Russell B. Farr is the founder of Ticonderoga Publications. In 2013 he was awarded the A. Bertram Chandler Award for outstanding achievement in Australian Science Fiction. His life revolves around his incredible wife Liz Grzyb, and he is ruled by their cat.
1. Ticonderoga Publications has published an incredible variety of books since it was founded in 1996. Ticonderoga has contributed to the careers of many of Australia’s speculative fiction authors, and has published many successful collected works. The most recent release is Janeen Webb’s Death at the Blue Elephant. Can you tell us something about the process by which you work with authors to produce a collected work?
Working with Janeen Webb was fabulous and painless. I’ve been a fan of Janeen’s work for quite some time, and during a brave moment suggested that we do a collection. It’s hard to describe the process of putting together a book like this because things came together wonderfully and smoothly, almost organically. It’s a collaborative process, a shared vision, even though the final book I think has exceeded both our expectations.
Generally speaking, collections start with me, in an instant of fear-induced courage, approaching a writer whose work I love. Some, like Greg Mellor, turn up on the doorstep with a recommendation from a writer whose work I love (something along the lines of “you really need to publish this person, or else”). Either way, I have to love the stories: I’m not going to publish a book that I can’t personally recommend.
There’s almost always an interesting discussion around how much original content a collection should have. Much as I love to be publishing lots of original stories, I think it’s important that there be a balance – any original story in a TP collection is one less story a writer could be getting another payment elsewhere, and I’d like to make sure writers get paid. Some writers want lots of original stories in collections. Depending on the collection, between 2 and 4 originals can be a good balance.
I’m keen to involve writers in the cover design; it’s important that the writers get a book that they are proud of. While we can’t always afford to give a writer the absolute book of their dreams, I’m confident that every one of our writers loves the way their book looks.
There’s an art to putting stories in order. Some stories play well together, others don’t. It may just be a turn of phrase that a couple have in common: gotta keep them separated. I like to balance longer and shorter pieces, and finish the book on a story that ends with hope.
2. When Ticonderoga Publications was founded, what did you envision for its future? Has that vision changed in the years since, and if so, how?
There were no long term plans when TP kicked off, it started with me reading a bunch of stories by the late Steven Utley and wondering why no one had published a collection of his work (ah the days of being a 23 year-old with attitude). The result was Ghost Seas, still one of my favourite books. Then I started looking around at Australian writers publishing brilliant and uncollected short stories. It was definitely a project to project approach, with no real long-term vision.
Some of that hasn’t changed, I still think that at our core we’re looking to bring books into the world that deserve to be read and enjoyed. A few years back I started almost over-planning things, working to make sure we produced a number of titles with a cross-genre spread each year. That worked until life happened, as it is wont to do, and the inflexibility became a bit of a burden.
I’m still looking for a happy medium, where all our books get the attention they deserve, are released to a schedule, but there’s a flexibility that allows for some spontaneity.
3. What can we expect to see from Ticonderoga Publications in the future?
Beautiful books. Too many books, as we’re a little off schedule this year. August should see a limited hardcover edition of Angela Slatter’s Black-Winged Angels, illustrated by Kathleen Jennings and introduced by Juliet Marillier. Also coming up is the first novel in a fantasy series, The Assassin of Nara, by R.J. Ashby. There’s a steampunk novel, The Emerald Key, by Christine Purcell and Stuart Sternberg. Our fourth Year’s Best Australian Fantasy & Horror will hit the shelves shortly. There’s a fantastic collection by Ian McHugh, Angel Dust. I’m hoping to round out the year with Aurum, our 50th title, an anthology of original novellas by a bunch of writers I’m really excited by.
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?
You mean reading actual published books? I’m woefully behind on my reading pile (and sadly only a bit more up to date on my slush reading). I’ve loved Jo Anderton’s Suited and Debris (haven’t read Guardian yet). I’m currently sitting on some fabulous novellas by Anderton, Susan Wardle, Angie Rega, and yourself, among others. Loved Kate Forsyth’s The Wild Girl. Most of the time if I’m reading genre I’m feeling guilty about not reading some of the fabulous subs waiting for my attention.
Publishing the Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror series has been fortuitous – Talie Helene and Liz Grzyb present me each year with a bunch of stories by writers like Angela Slatter, Lisa Hannett, Isobel Carmody, Margo Lanagan, Martin Livings, Ian McHugh, Anna Tambour, Dirk Flinthart, Jason Fischer, Kaaron Warren, Thoraiya Dyer, Terry Dowling, Richard Harland, Cat Sparks, Robert Hood – I’d say ‘the usual suspects’ but these days it’s more of a chorus line than a line-up.
Of course I’ve loved every book we’ve published recently, too!
5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?
Recent changes like crowd-sourcing, ebooks, and online vs bricks and mortar selling, probably haven’t made things easier for us. Ebooks have been a disappointment, as I’m yet to feel truly comfortably with the quality of the medium – I have a feel for what looks good on a printed page, but still struggle with a medium that comes with multiple formats and that I can’t control the way the finished product is displayed. I like to make good looking books, and I don’t feel the same sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in making ebooks.
Crowd-sourcing is a good model for some industries, like gaming and film, where there’s a lot of up-front developmental costs and it’s really about a single product. I’m not sure that it translates well to publishing: the goal of a press should be sustainability, not a one-off book. When we say we’ll publish a book, we will. It doesn’t matter if we get 100 pre-orders or 0. While participating in a crowd sourced venture, promising someone money to do something cool, does have an emotional payback: that overt feeling of satisfaction to know that coolness happened partly because of your contribution. I’d like to think that you can also get that feeling from buying from a small press publisher. Anyone who buys a Ticonderoga book can say that they have contributed to the creation of all of our books.
If I’m still making books in 2019 I’d like to hope that they are still beautiful, meaningful, thoughtful, and entertaining. If they can be profitable by then that would be a bonus. I’d like to be publishing a good mix of short fiction and novels, maybe have ticked off a few more names on my hit list of writers I’d love to work with (and some folks only just beginning their careers). Maybe by then I’ll have things worked out so I can read more of everything.
Five years from now I’ll have been doing Ticonderoga half of my life. That’s a scary thought.
This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at: Tsana Dolichva, Nick Evans, Stephanie Gunn, Kathryn Linge, Elanor Matton-Johnson, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Jason Nahrung, Ben Payne, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Helen Stubbs, Katharine Stubbs, Tehani Wessely and Sean Wright.