A TRIPLE THREAT WITH A MESSAGE
by Mark McLaughlin and Michael McCarty
Barry Hoffman is what you'd call a triple threat: he's not just good at one thing -- he's excellent at three things. Over the years, he has been a teacher, a writer and a publisher. He has retired from teaching to pursue writing and publishing full-time, but even so, he continues to educate, because he has a message to share: his magazine, Gauntlet , informs readers about the dangers of censorship.
Barry's Gauntlet Press also publishes limited-edition collectible books by such literary giants as Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, F. Paul Wilson, and Robert Bloch, to name a few. Gauntlet Press is now taking orders for He Is Legend: Celebrating Richard Matheson , a fiction anthology based on Matheson's works. In addition, Barry produces a line of trade paperbacks under the imprint, Edge Books.
Barry's fiction includes the “Eyes” series of novels, Hungry Eyes , Eyes of Prey, Judas Eyes , Blindsided , and Blind Vengeance ; the stand-alone novel Born Bad ; young adult books; and the fiction collections, Guardian of Lost Souls and Love Hurts . His fiction has appeared in such high-profile anthologies as The Earth Strikes Back , Return to the Twilight Zone and Werewolves .
Horror Garage: Which came first: Barry the Writer or Barry the Publisher?
Barry Hoffman: Definitely the writer. I was pretty miserable at the school I was teaching at sometime -- I was the individualist where conformity was beginning to be demanded -- and I took out my frustrations on paper. I wrote one short story that was pretty pitiful and I don’t even have a copy of it. In it, a teacher -- me, with a different name -- jiggered with the electricity so when the principal came to his room and turned on the light, he got fried. I also told my students stories. When I gave a spelling test I’d tell a story, from the top of my head. There was a girl in one of my classes, Marjorie, who spent the entire day combing her hair. I’d tell her to stop and ten minutes later she was at it again. I told her one day if she continued I’d write a story about it for the class to read. She didn’t believe me -- even dared me to write it with a “No you won’t” -- so I wrote “Lice.” Not a great story either, but the class enjoyed it. Marjorie enjoyed it. She was the center of attention even if she did meet with a terrible end. My passion has always been writing and immersing myself into my characters.
HG: As a publisher, you've worked with some big names, including legendary authors Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson. How did you start working with them?
Barry Hoffman: I first communicated with Ray Bradbury while teaching. My students would read some of his classic short stories and critique them. I’d found out his address and sent him my students' work. While he couldn’t respond to each and every critique individually he wrote back a wonderful letter and signed a poster which went right up on a bulletin board in my classroom. One thing I learned early with Bloch, Bradbury and Matheson was that unlike many authors, NONE of them had a staff who answered their mail. Each read all mail received and responded. Bloch once sent me a handwritten letter, apologizing that his typewriter was in the shop being fixed. He was sending me the introduction to Psycho.
Bloch was actually the connection between all three. I approached Bradbury and Matheson to write an introduction and afterword to our classic-revisited of Psycho. Both wrote these wonderful moving pieces that talked about Bloch the author and Bloch the “gentleman.” When I saw how few books by Matheson and Bradbury had been published as signed limiteds, I approached both. Bradbury immediately agreed. Matheson was a bit more hesitant – possibly because he had been burned by Dream/Press who never paid him for the signed limited of his collected stories. He had three “demands.” He wouldn’t write an introduction to his books – this changed after we began working together. I asked if he would agree to an interview which would be turned into an introduction. He agreed… reluctantly. Next, he couldn’t sign tipsheets in a short period of time. I said we would send them to him six months in advance. He agreed … reluctantly. Last, if we wanted someone to write an intro or afterword we would have to approach them (he relented on this, too, later, suggesting and even contacting others on our behalf). Not a problem, I told him. He then agreed… reluctantly, and not too soon after He Is Legend was published. There was no reluctance after that.
HG: Is the market for collectible books getting better or worse?
Barry Hoffman: I know some publishers are decrying the current market due to the economy and I won’t disagree. You have collectors getting married and starting families. Well, you can’t start a family and collect signed limited editions. Not unless you’re already rich. And, I know some collectors have to give up their passion when they purchase a house and all of a sudden have a mortgage. But… all of our recent Repairman Jack books have sold out on publication. Keep in mind that these same people could wait three to four months for a less expensive trade edition of the book. The lettered and numbered editions of He Is Legend sold out in about a week and I have a long waiting list for both editions. So, I think if there are good books out there they will sell regardless of the economy.
I do think collectors are becoming more discriminating. They have just so much money so they can’t splurge as they did ten or twenty years ago. And some customers get a sour taste in their mouth when a publisher goes belly-up with customer’s money in their pockets or they don’t publish a book for three or more years. This has happened before and it takes a long time for people to trust the specialty press again. Without mentioning any names, it’s happening again now and it could hurt ALL specialty presses.
That’s why at Gauntlet we don’t take a penny until the year the book is to be published. We publish on time so customers know they won’t have to wait years for a book they’ve paid for. But, some perspective customers, who haven’t dealt with us before, are wary because of bad experiences they’ve had. There will always be a market for collectibles. Just like mass market publishers -- who are making severe cuts -- the specialty press has to treat their business as a business so they can publish during the bad times, so as to prosper during the good times.