I  discovered Shock Totem magazine back in 2012, with issue # 4. This issue featured a short story from Lee Thompson, (an author I have since developed a friendly relationship with), a non fiction piece “Bloodstains and Blue Suede Shoes” by John Boden and Simon Marshall-Jones, (as a lover of the Blues, this article resonated with me), and a non fiction story by K. Allen Wood, who is the Editor-in-Chief of Shock Totem Publications.

It was also through Shock Totem that I discovered the awesome James Newman, author of The Wicked, an ST publication. In addition to the story being most excellent, it also had this cool, faux-aged cover. I was immediately intrigued since I had never heard of or seen such a thing. It made me think that these Shock Totem folks were creative and interesting and I wanted to know more about them. So here we are.

Shock Totem was founded by K. Allen Wood in 2008. Also on board as Contributing Editor is John Boden. They are each also authors.

There are several other people listed on the site, but today we are speaking with Ken and John, the cool, (and in no way goofball twins), pictured below.

HAD: Thanks for taking the time, gentlemen!  How did you two meet?

Ken: I met John and Nick through a music forum called Heart of Metal. John and I in particular had a lot in common, from music to horror to our sarcasm and extremely lowbrow sense of humor.

John: I want to say Ken and I met via the CD trading site Lala.com  initially…then moved our blossoming love over to the Heart of Metal forum. We all had a great connection, but Ken and I are literally like brothers who were separated at birth. We have a similar sense of humor, similar tastes in music and horror…if you ever meet us in person, we’re goofball twins who look nothing alike.

Ken: This is true. The “goofball twins” part, anyway.

HADHow did Shock Totem get started?

Ken: When I was younger I had ambitions to be a musician. I played in bands and such, but to get a greater understanding of the music business I started a small record label and published a zine called Satan Stole My Devil Horns (a little tribute to one of my favorite local bands, Wargasm). By playing in bands, running the label, and publishing the zine, I learned a hell of a lot.

Twenty or so years later I was done with music, having lost interest in the whole Rock Star gig, and I was focusing on my writing, something I probably should have done much earlier. As such I felt a bit behind the curve, as they say, so I took the same approach. How do I quickly learn about the publishing industry? Become a publisher.

And that’s it, really. Armed with an idea, I approached John Boden and Nick Contor, both of whom I knew shared a love of horror, and we were off.

John: That seems about right. I recall Ken sending us a message and asking if we wanted to be a part of a horror magazine he wanted to start. I don’t think I was able to say “Fuck yeah!” emphatically enough. I had zero experience in much of anything, just a working stiff all my life; but I did write and am a voracious reader…

HADWhat’s the goal/ mission statement of Shock Totem, if any?

Shock Totem is a publication full of stories that we, as readers, enjoyed the hell out of.”

Ken: That’s from the intro to our debut issue. Not quite a mission statement, but it’s accurate enough. We could have complicated everything, and in the beginning we definitely explored ideas that certainly would have done that, but we kept coming back to the simple approach: publish what moves us, what we enjoy, no matter if the author is well known, unknown, or something in between. Put even simpler:publish honestly.
John: Yep. One of the things that is most often used in a complimentary way toward us, is the fact that we don’t give a fig who you are. If so-and-so who has never been published before sends us a fantastic tale that we dig, we go with it. If Peter Straub sent us a stinker, we wouldn’t.  It’s about the stories. I actually don’t look at names at all when I read slush—or try not to, anyway.
Ken: This is true.
Back when we were reading for our first issue a very popular fantasy author who will remain nameless—New York Times bestseller, the works—sent us a submission. It was a good story, written well, but utterly run-of-the-mill for a horror tale. We debated long and hard on that one. Do we accept it because it’s a decent story and he’s Big Time, which would be great promo? Or do we reject it because we would do so if it had been written by someone else? We opted for the latter, a decision we didn’t come to easily, but ultimately one I think was the right choice.
He sent us one more story after that, with a promise that it was the last he would send. We rejected it for the same reason: good, but standard horror fare. Unfortunately, he kept his promise.
I do wonder how different things would have been, if at all, had we accepted his work. I’ve always thought we had a lot to offer fantasy fans.
John: I’m totally not much of a fantasy guy. I mean, all fiction is fantasy, but I’m talking about the elves and swords and dragons stuff. Meh.

Ken: Oddly enough, it was Clive Barker who led me to fantasy. Particularly with Everville, which I pulled from a bargain bin long ago. Reading it, I didn’t realize it was a sequel, and it certainly was confusing at times, but I’d never read anything like it and couldn’t put it down. It blew me away. I then read the first part, The Great and Secret Show, and quickly moved onto his other fantastical works, Weaveworld and Imajica. From there I jumped into more traditional fantasists like Eddings and Brooks and Salvatore. 
Anyway, I’ll shut up now…

HAD: How did you come up with the fiction/non fiction mix featured in your magazines?

John: We wanted to do things that differentiated us from the pack. We knew we’d be doing reviews and stuff, but nonfiction was something you don’t see a lot of, unless it’s historical pieces about early writers and such. We wanted to do “real” stories and have them read like horror or dark fiction. I think we’ve done pretty well at handling that. Some of the darkest things we’ve published have been those nonfiction pieces.
Ken: Yeah, I wanted nonfiction that continued to resonate after repeated reads. Editorials and articles are great, but they tend to have a shelf life. Interviews have the same problem if it’s just a ho-hum Q&A, which is why we try the less structured approach and do follow-up questions. I don’t think it’s worked every time, but a number of our interviews are entertaining as hell. The John Skipp interview from Shock Totem #1, for instance. When he says “…this is an incredible story,” sit back and enjoy the ride!
 Anyway, back to my original point…having never read anything like it before, I suggested we go for true stories that read like fiction. Turns out that kind of work has an actual name, Creative Nonfiction, and we introduced our first piece in Shock Totem #2, Mercedes M. Yardley’s “Hide the Sickness.” Boom! She nailed it. What an absolutely gut-wrenching piece, made even more so once you realize it’s all true.

John: Yep. I’ve done one of the nonfiction pieces, and they certainly aren’t easy, that’s for sure. And I think the reason the Skipp interview turned out so well is…well, I’m a Skipp fanboy.

HAD: Of what Shock Totem project are you most proud?

John: Out of everything we’ve done? I’d say Shock Totem #6. Mainly because it shows how tenacious we are. We were going through a lot at the time that was coming together. Staff members came and went. I went through losing my father, but we trooped through and put out one of the most popular issues. It also was like sounding a horn to all those who said we’d never make it, a horn that sounded a lot like “Pffft!” I love and am proud of all we’ve  put out. The Wicked, by James Newman, is special as it was our first attempt at a non-zine thing and we ended up delivering it exactly as Ken, James and I had conceived it on that long-ago night at Horrorfind.  And Dominoes is pretty bad ass. 🙂
Ken: I’m not sure I can answer that. I mean, I am so close to everything we’ve done. I work on everything so much that when it’s first released, the sight of it disgusts me. I am so sick of seeingit at that point! But not long after I fall in love again. I am immensely proud of everything we’ve  done, and of all those who had a hand in making it all happen.
But if I had to choose something I’m most proud of, I’d probably go with our third issue. Not because I think it’s better than anything else we’ve done, but because, for me, that is where we hit our stride. I think our first two issues are great, but we were still walking on wobbly legs a bit. When it came time to put together Shock Totem #3 we had a clear, strong vision of what kind of magazine and publisher we wanted to be. That’s when put in the final rivets of what has become the foundation of Shock Totem Publications.

I am also quite proud of the brilliant artwork for The Wicked. It’s a great cover, for sure, but you really need to see the physical edition to really get an idea of how amazing the artwork is, the melding of work by Jesse David Young and Yannick Bouchard. And speaking of artwork, Beautiful Sorrows is equally amazing, both in artwork and fiction. It’s an amazing collection, and Mercedes is a fantastic writer.

And Dominoes holds a special place in my heart, namely because I wasn’t fully on board with the idea at first. I was open to it, but I just didn’t know if it would work. Once we began putting it together, though, I was convinced. It is a wholly unique book.

Anyway, I’m pretty sure I gave you way more answer than you wanted and failed to actually answer the question. I’m a turd. Sorry.
John: And let’s not forget to shout out to Mikio Murakami. He’s given us more than a few brilliant issue covers.

Ken: Indeed.

HADCan you share with us what you have going on now or coming out soon?

Ken: Zero Lives Remaining is next in the queue. In addition to the limited hardcover edition, it will be released in digital and paperback. After that we put our tenth issue, thirteenth if you count the three holiday issues. That’s a pretty big deal, really, of which I’m very proud.

As I also mentioned, some changes will be coming in 2015. I won’t mention everything here, but I will say that we plan to open our doors to novel and novella submissions. I think that’ll please some folks.

Beyond that, who knows? We’ll go where inspiration leads us.

John: Zero Lives Remaining might be the coolest thing we’ve ever done. No slight against the other authors, but in design and execution—hoo-whee, will it be sweet! We’ve mentioned various ideas for additional projects, but you’ll have to wait and see what happens.

HAD thanks both of you for taking the time to answer our questions. Good luck with Zero Lives Remaining and your other upcoming projects!

About John Boden

John Boden lives a stones throw from Three Mile Island with his wonderful wife and sons.

A baker by day, he spends his off time writing, working on Shock Totem or watching M*A*S*H re-runs.

He likes Diet Pepsi, cheeseburgers, heavy metal and sports ferocious sideburns.

While his output as a writer is fairly small, it has a bit of a reputation for being unique. His work has appeared in 52 STITCHES, EVERYDAY WEIRDNESS,METAZEN, BLACK INK HORROR, WEIRDYEAR, NECON E-BOOKS, SHOCK TOTEM, the John Skipp edited PSYCHOS, The anthologies O LITTLE TOWN OF DEATHLEHEM, ONCE UPON AN APOCALYPSE and other things on the horizon.

About K. Allen Wood

K. Allen Wood’s fiction has appeared in 52 Stitches, Vol. 2, The Zombie Feed, Vol. 1, Epitaphs: The Journal of New England Horror Writers, The Gate 2: 13 Tales of Isolation and Despair, Anthology: Year One, and Appalachian Undead. He is also the editor/publisher of Shock Totem, a bi-annual horror fiction magazine. He lives and plots in Massachusetts.

About Shock Totem

Shock Totem Publications (commonly referred to simply as Shock Totem) is an American small-press publisher specializing in dark fantasy and horror. It was founded in 2008 by author K. Allen Wood. He is assisted by John Boden, Sarah Gomes, Catherine Grant, Barry Lee Dejasu, Zachary C. Parker, and numerous staff writers.

The debut issue of Shock Totem: Curious Tales of the Macabre and Twisted, a digest-sized magazine of fiction and nonfiction, was first published in July 2009.

In May 2012, Shock Totem entered into the non-magazine market with James Newman’s limited edition 2007 novel, The Wicked, which was revised and expanded with new artwork and an exclusive tie-in short story.

Shock Totem’s main goal is to promote and support new and established authors by focusing primarily on fiction, but also through editorials, essays and interviews (called “conversations”).