San Antonio already has a rep as one of Texas' spookiest cities thanks to its haunted hotels, theaters and train tracks.
Now it's poised to become even more horrifying thanks to the couple behind a locally based publishing company. Next month, the pair will open Ghoulish Books, the Alamo City's first horror-focused bookstore.
"It was something myself and my partner have discussed at great length and fantasized about for years," said Max Booth III, a horror author who along with fellow scribe Lori Michelle runs a small press with the same name as the forthcoming store. "But we never really had the opportunity or thought that it would be a realistic thing to do."
That is, until the perfect opportunity dropped right in front of them.
The couple had been looking to rent a space for their publishing office, which had operated out of their kitchen for the past decade. During the hunt, Booth visited a used bookstore in Selma that he and Michelle frequented. One of the owners revealed the shop would soon be closing.
After some discussion, the couple inked a lease. Since the storefront was already configured as a retail space, they decided to continue operating it as a bookshop under the name of their publishing brand.
Ghoulish Books is the recently renamed horror imprint of Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, an indie press Booth and Michelle founded in 2012. The company has always focused on publishing works in the horror genre, so the recent name change made sense.
"We changed [the name] up because we discovered that we seem to be successful when leaning into this niche of spooky stuff," said Booth, who occasionally writes for the Current. "Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, nobody knows what that means. But if you say, 'Ghoulish Books,' they go, 'Oh, OK, I got that.' So, we began publishing mostly with that name, with PMMP being the umbrella company of everything."
The Selma storefront, 9330 Corporate Drive #702, will house both the publishing operation and the retail space. The shop will primarily stock indie horror titles along with a few gifts and used books. It also will provide a venue for events such as author readings and signings.
However, the new space is only part of the expansion underway at Ghoulish.
Last year, the small press allowed customers to preorder eight books at once for a single upfront fee. The offer brought an uptick in sales, so the partners toyed with doing it again in 2023. But Booth wanted to try a different twist.
"I just had the idea of, well, what if we did that, but on Kickstarter instead?" he said. "Because then we have the opportunity of it becoming a Staff Pick on Kickstarter, which it did. And if it does become a Staff Pick, then we gain a whole new audience of people who would have never even known about us."
Booth's stock as an author went up amid the pandemic, when his novella We Need to Do Something was turned into a feature film distributed by IFC Midnight.
He figured the time was right to leverage the buzz.
Ghoulish pledged to use the Kickstarter funding to release 13 new books, including Warren Wagner's The Only Safe Place Left is the Dark, the story of an HIV-positive gay man surviving a zombie apocalypse; E.M. Roy's Let the Woods Keep Our Bodies, in which a young woman questions everything about her hometown after her girlfriend disappears; and BOUND IN FLESH: An Anthology of Trans Body Horror edited by Lor Gislason, featuring 13 transgender and nonbinary authors exploring the depths of both the horror genre and the boundaries of flesh.
Depending on the size of their donation, Kickstarter backers received just one of the books or a bundle of all 13 — along with other bonuses. After gaining the Staff Pick designation, the campaign shot past its original $7,000 goal to hit more than $25,000 at its Feb. 2 close.
In addition to the new books, the Kickstarter raised money for a new horror-themed literary magazine. Booth and Michelle got their starts in indie horror in 2010 working for the horror magazine Dark Moon Digest, founded by Stan Swanson of Dark Moon Books.
The couple later bought the rights to the magazine and continued operating it until last year, when they ended its run after 48 issues.
"We discontinued it so we could begin a new magazine," Booth explained. "The previous magazine never quite felt like it belonged to us, because we weren't the ones to launch it. We wanted to start over with something that we created."
The couple's new mag Ghoulish Tales will publish biannually with its first issue dropping this spring. They planned to launch the publication regardless of the outcome of the Kickstarter. However, after surpassing the $20,000 stretch goal, they were able to increase contributor pay to 10 cents a word from 7 cents.
The Kickstarter bonuses also include the publication of a third issue of Night Frights — a young-adult horror magazine, which proclaims itself "Goosebumps for perverts" — and the upcoming Dog Ears podcast, in which Booth and Michelle will discuss their experiences in the publishing industry.
Although Ghoulish Books hasn't yet set an opening date for the retail store, the publishing company will hold its Second Annual Ghoulish Book Festival April 14-16 at San Antonio's historic Hermann Sons Home Association.
Ultimately, Booth said he and Michelle's foray into retail is a continuation of a successful business and isn't solely reliant on generating walk-in business.
"If we were only relying on it as a retail space, I would probably be more afraid-sounding right now," Booth said. "But because we also just publish books, and those books can be bought by anyone on the planet, I'm real confident that it's not gonna be a disaster."