Automatism Press is a two-person operation based in San Francisco. It was started in 1990 by Mason Jones and Loren Rhoads, went dormant for several years after the death of Morbid Curiosity magazine, and has recently returned with the books Lost Angels and Black Light, both published earlier this year.
Horror Addicts: What inspired you to start a press?
Loren Rhoads: When Mason and I first moved to San Francisco, we went to a lecture by Vale and AJ of RE/Search Books. They’d already published the William Burroughs/Brion Gysin/Throbbing Gristle book and the Industrial Culture Handbook, both of which we’d bought in Ann Arbor. At the time of the lecture, they were looking for help with their next book, which turned out to be Modern Primitives. They were very open about how they produced books, from interviewing subjects to design and layout to fulfilling orders. Working for them was a real education.
HA: Tell us about Automatism Press’s first book.
Loren: It was called Lend the Eye a Terrible Aspect, after the St. Crispin’s Day speech in Shakespeare’s Henry the V. We published it in 1994. It was a collection of stories and essays about North America on the brink of the 21st century: very earnest, very punk rock. In fact, it includes an essay by Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys about legalizing marijuana. One of my favorite essays is about the human need to form tribes by Claudius Reich.
HA: What inspired your second book, Death’s Garden: Relationships with Cemeteries?
Loren: My best friend’s husband was dying of AIDS in the early 90s. Blair gave me a bunch of photographs of graveyards he had visited. Originally, I was just going to publish his photos, but the more people I spoke to about the project, the more personal essays I got for it. Death’s Garden has been out of print for years, but I’m still really proud of it.
HA: How did Death’s Garden lead to publishing zines?
Loren: Mason started an indy record label called Charnel Music, which brought a lot of Japanese bands to the US. He hit on the idea of interviewing the bands and reviewing Japanese records, movies, candy – every part of Japanese underground or pop culture – so he started a zine called Ongaku Otaku. He would get the best things in the mail for the zine…and I got jealous. I wanted cool stuff in the mail, too. I realized I needed to publish my own zine.
I’d really enjoyed the process of assembling Death’s Garden, particularly the part where I got true stories from strangers. So I decided I wanted to receive confessional essays from people I didn’t know.
I never considered any other name for the project than Morbid Curiosity.
HA: Morbid Curiosity magazine was published annually for ten years. What was it like putting it together?
Loren: It was an amazing amount of fun. I was always impressed by the things people would confess to, from deeply personal medical issues to coming in contact with serial killers to adventures that might possibly get them arrested. I never knew what was going to come in the mail next.
Even better were the live events. I started out hosting yearly release parties at Borderlands Bookstore, which brought together hundreds of people. I just adored hearing people confess in front of an audience. Those readings led to open mics at the World Horror Conventions and then on to being on NPR and all kinds of crazy stuff.
HA: Why’d you quit?
Loren: By 2006, the world had changed. Stories that would have come to Morbid Curiosity were going up on Livejournal instead. Tower Records had been one of my biggest distributors, so when it closed down, it was suddenly a whole lot harder for me to sell magazines. I lost thousands of dollars in their collapse. And I had a kid by then, so I didn’t have the time or patience to make the magazine great any more.
Ten issues seemed like a good place to go out: while the magazine was still good, still loved.
HA: What came next?
Loren: Automatism published a couple of chapbooks. The first was Ashes & Rust, which Alan at Borderlands Bookstore recommended I put together after he invited me to read at my first Litcrawl in 2005. Ashes & Rust collected up four of my science fiction stories that had been published in little magazines. I described it as “Sex. Drugs. Rock’n’roll. Space aliens. Demonic possession. Murder. Friendship.” All the best things in life.
After that, we published the Paramental Appreciation Society chapbook. The Paramentals were a writing group that I belonged to for six years. It included Claudius Reich (who had been in both Automatism anthologies and most issues of Morbid Curiosity), Lilah Wild, Seth Lindberg, and A.M. Muffaz, all of whom I’d worked with on Morbid Curiosity. Mason was a member of the group, too, for a while.
The chapbook contains my erotic vampire story set in Golden Gate Park, a witchy fairy tale set in the Tenderloin, a dragon slayer’s adventure set in Lower Pacific Heights, and then explores what the BART trains are really running from.
HA: Then the press went silent for a number of years.
Loren: Yeah, my own writing and editing career took off finally. I sold Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues, a best of Morbid Curiosity book, to Scribner, which led to a collection of my cemetery travel essays called Wish You Were Here on Western Legends, a novel on Black Bed Sheets, a space opera trilogy at Night Shade, and a bunch more short stories published in books and magazines. I was too busy to be a publisher for a while.
HA: What brought you back?
Loren: The contract expired on my succubus novel and I got the rights back. It had always been planned as a two-book series, so I released the first book, Lost Angels, in April with my preferred text and a new cover.
HA: How did you publish the next book?
Loren: I served as a beta reader for Martha Allard’s Black Light. It is an amazing, aching ghost story with psychic vampires set in the rock-n-roll world of the 1980s. Martha had been planning to self-publish it when Mason heard me raving about it. He suggested we do it for her. I can’t say enough good things about the book. It’s beautiful and devastating.
HA: What’s next?
Loren: The second succubus novel was meant to be out this month, but I got offered a big project on a short deadline for a big New York publisher, so Angelus Rose is on hold until that monster is turned in. I’m still waiting on the contract, though, so I can’t announce its name yet.
When the second succubus novel finally does come out, Angelus Rose will complete the story of Lorelei and Azaziel. They burn down most of LA in the process. I’m excited to see it in print finally.
HA: Any plans beyond that?
Loren: I want to update Wish You Were Here, my cemetery travel essays. I’ve been collecting essays for a second volume of Death’s Garden called Death’s Garden Revisited. Emerian Rich has written a lovely piece for that book, actually. I’m hoping to kickstart the funding for that book next summer.
In addition, I’m going to experiment with putting a dozen of my Alondra short stories out as singles on Amazon. “The Shattered Rose,” from the Paramentals chapbook, is one of them.
But everything is on hold until I get my mystery project written. It’s supposed to come out in October 2017, so time is very, very short.
Lend the Eye:
Death’s Garden: https://lorenrhoads.com/2016/10/11/deaths-garden-revisited-2/
Morbid Curiosity: https://lorenrhoads.com/editing/morbid-curiosity-magazine/
All the available books on my bookshop: https://lorenrhoads.com/bookshop/