by David Niall Wilson
Of the authors who have worked steadily through several decades, providing horror, fantasy, mystery, westerns and a variety of other tales, I find the works of Al Sarrantonio, creator of such diverse stories as The Pumpkin Boy, The Orangefield Series, Haydn of Mars, and his buffalo soldier detective, Thomas Mullin, with his penchant for Sherlock Holmes stories, to be among the most memorable.
Starting in 2010, Crossroad Press began the long trek to return all of these old books to the hands of a new generation of readers. Working in digital formats, including eBooks and MP3 downloadable audiobooks, a wide sampling of Al Sarrantonio’s books have already been returned, sporting new cover art, re-constructed and copy-edited text, and talented voice actors bringing a variety of these works to life.
I had the chance to do a short interview with Al recently about this electronic rebirth, his experiences, lessons learned, and what’s coming next. Here’s what he had to say:
DNW: You’ve been writing for a long time, and have a lot of books out there in a variety of genres. Is it strange to see the work coming back in digital forms – things that have been out of print for a long time, and possibly out of mind?
AS: Strange, and wonderful. It’s like visiting old friends come back from the dead. The older works have only been available on the secondary book market, some of them hard to find, which is lousy for the fans and me alike. I wish everyone in this industry (agents, publishers, writers) would finally wrap their heads around the fact that the great value of the e-book is that it is saving work, not destroying it. In the long run, it will bring more books back from undeserved (and of course in some cases deserved) obscurity than the paper print business ever has or could. It is a salvation device. And we’re just at the beginning. This is steam engine time for eBooks. The publishers are still running around like chickens without heads clucking about what the price the newest bestseller in e-book form should be. Who cares! That’s not the real point. They’ll figure that out, like they always do, and maximize their profits (like they always do). I’ve been reading Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole series, and bought the first couple for my Kindle – until I realized it was cheaper to buy them as paperbacks! That’s insane! As a consequence, I’ve already cut my Kindle purchases for books that are also available as print books in half. It’s the backlist, at a reasonable price (wouldn’t it be great to have the entire of John D. MacDonald’s Travis Mcgee series on your little reading device? Well, at this point none of them are available in e-book format) and the out-of-print sector, where the gold lies, and where the e-reader will prove invaluable. Or so I say.
DNW: Have you gotten any reactions from readers since the digital books began coming out?
AS: Every reaction I’ve gotten has been positive.
DNW: How do you feel about the older work – the stories and series books, the fantasy and mysteries and westerns? Did you write all these genres at the same time, pretty much, or do they represent periods in your career?
AS: Yikes, you’re making me think. I had a nice balance going for a while between genres, so nothing got stale. I wrote a western, then a detective mystery, then I was doing some TV novelizations for a while, then the trilogies started coming along (in both SF and horror) and that kind of broke up the juggling act. But I enjoyed it all. My buddy Joe Lansdale and I, who started out pretty much at the same time, have had a running commentary on such matters as multiple-genre work for decades. We figured out that a lot of guys we knew before the horror bust in the early ’90s were no longer around if they didn’t learn (or want) to do different things. You must remember that I was primarily a science fiction fan when I grew up – but discovered that I was much more comfortable writing horror stories. But that didn’t keep me away from my first love, or westerns (which I thoroughly enjoyed, because in West Texas and Kitt Peak I got to incorporate Sherlockiana). I love it all!
DNW: Of your older work, what do you consider the most memorable?
AS: Isn’t that like choosing a favorite child, something you should never do? Though, if I had to choose, I think Moonbane, West Texas (which was under movie option, with a script at one point, for ten years, and never got made, *sigh*) Skeletons, House Haunted and the Five Worlds trilogy (which was an attempt to meld horror and space opera) contain some of my best novel work. But then there’s Toybox, my first story collection, which I think contains the best work I’ve ever done, period. That’s just me talking. (Publisher’s Note: All of this either is or soon will be available in eBook form, and some in audio).
DNW: What do you think of the experience, so far, of having your works brought to audio – a format that was previously very limited in the titles represented?
AS: The audio stuff is great. When you get the right voice doing the material, it’s magical. I had an experience lately with the wrong voice reading my story “The Cult of the Nose,” which appears in Stories, which I edited with Neil Gaiman. The guy reading paused after almost every sentence. It sounded like he didn’t know what he was reading. But the audio version of the book won the Audie Award this year for Best Short Stories/Collection (it’s a lovely piece of crystal, sitting on my shelf) so what do I know?
DNW: You have a lot of books out already in digital. What is left? Are there more gems waiting out there? Orangefield, perhaps?
AS: Hoping to get some of the overtly Halloween stuff out there. The Five Worlds trilogy will be out soon, as well as Hornets And Others, my second short story collection, which has some Halloween stuff in it. In fact, it has the very first Orangefield story, a novella titled “Hornets.”
DNW: Last question … what are you doing now? What project is filling your days and thoughts, and what do readers have to look forward to?
AS: I’m working on some shorter Orangefield pieces, and brooding over a new novel. There’s a new short story collection in the works, and I just published Portents, a new signed, limited edition anthology with new work by Gene Wolfe, Ramsey Campbell, Gene Wolfe, Joe Lansdale and fifteen others. Information at Alsarrantonio.com.
Already available at Crossroad Press & Most eBook vendors are:
Moonbane / Campbell Wood / Skeletons / October / West Texas – Featuring Thomas Mullin / Kitt Peak – Featuring Thomas Mullin / The Boy With Penny Eyes / The Worms / Totentanz
House Haunted / The Complete Masters of Mars Trilogy / Haydn of Mars / Sebastian of Mars / Queen of Mars / Summer Cool – A Jack Paine Mystery
Moonbane – Narrated by Kevin Readdean
Soon to come will be another round of revived eBooks, and audio versions of The Boy With Penny Eyes, the collection Toybox, and several others in various stages of productions.