We were recently introduced to publishing company that seemed to have a mission similar to ours. A company set on authors helping authors is a company we wanted to know more about. More importantly, a company we want you to know more about. With that, we got to talk to it’s president and founder Chris Van Dyke about the company, how it came together, some of their books, and a lit more…
-PH: So please introduce Skullgate Media.
-Chris: Skullgate Media is a new indie-publishing company, though I like to describe us as “a member-owned publishing collective.” Our goal is to print exciting and innovative fiction across a wide range of genres with a focus on speculative fiction, weird fiction, and sci-fi fantasy. We value friendly collaboration, wild imagination, and shared worlds, with the general belief that the best way for authors to succeed is to help one another. Instead of working in isolation, the members of Skullgate media have come together to pool our experience and various skillsets in order to complete the entire publishing process in-house: from drafting and beta-reading, to layout and copy-editing, to web-site design and marketing. Basically we’re five writers working together to publish cool stuff.
-PH: How did come up with the idea for it?
-Chris: The idea of Skullgate grew somewhat organically out of the first anthology I edited, Tales From the Year Between Volume 1– Achten Tan: Land of Dust and Bone. An anthology is far too much work for one person, so I recruited some of the most dedicated contributors to help me with the production end of things. Before we finished the book I knew that I wanted to follow up with a similar project in half a year; I also knew I wouldn’t be able to keep starting from scratch each time. So I invited a handful of the writers to join me as a permanent editorial team. Then someone suggested I form an LLC, and the next thing I knew I was the “founder and president of Skullgate Media.”
-PH: We’ve long been supporters of the horror community coming together to help each other out, and now you’ve focused on authors supporting each other. Why do you believe this is the way to go for authors?
-Chris: There is so much writing talent out there, but most of the time it feels like you’re working in a vacuum. Even worse, its easy to think of every other writer as your opponent, someone you are locked in a life-or-death struggle with for the an adience. These days the barrier for entry into publication is very low — between print-on-demant services, like Amazon’s KDP or IngramSpark, and the popularity of eBooks, it’s insanely easy to self-publish your own book. Like every other entertainment medium, writing is facing the paradox that it’s easier than every to get your work out there but harder than ever to get your work to stand out in a sea of other indie-projects. That’s where I think collaborating comes in. If we can share the labor of producing and promoting our books, then we aren’t just solo writers flailing around on our own, but rather a publishing company that can pool our resources and connections.
-PH: Tell us about your team and how they joined you in creating Skullgate Media.
-Chris: Besides myself, there’s Colleen Storiz, Chris Durston, Debbie Inacu-Haddad, and Diana Gagliardi. Originally there was another member, Chapel Oraham, but they’ve bowed out due to personal reasons. Diana’s the only one I know from real life — we go way back to college together in the late 90’s. The others I knew through Twitter, but only really got to know while working on Tales from the Year Between. There were 30 contributors to that book, but these four stood out because they seemed to love my project as much as I did. All of them went above and beyond in the pieces they wrote, but also dove headfirst into my weird world-building and collaborative process. I loved and appreciated everyone involved but these four seemed like the sort that would help me take Skullgate Media to the next level. Currently Debbie is heading up our #ActhenWrite, our daily Twitter writing prompt, as well as developing a novel based on our first anthology. Chris and Diana produce our fantastic podcast, Sounds From the Year Between. And Colleen really helps keep the entire thing afloat. She’s the reason we’re making Loathsome Voyages, and has brilliant editorial instincts. I couldn’t be doing any of this without them.
-PH: Your flag-ship publication is Tales From the Year Between. What is that about, and who are the authors that made it possible?
-Chris: Describing Tales Form the Year Between is hard, because each volume is completely different. I like to say it’s part literary magazine, part writing club, part world’s largers writing promt, part cult, and 100% unlike any other anthology series out there. Basically, for each volume we get a large group of writers together to play a story-telling/world-building game. Over a week or so all the contribotors take turns adding people, places, and events to a shared narrative. When we’re finished, we have a sprawling, messy “canon” to work with, and all the writers pick some aspect of our shared world to turn into a short story. Or a song or a recipe or a fairy-tale — we really encourage our writers to push the envelope when it comes to the form their submissionst take. The end result is like a collection of fan-fiction for a franchise that doesn’t exist.
For the first book, Achten Tan: Land of Dust and Bone, we started with a dark-fantasy premise. I shared some images from the old TSR D&D setting Darksun and we used Avery Alder’s The Quiet Year as the game engine. The resulting stories take place in Achten Tan, a city built within the skeleton of some long-dead creature, where the people ride giant ants and wage a centuries long war against rat-like creatures known as the Kraven. It’s at turns dark and hilarious. There’s recipes for ant burgers, a one-act play, academic tretises on how to train a giant ant, and then more straight-forward short stories of action, adventure, and romance
As for who the authors are, so far we’ve been lucky enough to work with nearly 50 different contributors on the first two books alone, so it’s impossible to sum them up. We’re very proud of the breadth and variety of voices who have been a part of our projects. Our writers live all over the globe–from India and Dubai, Isreal and England, Canada and Ireland. Some have been previously published; for others, Tales From the Year Beween is their first time in print. But I’m constantly impressed by the quality and imagination we’ve managed to recruit. All their bio’s and links are online at YearBetween.com, so you can read about each of them there.
-PH: The initial reviews for it have been good. How does that feel to get off to a good start like that?
-Chris: Great (of course). I will admit I was a bit trepidatious, because Tales From the Year Between is so weird and sui generis. I loved it and the contributors loved it, but part of me feared it was an inside joke that had spiraled out of control and that when outsiders looked at it they’d smile politely and back slowly away. The fact so many people have enjoyed it is very rewarding. It’s a living embodiment of the advice to write what you love and the readers will follow.
-PH: What can you tell us about volume 2?
-Chris: The second installment in Tales from the Year Between is titled Under New Suns. It’s a sci-fi space opera following the crew of a sentient space ship that warps to the far side of the galaxy. There’s space-sharks and alien planets, and the stories run from pulpy sexy-murder queens to touching tales of parential love. It’s going to be just as weird as the first book, but entirely different, not just in terms of genre but in note and organziation. For this book we took the first game, The Quite Years and tweaked it severely in an attempt to give this story more of a cohesive plot. I’m not sure that actually happened, but the final result is going to be fantastic as the first book.
-PH: And now you’re getting ready to take fans on another voyage with ‘Loathsome Voyages.’ What is this one about?
-Chris: Loathsome Voyages is unrelated to our Tales From the Year Between books. Its the first in our “Skullgate Media Presents” series, which is what we’re calling our stand-alone anthologies. It’s more in line with a traditional collections–the stories are unconnected by anything other than theme and tone, which is weird-fiction/horror in the Cthulhu tradition. There are 14 pieces by an amazing collection of writers, every one of which is weird and unsettling.
-PH: How did you go about finding the authors for this book?
-Chris: We didn’t– this book seridipitously fell into our lap. A few months ago the wonderful indie-publisher, Kyanite Fiction, closed its door. This was a sad turn of events for the indie writing world, both because many of us loved Kyanite’s publications and also because it meant a number of writers suddenly found themselves without a publisher. One of the orphaned projects was a collection of weird-fiction stories. Colleen Storiz, one of the members of Skullgate, had a story in the volume, so she knew there were this collection of already selected (and mostly edited pieces) just sitting out there. We reached out to Sam Hendricks, the head of Kyanite, and said we’d be interested in taking on the book. She put us in touch with the writers, almost all of whom wanted to stay on board, and it turned into our second publication.
-PH: What kind of readers should enjoy this book the most?
-Chris: This book is for people who like their fiction weird and unsettling. Fans of weird fiction–both in the tradition of Lovecraft and contemporary new-weird writers like VanderMeer and Mieville– won’t want to miss it! It is dark and disturbing so it is not everyone, but I’m assuming readers of your site won’t be turned off by that.
-PH: You’re starting with anthologies, but will you be doing anything with individual authors in the future?
-Chris: Yes — we already have plans in the works. We’ve signed a publishing deal with Michael D. Nadeau, one of the writers who found themselves unhoused when Kyanite closed. We’re currently re-editing his Lythinall books, a series of dark-fantasy novels. Two of the books have been previously published (The Darkness Returens, The Darkness Within) and he has more on the way. We will be re-releasing them early in 2021. All the members of Skullgate Media have our own novels as well, and in the next year we’ll be publishing at least one fo those. As I said earlier, I think of this as a “publishing collective,” so one of our goals is to pool our skills to let us publish books we’ve written ourselves. Debbie in particular has written a novel set in the world of Achten Tan, so we might have a series of books that share that setting.
I actually get emails weekly from authors asking if we’d be interested in their books. At this point I want to take it slowly, because my number one priority is to ensure everything we publish is at the same quality as one of the big companies, like Tor or Orbit. So far I think we’ve managed to do that–from the writing itself to the cover art to the formatting and printing. We could sign five new authors tomorrow, but I worry we wouldn’t be able to do them–or ourselves–justice at this point. We’ve only been a company for six month, so we’re still learning how much we can take on. I’d rather go slowly but have everything we do be fantastic.
-PH: How did you end up becoming a writer? What got you into writing?
-Chris: The boring answer is the same as it is for most writers–I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I don’t know if its nature or nurture, but I’ve always been driven to create worlds and stories. My mom and grandmother helped transcribe my first stories before I write. In middle school my best friend and I wrote choose-your-own adventure tales. In highschool I wrote a 20 page epic poem in the tradition of Tolkien, Beowulf, and the Song of Roland. Then for most of the last 20 years my writing took a back-burner to work and being a parent. I’ve always kept writing, but it was mostly blog-posts, an occasional poem, a short story here and there. But three years ago I got a story stuck in my head that just wouldn’t leave. I shared bits of it with some friends I play D&D with and they loved it, so I kept working on it. It took me two years to finish Dragon’s Curse, a high-fantasy novel, and the experience made me realize I’d missed writing more seriously. In the last year I’ve decided to focus on writing and it’s been very great. I’ve written two cyber-punk novellas, a YA sci-fi romance, a sexy supernatural thriller, and a handful of short stories. Some I’ve self published and some I’m querying, as I’d still love to try the “traditioanl” route with an agent and all that. And I started a publishing company, so while 2020 was a dumpster fire for nearly every respect, for my writing it’s been great.
-PH: We usually ask people why horror, but maybe in your case it’s better to ask why sci-fi/fantasy?
-Chris: Before I get around to answering that question, I’m going to be sort of obnoxiously pretentious and reject the entire divide between horror, sci-fi, and fantasy. Genres are categories that publishers use for marketing; I think they mean less to writers, and should mean less to readers. While the extreme ends fall into clear categories (Lord of the Rings is clearly Fantasy, Ender’s Game is Sci-Fi, Pet Semetary is horror), I refuse to believe there are clear deliniations between these books. Frankenstein birthed the horror genre, but in many ways its science fiction or even fantasy. Lovecraft is horror but has clear elements of sci-fi and fantasy. My favorite authors create in the messy, liminal spaces where these three genres meet: Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth. China Mievelle’s Perdito Street Station. P. Djeli Clarke’s Ring Shout. Think of Clive Barker and Niel Gamain. Even an author people think of as purely horror, like Steven King, often doesn’t fall cleanly into one camp. What is The Dark Tower series?
Like Mievelle, I prefer the terms “speculative fiction” and “weird fiction” for what I do, because it sets aside some fo the proscribed expectations that come with the words “horror” “sci-fi” and “fantasy.” What I want–in my writing, reading, and the works I publish–is stories that use some element of the fantastic to examine something deeply human. Because that’s what I think all great literature does, whether it’s classic like Ann Karinina or something purely genre, like Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind or Steven King’s The Shining.
So to that end, the answer “why horror” when it comes to Loathsome Voyages is because it falls firmly into the work we’re doing at Skullage — publishing high-quality fiction that has an element of the fantastic. And my rejection of genre aside, it would be disingenuous to say my own writing wouldn’t be classified as sci-fi and fantasy. But why? I suppose it’s partially Tolkien and Bradburry’s fault–I had a childhood filled with fantasy and science fiction. David Eddings and LeGuin and Lewis. Early on my imagination was steeped in space ships and dragons. For whatever reason, that’s where my brain goes when I create. I think these genres let us explore our current society and personal experiences, but through a fabulous lens that lets us see them anew. That’s what N.K. Jemison does in her books, that’s what Buffy the Vampire Slayer did. Star Wars. The Watchmen, both Alan Moore’s original and Lindleloft’s newer HBO series. When I imagine characters and a plot, my brain just naturally goes to the fantastic.
-PH: Here’s your chance to promote anything we haven’t talked about. Let us know something more about Skullgate Media, any of your anthologies, what you have coming in the future, where people can find you, or anything else you would like to mention.
-Chris: The best place to learn more about Skullgate Media is at Skullgatemedia.com. You can learn more about our company and our anthologies, order our books and merchandise, and sign up for the weekly news letter I send out. There’s also YearBetween.com, which is dedicated to the Tales From the Year Between series. There’s details about the two extant volumes, as well as details as to how to sign up to be a contributor to future books — we’ll be recruiting for volume 3, which will be themed around pirates, in the Spring. We also have a Podcast, Sounds From the Year Between, which you can find on Spotify, Buzzsprout, or anywhere you find our podcasts at. Everyone in Skullgate is pretty active on twitter as well. We have two “official” accounts, @skullgatemedia and @achtenwrite. Both accounts are a great way to get current news or be in touch.
As of now, Volume 1 of Tales from the Year Between, Achten Tan: Land of Dust and Bone is on sale in both digital and paperback at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or for order through your local book shop. Loathsome Voyages is in pre-orders and will be released on January 7th. The second Volume of Tales From the Year Between, Under New Suns, will be out in mid-February, as will Nadeau’s Lythinall fantasy novels.
We would like to thank Chris for taking the time to answer our questions. Hopefully this was a good introduction to Skullgate Media, and what they have in store for readers. We encourage you to visit their site, and give some of their books a try!