Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Interview: Jacob Weisman (Tachyon Publications)

Every Tuesday, I'll have an interview posted.

Jacob Weisman is the editor and publisher of
Tachyon Publications. His writing has appeared in The Nation, Realms of Fantasy, The Louisville Courier-Journal, The Seattle Weekly, The Cooper Point Journal, and in the college textbook, Sport in Contemporary Society, edited by D. Stanley Eitzen. He was nominated for the World Fantasy Award in 1999 for his work at Tachyon.

Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, as publisher of Tachyon Publications, could you tell us what exactly it is that you do and how involved are you with the day to day workings of the company?

When I started Tachyon I did everything but write the stories and illustrate the covers. As the company has grown I’ve needed to farm out more and more of the work. I have a very talented managing editor, Jill Roberts, who handles most of the day-to-day operations. My chief responsibility is the editorial direction of the company. I still do a lot of the other stuff, too. You name it, I’ve got a hand in it. But I have a lot of help now, too. We have contractors in Seattle, Van Nuys, London, Mississippi, San Jose, all over the world.

In SF Editors, you have a comprehensive list of publications that you edited. Can you similarly elaborate on your role as editor and how different/similar it is from the duties of the listed editors such as Kathryn Cramer and David. G. Hartwell?

We work with really talented editors to produce our anthologies: James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel, Ann & Jeff VanderMeer, Ellen Datlow (forthcoming title), Sheila Williams, and Gordon Van Gelder (forthcoming) and, of course, David and Kathryn. Technically, I’m their editor. In most cases this is very easy work. My job is to set up the parameters for the books – what I want them to do – and then help them, if I can, to do their job to the best of their abilities.

In your opinion, what distinguishes Tachyon Publications from the other independent presses out there?

Tachyon tends to publish high end, literary science fiction and fantasy, partially because that’s what I like to and want to publish.

In 2008, how many books did you publish? Will that number increase in the future? What are the books that you'll be publishing in 2009 that you're looking forward to?

We publish 10 books a year. The list for 2009 includes:

February: Shambling Towards Hiroshima by James Morrow (short novel)

March: We Never Talk About My Brother by Peter S. Beagle (collection)

April: The Good Humor Man by Andrew Fox (novel)

May: The Best of Michael Moorcock (collection)

June: Medicine Road by Charles de Lint (reprint, novel)

July: The Hotel Under Sand (juvenile, middle reader)

July: Medicine Road by Charles de Lint (reprint novel)

September: The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction: Sixtieth Anniversary Anthology edited by Gordon Van Gelder (collection)

September: Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st Century Writer by Jeff VanderMeer (non-fiction)

October: The Secret History of Science Fiction edited James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel (collection)

October: The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer (gift book)

What made you decide to start Tachyon Publications?

I loved science fiction and thought publishing would be glamorous and fun. I was right about the fun.

What were some of the hurdles you ran into back then? What are some of your challenges now?

When I started Tachyon, I did so with the idea that I was starting a small press in the great tradition of small science fiction presses: Gnome Press, Shasta, Fantasy, Arkham House, Prime Press, and FPCI (Fantasy Publishing Company, Inc.). These companies all flourished before the majors printed any science fiction. They were trying to preserve stories they loved, most often originally published in cheap pulp magazines with a shelf life of one month, by producing well manufactured, durable hardcover editions.

I no longer think of us as a small press. Our goal now is to stand toe-to-toe with the boys. We do this by creating our projects and by being nimble when opportunities arise.

Being based in San Francisco, in your opinion is that an asset or a hindrance (or both) to the company?

San Francisco is a wonderful place to live and we have a great community of science fiction writers and fans, but I don’t think there’s any real advantage, at least from the point of view of business, to not being in New York.

How did you initially get interested in fantasy/science fiction?

Growing up, I loved comic books and begged my parents to read them to me. The rest of the time I made up my own stories about what was going on. I made my family read to me from The War of the Worlds and the Time Machine by H.G. Wells, all of the Tarzan novels, Pinocchio, anything that smacked of science fiction in any way. Even though I didn’t know what science fiction was, even though I couldn’t read yet, I was inexorably drawn to it.

Who were the authors that caught your eye back then? How about the authors that catch your attention now?

Philip K. Dick, Fredric Brown, Cordwainer Smith, Arthur C. Clarke, Lord Dunsany, and Larry Niven were my absolute favorites growing up.

J. G. Ballard, Michael Swanwick, and Thomas M. Disch are a few of my favorite writers now. I could name 30 or 40 more. James Tiptree, Jr., Michael Bishop, Maxx Berry, Peter S. Beagle, Terry Bisson, Sean Stewart, and on and on. One of the joys, of course, of publishing is getting to work with your favorite writers. I’ve been extremely lucky in this regard.

When did you know you wanted to be involved in the publishing business?

I’ve always been involved in publishing in one form or another. I started a fanzine devoted to comic books back in the first grade. I had never heard of or seen a fanzine. I learned to run ditto masters in the principal’s office and was hooked. My fondest memories are of turning the handcrank, watching the purple stained pages zipping off the rotating drum, and the sweet turpentine-like smell of duplicating fluid.

I worked on every newspaper of every school I ever attended. I wrote stories, meticulously collected them in notebooks, making my own story collections. And later I published my my own magazine, The Thirteenth Moon, a fanzine of sorts that published stories by Ursula K. Le Guin, Michael Bishop, Paul Di Filippo, Lisa Goldstein, and others.

What's the current status of your novel? When were you bitten by the writing bug?

My great collaborative novel with David Sandner is about 60-70% done. The first chuck, “Egyptian Motherlode,” was published by Realms of Fantasy almost a decade ago. So it’s been a slow process. But we’re making headway, slowly but surely.

As a reader/editor/publisher, what do you look for in a story?

Interesting writing will pull me in. A good story will pull me through. But above and beyond everything else I look for emotional resonance. The details of great story will come back to you again and again, sometimes with multiple meanings, sometimes when you least expect it.

What makes you decide to pick up a book for Tachyon Publications?

If I can find that resonance.

In your opinion, how has the publishing industry changed compared to when Tachyon Publications started?

The publishing industry changes constantly. On one level it’s important to keep up. On another, it’s equally important to ignore what you think you know, or have ben told, and make your own decisions.

Where will Tachyon Publications be branching out in the future?

We’re publishing our first kid’s book this Summer, Kage Baker’s The Hotel Under the Sand, a rollicking adventure novel with some Steampunk elements. And we’re publishing more and more non-fiction. We started with (c)ontent by Cory Doctorow. Later this year we’ll be publishing Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st Century Writer by Jeff VanderMeer. This should be the first writing guide of its kind, taking into account viral marketing and blogging, as well as more of the nuts and bolts aspects of writing. We’re even got a gift book for the Judaica market in the works: The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer (a small sample of which can be found at http://www.jeffvandermeer.com/2008/04/17/evil-monkey%E2%80%99s-guide-to-kosher-imaginary-animals/).

What advice do you have for aspiring publishers?

Talk to many publishers, not just about what they publish or how their selection process works, but about the real nitty gritty details: unit cost, distribution, negotiating with agents, determining print runs, publicity, and so on.

Be prepared for the long haul. Don’t expect success right off the bat. Realize that every decision you make may be wrong. And love what you do.

Advice for aspiring editors?

Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. If a novel or a story needs work, it’s your job to see that it’s done right. Conversely, don’t try to fix things if they don’t need to be fixed. Your job isn’t to leave your mark on the book, but to make sure that the author does the best job they’re capable of doing.

Advice for aspiring writers?

Write what you’d like to read, especially if you can’t find it. And read what you’d like to read, if you can. Find your own voice.

Anything else you want to plug?

We’ve got some great books coming out in 2009, and a few already scheduled for 2010. I really do believe in every single one of them.

James Morrow’s Shambling Toward Hiroshima and Andrew Fox’s The Good Humor Man, are both original, very funny, satiric novels. Shambling posits a secret military experiment, concurrent with the Manhatten Project, to unleash giant mutant, fire-breathing iguanas on the Japanese mainland. The Good Humor Man, meanwhile, is in the tradition of Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451 and is a black comedy about corporate corruption that can only be undone by Elvis Presley, sixty-four years after his death. Andrew Fox is best known for his novel, Fat White Vampire Blues, but is equally adept writing science fiction.

We’re also very excited about our new crop of anthologies. In The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction we’ve asked given Gordon Van Gelder to pick the best stories from F&SF’s sixty year history; James Patrick Kelly & John Kessel’s The Secret History of Science Fiction is a ground-breaking look at the science fiction/mainstream divide, including stories by Margaret Atwood, T.C. Boyle, Don Delillo, Thomas M. Disch, Karen Joy Fowler, Jonathan Lethem, George Saunders, and Gene Wolfe, to name a few; and Ellen Datlow’s Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror takes a definitive look at the horror field since the advent of Clive Barker’s Books of Blood in 1984.

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