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Thursday, September 11, 2008

PRESS RELEASE: Introducing Underland Press

Specializing in fiction of the weird, the strange, the odd, and the unsettling, Underland Press is a brand new publishing company from former Dark Horse editor, Victoria Blake.

Web 2.0 is doing more than threatening the position of big bookstores and providing a new platform for text distribution. It is changing the type of books readers decide to pick up, said Victoria Blake, founder and publisher of
Underland Press.

“Everything's changing,” Blake said, “and definitely not for the worse. Books now are where music was in 1996. Ready and primed to break.”

No, the change isn't going to be e-readers or free PDF's, though that's part of it, Blake said. The change is the way readers find and buy their books.

“I can't tell you how many books I've found by searching for online recommendations. The 'If you like this, you'll like X' function doesn't care about BISAC codes,” she said. “That's very cool.”

Blake started
Underland Press—which she calls an “in print, online publisher”—because she believes in the power of this new, hungry and curious readership.

“I have an idea that American fiction has been in a very domestic mode since Raymond Carver, or maybe before,” Blake continued. “For 60 years, at least, our literary voices have told story after story about suburban life and angst, about affairs, about divorce,” said Blake. “I love those stories—I grew up with them—but from where I stand now I believe there is about to be a sea-change. I think there's a reason why Cormac McCarthy's The Road hit as big as it did: readers and writers are hungry for something a little different.”

Blake, who will graduate with an MFA from the Warren Wilson program for writers this winter, plans for
Underland Press to be in a position to satisfy this hunger with fiction that she calls, “weird, strange, odd, and unsettling.”

“That's how new this is,” she says, with a laugh. “There's no good name for it yet.”

Whatever you call it—dark fantasy, slipstream, new fabulism, new weird–-Blake feels that literature like this offers more than just cheap thrills. “I'm a fan of books that combine the best of genre writing, which is the imagination and the plot drive, with the best of literary writing, which is character and language focus,” she said. “Fiction like this can be revelatory; it can tell us something about ourselves, what we're afraid of, and why.”

Blake believes strongly enough in her personal vision that she left an editorial position with
Dark Horse, one of the largest independent publishers of comic books and fiction in the world to strike out on her own.

“I worked for
Dark Horse for three years, handling their Aliens, Predator, Lankhmar, and Playboy series, as well as some one-off original fiction titles,” Blake recalled. “I decided to branch out on my own when I read Brian Evenson's novella The Brotherhood of Mutilation. I was blown away. I thought it needed to be brought into the world.”

Evenson's novella grew into a full-length novel called “Last Days”, and will be the first book released by
Underland Press. Scheduled for February 2009, it will be released simultaneously with “The Pilo Family Circus” by Will Elliot. Both books will be followed by “Chaos” by Escober in the spring, and “Finch” by Jeff VanderMeer in the fall.

In the meantime, Blake has launched the world's first “wovel,” a web novel where readers decide the plot—a choose your own adventure tale for the 2.0 world. Written by
Kealan Patrick Burke, “The Living” is a zombie tale turned on its ear: the story of a living–dead protagonist pursued by hordes of remorseless human killers.

“The readers participate in the plot development of the book,” said Blake. “The author posts an installment every Monday with a binary plot point at the end. Will the heroine kill her lover? Is the box empty, or is it filled with bees? The reader votes to decide, voting is open until Thursday, and the author writes a new installment over the weekend for a reposting on Monday morning, just in time for work.”

Blake describes the wovel as the first of several projects from
Underland Press that will use the interactivity of the internet in an effort to support and augment quality fiction.

Although there are still some months to go until the first of
Underland Press' books appear on bookshelves around the world, readers can check out Kealan Patrick Burke'sThe Living” and get the latest news from Underland Press at http://www.underlandpress.com/.

About Kealan Patrick Burke’s The Living:

Months after the Marseilles Plague ravished the planet, Madison McKay must escape from the city to the safety of Salus Island, the last sanctuary for those of her kind. Madison is a Reborn, one of the lucky few who traveled through death to the other side. Outside the walls of the farmhouse in which she is hiding with a ragtag group of allies, a desperate enemy awaits—a horde of murderous, bloodthirsty humans known as the Living. They are the uninfected, doomed to live life as it used to be before the plague. And they need Madison, and the secret she is carrying, in order to survive. With the help of her fellow Reborn, Madison tries to escape the farmhouse and make it to Salus Island. Will they make it out alive? In this groundbreaking, online wovel, the reader decides…

About Brian Evenson’s Last Days:

Profoundly unsettling and intensely original, “Last Days” is a down-the-rabbit-hole detective novel set in an underground cult of self-mutilators. The story follows Kline, a brutally dismembered detective forcibly recruited to solve a murder inside the cult. As Kline becomes involved with the cult, he begins to realize more is at stake than he previously thought. Attempting to make his way through a maze of lies, threats, and misinformation, Kline discovers that his survival depends on an act of sheer will…

About Will Elliott’s The Pilo Family Circus:

You have two days to pass your audition. You better pass it, feller. You're joining the circus. Ain't that the best news you ever got?” Delivered by a trio of psychotic clowns, this ultimatum plunges Jamie into the horrific alternate universe that is the centuries-old Pilo Family Circus, a borderline world between hell and earth from which humankind's greatest tragedies have been perpetrated. Yet, in this place—peopled by the gruesome, grotesque, and monstrous—where violence and savagery are the norm, Jamie finds that his worst enemy is himself. When he applies the white face paint, he is transformed into JJ, the most vicious clown of all. And JJ wants Jamie dead…

About Jeff VanderMeer’s Finch:

From the desk of
Jeff VanderMeer, one of America's foremost fantasists, comes a crime noir set in the fantastical failed state of Ambergris. In “Finch”, the Gray Caps, mysterious underground inhabitants, have re-conquered the city and put the human populace in camps. Remnants of the Resistance are scattered; martial law is in place. Against this backdrop, John Finch must solve an impossible double murder while trying to make contact with the rebels. Trapped by his job and the city, Finch is about to come face to face with a series of mysteries that will change him and Ambergris forever…

About Escober’s Chaos:

For the first time in English, Dutch sensation Escober delivers a fast-paced thriller full of hard action, dark visions, and unpredictable twists. Plagued by blackouts, nightmares, and uncontrollable violent acts, British soldier Alex Fisher returns from his station in Bosnia to find that the life he knew has disintegrated. Escaping to Mexico, Fisher begins a globetrotting circuit in an attempt to distance himself from the demons in his head. A chance encounter with the mysterious Angela introduces Fisher to a more passionate—and more dangerous—life…

NOTE: Personally, I’m pretty excited by this announcement. For one, I have a thing for darker/weird fiction :) And two, the initial lineup that has been introduced is pretty impressive. Plus, I love the idea of the “wovel” and can’t wait to see what other innovative concepts the publisher has up its sleeve. Obviously it’s too early to tell how successful
Underland Press might be, but I think they have the pieces for a strong launch and I’ll definitely be rooting for them…

On a different note, if “The Pilo Family Circus” sounds familiar, that’s because it is ;) I just blogged about the novel
HERE.

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