I Always Wanted to be a Publisher

In the beginning was the mystery. And I read the mystery. And it was good.

When I was thirteen or so, I discovered the young adult mysteries of Phyllis A. Whitney, and I gobbled them up as quick as I could find them. Mystery of the Haunted Pool, Mystery on the Isle of Skye, Mystery of the Green Cat. Then I discovered science fiction—Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs, John Brunner, Otis Adelbert Kline—and left the mysteries behind for awhile. In high school, I always had a paperback with me. In between the Hawthornes and the Huxleys, there was always a Heinlein or a Howard to keep my imagination fired.

I was soon reading H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith, where I discovered the world of slithering, other-worldly horrors. And Sax Rohmer, for a bit of Asian intrigue. And then on to Philip K. Dick, where my realities really got twisted up. It was a great time to be young and a reader. Somewhere along the way, I picked up a catalog from a fellow named Gerry de la Ree, filled with old hardback treasures. Pretty soon I was off on African adventures with H. Rider Haggard. And that’s also when I discovered the turn-of-the-century thrillers of E. Phillips Oppenheim. I was probably the only kid in my high school reading Oppenheim. But then, when we had to pick our favorite poet and write an essay on them, I was the only kid who got up in front of the class and extolled the virtues of Robert E. Howard’s suicidal verse.

I was probably also the only kid who dreamed of some day being a publisher. Yeah, I know, crazy. What high school kid wants to be a publisher? A writer, sure, but a publisher?

I think it was reading Oppenheim that got me started. Here was an author who had published 150 books in his lifetime, and none of them were in print. And Haggard—only two or three of his many adventure novels were available. Same with Algernon Blackwood and Robert W. Chambers. Even Jules Verne and H. G. Wells had plenty of books that were languishing out of print. I remember thinking at the time how great it would be to own a publishing company and to bring all these books back into paperback. The fans would go wild.

It was my dream, and after all these years, that’s exactly what I’m doing.

I don’t know if the fans are going wild exactly, but it makes me happy. The seeds sowed by Gerry de la Ree’s hardback catalog so many years ago has born fruit. My reading was always a bit retro, so what better gig than to helm a publishing company dedicated to bringing back the treasures of the past? I’m always about ten to twenty years behind the mainstream anyway. When I was in high school, everyone was reading Richard Brautigan. I was reading Delaney and Ellison and Silverberg and Burroughs. No, not William. Edgar Rice.

I still trace my love of mysteries back to Phyllis A. Whitney. Haven’t read one of her books in probably close to 50 years, but I have fond memories, and still have a few on the shelf. Right between the Lionel Whites and the Harry Whittingtons. It’s all grist for the mill. But the real debt I owe is to E. Phillips Oppenheim, who inspired a book-soused kid to want to be a publisher. I still think it’s a crazy idea.

Greg Shepard
Stark House Press

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