You might know Bryon Quertermous (AKA my arch-nemesis) from his shameless self-promotion and whining on social media. But he recently took over the editing reigns at Exhibit A Books, the crime fiction imprint of Angry Robot Books. So now, we have to be nice to him.
The two of us recently got together for a little pow-wow via Google docs (hence all of the typing references) and discussed Exhibit A, publishing, and, of course, Bryon’s favorite subject: himself.
What follows is part one of the (mostly) unedited transcript of this monumental event.
HW: Ok, first question: Quertermous is a weird last name. Where’s it from?
BQ: My father.
HW: Elaborate, please.
BQ: I’ve heard a variety of different stories, but the most realistic of them seems to be that it’s French from my Louisiana relatives. Though I’m not entirely sure someone didn’t just make it up.
HW: I can already see I’m a better typist than you are.
BQ: Brilliance comes at a cost, and in my case the cost is proper typing skills. Do you use the proper setting for your hands and everything?
HW: Why, yes I do. Thanks for noticing.
BQ: My paralyzing wrist pain and elbow cramps are reminders of how awesome I am. You don’t get to experience that.
HW: True. Ok, let’s get on with the “interview.”
BQ: No. My turn for a question. Tell me about your name. Holly West sounds fake. Elaborate.
HW: My birth name is Holly O’Neill. My husband’s name is Mick West. I married him so that I could have a cooler name (and he married me for the greencard). Win-win!
BQ: Sounds like true love. Holly O’Neill sounds like a 90s sitcom name.
HW: Actually, O’Neill is still my legal name. I’ve been married 15 years and I still haven’t gotten around to changing it. Which should give you an idea of how lazy I am.
BQ: Oh, I already had a pretty good idea of how lazy you were. So in the interest of conflict of interest and such we should probably mention that at one point I was employed as an editor by your publisher [Carina Press], though we never worked together. Thank god.
HW: Yes, I don’t even believe in God and I’m still thanking him for that.
BQ: You certainly weren’t the reason I left, but it certainly hastened my interest in outside opportunities.
HW: Speaking of outside opportunities, you’re the new editor at Exhibit A Books. I have to say, after weeks of your shameless teasing on social media, the announcement wasn’t a total let down. Are you enjoying your new job?
BQ: The readers of this interview won’t see it, but as the interview has gone on, my typing has gotten better and yours has gotten much worse. Is it drinking time already?
HW: I noticed that too, but no, just coffee (so far).
BQ: So yes, Exhibit A. I was hoping that all the build-up I got carried away with on social media wouldn’t dampen the announcement, but everyone seemed to be duly surprised that a real publisher found it in their best interest to hire me. What was your first thought when you heard the news?
HW: I’m at a loss for a snarky response for once. I was surprised but also very happy for you. It seemed like a great opportunity and probably a good fit. Time will tell about that, eh?
BQ: Eh, indeed. To be honest I was a little worried I wasn’t the right fit based on their initial wave of releases that seemed to be geared toward thrillers, which is not my strong suit, and less toward what I saw as the Angry Robot brand I was a big fan of. But after being assured I could mold the list in my image, just as the previous editor had done, I was sold. I also felt more comfortable when I went to the UK to meet everyone in person and realized they’re just as twisted as I am.
I also have to say, that once I went back and read the early books from Exhibit A, they were less glossy and vapid than I thought thrillers generally are so my prejudice was cracked.
HW: You see BQ, your prejudice will be your undoing. And I like the line “I could mold the list in my image.” I always knew you had a God complex.
But about that list. We’ve talked about it and you don’t seem to be into historicals (which I find tremendously insulting, of course). Exhibit A has a few historicals out there. Has that come to an end with your editorship?
BQ: It’s funny you mention that because when I was sitting with Marc Gascoine, the publisher of Angry Robot and Exhibit A, we were talking about this and I mentioned I wasn’t a fan of historical fiction. Our larger publishing overlord, Osprey, has a long history of publishing just the sort of thing I wasn’t interested in so Marc pushed me to find out if I really didn’t like historical or if I was just mouthing off stupidly. It turns out, I kind of do like historicals if they’re gritty and weird and not of the standard historical templates. I’m a huge fan of steam punk and diesel punk and stuff like that so there will certainly be more historicals in the pipeline as we go along.
What I would really like to see is some Civil War era crime fiction.
HW: That brings me to my next question. Your dream manuscript just flew into your inbox (by carrier pigeon). Tell me about it.
BQ: Wait, no, it’s my turn for a question dammit. With your tattoos and cursing and drinking and whatnot, you seem like the least likely candidate to write historicals I’d imagine. Where did that come from and will you ever write a contemporary crime novel?
HW: 1) Yes. I will write a contemporary crime novel. 2) I’d been interested in 17th century London since I was a teenager. I’d always wanted to write about it, so I did. But I think one of the reasons I had so much trouble selling MISTRESS OF FORTUNE is that it just didn’t fit into what you call the standard historical template. My heroine is gritty and sometimes not very likeable. There’s a twist at the end that shows just how gritty she is. But the message I kept getting was that I needed to make her more likeable. I needed to make her more sympathetic. She’s not a bitch but she’s also not very nice in some respects. Girl does what she needs to to get by, you know? But agents were looking for a more charming protagonist. More Jane Austen-like, I guess.
BQ: That sounds like just the sort of book I’d like to read if you hadn’t written it. Do you believe in all of the fortuneteller hocum that’s in the book?
HW: Not at all, and neither does Isabel Wilde, my protagonist. She’s a charleton. I believe in science, BQ. I thought we covered that at Bouchercon.
BQ: So back to my dream acquisition. That’s a hard one and people have been asking me about it A LOT lately and I’m always at a loss for an answer. I’m intrigued more by voice than anything else, but I like dark voices and quirky voices and goofy voices. I think I’m less a fan of gimmicky post-modern stuff than I was initially, but just a good story told well. Also, one of the nice things about being a smaller publisher is I don’t have to wait for my dream submission. I have the luxury of taking manuscripts with potential and working with them and helping the author in a way they might not get with a bigger house and I think that’s more rewarding than publishing a perfect manuscript that lands on my lap. (Though I wouldn’t mind one or two of those a year to keep the budget in tact.)
HW: Ha, suddenly I’m at a loss for words.
BQ: I do that to people quite a bit. I come off all snarky and mean and it’s easy to respond to that and then I hit in with some genuine emotion and it always throws people off.
I think I’ll leave it on this touchy-feely note. Join us next week for part two of the chat, when we discuss digital publishing, Bryon’s plans for Exhibit A, and decide once and for all who has better typing skills. – H