Author of the arcolatry text Religion Laid Bear, Alan Leddon is also the founder of Spero Publishing, a small publishing house based in Wisconsin. Here, Leddon discusses why he founded Spero, the importance of the bear myth around the world, and the intersection of spirituality and civil action.
Eternal Haunted Summer: If could correct one common misconception about modern Paganism or Heathenry, what would it be?
Alan Leddon: Only one, huh? Maybe the one that we are somehow immoral or evil. That leads to some of us losing our kids, or our jobs, even friends. I remember my dad finding Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft in my apartment almost 20 years ago and having some harsh things to say on the subject.
EHS: How did Spero Publishing get its start?
AL: I started it with most of $400 that I borrowed from a friend and a manuscript that had been rejected by two big name publishers. I have been taking baby steps since then, buying a copyright when I have the money, making business cards when I get a bonus at my regular job, etc. I just decided one day that I was tired of working to make someone else rich, and I was tired of having a schedule and rules dictated to me … I decided to build my own business and try my hand at being the boss for a change.
EHS: What advice can you offer people who are considering either the self-publishing route, or forming their own publishing companies? Things they absolutely must do? Mistakes to avoid?
AL: Do your homework. Know what purchases are tax deductible. Know what groups love your authors, and which groups are hostile to them. Know which distributors will let you upload for a portion of the sale, and which will ask for $2000 in advance and then take a portion of your sale.
EHS: A portion of Spero’s profits are also dedicated to preserving endangered animal species and “support[ing] the working classes in Wisconsin.” How did Spero’s devotion to these causes come about? To which organizations has Spero made donations?
AL: Specifically, Spero will be donating sums from the sale of Religion Laid Bear to organizations which rescue and rehabilitate wild or farmed bears. Its an act of compassion — when you learn about the harm that humans inflict on bears through blood sports, keeping captive bears in tiny cages for the purpose of harvesting their digestive juices, and so on, you can’t help but be moved. At this time, sales of Religion Laid Bear have not been sufficient to warrant a donation; however, I have personally been fairly generous with the World Wildlife Fund and The Nature Conservancy in the past. Religion Laid Bear has a list of charities in Chapter Nine that will be supported from its sales.
Spero Publishing stands in solidarity with the workers of Wisconsin because that is who we are. There are four people working for Spero right now, and it is a second or third job for each of us. We all go to work for someone else too many days each week. Anything that hurts a worker in Wisconsin hurts us. But we won’t forget our roots … when Spero is a full time job for all of us and many other people, we will remember that it is the workers that make the company … and it is the workers throughout the world that will make it possible for us to sell our books.
EHS: Religion Laid Bear is the only book of which I am aware that addresses arcolatry from a modern Pagan perspective. Why a book on this subject, and what kind of research went into writing it?
AL: Arctolatry is a huge part of our religious and mythological history. The Neanderthals performed ritual acts with parts of bear corpses. A large number of European, Asian, and North American mythological figures have stories and identities that derive from the bear myth. Even today, the bear myth is so much a part of the human mind that Hollywood makes a fortune from films that follow the same plot as the bear myth. The myth resonates with us on a deep level. It was only a matter of time before someone else came to the same conclusions.
EHS: What odd historical or mythological tidbits on arcolatry did you come across while developing the book?
AL: There is a Native American tale about a Warrior who encounters a white bear with black markings on his face and back; it made me wonder if the original story dated back to before the ancestors of the Native Americans entered North America … I sure haven’t seen any Pandas while camping in North America. I also found correspondences between the chief Olympians (Zeus and his siblings) and the Bear myth, and the Japanese figure of Amaterasu is linked into the bear’s life cycle through her myths, too.
EHS: Spero Publishing just released A Little Girl Growing, by poet Bill Jutz. What drew you to these poems, and what do you think they have to offer readers?
AL: Bill is really passionate about telling his story through his poetry. Every poem boils over with that passion, and all are very moving. His story needs to be heard, and many readers will be able to identify with him and his experiences through his work.
EHS: A Child’s Eye View of Heathenry by Galina Krasskova is the first in a new series of books about religion for younger readers. Why did Spero decide to publish such a series?
AL: The Child’s Eye View series was born of questions that my daughter asked me. I couldn’t always answer the things she asked. I also didn’t want to spend the next sixteen years telling her “I don’t know.” I thought that this would be an ideal resource for parents and young readers alike. Also, although all of the books in the series at this time are on religious topics, that is not and never was the plan. I am looking for authors to handle a number of non-religious topics, and Galina has agreed to do two more on topics related to religion, but not actually religions themselves.
EHS: Did you have particular authors in mind for this series in advance, or did they approach you? Which religious traditions will be examined in future volumes?
AL: There were no particular authors that I had in mind, although I plan to write a few of them myself.
Our children’s book on Vodou will be going live well before this is published.
EHS: Spero Publishing has several Tarot decks in the works. What can you tell us about them?
AL: At this time, I am negotiating with illustrators to do the cards, and it is slow going.
The innovation is going to be in the subject matter; each deck will honor a particular class of modern heroes. I am also considering a deck that will allow people to design their own cards.
EHS: Where can readers find Spero Publishing’s books?
AL: Spero‘s books are available in print through Wordclay.com, and in multiple electronic formats (Kindle, Nook, Epub, PDF, RTF, and more) at Smashwords.com. Most will also be available on Spero‘s site in PDF format and on disks that I can drop in the mail.
EHS: What other projects are you working on?
AL: I want to do a series of system-less roleplaying books covering a wide range of topics; I want something that a table top player can pick up, read in a day, and then incorporate into any table top system with minimal work. I’d like them to be written by people working in the fields … a book on trains by a railroad worker, a book on firefighting by a firefighter, etc.
Around the time that this is published, I plan to offer a conversion service … for a fee, my employees will convert your manuscript to the formats needed for Kindle, Smashwords, and Wordclay. This will be different from books that we agree to publish for you and accept on contract …f or one, we won’t take a cut after it is for sale, like we do with the ones that we publish. For another, you’ll have to get your own ISBN & copyright, and you’ll have to upload it to the distributors yourself.
EHS: Which conventions, book fairs, et cetera will you (or Spero Publishing) be attending in the foreseeable future?
AL: For the foreseeable future, I will be attending Pagan festivals and Pagan Pride Day events in Madison and Milwaukee, and I hope to bring some books on disk to SCA events in Wisconsin. Once sales pick up enough, I am hoping to visit Pagan events in Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles … and I’d like to visit Buffalo and Niagara Falls, too.