Why I Published Maze of the Blue Medusa

The hardcover, featuring: hand-tipped images into custom debossing; foil stamps; Smyth sewn binding; a bookmark ribbon; custom-printed endpapers; and 288 4-color pages. It cost me roughly $28,000 to print 2000 copies.

Since I was a kid, I’ve devoted myself to books. Reading them, then collecting and reading them, then writing and reading them, and then finally: publishing and reading them.

About ten years ago, my friend Blake and I were dissatisfied with most online and print literary journals — they were kicking out predictable writing in bland packages. We thought we could do better, so we published a paperback literary journal called No Colony. We had fun with it, experimenting the whole way through. We worked to make beautiful and strange-looking books filled with beautiful and strange texts and images, and I feel like we succeeded.

Publishing No Colony gave me the confidence to speculate about starting a publishing company, but I was hesitant to take the risk — until I read the manuscript for The Complete Works of Marvin K. Mooney by Christopher Higgs. The book’s originality and daring blackmailed me into producing a thousand copies of it, bending my will with its artfulness. So I founded Sator Press, believing that I could edit, publish, and promote books more interesting and beautiful than those produced by anyone else — at small and large companies alike. I edited and designed each book, working closely with the authors to give them the text and cover that they dreamed about holding, and about sharing with strangers. I did nearly everything myself. Each book cost me a bit of blood and a bunch of money, because I believe that good things aren’t conveniently wrought and that artists deserve to be paid more than a starvation wage.

I kept publishing books because I believed in the power and joy of bold art presented with style. I kept publishing books because I loved books, and their makers, and those who covet them more than most everything else. By the end of 2015, I’d published three novels, a debut poetry collection, and a collection of aphorisms and collages.

That love for books — as powerful and exciting objects — still animates me. Many days, I get out of bed to fall into or bring into being a book. Recently, I published a book that I believe to be great. This book contains some of the most gorgeous art and writing that I’ve encountered. I took my greatest risks as a publisher to produce this book, and to put it to the world in a long-lasting, totemic, and artful body.

The hardcover’s front endsheet, featuring a map color-coded according to the Maze’s zones, and the original painting by Zak Sabbath.

The book is called Maze of the Blue Medusa by Zak Sabbath and Patrick Stuart. It’s a book that can be used while playing Dungeons & Dragons or other tabletop roleplaying games. But I’ll argue that this fact about the book — that it can be used in a certain kind of game played with paper and dice — is incidental to the book’s greatness.

Why? Because even though the book is billed as a huge dungeon that Dungeons & Dragons players can explore, the book is more than a niche gaming product. On the back of the book, I wrote this: “Maze of the Blue Medusa is art.” Inside the book, I wrote this: “You’re holding a book that Zak and Patrick worked on for years, and a book that convinced me to start an imprint to publish tabletop RPG books. Zak and Patrick’s work got me excited about tabletop games, got me playing them, and this book — this massive, poetic, gorgeous labyrinth — convinced me that tabletop roleplaying games can be the most innovative and beautiful games there are. (And that games can contain art and writing better than most of the work spat out from the Big Four publishers or hung up in Soho.)”

I believe what I said on and in copies of Maze of the Blue Medusa. Yet I’ll go further: Maze of the Blue Medusa can be gazed upon and explored like any great work of art. Maze of the Blue Medusa contains a complex and surprising narrative that spans millennia, tracking the long sad fate of three perfect sisters and the elaborate jail of warring civilizations that’s growing about them like alien sediment: so Maze of the Blue Medusa is a novel. Maze of the Blue Medusa’s prose—itself in league with the work of Ann Quinn, M. John Harrison, and Robert Walser—often veers into gorgeous, somber, and clever verse, whether it’s unfolding riddles posed by the last jurassic sphinx in existence or stuffing the mad ambling skull of a powerful and powerfully lovesick mage: so Maze of the Blue Medusa is poetry. And Maze of the Blue Medusa contains a massive painting — sections of which filling every page — depicting this complex and dangerous labyrinth so haunted by specters and traversed by rogues and kept standing by the petrifying gaze of an ancient and canny gorgon — all drawn and painted, over hundreds of hours, by an artist who’s in the fucking MoMA: so Maze of the Blue Medusa is art.

An excerpt from Maze of the Blue Medusa, within the decrepit Reptile Archive.

I’ve never published books in order to present myself or my publishing companies as fixed entities, with easy-to-define tastes and values. I’ve simply and precisely published books that I believe are testaments to daring, novelty, and labor; each book’s category — be it novel or tabletop role-playing game book — is a byproduct, necessary only for marketing purposes. Each book I’ve published is a great book: I believe that. Each book has motivated me to take real risks, to sweat, and occasionally to hospitalize myself to bring them to readers. This toil is worthwhile if and only if every book I publish defies facile categorization — if and only if every book I publish speaks to many different kinds of people, as long as they’re willing to try what’s new. Sator, and now Satyr, exist to surprise, delight, and challenge you.

Publishing books is my deepest work, and books my deepest hope. For me, Maze of the Blue Medusa strengthens my hope for a future more full of relentlessly inventive, ethically-made, full-blooded art. I bet you’ll find Maze of the Blue Medusa to be full of surprise and delight and challenge (and blood), even if you don’t gather with friends to roll dice around its pages.

If you’d like to take me up on it, go to http://satyr.press. And thanks for your attention.