Guest Post: The Thing – Lessons in Running a Small Press
The Thing: Lessons in Running a Small Press
By Jason Sizemore
A decade ago I started a small press named Apex Publications. Recently, I wrote a book titled For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher where I lay bare the heartbreak, the insanity, and the fun that comes with the job. I’d like to add an addendum to the book, if I may, here on Matthew Quinn’s blog. I want to share the lessons any publisher/editor/writer can learn about real life in John Carpenter’s classic The Thing.
I had the good fortune of being introduced to The Thing at an early age. I was perhaps ten years old when my mom and I popped the videotape into the VCR and watched Kurt Russell do his thing. The movie scared the piss out of me. Some of you judgmental types might be frowning and thinking, “Parenting fail!” On that, I will have to disagree. It’s akin to throwing a child who doesn’t know how to swim into a pond. They’ll learn to swim, and swimming is a valuable life skill. The Thing may have scared me, but I’m a better business leader for it.
Here are the lessons The Thing will teach a prospective small press publisher.
Trust No One
In what I consider one of the greatest cinematic scenes in film history, MacReady (Kurt Russell) has tied everyone to adjoined chairs. MacReady has a problem. He doesn’t know who is infected with the alien parasite and who isn’t. He knows he’s not infected, and that the alien deplores fire/heat, so he devices a blood-based stress test. Take a sample of blood, apply a red hot wire to the blood, and if nothing happens, that blood is clean.
The tension mounts as MacReady tests each person. When he does encounter his first positive reaction, the shit hits the fan. The alien goes wild, flamethrowers malfunction, men panic.
MacReady survives because he was very selective of who he trusted. This will be an important aspect of running your publishing company. Keep your inner circle small and tight. There will be book disasters, there will be lies told about you, and there will be vocal critics. You’ll need your trustworthy circle to help you navigate through such obstacles to success.
The Thing is set at an isolated research outpost in Antarctica. On planet Earth, that’s about as isolated as it gets. When you’re a small press publisher, you’re going to be spending your nights under the lamplight in front of your computer burning the midnight oil. Your resources will be limited. There are only a handful of people you can count on. Sure, you’re doing important work, but you must find a way to stay mentally sharp.
Everybody loves Wilford Brimley. Who doesn’t like a guy who has such passion for oatmeal? In The Thing, Brimley plays Dr. Blair. Blair gets infected by the alien parasite, which then sabotages the research outpost by destroying the radio equipment and helicopter. The research team locks the old fella in a story shed, where he starts to build a mother-trucking spaceship to escape! The Blair creature was going to find a way out or die trying.
There are two points to be taken from Wilford Brimley. First, you have to learn how to survive when somebody tries to sabotage you. It will inevitably, inexplicably happen. Second, you must be determined and single-minded in your goals. Success is to be the only option.
Know When to Blow the Whole Thing Up
MacReady spends two hours fighting the thing, but it is a losing battle. The alien can mimic any living host, including cute dogs. He decides that for the survival of humanity the best thing to do is to blow the whole base to smithereens in an attempt to kill all vestiges of the thing.
In the end, it is only him and Childs. In the dying embers of the camp, they share a bottle of whisky. Childs might be infected, but MacReady doesn’t care; he knows they’re both going to die in the cold.
MacReady knew when to cut his losses, no matter how painful it would be. You have to be ready to do the same thing as a publisher. In For Exposure, I shared the terrible parting of the ways with my old magazine, Apex Science Fiction and Horror Digest. I loved that digest. Still do. But it had to die.
If you’re looking for an intense, well-acted, and scary sci-horror movie to watch, then check out The Thing. If you’re looking for a semi-true, funny (to me!), and intense written history of ten years of publishing, then check out For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher! Although, the horror of the warm splatter that hit me in the dance club found in Chapter 10 of my book fairs comparably to the horrors of Carpenter’s masterpiece.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Born the son of an unemployed coal miner in a tiny Kentucky Appalachian villa named Big Creek (population 400), Jason fought his way out of the hills to the big city of Lexington. He attended Transylvania University (a real school with its own vampire legend) and received a degree in computer science. Since 2005, he has owned and operated Apex Publications. He is the editor of five anthologies, author of Irredeemable, a three-time Hugo Award loser, an occasional writer, who can usually be found wandering the halls of hotel conventions