Outcast Press and Transgressive Fiction, an interview on the genre
Outcast Press is the newest development in transgressive fiction publishing. A publishing house dedicated to fiction that takes no prisoners and that shows life for what it is: fucking convoluted, sick, and for the most part ... mediocre. Until transgressive fiction grabs ahold of it. Today we get to talk with Sebastian Vice about Outcast Press, transgressive fiction, publishing, and how Outcast Press is working towards something that transgressive fiction and dirty realism need ... more fresh faces.
First things first, how are you these days? What has Outcast Press been up to?
The answer most people fish for is “good,” or “fine.” But those of us who don’t wear rose-colored glasses say: look around the world, it’s a fucking nightmare. The best I can say, just for me (Sebastian Vice—the other peeps in Outcast might be doing great), is meh. Life has a very repetitive feel to it, which might explain my attraction to transgressive fiction. I’m able to be genuinely surprised by such literature in a way I’m not with other genres.
Outcast Press is up to many things. In the fall, barring any catastrophe, we have two releases. We have our transgressive fiction anthology: In Filth It Shall Be Found, as well as a novel (we don’t have all the paperwork signed, nor the cover, so we can’t officially announce it yet). We are also working on putting together a poetry showcase, and hosting 2-3 poems a week on the site. On top of that, we are winding down our Kickstarter, so anyone reading this, please, consider pledging.
What compelled you to create Outcast Press? Why start a publishing house?
Truth be told, I never envisioned (or even wanted) to start one. Hell, if all of a sudden a bunch of transgressive fiction presses sprout up, I’m happy giving it to someone else, and pimping my stories there. Sadly, that probably won’t happen.
Outcast Press was born, like most shit in my life, out of necessity. I’m primarily a short story writer, and I got really fucking tired of stumbling upon a potential “edgy” magazine, only to be confronted with a list of caveats of what’s “too far”. Taglines like, “we publish dark fiction,” then you go to the submission page and you see: we don’t want: [insert like 10 topics]. Fuck that weak shit. Go all the way, or go the fuck home. After seeing that enough, I snapped, and decided to create a press devoted to transgressive fiction and dirty realism with no fucking caveats.
Why transgressive fiction and dirty realism as a focus? Out of so many genres to pick from, why did you choose those ones to publish?
Every other genre has dozens of magazines devoted to them. Most I can list off the top of my head (all pro-paying). Horror? Nightmare Magazine, The Dark Magazine, Cemetery Dance. Science Fiction and Fantasy? Asimov’s, Analog, The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld.
These are just off the top of my head. From Mystery and Crime to Science Fiction and Fantasy you have dozens of pro-paying markets, and even more semi-pro paying markets. And that’s fine, if you write that kind of stuff, you’re good to rock.
Now, name me one press tailored to transgressive fiction that pays? Fuck me, name me one publication that is even tailored, full stop, to transgressive fiction.
Granted, after I started the press, I found a few (buried deep—and most don’t pay). If you’re like me, and gravitate toward short stories, but also write transgressive fiction? You’re up shit creek with a paddle two inches deep. I’d love to be proven wrong. I mean, if folks want to hit me up with a list of paying transgressive fiction markets, I will happily admit I’m wrong and fire off the dozens of stories I have. After a year or so of trying to find short fiction markets that catered to TF and dirty realism, I saw a market gap and figured we were the peg to fill it.
This long, and perhaps unlettered diatribe, leads to this: it was born out of necessity. I don’t fuck with horror, science fiction, fantasy, or much of anything else besides transgressive fiction and dirty realism. It’s not my bag. Nothing against these genres, they’re just not for me. But if others are thinking of starting a transgressive press, pretty please, do so.
Are there any specific struggles with being a publishing house within these genres?
Most people don’t know what transgressive fiction or dirty realism is. I mean, who’s the biggest transgressive fiction writer? Chuck P. He’s managed to gain mainstream appeal. However, besides Fight Club, do most people (avid readers even) know his body of work? I wager not.
Hell, I’m no better. Until three years ago, I didn’t even know I was writing transgressive fiction. I just wrote what I wrote, and hoped it fit into some well-established category. The general public doesn’t know what these genres are. So yeah, a lack of familiarity is a major obstacle.
Second, and perhaps even more problematic, is these two genres, when done right, require a certain kind of reader. People read for a variety of reasons. My hypothesis is that the average reader picks up a book and excepts not to be challenged, but merely entertainment. You won’t get this with transgressive fiction. Will you be entertained? I hope so, but you’ll be challenged. You’ll be confronted to question deep moral issues and social issues. It will make you uncomfortable in that the book, or story, will challenge things you take for granted.
In one of my pieces I have coming out in the fall, a kid ruminates on why being a peeping tom is bad, since God watches everything. If it’s ok for God to be a peeping Tom, why not me (the kid).
And you usually won’t find heroes or villains, just shades of grey. A lot of people don’t like that. And this is fine. But, this means we occupy a very niche space in the literary world. And since we don’t fit neatly into a category, I like to say transgressive fiction is: literary fiction + horror/comedy/crime/whatever.
It’s a bastard child.
How about in general? What is the hardest part of starting a publishing house and maintaining one?
As the new kid on the block, exposure. Overall? Cash flow, and learning the ins and outs of the publishing business. Then there’s the boring part: the legal shit. It’s necessary, but about as intellectually stimulating as watching flies fuck. But hey, this is what we signed up for, so it’s part of the package deal.
What long-term aspirations do you have for Outcast Press?
I can only speak for myself, but so long as we can consistently pump out anthologies and novels, we’re happy. My co-editor wants to do a podcast, but I’m not sure that’s a good idea.
Who knows, we might do that. At the end of the day, we just want to bring the literary world the best transgressive fiction and dirty realism we can find. We hope to be around for a long time (unless someone else comes around and does it better).
In your opinion, what makes a truly phenomenal novel or story in transgressive fiction and/or dirty realism?
Putting aside all the other features good stories have (plot, being well-written, interesting characters, etc) For dirty realism, I would say unbridled, in-your-face, take-no-prisoners honesty. Nothing watered down, nothing sanitized. I want the story to grab me by the throat, punch me in the face, then drag me kicking and screaming through broken glass and heroin needles.
The joy in this, is you disabuse readers of illusions. Perhaps the biggest illusions is: the “good” (whatever that means) people win. It’s just not true. Rarely is it true. People get bamboozled by stories, and when fucked up shit happens to them, and there’s no justice, wonder why. Well, stories are important, but too often we tell the wrong ones. Too often films and literature peddles in illusions and delusions (as those are more comfortable). With dirty realism, your fuckin’ rose colored glasses cracked (hopefully).
What makes, for me, a really good transgressive piece? It’s not the transgression per se. Rather, it’s how it’s handled. When done really well, you can sympathize or empathize with a truly despicable character.
Lolita is a great example, where you have H.H. having a sexual relationship with a minor (though he’s an unreliable narrator—one of the best, so did he?), but you kind of feel for this guy. He’s pathetic. He’s a loser. And even though you know what he’s doing is wrong, you can’t help sympathize with him.
Put all that aside, and let’s drill deeper. All good transgressive stories contain surprises. I’m not talking about plot twists, I mean something presented in such a way that leaves you wondering: what the fuck? I recently re-read Chuck P’s novel Survivor. One of my favorite chapters is where the protagonist’s phone number gets mixed up with a suicide hotline. Every time someone calls, the protagonist advises suicide. That’s fucked up, but surprising. Shocking? Sure, whatever. But unique. Not a plot twist, a surprise. Hopefully this makes some kind of sense.
Anything you would like to say to aspiring transgressive fiction and dirty realism writers?
Besides being fucked up enough to entertain and cultivate fiction that will cause people to question their association with you? I don’t know, the first thing is to have lot of trauma (which I wouldn’t recommend). Like with anything, if you feel it in your bones, just do it. Transgressive fiction and dirty realism chose you, not the other way around (to echo a sentiment from Bukowski).
Prepare to be misunderstood and accused of shit you don’t support. Write about a serial killer, and that’s fine. Write about rape, and suddenly you’re a rape apologist. It makes no sense, and people can easily distinguish between a character, a narrator, and the author except when it comes to transgressive fiction. But as Chuck P said, don’t write to be liked, write to be remembered. You probably won’t be liked by a lot of folks. Accept that. Accept it now. Or you’re in for a crude awakening.
Also, don’t apologize for what you write. Ever. Take a cue from the comedians. And if you ever achieve some kind of cult success, prepare to be hated by many. But that’s to be expected, right? You’re pushing buttons. Oh, and don’t write just for shock value. Make it shocking for a narrative reason, otherwise, you’re trading a blowjob for a handjob.
It has been great getting to talk with you today about transgressive fiction as well as about the indie publishing scene. Just one last question: Anything that we need to keep our eyes peeled to see in the near future from Outcast Press?
Thank you for the chance to interview us (well, me, Sebastian Vice). Just anthologies and novels (and some poetry showcases). Wish I had more to report, but that’s about it.
Coming Soon from Outcast Press:In Filth It Shall Be Found, an anthology of transgressive fiction.