Anyone who's been paying attention recently has probably realized that much
of the best speculative fiction being published these days is coming from small
presses. Gary Turner's Golden
Gryphon Press (headquartered in my old home town of Urbana, Illinois) has
published an extraordinary series of titles by some of the best new and established
writers in the field. In the UK, Peter Crowther's PS
Publishing has been turning out an impressive series of novellas showcasing
work by some of the field's best new writers. It should come as no surprise,
then, that two of the best story collections of 2001 also came from a small
Press, to be exact. What is surprising, however, is that these books were
Small Beer Press's first two titles, both trade paperback originals collecting
the short fiction of two relatively unknown writers.
As it turned out, Small Beer Press's first two titles—Kelly Link's Stranger
Things Happen and Ray Vukcevich's Meet
Me in the Moon Room—were among the most recommended books of 2001.
Both titles raced through first printings, mostly on the strength of word-of-mouth
recommendations and enthusiastic reviews. Link's "Louise's Ghost"
picked up a Nebula, and both Salon and The Village Voice placed
Stranger Things Happen on their Best of 2001 lists, as did more traditional
genre outlets like Locus
Metropolis. Meet Me in the Moon Room also showed up on quite a few
best-of-the-year lists and was also nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award.
Not a bad debut for a new press.
The driving force behind Small Beer Press is the intrepid Gavin J. Grant, who,
along with his wife Kelly Link, runs Small Beer Press out of an office in their
Brooklyn apartment. "We have a nice little office in our apartment,"
Gavin explains, "and the whole press basically exists there (on my Mac),
at our P.O. Box, and at our fulfillment house, Pathway Book Service, who warehouse
our books." Since 1996, Gavin and Kelly have published the literate, idiosyncratic,
and thoroughly engaging zine Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, whose
decidedly handmade look belies the quality of what's inside. Now on its tenth
issue (just out!), LCRW has published stories by Jeffrey Ford, James Sallis,
Nalo Hopkinson, Karen Joy Fowler, and Ellen Klages, as well as some very fine
poetry and an eclectic mix of humor, criticism, and other tidbits of an uncategorizable
nature. Small Beer Press has also published the first two entries (Kelly Link's
4 Stories and Dora Knez's Five Forbidden Things) in an ongoing
chapbook series offering bite-size samples of work from new writers.
The following interview was conducted via email earlier this spring, when Gavin
was swamped not only by the work of finishing LCRW #10, but also by final production
on Small Beer's next projects: not one, but two books by the wonderful Carol
Emshwiller. Gavin was nevertheless gracious enough to take the time to answer
questions about the upcoming Emshwiller titles, why he likes zines, and how
you can get chocolate with your subscription.
RevolutionSF: How did doing LCRW lead to a decision to publish collections
Gavin J. Grant: Doing LCRW gave us skills (but not skilz, sadly) without
which we couldn't have done the books. That said, being able to put together
a zine in a week really gives you the wrong impression of the time it takes
to put a book together!
Moving from Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet to doing chapbooks and
then the books seemed like a natural progression—although there's always
that last minute rush to hit the deadlines. When we realized we could publish
not one, but two books by Carol Emshwiller, we knew we were on the right track!
We've been helped, advised, and consulted by various friends in and out of
publishing, although at this point we are still doing everything (except the
all-important proofreading!) ourselves. One of our July chapbooks, Messages
and Echoes by Alex Irvine (the other is by Judith Berman), is being designed
by someone else—Thom Sohn—which will be a first. I'm waiting to see how
this works. If it goes well, maybe we'll do more of it in the future.
RevolutionSF: There's a certain self-effacing humor that runs through
LCRW and that also shows up in the name of Small Beer Press. The reception accorded
to your first two collections, however, has been far from modest. Were you caught
off guard by the success of these titles? Why do you think these titles have
taken off like they have?
GJG: Um, good writing? We were very lucky to get to do a collection
by Ray Vukcevich. He's been publishing great stories for years, and when you
gather his stories in one place they just have a tremendous impact. He consistently
amazes me with what he can do in a thousand words. Kelly's book is a different
kettle of fish. I was pretty confident that it would do at least OK, but now
it's in its third printing—I didn't really expect that. The success seems
like it's coming from word-of-mouth, and there's absolutely nothing you can
do about that, either to start or stop it. Both of the books are, in my perhaps-biased
opinion, very, very strong. Between that, the interesting art on the covers,
the lovely writers who gave us blurbs, and that we were a new press—all
together that's a pretty good package. We're waiting for the backlash. Actually,
I'll take all the backlash as long as in the meantime more readers find Carol
I think the humor is inherent to LCRW because of the disconnect between its
physical outlook and its philosophical outlook. On the one hand, you have this
photocopied, card-cover zine that comes out every six months—but the universe
wouldn't exactly stop if it didn't. On the other hand, from the start we've
wanted it to be as good as it can be. I wanted a magazine that I wanted to read,
which is the reason many people start things. I like to eat chocolate, therefore
order LCRW with a chocolate bar, see? But at the same time, I'd seen some
fantastic magazines (Crank! comes immediately to mind) have immense difficulty
in surviving, so it had to be something that I could continue doing without
breaking the bank.
RevolutionSF: Eccentricity and humor seem to be two things that characterize
much of what you publish. How important is humor in what you publish?
GJG: Actually, the eccentricity/quirky label is something I'd like to
avoid. It gives people an easy reason to ignore what you're doing. We're very
serious about what we're doing—although some readers won't realize it,
which is fine. I realized again how serious we were when someone ran an ad of
ours that looked awful; it wasn't what we'd sent at all. It was amazingly upsetting
to have our work represented in that fashion. It's too easy to ignore the small
presses, and we don't want to give people easy reasons to do so.
Humor is important in the zine and—to some extent—in the stories. It sets
a shared ground between the reader and the work. I'm not specifically looking
for humor, mostly because there are so few good humorous writers out there.
What we're looking for is the best work there is, really. However, most people
are smart and send their best work to SciFiction! We're looking for the work
that is great but hard to categorize. Cross-genre work seems to come our way,
which makes me happy. The easiest way to see what we want and what we like is
to read the magazine.
RevolutionSF: Small Beer Press has gotten off to a strong start with
two relatively new writers: Kelly Link and Ray Vukcevich. How did you hook up
with these two characters and what attracted you to their writing?
GJG: I met Kelly a while ago when she started working at Avenue Victor
Hugo Bookshop [http://www.avenuevictorhugobooks.com] in Boston. She'd published
a number of stories, and was interested in doing a collection, but all the larger
publishers wanted a novel as well and at that time she wasn't interested in
writing one—although she seems more interested now. After a contract with
another small press didn"É1;t work, we decided to do it ourselves. It was
great fun. Hard work, but great fun. We received so much help from people—and
we needed it!
Kelly had really enjoyed Ray's story "Catch" in Ellen Datlow's cat
anthology. Then we read his story "By the Time We get to Uranus" in
The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror. When we realized that he didn't
have a collection out, we jumped at the chance to do it. He was really easy
to work with (and thus spoiled us forever!). We later met him at the World Fantasy
Convention in Texas and he's a great guy. I heartily recommend his novel, The
Man of Maybe Half-a-Dozen Faces—it's fantastic. I keep pushing
it on people who like Douglas Adams, and now Jasper Fforde. Hopefully it'll
be out in paperback soon.
RevolutionSF: Your next books will be by Carol Emshwiller, a wonderful
writer who has been around for a while (and has also been consistently under-appreciated).
Tell us a bit about the upcoming Emshwiller collections.
GJG: We can't believe how lucky we are to publish not just one, but
two books, by the wonderful Carol Emshwiller. Carol is very much a full-time
writer (she has another novel being looked at, and I think she's about to start
another!). She gets up in the morning and writes. Then she'll go teach, come
back, and write some more. In the evening she's as likely to be going to one
of her writer's workshops as anything else. She is an incredibly dedicated,
incredibly talented writer who has inspired countless other writers with her
short story collections (Verging on the Pertinent, The Start of the
End of It All) and novels. I'm especially fond of Carmen Dog and
The first book is a collection of stories, Report to the Men's Club and
Other Stories. About a third of the stories are new, and they prove that
she's writing as well as anyone else. Of course, I've read them innumerable
times, but as with Ray Vukcevich's stories, the more you read them, the more
you begin to wonder (and maybe see), "How do they do that?"
The second book is a novel, The Mount. It's an incredibly strong book
and we've got quotes on it from people like Connie Willis, Kim Stanley Robinson,
and Maureen McHugh. Both of the books will be out in August. They are trade
paperback originals, and I think will be stocked in quite a few bookshops across
the country from the pre-publication interest we've seen. Like all our books,
they can be got in any bookshop anywhere, or from our website.
Basically we're hoping to bring Carol to a wider audience. She was published
very well in the past by Harcourt, Coffee House, and Mercury House, but her
last couple of books (Ledoyt and Leaping Man Hill) didn't get
as much attention as we thought they deserved—and we were working at a
bookshop at the time, so we could tell! So now we'll give her as big a push
as we can, and see what happens. And if we lose our shirts, well, at least it
was for the best work we could find! (But we won't; these are Carol Emshwiller
RevolutionSF: What else is on the horizon right now?
GJG: The other two items we're doing this summer are chapbooks by two
up-and-coming authors. The first is Judith Berman, who wrote an essay that started
a little controversy about the
state of science fiction. She's written some very good short fiction (although
now she's working on a novel for Ace) and we're very happy to publish it.
The second chapbook is a collection of four stories by Alex Irvine. His first
novel (A Scattering of Jades, Tor, July 2002) also comes out this summer,
and it's great. In the chapbook, Messages and Echoes, there's a new story,
his first published story, and a couple more. Alex is interested in wide variety
of things, and I enjoy the way he can mix the serious and flippant together
without the one spoiling the other. We hope to continue doing the chapbooks
for a while. I think they're a good bridge between the magazines and books.
It's hard to commit $25 for a new hardcover, or $16 for a trade paperback, but
$5 for a chapbook is a good bit of reading for not too much money.
Of course we're also continuing with Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet.
The tenth issue is out now, with stories from Jeff Ford, Steven Bratman, and
loads of people you may not have heard of, but will-hopefully—in the future.
RevolutionSF: Your day job with BookSense
involves working with independent bookstores. Now's your chance to propagandize
a bit: Why is it important for readers to patronize the independents?
GJG: Diversity of viewpoints is a big one, availability of a place for
local zines (see next question!), a place for authors to read who haven't been
okayed by the big bosses of whatever particular chain. I like some of the chains
well enough—Waterstones comes to mind, although maybe all they have left
are their airport stores, which despite a certain car-crash appeal, are boring.
The indies (and I include used bookstores here) are bastions of iconoclastic
rebellion. Drive anywhere, around your hometown or across the country, and you'll
see that it's not just bookshops, it's all kinds of retail. The big companies
(i.e., the management who answer to the shareholders, the richest 3% of the
country) are putting the local shops out of business, and pulling all the money
out of the community. Talk to anyone in a town where a Walmart opened five years
ago. Some readers will be quite happy with this, and some will point out that
their ex-local bookshop was run by a bunch of snooty gits, oh well, but this
isn't about anecdotal evidence, this is about local stores of all kinds being
put out of business.
Between rising rents and the illusion of discounts at the chains (it is rare
that anything other than the bestseller list is discounted), it is getting harder
for people to start up an indie bookshop, never mind survive those critical
first few years. Fortunately there is a lot of support across the country (and
around the world), and a renewed awareness by the bookshops that their livelihood
is worth fighting for.
RevolutionSF: What's exciting to you in fiction these days? Any writers
you're particularly fond of, or books that you want to shout about?
GJG: OK, everyone else will too, but Ted Chiang's collection, Stories
of Your Life and Others, is fantastic. Also, Six Kinds of Sky, a
collection by Luis Alberto Urrea, Ghost of a Flea by James Sallis, Green
Music by Ursula Pflug, anything by Jeffrey Ford . . . I'm lucky in that
at my day job at BookSense
I get to interview (or solicit essays from) authors I admire, and also write
about a book I like every month for the Staff Picks page. I also review sf&f
for BookPage (in print
and online), and I try and pick books I actually like.
RevolutionSF: You've written a number of stories yourself, including
a collaboration with Kelly that was selected for Windling and Datlow's Year's
Best collection. Any plans to write more fiction?
GJG: Yes, thank you. It's odd, this writing thing, especially if you
have the wonderful opportunity to publish someone like Carol Emshwiller. The
question naturally arises, "Should I work on my own stuff, or should I
do something for Carol's books?" Guess which one usually wins?
Oddly enough, I'm publishing a couple of poems this year. One was published
in Full Unit Hookup, a zine put out by Mark E. Rudolph, and one will
be in Turbocharged Fortune Cookie, a new zine debuting in May.
RevolutionSF: You're also enthusiastic about the proliferation of local
zines, and LCRW maintains a wonderful DIY aesthetic. What's so exciting about
these smallest of small press publications?
GJG: It's all about the voices. There's no way (short of precocity so
strong that it's almost off-putting) that a lot of zinesters could get published
by any-sized press, but, with a couple of dollars, a friend who works at Kinko's—Voila!
Even in a field like sf&f where there are quality magazines putting out
quality work, there's always room for another point of view. As long as the
stuff is good, then I'm for it.
Also, you can't beat the price point of a zine. My question now is, "Why
not?" As long as you only publish good stuff and you treat your writers
well, why not? Everyone should now go to Quimby's
or Atomic Books and
buy some zines. At least pick up a copy of Zine World and get hooked!