Writer vs. Publisher: Outcast Press

Well, for us outcasts who write transgressive and are not stars like Chuck Palahniuk, there are publishing houses that try to give voice to such writers. Today, I had an opportunity to talk with the founder of Outcast Press, Sebastian Vice who is also a transgressive author. Let us get to know him better.

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Hi Sebastian. I'm about to ask you the most difficult question. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your writing style?


I don’t know what to say about myself. I write mostly transgressive fiction and dirty realism. Sometimes I dabble in crime, horror, and westerns. My heart is with the first two though. I suppose my attraction to those genres stems from my marrow deep pessimism and existential nihilism. It’s a bit hard to write in those to categories and not only be more than a little fucked up, but also think that, in the end, everything is fucked.


Could you tell us a bit about Outcast press?


Sure, I suppose the best is to splash what’s on our homepage. “Outcast Press wants stories cut from the bone, written from the gristle that sticks to your soul, based off brain-burning images scorched onto paper. We like raw, honest, dark, in-your-face, tales. The ethos at Outcast Press is a rejection of sacred cows. The beauty of literature lies in exploring themes other mediums consider too taboo. For us, the thrill of transgressive fiction lies within its unpredictability. Stun us. Shock us. Amaze us. Grab us by the throat and never let go. Take the story far, too far—then farther. Then drop us a submission if you dare.”


I wager this pretty much sums it up. We want the best transgressive and dirty realist stories we can find. As suggested above, we don’t think a story goes “too far.” Rarely do stories go far enough.


Why did you decide to start Outcast press?


If you asked me a year ago if I thought I’d start a press, I’d laugh in your face. It was never a dream of mine. I just wanted to write short stories and poems, and maybe someday do novels (maybe). For me, and I suspect my team, it was born out of necessity. No matter how hard I dug, I had a hell of a time finding places that catered specifically to transgressive fiction.


So we started because we noticed a hole in the short story market for transgressive fiction. I mean, it’s hard enough selling a transgressive novel, but as I said, you really have to dig for places that take transgressive short stories (especially places that pay). They’re out there, sure, but you have to really search. Too often I saw places that would flirt with transgressive fiction, but they still wanted satanized bullshit. Nothing against magazines that don’t want dark or transgressive works. But if you market yourself as wanting such? Go all the way, motherfucker, or go home.


One day I snapped. I stumbled upon this journal that fake advertised taking transgressive fiction. So, like any professional, I go immediately to study the submission requirements and such, and I see a list of themes they don’t take (which was akin to a big no for 90% of my stories). I snapped. I thought, fuck this, I know some solid peeps, let’s fuckin’ do a transgressive and dirty realism press ourselves.


Publishing is a notoriously tough business. During your career, what major changes have you observed in the book business? What constants give the industry its strength?


It’s worth noting WHY it’s tough. It’s not tough finding talent. There’s plenty of fantastic writers. My team is fantastic, and not to brag, but each of us are really good at our shit. Paige Johnson is an outstanding fiction EIC. Emily Woe is brilliant as our tech person and has business education (she set up our shop, hooks us up with covers, etc). Both of these fine women I’ve known awhile, and are great at what they do. Amy-Jean Muller blows me away every time a new poetry feature comes out. And I like to think I’m pretty good at promotion, suffering social media, and whatnot.


It’s a tough business mostly, in my view, since the structure of the system puts every roadblock in a small publisher’s path. The sheer amount of work dealing with outdated and needlessly complicated systems is, in my view, designed to make small publishers fail.


There are a lot of working parts to getting a book published. Most of those are expected. But if you want your authors to succeed (which, why wouldn’t you?) you’ll have to suffer dozens of hours of dealing with systems designed to make you fail.


I haven’t really observed any major changes since I started writing or started the press. Rarely do places want to take a risk on something, they want to play it safe, blah, blah, blah. We’ve always seen this. We see it in music, film, and literature.


The constants that give the industry strength? Indie presses. In my view, that’s where you’ll channel the punk rock attitude (sometimes). Small presses, often run by writers themselves (like us), where you’ll find really innovative material.


Why transgressive fiction? What about this genre attracts you?


It’s one of the few genres where I don’t feel like a freak. Where I feel it’s ok to go there. Confession: I’ve been at this writing game for something like 10-15 years. I didn’t know what transgressive fiction was until about 2-3 years ago. All I knew is places didn’t want my stuff. It wasn’t horror, wasn’t literary, wasn’t thriller…what the fuck was it? Then I discovered it had a name. And this isn’t an unusual revelation either. Most people I talk to report much the same: I was writing stories nobody wanted because they were too dark or taboo, then I discovered it had a name.


I suppose I’m attracted to it because of the surprise element. Generally speaking, with other genres, you know what you’re getting. When you crack open a transgressive novel or short story, usually you don’t. There are exceptions of course, but there are plenty of surprises. I like surprises. I hate predictability.


And, I suppose it’s an outlet for my existential nihilism. Cormac McCarthy said: the point is there is no point. Perhaps this is what’s offputing about transgressive fiction. Often, though not always, it’s a vessel for existential nihilism. We don’t learn some lesson. Again: the point is there is no point.


Can you tell us about one of the recently published books in Outcast press?


I can only do one? Rats. Ok. We have our anthology In Filth It Shall Be Found dropping at the end of the month. It’s a collection of 20 transgressive short stories. No theme other than these are transgressive stories. We have some well-known peeps, like Greg Levin, Craig Clevenger, Lauren Sapala, and Steve Golds, to peeps we’ve had the honor of first publishing like Sue Petty and CT Marie. You’ll find a wide variety of themes and voices here. If you dig transgressive fiction, you’ll dig the anthology.


How would you decide which book to publish? What are your criteria? Is it the author or the story?


It’s both the author and the story. The story has to pique our interest, obviously. And it has to be well written, obviously. However, our authors have to be easy to work with. The process is long and involved, and we invest a lot of time and money into everyone we pick up. If the story is good, or great, but the author is seems difficult to work with, we’ll pass. Paige Johnson does a fantastic job making manuscripts shine (the proof is in the pudding—look at Sean McCallum’s debut The Recalcitrant Stuff Of Life). The last fucking thing I want to do is subject her to someone who won’t work with her. The key words are work WITH her.


At the end of the day, we want to sell books, sure. But that’s not our primary metric. We want two things: a good transgressive or dirty realist story, and an author who is professional and easy to work with.


What do you think makes a good story? And what makes it transgressive?


I’ll leave the first part this question up to literary critics. I wish I had a thoughtful answer, but I don’t. What makes it transgressive? It pushes back on some social, personal, political, or moral norm. It can be anything from engaging with necrophilia, to something simple like lying (Chuck P’s novel Choke has as its fundamental transgression lying and making people into fake heroes). I could go on and on, but Google is your friend (I know this is a shitty answer—but I don’t want to drone on any longer than I have).


Do you think women could be good Transgressive Fiction Writers? Why/why not?


Yes, why couldn’t they be? They are human beings like anyone else. Not only can they, but one of my favorite transgressive fiction novels is Tampa by Alissa Nutting. Some people might want to burn me at the stake for this, but dare I say it’s even better than Lolita (and I love that book). For those who doubt me, read Lolita, then read Tampa.


It’s often said transgressive fiction is kind of a boys club. I don’t know, I can list plenty of female transgressive fiction writers (this is a very incomplete list):

  1. Alissa Nutting (Tampa)

  2. Monica Drake (Clown Girl)

  3. Natalie Nidler (For My Amusement)

  4. Joyce Carol Oates (Rape: A Love Story)

  5. Kathy Acker (Blood And Guts In High School)

  6. Lauren Sapala (Between The Shadow and Lo)

  7. Violet LeVoit (I Miss The World)

  8. Katherine Dunn (Geek Love)

  9. Kola Boof (The Sexy Part Of The Bible)

  10. Rachel