Shakespeare Unleashed with James Aquilone

In this episode, we hear from writer, editor and serial Kickstarter, James Aquilone James shares with us the story behind his latest Kickstarter project, Shakespeare Unleashed. We learn how the idea first came to him following his previous successes (Kolchak the Nightstalker Graphic Novel and Classic Monsters Unleashed) and how he started to put it together.

James Aquilone: My name is James Aquilone. I'm an editor and writer. I'm probably best known for the last three Kickstarters I've done The first was for an anthology called classic Monsters unleashed, which was a horror anthology that dealt with Dracula, frankenstein, the Wolfman and all that. Then I did a graphic, novel anthology based on Kolchak the night stalker.

And now I'm doing Shakespeare unleashed, which is horror stories based on uh, Shakespeares plays and characters.

Paul: I've got the kickstart to page up in front of me that you've kind of mixed the sort of mediums here. Haven't you you've got stories. You've got sonnets and you've got comic book as well.

James Aquilone: Yeah. We have a separate comic book. Which yeah, kind of crazy. Cuz then you know, these, these projects get bigger and bigger and it's like, oh, what else can we do? And since the other ones were, were successful. So it was like, we felt like we, we could, we could get away with this so the original idea was we were gonna just put an eight page comic within the, the regular anthology.

But when I went to the printer to see how much that would cost, it actually cost about the same to print a separate book. And if I did a separate book, I'd be able to to do more stories. So I figured I wanna just do a separate book and we'd do it like manga size. So it would be, it'll be a little cheaper and be, be cool, like a little paperback.

I think like, I think it's five by seven and a half inches, so I thought, oh, that that'd be cool. And I would, you know, I love doing comics, so I thought let's just do a seperate book. And, and then that kind of grew and grew. And then we have David abalone is doing a story. He did a story and we have Helena Masellis.

She did the art for his story and I got JK Woodward who worked on my Kolchek book. He did the art for one of my stories and we have Zach Atkinson doing another story with me. So, and hopefully if it's really successful, this kickstarter we'll, we'll add more stories.

Paul: Yeah. I mean, it's amazing at the time of recording it's it's only been live for a day or two, hasn't it?

James Aquilone: I think we just, we just passed 48 hours. Right.

Paul: And so, yeah, you've, from what I can see, you've tripled your goal, your initial goal already. I mean, that's amazing that that must feel so good.

James Aquilone: Yeah. It's kind of crazy. Especially in the first few hours, when you keep refreshing the page and, and you know, you see the, you know, the total go up up each time, but then you kinda get used to that.

Cuz then, then you know, in the middle of the campaign, you keep refreshing and, and it's, it's not moving, but in the beginning, it's, it's, it's really cool. It's like a slot machine that's going off. You know, it just keeps paying and paying. When we did Kolchak that was bonkers because we, we made a $112,000 for that one.

And on day one we made 30,000. So the first few hours it was this insane. It was like, wow. I, I, I refreshed the page and like we're up by a thousand. So that, that was like, oh, I don't know if this is gonna keep happening, but I'm pretty happy. So far with the with the total, for, for Shakespeare, I mean, it's a little hotter.

That's why also why we added the comic book, because it it's a little tougher sell if it's just pros people get a little more excited with comic books.

Paul: Yeah. It's interesting you say that because usually you would say that the comic books were, would be the harder sell for a lot of people. Have you, have you actually found that it might be the other way around?

James Aquilone: Yeah, I mean, not on, on Kickstarter. I think the comic books do much better than the, the pros books, but pros, anthologies usually don't do that well. So that's why a lot of people do go to Kickstarter. You know, but I don't people really actually prefer you think now nowadays people have much short attention span, so they would be more interested in short stories, but people really want like big novels, like, like a, you know, Georgia RR Martin novel, they want like a big 500 page book and they want series.

So short stories don't do as well. And, and you know, these, so these short story anthologies don't, don't really, they never, you know, made a lot of money. So it was unusual that classic monsters made 57,000 that ended up being like the, the highest funded horror anthology pros on Kickstarter.

So I've seen the, the comic books have done really well. I mean, there are some comic book creatorson kickstarter that, that making the hundreds of thousands every time they put out a, a project. So I think, I don't know. I, I think maybe comic book Fans are more willing to, to also spend money. They also are really in like the art.

So they'll pick up all those rewards. So, you know, I think a lot of people who read the short stories can get the short stories for free online. So I don't think they're as used to spending money for short stories, comic book fans, they, they usually collectors. So that's why you have all like the variant covers.

So theyll buy, you know, 10 copies of the same issue where you know, people who just read pros, they don't, they don't really care about the book. Most, most of the time they'll even dog ear the pages and stuff, and which drives me crazy and break the spine. So they don't really care as much about the book as a thing where comic book, you know, fans are a little crazy about you know, keeping and preserving the comics .

Cause Well, comics are actually, you know, they're worth money where we're, you know, most, most novels and, and anthologies aren't.

Paul: So how did the, the whole project start? Where did the idea initially come from? How did it kick off?

James Aquilone: Well, after we did classic monsters or really, in the middle of classic monsters and it did so well, he was saying, well, why don't we do a, a series?

And I hadn't even thought about doing a series really at that point. So I had to think of what would we do and you know, what, what would be like the, the, the gimmick basically. So I figured, you know, since we did classic monsters, why don't we just kind of keep going in like that kind of like you know, different takes on different like universes, like different literary universes and, you know, everyone's done like a love craft anthology and fairy tale.

So I wanted to do something different. And I had been thinking about Shakespeare doing different stories like in that world. So so let's do Shakespeare. That'd be like pretty awesome to do like horror stories based on Shakespeare and Shakespeare really lends itself. Well I think to horror, but even the ones that don't, that's also cool when you have a story that has nothing to do with horror and you, you turn it into a, a horror story.

And of course, with all these, these books too, it's like you, they need to be in the public domain. So Shakespeare in the public domain you know, so yeah, we can't do like Marvel and we can't no, actually Winnie the Pooh just came to the public domain this year. The first book. So you, you, you and someone did it, someone did winning the poo, like meets cthulu and it's doing really well.

So I was like, oh man, maybe I should have done Winnie the pooh unleashed or something.

Paul: Is that the next project then? Winning the poo in your nightmare dreams?

James Aquilone: Maybe. I mean, I don't know what to do the next one. So I'm thinking, like I said, I don't, I, I, I mean, I don't hate Lovecraft, but I'm not like the biggest fan. And, and it's been done so many times and everyone's been asking like, what are you gonna do lovecraft unleashed. And I think there probably has have even been a book called Lovecraft unleashed. So I'm thinking that there, I think maybe, maybe maybe Edgar Alan Poe or something like that. Or if I can find something, you know, like Shakespeare like that noone thought of. I'd like do that.

Paul: Yeah. Cause I think that the idea of this is, I think part of the reason it also speaks to someone is because. it's stories they know characters they know, but in a completely different way. And I think that's the kind of thing that people need. It's like familiar but fresh,

James Aquilone: right? Yeah. I mean, does it, it, it can't be too obscure because then, you know, we're not gonna make any money on the kickstarter.

And if it's well known, it has to then be available. So it has to be in the public domain. And in, you don't want it to be something that's already been done. I mean, I mean, there's been a ton of like different takes on like the wizard of Oz. I wouldn't want do that either. Like said, I mean, eventually we'll probably get to like wizard of Oz and fairy tales maybe when it's like the unleashed book 10 or something, but I'd like to do, I, I, that's why I really like Shakespeare because like, oh, no one, I don't, I don't think anyone's really ever done that before.

And then when people heard it, like, oh yeah. Okay. That, that sounds cool. I can get another idea like that, but yeah, if anyone has any ideas, you know, send that to me.

Paul: Because, yeah, you've got off the back of your, your previous successes, I noticed you've started monstrous books. I noticed that you've got, you've actually got a submissions page.

So you are, you are open to people sort of, if they think they've got something and you're open to them, sort of sending it across.

James Aquilone: Yeah. Well, well, Shakespeare, we're gonna open to submissions next month, so you can submit short stories and sonnets to that. And then after this campaign I'm hoping to start publishing other people's novels and, and comic books and do other anthologies that, you know, not in this series.

So make it like, you know, a legitimate publishing company. I mean, it made sense since the kickstarters I was doing were so successful and you know, I was working with other publishers and, you know, so I was like, you know what, I'm doing most of the work so I might as well have control of it.

And I think, you know, I think. We could do some really cool stuff and I really wanna get into comic books more. So I, I think next year I might do two different graphic novels. So and I might put them on, on kickstarter too. So hopefully you know, this does really well. And then it can make monstrous books, you know, a real thing because you know, it's tough you know, to be an indie publisher.

And I, you always seeing like at these indie publishers, they, they fold after a couple years. So it's always good to have, like, you know, the publisher come in there and kind of like, you know, fill, fill the gap. And I think, you know, kickstarter is great. So to, to raise money and I think that's a really viable way to maybe, you know you know, keep your publishing company, going it's.

So to me, it's, so it's so scary to like, just spend the money and then just throw it on like Amazon and then hope that you get, you know, your money back because these books are expensive, you know? So, I mean, Do you, you would have to sell thousands, thousands of copies just on Amazon and Amazon's taking a huge cut.

And then, you know, you're, you're up against so many other books on, on, on Amazon say, and you can only sell the book, you know, on Kickstarter. I can sell the book. I can sell the, the artwork. I can even have like like one of the packages we have, like John Palisano, will like edit one of your stories and then we can, we can sell something like that.

So there's so many other things you can do through Kickstarter that I can't do if I just sold the book through Amazon or Barnes and Noble or whatever.

Paul: Yeah. People, I think, especially these days, people like to feel like they're involved in a process somehow , they've got some sort of stake in it rather than, as you say, you're just clicking a button on Amazon.

James Aquilone: Yeah. Yeah. Because with the whole idea really behind Kickstarter is that the backers are, you know, bringing that product to life and, and also like they're making it bigger and bigger. So. As the, as the as the campaign, you know, gets bigger, then we can add more stuff. We can add more stories. We can maybe add things to the book.

I, I mean, I might, I don't know if id give away stretch goals because, but I was thinking of maybe like putting in like the, you know, the the ribbon bookmark into the book, we make enough money. You can also have like the edges of the pages, like maybe like make, make them gold or something or silver, although that's very expensive I found out I think it adds like $3 per book. To printing cost. So I like, oh, I didn't think that would be that expensive, but that would be cool to do . Yeah. So right now, the, we were only, we're only offering a hard cover, so that, that actually, that will actually bring the printing cost down because before I split it, paperback and hard cover.

So then if I's say I sell a thousand books, then I had split it. Get 500 paperbacks, 500 hard covers. But if I just get a thousand, you know, the more books you, you print, then the cheaper becomes per book. So it actually makes more, and most everybody, I was really surprised when we did less amounts because almost everybody wanted, wanted the hard cover.

And at first I wasn't even gonna offer a hard cover or we were gonna do in very limited amount. And at the last minute we said, all right, let's do 500 hard covers. And I was, I was originally gonna do 50 and then it turned out we, we sold out the 500 and thank God, you know, so that, that, you know, those little decisions like that, that can really make you or break here.

Paul: Yeah. But it shows that you are listening to like what people want as well. You're not just like, this is what you get put up with it. , you're actually listening to the feedback.

James Aquilone: yeah. So, I mean, and you don't know because do you think Hardcover, you know, they're more expensive and everyone wants eBooks, but not, but, you know, it's a different thing on on Kickstarter.

They're, they're more collectors and they, they want you know, physical rewards. So they actually would, would rather have a hard cover than a paperback. And they'd rather have print book than, than in an ebook. So they want something special. They want something, they can hold in the hand. They, they, they want something that like where they have their name in the back of it.

They want something that they, you know, they can feel like, like I helped bring this to life. And that that's, that's, what's really cool about crowdfunded.

Paul: Yeah. I mean the product that you've got it just by what you've already posted online, it looks amazing. So I urge everyone to go and have a look.

So I'm, I'm curious, cuz you've, you've put yourself, you are the, the editor. You're also writing some of it as well, but I wanted, I wondered if you could give. Sort of people, an idea of what it actually means to you to be an editor of this product, because I think people's impressions are an editor just sits and, you know, does some spell checking and then sends it back.

James Aquilone: Yeah. Right.

Paul: So I was wondering if you could sort of go through that

James Aquilone: yeah. I think that's the, the problem with the, with the title is editor. So a lot of people think, oh, so you just wait to, you get the stories and then you edit stories. Like, you know, you, you fix the spelling and and that's all you do.

And I'm always like, no, no it is so much work because you're, you're really more like a, like a, like a movie producer, but for like a book you're, cause you're, you're putting the whole thing together or it's like, you're more like a project manager on, on, you know, the one hand I mean, I would say like everything that goes into putting the book together you're doing and, and it's all on you, including well, especially now im also the publisher.

It's it's also the money raising the money, paying everybody like over the last year, all I've been doing is just been paying writers, you know, get the kickstarter money. And then it goes right back out and I'm sending everybody money. So, I mean, an editor basically, you know, you come up with the idea for the theme, then you, you start finding people who you want to write the stories and, and the artists who you want to do the cover.

And you start working on the cover with, with the artist. You get, you hire the designer, so you hire everybody. Then you start working on if it's a kickstarter, you start putting together the, the page, you, you know, I hired a publicist. Then we start working on the marketing then you just, once you have all that stuff in place, and then you just start promoting and promoting like crazy and then when the campaign's over.

Then you start putting the book together. So then you're getting the stories in and then you're you're, then you're editing it. That's like the last thing you do. And then you're coordinating with the designer putting, you know, the print book together, then you're dealing with the printers. And then, then the worst part is that when you get the books, you gotta ship them out too.

And that's a crazy, horrible experience. Cuz then you go into the post office like every day. So I just finished that with classic monsters, a couple months ago that took me two months to, to send everything out. I even, I try to help myself. I had the printers, the printer, they sent the books directly to about like 600 of the backers, but just the book.

So I had, I had to still handle all the other rewards and, and and like, like maybe 400 other books and it took me, it was me and my wife just doing it. And it took about six weeks or eight weeks to do. And I was, I was at the post office almost every day. And that's the thing like with, with and then England, you guys would VAT and all that.

I was like, oh, no, I didn't realize that because you, the law changed July right after my Kickstarter. And I said, you have to have a vat number and you have to be like licensed and stuff to just, you know, send anything to the UK. And then the postal you know, costs are really high. . But then you also have to do that.

But then after trying to figure out all those laws, and I think I found out that books have zero vat, yeah. So I can send, I can send the book to, to England without having that. But then the other rewards are a problem. Cause then they want to, and I think VATs something like 20%. Something. So yeah, the whole, I, you know, when, when Brexit was happening, I was like, I didn't think that would affect me.

And now, now I'm doing kickstarters. I was like, oh man, why why'd you guys do that? so there are stuff. In fact, I just got a, a message from somebody from the UK says I don't care what I have to spend. You, you have to make this stuff available to me. Cuz some of the stuff I, I don't have available cause like a poster, a poster would, even though it's like in a little tube, it could cost like $40 to send.

And I don't even, I didn't even know what to do with the, VAT because that's not a book. So I don't know how I would even send that, you know? So I might, you know, I don't, even if I should try, cause even if you try and it's like $40, they'll send it right back. And now you're out that money and then the person wants their, their their reward.

So I don't even know what to do with, with, with England. And then even like the rest of the Europe, they, they, they have VAT too. And every, every country has kind of different law. On the shipping. So it's a whole process. So editors is like really not a great title. I don't know.

and I'm always explaining that to like, my family is like, oh, you're just an editor. You're just say, oh, that, you know, why are you still working on this? It's like, no, I'm work. Even like past months when I was just doing, I was still working on it every day for like year, year and a half.

Paul: It's a real. It's a real labor of love for you then.

James Aquilone: Yeah. You have to really love this. And I've know I've always been obsessed with books. So, you know, I really love doing it. I don't like the shipping part, but I have to do that. But yeah, I love books. So that was basically, my idea was like getting in. It was like, you know, I've always loved books.

I I've always been obsessed with books. Oh, you have books all around me. And I have books in every room. I even have books in my car, you know? So I said, you know, if I should just dedicate my life to this. Cause I know once I get started with this, I'm wanna make like really awesome books. So, and it, and it should be successful.

And then, you know, so when I do the book, it's like, I don't, I don't, I don't do it in a cheap way. I, I spend the money. I make sure it's a really awesome book and I'd rather lose money and have a really cool looking book than have like a, a cheap looking book. So it's not, it's not like the best business model, but, but, but those, but the backers appreciate it.

Paul: well, yeah, I was gonna say is in one way, it's not the best business model, but in the other way, it, as long as. People see it, they can immediately recognize the quality. And so they are more likely to back it because like you said, one of the first things you do is you get people on board and you start paying them. And even on the submissions page for monstrous books, you list right there that if you submit something and it goes in, you're gonna get paid this certain amount. And I think it's people underestimate the power of just being able to say to people who do high quality writing and art, you're gonna get paid.

James Aquilone: Yeah. I mean, and you have to pay well and, and if you do pay well, you'll, you'll get like, you know, the biggest names, you know, we've got like Joe Landsdale, And like Jonathan Mayberry, we had Kim Newman he, he wrote the introduction to classic monsters and he did a story in, in the Kolchak book. So as long willing to pay and it's a cool project cuz they, they, you know, I, even though it's a lot, you know, I'm, it seems like a lot of money for me, you know, it still, for them, it's not too much money.

It's like maybe a couple hundred bucks. It still has to be cool to them. So, so they go, oh, okay. The, the money's okay. And it's a really cool project. They'll, they'll come on board. And so that's been really awesome. Just like to get to work with all of these, these people. And I think I'd, you know, be working with like Jonathan Mayberry and Kim Newman and Joe Landsdale.

With the comic book we worked with like Jerry Ordway and Rodney Barnes. And, and it's like, you know, it's just kind of crazy. Like when you, when they're like sending me in their stories and it's like a, they're expecting you to like give, you know, your opinion and, and edit the notes and stuff. So luckily it's all worked out though.

And the Kolchak book looks amazing. I I'm almost done with that, so that that should come out in, October , I'm working with like a lot of great artists. So you know, they're really doing the, and that's the other funny thing it's like, yeah, it's a lot of work on my part, but the final product really, you know, I'm not technically creating stuff.

So I, I just get, you know, great artists and they, you know, they do like a great cover. Then I get a great designer and then I get like great writers and they're, you know, it's really their, their work. And so it's, that's cool too, when you get the work and you get the art and and it works out and they, you know, they, they see your vision and they get it and You know, sometimes it doesn't work out and you kind of, but most of the time it has.

So that's really cool. Part of, of the, the job too, is like getting to work with these people, then getting to see the, the stories, you know, I get, I get to be the first person to read the stories, so, and get to work so, and then I have to hold onto it like you sometimes for months before I can get to, to show anybody.

So yeah, I mean, it's, it's a fun thing. It's a lot of work, but, and, and it is also it helps if, if it is successful because it, this be real grinds. If we weren't getting any of the support and you like, oh, I have this really cool idea. I have this really cool project. And no one's interested. That's like, that would be the worst.

So people are interested. So we're, we're getting to do it so that that's, what's really great.

Paul: Yeah, no, absolutely. I mean, the reception already has been amazing at time of recording and hopefully by the time this comes out, you would've smashed even more stretch goals and you'll be, I dunno, sitting there with giant smile on your face.

James Aquilone: yeah, I don't have even thought of anymore. Well, the first stretch goals is, is, is done. I kind of wing it sometimes. I haven't really, you know nailed down what all the stretch goals are gonna be. I mean, that also is kind of like fun for me to kind of wing it and kind of like make it up as I go.

You don't wanna plan everything out and it, I mean, it's a little anxious to, to be like the last thing, I mean, with this campaign you know, I was putting to get the page together just like, like, you know, just a few hours before we were about to launch. And then I think, and then Kickstarter, went down.

I was, I was supposed to launch at 10 o'clock in the morning and I'm working like that night and like three o'clock in the morning, the, the, the site went down. I went, oh, no, this is, this is back the problem, my whole thing to the last minute. But then I came back like an hour or two later and I was able to finish it.

But but it is, it's like, it's almost like a sport doing Kickstarter, you know, because, you know, you gotta raise that money and you could fail. And so there is some of that anxiety of, you know, am I gonna lose all this money? You gotta put money before the campaign, some of it anyway. And if you, you know, if it totally failed and then not only the money you lose, but then you know, all of the contributors and, and even the, the people who did back, you know, then you have to tell them, oh, it's not gonna happen.

so that, that would be horrible. So that's my, my thinking more along the lines with the Kickstarter is like, no, we it's gonna happen. So I don't, I'm not really worried about the funding goal it's gonna happen. And you know, the Kickstarter to me, it's just like the beginning of like, like the journey for the book, you know?

Cause then you're gonna sell it after, after the Kickstarter, you're gonna go to conventions and sell it. You're gonna sell it on Amazon. So even if you made back, you know, half of your money, that that's fine, you know, this is just pre-orders. So you don't ... I don't. So I don't get too anxious about it.

That was also another reason why I started my own publishing company, cuz then I could control it and then I don't have to worry about raising all the money through the kickstarter. Cause then I know like I control it then, then I can you know, sell it. for another 20/30 years or whatever, until I die and I'll make the money back eventually, even if I didn't make all the money back through Kickstarter.

So, so people who, who launch Kickstarter campaigns, don't have to really worry about that. You know, don't worry about like making all of the money through the Kickstarter. Any, any money you make through Kickstarter or any crowdfunding platform is great. That's that's before the book is even made fine, take that money.

And then, you know, you try get your money back, you know, the old way when you, when you come into bookstores.

Paul: Yeah. Cause I think a lot of people kind of with Kickstarter, they, they have a great idea, but then they, I dunno, they try and go for the, the next level, which I completely understand. You've got an amazing product.

You wanna do this, this and this, but obviously with a Kickstarter. If you don't get all the money, you don't get any of it. So it is, I guess, The way you made it sound like you've kind of made a calculated decision. You are confident of the product, but at the same time, you know that you don't need it now, now, now,

James Aquilone: right?

Yeah. I mean, if you have a great book then you know, you know, say like, oh, this is not gonna make money. It will. So you don't have to like, yeah. I mean, I could have done a goal of like 20,000, 30,000, which I've seen other people do. And then they really struggle to get there. Or a lot of people when that campaign's always reached, like, you know, get to the end in like the last two or three days, or even if something on the last day, then they reach their goal.

And it's like, I couldn't, I couldn't handle the stress of that. I couldn't go through 30 days, always like, oh, we're like only, you know, 5% towards our goal today. And so that I would think that would be very stressful to do if you always, you know, reaching your goal at the end So, and, and you never know, you know, what's gonna happen, you know, like the last two or three days you know, there could be like a war could breakout.

So, I mean, no, one's paying attention to your kickstart and then you're done. So I'd rather get it outta the way as soon as possible. I mean, obviously the book's not gonna cost $5,000 to, to produce. So I, I just create like, you know, a smaller more manageable goal to get through it. And then the, you know, everyone's like, okay, no, we know the campaign, the, the book's gonna happen.

And also I think everyone else relaxes, and I think it also works better through kickstarter. Cause now you funded. So, you know, they're gonna get their money too. You know, I, I don't know. I, I mean, I don't know how it works the algorithm, but I, I would think that maybe if you haven't, you know, funded, if it's like, like you like 28 days through your campaign, that's, they're probably not gonna promote it because there's a chance that they just wasted their time.

You just went through like, like four weeks you know, pushing and pushing for this campaign. And then if it fails, it's like, no one gets anything kickstarter doesnt get money, you don't get any money. So I think you're best off to try to figure out a way of getting your campaign to fund as soon as possible.

Paul: Yeah. Cause ultimately their business as well. So they've got their own interest at heart.

James Aquilone: Yeah. I mean, they they've been really cool with me. They, they they've made, you know, they, they promoted me through Kickstarter and you know, made me a project they love and then I've been on the front page. So that helps.

I mean, normally you get half of your backers just through kickstarter itself. So if kickstarter is working, you know, with you or at least, you know, they're promoting you too, then they're doing like half the work, at least in terms of getting you, getting you backers. So there are a lot of people who like super backers who who just hanging out on, on Kickstarter and just backing stuff.

So they, they, those are people who not. You're not gonna maybe reach through your social media or through the podcast and the block that just like the, the Kickstarter people and yeah, they're super backers who back thousands of projects. So they, they, they, they, I mean, maybe they, I think they get addicted cuz there's, there've been times that I've had people like, like cancel their pledge and like they pledge I'm like, and, and sometimes I'll write to them and like, you know, just to see like, like why did you cancel?

They, I only go, I back way too many kickstarters the month. And you know, my wife is yelling at me so then, then they'll, they'll cancel. So yeah, they, so, but those, those people are great because you know, they say they really help the, the campaigns and, and you don't wanna have to bring everybody, you know, to the campaign yourself.

Cause you know, you, you, you have limited reach. So, and that's why I like kickstarter cause kickstarter does have a lot of Like super backers and, and, and fans who, who will back you think, and they'll say, oh, this, this is cool. And, and they'll back it. And then I've had people who will, will just give you extra money, I believe in your project.

But I did my first kickstarter in 2016 for my first novel. The first backer, who, I didn't know. And I had no following or anything. He gave me like $50. It was like a $20 reward. And, and I even, I even messaged him, thought there was maybe a mistake. I says, why did you gimme lots of money? He goes, he goes, I think you're like undervaluing the book and I believe in it.

And so here's, here's, you know, I gave you double the money and I was like, oh, then I was like, I guess that's what I was getting with kickstarter. I was like, wow, kickstarter is great. Cause you can, you're not gonna get that on. You're not gonna get that on Amazon. They're not gonna pay you extra money. So, and that person has backed all my projects then after that.

So you, you, you get a, like a good following too from kickstarter. .

Paul: Yeah. I mean, that must feel amazing to know that someone's that invested in your product even before it's even come out.

James Aquilone: Yeah, that's true. Yeah. That that's like a, a leap of faith, you know, especially, you know, doing your first Kickstarter.

Cause you know, they don't know if, if you'll have a, you know, a lot of people that that's their criticism of Kickstarter, they'll say, oh, it's a scam or something, which is kind of crazy because there's so many huge projects that have come out of Kickstarter. And I, I, there's always gonna be like that one project that like, that did scam people or didn't, you know, come through, but just, just like that's one out of like thousand and thousands.

And you look at you, you know, Brandon Sanderson, who did his Kickstarter just last year and it was 40 million. So they're legitimate and I've Al I've always sent you know backers the rewards and they usually get more than, you know, they paid for. Yeah, I don't understand that, but there are, there are other people who are, are very critical of, of Kickstarter too, which I, I don't understand.

I think it's great. And I think you know, it's pretty simple. You have a product, people buy it and then you send it to them, that's it, the really only thing is that there's more of a delay than say, if you buy something on Amazon, you get that instant gratification.

You get, you go. If you, if you have, if you're a prime member and you get the book like the next day, but Kickstarter, you have to wait, you have to wait sometimes a few months, you might have to even wait like a year. But those people who willing to, to do that are, that's a, that's pretty awesome. You know, if you you're spending some of these people spend a lot of money and they're not gonna get those rewards right away, they, they have to wait.

You know, like I said, months to a year, But they also get to see the process like, so you you're constantly updating to, okay. We, we, we we got some stories in, or we got some art in and check that out. So I think the people who back kickstarters I really like to see like the process and, and, and, and see like, you know, like they get to see like the behind the scenes and like the making of, and they, and, and they they're part of it.

Paul: I mean, kickstarters is such a big part of the culture now. So I, I appreciate you sort of sharing your insight and I think there'll be people out there who are looking at, you know, should I do my own project? So this will be great information for them to sort of, you know, to understand what it is that they're getting themselves in for. So I appreciate your insight.

James Aquilone: Yeah. I mean, I would say if you start just, you know, just start small, you know, you don't have to go out and spend a ton of money on, on a project or. Or, or need to raise like, you know, 10, 20, $30,000. I mean, one way to do it is you, you start small, let's say if you're doing an anthology, just do a, like, maybe it's just say promise 10 stories.

And then if you make more money, then you can add a couple stories and add and add, add. And if you end up with like 30, but if you start small, like, like maybe like, like maybe a book that will cost you like 5,000 and and then have the campaign or the backers help you to, you know, grow it. And that way you, you kind of minimize you know, any risk and you, you basically need to find, you know, some, some writers, you know, who are willing to, to come on board and maybe a cover and, and you can do a campaign for an anthology.

You could just maybe spend like a few hundred dollars and that's it. And then you know, don't, don't, don't, you know, don't, don't, don't make a goal too high that you, you can't reach. I've seen some people do that, where they, they set the goal, like maybe like $10,000 and they didn't even have a cover and they didn't put too much money into it.

And then they were just hoping and, and then, and they didn't get there. So if you, if you, your goal is more of like, like, like 2000, 3000 like I said, you don't have to make all of the money through Kickstarter. You know, if it's a cool book, you'll, you'll make that money up and you look, it is still a business.

You, you, you can lose the money until you kinda, you know, I think a lot of people look at Kickstarter, cause that was the, the idea behind kickstarters is like, it either minimizes a risk or there's no risk because you know, you're gonna get all the money before you, you know, the, the book comes out. So a lot of people say, well, I'm not gonna put any money into it.

I wanna make all the money here on Kickstarter and a profit, and then I'll start working on it. And now there's just way too much competition on Kickstarter. So you have to kinda work a little harder than that. Cause I don't think people are gonna really back too many projects, but they're like, they don't know too much about it.

And I've seen people do that. I've seen people like try to put out these very ambitious kickstarters. Like I want a hundred thousand dollars and this is gonna be a franchise and it's gonna have action figures and it's gonna be a comic book. And that's a little crazy. But if, if you you're realistic about it, you, you could do it.

Paul: So I was wondering, we could learn a bit more about, about you then in the time that we've got left. So where did geek culture start for you? Do you remember sort of your earliest exposure to geek culture?

James Aquilone: So when, whenever I talk about this and I feel really old, cause then I get into the last century. Well, I'm the, you know, I'm like the star wars generation. So I was like four years old when that came out. So it was like right there. I was right there at the beginning you know, before star wars you know, that geek culture was pretty obscure and it was hard to find and it wasn't mainstream and that was like the beginning of it.

So I, I, I think I might not even actually been four years old when, when star wars came out? No, I wasn't. I was like actually three but I don't know when I actually saw it. Cause I remember my mother said she went to see it and they thought it was really awesome and they're like, oh, we gotta take, you know, James to go and see this.

And but I was, so I might have turned four by that. So like, that was probably my first, I wouldn't say it was my first, but you know, being a kid in the seventies, you know Saturday morning cartoons and stuff. And I said, I was always obsessed with books. So it was at comics at that time, but then it was star wars.

And then the year after that, it was Superman in the movie and I was really obsessed with that. And it was the Batman TV series with Adam West as a kid. In fact, that was, that was like the first superhero I was really into was, was super, was Batman from the, from the Adam West show. And then I remember.

The trail started coming out for Superman the movie. And I was like, oh, Superman, I'm all about Superman now. And oh, I hate Batman. And I would, I would, whenever I would go and take a, like a bath I would, when I had hair, I would take my hair and I'd make it into that little, you know, the little squiggle on my head.

And I would, you know, the towel and my capes, I was obsessed with, with, with, with superman. And that, that I distinctly remember going to the movies to see Superman the movie. And I remember sitting there watching the credits and at least when I was at, you know, five years old, that seemed like the, the longest, like opening credits scene. Sequence ever. And I was like, Mario Puzo, you know, christopher reeves and I was just like, freaking out. I remember my seat, like start this movie what's what's going on. And it seemed like it took forever for that movie to start. And you know, that's still my favorite movie. My favorite superhero movie, still the greatest superhero movie.

I don't care what anybody says. I don't, I don't know. I can say like the avenges was, was the, I mean, come on. I mean that the first two Superman movies easily the best superhero movies of, of all time. And it was made, you know, the first one, anyway, it was made in the seventies. And when, like, you know, we had the greatest movies made and it was still made like those seventies movies, you know, there's like a lot of great dialogue and a lot of great characters that you don't really get. Now. Now you get like the CGI and you don't get really these dialogue scenes, you know you get like maybe some kind of funny banter, but you can't really beat. Like the the, the play between Lois lane and Clark Kent that you got in, in the original superman. You just don't, you don't, you know, I don't, don't see like, writing like that today.

And I was like, Margot Kidder was just such, was so awesome in, in that, you know, you know, she was just, so she wasn't like the typical, like, like, like female character in in a superhero movie, she was very like she was, she was more like, like, like a dude. She was like, she would chain smoke and, and, and, and drink coffee.

I love that. Like, she, she couldn't spell, she was always asking, you know, how to spell stuff and, and stuff like that. So, yeah. So that's really what it started for me. And then, then it was flash Gordon, like 1980, that, like, I think that kind of influenced me more than anything else that was like, I want to go and do like, like science fiction and stuff was every time that was on TV and was on a lot in the eighties.

I watched it. And I usually don't watch movies like more than once, but, but it's flash Gordon. I watch every single. And that would, you know, the music would queen it was just, that would just like blew my mind Flash Gordon. And, and I didn't realize either, like years later people was like saying, oh, that was considered like a bad movie.

I was like, that was considered a bad movie. It was, and it was a bomb. Right. And then the same, really with, with Highlander then with Highlander, I was like, oh, I, I didn't realize that, that it didn't do well at all. And it was not critically acclaimed and it was not financially success, but again, the music with queen, I mean, that, that makes any movie and those, yeah, those are some of my favorite movies.

Paul: Is, does that sort of reflect as well? Cause you said you are a massive book reader, you've got books everywhere. Does that reflect in the sort of books that you read as well?

James Aquilone: Yeah, I mean well, I mean lately. Yeah. I probably, well, well now, yeah, I mean, I'm probably just read a lot of Speculative Fiction.

Actually I'm reading a lot of westerns now, cause I'm trying to write a weird Western, but you know, when I was starting to do the Shakespeare, I, I was thinking back of, you know, when I was a teen and you know, in the beginning, I, I only read I from probably like when I could read to like my early teens I only read comic books like mad magazine and choose your own adventure books.

That was it. Then like when I was later in my later teens, I became like a really big like, like literary snob. Cause I wanted to be a writer, but I, I thought like to be great writer, I have to read the great, you know, like, like classics and literature. And, and I wasn't necessarily thinking of being like a science fiction writer or a fantasy writer or horror writer.

So I thought I have to be as smart as like James Joyce. Or like Ernest Hemingway, you know, I have to be as good as these guys if I want to be a writer. So I only read those books. I only read like I would read John Paul Sartre I would read Dostoevsky I would read mark Twain that was like to me, slumming was mark Twain .

Then when I went to college, I, I was a philosophy major. It was half major. I was journalism and philosophy. So that's what I read until my early twenties. And and it didn't help me. I don't think as a writer, because I would try to read something like dust Thek and try to figure out how to write a plot.

And then I couldn't figure it out. I was like, this, this, this doesn't make sense to me. Cause its like, cause they, they didn't write with plots, you know, things just happened. And it was just like, you know, a mishmosh of events and it was really stories best based on theme. And my wife who that, you know, met in college.

She only read Stephen King and all the, the horror writers, like, like Dean Koons, John Saul V C Andrews. So I, I start again then into Stephen King. And then when I read, like I read Carrie and I was like, oh, okay, okay. I get it now because then, you know, there's plot right there. Like, you know, and sometimes Stephen King could be very heavy handed and then I can actually, oh, I can, I can understand now how to write a book.

You know? So Stephen King was much more helpful than you know, reading Tolstoy so that's when it kind was like, okay, maybe I'll write you know, speculative fiction. Cause at first I was like science fiction. It's like, I, I, I thought I, I needed to know a lot about science to write science fiction.

So. And I wasn't really into science, but then turns out you don't, you don't need to know me anything

Paul: need to be able to make up.

James Aquilone: Yeah. Yeah. So, and I was good at that. So, I mean, I mean, I'm not writing hog science. I've, I've heard people say you know, hog science fiction arts, like, oh, I do the math to figure this stuff out.

And I'm like, no, I'm not. I'm I'm, you know, you know, I was like an English, you know, major and stuff too at one point. And it was like, no, I don't, you know, I'm not into math. That was the one thing, you know, I really didn't wanna have to deal with. So yeah. Then I figured like once I started writing and, and I think most of the short stories that I ended up publishing was science fiction, but you kind of just need a science fiction idea, you know, like planet of the apes that was the science fiction.

You didn't need to, you know, it's just like, the idea is like, you know, dude travels into, you know, the future and. And the planet is taken over by apes, you know, so you didn't have to really get into like the science of, of how that happened. So, yeah. And then fantasy, I, I was, I was kind of against writing fantasy too.

Cause like in the eighties, fantasy was different or at least what I, I knew about it. It was just, you just had like Tolkein and then everyone was just rip trying to rip off Tolkein. So the eighties, it was just like Terry Brooks and like Avari Salvato and Piers Anthony. And I didn't like that kinda like flowery, like purple prose.

I, I wasn't really into that. So I was like, oh, I don't really wanna write, write fantasy either. But then I started reading later on Neil Gaiman and I was like, oh my God, this is fantasy too. And I was like, it's like, you know, this is like really cool. So that's when, when I thinking after like reading like American Gods, I was like, oh, okay.

I will, this is awesome. And, and then read Alan Moore. Was made me more awesome. I was like, okay, this is, I can write fan. Well, I can't, I don't know if you can write as good as them, but this is cool. I would write to write fantasy like this and, and then started up reading a lot of Stephen King. So then I, then, then I got it.

You know, then I, I kind of dumped, Dostoievski I still love a big fan of Shakespeare.

Paul: It's interesting that like, you, you worked through all of that. You were trying to find your place, but you couldn't really find it, but yet it was still ingrained in your mind that you were gonna be a writer. It's interesting that it was, it was so sort of, even from an early age, it was ingrained in your mind, even though you couldn't find your place within all the others. It was just there.

James Aquilone: Yeah. Cause I, I was always obsessed with TV from, from, you know, books and TV and movies, you know, since I can remember. So I always wanted, I always knew I wanted to do something creative and I wanted to, you know, you know, work there. TV movies just seemed like just too out of reach.

And the thing was, I didn't write when I was a kid or in high school. I really always tried to avoid writing. I didn't really start writing until I got into college. I was like, you know, I, I always loved learning, but I hated school. I used to, you know, actually in high school, I never actually wrote an an original essay.

I at anytime I had an assignment, I would, that is before Wikipedia. I, we had, we had we had encyclopedias, so I would just go through the encyclopedia and I would copy from the encyclopedia. And I would just try, I would just change the words and I got away with it. So I, I was always like, even, even though, again, I love books and I love reading, usually in English class, I did not read the assigned books.

I would read the back of the book, you know, or I would maybe try to watch the movie. I think now things be a lot easier now. Cause I could just Google it but again, see in English class, I, I, I guess I was, so I was, I was, I was a okay reader, just a writer just naturally, but in English, in English, I just, you can bullshit your way through a lot of it, which you can't do in science or in math, you know?

So I, I did bullshit my way a lot through English classes in high school, but then when I was going to college you really, you couldn't do that as well. And and when I was going to college, I had to take assessment tests. And I failed the assessment, the writing assessment test, and that really embarrassed me.

And cuz I was, I was going at that point, I had already said, this is what I wanna do. I wanna be a writer. And then I, then I failed the, the writing test and then I was put in a remedial English class going into college. So I was like, okay, I, I gotta get to work. So then like the summer before I went to college, I started getting books on grammar and punctuation.

So all of those years of them teaching me grammar and punctuation in school were totally lost on me. I didn't, I didn't know how to, where to put a period or a comma. Well, I knew I put with a, a period. Like I, I really didn't know where to put commas and stuff like that. So all those years were, were kind of meaningless.

And then when I got, you know, embarrassed by, by, by failing the test, then I went to the library and I was, you know reading up on like, and then I learned in like, like in a month, so that even learning this, like, you know, if you're not motivated, you don't care. You're not gonna. But then when I had to, then it was like, okay.

And then I went through remedial, English class real fast, and then they hadn't put in like advanced placement you know, but, but I was always, you know, I'm gen X, so I'm a slacker. And I was very much like, like, you know, the typical gen Xer. So it was always like, oh, James has potential, but you know, he doesn't, you know, apply himself

So now I'm making up for that, you know, cause being a writer is really like having homework, like, like every night. , you know, you always got like, you know, some assignment and you gotta, you know, you know, do your writing and, and even I'm doing like all the promotions, like I get the email interviews and I gotta answer all the questions.

So, so now I'm kind of, I'm doing all the, all the homework now that I dive into, you know, in the back in the day.

Paul: Yeah. It's fascinating because like, even though the way you mentioned it, you talked about it earlier, you, you left, you know, you left until the last minute doing the Kickstarter, you left until the last minute doing this. It's like you until you have that moment and then you really engage yourself. You're like, okay, that can wait for the minute. But then once it's to the point of, I need to do it. Like you are there, you're done your, everything is on it.

James Aquilone: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I'm still doing that to some degree. But yeah, I mean, I, I always did that.

It was always like, you know not study for the test. And then that night before you. Well, I would just what I would do with school, especially I think grade school, maybe into high school too. I would just, I would just memorize the notes then the night before. So I would just memorize the notes, like word for word, and then I would take it to, and then forget everything that I learned so, but when I applied myself, I did pretty well.

And that's, that's actually how I got into Shakespeare was that my junior year in high school I started doing really bad. I used to just take like mini vacations from school. I would just like, not go. And at one point I just didn't go to school for like two weeks just for the hell of it.

And then I came back to school with a, I wrote a note. Saying that that a family member had died and I had to go to Florida I had never even been to Florida and none of the teachers questioned it until one teacher got me and was like, oh, where, where did you go in Florida? And I was like, oh, BA and then I just like, took like the like Tallahassee what was, how was the, and he was just asking all these questions and I was like, oh no, but I ended up getting away with it, but I didn't, you know, I failed some classes.

Junior year I failed I failed gym class because I didn't go . So my last term, I had to pass every class or I wasn't gonna graduate. So it ended up giving me two gym classes. I, they took away my lunch and I had gym class during lunch. I had an independent study. And if I, so I had to pass everything or I wouldn't graduate.

And so an English class. I knew I had to like, you know, I, over all my classes, I knew I had to just like, kind of like buckle down and, and, and pass our and do really well. So English class, they gave us two books in the beginning of the, of the term. And it was brave new world, right? All this Huxley and Hamlet.

And they gave us the books on a Friday. And then by Sunday I finished both of them, which was unusual for me. Cause I usually don't read the book. And then I found out on Monday that those were the only two books we were ever gonna read in that class. And we were gonna read 'em in class every day. So now I just read both books.

Cause I, I thought they were great, but now we had a, I had a struggle through the whole semester. We were reading like maybe like two or three pages a day where they're going down, like the row, like each, each kid had to read like a paragraph and I'm like, oh man, I don't have to get through it. So I used to then take other novels into class and read those as they were reading Hamlet and brave new world.

but that was when I was like, I read Hamlet, like like, like, like in a night and I was like, this is amazing. So that really kind of, and, and that again, because I was kind of forced to, to do well in school, then all of a sudden, you know, I, I started taking reading really seriously at that time. And then I started reading, like, you know, all the classics and stuff and but then I really, you know, began to love it.

And so I mean, I guess I was kind of forced into it, but, but, but that's how it happened.

Paul: So what'd you think, was it about those, the, that story in particular that sort of really gripped you?

James Aquilone: I think with hamlet, I think one, I think it's got like so many great lines in Hamlet. Like I was saying before, I think it was like like, like I'm a gen Xer and I think Hamlet is a, is, is a lot like a, a gen Xer.

He's very he's sarcastic, he's a, he's a procrastinator, he's a slacker, you know? I guess he's like, it, it, you know, it kind of remind of like Reality bites. It was kind of like, like he's, he's he's, I guess he's old enough. He's kind of like, I think he just finished with school and he doesn't kind of know what he wants to do.

And he's got like all these, like, like adults, like like hounding him and he, and he's gotta kill you know the king to revenge his father and, and, but he, he can't really kind of make up his mind and what to do. So I think it was very kind of like a gen X story. And I think I kind of related with that.

And I, I think in the nineties, I think there was a, an Ethan Hawk version of, of Hamlet. There was kind of like a gen X Hamlet. I think he might have done it around the time. He did reality bikes or something. So I, I think I kind of related with with Hamlet a bit there. And I loved, like, I love the scene with him in rose and Kranz.

And I think there was so many great lines in that. And then you had the movie Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead, which came out, came a few years later. I think I was like in 90, but that was such a great movie. With Tim Roth and Gary Jerry Alman where they're playing those, these two minor characters in from Hamlet.

And they're kind of like, you know Hamlet's going on and like the background, sometimes they'll walk in and outta scenes and then sometimes we'll get an actual scene from Hamlet, but also we see what happened to these two minor characters. And I was fascinated by that. I thought that that was amazing.

And that was kind also one of the reasons I did like Shakespeare Unleashed, I was like that that's really cool. And I would like to do something like that with Shakespeare because I, I, I was like one of the, like the most amazing things of the story. And I was like, oh, and you know, that's, I was written by Tom Stoppard who also wrote Shakespeare in love.

He also wrote like well, he kind of like doctored and was like the ghost writer on some, on like Indiana Jones, I think Indiana three or something. So he like in a really amazing playwright and I read the play too, but Rosencrantz and Guildenstern was really influential on me. And so that's like some, like something like that is like, oh man, that was one of the things like, I, I wish I had done something like that.

Again, Tom, Stoppards like real genius level, but I'm saying like just the idea. I was like, oh, that would be something I would love to do. So when I see stuff like that, like I, I try to like, you know, oh, I wanna do something like that. Or I wanna do something like like, you know, flash Gordon or something.

Paul: , well, I think that that brings us around sort of perfectly in a nice circle. So to sort of tie it into the Kickstarter and what you're trying to do with unleashed, , for people that are sort of looking at the Kickstarter, looking at the product, thinking maybe should I give it a try? Should I not give it a try? What would you say to people to say like, give these things a go, they can do this to your life.

James Aquilone: Well, like I was used to saying about like with Shakespeare, like I didn't go into that when, when I was in high school, you know, with any idea, like I would be so into it. So sometimes you. Sometimes you're forced into it. Sometimes you stumble upon something and you you don't know if you're gonna like it or not. And then it does sometimes change your life, you know? So like I read Hamlet and that was kind of like, well, it was really the, the two bug. It was, it was brave new world too. And that, which is that, you know, brave, the, the title comes from Shakespeare too.

That's come from the Tempest. So you don't know what what's gonna like, like, like hit you, you don't know what's gonna inspire you. And so I, you know, I always try to keep an open mind to things, especially with art, you know, even if it's something I don't, like I say, I don't like country music. I I'll still listen to it to check it out and to see if there's anything there.

And if, I think if you keep an open mind, I think you can find that you, there are a lot of things that you end up liking things that inspire you, things that at least make you think. So I, I never, I always keep an open mind with art and so I, I was always, you know, I started out as a geek who was just reading, choose your own adventure.

And then I was starting to read, you know, John Paul Sartra and this stuff. So to me, it was just like, there was a high brow, low brow. It didn't really matter. I would read, you know, mad magazine and then I would read you know, like a star wars novel. And it didn't matter to me. So you know, I think with the Shakespeare unleashed too, it's like, as Jonathan Mayberry said, it was like, he called it a bizarre.

So I think that's, good. Cause I, you know, trying to do something different and I think this is pretty different. And I said, I do have a, a passion for the book. So it is gonna be a beautiful book with a lot of really amazing artwork. And it's gonna have bizarre stories in there. It probably stories you probably even have, you know, thought possible you know, that we're gonna have crazy stories in there about, you know We got we in the comic, we got zombie Romeo and Juliet, and we have crazy you know, like, like sequels to like the merchant of Venice and and a lot of them I haven't even seen yet, but from what you know, the right are telling me, they, they, they end of writing.

I can't wait to, to read it. and I can't wait to hold the book in my hand because the, you know, people, when they got classic monsters unleashed people were really impressed by it. That book became much bigger than I intended. It was only supposed to be a 300 page book and it ended up becoming a 450 page book, really heavy book with, with tons of art.

And it looks great. So, I mean, these books are really about the, the print editions. So if you are like, well, I don't really wanna get into shakespeare because of the language and all that stuff. Well, then you can, you know, maybe this will be a good like, like entry way into Shakespeare, because then, you know, they're written by contemporary writers and we won't have you know, all of the.

I, it would be more understandable. It certainly would be more I, well, well now I'm saying that we're gonna be better than Shakespeare, but it might, but for a modern person, this, this might be a cool way of, of experiencing Shakespeare without having to actually read the books.

Creators and Guests

Shakespeare Unleashed with James Aquilone
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