Playing Favorites

I don’t have one favorite author. And at any given moment, I might give a different answer if pushed to pick one. In the world of film and popular music, I have no problem playing favorites. Casablanca has been my favorite film since I first saw it 55+ or so years ago. I never get tired of watching anything with Humphrey Bogart in it. Same with music. Brian Wilson has been #1 for me since I first heard the Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ U.S.A.” come blasting out of my radio back in 1963. The Beatles come a close second, right up there with Frank Zappa. They all took music in a different direction, and I was happy to follow.

But writers, now, they’re a slippery breed. You can have a favorite author at one point, and then a few years later, you realize you’ve lost all interest in them. You’ve got all their books, but can’t imagine reading one of them. Fond memories prompt you to mention them when someone asks, but you are plucking the strings of auld lang syne more than being honest about your feelings when you call them a favorite.

I feel that way about a lot of my teenage favorites: Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard both come to mind. I love those guys….but when did I last read one of their books? Way too long ago. I also read a lot of Jules Verne when I was a kid, too. And I’m sure I’d find joy in all three of these authors if I read them now. But favorites? Maybe not so much anymore….

You might think that my favorite writers would all be Stark House books. But, in fact, my three favorites are Ernest Hemingway, Philip K. Dick and Jonathan Carroll. Hemingway for the precision of his writing, the way he could create an emotion with dialogue alone, the leanness of his prose. I love Phil Dick for his crazy-ass ideas. His books always take me somewhere new, and get me to look at the world in a different way. And Carroll, well, I love his books just for the pure magic of them.

Throughout my life, I’ve latched on to a lot of favorite authors whom I’ve read and collected with a fervor like that of a junkie searching for his fix. Authors like Robert Silverberg, Barry N. Malzberg, Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, Jim Thompson, David Goodis, Margaret Millar, Emile Zola, F. Scott Fitzgerald, W. Somerset Maugham, Aldous Huxley, Anthony Burgess, Stephen King, Robert McCammon, Michael Moorcock, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Ursula K. LeGuin, Neil Gaiman, Dashiell Hammett, H. Rider Haggard, Sax Rohmer, Sinclair Lewis, Algernon Blackwood, Kim Stanley Robinson, Graham Joyce, H. G. Wells, Storm Constantine, L. Frank Baum….

The list could go on and on. How do you pick a favorite among such heady company? And this is the short list. It’s rather slanted toward male authors, most of them American or European. I admit it, I need to branch out more. I read a lot of Russian literature in college—Turgenev, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy come to mind—but that was years ago. I have yet to read many of the Indian, Japanese, Caribbean or Latin authors. There aren’t a lot of modern authors on the list either.

And, really, I don’t know what any of this has to do with Stark House except to give you an idea of where I’m coming from as a publisher. Nobody asked me who my favorite authors are. But, hell, nobody asked me to start a publishing company either, and I didn’t let that stop me….

—Greg Shepard
Stark House Press


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