Today, I’m pleased to welcome Scott Gable, publisher of Broken Eye Books, and editor of many of their fine anthologies, including the upcoming Welcome to Miskatonic University.
Welcome, Scott! To start things off, would you care to introduce yourself and tell folks a bit about Broken Eye Books?
So great to be here! I run the indie press Broken Eye Books out of Seattle. We’ve been going for eight wonderful years, publishing the odd, strange, and offbeat side of speculative fiction. We love to blend genres and blur the boundaries of science fiction, fantasy, and the weird.
You’re currently running a Kickstarter for two volumes of Welcome to Miskatonic University. Could you give readers a taste of the sorts of stories they’ll find in its pages?
We asked authors to envision a modern-day Miskatonic University, that institution from the Cthulhu Mythos that always seemed to be at the center of all things strange and magical. And as we read through the slush, an interesting pattern developed. There was a shift in the types of stories we received that fell along a spectrum: on one end, the setting and mood of the weird fiction typified by Lovecraft and his contemporaries, albeit modern, and on the other end, we see where weird fiction starts to blend with other speculative genres (fantasy and science fiction, though largely fantasy in this case with stories more akin to Grossman’s The Magicians or a more adult Hogwarts). This was fascinating and presented a great opportunity to more deeply explore weird fiction’s relationship with other genres, so we split the project into two anthologies—the first consisting of the fantastically weird and the latter of the weirdly fantastic.
The first, Welcome to Miskatonic University, represents the first half of that spectrum. These are the tales with the unknown at their core, where relatively normal people in a relatively normal world come face to face with the unknown, and we get to see what happens. These are the stories most tightly anchored to our reality, to what we now. In the second, It Came from Miskatonic University, the setting and mood change a bit. And this isn’t a binary—not an either-or; it’s a spectrum with gradation in how these elements change. In these tales, that next layer of secrets have been stripped away. (It makes perfect sense that, after a century of uncovering secrets, a college might not be the same as it was.) In these tales, at least some of the unknown is stripped bare for the characters. This appears in two different ways: either 1) what was once unknown is now known from the start by either the main characters or the setting as a whole or 2) the protagonist is themself the “unknown,” being privy to the secrets—whether a Deep One trying to save her human girlfriend or a powerful sorcerer on a mission—and thereby becoming a direct window to that unknown for the reader. These are the lands where weird fiction blends with fantasy and science fiction. When the unknown has been revealed, accepted, and possibly even incorporated into the setting, we are flitting across weird fiction’s borders with other speculative fiction. And it makes sense that after some time at MU, as in the second anthology, you might learn a thing or two.
Past Broken Eye Books anthologies have explored Lovecraftian mythology in the future, and mashed up Lovecraft and space opera. This time around, you’ve asked authors to tell stories set in the modern day. What appeals to you about Lovecraftian mythology colliding with our current day world? Overall, what sparked the idea behind the anthology?
Well, there’s the easy answer that we just love mashing together two seemingly disparate things to get something hopefully greater than its parts. (That’s how you get peanut butter cups!) Before Tomorrow’s Cthulhu, for instance, we did the anthology Ghost in the Cogs, combining steampunk and the supernatural—which was crazy amounts of fun, by the way. So really, that ethos of experimental “what if we try this?” is very much a part of our books.
As for the Cthulhu Mythos, it’s always taunted me, from that first Del Rey collection that inaugurated me as a kid who liked weird fiction. I would be all “Yeah! And then what?” and always wanting more. The “terrible crushing dread of existence” didn’t have to end in the 1920s. Everyone at some point in their lives knows it’s still kicking around in their closet. So why not bring it into the modern world? And as a gamer, the Call of Cthulhu and Delta Green RPGs were already planting such wonderful seeds for how a modern Mythos might take shape.
As for the science fiction elements, there’s never really been a shortage of weird horror to go around, but it’s always felt that the weird science elements would get overshadowed by the supernatural. And to me, the two are both vital for weird fiction. “From Beyond” is one of my favorite highlights from the Mythos of weird science. These are those crazy, “misunderstood” experiments that start from scientific principles but quickly go off the rails into realms that science just has no answers for (like Frankenstein before it). That’s the key: it’s still unknown, the narrative just pokes that unknown with a “scientific” stick rather than a “supernatural” one.
As for the modern world, that’s where I live. I want stories that spin off from that world and with more relevance to the modern human condition, stories that shine a light on the unknowns of today and that embrace both the supernatural and the weird science. I want inclusive stories that represent our modern sensibilities, and I want to hear it from lots of different voices. I want all of us to be excited to explore and experiment, to take those bits we like and forge something unique and all our own.
If you were enrolling at Miskatonic University yourself, what courses would you be most interested in, or what would your major be? Would you try out for any sports? Join any clubs?
Tough call. I’ve always been torn between the sciences and the humanities. And though I’m sure I could fully redeem Tillinghast’s and West’s experiments—what could go wrong!—I would likely find myself drawn to library sciences, instructing students on the proper care and maintenance of those dangerous words. Books are a responsibility, you know, requiring a commitment of both time and intention, an understanding of the preventive safeguards and reparative ministrations for the physical and mental wellbeing of both you and them, and a dedication to their proper socialization and training and mental stimulation. Countless are those hurt by a book’s misuse.
And I would definitely take a yoga class, or tai chi. Something for stress management. (I wonder if there’s a non-Euclidean yoga?)
As part of the Kickstarter, you have some pretty awesome swag to offer including university bumper stickers, hand-bound books, and custom art. Could you talk a bit about the art and design aspect of the anthology, how you identify artists, and how you work with them to bring unique visions of the eldritch and squamous to life?
I have a big list of authors and artists I’m itching to work with. As I discover a person’s work, I often know immediately that they’d make a great fit for some project percolating in the gray matter—and often, I know exactly what I’d want them to work on. I find artists online and from their work on other books and games, but most notably, I find them at the conventions I attend. (I stumbled upon the cover artist for Pretty Marys All in a Row—gawki—for instance, at Emerald City Comic Con 2017. I enjoyed their work so much and knew they’d be a perfect match for the novella.)
For book covers, I generally try to have a very rough idea (or several possible ideas and often will chat with the author—for the single-author works—to get their feedback) of what I’m thinking about for a book so that the artist has something to latch onto and expand on. But I don’t want to tell these artists how to do their jobs, so I leave as much detail to them as they’re comfortable with. We typically go through a round of low-res mockups of possible ideas, and then once we’ve settled on something, I typically back away. They’re artists and know what they’re doing.
For the Kickstarter, I wanted to offer something special beyond the core books, and Near Mint (the bookbinder for the deluxe edition) and Merle Rice (creator of the fleece squid hats)—both local artists that I met at conventions—seemed a wonderful fit, as did Frank Casey who’s slated for the second anthology’s cover. And of course Yves Tourigny and Michael Bukowski I’ve worked with before on the Ride the Star Wind illustrations. And if we unlock that particular stretch goal, even more artists will be added.
And the bumper stickers are largely my own designs (with assistance from Jeremy Zerfoss and Michael Bukowski for some of the illustrations), and I’ve had a blast making them.
After Welcome to Miskatonic University, what’s next for Broken Eye Books? Any other upcoming projects you’d like folks to know about?
There are a couple novellas coming next that I’ve already announced and a couple that I haven’t. There’s also another novel slated for later this year along with a new publishing imprint. And of course, I wouldn’t be me without the next few anthologies in mind. Our online magazine Eyedolon will be the next big thing to watch from us as that’s where the next pebble drops.
We’re a small press, so we can adjust our course with relative ease, embracing the chaos of book publishing. But always spinning new tales and hopefully not taking ourselves too seriously.
Thank you for dropping by! I can’t wait to see the finished anthologies!