Welcome to the Penultimate day of this years #Fahrenbruary. Yes, can you Adam and believe it… we are at Day 27. Where the heck did it all go eh?
What do I have for you lucky people today then? Well, today I present to you a very special Q&A. Why is it special? Well I’ll tell you why, because today I bring you a Q&A with none other than the man who has brought us some of the darkest, most disturbing and experimental noir this side of… er… this side of the… um… other side of something else that brought us some pretty dark noir, I can tell you. Yes, you should see that side now… all hanging its head in shame and feeling pretty silly with itself that someone else has come along and trumped them in the dark noir stakes.
Ha! Take that other side of… thingy.
But I fear that I am digressing a tad.
Who is this man with what of whom I speak?
Who is this dark genius with an eye for that which others fear to publish?
Who is it who dares to laugh in the face of traditional publishing and chuckle at the cheeks of conventionality?
How long does he dare to leave his biscuit in his hot drink before taking it out?
Where does he keep his soul?
And how on earth does he pronounce ‘scone’?
The man holding all of the answers to the above is… Chris Black.
Quite possibly you will never have heard of him. Maybe you are about to hit the back button on your browser thinking, “meh, I care not for this Chris Black person. I’m going to go back to reading my [insert title here] published by the excellent Fahrenheit 13!”
Well, STOP RIGHT THERE, STRANGER!
For you see, Chris Black is the very man responsible for bringing you that book and author of which you are so desperate to return to.
For Chris Black IS Mr. Fahrenheit 13.
Totes way. Now I have your interest, huh? Not so eager to run away now then, are we? So, dear reader, cast you eyes down below (no, not that down below, seriously, filth!) and find out more about who Chris really is.
Enjoy. TBBB X
TBBB: Hi Chris how are you on this fine Fahrenbruary day? What’s the view like from your window right now? Mine is of a closed, wooden slatted blind as it is night-time.
CB: It’s also night time here but I know there are squirrels and foxes out there because I live in central London. Squirrels, foxes and hoodies.
TBBB: Also, thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions for #Fahrenbruary 2019.
CB: You’re always welcome. Thanks for having me over.
TBBB: Could you tell us a little about yourself?
CB: Jazz, noir and booze. Also some other little things like 20 years married, dogs and a love of food. I could say I love cooking but actually I don’t, I just love eating. I’m in London currently but hail from Bristol/Somerset and spent several years in South Korea in between.
TBBB: What is your background in publishing?
CB: In Korea it was hard to buy books in English so I took to Kindle. I discovered many books I genuinely adored that were only available online, a few by tiny publishers like the now legendary Byker Books but mostly self-published. I thought it would be great if there were more publishers to put a name behind those books and make them easier to find. So one day I quit prevaricating and just damn well did it. I knew I could edit (I have an MA in Creative Writing, and I also think editing is fun) and everything else was learned the hard way.
TBBB: Fahrenheit 13 is an imprint of Fahrenheit Press, but I believe it originally began life as Number Thirteen Press run solely by you. Could you explain a bit more about how all that came about and what your aims were in setting up N13P?
CB: First, I didn’t want the whole endeavour to fizzle out after a time, so I thought a limited run would be good. Second, I thought a novella each month would be just about doable. Avoiding New Year, Christmas, 4th of July etc meant the middle of the month and 13 is a memorable number. Hence, 13 books by 13 authors, published on the 13th of each month. I wanted something where people would know it was coming and look forward to it, to build a set of fans of the press as well as the authors.
TBBB: How did you discover/approach the original authors for N13P?
CB: Sales and exposure were very low to start, but the 3rd book was Grant Nicol’s Nordic noir THE MISTAKE. That exploded and from there it was a lot easier. Even from the beginning there were loads of great people on the scene helping to spread the word and doing reviews, like Paul Brazill (before he became an author), Nigel Bird, people like that. From there authors jumped onboard and were hugely enthusiastic about it. They helped to shape what it means to be a Thirteener.
TBBB: How did the collaboration with Fahrenheit Press come about after N13P was over? In publishing terms, how does the relationship between you work? Did you have to sell your soul to Chris McVeigh (the Grand Fromage over at Fahrenheit Press) and as such will he be free to poke you with sharp sticks in delicate places for all eternity?
CB: Chris McV and I collaborated over Grant Nicol, who was on both our lists. Collaborating with McV means beer and over beers I told him the N13P contracts were almost up. Everything from there was his idea, and all the authors jumped at the chance.
The relationship is simple: F13 is the cooler younger brother, Fahrenheit is the proper grown-up press (I know, right?). He adds in stuff from his side (like Jo Perry’s novels) but anything I want published I give it an edit or two and send off with a note saying ‘Publish this, please’ and it appears a couple of months later. It’s taken a lot of weight off me now I’m no longer producing the covers, updating the website etc, plus we don’t worry too much about getting a book per month out.
As for my soul, he doesn’t have it. I know that because I used it as a bookmark once, just can’t remember which title. But it’s definitely somewhere on one of these shelves…
TBBB: What is your submissions process? Do you and Chris McVeigh pass submissions between each other if you feel that one may be more suited to the other?
CB: Chris will pass something over if he would publish it anyway but thinks I’ll like it. Mostly if people like F13 they can just submit direct: firstname.lastname@example.org. The process is: describe the book and yourself quickly and attach the manuscript. That’s it. If I like it, I’ll have it. I may not be quick about it, mind.
TBBB: What do you look for in an author for F13? What makes them stand out from all the rest? Chris McV has often said that Fahrenheit isn’t just a publishing company, it is also a family. He strongly believes that how an author fits into Fahrenheit is almost as important as their writing. Is this also true with F13?
CB: The Thirteeners very quickly took on a personality. It was in the contract that the press promotes both the book and the author, and vice versa. Everyone took that on board, promoting each others work wherever it appears, everybody bringing something different. That’s part of what made N13P and Fahrenheit such a good fit – we’re all looking out for each other and we don’t have time for people who don’t share that attitude.
TBBB: When I first envisioned the idea for #Fahrenbruary I never dreamed that it would gather so much support, not just from other bloggers and readers, but also from the authors themselves. For me, this is one of the strongest aspects of Fahrenheit/Fahrenheit 13 – the interactivity and personal touch that pretty much all of your authors give to their readers. They truly respect and believe in us. The same goes for yourself and Chris McV; you’re both highly respectful and interactive and that in turn is reciprocated back to you by us. I guess the question here is, how important is this aspect to you, both personally and professionally?
CB: From tiny acorns grow huge Fahrenheit months that have absolutely blown us all away.
At the end of the day we’re all in the same place: we’re all readers and we want to spread the word about books we love and listen to others whose taste we respect. If you love a book that I love then I might love another book you love. Every Fahrenheista is one by choice. Every effort somebody puts in to blogging and talking about books is time that could have been spent on something else but wasn’t. You have to respect that. At the same time there are a lot of characters and it’s a lot of fun. There is respect, but there’s nothing po-faced about it.
TBBB: Many F13 books are strictly speaking novellas. Is it a conscious F13 decision to primarily publish the novella form?
CB: I could talk for hours about relative book lengths through the history of noir and publishing more generally. The tl;dr is that the novella or short novel (say, 30k to 60k words) is perfect for hardboiled/noir, but it’s been increasingly ignored since at least the 1980s for financial rather than literary reasons. Something like THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE would be rejected on length without a word being read, and that just isn’t right. With ebooks it became economical to publish shorter works again.
TBBB: How important is the novella to you? Do you feel that maybe in our ever increasingly busy world that novellas will become the preferred format over longer form books?
CB: I love novellas and always have. Recently I started a longer (very famous) novel that took 8 pages to describe a character. All I could think was ‘You’re not doing this very well.’ Novellas say stop messing around and get to the point. If you’re spending that much time on a character it’s because it’s important, not because you’ve got another 500+ pages to fill.
They never quite disappeared in literary circles but there is definitely a resurgence in genre fiction. That’s mostly in ebooks but lots of Hard Case Crime’s novels (especially reprints) are only about 60k words. I know they’ve struggled to keep that going, but they were huge in starting the ball rolling.
TBBB: Are modern attention spans even suited to longer, Stephen King-esque books anymore? Maybe there will be a shift to audio books as people find less time to actually read?
CB: There’s room for everything, and people read for different reasons. I’ve enjoyed very few books over about 350-400 pages max and I usually prefer a lot less, but that’s just me. Other people like to get lost in big worlds. Modern lifestyle and reading on phones is definitely changing things, but then people will happily read a multi-book series that adds up to far larger than any single King novel. Maybe it’s to do with how things are parcelled, or whether people are reading in small chunks or binge reading, ebooks versus paperbacks.
Every month the temptation to get an audio book account grows, but I don’t know if I’d use it for fiction. But then I never thought I’d read books on my phone, either.
TBBB: Have there been any novellas that you have felt would work better as a longer book, or vice versa, and if so would you ask the author to change it before accepting?
CB: That’s more to do with the quality of writing than the book itself, I think. If an author writes too much it can be cut. If they skim over something then it just doesn’t work, no matter what you do with it. But if the writing is good enough then people will go as far as you take them, and if you catch the whole story and nothing more then people will leave satisfied. As an editor, I just try to help people catch that sweet spot. But even a very talented writer can try to take a good idea in the wrong direction. I’ve sent plenty of manuscripts back saying ‘This is brilliant, but this didn’t work for me. Do with it as you will.’ Even if they don’t make a change people appreciate feedback.
In books by other publishers I’ve often felt that something about 70k or 80k should be 10-20k shorter. If I were editing them I would have suggested cuts. A lot of people take 70k as bare minimum for a novel because of 90s economic models, not narrative reasons.
TBBB: What is your take on serialised fiction? Stephen King originally released ‘The Green Mile’ in six monthly parts which I felt worked really well at the time. I can clearly recall excitedly heading to the bookshop to buy the latest instalment. Is that something that F13 would ever publish? Or is it just too much work in these economic times to justify the expense?
CB: Serialised ebook releases are a definite possibility. I think a few people have tried them on a small scale, and it’s probably only a matter of time before some big name author releases a book that way. Not sure it’s for F13, though. Sounds more like something Near to the Knuckle would try.
TBBB: F13 is really not afraid to take some pretty big risks in the kinds of stories you publish, for instance Mark Ramsden’s brilliant ‘Mistress Murder’ (and you can read my review here), and Ariana D. Den Bleyker’s ‘Dark Water’ and ‘Red Hands’ (you can check out Kelly Van Damme’s review of DW here, and Danielle No-Surname’s review of RH here) to name just two. If it’s not too obvious a question, what is it about this aspect that excites you to publish them?
CB: I love those books, the characters, the story, the writing, so I published them because they deserve to be published. Finding an audience is a whole different matter. I knew it would be tough, but I had nothing to lose. I’ve genuinely loved all the attention those 3 have gotten over Fahrenbruary.
Even if it’s full of dead girls and twisted killers, there’s a lot of nice, safe, comfortable crime fiction around. That’s fine, I just think for balance there should also be some uncomfortable, challenging or unique fiction from different voices, so I’ve tended toward the latter. But in the end it’s all just books I love myself, so maybe someone else will.
TBBB: Have you ever got cold feet about giving a submission the green-light after the effect?
CB: No. There have been a couple I really wish I could have published but just had little reservations about one way or another. By the time something is published I will have read it 5 times so I better bloody love it from the start. Any little doubt sets off alarm bells.
TBBB: What is it about Indie publishers in particular that gives you more free rein to publish such experimental fiction, and to take a chance on an author, that Traditional publishing cannot (or will not)?
CB: Traditional publishing has been under huge financial pressure since the 1990s so it’s not all their fault. But mostly it is. Writers with talent used to get a few throws at the board with all sorts of interesting things going on. Apart from the classics it was the mid-list authors with free rein who pulled me in. And when publishing got tight, they were the authors who were dropped.
Indie publishers publish books they love. If we love it, so will someone else, and thanks to the internet those people can find us. It takes a lot of hard work but it can be done. And if I don’t publish the books I love, who will? It’s still a giant balancing act, some titles making money to pay for those that don’t, but e-publishing takes some of the risk out of it.
TBBB: Do you see Indie publishers, such as yourselves, as a stepping stone for authors to move on to bigger publishers? To nurture future Big Names? Or are you selfish beings who want to keep hold of them, never ever to let them go for all eternity?
CB: Some will go on to bigger things and good luck to them. Some want to but don’t manage it, some don’t know what they want and some want anything but Big 5 publishing. It’s all good. Maybe in a few years authors will be able to do both without any stigma.
TBBB: What do you do in your spare time, assuming you have any spare time?
CB: After the day job, most of my time is taken up walking dogs, editing and writing, cooking and reading, while (mostly, these days) hard-bop or film soundtracks play in the background. Often with a drink in hand. Then films, other music, and a casual interest in almost everything under the sun, from philosophy to science, history and visual arts. A few sports. I like to find things I like.
TBBB: Where is your favourite holiday destination? Self catering, all-inclusive, or good old bed and Breakfast?
CB: Any holiday is a good holiday, city, beach or countryside. I like to explore strange cities, or else I like to walk the dogs then read and drink. One or other or a mixture.
TBBB: Bicycle or motor car? Or that weird hybrid thing – the motorcycle?
CB: Walking, underground, train. In that order.
TBBB: What is your favourite biscuit to dunk in the hot beverage of your choice?
CB: I drink more coffee, but dunking requires tea. I’m flexible but you can never go wrong with a Rich Tea, shortbread or digestive. Bonus for chocolate digestives.
TBBB: As a man who clearly likes to take chances on authors and dark, challenging fiction, how long do you leave your biscuit in before taking it out? Do you get that little buzz from wondering whether it’ll break off or not? No? Just me then.
CB: Depends on mood, sometimes a little crunch in the middle is delicious. But when you know you’re getting close to the edge there is definitely an added frisson. I think there’s a difference between mid-morning biscuits and afternoon biscuits, also depends on rain or shine. Nobody wants to ruin a good cup of tea on a rainy Monday morning.
TBBB: Now that is a very good point. On that note, do you fish out the crud from the bottom and eat it anyway, or do you leave it there and mourn the loss of a perfectly good piece of biscuit?
CB: Fish it out as fast as possible, no point wasting it.
TBBB: What was your favourite toy as a child?
CB: Now we’re getting to the meat of it. The first thing that springs to mind is that Evil Knievel doll on the wind up bike, sending it flying on impossible and suicidal leaps into the void (or down the stairs). Just like the real thing. He truly was one of those people who, the day he died, you were absolutely amazed he’d been alive the day before.
TBBB: Oh I had this too. You could stand him in different positions on the bike to do different stunts. All mine ever seemed to do was crash into the skirting boards and into walls – just like the real thing.
TBBB: Did you have a favourite tv show growing up? Did you have any heroes you wanted to be? I always wanted to be Steve Austin, aka The Six Million Dollar Man, or Spiderman. Or Batman; it depended on my mood at the time, and which costume was in the wash.
CB: I loved all the usual Saturday tv and cartoons. But in my heart of hearts I only ever wanted to be Han Solo. And later, Indiana Jones. Because he was played by Han Solo.
TBBB: If you could have any superpower what would it be and what would your costume entail?
CB: Hokey religions and mystical superpowers are no match for a good blaster at your side. But if I had to, some kind of heat ray vision. Because you know that feeling when you suddenly remember you had a cup of tea but that was an hour ago and now it’s stone cold? Yeah, then. Costume: optional.
TBBB: Okay, now for the really big question: How do you pronounce ‘scone”- rhymes with ‘gone’ or ‘stone’? There is a lot riding on this one Christopher. Don’t let me down here! Both Kelly Van Damme of From Belgium With Book Love and Danielle of The Reading Closet have opposing opinions to me and are happily rubbing my face in it! I must save beard here…
CB: Everybody should pronounce scone however they damn well please. But if it doesn’t rhyme then with stone then it’s clearly wrong. God didn’t put an ‘e’ on the end for no reason. But go ahead, say it how you like.
TBBB: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Why oh why is everyone wrong here? As for the ‘e’ thing, then why is there one on the end of ‘gone’? Hmmm? Hmmm, answer me that Christopher! It’s not spelled ‘gon’ now, is it? I truly don’t know why I bother, I really don’t *sulks*.
Well, I guess that just about wraps that up. I was really hoping to end on a high note and be able to rub Danielle and Kelly’s faces in it, but it just isn’t to be. If there are any other ‘gone’ers out there then please speak up and help me out here! Anyone? Anyone?
Suit yourselves then.
But seriously, thank you so much to Chris for taking the time out to answer my questions so thoroughly.
You can find out all about Fahrenheit 13, and of course its older sibling, Fahrenheit Press, over at their website: