Interview by Stephanie Gunn.
Russell B. Farr is the founding editor of Ticonderoga Publications and has published almost fifty titles since 1996. His anthology, Belong, explored the concepts of home and migration. Previous works as editor include the award-winning anthology Fantastic Wonder Stories, award-winning collections Magic Dirt: the Best of Sean Williams, and Angela Slatter’s The Girl With No Hands and other tales, and Australia’s first work-themed anthology The Workers’ Paradise. In 2013 he was the recipient of the A. Bertram Chandler Award for ‘outstanding achievement in Australian science fiction’.
As editor of Ticonderoga Publications, Russell has overseen the publication of landmark story collections by Simon Brown, Stephen Dedman, Terry Dowling, Angela Slatter, Stephen Utley, Lucy Sussex, Lisa L Hannett, Justina Robson, and Kaaron Warren.
Russell lives in Greenwood, Western Australia, with his wonderful wife Liz Grzyb, an unimpressed, sociopathic cat and an enthusiastic puppy.
You’ve been running Ticonderoga Publications since 1996, and in that time have published a huge variety of anthologies and novels as well as received several awards. What lessons have you learned over the years of working as a publisher?
I’ve learnt a whole bunch of things, and I’m still learning. I’ve learnt that awards mean very little, and producing an amazing book is its own reward. I’ve learnt that writers will never fail to surprise me with what they come up with when put to a task. Sometimes I think my knowledge would barely fill a teaspoon, as so many things change all the time. I guess I’ve learnt that there is no magic wand, no template that works every time, and that every project needs to be treated individually: what worked or didn’t work with the last project isn’t guaranteed to be the same the next time.
As well as being a publisher, you work as an editor. Are there any things that you see writers repeatedly doing in terms of writing and submitting short stories that you wish they would stop doing? Are there are types of stories that you’re tired of seeing, both as an editor and reader? Do you have any advice for new writers trying to break into the industry?
I wish writers would stop sending me incredible stories when I’m already pushing my word count! I don’t really have too many hard and fast rules on tropes I don’t want to see — I thought I hated zombie stories until the right ones came along, in the shape of Felicity Dowker’s “Bread and Circuses” (Bread and Circuses), and Penelope Love’s “Border Crossing” (Belong). I’m still not a big fan of the zombie genre, but even I cave when confronted by such awesome work.
I think new writers should do the following: (a) read lots, from lots of genres, go broad, don’t close your mind to any type of fiction; (b) look at ways of telling genre stories in non-genre ways, experiment with non-conventional story telling, different voices, different styles; (c) always go the hard way, writing is a craft, it takes work to hone it, perfect it, so aim high and challenge yourself; (d) work with good editors, they aren’t the enemy, if they suggest something there’s usually a solid reason, and maybe you’re just too close to your work; (e) if you need to research something, whether it’s historical, physical, chemical, etc, do it, be thorough, and get it right.
What can we expect from you, and from Ticonderoga Publications, in the fear future?
Our schedule is a little off this year, while Liz Grzyb, my wonderful wife and partner in all things is dealing with some health issues. By the end of the year we should have a new volume of The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror, edited by Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene; Aurum, an incredible collection of novellas to mark Ticonderoga’s 20th year in this biz, with stories by Juliet Marillier, Angela Rega, Susan Wardle, Jo Anderton, Lucy Sussex and (ahem) yourself; and we’ll also be making Alan Baxter’s awesome debut collection Crow Shine happen. All are worth checking out!
What Australian work have you loved recently?
Is it cheating to lead with some unpublished works? I’m working on Alan Baxter’s forthcoming collection Crow Shine, and it’s been great to read a bunch of his short fiction together, where the various themes he explores really work well together. I’ve also recently had the opportunity to sit down with a big pile of Angela Rega’s stories and she is an amazing story teller.
It’s been a bit of a slow year for reading — I haven’t had too many plane trips where I usually catch up on my reading. I really enjoyed Carmel Bird’s collection My Hearts are Your Hearts from last year, and Lisa L. Hannett’s stunning Lament for the Afterlife.
Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?
I spent a bunch of time thinking about this, and while my shelves are full of folks I’d love to talk to, in this case I’m going with Steven Utley (though we would probably sell the tickets and donate the money to a very worthy cause, and then just sit in an airport bar while I protest at Mr Utley’s Southern hospitality in never letting me buy the drinks). We put together three incredible collections of stories, Ghost Seas, where as a irreverent young turk I managed to do what no other publisher had and actually got the book published; and his two Silurian Tales collections,The 400-Million-Year Itch and Invisible Kingdoms, truly ground breaking and genre defining books.
Even though we worked together across almost 20 years, I never met Steven in person. He passed away in January 2013, far too soon, and I’d just like one final opportunity to thank him for trusting me with his amazing work.