Updated: Oct 25
The sodium-vapor streetlight burns away the darkness, keeping the shadows at bay, as I hustle through the downpour towards the bar on the corner. I'm in need of a fix, bad. I can feel withdrawals coming on. My hands dance the jitters already, so I stuff them deeper down into my coat pockets. I really don't want to have to suffer through this again. The last time was nearly unbearable. Didn't think I was gonna make it. I did though, a little worse for wear but hey, at least I'm still breathing. This dealer I heard rumor of better be here or there's gonna be hell to pay.
Slinking into the bar I'm hit with the stench of cheap beer and stale cigarette smoke, the aroma of fine establishments such as this. The place is nearly empty. Only a few biker looking fellas shooting pool in the back, and a drunk snoring loudly in a corner booth. I sidle up to the bar, order a bourbon on the rocks.
I no sooner take a sip of my drink when I feel a presence behind me, setting my nerve endings on edge. A bull of a man plops down onto the barstool beside me. His sleeves are rolled up revealing a duo of faded tattoos on his forearms; a black cat, and the face of a young woman wearing an eye patch. I glance around to see if anyone is paying us attention, but everyone seems none the wiser. Leaning in close to the man next to me, I whisper.
"Are you...are you that Shotgun Honey guy?"
The man simply nods his head in affirmation. I lean in even closer, nearly sliding off the stool and tumbling ass first onto the tacky linoleum floor.
"I'm in need of a fix, man. Like real bad. I burned through my last stack quicker than I was expecting to. You think you can hook me up?"
Without a word the man pulls out a package wrapped in brown paper and slides it my way. I greedily snatch it, tearing into the wrapping. It may be my imagination, but I swear the contents of that package glows golden like the inside of Marsellus Wallace's briefcase.
This is what I’ve been jonesing for. The fix I so desperately need. A stack of books that I can inject straight into my TBR. This is Fiction with a KICK!
This was a tale of fiction. What follows is our interview with Ron Earl Phillips of Shotgun Honey Books.
Paper Cuts: How did you get initially involved with Shotgun Honey?
Ron Earl Phillips: Shotgun Honey started as a flashzine website by Kent Gowran. At the end of 2010, a lot of venues for crime writers online had started to dissipate both in print and online. Kent had been a fan of the short-lived Muzzle Flash Fiction, and he wanted to replicate that feel with a small word count and high frequency. When we started in April of 2011, it was a Blogger website, and we published three stories a week for almost two years. Sabrina Ogden, a crime fiction fan out of Utah, and I were there from the start having volunteered to help months earlier. The foundations for the Gauntlet started with us, the three very different members.
PC: Where did the Shotgun Honey name come from?
Ron: It was Kent who brought the name to the table. The idea for the name originates in part from a Swedish grindhouse movie called Thriller: A Cruel Picture whose lead character Frigga wears a prominent patch after being left for dead. It had an alternate title They Call Her One Eye. Shotgun Honey Books was originally called One Eye Press. Our mascot still has one eye. PC: What is the overall feel that you look for when deciding which book becomes a Shotgun Honey book?
Ron: Publishing seemed like the natural evolution of what we were doing with Shotgun Honey. We had approached writers we liked, who were submitting to Plots with Guns and ThugLit, to tackle our 700-word limit, and many really didn't want to write flash fiction. So I pitched the idea of an anthology. That was an experience, and maybe I should have taken it as a warning. But I didn't and I went stumbling ahead and published the first run of books I called One Shots under the One Eye Press label. These were anthologies, and my selection for early books wasn't much different than now. I'm a reader first. The Shotgun Honey catalog isn't huge, so I don't necessarily look for what I think will sell but what I like to read.
Had it not been for Chris Irvin's FEDERALES, I might not have followed through with publishing, but I connected to that book, and I needed to publish it.
As for look for, well books that speak to me or can give me a different perspective than my own. I'm more character over plot, but I do feel there needs to be an even balance between the two.
PC: How has Shotgun Honey grown and evolved from its inception in 2011 to where it is now in 2023?
Ron: Shotgun Honey is small, especially on the book publishing side. I have no staff but have been fortunate to have volunteers with tremendous depth and skill. And for about five years, I had the support of Down & Out Books as an imprint. We're still partnered in a way as a percentage of our catalog is still under their care. That partnership was beneficial, but Shotgun Honey also became invisible under the D&O. Becoming our own publisher again rather than an imprint has reinvigorated the brand and our goal to get broader coverage. Which will be a task with Amazon being the number one seller of books and the fastest-growing publisher. In 2012-2014 sales were significantly more than 2018-2020, post Covid we've seen improvement. I hope that's a trend.
PC: Post Covid you said you've seen an improvement in sales. Do you feel as if Shotgun Honey and the works you are publishing are reaching a wider audience now than in previous years?
Ron: I think Covid created an environment that had people seeking more types of entertainment and diversions. It probably brought more readers to the community as a whole, hopefully my "faith" in Reaganomics (yeah, I'm old) boosted sales a little. There are definitely more writers wanting to publish novels. That gives small press publishers like me a chance at new talent. I still receive queries that are outside of the Shotgun Honey wheelhouse or genre, but its part and parcel with the business. I do think the titles are resonating more and the authors have been very proactive and collaborative. So yes, I think we are hitting a wider audience.
PC: Are there any books that you may have passed on and wished you could get back?
Ron: No, not really. Last year we had a good submission cycle and I had to turn down books because I knew I couldn't fulfill them within 18-24 months. I turned down MINK by Zakariah Johnson, which by the time I came back around to it, MINK had found a home. It's a good story. PC: Aside from the day-to-day operations, promoting, formatting, cover-art, what are some challenges you run into running a press people would be surprised about?
Ron: If it weren't for the cover-art, I probably wouldn't have any creative outlets. It's consuming and being in the heads of so many writers can drain your own creativity. I still have a 10-year-old novel I haven't finished. I've been known to recommend to writers wanting to start a zine or a press not to do it if they want to write themselves. There are some that can juggle it, but it takes a lot of structure, discipline, and time.
One thing I have been surprised about is the lack of gonzo responses to rejections. I'd been told about them and warned, but to date I've only had one odd bird threat to sue me. So, now that I've mentioned it, I guess I'll get a flood of hate mail.
PC: Your novel that you've been working on are you able to give a hint as to what it's about? Do you think you'll be able to find the time to complete it?
Ron: I really hope that before it is all said and done that can I manage to finish the novel which has gone through a series of titles, most recently "Before I Sleep." Such a title, it might be my opus. It is a story of dying, regret, and trying to make amends before it is all over. A real bit of country noir in the truest sense. Probably too dark to be commercial. But I do want to switch sides and hunt for a publisher when it's done.
PC: What releases can readers look forward to from Shotgun Honey for the rest of 2023? Ron: 2023 got off to a good start with HARD MOUNTAIN CLAY by C.W. Blackwell. Like FEDERALES, that novella hooked me in and made the connection. It also marked a second year where Shotgun Honey leaned into Grit Lit and Rural Noir. So, in the second half of 2023 you're getting HERE IN THE DARK: Stories, followed by ONCE THESE HILLS by Chris McGinley (August), HURRICANE SEASON by Mark Powell (October), A SÉANCE FOR WICKED KING DEATH by Coy Hall (November), and closing out the year A DANGEROUS AND BAD MAN by Brett Lovell.
We also have a couple anthologies that will happen in the next 12 months. SHOTGUN HONEY PRESENTS: THICKER THAN WATER, a tribute to strong female characters and dedicated to my mother, and BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE: Stories Inspired by the Music of Talking Heads edited by Michel Lee Garrett and T. Fox Dunham.
PC: We recently had the honor to do the cover reveal for Meagan Lucas' debut collection HERE IN THE DARK and tomorrow (June 2nd) we will have Russell Johnson author of THE MOONSHINE MESSIAH on the show. You designed the covers for both of those books. Can you describe your process when it comes to design and what, in your opinion, makes a good-looking book cover?
Ron: I do appreciate the support. Sometimes the process starts with an element of the story that sticks with me. That happened with HERE IN THE DARK and its eponymous story. The protagonist of the story falls into a dire position, and I tried to replicate that image. Turns out it was everything Meagan was against, even with a fair warning I trudged ahead and thought my vision would wow Meagan. I think it did, but not enough to sway her away from the kind of cover she wanted. We got a better cover for that persistence. I do lean heavily on the author's input because no one knows the book as they do. Of the 60 books published under Shotgun Honey, only 2 were done by others. KNUCKLEBALL by Tom Pitts was designed in collaboration with Dyer Wilk. I liked that one, but I think Dyer is out of the design game. The other I won't mention. And I've had some duds, and those were typically where the author gave little input and accepted the first idea.
Opinions are like ... well, I'm sure you've heard the phrase. I could go into design theory, color theory, but once you learn the theory you learn to lean on the practical and a lot of practice. With practice, those theories become second nature, instinct. Some have better instincts. When I see bad covers it isn't necessarily instinct but knowing the tools and how to compile the work together. Cover design is a multi-disciplinary trade with the foundation being graphic design.
I took art classes and design classes, and they informed me, but it's been ten years of doing that has improved me.
PC: Why is it important for you personally to promote and publish crime fiction?
Ron: That is kind of a loaded question. As a reader, I've been drawn to many permutations of crime fiction. My favorite is where crime intersects with moral and ethical society. One of my favorite thriller writers a decade ago was Marcus Sakey who wrote The Blade Itself and Good People. These early stories by Sakey put everyday people in situations where they can do the right thing or the thing that is needed at the moment. You got into the psychology of the characters, and you understood why situations come about. There was physical violence, but very little gun violence. In 2023, it can be hard to advocate crime fiction with the violence we face on a daily basis. I like stories where violence is the last resort. PC: If you could recommend a few Shotgun Honey titles for new readers of crime fiction to get them started in the genre, what would they be?
Ron: I would recommend potential readers to peruse our catalog. There's a little bit of something for everyone. But our catalog from the end of 2021 to the present is very strong. A VIOLENT GOSPEL and A MOURNING SONG by Mark Westmoreland are two books I recommend. You'll want to get down with the Dooley Brothers before Mark unleashes MIDNIGHT RUNNER. Whoever picks that book up will have lightning in a bottle. Bobby Mathew's debut and sophomore novels hit two different markets with LIVING THE GIMMICK appealing old school wrastlin' fans and MAGIC CITY BLUES hitting the traditional PI ala Westlake and Parker. If you like short fiction, every story in HOUSES BURNING by William Soldan and HERE IN THE DARK by Meagan Lucas are heart-wrenching winners.
PC: When you are not working on things Shotgun Honey related what do you like to do in your free time?
Ron: Anyone who works with me knows, and it's true with most small press publishers, that Shotgun Honey isn't my day job. So a lot of my free time goes to Shotgun Honey whether reading manuscripts, managing site content, and producing books. I'm of course a reader, and shut down my brain and watch action flicks. I love some John Woo and Chow Yun-Fat movies, Mission Impossible, John Wick has been surprisingly resilient, and being a lifetime comic nerd many comic book movies (though like everyone, I think it's too much). I used to be into outdoor activity, but my health got in the way. I've been feeling better, maintaining a regimen, maybe me and the dog can get back into shape this summer. And something you might not expect, but with a little encouragement from Hector Acosta, I've gotten into Gunpla, Gundam plastic model building in the last year. I was really into giant robots as a kid, so it's a bit of nostalgia.
PC: Ron, thank you so much taking the time out of your day to answer our questions.
Ron: Thank you for your time. I meant to do these piecemeal over the week, but here I am at almost 1am.