
What can we look forward to in the near future from Ghostwriter Publications?
We have a number of works that I know will do well…and without picking any favourites…they are Berserker…yeti versus Viking. The Valley…cowboy prospectors meet giant scorpions and prehistoric creatures in the late 1800′s…both by William Meikle. The Red Church…first UK release by Scott Nicholson…just a wonderful piece of work and Myth by newcomer, Ian Faulkner…a crytozoological story that just presses all the right buttons.
I, of course, realize that this is never a one man show. The people behind the scenes are often unheralded, but all important to any successful venture. What can you tell me about your staff?
Staff? I wish…it’s just Sarah and I. We do it all. Okay…we don’t voice the audio books, we leave that to the gifted Aaron Tucker…but outside that, almost everything else, is done by the pair of us. A couple of the book covers have come from outside, but in the main, the artwork, typesetting, websites, audio editing, video commercials…and the marketing…is done by my good self, with Sarah looking over my shoulder. Now you know why I work a 16 hour day…every day.
But we have a couple of freelance sales folk joining us in mid-August as I want to move into our first retail outlet asap. We did plan to do it in July of this year, but the leases were changed by new freeholders and I didn’t like the deal, so we’ll wait until something turns up that suits my needs.
I’d like to thank you for taking part in this Author Spotlight, Neil. Any parting words of wisdom for the budding creative types in our audience?
Just keep working at the craft…and learn patience. The reason I say this, is because you don’t always know what is going on at the publisher you have submitted or even sold to. You don’t know what their stockists are calling for to fill their limited space, the time for your tome may not be now…so schedules change. It’s not going to alter your life that much if the book comes out six months later. Remember you have ONE book…your publisher is looking at marketing more than just that work and is looking at a long term sales plan.
So read a lot, learn and practice the craft and think about what it is you want…adoration from your peers and an award from thirty folks who decide whether your work is worthy or a financially rewarding career (the pair rarely go together). Me…I like the cheques.
And if you’re ever considering submitting to us…consider this…extreme human on human violence and overuse of profanity, does not a horror story make. That sort of thing appeals to a few knuckle draggers…but not to the markets I’m looking that bring financial rewards.
Thanks for giving me the chance to rant, Bob, I’m looking forward to working with you….time for a cup of tea.
Addendum, 31 December 2009
I should note that I have parted company with Ghostwriter Publications and my occult detective novel, Descendant, is now placed with another publisher. I wish Neil and his fledgling press nothing but the best of luck on all future endeavors. The writing industry is a business of peaks and valleys and we all struggle to put our best foot forward, of maintaining our integrity and honor in an often cuthtroat arena. That Neil and I are no longer in business together should not reflect any animosity toward one another. We are all in the business of advancing our careers. That often times means altering our paths, but always pressing on and making the best of any given situation.
ADDENDUM, 11 March 2010
Here we are again. There seems to be a high volume of continued interest in this interview I conducted with Neil Jackson back in August of 2009. Seven months have passed and my how the weather has changed. Mr. Jackson, who for the most part always dealt quite fairly with me, has been under fire as of late. One need merely google the blokes name to find your way to negative missives blogged by authors who feel wronged by their dealings with him and his company, Ghostwriter Publications.
I am constantly being asked for my take on this and for my reasons for parting company with Neil and his outfit. Instead of waxing upon why I left, instead perhaps you’d like to know what led me to his door. Two words: William Meikle.
Willie and I share a common publisher, Karen Koehler’s Black Death Books, but more than that, I have always felt a kinship with this man that I’ve never met. He is an author that I greatly admire and respect. When he decided to hang his shingle outside Neil’s door, I followed suit. It’s really that simple.
A few months later I removed that shingle for reasons that are my own. There are others out there sharing their stories. You might find ammunition for your cannon there.
As for me, we live and learn. We dust ourselves off when need be and we live and learn again. Descendant is in the very capable hands of Belfire Press and will be available in August 2010, nearly a year to the day that I conducted this interview.
There’s a certain kind of synchronicity to that fact that I find very comforting.