I was between projects when Joshua Viola of Hex Publishers bought me a beer and pitched me his idea for a new science fiction franchise called Denver Moon. To this point in my career, I’d been fortunate enough to have four novels published by big-five publishers. I’d done many of the things aspiring writers dream about: book signings, media interviews, responding to fan mail. Nobody would confuse my career with the stratospheric heights reached by Stephen King or J. K. Rowling, but considering most writers—even some excellent ones—never get close to a big-five publishing deal, I couldn’t complain.
So after four well-received novels, why would I detour from my safe zone to take on a project for a small press? A small press can’t match the distribution systems, especially when it comes to brick-and-mortar stores, of the larger publishers. A small press doesn’t have as broad a reach when it comes to reviewers and media outlets. A small press doesn’t have a big advertising budget.
Yet I was intrigued. The free beer sure didn’t hurt either, but what really caught my attention was Josh’s idea of a franchise.
His plan was to start by co-authoring a short story. Then a comic book series. Followed by a series of novels of which Denver Moon: The Minds of Mars is the first. T-shirts. PlayStation theme. To enhance your reading pleasure, Josh even wanted to do a soundtrack that has since been scored by Scandroid. How could I not be tempted? Such a broad array of creative outlets sounded like a rare opportunity. Most of these are things the big publishers don’t do, at least not until your book has already proven to be a mega-bestseller.
Like most life decisions, there are no guarantees, but I felt like Josh was offering me a chance to do something new, exciting, and, above all else, fun. He wanted us to create a true trans-media experience. By collaborating with an artist as talented as Aaron Lovett, Josh and I could realize our characters and the world they inhabit in ways so far beyond the black-and-white medium of paper and text. The creative drive is strong in writers, and mine was shouting loud and clear.
We ordered another beer and kept talking. As we did, the premise of a detective story on Mars started to take shape. Uninhibited, we brainstormed ideas like a talking gun for a sidekick, and red fever, a mysterious disease that drives people into violent rages.
Two years and a lot of work later, we’ve begun to release the first wave of our Denver Moon projects. Two out of three comic books are already available, and we’re looking forward to our book dropping in June. To keep things fresh, we’ve swapped out the traditional book signing for a party at the Alamo Drafthouse, where we’ll do a showing of the original Total Recall. A special bonus for the event is a Red Fever beer inspired by our stories and created by Black Shirt Brewing.
The rules have changed. E-books, print-on-demand, and online shopping have altered the landscape. When those technologies first became viable, there was much talk of a publishing revolution. A decade later, it’s clear the revolution never quite lived up to its hype. The big publishing houses have adjusted to the new climate and continue to dominate most aspects of the publishing industry.
That said, much of what Josh and I are doing wouldn’t have been possible in another era. I have little doubt I’ll be pursuing traditional publishing deals in the future for all of the aforementioned reasons, but in the meantime, we’re having fun doing it our way.
Joshua Viola is a Colorado Book Award finalist and the author of The Bane of Yoto and Blackstar. He edited the Denver Post bestselling anthologies, Blood Business and Nightmares Unhinged, and co-edited Cyber World—named one of the best science fiction anthologies of 2016 by Barnes & Noble.