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Saturday, July 23, 2022

Inside Hilaritas Press: A new interview with Rasa

The covers of all of the Hilaritas Press titles available as of June 2022

Much of Robert Anton Wilson's posthumous career as a writer has been in the hands of the RAW Trust. Wilson's eldest daughter, Christina Pearson, is the trustee in charge of the RAW Trust. Hilaritas Press is the publishing imprint of the RAW Trust, and the person who is the publisher at Hilaritas, in charge of actually editing the Hilaritas Press titles and publishing them, is Richard Rasa,  known to his friends and many RAW fans simply as Rasa. Hilaritas Press has been publishing definitive editions of many of RAW's works and also has branched out into publishing other authors. 

Rasa is a musician as well as an artist and a website builder. In the 1970s, he played guitar for a rock band (and recording artist) named Sweet Smoke. For many years,  he  has been a member of another band, Starseed, a meditative trance band that features Rasa on sitar and guitar, Marlis Jermutus on tamboura and Bartian Jermutus on synthesizers. The band has released 14 albums; when I asked Rasa not too long ago which one I should buy, he particularly recommended Entering the Ambient Temple. 

Rasa was a friend of Robert Anton Wilson for many years; he helped RAW establish a digital footprint in the early years of Internet in various ways. His illustrations for RAW’s Guns and Dope Party appear in RAW’s book, Email to the Universe. Rasa maintains all the RAW Trust’s various websites, including RAW’s original official website,, the Hilaritas Press website and the Robert Anton Wilson Trust website. Before he moved to the town of Weed, in northern California, to oversee the work at Hilaritas, Rasa lived in Massachusetts, where he ran the digital art and design company he founded, Pelorian Digital. 

For Maybe Day, 2022, I decided to do a substantial new interview with Rasa, taking a close look at Hilaritas and also at the current relationship of the RAW Trust with other RAW publishers, such as Dell, the publisher of Illuminatus! 

Rasa holding his sitar

RAWIllumination: Hilaritas Press has been publishing 20 Robert Anton Wilson books, and there are four left: The Walls Came Tumbling Down, TSOG: The Things That Ate the Constitution, Reality Is What You Can Get Away With, and Chaos and Beyond. Are those four currently in production and likely out soon?

Rasa: TSOG: The Thing That Ate The Constitution is likely the next up for publication. We never really know until we get closer to having a book finished. We are usually working on more than one book at a time. Each book has its particular issues, and so sometimes we will be working on something for a new edition, and we just have to wait for that to come together. For example, with TSOG, we wanted a new introduction that might help to explain something about the book, but we were also intrigued by RAW’s last chapter in the book which is basically a teaser for a book that RAW hoped to write, but never did. The book was going to be called, The Tale of the Tribe. We have asked some relative “experts” on that topic to weigh in. 

The Walls Came Tumbling Down will likely be next after TSOG. I only say that because most of the editing and eBook formatting has been done for that, but other elements, like a new intro are not totally together yet, but it looks like it is coming together nicely. Reality Is What You Can Get Away With has long been one of my favorites, and I started working on editing (which is mostly hunting for old typos) and formatting some time ago, but that book has a lot of old Hollywood photos that we need to get permission to use. That was a huge project when we did it for Ishtar Rising, so this looks like it may be equally an effort. You never know, but because of that extra work, Reality may be the most time intensive of the remaining books.

RAWIllumination: What can you say about additional RAW titles that might be appearing once those first 20 are published?

Rasa: We do have a few titles that we would like to republish, and we have a couple ideas for new collections of RAW essays. Two books that I’ve had my eye on for a while are The Sex Magicians, and RAW’s Book of Forbidden Words. Those two will likely be books 21 and 22 on our list, unless of course, as I note, something else comes together faster.

RAWIllumination: What is the current copyright status of RAW nonfiction books such as Right Where You Are Sitting Now and The Illuminati Papers? And is Beyond Chaos and Beyond still scheduled to become a Hilaritas book at some point? 

Rasa: The RAW titles that were not published by New Falcon, like the ones you mentioned, we are leaving with their current publishers. That may change in the future, but it’s one of those subjects that we are happy to put off until our planned reissues are done. 

RAWIllumination: Has Illuminatus! gone out of print, as a paper book? And what is the copyright status of Illuminatus!, Masks of the Illuminati and the Schroedinger's Cat trilogy? 

Rasa: Illuminatus!, Masks and Schrödinger’s Cat are all currently published by Dell, and are available. I’ve advised Christina that leaving those with Dell, one of the largest publishers in the world, is not a bad idea for the RAW Trust as Hilaritas Press has a hard time competing with Dell’s presence in the marketplace. That exposure helps to bring attention to all of RAW’s other books, so for the time being, I think we are happy to let that contract continue. All of RAW’s copyrights are held by the RAW Trust, including the three Dell publications, so RAW’s family is getting that small benefit. I say “small” even though Illuminatus! is probably RAW’s most famous book, because publishing just does not bring in a lot of money unless you have a huge bestseller. We absolutely love that we are creating new editions of RAW’s books that we, and RAW, felt were not well handled by New Falcon, but we try to keep the prices reasonable. That means, unless RAW becomes more famous, we are not getting rich off the effort! Indeed, Christina and I, and all the RAW Trust Advisors who help us out, are really doing this work for the love of Bob. 

RAWIllumination: Can you explain what you are referring to when you saw RAW felt he "was not well handled by New Falcon." I was under the impression he liked the editorial freedom he enjoyed there; what were the perceived problems?

Rasa: RAW loved the editorial freedom he got from New Falcon, but I suspect that “freedom” included them not paying much attention to the job in some respects. Bob complained that the typos in his books were never fixed. That was his main issue, although I remember an occasional complaint from him about money. I think New Falcon regularly paid him, but not a lot was ever coming in – not necessarily a New Falcon issue – Bob was just in that category of great writers who are not well received by the mainstream. The real issues with New Falcon were for Christina, after Bob passed. Soon after Bob died there was that big change at New Falcon concerning Alan Miller’s son taking over the business. You’ve written about that scandal in the past. I’m glad Bob never had to deal with that. Of course, I’m also a bit sad that Bob never got to see Hilaritas Press. Just before he passed, he asked Christina to try to make sure his books did not go out of print and to promote his ideas as much as possible. Those last wishes from Bob have fueled all of our efforts at the RAW Trust and Hilaritas Press.

RAWIllumination: Is Illuminatus! still in print as a paper book? Years ago, when Borders was still my favorite book chain (and still around), I would look at the science fiction section when I went into one, and I always seemed to find one copy of the Illuminatus! omnibus edition. When I search for Illuminatus! at the Barnes and Noble website, I can pull up the paperback. But at Amazon, I can get a Kindle, but I'm only offered a used book if I want to buy a paperback. Are you concerned about how Dell is treating the book?

Rasa: Yes, Illuminatus! is still in print. Dell publishes Illuminatus!, Masks of the Illuminati and the Schrödinger’s Cat Trilogy. For some reason, Illuminatus! is not showing up properly on Amazon, while the other two Dell books seem fine. We’re looking into that, and we’ll let you know what we find out. Some kind of glitch from Dell, we’re guessing. Otherwise, Dell is a huge company, and we think that should help keep those three books widely available.

RAWIllumination: Of all of the Hilaritas Press editions of RAW published so far, what has been your bestseller?

Rasa: In looking at sales for our Hilaritas Press books, Prometheus Rising is by far the best seller out of all our titles. I like that, as I’ve always felt like Prometheus Rising was RAW’s most important book in terms of efforts at transforming society. I think it should be a standard textbook for students! Wilhelm Reich In Hell is doing well currently, but that is likely because it is our latest new release (although Reich’s idea of humanity suffering from an Emotional Plague seems like a very relevant topic for these strange times... ) Probably the two other books that seem consistently popular are Sex, Drugs & Magick, and Ishtar Rising. Personally, I love Ishtar Rising, and so I’m happy to see its popularity. That’s just my thing, however. I’ve long thought that a lot of the imbalances that humans suffer from can be attributed to attitudes that derive from the duality of sexual differences. That seems apparent from current battles concerning abortion, Trans rights, “incels,” and other obvious gender related issues, but I extrapolate the issue into our concepts of nationalism vs globalism and other major areas of contention. Basically, I think the human civilization on the planet is still extremely primitive, and most of RAW’s books touch on various aspects of that dilemma. RAW was an idealistic and optimistic futurist. For me, that frames pretty much all of RAW’s work as part of an effort at Conscious Evolution.

RAWIllumination: The announcement for the first Hilaritas Press publication, the ebook of Cosmic Trigger I, went out in January 2016. So in a little more than six years, you have published, if I have counted correctly 19 books: 15 by RAW, one by Bobby Campbell, two by Daisy Eris Campbell, one by Marlis Jermutus. Has the process of getting the books out been faster or slower than you anticipated? How long can you maintain this pace?

Rasa: Counting The Starseed Signals, we’ve published sixteen Robert Anton Wilson titles so far. Honestly, when we began, I had no expectations for how long the process would be. And, indeed, every book has taken a different amount of time. Mostly, I’ve stopped thinking about time, both personally and professionally. I am timely when I promise something to someone, but creating Hilaritas Press coincided with when I moved from Massachusetts to this remote rather isolated part of far Northern California. I used to have clients (computer consulting, web & graphic design) I would see regularly, but I gave up almost all my clients when I moved West, and so pretty much only had Hilaritas Press work to do. Christina manages the RAW Trust responsibilities, and handles all the Trust and Hilaritas Press money issues, so I’ve been left with having my days filled with all the publishing work – which I really enjoy. I do get a lot of help… a lot from some 23 RAW Trust Advisors, but mostly I am sitting at the computer, working on book after book. I don’t know, Tom. The whole process seems rather organic, meaning all the parts come together in their own time, so to speak. Ishtar Rising had a ton of aesthetic and copyright issues in getting alll the graphics/photos selected and assembled. Sex, Drugs & Magick took a lot of time in working with eight writers who created the additional forewords and afterwords for the new edition. 

While the specifics of each book has different demands, all the books go through the same step by step process. Many of those steps I do myself; initial proofing, editing, formatting both the ebook and print editions, setting up each book online with all the various companies in the industry (Ingram for printing and distribution, Bowker for ISBNs, KDP for Kindle production), and then eventually updating the RAW websites as needed, and preparing blurbs, ads and memes to share in the social networks. I’m also scheduling and discussing cover designs with Scott McPherson at amoeba, and working with half a dozen incredible RAW-aware proofreaders, and a couple of folk who have edited, like Chad Nelson’s great recent work on Natural Law, Or Don’t Put A Rubber On Your Willy And Other Writings From A Natural Outlaw. There is no strict schedule for any of this. Eris! I love that. If I have to wait some time for Scott to come up with another great cover, or I’m waiting for a proofreader to finish, I simply do some work on one of the other books in the lineup. As the parts come together, sometimes one book jumps ahead in our list just because all its parts came together swiftly. 

So, that’s a rather long-winded answer about my anticipations. I basically have none. Just lots to do and very few distractions out here where I see more of the neighborhood deer during the day than I do my human neighbors. So as far as maintaining a pace – I don’t really think about it. When I look at my bookshelf and see all our books lined up, I am sometimes impressed, but less with the time it all took than with how pleased I am with each edition. Both Christina and I regularly reflect on how Bob would have loved to see this all come together. It was pretty much his last wish: his request that Christina keep his books in print and his legacy remembered.

RAWIllumination: What can you say as yet about "upcoming authors" who might be featured on Hilaritas?

Rasa: Not much. Mostly it's that old not wanting to count the ostriches before they hatch, but it’s also nice to have things brewing that you don’t have to talk about while you let them brew, and surprises are fun, aren’t they?

RAWIllumination:  What sort of relationship does Hilaritas and the RAW Trust have with the Robert Shea estate? Have you cooperated on anything? Would Hilaritas consider reprinting any of Shea's books or doing a Shea project?

Rasa: The RAW Trust has a great relationship with the Shea estate. Christina has communicated with Bob Shea’s son Mike for various things – mostly to do with Illuminatus! We hadn’t thought of republishing Bob Shea’s novels. I know he was connected to Ballantine Books, and I notice that all his books seem to have current Kindle editions. Interesting thought, though. I’ll bring it up with Christina. [I followed up on that, and Rasa added:] Christina says Bob Shea’s son Mike is happy with his dad’s books staying with their current publishers. I’m happy with that, as I think Christina (and Mike) probably are as well, as we all have a lot of other projects that are more front and center.

RAWIllumination: One of my obsessions is to figure out a way to make RAW better known among general readers, as opposed to his current cult following. I haven't come up with a way to do that yet (Tyler Cowen, for example, apparently didn't read the copy of Natural Law I sent him), do you have any ideas? What, if anything, has happened to the attempt to make Illuminatus! into a TV series?

Rasa: I’m sure our work to keep RAW’s books in print helps that effort, but I agree, it can be hard to break into a wider market, even though I’m sure that market exists. I wish we could afford to pay a full time publicity agent. That would be nice. I agree that the success of a major TV program or movie would help a lot. The current efforts with Illuminatus! are stalled, but not forgotten. It seems the homelands of our mother tongue have a strong contingent of Discordians and others who love the art and language of a writer who seemed as comfortable at home in Ireland as Santa Cruz. Riffing on that connection, I’d love to see Oliver Senton playing RAW in a TV mini-series of Cosmic Trigger. Along those line, the audio books sell pretty well. We’ve just asked Oliver and our audio book production crew, Mark, Steve and Steve, to start on a production of Prometheus Rising as an audio book. That’s a book I think should be required reading for all high school students! 

RAWIllumination: Have you pretty much had to give up making money to pursue your Hilaritas Press "hobby," and how has this affected your lifestyle? What's it like living in remote, rural California? 

Rasa: Well, true, I’m not making a lot of money, but I did pretty well in 2016 in relocating to a part of the country that’s a lot cheaper than most. Rural areas like this are insanely beautiful, and the housing and utilities are reasonable, but of course the politics kinda suck. We have a Trump defender as our congress critter, and local bumper stickers and yard signs indicate that Planned Parenthood is considered part of the Globalist plot to reduce the population so the rich have more room to breathe. Why poor rural folk support the oligarchy continues to surprise me, but I think that’s just a political sleight of hand. Keep the distractions focused on the wedge issues, and Trumpian oligarchs and their minions are considered the good guys for saying the nasty thoughts out loud. No, I’m not too impressed with terrestrial politics, however, one on one, most of my neighbors are very nice, and as I mentioned, I hang out more with my wild deer friends than I do most of the local humans. My best friend on the planet lives only two blocks away, and we regularly drive into the coast, the Bay Area or Portland to see friends, museums and other good sights, tastes and sounds. I lived in New England for a few decades, and I do miss my friends there, and the rich culture of the Northeast, but I stay in contact. Mostly, I love the quiet isolation here – it’s ideal for getting a lot of publishing work done. 

We make regular visits to the nearby redwood forests on the coast.

RAWIllumination: Is that your car with the 23Fnord license plate?

Rasa: Yes.

RAWIllumination: Are all of the Hilaritas Press books sold by sites such as Amazon, or are any of them sold by being plucked from the shelf of actual bookstores? What is the balance generally between paper and ebook sales, and which format benefits RAW's family more when the books are sold?

Rasa: We do more sales through Amazon than any other source, but our distribution company, Ingram, provides books to all the online sellers, and to brick and mortar stores as well. I don’t have the figures for sales handy, but online sales are far greater than brick and mortar sales. We’d love to increase the latter, but we don’t really have a budget for advertising that will let us get very creative. Hopefully that will change. 

As far as what makes more money for RAW’s family, probably ebooks provide a greater percentage of profit. 

RAWIllumination: Can you say something about the role played by volunteers who help Hilaritas Press? Would it be possible to publish without their help?

Rasa: It would be possible to publish without all the help we’ve received, but I don’t think the quality would be as high. In every book there are some questions about a typo, or what looks like it may be a typo. With RAW’s experimentation and love of Joyce and Burroughs, there have been regular occasions when I would send an email to our RAW Trust Advisors asking for clarity. When in doubt, we just leave the text as is, but sometimes we have had expert opinions helping us out. One time there was a question about a paragraph that just did not sound right to me, but the topic was quantum physics. (I wrote about this example on the About page on the Hilaritas Press website.) I made what I thought was a correction, but sent both the original and my correction to RAW’s friend, physicist Nick Herbert. Nick wrote back and complimented me on my observation, and then he went on to explain why what I figured out was correct. That was a relief, but also a bit of a surprise that I figured out something in a subject for which I have little experience. I chalk that up to having read enough RAW that the concepts were no longer puzzling, just bizarre in the way quantum physics can be. Typos were always a major issue for RAW. We’ve spent a lot of time searching for typos. Without the help of our proofreaders, we’d never be successful in that regard. Of course, every time we publish a book, we have someone (it’s often Eric Wagner) who finds one or two typos we missed. Fortunately, in these days of computerized publishing, we can make corrections to a new edition, and simply upload the new version. RAW would have loved that. 

There is other help we get, mostly in the form of advice, but also in terms of spreading the word about RAW’s ideas and speculations – Bobby Campbell, for example, creating the Maybe Day celebrations. Mike Gathers and Ryan Reeves creating the Hilaritas Press podcasts helps spread the word. I’m actually very impressed at the high quality of the podcasts. UK Discordians seem to be more active than any other single group of Fnordians in exploring the world RAW helped to decorate and dissect. It seems like over the last decade, Steve Fly Pratt has continually come up with one project idea after another for promoting RAW. One of Steve’s enthusiastic suggestions eventually led to us creating our Hilaritas Press audio books. So yes, publishing would be possible without all this help, and other activities I have not mentioned, but I don’t think the whole effort would have been as successful, or as much fun!

RAWIllumination: I am very impressed with the @amoebadesign covers for the RAW Hilaritas Press reprints. How did you guys connect? Are there plans to offer prints of any of the covers?

Rasa: It was John Higgs who turned us onto Scott McPherson’s great artwork. That was back in July of 2015. I just looked up that email. He was impressed with Scott’s work as Art Director on Daisy’s production of Cosmic Trigger the Play. To convince us, he sent us this video Scott put together:

Scott sent us about six different ideas for the cover of our first book, Cosmic Trigger: Final Secret of the Illuminati. He had several different ideas in mind, from minimalistic covers similar to some of the German translations of Bob’s books to more complicated collages. He suggested, as one idea, 

"One possible theme is a triptych of releases using creative modern montage styles with real Bob elements/photos and imagery related to each Book, but also with clues and “Bob easter eggs” hidden throughout.”

That idea ended up being the one we selected for the Cosmic Trigger series. We pretty much got addicted to Scott’s work after that. 

We haven’t thought about posters of the covers, but that’s a great idea. We’ll keep you posted on that.

RAWIllumination: Do you ever reflect on the literary phenomena that is RAW Fandom? The world at large is largely indifferent, but RAW fans keep plugging away year after year, trying to help RAW break through to the wider world. Can you see a day when there is, for example, a Library of America edition of some of RAW's works?

Rasa: We think a lot about RAW’s legacy. That was the one main thing RAW asked of his daughter, Christina, that she try to keep his books in print and his legacy alive. We see small but steady sales of Prometheus Rising, and that’s always a hopeful sign for me. I keep thinking that the only way RAW will get a wider audience is if this media-addicted world sees a major motion picture of some sort of one of RAW’s books. We are still plugging away at that.

RAWIllumination:  What do you think RAW thought about his literary legacy? Did he see himself as one of the greats, and did he assume that he would be remembered for a long time?

Rasa:  I really have no idea of how RAW saw himself. He was generally very humble, and I don’t recall him talking about himself so much. I think there are certain subjects he covered that he thought were important, even vital, like anti-authoritarianism, anarchist concepts, futurism, feminism, and of course compassion, great writing and good humor.

RAWIllumination: Are there any questions that I SHOULD have asked that I should pose, so you can answer it?

Rasa: Here’s one question you could ask me (although maybe you don’t wanna)… “How do you think we get there from here? RAW had a lot of ideas about how to improve society, but RAW fans seem to be all over the map in terms of how they think about RAW’s politics.”

I’m often lifting eyebrows when reading comments online where people justify their belief systems by quoting RAW. Depending on what you excerpt, you could easily make RAW out to be whatever you choose on the political or social spectrum. He created the Guns and Dope Party; he must love guns… he wrote an article in 1969 where he called himself a Right-Wing Anarchist, so "he can’t be a leftist.” I asked Jesse Walker about that 1969 article and he wrote,

As far as "Why I Am a Right-Wing Anarchist" goes, I agree that the title can mislead people -- the fact that it upholds pre-Columbian Native American societies as an ideal should indicate that this wasn't some sort of Randian argument. But I don't think he was making a joke when he used the word "right-wing"; this was, after all, just a few years before he wrote in SEX AND DRUGS that he was "a spokesman for an extreme right-wing libertarianism that prides itself on being more radical than left-wing anarchism.”… Better to figure that he had a quirky definition of "right-wing" in mind at the time and that he later discarded it.

Jesse also noted,

In the '90s he presented anarcho-mutualism as his social ideal while suggesting that Scandinavian social democracy was the best real-world system available.

I think it is this split between RAW’s thoughts on an ideal political solution and his understanding about real-world imperatives that causes the most confusion. Essentially, I suspect his thinking was largely molded by a rebellion against his Catholic upbringing, his embrace of the concept of liberty in Anarchism, his experiences in the 60’s and 70’s counter-culture, and a liberal feminism strongly reinforced by his wife, Arlen – all of these elements giving his idealism a real-world grounding. All of that together means that he railed against conservatives of most stripes for perpetuating fundamentalism, religion, neophobia, authoritarianism and patriarchy. He railed against liberals when he thought they were too extreme, but his leanings were liberal, both in the Jeffersonian sense he noted (He wrote, “I share the Jeffersonian (“Liberal”?) vision that the human mind can exceed all previous limits in a society where freedom of thought is the norm rather than a rare exception.”), and in the cultural sense of modern liberal attitudes towards such issues as religion, guns, nationalism, sexuality, healthcare, abortion, pollution, etc.

I think that if you want to know RAW’s vision of a preferred social order, read his essay, “Left and Right: A Non-Euclidean Perspective,” in Email to the Universe. If you want to know how he generally felt about current, typically defined as left vs right, issues, then read Paul Krassner. RAW agreed with Krassner’s cultural and social concerns on most issues. I know they both had a similar opinion of Trump. 

I feel comfortable calling RAW an optimistic futurist. I love his ending description in that "Left and Right essay." He concludes…

Does all of this make me a Leftist or a Rightist? I leave that for the Euclideans to decide. If I had to summarize my social credo in the briefest possible space, I would quote Alexander Pope’s Essay On Man:
                 For forms of Government let fools contest;
                 Whate’er is best administered is best:
                 For modes of Faith let graceless zealots fight;
                 He can’t be wrong whose life is in the right.

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