Flame Tree Friday presents – an interview with Executive Editor, Don D’Auria.

I am honoured to feature an absolute LEGEND on the blog today. This is the man who said yes to my own three most favourite writers – Glenn, Hunter and Mr Janz.

Welcome, Don D’Auria.

Thank you so very much for agreeing to be interviewed for my blog.

First off, please could you tell me a little bit about yourself.

I’m always proud to say I was the classic example of a Monster Kid when I was growing up in the suburbs of New Jersey.  I read Famous Monsters and watched Creature Features religiously.  I still have the copies of Frankenstein and Dracula that I got from the Scholastic Book Club in grammar school, as well as my favourite Aurora monster models.  So you can imagine what it’s like for me to work in the genre that I’ve been a fan of since childhood.  It was a huge thrill for me to work with writers whose books I’d read long before I worked with them, amazing authors like Jack Ketchum and Ramsey Campbell.  And I still get that same kick when I read something new from a new author.  It’s just as thrilling as it was when I was a kid.  I guess in that sense I never grew up.  I’m still the same fan I always was, just a little taller.

Thank you. Now for some questions.

Q1 How did your journey into editing and publishing begin? 

I worked in a bookstore while I was in grad school, and when the owner of the store heard that a publisher (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) was looking for a sales rep, he recommended me for the position.  I got the job and was a rep for three years, and I loved working with the books and the stores, but I really wanted to be an editor, not a rep.  So I basically started from scratch and took a job as an assistant editor for a book packager, editing all sorts of genre fiction, from westerns to action-adventure.  From there I went to Bantam Doubleday for a couple of years.  But my journey into horror editing started at Dorchester/Leisure Books, where I ran the horror line for fifteen years.  That was a dream job for a long, long time.  And I’ve stayed in horror ever since, while also being able to branch out into science fiction, fantasy and crime thrillers as well at Flame Tree Press.  

Q2 You have been privy to thousands of manuscripts. Can tell you me about a time that you finished one and just felt blown-away, when you weren’t necessarily expecting it?

There are definitely some books that stick in my mind.  I remember when I read Hunter Shea’s first book, Forest of Shadows, as part of a contest for unpublished writers at Dorchester.  The end of the book almost made me cry, and that’s when I knew I had to buy it.  And I remember reading Brian Keene’s The Rising one afternoon during a Horror Writers Association convention, then going to a reading Brian was doing that evening to make an offer for it.  More recently, when I read P. D. Cacek’s Second Lives, I was totally amazed.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve known and loved Trish’s work for many years, but almost as soon as I started Second Lives I knew this was something special.  This was a leap into a whole new level.  It’s more Twilight Zone-type fantasy than her usual horror, but it’s powerful stuff.

Q3 Some of the most popular dark fiction writers out there right now, like Jonathan Janz, have claimed to owe their career to you. How does it make you feel to see them rise to the stardom they deserve?

I’m thrilled for them, of course, and if I’ve been any help to them, I’m delighted and proud of them.  But they’re the ones who wrote the books; the achievement is theirs.  I’m just the guy who made it easier for readers to discover them for themselves.  It’s one of my favorite parts of my job.  I’m very excited to be able to introduce readers to terrifically talented but relatively new writers, like Catherine Cavendish, Gregory Bastianelli, Steve Hopstaken & Melissa Prusi, D. W. Gillespie, Mark E. Fitch and V. Castro.  These wonderful writers deserve a wide readership, and I’m so glad to have them in the Flame Tree family.

Q4 When a new writer is desperately trying to get out of the slush pile and be noticed by a major publishing house like Flame Tree, what does their work need to have to make them stand out from the rest?

Well, of course the thing that will really make any manuscript stand out from the rest is the quality of the writing.  That’s what the author should put the most work into.  Make sure the manuscript is as good as you can make it.  Also, in this day and age it’s important for an author to have a presence in social media.  But I also notice and appreciate it when an author acts like a professional, when they take the time to look at Flame Tree’s guidelines (https://www.flametreepress.com/submissions/) and the line in general.  Show me that you put time in to learn your market.  And finally, one great way to stand out is to create human, believable, three-dimensional characters.  You should have more emotions in your horror novel than just fear.  Your characters should experience all the emotions that the reader would.  It makes for a much more powerful reading experience.  Those are the books readers, and editors, tend to remember.  For example, Mark E. Fitch’s Boy in the Box (a man and his friends go into the woods to hide evidence of a terrible secret from their past – only to find they’re not alone there) had plenty of horror and dread, as you’d expect, but Mark is masterful in also depicting the guilt and grief that makes his main character stand out from so many other fictional characters.  You read this book and you just know what this guy is going through.  You feel for him on a human level.

Q5 FTP houses some of my most favourite writers out there – Janz, Glenn Rolfe, Brian Moreland, Hunter Shea just to start with. It would be a dream come true to one day be included in an anthology or publication with one of them. What advice would you give to someone just starting out in the publishing game?

I think every editor would say authors shouldn’t be discouraged.  No matter how great your manuscripts are, you’re bound to be rejected…possibly a lot.  But you need to stick with it.  You need to keep trying.  Trends change, publishers’ inventories change, editors’ tastes change.  Like they say, the only way you can be sure to fail is to give up.  Plus, in addition to writing, you should read a lot.  Read other books in your genre.  See what other authors are doing.  Not so you can copy them in any way, but it’s good to be aware of what’s out there, which also shows what editors and agents are buying.   Follow Flame Tree Press on Twitter (@flametreepress) for calls for submission.

Q6 You have some veterans as well as newer talent on the books. What do you tend to look for when receiving pitches from virgin authors?

A lot of things.  First, I’d say, is the ability to tell a gripping story, something that will catch my attention from the very first page and keep me reading.  Then the ability to create human, believable characters, like I mentioned before.  Plus, originality.  I don’t want to read the same story I’ve read a dozen times before.  And you have to be able to deliver whatever emotions your genre requires.  In horror, of course, that would be fear, suspense, dread, things like that.  

And finally, I’m actively looking for new and different points of view, different perspectives.  Remember, the slogan of Flame Tree Press is “Fiction without frontiers.”  That’s something we definitely aspire to, and something we’ll be trying hard to expand on in the future.  Like all publishers, we want to increase the diversity of our list.  With that in mind, I know when I get a pitch from a new author, I place great value on any new perspective that I may not have seen much of before, whether it be ethnic background, gender identity, religion, or otherwise.  I want to broaden our list and break down those frontiers.

Q7 How do you think COVID will ultimately affect the publishing world and the type of horror people are wanting to read? Will The Walking Dead and post-apocalyptic stuff be too close to home?

Only time will tell, of course, but my personal guess is that readers won’t want anything too close to the reality of COVID.  Post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction will continue to do well, as long as it’s at least one step removed from reality, in order to still provide a sense of escapism and relief.  So maybe, as in Jonathan Janz’s The Raven, there’s a virus sweeping the world, but it’s a virus that, instead of hospitalizing or killing people, it turns them into monsters.  It allows readers to think, “Wow, I thought things were bad, but that’s even worse than what we have going on right now.”  Similar in a way to the popular sci-fi/horror films of the fifties, when people were terrified of the atom bomb.  A lot of the movies addressed that fear in different ways.  Instead of just blowing up entire cities, nuclear power created giant insects or Godzilla.  They turned the abstract fear of nuclear power into concrete monsters that could be defeated.

Q8 What are your future hopes and dreams for FTP? 

I want to be able to give some new writers a start, especially from diverse perspectives.  I want to give established authors a wider readership.  And I want readers to be able to trust and depend on Flame Tree Press for quality fiction.

Thank you so very much, Don. It was a privilege to talk with you.

Look out for a Q and A with the one and only, Hunter Shea next Friday! If you have any burning questions for him, comment below and let me know.

And, as always, sleep well …

3 thoughts on “Flame Tree Friday presents – an interview with Executive Editor, Don D’Auria.

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