In continuous publication for nearly a decade, Dark Discoveries is a labor of love from the imagination of James R. Beach. Since JournalStone has just purchased the quarterly magazine dedicated to the best content in horror, dark fantasy, and science fiction, and Mr. Beach is staying on to run the creative side of Dark Discoveries, we thought you might like to get to know him a little better. Here’s a great start to that end…
HELLNOTES: Tell us about James Beach before Dark Discoveries
JAMES BEACH: Before Dark Discoveries magazine, I was just a fan who loved horror and Science Fiction books, movies, etc. I was a voracious reader and read everything I could get my hands on. I also collected a lot of books, magazines (and record albums, CD’s etc. as well) and was pretty familiar with the small press. I read mostly in Horror/Dark Fantasy and Scifi, but also Mystery, Literary fiction, Nonfiction topics of a wide variety and so on. I also started out with a passion for art and did that up until college and then the writing bug hit. I kept at it eventually, sending out stories in the late 1990’s for a couple of years. Got rejected a bunch. Eventually took some writing workshops with Elizabeth Engstrom who is based out of Lane Community College in Eugene, Oregon. She is wonderful and I took a novel writing class and a short story workshop/weekend from her. She also had her own publishing line and I picked her brain a lot on that respect. Liz was the first writer who said she’d be a part of the debut issue of DD and did an interview and contributed a new story as well. That helped a lot with credibility and I still owe her, Douglas Clegg, Rocky Wood and the other fine writers who took a chance on my little mag a big debt.
H: What was behind the birth of Dark Discoveries?
JB: I was always interested in publishing a magazine. Way back in high school I wanted to do either a horror magazine or a music magazine. Many years later the horror mag won out (seemed like more of a need for it at the time. Still is). First magazine I ever got into was Famous Monsters (Thanks Forry!) and by the time I was a teenager I fell in love with Twilight Zone magazine. From that I discovered fine small press publications like your own legendary Horror Show, Cemetery Dance, Deathrealm, Weirdbook, Whispers, Iniquities, Midnight Graffitti – the list goes on. Seeing you guys starting out on your kitchen tables, etc. and taking a small publication to a bigger and often times more successful level gave me home that I might be able to do the same with Dark Discoveries.
H: What’s been the biggest challenge for the magazine?
JB: There have been a few certainly. Weathering the poor economy has been tough. What can you do when people say they love the magazine but can’t afford it? We’ve had some success with being able to overcome that a bit due to the fact DD has become a pro magazine and started doing the cool themed issues a couple of years ago. Makes each issue an instant collectible and so on. But still, I’ve watched subscribers drop like flies due to loss of jobs and other struggles.
Another thing tough to overcome has been the ups and downs of distribution. The model of it is way outdated and the amount of waste with returns and loss is horrible. I’ve sunk a lot of money into it over the years only to have most of the issues get covers torn off and tossed into the trash. The current model of distribution is changing drastically so I’ve started exploring newer ones like Digital/e-publications, smaller distributors, more direct store and sales again and so on.
Honestly, our inconsistency hurts too. People like to have a magazine come out on a regular basis. And that’s been hard to do at times. Putting together a magazine is a lot of work and things fall through at the last minute and changes happen. I’ve also fought against continually increasing costs from printers and shipping costs going up and up. It’s hard to keep something like this going for as long as I have with Dark Discoveries. Being around for almost a decade is pretty rare in the small press world – especially for magazines. And I’ve fought tooth, nail and claw for every bit of that honor.
H: What’s been your most rewarding experience with an author?
JB: There have been a few. Getting to not only work with some of my heroes, but also become friends with some has been very rewarding. For one example, William F. Nolan was one of the first adult SF/Horror writers I read when I was like 7 years old and digging through my dad’s boxes of paperbacks (along with Ray Bradbury, Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, Harlan Ellison and many others). And not only have I been able to feature Nolan in DD a few times and have him do a column for me, I count him among my best friends today. Never would have thought that would ever happen. Having Ray Bradbury in the magazine a couple of times and have him know he was in it – as well as meet him in person – was awesome! Talking to Richard Matheson on the phone a couple of times and having him in DD as well was pretty cool. Having Dean Koontz write me a note saying how much he loved DD and what a great job we’ve done with it was wonderful – the list goes on…
It’s also been very rewarding to feature newer authors and see them go on to bigger things. There’s been a number of times publishers told me they did an author’s first collection because they loved the story in Dark Discoveries I published first. Seeing my name in the thank you pages is always touching and never gets old. Even one of my first contributors, Bill Gauthier, ended up letting me publish his first collection and now is doing books from Bad Moon, Delirium and others.
H: Do you write fiction?
JB: Very little. I had a couple of stories published before and around the time I started the magazine. One was for copies in a very small publication and the other for $50 and copies in a much bigger publication. I’ve also written a number of introductions and afterwords for other people’s books, contributed to a couple other nonfiction things, written a number of reviews, done a number of interviews. But I don’t really consider myself a big writer. I more like to fill in the cracks in Dark Discoveries honestly. Don’t really have a driving need to see my name out there all of the time. I kind of like being a bit anonymous with Dark Discoveries. It’s fine that people know what it is, but don’t really know me. I just like being part of the team.
H: What do you enjoy most about editing and publishing Dark Discoveries?
JB: I love collaborating on putting issues together with other cool people. Coming up with concepts, especially for the themed issues, and seeing them come to life is wonderful. I like helping authors shape their work into something great. I just like the process itself. Not as big of a fan of the business side though. A necessary evil it is, but not my favorite thing. One of the reasons I’m happy Chris Payne of JournalStone has come on board to help run DD. Now I have help in that area again (my previous managing editor and designer Jason V Brock helped a lot in that area too but went on to launch his own magazine now called Nameless).
H: What advice do you have for writers just coming on the scene?
JB: Be patient. Realize that you’re building yourself as a brand name. It takes time to establish that. Keep reading as much as you can across the board. Learn what’s been done before and what makes something a classic or a favorite of many. Like Ray Bradbury said, you have to write out the crap to get to the good stuff. Write a story every week for a year like he said and eventually you’ll start learning what works and what doesn’t. And you’ll also start finding your own voice. And that’s what makes you unique. Many of us can come up with a unique twist or interesting plot here and there, but in a world where pretty much everything has already been done to death, it’s your own voice that is unique.
And keep sending things out. Send it out and move on. Start the next thing. Come back to it later when it’s been the proper time period. Dark Discoveries for example gets around 3000 – 5000 submissions for stories alone every open period (6 months). We only publish about 25 or so stories every year. And some we solicit directly from bigger name authors (sorry kids that’s how it works! You’ll be there someday too if your patient and work hard) so some spots are taken up there already. So a huge amount of competition there!
H: What plans do you have for the magazine now that it’s been picked up JournalStone?
JB: Chris and I have big plans for Dark Discoveries for the future. Chris came along at a perfect time for me and we’ve hit it off very well. I had a tough year last year (both personally and with Dark Discoveries) and I was struggling to not only stop the bleeding with DD, but also turn it around. Chris taking over publishing Dark Discoveries has really lifted a big weight off my shoulders. With his help, we’re getting things caught up even faster and I’m back into focusing on the next issue of DD and future ones. (And I’m having fun again too!) We’re also continuing the direction with the digital animated version of DD we recently launched as well as exploring options on making the print version of the magazine even better. We’ve got some great contributors lined up for future issues and Chris is also bringing some of his awesome team along to help DD as well. I can’t tell you how excited I am how things are going now and I think people are going to love what they see!