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A Conversation With Rick Klaw
An interview with Jayme Lynn Blaschke
November 2003

Rick Klaw
Rick Klaw
Not content with just being a regular columnist for SF Site, Rick Klaw decided to collect his columns, essays, reviews, and other things Klaw in Geek Confidential: Echoes From the 21st Century (currently available from Monkey Brains, Inc). As a freelance editor, former book buyer, managing editor, and bookstore manager, Rick has experience with most aspects of the book business.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site: Geeks With Books Columns
SF Site Review: Geeks Confidential

Geek Confidential
Weird Business
Behold the Man
Tales from the Texas Woods
Negative Burn #47

SF Site Interview: | Part 1 | Part 2 |

Dubbed "The smartest mouth on the Internet" by Michael Moorcock, Rick Klaw holds thousands of readers in thrall with his monthly column "Geeks with Books." His collection of select columns along with assorted interviews and other materials, Geek Confidential, was recently published by Monkeybrain, and at any one time he has various projects in development. A veteran of comics publishing, Klaw has worked with Blackbird and DC Comics as well as co-founding the late, lamented Mojo Press and serving as that publisher's managing editor. While at Mojo, he orchestrated the publication of such notable works as the ground-breaking Weird Business, the 30th Anniversary Edition of Moorcock's Behold the Man and The Blueberry Saga with Moebius. Currently, Klaw works as a bookseller in Austin, Texas with his wife, Brandy.

Geek Confidential is your new book out from Monkeybrain. That's certainly an unusual title -- what's the significance?

Actually, that wasn't the original title. It was originally called That Bastard Klaw, but That Bastard Klaw is really not that commercial of a title. Geek Confidential is what the book is. It's like a little inside view of the geek world. That's the way I look at it.

To be a geek is to be an expert at something, to be good at something better than the normal person. Here I am revealing behind-the-scenes stuff of bookselling, the publishing world, other little weird, geek things. There's science fiction, mysteries, even westerns in there. It was also a play upon the pulp titles of the 50s -- P.I. Confidential, that kind of thing. And that's where the cover came from too, to go with that.

How did the book itself come about?
Originally, it was with another publisher. We couldn't come to terms on the contractual end, so I pulled it and I sat on it for a little while. I've known Chris Roberson for a long time -- Chris being the publisher of Monkeybrain. He and I were at one of Bruce Sterling's Turkey City parties, and he was telling me about a new company that he was starting up. He was going to publish non-fiction genre. It sounds strange when you first think about it, but he's publishing some great books!

So I said, "You know, I've got this book, a collection of essays, and it's all finished."

He said, "Well, send it to me."

I did, and a month later we had contracts and the whole thing figured out.

We can't talk about Geek Confidential without discussing your monthly "Geeks With Books" column for SFSite.com, upon which much of the book is based. What are the origins of the column?
That's easier to explain. My entire career is based almost all on networking. I'm a big believer that it's on who you know. I know people hate hearing that, but it is a reality. It's who you know.

I had met Rodger Turner -- Rodger being the editor of SFSite -- in Corpus Christi, at the World Fantasy Convention. At the time, I was writing a column for Book People, a bookstore I used to work for. I guess six months later, Charles de Lint was in town doing a book signing, and he mentioned Rodger told him to say hello. I said, "Wow! I didn't know Rodger remembered me."

It was funny, because I'd just been thinking about pitching the idea of doing a column for someone. I emailed Rodger at SFSite, and said, "Rodger, I'd like to do some work for you."

He said, "Well, this is how we do reviews..."

I said, "I really don't like doing reviews." And I don't. I much prefer opinion pieces as opposed to reviews. I mean, look at my book -- a small percentage of it is reviews as opposed to essays.

Rodger said, "Well, actually, I've been wanting somebody who works in a bookstore to write a column about the inner workings of a bookstore." And that's how it came about.

For about two years I stayed true to form. You know, behind the scenes. But after that I've just kind of gone wherever I want. Rodger informed me that my column was one of the most popular things on the site. That's when we decided I could probably do other things... to branch it out.

Readers of your column know that you aren't shy when it comes to expressing your innermost feelings on any subject. Where did this outspokenness come from?
My mother. My mother's kind of outspoken -- Let me back up. I think it has to do with being the only male in my entire family. I'm the only male in my entire generation... no brothers… no male cousins… nothing. I've always had to be loud and boisterous to compete. I was encouraged to express my opinion from a very early age.

My mother -- we would sit down to dinner and we always talked about politics. Very early on I was a baseball fan, and so was my mother, so we would debate baseball topics. When I signed my mother's copy of Geek Confidential I said something along the lines of, "All those years of hearing my opinions for free, and all you got out of it was a lousy free book of my opinions."

As I got older, it just blossomed. But it definitely started with my mother encouraging me to speak my mind.

Have you gotten negative feedback because of your opinions in your column?
Surprisingly, no. When I did my review of The Fellowship of the Ring, which was not for my column but for RevolutionSF.com, you'd have thought I pissed on Tolkien's head. I liked the movie, but I didn't like it as much as everybody else. Somehow, I don't get as many negative comments as you'd think. Occasionally I get people who disagree with me, but that's different than what I would consider negative feedback.

What haven't you written about that you still want to?
I would eventually like to write a biography of Augustus de 'Este. He was the grandson of George III and the cousin of Queen Victoria. More importantly, he was the first man to keep a journal about having multiple sclerosis. There's been one book written about him, but I would like to write the definitive book. It always surprises people when I say this, because it's not science fiction-related at all.

I'll probably write a baseball something or another, perhaps a baseball history, because I love it too much not to. I'd like to write a pop-culture history of gorillas.

When I sit down to write my columns, I think about it, and just start composing. I discuss it with my wife, Brandy, what I'm going to write about, but I don't plan out the next three months. I just don't think that way.

You're currently known for "Geeks With Books" and Geek Confidential, but before you were associated with Mojo Press. What was Mojo, and how did you become involved?
Mojo was a publishing company. Mojo ended up doing 18 books and I edited the first 15. Mojo Press was formed to publish the book Weird Business that I co-edited with Joe Lansdale. It was a 420-page hardback comic anthology -- 23 stories, 56 creators. It was a big, fat book. We used to joke with people, "If you don't like it, you can beat people with it or stand on it to reach things in high places."

Joe and I had this idea for a book. We wanted to do a book, a graphic novel anthology, with top-name horror, fantasy, and science fiction writers. We had people like Robert Bloch, Poppy Z. Brite, Roger Zelazny, Howard Waldrop, Nancy Collins... it just goes on. But nobody would take us seriously. At the time we were pitching it, comics were really hot. When we first started, it was in the early 90s and nobody would listen. They said it couldn't be done.

I knew this guy, Ben Ostrander. I'd been selling books to Ben for years in bookstores, and we had become friends. I knew Ben had some money and was looking for a career change, so I pitched the idea to him of doing Weird Business. He thought it was a great idea and formed Mojo Press. I actually ended up editing the first four Mojo Press books, which were Creature Features, Weird Business, The Tell-Tale Heart and the 30th anniversary edition of Behold the Man before I became an official part of Mojo. It was at that point that I became an employee of Mojo, on the payroll and everything. But technically, I guess I'm a co-founder because I was there at the beginning. There wasn't much I wasn't involved in.

What do you view as your most significant accomplishments while at Mojo?
There are a couple of things. It's hard to narrow it down, actually. I mean, I did 15 books, and they all have their own little pieces. Weird Business was definitely a big one, because with Weird Business, there was nothing like it, ever, before. And really, there hasn't been anything like it since.

When we did Weird Business, there weren't any graphic novels in bookstores. I don't know if it's a direct result of Weird Business or not, but I think it opened people's eyes. That you could do this. It was one of the first graphic novels marketed with bookstores in mind -- or produced with bookstores in mind. There was not an intent to put this in comic book shops. The intent was to sell it in bookstores. Comic books shops were a secondary market.

Behold the Man is another significant book. If for nothing else, it introduced John Picacio to the world. John would go on to become a fairly well-known cover artist -- who also did the cover to Geek Confidential. Behold the Man was John's first opportunity to do book and cover design.

Behold the Man is one of the seminal, very important, science fiction stories. The Mojo edition was the first time that the book was ever treated with the respect it really deserved. Let's be honest: All the versions of Behold the Man before that one were butt ugly. Okay? They're ugly books! Unlike his predecessors, John nailed it. He produced a magnificent cover without any Christian symbolism on it, and he still captured the feeling of the book. We got Jonathan Carroll to write a wonderful introduction to it, we reprinted the novella -- the original novella as opposed to the novel -- and Moorcock wrote a fantastic afterword, talking about what happened with the death threats, being banned, the failed movie and all kinds of stuff.

When we were preparing Behold the Man, the proofreader corrected a Bible verse, edited some quotes from the Bible.

Michael looks at it and goes, "She corrected these Bible verses?"

"Yeah, Mike. They're wrong."

Michael looked it up, and it had been wrong in every edition. Every edition of Behold the Man before that had the wrong Bible verses, so we got to put "With the author's corrected text" on the book because nobody'd ever noticed! [laughing]

Dead Heat by Del Stone won the International Horror Guild award for best first novel. It had one of my favorite quotes ever about a book -- Ed Bryant said it was, "Possibly the greatest zombie biker novel ever!" Wow!

It's hard to narrow down, because they all have personal meaning. I don't look at any of the Mojo books and go, "God, that was awful!" There was The Blueberry Saga, working with Moebius. There was all this kind of stuff. I'm real proud of my work with Mojo.

How about the flipside of that? What were your biggest mistakes at Mojo?
There were a couple. The funniest one -- I say funniest, but it's kind of pathetic, actually -- was our third book, The Tell-Tale Heart, a collection of Edgar Allan Poe stories adapted by Bill Fountain. We opened it out of the box, and realized we'd forgotten to put anything on the spine. It's completely white, which is the death knell for a book.

The packaging for Michael Moorcock's Tales from the Texas Woods -- not that it's bad, but Ben and I, for some reason, thought it'd be really clever to put the Elric on the back cover and the Masked Buckaroo on the front. It's Elric vs. the Masked Buckaroo. It's an Elric western, the lead story in the book, which is a collection of Moorcock short stories. For some stupid reason we thought we should put the Masked Buckaroo on the cover and Elric on the back. I don't know what the hell we were thinking. So that wasn't a real bright move.

Overall, I think that Mojo was a little bit ahead of its time. We were a little aggressive. We probably should've published a little bit slower and gotten into prose much faster. Should've seen that comics weren't working the way we thought, that we were way ahead of the curve on the graphic novels.

In Geek Confidential, you mention the influence Michael Moorcock, Joe Lansdale and Lewis Shiner have had on your work. Did these relationships originate through Mojo?
No. Actually, it all goes back to Lew Shiner. It's a long, complicated, convoluted story.

I moved to Austin in 1987 and I started working at Bookstop, which was a small bookstore chain. He was a regular customer in the store, and this was about the time Deserted Cities of the Heart came out. Lew and I would talk. We became friends and as a matter of fact, he taught me how to write a comic book script.

He taught me how, and then I wrote a Twilight Zone-type script, like most writers do early in their careers. I showed it to him, and Lew said, "This is great!" So I promptly didn't write anything for the next six months. I was 19 or 20 at the time. I was like, "Oh my god! This guy's great, and he likes my stuff?" Typical.

Was this story ever published?
In 1991, I went to my first San Diego Comic Con. Lew actually got me a free pass because I wasn't a professional yet. I met the editor of The Twilight Zone comics, and at the convention she told me I'd get $100 per page, which at that time was a princely sum, especially for a guy who'd never written anything. So I sent her that Twilight Zone story in September-October, and she wrote back, "This is really good. We want it. But, it's a Christmas story, so we're going to have to run it next year."

I sat around and waited. The story's done. No big deal. I call every once in a while and we touch base. I send in a couple of proposals but nothing ever happens. We're now getting into October. Comics are solicited three months ahead of time, and I open up the catalogue. And there it is: Twilight Zone, Christmas issue, and my story's the cover story. I don't have a contract -- they don't have my script! It's a 15-page story, and they don't have my script, nothing!

So I call my editor, and I said, "What's up?"

She said, "Oh, yeah. We need your home address so we can FedEx the contracts to you. Oh, and it's for $30 a page."

Excuse me? They'd told me it was going to be $50 when I sold it to them, but I was okay with that. "Wait a minute. $30 a page? But you told me it was going to be $50. As a matter of fact, the first time you told me it was going to be $100!"

"Well, yeah, I know I told you it was $50, but we've re-evaluated the finances and we don't know if we can afford $50 a page."

"I don't think I can do it for $30 a page."

"Well, why not?"

"Because you told me it was going to be $50."

The editor's hemming and hawing. "Well, I need to talk to the publisher." I hang up the phone, and she calls me back a couple hours later, "He won't budge."

"Well, I guess you're not having my story." And I'm thinking, They have it solicited!

Less than an hour later I get a call from Tony Caputo of Now Comics -- publishers of The Twilight Zone. "You know what? We're going to publish this story, and you're going to take the $30 a page! Or you're not going to get your story published!"

"Well, I guess I'm not going to get the story published, am I?" And it never came out. The Christmas issue was never published. And that's what happened to my Twilight Zone story.

I learned early on that you should stick up for your guns. The sad part is that a good friend of mine, Mark London Williams -- who I refer to in the book, the writer of Danger Boy -- his first published prose story was going to be in the same issue of The Twilight Zone with me. He did get paid, though, and they paid him months before. Mark didn't feel too bad, but he did wonder, "Man, what'd you do?" [laughing]

I'm sure comics fans everywhere will find it fascinating.
We were talking about Shiner. Shiner and I became friends. Shiner's the one who taught me how to edit. He's a really patient man and a great teacher. I think one of the real crimes in the world today is that he doesn't teach more, because he knows his stuff. He knows how English works, he knows how writing works. He would go through all the little pieces. The first time I put together a comic book proposal for a series, he sat with me for two hours and went through every page of the proposal, went over every word with me. He didn't have to do that. It was great.

He gave me advice on editing. Always tell people the bad things first and finish with the good, so that everyone feels good when it's finished. Don't sugar-coat things. It doesn't help. That sort of thing. He was also in my first anthology, which had the title Omnibus: Modern Perversity. Don't ask me, I don't know what the hell I was thinking. It's an awful title. That was my first anthology, with Blackbird, and he was in it. Through him, I sorta met Joe Lansdale.

How so?
I was reading Lansdale's Nightrunners, and when I told Shiner about it, he informed, "Oh yeah. I know Joe. We're old friends."

"Why didn't you ever tell me about him? This book is great!" I was going to the Dallas Fantasy Fair, and Joe was going to be there. Shiner told me, "Tell Joe that you're a friend of mine, and that he should talk to you."

I was at the Dallas Fantasy Fair -- it was one of my first shows as a professional, and they had these professional suites where all the pros could go and hang out, drink some beer -- and I go up to Joe. "Mr. Lansdale, Lewis Shiner told me to tell you 'Hi,' that I'm a friend of his and you need to talk to me."

First he corrected me, and said, "It's Joe," because he hates being called Mr. Lansdale. From there we started talking, and we became friends.

While at an Aggiecon, I asked Joe Lansdale if he'd like to do a story for my anthology, Creature Features. It was really ballsy of me, because I had no money. It was a big shock when he went, "Yeah sure. What do you want?"

He did an original story for Creature Features, and all the other kids are going, "Gosh! I'll get an original Joe Lansdale if I just ask?" I think it may have been his last one! [laughing] I doubt he's done a free story since then. I don't know what overtook him or whatever, but he did it.

Over the course of that story, Joe and I started talking over the phone, and before you know it, we were talking like once a week on the phone. I'd get the phone bill, and my wife's yelling at me, "Would you stop talking to Joe so much?" Because we'll talk for hours about bullshit! We talk about everything.

And you met Michael Moorcock at a convention as well?
At Aggiecon I met Michael Moorcock, who I hit it off with really well, too. Mostly because Moorcock is a Captain Marvel fan, who many people know as SHAZAM! We both love him, and think he's the coolest dude in the world. Don't ask me to explain it -- we think it's so cool, we've pitched an idea to DC about doing a Captain Marvel book together. I don't know if it'll ever happen or what.

He and I started talking about Captain Marvel. I discovered something which I think most people realize when they're friends with professional writers: they like to talk about other things. They don't want to talk about their writing all the time -- everybody likes to talk about their writing occasionally. They want to talk about politics, they want to talk about what they're reading, they want to talk about the movies. They want to talk about whatever.

Shiner, Moorcock and Lansdale had a profound influence on my writing and editing careers. I've been told before that my non-fiction is a lot like Lansdale in some ways with the colloquialisms and the speedy way which it reads. I learned a lot about editing from Moorcock, and writing, too. Joe and Mike have probably taught me more about how to deal with professionals and how to deal with companies. What you can be expected to put up with. You know, to this day I still call them when I do something, "Did I do that okay?" Because they're both models to follow. They're both very successful. They've both made their own way by being who they are.

You've talked about Mojo's origins, but what led to the publisher's demise?
The usual small press stuff. We bit off a little more than we could chew. Like I said before, we published a bit too quickly. We had some books that didn't sell as well as we'd hoped. We were very ambitious early on, and I think we had a tendency to over-pay for some things. We had some things people would deem successful by sales, but they weren't successful financially. It was a combination of things along those lines. In my book, I refer to it as "Blazing like a star," and I think it really blazed. It exploded.

It was a very brief period. I mean, Mojo was only around for five years. We did 18 Mojo books in five years. That's an incredible pace for a small press.

Given the chance, would you edit for a small press again?
Yeah, I would. To be honest, I wouldn't mind having my own publishing line again. There's a certain amount of ego involved with that, the idea of being able to publish whatever you want. There's pride, there's ego... you remember the good things. When you asked me the questions, "What am I proud of?" and, "What would I change?" you saw how different the list was. You remember the good stuff, and tend to forget the bad. You look at the books on the bookcase and go, "All those books! Those are mine!" I do have a certain amount of ego, and I do think I have an idea of what people like. It would be fun to do it once again.

What are the advantages of working with a small press?
I just wrote about this today on the Nightshade discussion boards. John Picacio was talking about covers, and asking people what their best and worst cover experiences were as a writer. I could actually say, "I've never had a bad cover experience."

I've edited 17 books, four or five anthologies and then Geek Confidential -- I've always had control with the covers. It was like, "Okay, this is the way I want the cover to be, and this is it. There isn't another choice." I'd talk to the artist, but it was going to be pretty close to what I wanted. I was the man in charge. On Geek Confidential, I was lucky because John Picacio did it. John and I have worked together many times before and we're good friends. When I emailed John some suggestions, he emailed me back. "Rick, can you go through some of these pulp art books" -- because he knew we both had the same books -- "list the page numbers with covers you like." Great! I went through them and with the list I had another suggestion. "Of course, I'd like to have a gorilla on the cover."

John writes back, "Well, duh!" [laughing] So, I didn't have to explain that!

John gave me several design sketches, but I would've been a winner with any of them. That's one of the advantages of the small press, because as a writer and an editor, you have much more control over the final product. Nobody's sitting there telling you can't do this or that. At Mojo, we didn't have a marketing team. No small press has a marketing team. Do you think Golden Gryphon has a marketing team? They're probably doing what we did at Mojo Press -- they lick their finger and stick it out in the wind! "Huh! Yeah, that'll work!" You go out and you do what you think is best.

When Ben and I started Mojo Press, we were real neophytes. We did not know what we were doing. We both learned a lot. A lot of it comes out in my columns. I've talked about publishing and good cover design. I think I talk about in there with the story about White Wolf -- aw, hell, read the book! I had a little run in with the art director of White Wolf at a science fiction convention. It's in the book!

SF Site Interview: | Part 1 | Part 2 |

Copyright © 2003 by Jayme Lynn Blaschke

Jayme Lynn Blaschke graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in journalism. He writes science fiction and fantasy as well as related non-fiction, and serves as fiction editor for RevolutionSF.com. A collected volume of his speculative fiction interviews, Cosmosis, is due out from the University of Nebraska Press in 2004. His website can be found at http://www.exoticdeer.org/jayme.html


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