The Stars of Speculative Fiction #1: Pete S. Allen

When he’s not tormenting small pets and scaring children witless, Pete S. Allen (aka 300 hundred other names), is running a rather swish small press company CGP (Creative Guy Publications).

My aim with these interviews is to try and belittle those in the same area of writing, publishing and editing as myself, thus making me a bigger name on the market and a forerunner of speculative fiction in the next five years. It seemed then that Pete was a perfect start for this sneaky and backhanded tactic of mine:

1. So Pete, it’s like looking in a literary mirror, browsing through your CV: Publisher (books and magazines), editor, writer, reviewer… the only thing I can think of to ask to start is why and how?

Well, I guess the why would be ‘because I’m an idiot’? Or maybe that’s too existential. I’ll give you the rundown, in a perspective of years

~since childhood – writing

~1999 – discovering people on the web need content, see the existence of e-zines, start submitting…and getting accepted occasionally!

~2001 ish, after collapse of an online writing community/website which went bust in the dot com fiasco, and left a lot of writers stranded (and unpaid!) but mostly without a home, I started the Swamp magazine, and online literary/genre zine.

~2003 started Creative Guy Publishing, after discussions with other writers on the Swamp message boards. We wanted to see what this ebook thing was all about.

~2004 the first
Amityville House of Pancakes anthology appeared, to replace the AHOP magazine that wasn’t getting enough regular material. AHOP is the first print book from CGP, but far from the last.

~2005-6, started kicking around the idea of
Moreauvia with author and pal Byron Starr.

~2007, decided on the magazine, rather than doing an anthology.
ToM will appear spring 2008 (prolly really spring too).

That’s the guts of the hows, the whys? I like learning things, and the whole small press publishing project has been an experience in learning about the industry, about the web world, about authors and etc.  Plus I’ve hooked up with some fantastic people and got to get some people’s work more attention. Not as much as it deserves, in most cases, but some folks have used the Swamp and CGP as a spring board to bigger things, and that’s extraordinarily gratifying.

Okay, so not much going on there then…

2. As a publisher of a newly formed small press company, I’ve had a quite a bit of contact with you to get all manner of advice and useful information. What would be your biggest advice for anybody reading who wants to get into small press, be it magazine, e-zine or print?

Hmmm… probably, be realistic, be proud, and do it right. If, for example, you want to do a web magazine, don’t cop out and put your site on geocities, for example (does geocities still even exist?) –buy a domain. Set realistic goals –for ToM, we have committed to four issues. If it goes further than that, yippee, but we know this is a tough market (short fiction) in an esoteric genre, and there are nearly as many writers as readers of the stuff. Set aside some money for advertising –this is probably the most important, and the toughest lesson I’ve learned — I have some wonderful books out there (and I know this, because we consistently get good reviews and many of the works I’ve published have been picked up by bigger publishers) which haven’t gotten as much attention as I’d like because I haven’t marketed as much as I should have, early on. Marketing and advertising are difficult, but can be done effectively for moderate budgets (of course more is better) and it’s better to be smart and target than to just throw money at a problem (assuming you have money to throw).

At this early stage I can already understand exactly what you mean and am pleased with our commitment to advertising our own products.

3. How would you say that writing has been affected by your editing (and publishing too)? Can you see differences and are they what you expected?

One of the rejections I get probably most often from places I submit work to is along the lines of, “nicely written, but not for us,” or, “good story, but doesn’t fit.” I understand these rejections much better after having to dole out several of the like myself. It’s encouraging, in that I know I’m not a bad writer, but discouraging in that everybody doesn’t like what I do as much as I do — which I suppose would make for a boring world, but I’d get a lot more of my own stories sold…

I wouldn’t say I’ve changed my writing style as much, but I may have changed somewhat in the kinds of markets I target…

4. So what’s going on in the world of Mr. Allen at the moment, any writing coming out, books being published, editing anything?

Actually, I’m contemplating a nervous break-down. Oh, sorry, what? Right. Errrrrrrrrrm, let’s see.

Recently released books from CGP include Installing Linux on a Dead Badger, by Lucy Snyder (LJ –

), The No Quarter chapbook by Everette Bell (a very hard-core crime-drama), and recently enough to mention, because it hasn’t been getting enough attention is Amityville House of Pancakes Vol 3. Impending books include a non-fiction holistic cancer treatment book from Liaison Press, something wacky from Adrienne Jones (LJ

) (fans of hers will want to know more, so yes I am deliberately teasing), and of course the new Tales of Moreauvia alternate history/historical spec fic magazine.

I just finished choosing the winners of the 2007 short story contest, which I judged this year — winners should be announced on that site and have their works published very soon. And on the writing front, I have a story in your very own In Bad Dreams which I’m very proud of, and as well, have a story in issue #2 of GUD magazine. Oh, and one of my old stories was accepted for use on the anthology builder website, which is nice.

I also maintain an LJ and am easily found through facebook, MySpace etc. This is why I use many names — I want to be found, and yet not, sort of passive aggressive on my part to be sure, but hey, everyone needs a hobby.

5. This Tales of Moreauvia thing piqued my interest, well after I spelt it wrong about 27 times on the browser… What’s going on there, what’s the big deal with it?

Moreauvia, is…let’s call it a setting.  I like steampunk and steampunky type things, and I really like the idea of anthropomorphised animals, not so much in the furry sense as the animals with guns sense — if you remember the too-brief comic Marvel put out in the 80s called Rocket Raccoon, or the very first edition of the Gamma World game from TSR, also back in the 70s-80s, you know what I’m talking about. Anyway, writing pal and author Byron Starr (lj user bstarr) and I were talking about what might happen in an alternate history US Civil War setting, while I was at the same time reading about the difference engine and studying for an evolution test in an anthropology test.  I started wondering what would have happened if the difference engine had actually been properly funded and worked on, and if Babbage and Darwin had met, and had had unlimited resources at their disposal.

Then, Byron and I started talking about beast-men soldiers, and that was it — we figured out a way that Darwin became the project leader for a northern US project (by way of the anti slavery leagues in Britain in the 1830s) and we of course had to fudge some dates around in a believable way, but eventually…we got Moreauvia – so named because in our world, HG Wells writes a scathing anti-vivisectionist piece of work called “The Plantation of Dr Moreau,” (by this time there have been beastmen for several years of course).

At some point, we talked about doing an anthology and inviting others to play in the world, which people are welcome to do, (the full details are on the website).  But instead of doing a strictly Moreauvia world anthology, we thought we’d start with a broader interest magazine — and so Tales of Moreauvia came about. What I envision is having the magazine run one or two specifically Moreauvia setting pieces per issue, along with 6-8 other pieces of more general alternative or historical SF type things.

On the website though, we have a wiki, message board and etc. — I’ve been trying to get various things ready, so I’ve been a bit remiss in the last couple weeks of updating.

These are the things that just make the spec fic community stand out for me, this innovation and playing around with what could be, what might have been and what not!

6. I heard some crazy rumour that you are a student and a review site editor which of course is just crazy nonsense, seeing as just wouldn’t have the time would you?

Indeed, I’ll be a student for 3 more weeks — at my wife’s behest (not that I didn’t want to, I just needed to be talked into it) I quit working full time a couple years ago and went back to school to finish my English degree, and will be ending up with an English degree with honours, an Anthropology degree, and a minor in folklore — which of course is a recipe for grad school, but we’ll have to wait a bit (namely, til we get some more money saved up again).

And yep, I edit and post the reviews on a somewhat haphazard schedule at the review site, which has an excellent community on its forums as well.  Oh, and I ALWAYS NEED REVIEWERS! Sorry for the blatant appeal, but I have 200 review copies of books sitting here, and authors anxious to know what people think of them. Oh! And did I mention I just finished choosing the winners for this year’s fiction contest at SFReader? Winners will be announced very soon, as soon as we get formal letters of acceptance.

Like the plug there, very subtle. I can only see the sharpest on my lj getting that one as it was so well hidden in the text…

7. It’s time to edit now, you’ve got a contract from a huge name (bird, black and white, looks like it’s got a tux on) and they want a collection from you. You can sign anyone, as they are going to pay whatever it takes. What genre takes your fancy and who you gonna sign? (No, you can’t have dead authors as the tux gang aren’t necromancers.)

People I can’t afford, but not dead eh? Personally, I think you underestimate the bird in regard to the dead, but ok, only living then. Hmmmm. I just read a really excellent anthology of post holocaust (nuclear and otherwise) fiction, so I might have tried to do something like that, except it’s just been done.

How about — well, damn, I always said I’d love for AHOP to be picked up by a big publisher, so yeah, Amityville House of Pancakes volume 4, with stories from:

1. James Morrow
2.  Steven Brust
3.  Neil Gaiman
4.  Connie Willis

(for those who didn’t know, AHOP is generally 3 or 4 novellas of humorous spec fic – could you tell from the title?)

I think I was thinking more in terms of you getting new stuff from dead people, you think the bird has those powers too?

That’s an impressive line up; you might sell a few there! I’d actually thought the novellas were serious but hey, that’s just me…

8. It seems like this
AHOP is a beloved child of yours. Are you planning a fourth (and even fifth and six)?

Well, tentatively yes But anthologies, as you well know, are hard sells. People in general (not the enlightened folk no doubt reading this journal) seem to have lost interest in short fiction, or even longer short fiction, like the novella. We hear the cries from both the literary and genre communities about the sad state of affairs in publishing short fiction…which is a roundabout way of saying, yes I’d love to, if the sales improve and demand dictates that I do so.

I mean – how can you beat the line-up on this last edition?  Gary Wolf, The daddy of Roger Rabbit, Paul Kane’s Dalton Quayle, superdetective, and KM Praschak’s Starship Paragon? Seriously now, it doesn’t get any better than this (more shameless plugging).

Wow, that is rather an impressive
shameless plug anthology line up!

9. Due to the demise in the short stories and novellas, are you moving into novels, do you publish novels generally?

Well, I have avoided novels before this, but depending on your point of view, you could say I’m sort of moving in that direction. I’m still not giving up on novellas or collections, and I think there are already many great publishers for novels out there. But one thing that’s impending is a sort of pseudo-novel, which is a collection of three novellas from Adrienne Jones. She has written two more novellas to accompany her Temple of Cod, which I published a couple years ago (the ebook version and audio versions are still available). So in a sense, you could consider that a novel in three parts. Also, Byron Starr has a book coming out this year which could be considered a very long novella or a very short novel – it’s right on that boundary (and in keeping with the sort of thing that we do, this is a work about terrorist elves at the North Pole). And I have recently talked with another author about the possibility of doing a stand-alone novella in the Moreauvia setting.

So I guess the best answer is, “sort of.” But I’m not actively pursuing novels, no. Our description on the Writers’ Market and other guidelines still stands — “We do not publish novels.” For all the good it does.

You’re not really up for novels then? Shame. *turns back on Pete and rubs hands with glee*

10. What are your views on speculative fiction as a whole: how’s its health and how’s it shaping up?

In some ways I think better than ever – it’s certainly more mainstream and accepted form of entertainment in film, TV etc. In some ways…it means there’s more crap to slog through to get to the good stuff.  But overall, I think the state of the genre is fine.

Thanks Pete, for a thoroughly blatant advertising spree interesting interview. I’m really looking forward to seeing how all your projects-in-progress end up and I’m hoping that I find my way into a CGP publication in the future!

My pleasure!

About Mark S. Deniz

English teacher, writer, editor, publisher, reviewer and blogger. Founder of publishing company, Morrigan Books and imprint, Gilgamesh Press and editor-in-chief for review site, Beyond Fiction. Also cycles, plays floorball, listens to lots and lots of music, reads a ton of books and tries to fit in some TV, film and writing too. View all posts by Mark S. Deniz

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