CJJ: What does Centipede Press publish?
JW: Horror, crime, science fiction, art books, and some anthologies.
CJJ: Your editions often come at a very high cover price. I also find them incredibly well put together, I am tempted to say curated even, and they are so often visually beautiful. What should a potential purchaser of your book line know about the quality and care your company puts into its publications?
JW: First of all, nothing is perfect. The first thing I see with a finished book is the flaws, compromises, goofs, etc. Overall, however, they are looking better. I want the book to be very much a “private theater” and offer something that you do not get from a digital book. The idea is superior design, fonts, typesetting, layout, cloth, dust jacket material, artwork, etc. The dust jacket needs to be a work of art in itself. And there are just little things you can do with the design to provide relaxing moments for the reader. Fun things, pictures of authors, pictures of old editions, things like that.
CJJ: In your series, Masters of Horror and the Weird Tale, you often publish author compendiums, such as those of Arthur Machen, Frank Belknap Long William Hope Hodgson, to name a few of my favorites. How do you decide which authors make this cut and which do not? Are there any forthcoming editions like those I’ve mentioned that are right now in the works?
JW: There's always a bunch there. Clark Ashton Smith, Arthur J. Burks, Carl Jacobi, David Case, Fred Chappell, and the obscure John Metcalfe are all in some stage of production. There's no real decision on who makes the cut or not. First, is their work in the weird tradition? Does there seem to be enough interest to make it into a large book like this? Some people, like Maurice Level, did not work in the weird tradition and so got the smaller, more tradition 6 by 9 inch hardcover.
CJJ: You pay homage to contemporary horror authors as well with authors like Peter Straub and Thomas Tryon. How are these authors selected?
JW: That's pretty simple. You get feedback from customers, artists, and other writers—even other publishers. I try to find books that I liked, or always wanted to read, and I see if they are in print, and, if so, if they have received a limited edition.
CJJ: Given that your books are so artful, so completely collectable and long-lasting (I’m thinking here of their quality: the bind and paper), what do you most want to see out of other publishers’ books? I mean, when you go out to pick up a book, what do you admire and, also, wish to see improved?
JW: I mostly look at cutting-edge publishers. These would be Taschen, MIT Press, Genesis Publications, and others like that. If I am at a bookstore, the Art and Architecture, Science, and a lot of the children's book sections have, for me, great design. This is where I go for inspiration. Books on design seem to have the best printing and sharpest illustrations. Children's books seem to have a lot of engaging designs, as they are facing a lot of competition from other media. Genesis Publications are huge and rambling and gorgeously printed and bound. Taschen publishes so much in music, movies, and art, and each book has its own personality, along with sumptuous design and breathtaking reproductions. MIT Press uses an engaging, asymmetrical layout for a lot of books, in addition to unusual cover cloths and type treatments.
CJJ: Who were some of your favorite authors when you were younger, in high school for instance?
JW: I liked Stephen King a lot, up until It, which I read in my senior year and could just never finish. Nowadays some of my favorites are Joan Didion, Harlan Ellison, Philip K. Dick, Peter Matthiessen, Clark Ashton Smith Gene Wolfe, and Jim Thompson. Before high school I was a huge fan of Stephen King, James Herbert, and Peter Straub in that order. High school was H.P. Lovecraft, William Goldman, T.E.D. Klein, and some others.
CJJ: Do you have an ideal Halloween books list? What I mean to say is, if you were in some scenario where you found yourself not only on a desert island, but also perpetually waking up to October 31st, what books would be in your festively appropriate survival kit?
JW: The Haunting of Hill House, Salem's Lot, The Shining, At the Mountains of Madness, Harvest Home, The Ceremonies, The House on the Borderland, The Night Land, The Tenant, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, The Search for Joseph Tully, Falling Angel, Lord of the Flies, the complete works of Jean Ray, Edgar Allan Poe, Clark Ashton Smith, and Stefan Grabinski, and—there’s just too many to list.
But of course I would want something besides horror: Slouching Towards Bethlehem, The White Album, Far Tortuga, At Play in the Fields of the Lord, The Snow Leopard, Kom-Tiki, and then The Odyssey, The Iliad, The Aeneid, and the complete works of Shakespeare, Euripides, William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison—blah blah. Did I go on long enough?
Interviewee: Jared Walters
Interviewer: Christopher J. Johnson