Todd Keisling has been on a list of "horror authors to keep an eye on" for some time now, and when one reads his fiction, there's little doubt as to why. His newest collection of short fiction, Ugly Little Things is now out from Crystal Lake Publishing, and is not to be missed. Here, he tells us a little of his ugly path to publication--which isn't so horrible after all.
I’ve never done things the “right” way.
When I was a kid, I’d always get low scores in math class. I could find the right answer, but not the way my teachers showed me. When I was in high school, I stopped reading the assigned texts because I was writing my own book. I’ll never forget my English teacher’s befuddled expression when I told him. I think it was the last thing he expected, and when I dropped a manuscript on his desk a month later, I think I perplexed him even more.
But that’s me. That’s how I’ve always been, to the dismay of my parents, my teachers, the many bosses I’ve had over the course of many day jobs in the last 15+ years. That attitude, or maybe that degree of stubbornness, has clung to me for most of my life. I’ve always followed my own path, on my own terms.
My recently published collection, Ugly Little Things: Collected Horrors, is a perfect example of this. Around the end of 2012, just after the publication of my second novel, I decided I needed a break from writing novels. My second book took me almost four years to write, and in that time, I focused on nothing else but that one story. I was tired, I was drained, and I was hungry for something different.
Until that point, I hadn’t written much short fiction since college. After getting my degree, I wanted to tackle big projects, something that could land me an agent, get me a six-figure publishing deal, and kick-start my writing career. Sure, I tackled the big projects and I started to build a following, but not much else materialized. Frustrated and depressed, I turned away from long fiction and looked at creating a collection of shorter work, something along the same lines of King’s “Night Shift” or Barker’s “Books of Blood.”
So, I did. Remember that depression I mentioned above? That was my fuel, and it shows. By the end of 2013, I’d written one short piece and three novelettes, all representing some of the darkest fiction I’d ever crafted. Those first four stories—what would become the original run of “Ugly Little Things”—are so bleak and gut-wrenching that I have a hard time revisiting them, because I remember the pain that birthed them. By the end of that year, I was in a pretty dark place, and for the first time in my life, I seriously considered stepping away from writing altogether.
Fortunately, I have some awesome friends who were supportive and encouraging, and at their suggestion, I released those four stories as standalone Kindle single titles. They became bestsellers, were received well by reviewers, and laid the groundwork for what would come next.
Near the end of 2014, I compiled those first four tales and several other unreleased stories from my college years into a limited edition hardcover through my publishing company, Precipice Books. I wanted to test the waters as a specialty press, but before signing on any other authors, I decided to use my own work as a test subject. If my idea failed, at least no one else would be at risk. The result was “Ugly Little Things: Volume One,” a 50-count hardcover run that sold out. Apparently, my business plan was solid, so I moved on to my next publishing project, Anthony J. Rapino’s Greetings from Moon Hill, a book that would take up the better part of two years from start to finish.
In that time, I began receiving requests from readers who were just starting to discover my work, asking if they could get the ULT stories in paperback. I was busy with Tony’s project, so I didn’t have the time or resources to make a paperback run a reality. Toward the end of 2015, at the suggestion of my good friend Mercedes M. Yardley, I pitched ULT to Joe Mynhardt at Crystal Lake Publishing. It was a long shot—he wasn’t actively accepting submissions, but I’d worked with him in the past on Crystal Lake’s non-fiction anthology, Writers on Writing, and we seemed to have a good rapport, so…I threw caution to the wind. I told him that I’d write a second volume for him if he’d pick up the rights to the first volume. He said he couldn’t promise anything, but would take a look at the manuscript.
A few months later (spring 2016 by this point), Joe contacted me about ULT. He loved it and said he wanted to publish it—if I could wait until 2017, that is. He was booked solid until then. I had no problem with that. A year would give me plenty of time to write a second volume. Eventually, we’d decide to combine the two volumes into a single title.
So, in the summer of 2016, I signed a deal with Crystal Lake Publishing. Earlier this year, I signed a representation agreement with Gandolfo, Helin & Fountain Literary Management. If you’re keeping score, I went from being a self-published author to being a hybrid author with a literary agent in the span of about four years.
Along the way, people told me that if I self-published anything, I would fail.
People told me that if I wrote horror, I would fail.
People told me that I’d never get an agent.
People told me that no one would ever want to publish anything I write because it’s shit.
I ignored those people because they were trying to steer me off a path I wanted to travel. If I failed, I’d do it on my own terms. And if I succeeded, I’d have the satisfaction of knowing I made my own path to get there.
So, I kept writing. I kept moving forward. I did things my way.
TODD KEISLING is the author of A Life Transparent, The Liminal Man (a 2013 Indie Book Award Finalist), and the critically-acclaimed novella, The Final Reconciliation. He lives somewhere in the wilds of Pennsylvania with his wife, son, and trio of unruly cats.
His latest book, Ugly Little Things: Collected Horrors, is available now from Crystal Lake Publishing.