Cameron Trost and Tales from the Ruin
Cameron Trost and Tales from the Ruin
By Angelique Fawns
Cameron Trost likes his tales quirky, atmospheric, and thought-provoking. He founded his own imprint, Black Beacon Books in 2013, and has published several anthologies and collections including A Hint of Hitchcock, Murder and Machinery, The Black Beacon Book of Mystery, Shelter from the Storm, Lighthouses, and Subtropical Suspense.
Trost’s next offering, Tales from the Ruins has a release date of February 25, 2023 and is dedicated to post-apocalyptic fiction.
“The big publishers are constantly rehashing the same stories—but that bores me. I need to be surprised. That doesn’t necessarily mean every story needs a twist, but I need a dose of originality.”
AF: Why did you create Black Beacon Books?
CT: I started off writing short stories and submitting them to magazines and anthologies—something I still do but less regularly now. My first novel, Letterbox, was published in a long-since defunct indie press and—as far as I know—sold something like zero copies. Submitting to and reading independent press, I soon separated the wheat from the chaff, and just as quickly realised that I was more than capable of editing top-notch anthologies myself. There were also so many Horror (with that capital H) markets and few markets catering to horror-infused fiction; the darker side of suspense, mystery, and just strange and quirky fiction in general. So, the seed was sown. However, having imagination, inspiration, and a talent for the nuts-and-bolts of our wonderful language wasn’t enough. If only! There was a steep learning curve to tackle, because publishing great fiction isn’t just a matter of knowing how to tell a story and where to stick a comma or hyphen—you also need to get your head around all the IT stuff. It was a challenge, but the will was there, so I grabbed my digital storm lantern and embarked upon finding the way—imagery reflected in the name of my publishing project. Our first publication was a novel called 809 Jacob Street by Marty Young, a well-know Australian horror author, in time for Halloween 2013, but the focus soon turned to anthologies—my favourite kind of book—and we started with a local flavour by releasing Subtropical Suspense, short stories set around my hometown of Brisbane. Ten years on, I’m still publishing and I’m still learning—a lot, in fact—and I now live on the other side of the world, in Brittany, just for some extra challenge. I’m still as passionate as ever about Black Beacon Books and quality fiction—I hope everyone reading this is too!
AF: How did you find your audience in the world of indie publishing? What were your greatest challenges?
“…we publish the way an indie band plays, relying on talent and grass-roots support”
CT: This is the big challenge. I often hear people say ‘quality will out’ and wish I could believe it—alas, I’m one of those jaded working-class dreamers. In reality, there are thousands of bestselling titles out there that are—let’s be honest—absolutely terrible, and there are probably even more truly excellent books that you’ve never heard of. What can you do? That’s how it is. Quality in itself isn’t the key—I do that because I need to meet my own high standards to believe in what I do and because I want to respect our readership. The key, of course, is getting the public to notice you and to actually buy your books. In your question, you use the past simple, but this is ongoing—the challenges are there. I do what I can—time and money are indeed obstacles. Black Beacon Books doesn’t use advertising and we don’t pay for promotions and reviews. We have to rely on organic growth—slower, but ultimately more solid. Every review you see of our titles is a real review by a real reader, and every time a post is shared on social media, it’s because that person believes in us. I hesitate to talk about us being punk publishers because the vast majority of ours books are sold through Amazon—and I have to admit that ain’t very punk—but we publish the way an indie band plays, relying on talent and grass-roots support. It’s a matter of principle—yeah, I know, what’s that old-fashioned word?—and a matter of finance. We pay our contributing authors and cover artists modestly, and there’s not much left after that.
AF: What was your inspiration for Tales from the Ruin?
CT: The inspiration for our anthology themes comes from two sources; my own personal interest and suggestions provided by our Patreon patrons—our street team if you want me to pretend I’m hip. For this particular anthology, I guess it’s an increasing interest in post-apocalyptic fiction. I’m working on the second draft of a post-apocalyptic novel which I’ll either publish eventually through Black Beacon Books or send out to other publishers—that eternal dilemma—and I started that novel after a friend suggested post-apocalyptic fiction suited my writing style—she knows who she is, and she’s absolutely right. I also wrote most of the first draft while in covid lockdown, so even though the novel has nothing to do with the pandemic, I’m sure that played a role in the atmosphere evoked. I suppose it was this novel that got me thinking about publishing post-apocalyptic anthologies. Murder and Machinery—which features several post-apocalyptic stories, including my Tenterhooks—was released in 2021. It seemed natural to follow up with an anthology dedicated to the genre. I came up with a title that described what I wanted from writers.
AF: You are a writer yourself. Tell us about your journey?
CT: I am first and foremost a writer. My journey—where to begin? Like all writers, I began by imagining my own endings to stories I read and subsequently my own stories from start to finish. Unoriginal today, but highly original at the time, I was particularly inspired by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories when I was eleven or twelve. This is undoubtedly where the love of horror-infused mystery began. My first paid publication was a flash fiction piece called Beneath the Flowers in Black Box, a fiction-music CD-ROM put out by Brimstone Stone, Australia, in 2005. This piece was reprinted in my first collection, Hoffman’s Creeper and Other Disturbing Tales, available from you-know-who! I continued writing short suspense and horror fiction which I sold to magazines and anthologies, especially in Australia at first. Interviewers often ask writers about inspiration and voice—thank you for not doing so—but it’s not really something I think about. The ideas are all around me and often come to me while I’m walking or doing gardening, and I don’t really think about voice or style. I write the way that comes naturally to me. I only analyse how I write when it’s dialogue, of course, or a first-person narrative. I’m currently working on the first novel featuring my private investigator, Oscar Tremont—who will be familiar to readers who have grabbed a copy of our mystery anthologies—and the post-apocalyptic novel I mentioned. I still write suspense and the occasional ghost story or horror story, but mystery and post-apocalyptic are the genres really calling to me nowadays. Find me online at camerontrost.com
AF: What guidance would you give authors hoping to sell you a story? What is the single most important element you look for?
“Less than half the submissions we receive meet the full guidelines, and ten or fifteen percent don’t meet the call at all.”
CT: This is a really important question. Basically, read the full guidelines. I know they are detailed, but this is the key. Less than half the submissions we receive meet the full guidelines, and ten or fifteen percent don’t meet the call at all. That’s a waste of time for everyone. Reading at least one of our publications is a great idea too because it shows you what I like—as simple as that. What is the single most important element I look for? So for argument’s sake, I’ve received a submission that fits the call—theme and length, the guidelines have been adhered to more or less, and the writing is good—that’s already a lot of boxes ticked. What’s the key element now? It’s the story. As simple as that. We publish genre fiction, and that means there has to be a story. We don’t want the same old story over and over again either. Originality doesn’t sell, unfortunately. The big publishers are constantly rehashing the same stories—but that bores me. I need to be surprised. That doesn’t necessarily mean every story needs a twist, but I need a dose of originality. Teenagers go camping, hear noise, and a werewolf jumps out of the forest and tears them apart—again? Not for me. I want stories that stand out, that grip me and leave me thinking about them long after I’ve finished. That’s a challenge, I know—but that’s the single most important element once all the nuts-and-bolts of the guidelines have been met. One last thing, publishing costs money, and publishing long books—especially for print copies—costs more than short books. Makes sense, right? Our contributors are paid a modest token rate and are sent one copy of the paperback. That might not sound like much, but for a boutique publisher, that’s already costly. This means we can’t accept twenty or thirty stories for the average anthology, but somewhere between ten and sixteen in general. For our current call ending on the 28th of February, The Black Beacon Book of Horror, we’ve already received more than a hundred submissions—this excludes a small number of submissions that are deleted unread because the guidelines aren’t even followed in the email. For every story accepted, nine or ten—probably more—will be rejected. It doesn’t necessarily mean your story wasn’t good, it just means I liked enough to fill the anthology more than yours. That’s just how it is, I’m afraid. As a writer, I submit to markets and receive rejections all the time. It’s part of the gig. When I later read an anthology I didn’t make it into, I might think my submission was better than some of those that were accepted. Tough titties—can I say that? That’s life. We all have different tastes in food, sex, music—and it’s the same for fiction. This has turned into a really long answer—sorry!—but one more thing. It sometimes happens that there are two or three stories vying for that last place in the anthology. While I aim to judge a story on merit alone, in a case like this, the social media presence of the author can tip the scales. After all, it’s almost exclusively online that we market and sell our books. Even people who order our books from their local bookshops generally find out about us online. A huge part of being a successful author these days is maintaining a solid presence on social media. When your story is published with us, you’re expected to be part of the team.
AF: What is your opinion and experience with AI–generated stories? What is your strategy?
CT: I have no experience with this so far. Do AI stories include built-in grammar mistakes? But seriously, if someone submits an AI-generated story and then signs a contract with us for an original story written by them, it will be considered fraud. Not a good look for your writing career. As far as I know, we have only published stories by humans so far, and that’s how I want to keep it.
AF: What is your background? Do you have a day job outside of publishing?
“I’ve worked as a shipping clerk, in a pâté factory, in naval construction, as an English teacher, and I now work as a tour guide half the year.”
CT: I most certainly do. A publication that pays for itself is a success as far as I’m concerned. Unfortunately, publishing doesn’t pay my bills. I was born and grew up in Brisbane, Australia. After graduating from the University of Queensland with a Bachelor of Arts, I decided I wanted to travel a little. Armed with my BA, I got a job at an airport bookshop and saved up. Months later, I quit and travelled to London to join the thousands of Aussie backpackers already there. Fast-forward to a pub in Limerick, I crossed paths with a young woman from Brittany, and you can imagine the rest. Long story short, twenty years later, I now live with my wife and two sons in Brittany, where I’ve done just about every job you can name to pay the bills—to name a few, I’ve worked as a shipping clerk, in a pâté factory, in naval construction, as an English teacher, and I now work as a tour guide half the year. All of these experiences, no doubt, add flavour to my writing, and the influence the history, culture, and landscape of Brittany has on me is clear to anyone familiar with my work.
AF: What’s next on the horizon for Black Beacon Books?
CT: More wonderful anthologies this year—Tales from the Ruins, The Second Black Beacon Book of Mystery, and The Black Beacon Book of Horror—and we’re also looking at opening to collections and novels down the road. Stay tuned! You can join us all over cyberspace. Full links at linktr.ee/blackbeaconbooks
Thank you, Angelique.
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Angelique Fawns writes horror, fantasy, kids short stories, and freelance journalism. Her day job is producing promos and after hours she takes care of her farm full of goats, horses, chickens, and her family. She has no idea how she finds time to write. She currently has stories in Ellery Queen, DreamForge Anvil, and Third Flatiron’s Gotta Wear Eclipse Glasses. You can follow her work and get writing tips and submission hints at http://fawns.ca/.