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San Antonio’s Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing Has Grown Into One of the Most Original Voices in Horror Fiction 

click to enlarge SANFORD NOWLIN
  • Sanford Nowlin
Max Booth III and Lori Michelle harbor a deep, dark secret.

From a quiet neighborhood in Schertz, the couple operate one of the most prolific small presses specializing in horror and dark fiction.

Since setting up shop in 2012, Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing has emerged as one of the key publishers keeping horror fiction alive at a time when the shrinking New York houses largely lost interest in the genre — except, of course, when penned by Stephen King.

“What we want to publish is anything we like that we’re not seeing anywhere else, but our tastes tend to run to the strange and spooky,” said Booth, who like Michelle, works another job on top of running the press. “We don’t pretend to be a huge company. It’s a punk rock, DIY kind of thing.”

There’s no magic formula for success either. They publish authors who they like reading and try not to overextend themselves — which for now means putting out five to eight books a year and issues of the fiction magazine Dark Moon Digest. Of course, helping matters is a rekindled interest in horror — once thought to have had its heyday in the ’80s.

“Netflix and Hulu, shows like Stranger Things, are opening people up to stuff that would never have been mainstream before,” Michelle said.

Even so, PMMP’s not interested in repeating familiar horror tropes, whether drawn from a Netflix or the 1980s horror glut. Its work goes darker, sometimes drifting into black humor or crime stories.

And, recently, its freewheeling approach has won critical notice.

PMMP’s last two anthologies — Lost Films and Lost Signals — grabbed reviews in Publisher’s Weekly and include some of the best-regarded authors in contemporary horror. And Tales from the Holy Land, a short story collection from Rafael Alvarez, a writer for HBO’s The Wire, was recently included in the Pen/Faulkner Foundation’s Writers in Schools program.

“They’re attracting really good writers,” said Brooklyn author John Foster, who’s published two novels and a short story collection with PMMP. “People want to work with them.”

Carnivorous Lunar Activities

Canadian author Betty Rocksteady, whose illustrated work The Writing Skies is coming out soon with PMMP, said she’s been impressed with its hands-on dedication to quality. While some small presses view the look of the book almost as an afterthought, Michelle’s design focus helps set them apart.

“I feel like they get what I’m going for in my work and push me in all the right directions,” Rocksteady said.
click to enlarge COURTESY
  • Courtesy
That could be because PMMP’s owners came from the writing life themselves. Both are published authors, although Michelle’s attention lately has been more on the design side. Booth has four novels out and a fifth, Carnivorous Lunar Activities, coming soon from Cinestate, a Dallas publisher and film company that’s resurrecting the venerable horror magazine Fangoria.

Booth’s new book, touted as a combination of American Werewolf in London and frat comedy Old School, is focused on two old friends, one of whom is called on to kill the other with a silver bullet before he can turn into a werewolf.

“It’s a long conversation full of childhood memories and dick jokes,” he explains.

It’s Alive!

The advent of e-books and print-on-demand technology — which lets publishers produce copies of books as they’re ordered instead of in mass quantities — have lowered production costs for small presses like PMMP. That means they can break-even selling a few hundred copies of a title rather than needing to ship units to every Walmart in America.

But without a big house’s marketing department, Booth and Michelle are forced to do the marketing legwork themselves. That involves guerilla efforts like touting PMMP authors during Castle Rock Radio, a Stephen King-related podcast Booth hosts, and leveraging his snarky social-media presence.

It also requires old-fashioned retail skills. The couple still hawks books one-at-a-time at horror conventions, library events and street fairs. They’ve even had luck at craft fairs and community events, where the dark imagery on the covers lures teens and tweens dragged there by parents.

“At those smaller festivals, we may be one of the few publishers and everyone else is selling meat,” Booth said. “We do pretty well at those.”

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