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Australian SF Online has a few words with the publisher, Russell B. Farr of small press publishers Ticonderoga Publishing.
What made you decide to start in the world of publishing?
Umm, poetry. In high school I wanted to be a poet. I got to Uni, joined the science fiction association, and submitted a couple of poems to their fanzine, Piffle & Other Trivia (formerly edited by Eidolon editor Jeremy G. Byrne, among others). Somehow I got to be the editor, and commenced a 5 year reign (1992-1997) marked by budgetary excess, interviews of notable Australian personalities, an award or two and a general air of antagonism. Around 1995 I got rather stoned at a convention and before I knew it was co-convenor of SwanCon 22 and inviting Howard Waldrop Down Under. In order to promote this, I founded Ticonderoga Publications and published a chapbook containing a Nebula Award nominated story written by Howard and Steven Utley, Custer's Last Jump. While I was compiling this chapbook, I started reading all the Steven Utley stories I could find, and was amazed at how a writer so fucking good was as yet uncollected. I had his number, so I gave him a call, he'd just pulled a collection from Swan Press because they were going belly up. We swapped letters, I sent him a contract, it came back signed, and low and behold I was a publisher. Despite the best efforts of the UPS (they went on strike) I picked Ghost Seas up from the printers on the way to the airport on the way to Melbourne for Danny Heap's birthday. Simple, huh?
But to give you an understanding of why I'm a repeat offender, I'll ramble about the whole process. For me, publishing is an art, an act of creation. I do everything but physically print and bind the books. It's totally heartbreaking, pushing against a deadline, dealing with writers, cover artists, printers, the postal system, sleep deprivation, all sorts of crises. But there's a moment, when the book is at the printer, and in your mind is the image of the perfect book. You forget that you haven't eaten properly for weeks, you haven't seen friends lately, that you forgot to bathe a couple of times, all you see is this perfect book. You think, it wasn't that hard and your mind goes through the list of other worthwhile projects you've thought would make great books. Before you know it you're locked into a new book, and the cycle begins again.
Then the "perfect book" comes back from the printers and you find a flaw and you die.
Did that answer the question?
Yes. You have been involved in the world of Australian SF for how long?
I joined the University of WA Science Fiction Association in 1991, and sometime towards the end of that year was persuaded to subscribe to this pretty new magazine called Eidolon, and to come along to SwanCon, the WA SF convention, and between reading Eidolon and going to the con (that year, 1992, was a showcase of Aussies—Terry Dowling, Nick Stathopolous, Sean McMullen and Lucy Sussex were all there, among others, and the con committee featured many Eidolon editors). So I guess since late 1991. From there I became UniSFA librarian and tried to pursue a heavy policy of supporting local SF, then came fanzines. I guess I entered the "semi-pro" arena when Van Ikin invited me to contribute to Science Fiction: a review of speculative literature in 1994.
Your decision to release Custer's Last Jump was to coincide with SwanCon 22. Were the timing your other publications also planned?
Ghost Seas had no real event tied up with its launch, but at the last minute I booked a trip to Melbourne for Danny Heap's birthday and tied it in with being able to hand deliver copies to Slow Glass Books. It was touch and go but I pulled it off with about an hour to spare. Cannibals of the fine light, the Simon Brown collection, was launched to tie in with SwanCon 23 (April 1998), and I was able to help bring Simon over to Perth for that. With A View Before Dying I planned a quiet Monday launch after some holidays from work, and there was a mess there involving Karen Logan driving me back from Busselton to pick up the books on the Friday before heading down past Manjimup with Aaron Jacks that evening (look in an atlas).
New Adventures in Sci-Fi almost killed me, literally. It was being launched on Maundy Thursday at this year's SwanCon. Had to pick it up, along with the convention Souvenir Book, that afternoon around 3.30. No problem. Got to the printers, it hadn't arrived from the binders. I shit myself. Arrange for them to be couriered to the Con hotel, should be fine, so we go to the hotel. Five pee-em rolls around, no sign. I'm getting a little uncomfortable with so much shit in my pants. Afterall, I'm on the convention committee, I've had stuff all sleep, drunk nothing but coffee and Tang for 8 days straight, and there are attendees registering but there's no Souvenir Book to give them. I'm on the phone to the printers, the books are on their way. 5.30 - 3 hours before NAISF is due to launch—there's no one at the printers who can tell me what's happening. 6 pm, I'm up on the balcony of the 8th floor, looking down, wondering what I'll do because I need this launch to be able to eat at this convention. Sean Williams needs this launch so he'll be able to eat at this convention. 6.05 pm I see the courier van. I don't wait for the lift, I run down 7 flights of stairs and just about trip and fall and break my neck several times. The books greet me on the 1st floor, I almost kiss people.
The Lady of Situations went smoothly, even came back from the printers early. I timed the release to fit in with Aussiecon 3. I lost over 30 copies through damage when they were couriered to Melbourne. See how easy this small press thing is?
Ticonderoga released two works of writer Sean Williams. Was there a reason that two collections of his were released, unlike the others?
After I approached Sean to publish what would become New Adventures in Sci-Fi (at the time it was called "Going Nowhere" or "On the Blue Phone at the Green Iguana" or "Light Bastards Falling", among other titles) I realised that I couldn't include a fave of mine, "The Perfect Gun", because it was simply too long (around 20,000 words). So the plan was to release it as a chapbook. Simple. However the story contains lyrics from "Dali's Handgun" by MC900ft Jesus. So I was to design and publish etc and Sean was to see if we could get permission to use the lyrics, which are essential to the story. Sean rung around and wrote to people, and never heard anything back. Eventually, "The Perfect Gun" was shelved. However, having set myself up to do a chapbook, I approached Sean about another idea
A View Before Dying (June 1998) was a collection of 3 short stories in Sean's "D-Mat Sequence". They had a thematic link, despite all stories being mutually exclusive. And so it happened.
There was talk of doing a similar chapbook to accompany The Lady of Situations but time, money and the spirits were against us.
I'll think about coming out of retirement if we ever hear back about those MC900ft Jesus lyrics
Your most recent collection, The Lady of Situations, was launched earlier this year in Perth, Waverley and Melbourne, at the WorldCon. Has this book lived up to your expectations?
It technically wasn't launched at Waverley (which is a football ground), that was just a scheduled stop on my east coast tour. (Not that I would have minded launching a book before the final AFL game to be played there in front of 72,000 people.)
TLOS has garnered some positive reviews, though sales have been slowish. The Perth launch was mainly for friends and supporters, an opportunity to launch an almost totally Perth production at home before taking on the world. I was hoping for a buying frenzy in Melbourne, but Women of Other Worlds (UWA Press, eds. Helen Merrick and Tess Williams) got that instead. A lot of people at A3 liked the look of the book, and I got many pats on the back, but didn't get the stuffed wallet I was after.
But I don't think any of my books have lived up to my expectations, I guess that's more to do with me than the books
You were one of the people in the co-op that released the recent Terry Dowling anthology Antique Futures. Is this a trend? Will you continue to be a part of co-op MP Books?
As far as I can see, MP Books was a one-off. It was an interesting experience (if you see the photo in November 1999 Locus of the 5 of us you're seeing the only time we were ever all in the same place at the same time). There was some brief talk of expanding, taking on other publishers, looking at further projects, but MP was really formed to publish Antique Futures and that's the last we'll see of it. I'll still be part of it in terms of trying to sell copies but I wouldn't expect to see another project in the foreseeable future.
I have given thought to other collaborative projects, afterall Jonathan Strahan and I have been talking about several since 1997. And at Worldcon I briefly discussed something with Niall Doran (Desdichado Publishing) but that was probably more the beer talking. I like the collaborative process, but I can't see it becoming any sort of "trend". I think the next trend we'll see in Australian SF publishing is called "retirement".
After six books released and now out of the publishing industry with Ticonderoga, how do you feel about your contributions to Australian SF?
I'm proud of what I've done, proud to have worked with the authors I did, sad that there are a few authors out there I didn't get to work with. But, looking realistically, publishers and editors in Australia get fuck all recognition from the majority of the SF community—ask Jonathan Strahan or Jeremy Byrne or Stephen Higgins or Dirk Strasser or Peter MacNamara about the last time they were invited to a con as a guest. Jonathan and Jeremy can tell you that it was this year and maybe that had a lot to do with me being on the committee because there sure ain't any other convention that would do it. But ask just about any writer nowadays about who pulled Australian SF out of the slump it was in at the end of the 90's and five bucks says they name at least 3 of them guys. Go figure.
As for what I've done, on the scale of things it's been minimal. I've helped cap off great decades for writers like Sean, Simon and Stephen, and I get to glow with secret pride whenever I see a bio or biblio that mentions the books I've done with them. I published the first short story collection of a damn fine American writer who'd been writing for over 25 years, and Michael Bishop wrote me a couple of really nice letters. But have I really done much to make Steven Utley, Simon Brown, Sean Williams or Stephen Dedman household names?
My contribution? Well, I may have kept Stephen Dedman from starving for a little while longer, and allowed Sean to drink more beer last time he was in town.
How do you feel that your work has benefitted you personally?
Steven Utley, in the intro to Custer's Last Jump, talks about the concept of "all the pride you can eat". Some days that's about all I ate.
But through small press I got a real job, which wasn't so bad. I've made some great friends, managed to impress the occasional person, learnt I can still do all-nighters, picked up a little kudos.
In the publication The Rhizome Factor, you write of the trials and tribulations of the small-press industry. If you had the chance (and money), would you go back to publishing?
'Tis madness to think it and madness to do it.
One last question how is your career as a jazz musician going?
Doobie doobie doop, bebop, yeah!
But seriously, that was last week. This week I'm a punkrocker, and next week I'm gonna be a writer.
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