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Crystal Lake Publishing shows how putting artists first leads to extra-ordinary art

Gutted interior art by Luke Spooner

I read ‘Prime Evil’ when I was going on thirteen. Clive Barker was closing in on Stephen King in a battle to fill my young mind with wondrous worlds I didn’t know existed anywhere other than my own (dark?) thoughts. This is pre-tech, when Luddites (computer-less) were forced to find like-minded (dark?) thinkers by consistent and luck filled amateur detective work: finding that box of your father’s with the original Signet edition of ‘Night Shift’, by King, first memory of a picture not filled with crayon scribbles or rainbows but of something scary and heart racing; a biography of Aleister Crowley, first memory of real people in pictures and words that were again both scary as well as heart racing; first job at a vintage bookseller, spending countless hours amongst boxes and shelves of dog-eared pages that all seeming to have a scent of your grandparents attic on them; sending actual money, placed in small envelopes, sent off to unknown people in the hopes that the ad in the back of the self-published underground zine

was legitimate and that in a month or so you would receive a plain brown legal envelope containing more untold wonders of subversive thought, swears, letters from others ‘like you’ sharing thoughts believed until then were unique and different and perhaps made you broken in some sense (why else would you be drawn to such deep and dark places?).

Gutted interior art by Luke Spooner
Gutted interior art by Luke Spooner

Twenty-eight years later, ‘Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories’ from Crystal Lake Publishing, exceptionally edited by Doug Murano and D. Alexander Ward, finally answered that question of ‘why’ I carried all these years. The forward from ‘Cemetery Dance Magazine‘ founder Richard Chizmar distilled it all down to a few words:

…what makes you think I have a choice? …I see what I see… I feel what I feel…There is beauty all around us. There is horror all around us. Sometimes it is impossible to tell the difference…

The forward here by Chizmar, along with the artwork by Luke Spooner, are integral parts of the ‘Gutted:BHS’ whole. As Chizmar also says about the artists within, “they get it”. They were the ones, like Barker and Neil Gaiman, publishing those dark thoughts years ago that gave me solace and connection, while opening my perception of the possibilities that existed. They are also a continuation of those beginnings with younger writers, like Mercedes M. Yardley and Maria Alexander, building upon their elder-statesmen piers by stripping away even more skin and flesh, until the nerves exposed and screaming seem to be your own.

Gutted interior art by Luke Spooner
Gutted interior art by Luke Spooner

Although an anthology, it reads/flows/crawls over you as a continuous beautiful thread of longing and lust, love and horror. The forward to ‘Gutted’ let me know I had found my own kind. The poem that begins, ‘The Morning After Was Filled With Bone’, by Stephanie M. Wytovich, let me know that the word “Beautiful” was not arbitrary or inaccurate. The following piece by Brian Kirk, ‘Pulling Splinters From A Sex Slave’, pulled me/led me/dared me back to the wave of fear and awe and wonder I had upon my initial encounter with words so perfectly placed as to seem alive and moving across the page. In Kirk’s scant few pages of prose, I placed the book down at least four times: to recover, to reflect, to feel. To get it.

Even the three pieces previously published, by Barker, Gaiman, and Ramsey Campbell, seem to fit and hit more beautifully within the binding of ‘Gutted’, placed as they are with care by Murano and Ward among the fractured pieces that together create an even more powerful tug at every sense you have. The wrapaound cover art by Hackett is another perfect touch to what is whithout question one of the best pieces of art/prose/poetry I can remember reading. When you finally, achingly, place ‘Beautiful Horror Stories’ down after the beautiful ride, Kaitlin’s last piece of art hits you: I get it…

Gutted Cover Art by Caitlin Hackett
Gutted Cover Art by Caitlin Hackett


Gutted interior art by Luke Spooner
Gutted interior art by Luke Spooner

Crystal Lake Publishing (CLP), a Bram Stoker Award-nominee publisher powered by Joe Mynhardt, is reponsible for nursing Gutted towards the incredible creature it became. CLP’s Patreon page was what first piqued my interest in their books. For current or past Patrons, CLP’s rewards for both the authors as well as the readers/patrons stands out for it’s generousness to both parties. The ‘mission statement’ written at the bottom sealed it:

We strive for each book and outreach program that’s launched to not only entertain and touch or comment on issues that affect our readers, but also to strengthen and support the Dark Fiction field and its authors.
We strive to know each and every one of our readers, while building personal relationships with our authors, reviewers, bloggers, pod-casters, bookstores and libraries.

The following interview is with Mr. Mynhardt, the South African owner/publisher/editor of Crystal Lake, which he started in August, 2012. If my thoughts on the art and stories of ‘Gutted’ aren’t enough to get you to jump in, the above quote, as well as the insights and answers below, should be.

*interview conducted via email June, 2016

Mark Andrew: Are there aspects of ‘Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories’ that you feel differentiate the writing and art from other anthologies?

Joe Mynhardt: Gutted is a completely unique anthology. I’ll quote from the editors’ initial pitch to show you why:

Every story explores the tension between beauty and horror. It’s a book of scars, regret and loneliness. But through it all, it’s a book where hope can still exist and beauty can still thrive. Where goodness, if not rewarded, is at least acknowledged.

And I must say, the authors really took this to heart when they wrote their stories. In a normal anthology you might find one of these extremely touching and emotional horror stories, those stories that stay with you when the world grows quiet, well Gutted has fifteen of those stories and a poem. This anthology truly is gut-wrenching…yet beautiful.

MA: Were the artists and writers aware of the others’ pieces as they were creating, or was just the idea given to all, and what was then returned was woven together by editors Doug Murano and D. Alexander Ward?

JM: The cover artist, Caitlin Hackett, only received the initial pitch that the editors sent to me, as well. As did the authors. Luke Spooner, the interior artist, was the only who had the entire anthology in front of him when he started creating the artwork. Since my main purpose in this anthology was to promote it, I only finished reading the book about a month before the launch.

The editors always kept their vision in focus, and did a great job of keeping everyone on the right track. They did an amazing job, and the readers will see this. I’ll work with them again and again. Great job by them and everyone else involved…What exactly they were looking for, you’ll have to discover as you read Gutted. Even the interior Luke created the artwork in a flowing technique as he read the book from start to finish.

MA: Was there an internal discussion at Crystal Lake when attempting to get names such as Barker and Gaiman for BHS…is/was the process for you greatly different than with newer artists ?

JM: We discussed every author we’re familiar with, asking ourselves who could write beautiful horror. Something in the vein of Stephen King’s “The Last Run of the Ladder” meets Robert McCammon. The authors we didn’t already know personally we reached out to, exhausting every possible contact to get them. The only names we would’ve liked to add were Joe Hill, Stephen King, and Robert McCammon himself. Perhaps even Peter Straub. What a dream come true that would’ve been.

MA: Your Patreon page is one of the most transparent and author-centric I’ve come across, along with an exceptional Patron to reward ratio. Was this intentional when you were planning how CLP would operate, or has it grown into that?

Gutted interior art by Luke Spooner
Gutted interior art by Luke Spooner

JM: My main goals for Crystal Lake have always been to promote and reward authors, as well as to present fans with the best experience possible. In today’s social media world, people are getting used to seeing what’s going on behind the scenes, which is a great thing. Instead of just reading books and being a fan of a person they might never truly know, I’m broadening that experience for them, while also rewarding my authors. I have that same goal for Crystal Lake Publishing. I want to [not just] create fans of the authors but the company, as well. I want my authors and Crystal Lake to become a house-hold name to fans of Dark Fiction.

…above all, I believe in paying authors what they deserve, since they’re giving the fans their absolute best. They’re giving me their absolute best. So wherever I can reward them, I will. I want to do the same with my support staff…

Folks who donate their time and expertise for little or no money. As the company grows financially, these are the people who deserve their cut first, since I can’t do it all on my own. Not anymore.

MA: Is it more beneficial to those who wish to continue to support Crystal Lake [as well as it’s authors] to contribute through the Patreon page to their max, or purchase the titles themselves from various distributors [or both]?

JM: I’m looking for a balanced approach, since I don’t want to fall into the ‘put all my eggs in one basket’ trap. I can’t have a sustainable long term plan if I rely only on Amazon. They like to change things without looking at the effects on authors, so I can’t trust them to take care of my authors. So to attract some of the readers to Patreon, they’ll get an escalating discount on eBook orders depending on the amount they pay per month. Patronage starts at $1, but the real benefits kick in at $3 and up!

Gutted: BHS Full Cover art Caitlin Hackett

Stories and art that continue to speak to me through my ‘normal’ routine, popping in and out as unexpected as what awaits within ‘Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories’. Editors that channeled the beauty to a tip as sharp as a razor’s caress, and as cold as a skeleton”s kiss. A publisher pushing the boundaries of Dark Fiction, while making a big enough whole for everyone to come along, authors and artists first and foremost…



Free Art Friday

‘Gutted:Beautiful Horror Stories’ is the first in what will be a WEEKLY art giveaway. Unlike most ‘giveaways’ where the one doing the giving is usually looking for something first, *Free Art Friday seeks to turn that on it’s head, pushing art and boundaries one person at a time.

How Free Art Friday Works

  1. Contact Mark Andrew through the Contact page
  2. Provide a valid shipping address
  3. Recieve that week’s comic/book/art FREE *meaning, free. no charge for postage. no charge for handling. no charge for anything…free!
  4. IF YOU FIND THE ART WORTHY OF SHARING (which you will!)
  6. Continue and repeat! 🙂
  7. First request receivs the Art, sent USPS Media Mail

*there are no mailing lists. no information is shared or kept in anyway. all personal identifiers will be immediately deleted once shipping label is created

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