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, rawilson.com, 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.