this interview was conducted over email in November 2015 as part of a project to document Ottawa literary publishing. see my bibliography-in-progress of Ottawa literary publications, past and present here
Warren D. Layberry: I’m a freelance editor, illustrator, and ghostwriter living on Vancouver Island. Alongside my wife Renée (who is also the in-house editor at Touchwood Editions/Brindle & Glass) we run DarkWaterEditing and spend altogether too much time in front of computer monitors. It’s been a while since I’ve published under my own name, but I do still write my own stuff on occasion, both fiction and poetry. Looking back at the time covered by this interview, my stuff certainly made the rounds—and not just in my own publications. I cracked most of the small local publications at least once. Pooka Press also published a chapbook of mine entitled small mercies (1995) and above/ground press did a poetry aside entitled A House of Cards (1995). I did a number poetry readings and was a featured reader at Dusty Owl, Vanilla, and Vogon. These days I derive a great deal of pleasure working as an editor and really developing manuscripts in ways that I never really considered back in my ELS, GraffitiFish, and Bad Moon Books days.
Q: How did Bad Moon Books first start? I know you’d toyed with prior publications, including being part of Box 77 while at Carleton University, through the English Literature Society. Did GraffitiFish pre-date Bad Moon Books, or were they concurrent?
A: Bad Moon Books grew out of my experience as an ‘editor/designer’ with the Carleton University’s English Literature Society. The ELS ran Box 77, a literary magazine which I started with Steve Zytveld (or perhaps we just renamed it) in the fall of 1994. Box 77 Books also put out Present Tense: Tales from the Nation’s Capital (1995) and Voices in Union: In Support of Harmony House (April 1996).
GraffitiFish was a small personal project that started in June of 1994. It was a free literary publication that I put together myself in a ¼ legal sized booklet format that I fell in love with. I am pretty sure the first couple GraffitiFish issues are what caught the eye of someone from the ELS though the details are fuzzy after twenty-plus years. It’s possible (Steve would be able to answer this question) that those early meetings in 1994 actually marked the beginning of the ELS.
I don’t think I have copies of all the issues of GraffitiFish, but even the issues I do have show that they overlapped Bad Moon Books which started in 1995 and ran until 2004.
The inspiration for GraffitiFish sprang from the small literary magazines floating around Carleton in the late eighties and early nineties: The Carleton Arts Review, Hostbox, The Skinny, etc. I was writing poetry and fiction myself, but that wasn’t really the impetus behind starting GraffitiFish—what caught my imagination was the layout and design stuff.
I took art classes all though high school and got into the Carleton’s Industrial Design program based on the strength of my portfolio. Though I jumped ship after a year to become an English major, the layout and design bug never quite left me.
Bad Moon Books was really just the natural evolution of the small scale stuff I was doing with GraffitiFish.
Q: What was the process of receiving work for either GraffitiFish or Bad Moon Books? Was there an open submission policy, or were you predominantly soliciting work from those around you?
A: In both cases there was an open submission policy. For the first few GraffitiFish, I had to hit folks up, but after that I just published what I got. Because GraffitiFish was free, all I had to do was include a post office box and email address, and folks who picked it up started sending stuff in. I started flogging Bad Moon Books in GraffitiFish, and when I started the short story contests, I spread the word via various writing lists. Before long I had a Bad Moon Books website as well, which also helped. Plus there was word of mouth. I think the chapbooks looked pretty good, and so when I flogged them either at readings or small press book fairs they found their way into interested hands.
Q: You mention the overlap between GraffitiFish and Bad Moon Books, but at one point, GraffitiFish simply fell by the wayside. Was this a deliberate shift from journal to chapbook publishing? Had the journal simply done what you had hoped? What brought about the decision to finally suspend the journal?
A: Truth be told, there was never anything deliberate about GraffitiFish. I always viewed it as an irregular publication. When I got the itch to put one out, I did. For the most part that itch (and much of my free time and funds) was scratched by the chapbooks I was producing for Bad Moon Books. I was pleased with GraffitiFish though and sometimes even toy with the idea of putting out another one just for fun.
Q: Was either journal or press modelled after any other publishing you were aware of? How did Bad Moon Books get started, and what were you hoping to accomplish?
A: I wouldn’t say either were modelled after another journal or press, but I was very aware of what was being produced, and I sort of saw what I was doing as part of the conversation. Part of what drew me into publishing was the idea of exploring what was possible in terms of design. In terms of journals, I was aware of the big established literary journals like Grain and Malahat Review, and I appreciated the somewhat less grand (but still nice) Carleton Arts Review, and then there were the small shoestring ones like Hostbox, Graffito, and The Skinny, and it was the small ones that caught my imagination. I remember playing around with names and formats and settling on ¼ legal booklets. It wasn’t hard getting contributors to fill these little books, and the idea of a free publication that I could leave lying around campus appealed to me.
When I decided to try chapbook publishing, I was most aware of above/ground and pooka press; Warren Fulton (did he have a partner in crime?) put out small mercies in March of 1995. Though I stand to be corrected on this, I am pretty sure I did the layout for small mercies myself, and something about having all that extra space to play with felt nice. Something about crafting a collection and coming up with a title and a cover was gratifying. There were illustration in there as well, and I found that interesting. In fact, now that I think about it, small mercies probably sparked Bad Moon Books.
In terms of what I hoped to achieve, it was the same with both GraffitiFish and Bad Moon Books—I wanted to craft compelling satisfying publications. I wanted to explore what was possible within my limited means. I certainly never had lofty literary goals nor any thought that I would ever come close to making money at it (which of course I never did). I liked the idea of being an interesting voice in a larger conversation.
Q: I don’t even know if the English Literary Society at Carleton University exists at all anymore, but during your time there, the ELS accomplished some interesting things. How did the ELS even begin publishing at all, and who else was involved? How often did Box 77 appear, and what was its mandate?
A: Of course, the best person to ask about ELS stuff would be Steve Zytveld (also behind Dusty Owl). My recollection, for what it’s worth, is that the ELS and Box 77 started more or less at the same time—I am remembering a meeting at a campus pub, not Oliver’s or Mike’s Place, maybe the one out near the residences—and that the thought was it only made sense that the English Literature Society would have a literary journal. I don’t recall anyone there with any particular experience, but we played it by ear, and everyone chipped in to get it done. It seems to me there was a distinct lack of big egos in that group. I remember Steve Zytveld, Cathy MacDonald, Nick Tytor, John Mahoney, and a number of other faces which are clear enough in my mind but for which I no longer have names. I am pretty sure GraffitiFish landed me the gig as editor/designer. I remember that Box 77—which was merely the ELS mailbox number on the 18th floor of Dunton Tower—came out three times a year, once per academic term, and that those early issues I worked on were themed by season. Its mandate was simply to give another opportunity for Carleton students to express themselves, but I am sure we didn’t actually limit it to Carleton students and graduates. We published both poetry and fiction and the occasional book review if I’m not mistaken. I can’t for the life of me remember how it was funded, but we did it on the cheap regardless. Folded letter-sized sheets saddle-stitched with staples (I might still have the extra long stapler I bought from Business Depot). I remember at least one collating/folding/stapling get together.
Q: Once GraffitiFish folded, whether officially or quietly, Bad Moon Books developed for quite some time afterwards. How did the publications develop over the years? The press produced, predominantly, single-author poetry collections to single-author fiction collections that became more randomly-produced as the press progressed. How were the books distributed? What did you feel the press accomplished?
A: I think what struck me as Bad Moon Books developed was how little fiction was being published in chapbook form. There was no shortage of poetry (and of course there’s nothing wrong with poetry) but there was almost no fiction. I can’t remember where the idea for the Blood & Guts Horror Story Competition came from—possibly my experience with Highfalls Lake, a ghost story of mine that had won some money from Storyteller Magazine’s Great Canadian Short Story Contest—but I remember liking the idea right away. I ran it with an entry fee of $10 primarily so that I could offer a prize, and so that the prize would in turn attract contributors. I always had enough contributors to cover the prize and offset some of the production cost. Word spread, and I ended up getting some terrific stories. I got folks from all over North America and at least one from the UK. In 2004, the last year I was operating, I decided to start two more competitions; Cold Steel was a crime and mystery contest, and NEW CAT TATTOOS (an anagram of OTTAWA CONTEST) which was limited to current and former Ottawa residents.
In terms of distribution, every author got a stack of contributor copies. The National Library got their copies as well. I also sold copies from the website once it was up. I sold them in person at readings and small press book fairs. I periodically flogged them through consignment at Chapters. And someone (I can’t remember who) put me onto John Coutts Library Services, and they always wanted copies—they were a good customer over the years.
I think what I am most pleased with, looking back, is that I provided a little bit of friendly soil for writers while they were still putting down roots. I know that Leo Brent Robillard’s first publication was in Box 77 and he went on in 2004 to win the first (and only) Cold Steel contest. I also published early work by writers such as Clark Hays (Blood & Guts, 2002), Christian McPherson (New Cat Tattoos, 2004), and Steve Vernon (Blood & Guts, 1999).
Q: Besides publishing chapbooks of short fiction, Bad Moon Books ran an awful lot of contests (not a lot in terms of numbers, per se, but certainly more than a great deal of small publishers put together). What was it about the contests that appealed, and why were you running so many?
A: The short answer is, I suppose, because I liked contests; I liked participating in contests myself, and so I liked the idea of offering a contest for others to participate in. Beyond that, it was a matter of what the contest format made possible. I felt I wanted to publish a series of horror short stories. I might have waited three years before seeing the number of stories that came to my post office box for a single contest deadline. Furthermore the quality of the stories I did received was probably higher because I got stories from some writers who were beyond sending out work to a press that only paid in contributor’s copies; I don’t know that I would have landed Clark Hays or Steve Vernon were it not for the contest. Of course, the entry fee also meant that I could offer prize money without it coming out of my pocket. I never ended up making money on the deal; I’m sure in the entire nine-year run of Bad Moon Books I never made more off a chapbook than it cost me to produce—which was fine because that had never been the goal. I loved emailing the winners, and it gave me a good feeling to include a money order with their copies. I also knew that, in all future cover letters, those authors would be able to talk about being a contest winner. Everyone who participated got a copy of the winning chapbook out of the deal, and I printed a list of the year’s contest participants in the winning chapbook. I always felt that the Blood & Guts Horror Story Competition was a success on all front, and when I started the other two contests, I was simply trying to diversify a bit after having read a lot of horror stories. The only reason I closed up shop after 2004 was that life got in the way; I felt I didn’t have the time that projects required or deserved.
Volume 1, No.1. June 1994. Editor: Warren Layberry. Poems by Warren Layberry, Christopher Kelly, Heather Layberry, Janet Layberry, rob mclennan and Martha Héder.
Volume 1, No.2. July 1994. Editor: Warren Layberry. Poems by Warren Layberry, Warren D. Fulton, Martha Héder, Stephanie Pasch, M.G. Comino, Colin Morton, Donna Shaw, Sharon Boddy, Ayli Lapkoff and rob mclennan.
Volume 2, No. 1. February 1995. Editor: Warren Layberry. Poems by Warren Layberry, Mark Platt, Rebecca A Jones, Richard Carter, Nick Tytor, Donna Shaw, Colin Morton, E Russel Smith, M.G. Comino, Ayli Lapkoff, Pamela Chynn, Stephen Héder, TaraTosh and Stephen Gill. Fiction by Colin Hayward and Brian Schlachta.
Volume 2, No. 2. August 1995. Editor: Warren Layberry. Poems by Martha Héder, Sandra L Wiles, Ayli Lapkoff and Amanda Terry. Fiction by Kasia Kaminski.
Volume 2, No. 3. Spring 1996. Editors: Warren Layberry and Chris Kelly. Poems by Martha Héder, Pamela Chynn, Kane Faucher, Leo Brent Robillard, Matt Hunwicks, Tanya Evanson, Warren Layberry. Fiction by Dave Gregory.
Volume 3, No. 1. February 1997. Editors: Warren Layberry and Chris Kelly. “Some Contests” issue, offering information on local writing contests and how to submit to them. Contributors: Warren Layberry and E Russell Smith.
Bad Moon Books bibliography:
Little Blue God by Janet Layberry (ISBN: 189663401X) 1995 [drama]
human elements (the) by rob mclennan (ISBN: 1896634028) June 1996 [poetry]
Strange Alchemy by Warren Layberry (ISBN: 1896634036) September 1996 [poetry]
As Dark as Night: A Vitriolic Valentine’s Day Selection edited by Warren Layberry (ISBN: 1896634044) February 1997 [poetry, fiction] — Contributors: Christopher Kelly, Klara Pachner, Derek Thuillard, Natalie Hanna, Christopher Stolle, Randy Kelly, Victoria Martin, Julie Christiansen, & Wes Smiderle.
White Owl by John Rupert (ISBN: 1896634052) October 1997 [fiction]
A Matter of Taste by Carol Weekes (ISBN: 1896634079) November 1997 [fiction] Winner of the 1997 Blood & Guts Horror Story Competition
Highfalls Lake by Warren Layberry (ISBN: 1896634060) August 1998 [fiction]
Introduction to Biology by Angi Garofolo (ISBN: 1896634087) November 1998 [fiction] Winner of the 1998 Blood & Guts Horror Story Competition
A Fine Sacrifice by Steve Vernon (ISBN: 1896634095) November 1999 [fiction] Winner of the 1999 Blood & Guts Horror Story Competition
Blood & Guts 2000 by James Trettwer, Carol Weekes & Michael Kelly (ISBN: 1896634109) January 2001 [fiction] Winner of the 2000 Blood & Guts Horror Story Competition
Red Winter by Clark Hays (ISBN: 1896634117) January 2002 [fiction] Winner of the 2002 Blood & Guts Horror Story Competition
Revenant by Wes Smiderle (ISBN: 1896634125) October 2003 [fiction] Winner of the 2003 Blood & Guts Horror Story Competition
Spikeseed by Jalina Mhyana (ISBN 1896634133) February 2004 [poetry]
corrective lenses by rob mclennan (ISBN: 1896634141) February 2004 [poetry]
Black as Hell: A Vitriolic Valentine’s Day Anthology edited by Warren Layberry (ISBN: 189663415X) February 2004 [fiction, poetry] — Contributors: Lacy Lake, Dennis Thomsen, Jalina Mhyana, Craig Sernotti, Savannah Deville, Avra Kouffman, Richard Pitaniello, Carol Weekes, Steve Vernon
half cocked by Terry Ann Carter (ISBN: 1896634168) April 2004 [poetry]
The Prodigal Son by Leo Brent Robillard (ISBN: 1896634176) September 2004 [fiction] Winner of the 2004 Cold Steel Crime & Mystery Competition
Killer Dope by Christian McPherson (ISBN: 1896634184) September 2004 [fiction] Winner of the 2004 New Cat Tattoos
I loved Graffitifish. I fondly remember how once, when I was doing the "poet thing," Warren agreed to read some of my choppy juvenile prose, and that he threatened to beat me if I didn't observe some standard rules. Ok, he was speaking rhetorically, of course! As a 17 year old or so at the time, I took it as gospel. Of course now I am a bit of a grammar and spelling nazi, but someone has to be given the depressing reduction in literacy standards in the Ontario Min of Ed's curriculum (*cough cough*).
Really enjoying this series of interviews. Incredible to hear about the diaspora of the Ottawa lit scene crew from the 90s.
Some good memories here. I still have a few copies of my Bad Moon Books.
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