The first day I met Justin (published under J.R. Park), I caught a glimpse at a short horror film script he had been working on. Dark and seductive with incredible violence, it was obvious I would become infatuated with the polite, smiling man in front of me. Publishing company owner, Author, and overall Monster Man, we discuss indie horror, his roots in writing and Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
How did the Sinister Horror Company start?
“The Sinister Horror Company started in 2015, when I and two other friends started following our dreams and writing our own horror books. The horror literature market had all but died in the mainstream, with shops no longer having horror sections on their shelves, and if you weren’t Stephen King, you wouldn’t even be considered by large publishers. So, we decided to form our own small press and band together under one brand, forming the Sinister Horror Company. The idea was, that if one book got good reviews and recognition, then the others would benefit from it, by association. It also meant we could pool our resources and work collaboratively on promotional activities.
Once we started releasing our own titles, we discovered a world of underground talent, and wanted to help give others a platform to reach a wider audience. We started by creating an anthology series called The Black Room Manuscripts, and then started releasing full titles by others, starting with Kit Power’s excellent ‘God Bomb’.
As the brand became recognised with titles like ‘Upon Waking’, ‘King Carrion’ and ‘What Good Girls Do’, we began moving up the priority list of reviewers, creating momentum and increasing our popularity.
Over time the other 2 founders left, but I’ve continued the brand, using the label as place to release interesting and unusual titles across the horror spectrum, from the quiet domestic gothic of Tracy Fahey’s ‘The Unheimlich Manoeuvre’, to experimentalism of Chris Kelso’s ‘I Dream of Mirrors’, or the children’s tale ‘The Old One and the Sea’ by Lex H Jones.”
What do you look for when representing a new author or book?
“The Sinister Horror Company’s mission has never changed from its creation: to release original, quality horror fiction. Original. Quality. That’s the two words that ring in my head whenever I am reviewing a pitch or submission. I ask myself ‘what makes this work different from all the other horror titles out there?’ That difference can be an unusual theme, an original plot line, a fresh narrative structure or stylistic choice of language or layout. There’s a lot of different ways to approach a story, so make yours count.
It also needs to be quality. I will sink a lot of time, money, and creative effort into working with an author, so the writing needs to be a premium product. Whilst I can make helpful editing suggestions, I am not a fan of meddling too much with an author’s story. They are the artist, and as such, we want to be releasing the artist’s best and truest vision.
Aside from those two elements, I am looking for horror content – horror is a broad spectrum, and I like to publish across that entire spectrum.”
In a world where self-publishing is becoming more and more common, why do you think having a publisher is still relevant?
“Self-publishing is a fine tool, and encourages many writers that otherwise wouldn’t have tried, but the downside is the market can be saturated. That’s exactly what I found when I wrote and released ‘Terror Byte’ and ‘Punch’, when I first started. You spend all this time and effort creating a book, only to release to the gentle gusts of indifference. You try to send it to reviewers, only to find they go to the bottom of a pile, and you might get a review in 6 months to a year if lucky (not dissing the great work done by reviewers, they are flooded with review requests, so why would they pick up a book by J. R. Park, when he’s never released anything and they’ve never heard of him, when there’s a new book by Joe Hill or Adam Nevill just arrived in the post).
So, by having a respected publisher’s brand on your book is a huge benefit. It gets you bumped up reviewers piles, it gets you additional sales, when customers are shopping for other books, it allows you to benefit from the publisher’s promotional activities whether that be invited to live readings, attend conventions for public launches and signings, or have your book represented at trade shows, and genre conventions.
The other benefit is the experience the publisher will have, and this is essential when editing, creating, and marketing the book. They’ve made (and learned from) all the mistakes you are likely to fall into when self-publishing, so they can shield you from those, saving you both a lot of time and money.
That being said, do your research on a publisher. Like any creative business there are people out there that will want to do nothing more than take your money from you. Never enter into a business deal without research and careful thought.”
You are so lovely and sweet and write absolute horrific images, what draws you into writing horror?
“Ahhhh, you’re making me blush, but thank you. I’ve always loved horror. My oldest saved piece of writing from primary school was a retelling of the Michael Jackson’s Thriller video including werewolves, zombies and (weirdly) mummies! I love monsters, whether that be a creature from beneath the waves or a masked serial killer. My earliest inspirations must go back to the aforementioned Thriller video, the film Abbott, and Costello Meet Frankenstein, and the two ‘Horror’ collections of Top Trump cards. These introduced a menagerie of creatures and killers that sparked my imagination. You see, as far back as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a monster. The coolest job I could think of, when I was a kid, was playing a monster in a film. Hell, I still think that’s the coolest job.
Books allowed a different way into that horror world. A darker slant that got further under the skin and deeper into the mind. They affected me more. Clive Barker’s ‘Cabal’ seduced me, William Peter Blatty’s ‘The Exorcist’ repulsed me, and I loved them both. The control you can have over the audience in a book is even greater than film, so although you might not get the jump scares of popcorn horror, the levels of unease, dread, and repulsion you can build are much more effective in literature if done right. It’s a challenge, for sure, but a challenge I take to each time with enthusiasm. And when I’m writing about the creatures and masked killers, then, for that brief moment of time, I get to play the monster.”
Could you recommend five books to start with when dipping your toe into Sinister Horror Company?
‘What Good Girls Do’ by Jonthan Butcher
“Large trigger warning (its biggest theme is sexual abuse). This book can be a hard read. The opening paragraphs will give you enough of a flavour to decide if you want to keep reading. Boiled down, it’s a tight thriller, and never once does it eroticise or glorify the abuse (I wouldn’t have published it, if it did).”
‘The Unheimlich Manoeuvre’ by Tracy Fahey
£This is a short story collection of intelligent, domestic gothic tales. It deals with the uncanny, and the familiar becoming unfamiliar. These stories linger long in your mind after you’ve read them. It opened my eyes to the subtle world of quiet horror, and had a big impact on my own writing, as what Tracy does is very difficult to achieve. Also check out ‘I Spit Myself Out’, a short collection centred around the ‘horror of the female experience’.”
‘Godbomb!’ by Kit Power
“This was the first book we published outside of the three founding members. Set in a church in Devon, in the mid-90s, a man walks in and stands in front of the congregation with a bomb strapped to him demanding God prove their existence, or he’ll blow the place up. This excellent idea coupled with Kit’s intelligent and masterful prose, made for an instant classic.”
‘Upon Waking’ by J. R. Park
“This was one of the first books that drew a strong reaction to our branding. My idea on writing this book was simple: I saw so many slashers where it was a big, hulking man tearing up pretty young women, so this story would be about a big hulking woman tearing up pretty young men. So, in trying to seek some genre revenge, I found myself in the sub-genre of extreme horror. I added an unusual narrative structure for an additional layer of intrigue. It’s bleak, nasty and was described by one reviewer as “An absolute masterclass in gut-wrenchingly violent horror.” I achieved what I wanted.”
‘Cannibal Nuns from Outer Space!’ by Duncan P. Bradshaw
“A comedy-horror that is full of gore and bizarro moments. This book is formatted like a film even with fake trailers at the beginning. There are three versions, and each one is formatted differently. The hardback, being the extra special DVD with loads of extras and alternative endings, the paperback being the normal DVD release with one alt ending, and the kindle coming across like the pirated version coming from a camcorder recording a screening at the cinema. How has he done this? You’ll have to find out.”