An Exercise in New American Art

Apocalypse Confidential Books Editor Will Waltz in Conversation with BRUISER Magazine

At some point in BRUISERs early days, we connected with the crew of young editors who run the like-minded online mag Apocalypse Confidential, a lit-focused website founded in 2021 by Jacob Everett that has since built a dedicated following. In 2023 ApCon is worming their way back into the material world with their recently announced books imprint, spearheaded by writer (and BRUISER contributor) Will Waltz, a.k.a. the mononymous Bill.

In the lead-up to the first Apocalypse Confidential Books release, Frank Peak’s The Book Of, we sat down with Bill to talk about the ApCon deal, jumping into the deep end of publishing and figuring out just how books are supposed to work. The first thing we realized: this guy is young, his youthful appearance and bashful enthusiasm belying a surprisingly deep, considered interest in American writing and in making a worthwhile contribution to the legacy of literary publishing. He ain’t a punk but he’s diving into publishing with that kind of mindset—scrappy opportunism tempered with a dedication to saying something meaningful and powerful. He’s building something very cool and doing it without carrying the two-ton gorilla that is contemporary publishing on his back. We doubt this is the last we’ll hear from Bill, or from Apocalypse Confidential Books.

Bill signed on from his apartment in St. Louis, an impressive wall of built-in bookcases behind him. We got right into it.

Nice digs. I like your bookshelf situation.

Oh, dude, thanks. I was apartment searching for like a year when I finally saw this place, and I was like, I gotta have it. I’ve got another room where my desk used to be, but since the book stuff started I moved all my worldly possessions into the one room. It has been helpful.

How would you describe the Apocalypse Confidential deal?

Maybe this is a little different than how some of the other editors would put it, but I think of Apocalypse Confidential as a diary of personal revelation. Jacob Everett, our founder and editor-in-chief, got the terms from LA Confidential and Apocalypse Culture, and the original concept was to focus on underground histories, secret organizations and parapolitical ideas that surround the machinations of the world. But as the magazine has grown, Apocalypse Confidential represents to me the idea that there could be a sort of a revelation. Confidential being personal within the self, or kept secret, and apocalypse meaning to be revealed. I think the literal etymology of apocalypse is to have a vision or see beyond, to pierce the veil. So it’s almost dialectical in that sense—you’re having a revelation, but where does the revelation come from? It comes from some secret you’ve been holding on to. It comes from something you’ve seen or heard or undergone. And that’s what attracted me to the stories and the people of Apocalypse Confidential.

That was great. Did you practice that? It sounded awesome.

[Laughs] I thought about it. But no, that wasn’t rehearsed. I have some notes.

So how did you get involved?

Well, I have been writing for a while. I started to take it seriously in college. I was on the school newspaper—which sucked, don’t ever write for a college newspaper unless you don’t care at all.

Too late.

[Laughs] I started to take it more seriously as I got older. It really started to take off when I was writing short stories and trying to find places to send them, and I tried self-publishing on Medium and Substack. I was satisfied with it, but I wanted more. I didn’t feel like very many people were reading it, or like I wasn’t connecting with people who could help take my craft to the next level. I wanted to interact with people who are interested in the same thing I was, and I saw some really good things coming out of Apocalypse Confidential in the first couple of months of its existence. I kept sending more and more in—poetry, fiction. And then I wound up writing two essays that went really well. One about trepanation, self-trepanners. That was a pretty big one that took a lot of time. And then one about the author Theodore Roszak. Then in 2022, Jacob approached me and asked if I wanted to be involved in some way. And of course I said yes, but I didn’t know what that was going to be quite yet.

What prompted the formation of the books imprint?

I’m gonna make some bullshit up. I’m sorry, Jacob, when you read this. I think that was always part of the vision, because it’s not easy to run a web magazine. It’s a lot of work. You gotta have people to pick out the best stuff, and you gotta read it all. But I think the next level would be to go back into the real world—the material world. Not that stuff on the Internet isn’t real, but I think—especially coming out of the Covid Era—there has been an overemphasis on things that were virtual, that were stuck entirely in cyberspace, and when Jacob asked me to start looking into printing books I was all in, because I wanted to pull everything back into something you can hold in your hand. It comes back into the world.

I think that was always part of the plan and I don’t know why he settled on me to do it. But I was fully invested from the start. It’s very exciting.

Do you have any previous experience with print outside of the school newspaper?

No, I made a little booklet in 2020, like 100 copies, and never gave them out. But besides that—no, I had no prior experience in typesetting or engaging material in print. I think we finally settled on the idea that I would do the books in summer or fall of last year, and basically all my time since then has been spent learning how it works and what to do.

It’s a really interesting world to dive into.

You go and buy a book off a shelf, and it’s like oh, well, of course it looks like this, but they already combine so many different arts—whatever the author has written on the page, the story itself, the typography, the setting, the art that’s gonna appear on the cover. Art that might appear on the inside of the book. And the curation and collation of all those elements across something you hold in your hand. It can get immensely complicated as to how those all jive and work together. So I would encourage people to think about it next time they pick up a book, about how many different things go into it.

Have you been influenced by any other presses—large or small, current or historic?

Oh, gosh, there are almost too many to name. [Gestures to his shelves] I’ve got them all around me.

One I and other editors, especially Tom Will, have admired, is New Directions, which was started by James Laughlin, who had a lot of steel money. He had this inheritance, and he was like, well, what I’m gonna do with all that money is, I’m gonna push modernist literature into the American consciousness. And that’s exactly what he did. He essentially ushered in a new era of literature. And he kept all the books in print. They’re still available today in paperback, but they have some beautiful editions too. I would say the spirit of that press has influenced what we’re reading now. Ezra Pound was a big New Directions proponent. Henry Miller. People all across the board, really, who were exhibiting a talent beyond what was normally accepted at the time.

Let’s see…Black Sparrow’s a good one. Black Sparrow Press has these very beautiful, very minimalistic covers, and it’s just a very nice feeling paperback. I’m not sure if they’re still in business or not. But they’re definitely an influence as far as design. There are a few others. Vintage International I borrowed a little heavily from, especially in our first cover.

Speaking of the first book, The Book Of by Frank Peak—what is it?

Well, it’s wrong to say it’s a paranoid noir, because noirs are kind of by definition paranoid. It is sort of—to use the word—an apocalyptic noir. It takes place in a setting where clearly there are criminals and crimes being committed. But the impetus behind these events are people who talk strangely, who act strangely, who may be angels, who may be demons. So I think Frank has kind of stripped away the top layer of the genre and laid down his own interests.

Like a metaphysical variation.

Yeah, Exactly. Yes.

That’s cool. How did it come to you?

Well, when Jacob talked to me about being the books editor I agreed to do it, and he was like, okay, here’s the first one. [Laughs] And I was like, great, absolutely, whatever you say. I read it and I liked it a lot, and it was a blast to work with Frank. We take our authors very seriously and we want the final product to be not only something our audience enjoys, but something the author enjoys.

What kind of schedule are you hoping to keep up?

As fast as I can work. That seems a little ridiculous. But this is my main thing—what I do after I get home from my day job—and I love to do it. I like reading people’s stuff, I like typesetting. I like design. I like direction.

The Book Of is gonna release in May and then our second book will be released in June, and there should be an announcement about that soon. Then we’ll have some more peppered through the fall.

What kind of stuff are you looking to publish moving forward?

There are a couple of internal rubrics that we’re using. There’s a 3 step process. The first is like a vibe, you know, would this appear in ApCon as it is? Because I think we’ve curated a certain idea about us—very literary, but there’s a certain style to it.

The second is, is it good? Are we drawn in? Are we shocked? Are we appalled? Are we stunned? Are we mystified? I want to feel something when I’m reading it.

And then, of course, we have to sell the books. There’s a financial and time investment for each one. So we have to think about, would a regular ApCon reader want to buy this book from us? Obviously we want the answer to be yes, but that’s still something we keep in mind. So those are the general terms.

But really I only have one rule: I want to be impressed. I want to be astonished, and if you can meet that, I think we can work something out.

How large are your print runs going to be?

Right now they’re print-on-demand. You’ll be able to buy through Amazon, and we hope that we’ll be able to convince some booksellers to keep them in stock because you can also buy wholesale. There’s gonna be an in-person event for Apocalypse Confidential coming up in Portland that you’ll hear more about soon, and some copies of the book will be there as well if you’re interested in purchasing it.

What I would love to do in the future is move to print runs to increase the quality of the materials because our authors and our readers deserve it. How far in the future that’s going to be I don’t know. Trust me, that is something I’m constantly thinking about. But we’re doing print on demand for now, and I think that’s a good compromise to get us off the ground.

So Apocalypse Confidential is a free web magazine. It doesn’t pay contributors. I’m assuming it doesn’t pay the editors either.

[Laughs] No it does not. I don’t mind.

No shade—I also run a free website where nobody gets paid. Which is why I’m curious where your production funding is coming from.

Jacob and I have put up most of the money so far, and the others are pitching in. We have incorporated recently. The event in Portland is going to be a fundraiser, and we’re hoping the low overhead of print-on-demand and the merch—there’ll be merch this year as well—will get us liftoff into the next year.

The authors are paid—obviously. Frank is very happy with the deal, so I would say it should be appropriate for anyone who approaches us. I will say it’s more than a big 4 publishing house would offer you. So we’re pretty satisfied with that arrangement.

So you mentioned New Directions specifically, how the editor stayed out of his authors’ way. How much editorial revision are you doing?

I gotta be careful with how I say this—as much as is necessary. I don’t want people to be afraid to approach us, thinking we’re gonna tear their book to shreds because I’m not interested in that at all. I’ve never been interested in overwriting someone’s work with my own, and I think that’s what people are afraid of when they’re approached for edits. Obviously we check very closely for spelling and typographic errors. But as far as editing for style, I would say that I would only ever edit to make it sound more like the author. If I read a sentence and it doesn’t match all the other sentences around it, I’m going to draw that to someone’s attention and say, look, this is a bump in the road for me. Let’s talk about it.

I find that approach is best for people, because I really do want them to be the most themselves. I want people to have a style beyond style, and I don’t want anything to interrupt that.

Tell me more about this booklet that you’ve never given to anybody.

Well, oh gosh, it’s a little embarrassing. I printed it out. It was sort of a combination of the Vorticist manifesto by Wyndham Lewis and a book called The White Goddess. It’s a little bit prose poetry. I don’t know why the bug bit me so hard to make it. I made all these copies and stapled them in my apartment, and then they never went anywhere.

Do you want them to go somewhere?

No, I think I’m just gonna sit on them. And then when I kick the bucket here, people can just come up and pass them around at my funeral. I think that would be pretty appropriate.

I’m satisfied with how it went. I’ve got better stuff out there now that I’m happy with.

Sometimes that process of physically making the thing is all you need to do.

For this first book, it was so hard for me to even understand how big the damn thing was supposed to be. I was practically scrapbooking over here, printing stuff out and cutting up pieces of paper. It helps a lot to be physical with the work. And the front of the book is a collage that I made. That was the only way I could make it work, make it in the real world.

Alright, final question: what is most exciting to you about this imprint?

Gosh. Well, I just think it’s an exercise in a new American art.

A lot of people have been talking about a sort of homogenization of publishing where you’re either in or you’re out. You have a deal or you don’t, and some people are taking that very seriously, but I see it not only as an opportunity to introduce new authors and new works and new types of works to people who follow us, but also new types of design, new ideas about typography, new ideas of what a book can and should look like. whether those be old ideas that we’re bringing back, or new ideas that we’re going to push forward in both those realms. Certainly our plan isn’t just to sell ApCon books to ApCon readers. We want to reach a lot of people with these works. We’re gonna keep them in print for as long as we possibly can. We really believe in the mission that when we publish something on the website, we’re like, all right, this is interesting. This deserves to be read. Come on board when we publish something in a book. We are really championing it as something that we think the future could look like. or something that is pushing the boundaries of literature or art today.

That’s what we want to see. It gives me the opportunity not only to experiment with the style and the visual images of the book, but also to push people forward—that is what I get excited about.

Interview by Mark Wadley

Twitter: @markplasma
IG: @markplasma

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