If the mention of Valancourt Books sounds familiar to you, well no doubt that’s because you’ve an excellent memory and you’ve seen an interview with them on this blog before! (With many thanks to my ghostly blogging partner of yore…!)
As the mornings grow chilled, and the days shorter; when the nights are impossibly dark and very possibly haunted–we must acknowledge that the time has come to pack away our blithe, breezy summer beach reads in favor of material more in keeping with the pall of gloom that has been cast by the season’s brittle, dying days. I know that none of us are particularly unhappy about this.
We yearn for those books whose spines hint at an eerie atmosphere of mystery, and titles encompassing all the metonymy of melancholy and strangeness and horror! Pages upon pages encrypted with ancient prophecies, ominous portents, infernal curses! Ghosts, phantoms, and strange sinister spirits! Abandoned monasteries, isolated castles, unquiet graves! Dreams, illusions, obsessions, and murders! And if the book’s cover art features ridiculously over-the-top visions of fiendishly cavorting ghouls and disembodied eyeballs glowing with hellfire and horror…all the better.
The good news for us is that we can find all of these tales and more at within the cobwebbed, crumbling vaults of Valancourt Books. An independent small press located in Richmond, VA, Valancourt specializes in the rediscovery of rare, neglected, and out-of-print fiction, and I am over the (skull-faced, grinning maniacally, and dripping with blood) moon to share our interview with publisher, general editor, and co-founder James D. Jenkins of Valancourt Books. See below for a glimpse into what makes a title worthy of the Valancourt catalog, our enthusiasms regarding favorite authors and crazy book cover art, and to learn more about their current collaboration with the publishers of PAPERBACKS FROM HELL!
Unquiet Things: Valancourt’s beginnings focused on bringing forgotten, neglected, and overlooked 18th and 19th century gothic fiction back into the light, in a cost effective sort of way… which eventually led to unearthing the titles from the Victorian era — penny dreadfuls and the like, before moving onto excavating works of 20th century fiction. Most of these titles are works of horror or weird fiction, but other than classifications of genre, what is that special something a work must possess to capture your attention and cause you to exclaim, “ah, this is one for our catalog!” And is there any sort of common thread that you feel runs through the crusty titles that you exhume and bring to life again?
James: One common thread that runs through most of the books we republish is that they were once either very highly regarded by critics or else very popular with readers but nevertheless somehow mysteriously fell out of print at some point over the years. These days, we’re focusing mostly on horror/supernatural/weird fiction, although we also have a secondary focus on LGBT-interest literature, and we also reprint a small number of great books that don’t fit in either of those categories.
In terms of more recent authors, I think we share some beloved favorites! I adore both the strange, disquieting writings of Robert Aickman, as well as Michael McDowell’s unpretentious but thoroughly imaginative and sharply-crafted stories. What is it about these author’s works that resonates with you? And if one admires the works of Aickman/McDowell, what else from Valancourt’s catalogue might you suggest along those lines?
Aickman and McDowell are obviously very different sorts of writers, but one thing they have in common is that their reputations have been kept alive over the decades by a group of devoted fans, even when their books were long out of print or, in Aickman’s case, only available as expensive collector’s editions. I think you put it well: Aickman’s works are strange and disquieting, oddly unsettling even if sometimes their precise “meaning” seems to elude us. McDowell, on the other hand, said he never aspired to posthumous fame or to be considered a “literary” writer: his only aim was to entertain and frighten readers, and judging from the responses we’ve gotten to our reissues, it’s pretty clear he succeeded!
Those who enjoy Aickman’s more literary style might want to give our reissues of Forrest Reid’s subtle supernatural fiction a try, or possibly David Case’s books, which are not as subtle as Aickman’s but are written in a traditional, more literary style with vocabulary that will have you frequently reaching for a dictionary. And, obviously, you’ll want to read the Victorian-era horror fiction we’ve published by Richard Marsh, who was Aickman’s grandfather! Fans of McDowell’s fiction should find our reissues of Ken Greenhall, Bernard Taylor, Michael Talbot, and Alan Ryan — all of them (like McDowell) neglected masters of ’80s paperback horror fiction — to their liking.
You recently signed a deal with the publishers of PAPERBACKS FROM HELL, [reviewed in our September 2017 installment of Stacked!] to publish a PFH series of reissues of titles featured in the book, which I believe will be edited by Grady Hendrix and Will Errickson? You guys + those guys is the dreamiest dream team I could ever imagine! Can you share how this came about? How did you go about selecting the titles you’ll be reissuing? And I have to ask…what are you going to do about the cover art? Because some of those covers are bananas!
That’s definitely a project we are really excited about! Grady has written introductions to a couple of our books (HELL HOUND, THE AUCTIONEER), and we’re longtime followers of Will’s TOO MUCH HORROR FICTION blog, where we’ve discovered a few books that we went on to republish, so it was sort of natural that we’d team up. As far as how the series came about, I think we here at Valancourt, like everybody else who bought PAPERBACKS FROM HELL, were flipping through the book and thinking how great some of those out-of-print horror novels looked and what a shame it was some of them were unavailable!
When we teased the series on social media, the response was huge, and as far as the cover art goes it was unanimous: people want the original covers! So we’re going to do everything we can to use the original cover paintings. For the first book in the series, Elizabeth Engstrom’s WHEN DARKNESS LOVES US, the original cover painter, Jill Bauman, has kindly allowed us to reuse the art, and we’re hoping to be able to get permission to reuse others. There may be some cases where we can’t locate the original artist or otherwise can’t get the rights (and at least one of the titles we’re planning for the series didn’t have an interesting cover the first time around), so in those cases we’ll be coming up with something new that hopefully retains an ’80s feel.
What can you tell us about our giveaway title, Valancourt Book of Horror Stories Volume Three?
We’re giving away a copy of our new Valancourt Book of Horror Stories because the series has been one of the most popular things we’ve done over the past few years. The mix of rare and seldom-reprinted older stories with some new and unpublished material has gotten a great response from readers, and, above all, the books are a great introduction to Valancourt and what we publish. For readers who are just discovering us and wondering where to start with the 400+ books in our catalogue, our Valancourt Books of Horror Stories are the perfect place to start: Volume 3, for example, includes contributions by 16 different Valancourt authors, so you can sample a lot of different writers to see whose works you might like to read more of. One thing that’s great about our Horror Stories books is that many of the authors featured aren’t typically thought of as horror authors and aren’t often featured in horror anthologies, so you’ll find tales by literary and mainstream authors like Christopher Priest, Isabel Colegate, and Nevil Shute alongside contributions by well-known horror writers like Michael McDowell and Bernard Taylor.
Thanks very much to James and Valancourt Books, and please be certain to leave a comment below in order to be entered into the giveaway! A winner will be chosen in one week’s time. This giveaway is open to our U.S. readers