Saturday, February 23, 2019

The Frisco Detective, Or, How I came to be a Publisher of Old Stories in Brilliant New Editions: Guest Post by Mark Williams

Mark Williams:
The Frisco Detective, Or, How I came to be a Publisher of Old Stories in Brilliant New Editions 

Mark Williams here, and I should introduce myself. I’m the guy starting a publishing company to bring “lost” detective and crime stories of the late 1800s to new readers. Stories like The Frisco Detective, which has just come out as a trade paperback. My company is called Dark Lantern Tales, and here is how it came to be.

My parents were artists, and while growing up I had no other expectation than to pursue life as an artist myself. But during my one erratic year in college I became part of a bootleg underground radio station and soon was in the music business, recording music for a living.

Most of the people in my life know me from the long career I had in the recording business. Obsessively pursuing the knowledge, skill, intuition, and opportunities to make fine recordings of music was way beyond a job – it was who I was! And that was for nearly fifty years, during which time I had to evolve through many changes in the recording industry. But a couple of years ago it became obvious to me that new changes in the business were more than I was up to tackling. It was finally time to call it a day.

And that led to the question, “If I am not recording music, who am I?” Good question, and looking for a satisfying alternative, I began to imagine how I might create a publishing company to share my interest in an obscure area of literature.

Beginning as a teenager I have studied late 19th century American history and collected artifacts. Series books of that time period interested me, and I still have some of the copies I gathered in the 1960s. Over the years I further focused my interest and collecting on the more ephemeral popular fiction sold from newsstands to working folks in the 1800s. The publishing business of the latter 19th century was as seamy and chaotic as anything I experienced in the music business, and I always felt a kindred with the hard living and hard working writers who scratched out thousands of words each day with pen and ink.

After a twelve-hour day working in a recording studio somewhere, I would relax in my hotel room with a glass or two of red, and prowl the internet. I was learning and looking for rare titles I wanted. My wife, Ann, would have the boxes of my online finds for me when I got back home.

A favorite author of mine is Albert W. Aiken. Aiken was part of the stable of writers for Beadle and Adams publications and maintained a parallel career as a playwright and actor. Many of his stories feature vivid backstage scenes in sleazy theatres. I am drawing on his crime and detective novels for many of the initial releases from Dark Lantern Tales, including The Frisco Detective.

A concept came to me that people might really enjoy the low brow, high action detective stories of the 1870s-1890s if they were easy to read. There are lots of readers who like Historical Fiction, and there is new interest in Victorian era drama on TV with shows like The Alienist, Ripper Street, and Penny Dreadful. Trying to read the fragile, browned originals, or trying to read scans from computer files was OK for academics (and me) but someone on a long flight or sitting on a beach would want a convenient, modern format. Modern ebooks looked like a good place to start, print versions are coming out now, and eventually audiobooks will be available.

The Frisco Detective is the first title out as a trade paperback, and Jim Wann, our storyteller friend who has authored Pump Boys and Dinettes, Diamond Studs, and other musicals, recently wrote this:

My friend Mark Williams came to Tybee for KING MACKEREL and handed me this novel he has just edited and brought out under his banner, Dark Lantern Tales. I loved it! The crooked police chief, the beautiful woman who may or may not be on the level, the cheerful thugs with their inventive patois, the resourceful hero--all characters that fans of Hammett would encounter about 40 years on with his own Frisco detectives, Sam Spade, The Continental Op, and Ned Beaumont. Highly recommended! 

So, to answer my question from a few paragraphs ago, I am now an editor and publisher of these stories from Dark Lantern Tales. Being immersed in these old detective stories, and going through all the stages to bring them from the scarce originals to new editions, has become my new obsession. My search is for adventurous Historical Fiction readers, and I hardly miss making records at all. Welcome to the world of action-packed, ephemeral crime thrillers of the late 1800s!

P.S. What is a “Dark Lantern?” The answer is here:

The Frisco Detective in Trade Paperback and Kindle:

The Frisco Detective in EPUB file for iPad, iPhone, other readers than Kindle:

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