NEW BLOOD: The Rebirth of Indie Horror

NEW BLOOD: The Rebirth of Indie Horror

A Conversation with Don Noble

By Matt Micheli

These interviews are intended to be very candid and conversational. There is nothing off limits.


For the 2nd part of the NEW BLOOD series, I’m here with the great Don Noble, co-owner of the award-winning Rooster Republic Press, freelance artist extraordinaire, and in my opinion (for what it’s worth), one of the best cover designers out there, today. Don, you will be designing the cover to my brutal-yet-snowy little novella The White that will drop this December by D&T Publishing, which I am completely stoked about; I can’t WAIT to see what you come up with for it. But before we get into the meat of design and publishing, I want to nibble around the meat, taste the bread and fixins if that makes sense…

Either Google has failed me, or you’re an extremely rare breed, a mysterious man, an enigma of sorts, perhaps even a Russian bot? Either way, unlike most folks these days, there isn’t a whole lot out there about you, and I want to give Horror Tree readers a glimpse into the life and creative genius that is Don Noble. 

For starters: Where did you grow up?


Hey, thanks for having me. And now that you mention it, I haven’t made much of an effort to be known outside of certain circles. This behavior goes back to high school, where I made sure that I didn’t make it into yearbooks and tried to stay out of photographs in general. I had a decade affair with playing music and performing at shows, but even that I’ve buried.

I tend to keep my posts specifically about design these days. I show my recent commissions or premade covers off once or twice a week and then I’m right back to commissions or press duties. I’d rather let the work speak for itself and then get back to the grind. I don’t feel the need for any type of real celebrity,  and being able to work along my peers and make art for a living is more than enough (sometimes a lot more than enough). I rarely post to Twitter, and I try to keep any time on Facebook regulated, because both are massive time-sucks. They’re great tools, but social media is really double edged. I tend to take a very Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain approach.

As far as growing up goes, I was a military brat in a divorced family, so I moved around the States a lot. Spent a lot of time in El Paso, Texas and Southern Illinois. I usually just say Earth, I’m from Earth. I live in the country, out in the trees, and if a duck farts, I lose the internet. But it’s peaceful and quiet, and that’s pretty much what I want for the rest of my time on this rock.


Social media has its value, especially when you run a business, but I agree: it is a total time suck. It’s refreshing to see someone (you) not having to highlight your every move for everyone else in the battle of celebrity. It gives me hope.

To live in the country, as you do, surrounded by trees and peace and quiet and in complete control over how attached or unattached I am to the rest of the world is my dream. I’m a little jealous, but happy for you all the same! Someday…


What were your childhood interests and hobbies? 


My earliest hobbies were art and storytelling. I grew up wanting to be a comic book artist, so the first chunk of my life was mastering pencil skills (which I hardly ever need to use now, but the skills translated well into my current book cover work). Eventually, those two root loves of art and writing branched into film, music, and animation, which I’ve luckily got to play into some degree. Basically, my whole life has been an exploration of the arts and trying to keep a job to support all that risky behavior.

Now I’m finally at the point that the job and art are one, and it’s literally a dream come true. It is still exhausting. The work that goes into running a press and freelance art is Sisyphean. It’s a grind like any other job and I have no delusions about what the entertainment industries are like behind the scenes anymore. The love for it keeps you going because it doesn’t take long for folks to realize Shit, this is a lot of work. I might not even get paid. I might actually lose a lot of money.


Sisyphean—cool word. Never used it but may start!


Obviously, you are doing things for the right reasons: because you love doing it, you enjoy doing it. Hell, you’ve always loved doing it even when you were in short pants! I hate seeing people—especially those just starting out who are green and have little-to-nothing published—that are so concerned with how much they are going to be paid for a story or artwork and complaining about all the time and effort they put into creating it—that’s not a hobby or a passion; that’s a shitty job that you may not even be good at.


Now to talk scary. “Bwahaha!” said some ominous-sounding bastard. What were your biggest fears as a kid and have those fears followed you into adulthood?


I mean, I do think people should be paid fair for their labor, and if an author specifically wants to know why indie presses aren’t making them rich, they should try self publishing. There’s no shame in it, and you can see pretty quickly what your publisher has to deal with. The price of certain advertisements alone, especially if you’re really trying to move a product, can be a real punch to the gut. Most indie presses are ran by one or two people at the helm it seems, and any kind of profit can be very, very slim. Almost all indie presses are typically ran by people who are incredibly passionate about books, and most of their funding is coming directly out of their own pockets.

And shit, ha. Fear. Well, I almost drowned in the Mississippi when I was a kid, and I definitely still will not swim out in deep water. Then I got caught under a bunch of people out a waterpark as a kid and almost drowned there, too. It’s just now occurring to me that maybe I was a really bad swimmer.

I still like pools, though.

Something about being able to see while almost drowning in a clear pool alleviated a lot of the stress about dying. I remember it was like struggle, struggle, struggle and then a calm. I guess my brain was probably like, “Oh shit, release all the endorphins. We’re going down, lads.” There was absolutely none of that while in the river. The entire time my brain was convincing me a giant fish was going to eat me, so yeah. I will never swim in a river unless I absolutely have to. It definitely carried over to adulthood.


Drowning is supposed to be both terrifying and beautiful. Personally, I think it would suck. But yeah, I can see those horrible situations leaving a long-lasting impression on you overall. I’m with you though, not a big fan of natural bodies of water. I’m a pool fella through and through.


Before we get into all the bad ass stuff you’re doing in the indie horror world, I’ve got to ask you one more very important question about young Don, maybe the most important question of the entire conversation. And since Don Noble isn’t one to shy away from risky topics… Who was your first fantasy? I’ll start it: mine was Jessie Spano, soon followed by Kelly.  


From the moment I understood the weakness of my flesh, it disgusted me. I craved the strength and certainty of steel. I aspired to the purity of the Blessed Machine. So when I first saw Cyberdyne Systems Model 101 (the T-800 Terminator) without its fleshy exterior – I knew love, I knew destiny.

Oh, you mean sexually.

Lydia from Beetlejuice. I was an 80’s baby, so watching Hellraiser right alongside Gremlins and whatever horror flick I could get my hands on (not a whole lot of adults around back then) pretty much guaranteed an early love for all things goth and spooky.


Fine choices all! Besides running an award-winning press (which we’ll discuss here shortly) and being an awesome freelance artist for many credible presses and indie horror writers, what does a day off for you look like?

As far as the press winning awards, I have to stress the fact that it was really our authors who won the awards. Myself and Nicholas Day are technically midwives for author’s dream babies, so the press itself isn’t winning awards. But it is always incredible to see something you’ve helped work on be acknowledged.

And a day off? Well, a lot of the time when I’m away from book cover design, I’m working on something else. These days, I’m back in the studio with a couple buddies recording an album for shits and giggles. Me and the guitarist were tripping and jamming, and we came up with this idea to do something theatrical for Halloween.  We want to dress up in armor and put on a metal show and be completely annoying to our friends but first, we have to melt their faces off with rock ‘n’ roll.

I also became obsessed with making practically aesthetic, lightweight functional body armor. Something that looks like you stepped off a movie set but could also save your life. It sounds nuts, but after spending a decade working in hospice, I saw a lot of folks lose their independence after a single fall. Couple that with constant shootings, and sometimes it just makes you feel a little hopeless. Like seriously? Get shot at school or a Walmart, arguably hellish places already, and you get shot there? That’s fucking horrible.

I already had a love for costuming and armor and I kept wondering if I could build a bridge between the two. I have this crazy idea that once the suit is complete, I’ll set up at an art gallery, somewhere nice with a skylight. As the crowd grows to maximum, I fall through the skylight, smash through a table, and just lay there for a moment. Then, you know, pop up and give them a sales pitch about the future of fashion and then throw myself down the stairs and jump out a window.

Also, I like psychedelics.


Okay, Don. I expect an invite to your first sales demonstration. I already see myself with an anticipatory grin telling others, “Just wait for it.” Then, boom! Then once the screaming dies down and you shake yourself off, completely unscathed, you look out at the crowd and say, “Now let’s get down to brass tacks.” Ha.

You cofounded Strangehouse Press in 2012 and later New Kink, formerly known as Monster Erection, and now you find yourself as co-owner of Rooster Republic Press along with Nicholas Day. Give us an idea of what your day-to-day running multiple presses in one looks like. And of you and Nicholas, who’s the brains and who’s the brawn?

When it comes to the direction and business side of things for the press, there is no doubt that Nicholas Day is the brains. He handles acquisitions, editing, and the money side of things. He’s an incredible asset to have for any team, not just because of his experience (in film and the entertainment industry) but he’s also a great writer and artist. He has this almost psychic-like vision and will tell me, “With a little help, I think this writer will win a Stoker, or at the very least, get nominated.” My side of the business usually comes down to production work – formatting interiors, cover design and pretty much anything that involves putting a physical copy of the book on shelves. We both handle the website and a big chunk of my time is focused on freelance commission work. I would definitely say Nick is the captain of the ship. No contest.

Most weekdays start with me answering emails, or trying to answer as many as possible, and then jumping into cover work or website stuff by 11am. Around 5pm I get some dinner, then I work into the wee hours of the morning. A workday is typically between 10 and 16 hours for me. We’re only a two man operation, and we seldom use outside help, so everything is pretty much done in-house. There’s an occasional exception, and the two folks who we do reach out to are Sara Tantlinger (who is the head editor of our last two anthologies) and Scarlett R. Algee from JournalStone. Whenever it comes to me having some technical issue that is driving me mad, or someone who can format properly, Scarlett saves my ass every time.

The beginnings of the press were a bit of a rollercoaster, and while I did initially help cofound Strangehouse in the early days, I stepped away in 2013. A couple years later Strangehouse was absorbed into a company from Texas called Rooster Republic Press (who published one of my first books) and who also had created an erotica imprint. It was at this time the owner of Rooster reached out to me to see if I wanted to buy out the company. Along with a few friends I met in the writing community, I was helping build this group called Riot Forge, which essentially was a free training ground to show authors how to format their books and create their own covers. The owner knew I had the production skills to keep the company afloat but my first reaction was a NOPE.

I already knew how much work it would be, and any transition is rough. But I had a discussion with Nicholas Day, and we decided to give it a shot. It took a couple years to really get the press back into shape, and then we set course to changing its direction. The beginnings of the press and its current state are polar opposites, and that’s on purpose.


Damn. Your schedule rivals that of a professional wrestler. You have to love what you do to be able to put that much time and effort into something; there’s no doubt.

For aspiring authors who write weird and dark horror fiction—fiction that falls outside the lines of mainstream—what is some advice you can give that they probably haven’t heard before regarding what publishers like Rooster Republic Press are seeking and/or avoiding?

I don’t work in acquisitions anymore, but for me personally, as a lifelong reader – that first sentence, that first page, better hook me quick. That’s my only real advice as far as writing actually goes.

As publishers, we tend to vet an author long before we take them on. We rarely have open submissions for novels at Rooster/Strangehouse. We operate more like talent scouts. If we see you doing something interesting, we start paying attention. We are unlike a lot of horror presses in the indie world in a very particular way – we take only one book a year. When we take that book, it will usually not come out til the next year. We also keep an eye on how people work with others via social media. We’re looking for professionals who want to use our services as a way to help launch their writing careers. Rooster/Strangehouse is a launch pad, not the destination.

Honestly, the best advice I heard some years ago was “Have fun, and don’t be a dick.”



One book a year… that’s a VERY exclusive club to be a part of.

“Have fun, and don’t be a dick.” Great advice. Have you ever had to back out of a contract because an author was so high-maintenance or just downright difficult to work with?

In ten years of work in indie publishing, I can’t recall a specific author that we’ve had to break with upfront, but I know we’ve had to drop at least one person. Myself and Nick have both had leadership roles in job positions prior to publishing, and if someone is being a real diva, or just downright hateful/harmful, we’ll gladly show you the door.  We’re here to cultivate and celebrate weird horror and art, not hate people, and we’re definitely not going to waste our time fighting online. We can be professional and have fun, but catering to someone’s ego isn’t in my job description.

I do remember some dude showing up out of the blue and telling us, “This is my book, this is who I want you to use for the cover, and I want it done by this date.”

Homie, are you Stephen King? I doubt it, and I bet Stephen King doesn’t talk to his business partners like that either, so maybe you should ease up on the throttle a bit, eh?


Being a member of several Facebook writing groups, the ego runs rampant, and I can always tell a new writer from someone who has been in the game for a while. New writers wrote their first story which they feel is a masterpiece but probably sucks, and they refuse to accept any criticism and publishers should be lining up to beg at their feet for their greatness. They’ll complain about pay rates or make demands to the publisher on a public forum. I was there once when my first trainwreck of a novel got picked up for publication which literally morphed me into Bret Easton Ellis for a couple years. But then I “grew up,” and rejection and self-doubt took hold, as well as inspiration to get better at the craft I loved. A lot of new folks (including early-twenties Matt) are yet to learn the “Have fun, and don’t be a dick” mantra…

The writer’s ego can be one of their biggest hurdles, for certain. Writing is already hard enough. Getting published is already hard enough. I guess some folks see The Mountain of work before them and I swear to God, sometimes I think they subconsciously self-sabotage. Most people in horror that I’ve met or worked with, however, are incredibly gracious.

Some people cannot help themselves and they make being an asshole more of a priority than the craft. Block buttons are great.

Ha. Truth to both. The overwhelming majority of indie horror writers I’ve interacted with are some of the nicest, most generous, supportive people you’d ever come across.

Where do you want to see Rooster Republic go from here?

After a decade in the trenches, hopefully a nap.


You mentioned Rooster published one of your first books… You’re full of surprises. Are you still writing, and why or why not?

I occasionally write scripts for short films these days, but that’s it. I fell out of love with writing novels right around the same time we took over the presses, but who knows, another ten years from now I might pick it back up again? My brain constantly wants to weave new fiction, but  my whole life right now, my entire workday, is an endless affair with books in some form or fashion. I just think my cup is currently overfilled. And so much of the work I do is tied to the computer, so when I get a chance, I really love doing something more hands-on.


Let’s talk art. Your designs are second-to-none which is why many credible horror publishers have partnered with you for design work. Your cover work was a big reason for why I chose my publisher (fortunately they chose me as well). I want to talk about your creative process, see if I can unravel the genius that is Don Noble.

I mean, that’s really flattering. Thank you. I’m definitely no genius, though. I hate to say it, but my cover work is really not my true art. I consider it production art. Don’t get me wrong, I love it. I love creating book covers,  and coming up with titles (for my weekly premade cover section – making titles tickles enough of my writer-brain to make said writer-brain go back to sleep). My process is really simple if I’m creating something on my own. I learned a long time ago if you want to be able to make a piece a day, you can’t wait for inspiration.

Step one –  I scroll through 100s to 1000s of images online as a warm up, waiting for something to speak to me. I’m usually looking at beautiful photography or classical art. Step two – take that beauty, and subvert it into something alien or ‘horrible.’

That’s the trick.

These days it’s a struggle to make my own art, even making the weekly premade covers can become a chore, because commissions really take up so much of my time. And that process is less fluid than creating on your own, because now there are two cooks in the kitchen. Some folks have very specific ideas on what they want and I have to help deliver that baby. There’s a lot of pressure that comes along with it, because I don’t want to “drop that baby.”

Some folks request stuff that I’ve never attempted before, stuff way out of my comfort zone, but I don’t mind a challenge too much. At this point, given enough time, I think I could replicate nearly any style. At the end of the day, though, time and cost become huge considerations, especially for book covers. At that point, it’s just knowing your tools well enough to jump into the unknown and do your best. Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose.


How do you like to create? Do you want the writer or press with the project to tell you exactly what they want on the cover, or do you like to get a feel for the story and have free reign to create what you envision for it?

I mean, if I can get free reign I will take it, and I personally think those are the covers that turn out the best. But I don’t mind having very specific concepts laid out for me. Specification definitely requires more time and cost, and I can’t stress it enough to authors, if you have a movie poster in your head for your cover, with tons of characters and details, you should really consider the time and cost of something like that.

I mean, I can do that. I can make you a Marvel superhero movie poster for your book, but I’m going to charge you a lot of money because of the time and labor.


Describe your creative space for us. Do you have a designated area? What’s on the walls or beyond the windows? What soundtrack is playing in the background?

Well, I work from home. Right now there are old records covering the walls of this room. I have a regular old desk and a standing desk we built out of salvaged lumber. There’s a mannequin covered in Halloween armor in the corner, and some signed horror movie posters here and there. Lots of books on the shelves.

I love all kinds of music, and I would assume that most people think that when I’m creating something downright gnarly, that I’d be listening to something reflective of that – heavy metal or something atmospheric and spooky (which is sometimes the case). More times than not, I’m listening to something funky and upbeat. Last week I had mambas shuffling on Spotify. Sometimes a particular song will put me in the mood and I will listen to it on repeat for days like a mantra while I’m creating a particular piece. Probably drives anyone around me insane.


Since you mentioned it: Psychedelics (whatever the hell that is—I’m assuming something they serve with bread at church, but I wouldn’t know since I’ve never been to church). Do they help or hinder the creative process (okay maybe this is slightly rhetorical—Ha)?

For me they’ve definitely been a huge help creatively, but they’re much more than just a creative tool to me. I consider them a healing agent, a medicine if used properly. I’m excited to see them return to the healthcare systems in America. I mean we’re talking about molecules that are non-toxic, or safer than aspirin on a physical level, non-addictive AND that have profound effects on consciousness. Profound positive effects that can last a lifetime. I know personally, they’ve helped me with depression and anxiety, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s incredible creative forces inside human beings, amazing potential, and a lot of the modern world, a lot of modern tech has been influenced by their use. Nature’s way of accelerated evolution is one way I look at them.

For example, every time you dream, your brain creates an entire reality. Now, imagine being able to do that while you’re awake, and with practice, control it. Even at a fraction of that power that it takes to dream, the potential is like a nuclear bomb of creativity with the aid of psychedelics while we are in waking-consciousness. It is real, practical magic and there are multiple levels of experience. Not every trip is a hallucinatory one, some of them are purely introspective. Microdosing is pretty popular just for the mood elevation, energy, and creative spark that come along with their use (like super coffee with no calories).

I understand that people have a lot of trepidation when it comes to them, especially after all the government propaganda, but I know the tides are finally starting to change. There were incredible studies and experiments happening before the 1960s, and unfortunately America has gone through a dark age and their use has gone underground. Hopefully not for much longer.

We literally have the power to sit someone down, give them a molecule, and send them into otherworldly dimensions, full of entities and awe, if the dose is high enough. Star Trek from your couch. Whether or not these places we go are real or not doesn’t matter, because what we learn about ourselves in that experience is still massively important.


My concern with psychedelics as with anything really, is the ability and want to abuse them. In my earlier years, I dabbled… My problem was that I always wanted to recreate the feeling of that first time, but the sessions got a little less enjoyable with each time. Then there is the whole thing to where if you trip one day, you have to double the dose to trip the following day, and so on, so after days move into weeks, you start to run out of drugs. Another problem is the brain bleeding thing, although my vocabulary has made a rebound over the last twenty years and is almost as fluent as before I took my first trip. Ha. But yes, there are some beneficial things emotionally and consciously which science continues to prove. Who knows what the future holds?


I’m not sure about the brain bleed thing? As far as the molecules themselves (in particular LSD, Psilocybin, and DMT) there doesn’t appear to be any kind of brain cell loss (alcohol is far, far more damaging) and there was the myth of MDMA burning holes in the brain, which turned out to be 100% false (I’ve never bothered with MDMA), these are all serotonin effecting chemicals, and I would stress that the burnout someone feels from abusing them, is really just overusing serotonin. Even in the biggest “overdose” cases of LSD, patients all seemed to return to normal BUT there are exceptions and we have to remember, every tool can be double edged.

You are absolutely correct that with certain drugs, specifically LSD, can’t be taken everyday to capture that same “high”. You have to give it some rest. I would consider this a great thing, since you really don’t want to be tripping everyday of your life. It’s a non-addictive chemical in its nature, but can people try to abuse it? Yes, certainly. People are going to abuse all kinds of things, but that should not stop progress and the many benefits these medicines provide, especially for folks with depression and anxiety.

I would argue that having them legalized, safely created in labs and regulated, is a much more practical way of approaching their safety. Education is vital. Set and Setting are vital.

I would point to Albert Hofmann, the creator of LSD, and his long life of 103 years, who spent a good many years taking the drug he created. I do have to say, I have had heavy, mega doses and I definitely have been at points in the trip where human language is all but forgotten, but it seemed only temporary for me. I was in a complete visual/emotive state that human language can really only make rough maps of. For me, it was Divine.

I definitely do not recommend that people go take these powerful substances without preparation. It’s called a trip for a reason, and if you’re going to go, you might need to pack or unpack some shit.


I was always told about the elusive brain bleed that was supposed to make you trip again, years later. I think people used “that” as a selling point. “You trip now, and then you get to trip again years later, for free!”

I’m still waiting.


The infamous artist stereotype: Artists are smart, funny, deep thinkers, are obviously talented, but are also late, unorganized, and unreliable. Do you ever find yourself falling into the stereotype and how do you break the mold?

I think those things can definitely be true to a degree, but on my end, I was lucky enough to grow up with hard working folks that stressed reliability and honest work. I grew up with veterans and farmers and construction workers, and as soon as I was strong enough, it was time to work as well. It was pretty much drilled into me, and there’s only been a handful of times in a decade worth of work that I’ve missed a deadline, and hoo boy, does the ghost of my grandfather like to pipe up in the far reaches of my memory talking shit when I do. I think most creatives probably struggle with balancing their internal worlds and the responsibilities of the outer world.

Mostly because one is super cool and the other one kind of sucks.


Ha. Well said.

What are some upcoming projects you’re excited about (besides designing the book cover for my novella The White which I know you’ve been chomping at the bit to start; actually, this may be the first time you’ve heard about it…)? Can you give the fans of you and Rooster Republic something to look forward to?

Ha! Well, I am excited to see how that turns out when we get there. I have no clue as to how anything will play out when it comes to art. I’ll do my best and hopefully you don’t see the cover and go wtf is this? It happens.

And we have talked about returning to shows. We used to tour a lot, but you know, there was this plague thing that happened. I told Nick I will do shows again but I will have a helmet, and a full suit of funky fashion that is air conditioned. These are my insane demands. Hopefully I can annoy people with them someday soon.


Who are you with these demands, Don, Stephen King? Ha.

If you somehow had control of the entire indie horror world, what would you change or add? As in, what do you want to see more of and less of?

I think the fiction part of the indie horror world is just fine. New interesting stuff is constantly coming out, so much so that it’s impossible to really keep up. Mainly, I would change people’s desires to be edgelords. I mean, if you wake up and you go it’s time for me to say something really stupid on the computer, you better make sure that it’s actually funny and not actually racist or whatever dumb situations writers put themselves in because they have to tell the world their every passing thought. Don’t be surprised if the internet takes a huge shit on the shit you just took in front of everyone. Not everyone’s up to speed on that, and such is life.

I honestly would not actually change it, though. I worked in hospice for a decade. I’m used to helping people die in real life. Watching certain writers shit the bed online and ruin their career is probably the most interesting thing they’ll ever actually do when it comes to writing. Should have saved that energy for the book and marketing, pal. I mean, if you really want to swing that katana around, it’s probably a safer bet that you go into the woods and do it alone where no one else can see and hear you. Completely alone, where you can hurt no one. Unless you’re a Cringe Accelerationist, then by all means, shit yourself online. It’s your life. No one else can ruin it like you can.


Take your time on this one, let it come from the heart. What do loved ones put on your tombstone; how will the world remember Don Noble?

Hopefully something like “We didn’t know the man could shut up. We’re finally at peace.”


Lastly, where can people find you and your work on the interwebs?

You can find me on Twitter at @franknobleart (Frank is my middle name).
Facebook at and my portfolio, design services, and premade covers can all be found at

Thanks for letting me tag along. I typically don’t step out from the shadows, but this was nice.


Don, a big thank you for giving us your time along with some inside-knowledge and fun. It goes without saying, you are doing big things in the indie horror world and helping a lot of authors reach that next step, be it through publishing or your exceptional cover art. I look forward to working with you on my upcoming novellas and am excited to see what’s next for the great Don Noble!

Please join us for part 3 of the New Blood series, scheduled for September 12th, when we snap on an Aussie accent and visit the dark and funny… and elderly (there’s your hints). As always, share, share, share! Thank you for supporting indie horror!


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