Hex's Josh Viola on the Comics, Movies and Mini-Alligator That Inspire Him

Hex Publishers founder Josh Viola.EXPAND
Hex Publishers founder Josh Viola.
Edward Fieder

Josh Viola — the award-winning author of The Bane of Yoto and founder of Hex Publishers — will roll out his latest science-fiction anthology, Cyber World: Tales of Humanity’s Tomorrow, at a launch party and book signing at 7 p.m. Thursday, November 10, at the Tattered Cover in LoDo, 1628 16th Street. In advance of that event, we caught up with Denver’s jack-of-all-literary-trades.

Westword: Last time we chatted, you mentioned that you spend a lot of time at haunted houses in October. With 13th Floor — your favorite — closing this weekend, we can’t help but wonder what you’ll do for the next eleven months.

Josh Viola: I’m such a boring person. My biggest passion — and the thing I do every week — is movies. I’m big on hunting down indie films, especially at the Mayan and the Esquire. My next favorite thing to do is try as many restaurants as I can. Right now I’m hooked on Morning Glory Cafe in Lafayette. They need to rename their Niwot omelet the Josh Viola, because I’ve ordered that every week for the last two years.

We know your favorite omelet now, but you forgot to mention your favorite movie.

Pumpkinhead, the original, stands out. It scared the crap out of me as a kid. A friend and I rented it one night when I was trying to write a Halloween story, and then I had to walk home alone in the dark.

Did Pumpkinhead end up inspiring a good story?

Many of the movies I watched during childhood inspired stories. In fifth grade I started writing short-story sequels to all of the R-rated movies I wasn’t supposed to watch: The Crow, Jurassic Park. Actually, I gave my Jurassic Park sequel to a teacher, and she asked if I’d plagiarized it. That’s still one of the biggest compliments I’ve ever received.

What about work? Was your first job in the writing industry?

No. I moved to Colorado from Nebraska when I was ten years old. My parents and grandparents owned and managed a pet store in Broomfield, and I worked there. My job was to take care of the lizards and snakes. We had a caiman, which is like a mini-alligator. When I was in the eighth grade I had an accident in the weight room, and the tip of my finger was cut off. So, of course, I started this big lie that the Caiman bit off my finger — mostly to keep the young kids away at the pet store.

And what did you do when you weren’t tormenting children?

I loved reading comic books and graphic novels. At school the teachers mostly assigned nonfiction, and that always bored me. Comic books, though, were an outlet for my creativity, and encouraged me to break from the norm. I think comic writers and illustrators take more risks and experiment with things you don’t often see in the commercial world.

Do you still read comics?

Yes, but I don’t read the superhero ones anymore; I read weird stuff nobody has ever heard of.

Such as?

Wormwood, by Ben Templesmith, is really good. It’s about an alien worm that inhabits a corpse. I also like Chew, the series about a detective who has a psychic connection to anything he eats. Drifter is a really neat cyberpunk comic series. Honestly, though, nowadays I mostly read short stories. That’s my favorite fiction to read and write. I actually think it’s a huge challenge to tell an intriguing story in short format.

What’s the very first thing you ever got published?

The Bane of Yoto was the first thing, fiction-wise, I had published in 2012, and it was also the first thing I’d written and completed, which is pretty rare. After Bane, I tried many, many times to publish short fiction, but that was harder. Only in the last few years have I had luck with short stories. Now there’s been a snowball effect, and I’m selling them pretty regularly.

You publish short stories regularly, too, in anthologies and on Hex's website, through WORDS. Why did you found Hex Publishers?

Hex is an outlet for all of my creative passions. And I like the fact that as a publisher, I’m able to offer writers things they’ve never had before. I think many small presses are good at one thing: acquiring great stories. But many don’t know how to market. I have the ability to produce commercial quality art very fast, and am able to present it in a way that’s appealing to consumers, with full cover art, animated trailers and PlayStation themes. We’re also releasing a companion CD soundtrack with Cyber World, scored by Klayton of Celldweller.

What's up with the soundtrack?

My debut novel was published by FiXT, which is primarily a music label. My sophomore novel, Blackstar, was inspired by Klayton of Celldweller’s concept album, and he scored a soundtrack for that book. I love his music, and I thought it would be really cool to have a sensory experience to go with the stories in Cyber World.

Is it hard to find the time to write when you’re publishing and editing other authors’ works?

It’s really hard. My biggest challenge is time. I have a day job, by the way. I’m co-owner of Frontiere Natural Meats. That’s something my dad, my brother and I started six years ago. We ship about 900,000 pounds of product a month. I’m proud of my day job, but I don’t get excited about meat. I get excited about fiction.

Tell us more about why you chose a cyberpunk theme for your latest anthology.

I’m a big science fiction and cyberpunk fan. A lot of people have said cyberpunk died off in the ‘80s. What people don’t realize is how perfectly the cyberpunk in the ‘80s predicted the future today. Cyberpunk isn’t dead, because we are all living it now. The idea with Cyber World was to take that notion one step further by asking today’s best science-fiction writers to predict what things will look like in our future.

Would you agree that Cyber World is a pretty big departure from Hex’s first anthology, Nightmares Unhinged?

Cyber World is a lot more serious in its message and content, and the thing was about ten times more intense to produce. Nightmares was focused more on our local community, and most of the writers were from Colorado. With Cyber World, we still have some great writers from Colorado, but the authors are from all over the world. The result is a diverse collection of stories. And what’s really cool is that each story incorporates a different culture, as the writers talk about science fiction from their various perspectives. When it comes to fiction as a whole, the idea is to look into somebody else’s mind. The best way to do that is with a diverse table of contents.

Hex's Josh Viola on the Comics, Movies and Mini-Alligator That Inspire Him (3)EXPAND
Hex Publishers

Don't miss your chance to mingle with Viola tomorrow at Tattered Cover in LoDo. He'll be joined by Cyber World co-editor Jason Heller, local contributors — including Stephen Graham Jones, Mario Acevedo, Warren Hammond and Angie Hodapp — and Klayton of Celldweller, the cult-status multi-instrumentalist who scored the book’s accompanying soundtrack. For more information, go to hexpublishers.com.

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