Pulp-Like Thrills & Shocks Fill ‘The Best of Appalling Stories’

Back in 2017, David Dubrow, Ray Zacek, and I launched the first Appalling Stories anthology, which was titled Appalling Stories: 13 Tales of Social Injustice. It featured short tales reminiscent of old-style pulp fiction. Three more Appalling Stories books followed that, which included contributions from a variety of authors. Now, David and Ray are back with another one. And they both answered some questions from me about what readers can expect from The Best of Appalling Stories.

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Paul Hair: Why publish a “best of” Appalling Stories and why did you change the format to include longer tales?

David Dubrow: We withdrew the original Appalling Stories series from publication in early 2021 because of plummeting sales; the effort and tax liability of paying out tiny royalties for books that didn’t sell became more than the project was worth. (The independent publishing industry would be vastly improved overnight if the overwhelming majority of indie publishers made similar decisions.)

And yet we didn’t want to see our best work in the Appalling Stories series just vanish. So we decided to republish our favorite pieces in a “best of” omnibus that included new stories, plus the hilarious novella “Escape from Trumplandia” for a value add.

Ray Zacek: We wanted to offer prospective readers a panoply, a full tasty buffet of our work, a bacchanal from which they would emerge sated, amused, and unsteady on their feet, as if they had attended a Roman banquet gushy with wine and offering larks’ tongues, sow’s udders stuffed with salted sea urchins, and other delicacies. After all, we live in a culture of excess wedded to banality, now infiltrated by sanctimonious and stifling leftist absurdity.

Also, I also thought “Escape from Trumplandia” was a rollicking good tale, an astute satire, and deserved a second life. Of course, as its co-author, I am biased.

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PH: The original Appalling Stories was published in 2017. That wasn’t that long ago, relatively speaking. But much has changed in America since then. Do you see any of your older stories as being almost prophetic in some cases?

DD: Most of our stories are prophetic in some way. Ray’s “Obsolete Man” addressed black supremacy before white supremacy became the left’s current fake shibboleth, for example. And my “Bake Me a Cake” story, based on the Masterpiece Cakeshop series of lawsuits, was originally intended to be satire, not prophecy. But the woke left still keeps going after that baker in Colorado, and they will keep suing him until he is driven out of business. To quote bestselling author Michael Walsh, “They never stop, they never sleep, they never quit.” It’s a good lesson.

RZ: What’s changed? I tell people that with age my eyesight is badly deteriorating because I can no longer recognize the country I grew up in. Deterioration of the republic has accelerated: one might call it metastasis.

Polyps survive in electoral politics for fifty years and are elected POTUS. The New York Times wants to make an auto-da-fé out of The Babylon Bee. Satire is reduced to playing defense while a grotesque reality lopes ahead like a velociraptor chomping on Western Civ.

PH: Is there any single new story that you’re really excited for readers to read? If so, why?

DD: Ray’s crime joint “Wet City” is great fun, with dry humor and sharp dialogue. We’ll ignore how one character’s surname looks suspiciously like mine.

For my contribution, I’m pleased to include “Happy Wife, Happy Life,” a story about bullying and immigration that took me years to find a satisfying ending for.

RZ: “Wet City,” I am happy with. It is not new: this story originally appeared in a noir anthology, All Due Respect, that is no longer being published and was not widely read at the time of its publication. It is not an overtly political work, but I included some gritty urban details and took sideswipes at PC. That the Grey Ponytail druggie is shot under a John Lennon “Imagine” poster isn’t a casual, arbitrary detail.

PH: Do some stories have more of a political or “hot topic” angle and others not so much? Are there any that are just for fun?

DD: “Wet City” and “The Garden of Earthly Delights” from Ray are less topical.

My favorite story in the entire series, “Her Bodies, Her Choice,” addresses abortion in an intense, direct way that readers have never seen before. Rick Canton, a former writer for The Loftus Party, inadvertently gave me the idea for the story when tweeting at Jessica Valenti, a famous abortion enthusiast.

All of the stories, however, are first and foremost fun to read, and take on themes that traditional publishers refuse to touch: we aim to entertain. We don’t preach. Nobody wants to be preached at.

RZ: I don’t really like to make the distinction. All stories should be readable; if not entertaining, then beguiling enough to draw in the reader. Tendentious politics translated to narrative isn’t storytelling or art, it is agitprop, however slickly presented. Viewing of the network evening news or cable news shows will reify this.

PH: The cover art is outstanding. Is it a photograph, illustration, or mixed media? Who is the artist?

DD: I hired AJ Powers to do the art for the cover, and he did a terrific job, yes. I couldn’t be more pleased with it. AJ, a professional graphic artist and author, also does graphics for The Babylon Bee. I don’t know how AJ does it, but he does it well, and I’m hiring him to do reskins of other books in my catalog.

RZ: Outstanding cover and my thanks to AJ.

PH: Any plans for a paperback version of The Best of Appalling Stories?

DD: I’d like to do one, but it’s an expensive prospect if you want to do it right. More people purchased the digital version of the original series than they did the paperback version, so we’re going to focus on e-books for The Best of Appalling Stories.

As a writer you want that physical copy to hold and show off and put on your bookshelf, but you have to take production costs into account and make decisions based on that. If your focus is on vanity projects, get out of the marketplace; you’re the manure in the stable, not the pony.

RZ: At this time, no. I’d like to publish an “Escape from Trumplandia” pop-up book but that is impractical. I emailed Sir Anthony Hopkins about narrating the audiobook, but he has yet to respond. So maybe Jon Voight will.

PH: What future projects are you working on and are there any already published books you want to promote right now?

DD: Right now I’m working on a space opera involving a starfaring human civilization making First Contact with an intelligent alien species. Entirely apolitical. It’s a challenge to work out how culture and technology would realistically intersect in the future, but I’m enjoying it. Even if it’s killing me by inches, the way these projects tend to. With the explosion of sci-fi in the market, you’d think it would be easy to grind out book after book, but it’s a lot more difficult than it appears, especially if you want to keep your work both imaginative and logically consistent.

RZ: I am editing a crime novel, The Road to Moravia, about a bank robbery in a small Texas town in the 1960’s.

I’m planning a Florida novel, Don’t Be Cruel, about an Elvis cult in north Florida centered around a spring where the simple rural denizens believe with passionate certainty the Spirit of the King resides trapped in the living flesh of an enormous sturgeon.

PH: If you would’ve failed to care for your abuela in Puerto Rico and then tried to blame Trump for her terrible living conditions, do you believe that conservatives and libertarians would rush to promote and support The Best of Appalling Stories in order to help you raise funds for her?

DD: ¡Ay, qué lástima! I’m going to answer this seriously, and I’m going to alienate people.

The American right is the one audience that actively resists marketing aimed at it, for good reason: the overwhelming majority of art that caters to conservatives is absolutely dreadful. The books are unreadable and the movies amateurish, at best. People just want to be entertained, but conservative creators, leapfrogging past the traditional progressive gatekeepers, often leave quality behind. So the audience is understandably leery of projects like mine: they’ve been burned too often and don’t want to pay for garbage. It’s bad enough to be preached to; now you want me to buy another sermon?

Many popular conservative creators overcome this through networking and the building of a cult of personality, typically by stoking anger at the left. With everything that I just said regarding quality, success is, in most cases, not based on the quality of your work, but the quality of your network. Once you build a fan base, you can spit out awful, lifeless prose, book after book, and your fans will dig it anyway. Midwits will say, “That’s just a cope for bad sales of your crappy books,” but I witnessed (and lamented) this phenomenon when I worked in publishing years before I began writing books myself. Consistently bestselling authors have earned their royalties, and I don’t begrudge them that, nor do I envy their popularity. It all takes work. A lot of work. Even bad books take work to write.

Leftists, on the other hand, support their artists, no matter how bad they are, because they play for keeps. They put cultural points on the board every day. The right, as represented by its “conservatarian” leaders, plays to lose gracefully so as not to alienate their gay friends. So there’s no help from that corner.

RZ: My royalties, picayune as they are, lamentably, are dedicated to good bourbon. I trust good bourbon more than conservatives or libertarians.

PH: Where can readers find your works and where can they follow you online?

DD: My website, davedauthor.com, has links to my books. I don’t post often on social media, but you can find me on Twitter, Gab, and MeWe via my handle: davedauthor.

RZ: I have an Amazon author site. I’ve been permanently banned from Twitter for saying not nice things about Greta Thunberg, well, merely pointing out, reasonably I think, that she is autistic, probably mildly retarded, and being exploited by climate activists in a form of contemporary Children’s Crusade.

I left Facebook on July 4, declaring my independence from the Behemoth of Zuck. I have MeWe, Gab and Parler accounts under, respectively, Ray Zacek, Zhombre and Zhombre Publishing.

My professional email is Zhombrepublishing@gmail.com. Any comments, criticisms, come-on’s, and death threats can be directed there.


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