Warren Ockrassa didn't expect, in his mid thirties, to be a publisher, editor and author, but he concedes that life occasionally throws curves. In this interview he discusses what led him to found nightwares Books as well as Horror Vacuui, his most recent book.
nightwares Books. What led you to it?
Mostly frustration. I got tired of the dead-tree presses insisting on agents and being terribly selective and spending months "considering" something they ultimately rejected — while at the same time publishing some of the most unreadable crap imaginable by stabled writers because of sheer name mass alone. When a book's merits rest solely on the name of its author — as opposed to its readability or its actual literary strengths — well. Publishing becomes like syndicated television. Series run too long and franchises offer more of the same repackaged in a different wrapper. These formulae work well for investors and other commercially minded, bottom-line-obsessed bottom feeders, but they don't do anything to promulgate originality.
So you resent more conventional publication houses?
Not even remotely; I'm just frustrated with them. I understand they have to be fired by profit and investor relations. In a capitalist world that's what happens. It can get frustrating and it can be bad for authors of eclectic or nonstandard titles that might not sell in the thousands — or even hundreds — but that's the way business in general works. That's why I founded nightwares Books. It's 2003 and there are options for authors that do not include trying to fight ridiculous sales number requirements. We don't care if your title will only sell 100 copies, ever. That's infinitely better than none. By way of analogy, consider the "sick and twisted" animation festivals you see from time to time. Most of the works in them are short film subjects put together on extreme poverty budgets. Not one assembled with the marketing mass of The Simpsons, and certainly not suitable for prime time, even on Fox. But Mike Judge got going that way, went on to Beavis and Butt-Head, and eventually King of the Hill. Because when he got started as a small enterprise, someone took up his work. Someone on the fringe. In a way the massive corporization of publishing has created this fringe market in publishing today. If there were thousands of little print presses everywhere, the small-press eBook format probably couldn't even exist.
Do you want to publish within one genre exclusively?
Not at all. I'm not even sure what a genre is sometimes. When you look at the books of Clive Barker or Nick Hornby, you have classification problems. Barker got categorized as being a horror writer, but with Imajica he powerfully broke out of that category. Hornby's books are lovely works of contemporary fiction, but could also fall into the romance category. Bradbury's another one. He is such a damned good storyteller that whether he's writing about life on Mars, in a "haunted" house or boyhood in Illinois, his titles transcend genre classification. Genres help booksellers and librarians figure out how to catalog titles, but I think a really good author — or reader — is able to see past those labels and just write good words that move well, and I don't mean in terms of sales.
Where did Horror Vacuui come from?
It's a little autobiographical, a little fiction, a little of my hopes and dreams for the future. What ever moves an author to write a fiction piece? Yeah, it's based partly in things that happened to me personally, and partly in things I heard about happening to others, but ultimately, as all works of fiction are, it is based largely in a world that does not physically exist — a mental landscape of feeling, thought and plot I wanted to express as a plausible projection onto the world as we typically see it. If you compare it to Kalahim you can see that it's a tighter narrative, is less explorational in terms of characters' self-discovery, and generally more focused. I don't know if that's either good or bad. It's just a different flavor.
How long did it take you to write Horror Vacuui?
That one blew through me. The first draft was done in a week almost to the hour, 30 thousand words. I revised it up to its current length in about another 4 to 5 weeks. Of course you can argue that I've been writing it all my life, as all authors do with what they write, but that's being a turd. Less than two months from start to end and that's quite a record for me. Even my short stories tend to take longer than that generally.
Suppose I'm an as-yet unpublished author and I'm wondering if nightwares Books is right for me. Any suggestions?
Yeah, we're right for you, well, maybe. [laughs] If your work's well written, readable and interesting, we're interested. If only five hundred people in the universe might ever read it, think about us. Just be aware of the typical caveats: Spell-check, proofreed and always be anal about punctuation and grammar. Also don't give up on conventional publication. Shop your work to the presses and see if someone will pick it up there. If they do, hey great. If not, well, we're here too.
Would you like to see nightwares Books become wildly successful?
Depends what you mean by "wildly successful", and it goes back to my dread of franchises. McDonald's is wildly successful in terms of brand recognition and wealth, but they crank out a perfectly uniform product no matter where they are, and that no one in his right mind would want under normal conditions. I mean it's a food of last resort — you're on the road and need something quick, or the kids are yodeling for it because they saw one of those damnable commercials on the weekend. But you do not go there with the thought in mind of getting really interesting, really nutritious, really memorable food. There's no room for individuality, no room for change. That makes money but it's not particularly nurturing of the creative spirit. I'd rather be like the producers of the sick and twisted animation: Serve as a little springboard for really creative minds. That to me would be success. Knowing just one author got launched into a happy and satisfying career starting with publication as a nightwares Books title.
How long do you really think eBooks will last?
As a concept they are as permanent as the Internet or Web itself. Ha, for what that's worth. Formats are still settling. There are several different publishing modes at work at present, and not all of them are going to win. I'm pretty sanguine about my choice of Palm compatible formats because it has absolutely unparalleled device penetration; it works on all Palm flavored PDAs and cellular phones, PocketPC, Windows and Mac, and there are probably several flavors for UNIX as well. But that's just one type of document. The formats will change, but eBooks themselves are a wave that's gradually swelling. The cynic in me wonders if the Palm format will last against Microsoft's massive, crushing marketing engine, but the realist in me sees that PalmOS penetration to portable devices is much, much deeper than anything MS can get — for a lot of reasons, mostly technical. MS wants to bring Windows to your wallet. Heh, in many ways. But the Palm devices know they're not much more than overgrown notepads, and work in it it, and are realistic in terms of what they advertise and can do. It was Palm that got embedded in cell phones, after all, not an MS-grown thing. And a loaded Palm m505 is still tiny, can last for days on one recharge, and is still 100 percent functional where a PocketPC machine just can't be. Also the Palm handwriting package is the best I've ever seen, and I was an early adopter of Apple's Newton technology. I've even written entire stories and poems on a Palm using its handwriting technology. I get 20 words per minute on it — about what I manage with a keyboard! So anyway I think the Palm platform is going to be around a while, and for that reason doing eBooks in a format that works with it makes a great deal of sense. You won't carry an entire computer — not even a notebook —into the loo for a few minutes' reading — but a little Palm machine? Sure.
Your eBooks don't have copy protection on them. Why?
Why bother? A dedicated cracker can get past any encipherment scheme, and there are warez sites all over the planet that offer password cracks. The Palm eBook format can be enciphered against an owner's name and credit card number, but I would personally twitch at the idea of doing that. My guess is their encipherment is a simple xOr encryption that passes the text through the name and CC number. That means you can theoretically get the owner's CC number just by knowing his name and passing his enciphered text back through an xOr filter. Nothing, no force in the universe of human experience, has ever stopped thieves. Even in countries where thieves could get their hands chopped off, there were thieves. And conventional book sellers have the same kinds of problems; they call it "inventory shrinkage" but it's actually shoplifting or theft, and it happens all the time. Those little magnetic strips they put into books don't really help much, since they can be removed. I like the policy of places like Borders. I can walk in with a book I own already stuffed into my backpack, take it out in the cafe and read it a while, then pick it up, put it away and leave unchallenged. It's just assumed that if you're there, you are not a thief. There are standard nuisance level protections but nothing elaborate. I find it quite interesting that the security cameras in Borders stores are there mostly to watch the cashiers, not the customers.
What are your immediate future goals?
Apart from buying a Lear jet for cash out of wallet, I want to keep expanding the nightwares Books customer and author base. I want to enter into some business partnerships with small paper presses and charity organizations, helping them branch into eBook publication while at the same time improving my market base. I like the idea of being able to work with exciting and interesting authors who've written things that might not otherwise hit a market, and I'm hoping to see my site hit stats go over 100 per day. That's about it, really.
If you had one thing to say to a person who read Horror Vacuui, what would it be?
Hope. That's what the book is about, and that's what life must have — on the intangible level — to keep going. Love is there if you have friends or family, food, shelter, you can get those. Hope, though, is something it's damned hard to go on without, and some days you have to fabricate hope from nothing, some days you have to say "I didn't die yet, so at least that's something." Fabricate optimism from vacuum. That's what Horror Vacuui really is — an expression of hope.