GenreCon is nearly upon us, and with this in mind it’s time to check out one of Australia’s ace indie genre publishers, Ticonderoga Publications (TP). Ticonderoga is the brainchild of writer and editor, Russell B. Farr. They specialise in science fiction, fantasy and horror short stories, and have published the work of some of Australia’s best known spec fic writers, including Sean Williams, Kim Wilkins, Angela Slatter, and Sara Douglas, to name just a few.
Recently, Ticonderoga have also ventured into novel publishing and we at Speakeasy are eager to see the first fruits of this new endeavour.
Submissions have just closed for TP’s latest anthology, Dreaming of Djinn, a collection of Orientalist spec fic inspired by the Arabian Nights. They are, however, still accepting novel submissions (for full details and guidelines visit their website).
Speakeasy recently caught up with Ticonderoga editors Russell Farr and Liz Grzyb to chat about their latest publishing ventures, the state of Australian genre publishing, and to generally talk all things Aussie spec fic.
Speakeasy: Can you tell us a little about Ticonderoga Publications (TP) and its place in the Aussie speculative fiction (SF) community?
Russell Farr (RF): Ticonderoga Publications started in 1996 initially to produce a chapbook of the Howard Waldrop and Steven Utley story, Custer’s Last Jump, as I was involved in a convention bringing Waldrop to Australia. It was a small print run, Shaun Tan provided the cover, and it sold for $7.95. At the time Jonathan Strahan and Jeremy G. Byrne were doing remarkable things with Eidolon – both the magazine and also books – and they put up with me hanging around asking dumb questions. At the time the main indie book publishers were Eidolon, Mirrordanse (Bill Congreve) and, standing head and shoulders above them, was Aphelion (the late, great Peter McNamara). I thought what they were all doing was pretty cool, so I was soon following along, publishing collections of stories by Steven Utley, Simon Brown, Stephen Dedman and Sean Williams.
Jump forward to 2012 and we’re still going. We’ve expanded to include my wonderful fiancé, Liz Grzyb, as business and creative partner, and we’ve got between 25-30 titles in print. We’ve published collections by Angela Slatter, Lisa L. Hannett, Kaaron Warren, Felicity Dowker, Justina Robson, Lucy Sussex, Greg Mellor, the late Sara Douglass, and a number of others. We’ve been able to produce a number of anthologies, a Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror series, and next year will start publishing original novels.
We’ve never set out to have an agenda, or a place in the Australian SF community, we just happily hang out there and make what I hope are good books. We don’t really see ourselves as catering to any niche, just publishing what appeals to us – we see so many fantastic writers and want to share them with the world.
We are distributed worldwide by Ingram Content, which means that readers almost anywhere can order our books, or buy them online from stores such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Book Depository. We also sell books directly from our www.indiebooksonline.com site.
Speakeasy: TP seems to publishing fairly broadly under the general heading of SF; can you talk a bit about the range of SF that you accept and publish?
RF: Broad is a good start. We’re happy to run the length of the genre to find stuff that we like. My first love is science fiction, when it combines great characters and ideas. Liz loves paranormal. I guess if we were to narrow this down, we’re both fans of character-driven narrative. We want to feel like we’re living in the story, we want our protagonists and antagonists and supporting cast to live and breathe. We don’t really look at work specifically within sub-genres; we love the character-driven stuff.
There’s almost an exception to the above, in that while we’re happy to accept really good character-driven work, when we schedule our titles for publication we’ll often base this on genre, so that we don’t publish all dark fantasy one year, then all science fiction the following year. We deliberately try to mix it up.
Speakeasy: The TP website shows that you are currently accepting novel submissions. The novel submission guidelines are fairly broad; are there any particular SF tropes that you are sick of seeing, or you feel are flooding the market at the moment? Conversely, is there anything that you feel is under-represented at the moment?
RF: We’re probably lucky in that we’re not seeing a lot of the obvious dark fantasy/horror tropes at the moment – vampires, werewolves etc. I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of seeing well-written work involving these tropes, but the emphasis has to be on quality and respect for the trope.
I’d like to be seeing more character-driven science fiction, where ideas and people clash, I don’t think there has been enough of this coming out of Australia. Patty Jansen and Joanne Anderton are writers doing this really well at the moment, but can we ever have enough of this?
Speakeasy: The TP submission guidelines state: ‘If it grabs our attention and holds it, we’re interested’. In your experience what are some of the best ways that SF writers can go about doing this?
RF: For those playing the drinking game along at home, the best way is in the characters. We love to live vicariously through others, to see new worlds through eyes we can empathise with. Show us how all manner of events, large and small, impact on the people.
Speakeasy: When do novel submissions close?
RF: We’re looking to produce 2-4 novels a year, and we generally read all year long. We’re happy to wait for really good novels, so when we’ve penciled in a couple of years’ worth we’re happy to suggest writers approach larger publishers and come back to us if they have no luck there. We know we can’t offer all that a larger publisher can, and aren’t going to get in the way of a writer getting a busload of cash.
Speakeasy: Can you tell us a little about TP’s focus on anthologies and how that came about?
RF: Mostly by accident. I’ve never been especially driven to see ‘Edited by Russell B. Farr’ on the cover of a book – I don’t believe those words have ever contributed to sales. I am passionate about working with developing writers, and for a long time I was able to do this with TiconderogaOnline (now Ticon4.com). About 5 years ago I was invited to be guest at SwanCon, and thought I should put together a book to launch. From that came Fantastic Wonder Stories. Later that year the Howard Government forced us all into WorkChoices, and to protest I persuaded Nick Evans to co-edit an anthology of stories about the future of work, The Workers’ Paradise. Following on from this I edited a couple of themed anthologies, on migration (Belong) and Australian Vampires (Dead Red Heart).
Liz is very passionate about anthologies, working with new and well-known writers and seeing them explore genres that she loves, such as paranormal romance (Scary Kisses and More Scary Kisses), paranormal noir (Damnation and Dames), and ‘Arabianesque’ tales (next year’s Dreaming of Djinn).
Original anthologies are important, definitely at an indie level for emerging writers looking to make their name. It’s the opportunity to work with dedicated, passionate editors, and to get in print next to established names, and to get their work out to a worldwide audience. Sadly, the more types of ‘other’ titles TP does (novels, collections), the less time I personally have to edit an anthology.
We’ve also persuaded Amanda Pillar to edit an annual dark fantasy/horror anthology series, which we’re really happy about. She has an amazing vision and dedication and I think writers will gain from being able to work with her. The first volume, Bloodstones, will be available soon.
We’re also looking to do our bit to promote Australian work worldwide through our Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror series, edited by Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene (they also accept stories from New Zealand). Liz and Talie do amazing work all year reading everything they can and the end result is a 150,000-word tome that will hopefully be a valued reference for years to come.
Speakeasy: Liz, you are currently accepting submissions for the Dreaming of Djinn anthology which looks at ‘Romantic Orientalism through a speculative fiction lens’. My mind takes me from the Arabian Nights to Said via Vathek, which I’m sure helps no one. Can you talk a little about this theme and the kind of work you are hoping to see?
Liz Grzyb (LG): I’m interested in looking at the ‘exotic’ image that the Middle East has evoked for the West over the past few hundred years, but adding the spice of speculative fiction to the mix – science fiction, horror or other fantasy tropes. The Arabian Nights stories were already quite fantastic and imbued with magic, so I wanted to take this a bit further.
I’m hoping to see authors show a new image of the Arabian Nights, rather than just retellings of the original stories. There needs to be a point or reason to the story, a comment being made in some way, to take it further than merely a homage to the inspiration.
Speakeasy: Having edited a number of anthologies, can you talk a little about some of the common mistakes you see in SF submissions, and the best ways that contributors can avoid such errors?
LG: Basic spelling and grammatical errors are probably the easiest to find and avoid, and it’s definitely something which will sway the slush reader. While we can pick these up in the editing process, submitting a manuscript full of errors tells us that you don’t really care about your craft. There are good spelling and grammar checkers, so use them, or find a friend to proof for you!
Strangely enough, making sure the story fits the guidelines of the market is something that needs to be reiterated. If the market asks for stories over 2000 words, there’s not much likelihood that they will be interested in a 500 word flash piece. It’s not only that the editors are looking for more time spent on plot and character, but also that even if it’s the most amazing piece ever, it won’t fit well in the anthology if it’s a quarter of the length of the shortest other story.
Speakeasy: From an editor’s point of view, can you talk a little about the process of pulling together an anthology?
LG: Once I’ve decided on a theme and checked timelines with the publisher, it’s a case of promoting the guidelines and seeing what comes in. I generally hold onto stories that are possibilities right until I’ve chosen my final lineup, but try to let the authors know if their story isn’t suitable as soon as possible. Once I’ve narrowed the stories down to a shortlist, it’s a case of balancing the content in terms of length, style, theme etc.
When choosing stories for the Year’s Best, I work with Talie Helene in choosing stories which show the breadth of Australian fantasy and horror, as well as the very best. We look at including a range of sources and authors, as well as the usual considerations for other anthologies.
Once the stories have been chosen and contracts discussed with the authors, they go into editing process, where they are read through and annotated with suggested changes. These might go back and forth between the author and me a few times before we are both happy with the final result. Then the pieces are pulled together and laid out in a galley and proofed three or four times to (hopefully) eliminate errors.
The covers for my anthologies have been a collaboration between the designer and myself, where we work together to utilise colours and images which reflect the mood and theme of the anthology.
Speakeasy: What, for you, makes a great SF short story?
LG: I’m a really character-driven reader, so I think a great story in any genre needs a well-drawn protagonist to start with. The world should be crafted well enough to be internally consistent, as the inconsistencies are what pushes the reader out of the story. It needs to give the reader something new in some way.
Speakeasy: Russell, do you feel that Australian SF is developing a distinct voice of its own? If so, how would you characterise it? How is Australian SF represented overseas?
RF: I’d like to think that Australian SF is losing its voice, as I think that over the last 20 years there has been a real fear for writers to embrace any other voice, leading to a lack in diversity. While there have been exceptions to this – a number of writers willing to take on non-traditional styles and voices – I think we produced a lot of work that was somewhat suburban, passive, with a tendency to be overly prescriptive. I see more writers now pushing into individual voices, writers like Lisa L. Hannett, Kim Westwood, Angela Slatter, Deborah Biancotti, Ian McHugh, Peter M. Ball, among others.
I’d like to think that the walls are coming down, that we’re getting better at being seen overseas. Angela Slatter has just won a British Fantasy Award, and we’ve had Aussies nominated for the World Fantasy Awards pretty much every year for the last decade. We’re not making much traction with Hugos and Nebulas, but when it comes to overseas publications we’re doing a solid job.
We’ve also got writers like Kaaron Warren, Trent Jamieson, Lee Battersby, and Joanne Anderton selling novels and multiple book deals to overseas publishers like Angry Robot, and it’s original innovative work. Kaaron’s novels are amazing, and Jo Anderton’s Debris and Suited are excellent SF. This is in addition to the likes of Trudi Canavan, Glenda Larke, Garth Nix, Sean Williams, and others selling boatloads overseas.
One of the things Ticonderoga is working on is letting the world know that we do have international distribution, that people in the US/UK can get our books as easily as any other title. We’re making progress, a bit at a time.
Speakeasy: Given the current upheavals in the publishing industry, can you tell us a little about how you see the state of Australian independent publishing at the moment?
RF: Right now I think Australian publishing is going through exciting times – in every sense of the word (including the Chinese curse). There is a lot of potential for experimentation and pushing the more established rules. It’s certainly leading to a great diversity of works. Some great writers are being published by the indies.
I see a lot of dedicated indie publishers doing some great things, pushing the traditional indie role and expanding into previously untapped markets. I like what Fablecroft are doing with the young adult market.
A lot of stuff is constantly changing; every time I think I know what’s going on, something new emerges. I think the important things that shouldn’t change are making sure the writers get paid, and striving for the best quality.
Speakeasy: Are there any exciting upcoming opportunities/developments at Ticonderoga, or anything in general you might like to mention to our readers?
RF: We’re always in a state of excitement at Ticonderoga. Today we’re signing off on the cover art for Prickle Moon, a Juliet Marillier collection coming out next April. Next week Notions Unlimited Bookshop in Melbourne will be hosting Felicity Dowker signing her fabulous new collection Bread and Circuses. In early November we’ll get to find out if Lisa L. Hannett’s debut collection, Bluegrass Symphony, wins the World Fantasy Award. Later that month we’ll be launching the Hannett and Slatter collaborative collection, Midnight and Moonshine (Publishers Weekly have just given it a starred review).
Next year we have books from Steven Utley, Juliet Marillier, Cat Sparks, Kim Wilkins, Patty Jansen, Jason Fischer and Lezli Robyn, as well as anthologies edited by Liz Grzyb, Talie Helene and Amanda Pillar.
Other awesome writers we publish that I haven’t managed to name check earlier include Jane Routley, Terry Dowling, and Lewis Shiner. Exciting times, yes yes.
Julian Thumm is a freelance editor and writer. He has degrees from The University of Queensland and The University of Adelaide. He has worked with the Australian Journal of Communication, The University of Queensland Press, and Corporate Communication International through The City University of New York. He is currently based in Brisbane.