It is Tiptree month, because yesterday Alice Sheldon would have turned 100. I am completely ensnared in All Things Sheldon/Tiptree at the moment because of Letters to Tiptree, which was launched yesterday for Sheldon’s birthday and which has been consuming much of my time over the last few months. I’m immensely proud of this book and still incredibly honoured that Alisa asked me to co-edit it with her.
A few people have written articles about Sheldon and Tiptree, so here – have some links:
Leah Schnelbach on What James Tiptree can teach us about the power of the SF Community
Brit Mandelo on Where To Start with the Works of James Tiptree, Jr
Tansy Rayner Roberts on Raccoona Sheldon’s “The Screwfly Solution”
Galactic Suburbia on the amazing biography written by Julie Phillips a few years ago
Alisa talked about Tiptree and other things over on the Three Hoarsemen podcast
Not sure you’re interested in reading a whole bunch of letters to Sheldon/Tiptree? Here are some examples:
Gwyneth Jones (includes one of the greatest lines ever)
Alisa Krasnostein is editor and publisher at Australian specialty press Twelfth Planet Press, a creative publishing PhD student and recently retired environmental engineer. In 2011, she won the World Fantasy Award for her work at Twelfth Planet Press. She was the executive editor and founder of the review website Aussie Specfic in Focus! from 2004 to 2012. In her spare time she is a critic, reader, reviewer, podcaster, environmentalist, knitter, quilter and puppy lover. And new mum.
1. You’re just about to launch the anthology Kaleidoscope, which you’ve coedited with Julia Rios and funded via crowdfunding. How has the experience of creating this anthology been different from previous ones you’ve done? And has it lived up to your hopes of being a political and diverse set of stories?
With every project I’m always evolving and learning. For a long time I’ve wanted to be able to pay pro rates so with the advent of crowdfunding platforms, I was able to explore that business model for this project (SFWA raised the pro rates after we ran our campaign which was bad timing!). Crowdfunding is a fascinating and time consuming business model and we learned a lot about the maths behind them and also the amount of marketing and promotion required. It definitely helped keep my mind off my delivery date of my baby!
Kaleidoscope has definitely lived up to my hopes of a political and diverse set of stories. I felt a lot of pressure to do that – when you are given the money up front. The editing process was also a fascinating one. It challenged a lot of my own ideas about creating a good book and in the way I acquire stories. It’s markedly changed the way I approach and read fiction. I’m still processing a lot of my thoughts about it. Which is lucky because that gives me food for the thesis! Kaleidoscope is filled with a really diverse array of stories and protagonists – straight, queer, of colour, disabled – we hope there is a story in there for every reader to identify with.
2. Another project that you’re still working on, which is now well on its way to finishing, is the Twelve Planets series wherein you decided to publish collections of short stories by Australian women. I know originally the plan was to publish these over a year, or a bit more, which I’m sure in hindsight seems crazy! What impact has the process of developing the Twelve Planets had on you as an editor and publisher, and has it met your expectations?
In hindsight, I’m not sure it was every feasible to publish the Twelve Planets across a year – it’s actually a very tall order to ask writers to produce 4 outstanding stories on so tight a turnaround! Most authors ended up submitting more than that before we got to their final collection of 4. I think I’ve grown a lot as an editor through these collections – both in terms of my editing ability and in the mechanics of how collections work. At times, choosing to do shorter collections was really challenging because you can’t get away with things that maybe you might in a longer collection – you can’t hide a bad story amongst three others. Which I guess has made me much less compromising as an editor – if I wouldn’t buy a story for a collection where I can’t hide it, why should I buy it ever?
As a publisher, the Twelve Planets taught me a lot about branding and the effectiveness of a series for promotion and marketing.
The Twelve Planets was conceived back in 2009 as a response to the lack of female authors on awards shortlists. I’m very proud of the work that’s been published in this series. I think it shows the outstanding quality of short stories being written by Australian female writers. The series has more than met my expectations and I can’t wait to see the full project sitting on my bookshelf!
3. You always seem to have a lot of projects on the go, and more bubbling to the surface all the time. Do you imagine that the next five years will see Twelfth Planet Press branching out into other areas, or strengthening the areas you already do well?
Publishing tends to work on a three to five year timeframe. The more books I publish, the more I am understanding that it really does take 2 to 3 years for a book to properly come to fruition, especially if you’re working on developing projects rather than just buying out of an open submissions process. That’s a long way around saying I have a lot of the next 3 years’ projects already in progress. And if I could source funding, a few more beyond that! I think the next 5 years will see us strengthening areas like novels, our crime line and young adult fiction. But yes, I have a view to branch out further. 🙂
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?
I’m currently enthralled by Sean Williams’ Twinmaker – I kind of want to read his PhD thesis after I finish with all his fiction related to matter transmitters. Twinmaker is a fast paced YA thriller and I can’t put it down.
5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing in five years from now?
Yes. How can they not? Adapt or die. I have absolutely no idea what the industry will look like in 5 years time. I know we’ll do our best to try and ride the wave but I suspect that what will be *it* in 5 years hasn’t even really begun to be a thing yet. Recent changes have had us learning how to make good quality, flexible ebooks and to do our best to bring release all formats in tandem. We’re now looking at keeping up with the ever expanding distribution channels for ebooks and wondering about the longterm viability of print book distribution. Bookstores keep closing even though readers still buy print books.
It’s with a sad (albeit understanding) heart that I pass on the message that ASif! is closing down.
What? You don’t know about Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus? The website that started eight years ago with a view to reviewing Australian works of speculative fiction, and – perhaps most intriguingly – aiming to give most works two reviews, thus giving context and a broader perspective? Well heck, get over to what I still consider to be the new site (although I think it’s been up and running on WordPress for, what, a year? two?) and browse their wares! It has long since branched out into international works as well as national – not least I think because that’s what was sent our way by publishers – but it is still pretty Australian-heavy. Plus, there are retro reviews from the old site, so you can see what we were thinking some years ago too!
… so yes, I say our. I’ve written reviews for ASif! for… I don’t know how long. Some years. I could probably go back and see when my earliest review was, but that might make me scared. Or cringe. Whatever, it has been a tremendous experience. I’ve been writing the odd review for very many years (back to high school), but this was the first time I got the chance to do it somewhat-regularly. More than that, thanks to the email list… well. I allowed myself to get roped into Last Short Story some fewer number of years ago, which in turn led to going to this thing called a convention, and – yeh. Galactic Suburbia would be a different beast if not for ASif; I wouldn’t be on it, for a start, since I wouldn’t know Alisa or Tansy (I would have heard of Tansy, of course, because I already had, but it would be a far-off fan-girling).
Anyway. It is certainly the right call for Alisa to have made; she has the most incredible number of calls on her time, and has had for as long as I have known her. It makes sense to tidy things, and projects should definitely have end-points rather than continuing on just because.
No more reviews after the end of this year. Vale, ASif!
Alisa Krasnostein is an engineer by day and an editor by night… and lunchtime and weekend. Having started the reviews website Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus (ASif!) she has moved on to indie publishing with Twelfth Planet Press. Through TPP Alisa has published anthologies and single-author collections, and will soon begin a novel line. TPP and Alisa were last year recipients of a World Fantasy Award. In her spare time, Alisa is also one third of the Hugo-nominated and Peter McNamara-winning podcast Galactic Suburbia.
You began an indie publishing house, Twelfth Planet Press, a number of years ago. You’ve been responsible for several anthologies, single-author collections and novella doubles, as well as the shared world of New Ceres and the e-mag Shiny. Why did you start TPP in the first place, and has it lived up to expectations?
I got involved in small press via ASIM [Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine] and starting up ASif! These both whet my appetite for what could be possible in local publishing. I fell in love with the local specfic scene. I spent a lot of time watching behind the scenes at ASIM and learned a lot. By 2005/2006 I was very keen to have a go on my own and see if I could make small press work. I had a lot of ideas about the kind of press I wanted to create and I really wanted to see if you could make small press work, financially.
TPP has well exceeded my expectations. The jury is still out on whether you can make a small press work financially (though certainly there are more than a few American presses that do). A start up can take 5 years to get on its feet and this is about year 5 for TPP. There have been more successful projects than others. And both the successes and the failures have taught me a lot about publishing, editing and business. The recognition TPP has received and the work we have published has been far more than I could have ever dreamed possible this early on.
Your current project is the Twelve Planets series, wherein you are publishing twelve short, single-author collections by a range of Australian authors. What has it been like to edit the twelve planets, and what has been the reaction to those published so far?
This series has been so much fun to work on and so unlike any other project I’ve done so far. I’m finding it a very personal experience, each volume, I think because a 4 story collection is so intimate – you’ve got nowhere to hide with just 4 stories so each story has to hit out of the ballpark. There has been such a great synergy and creative vibe with each author I’ve work with so far. And added into that is the synergy with Amanda as she creates the look of the whole series book by book and with Helen as she pairs up an introducing author for each volume. So, intimate, but a bigger team working on each book than we’ve had before, especially when you add in proofers and a publicity and ebook team.
The reaction so far has been fantastic! We’ve had some outstanding reviews, and new subscribers are coming on board all the time (you can subscribe at any time and get the whole series). The ebooks are popular too – we’ve had a college class in Texas adopt Love and Romanpunk as a class text! I got to manage their textbook buying before the school started in January. Which went how you expect that to go. 🙂
It’s been such a great opportunity to show to a much wider audience the fantastic, strong and innovative writing Australians are producing right now. We’re starting to see works from the 2011 published works make it onto Years Bests reports and lists, they featured well in the Locus roundup for last year and of course had nods in the Tiptree Jnr Award and the Aurealis Awards. I’m so happy and also so excited for the 2012 books – Showtime came out in March and Through Splintered Walls, Cracklescape and Asymmetry are not far away now.
You recently opened TPP up to novel submissions, which strikes me as a bold move when it comes to considering the slush pile! Has slushing for novels been different from slushing for short stories, and do you still think it was a good idea?
Well, I in no way attempted to work through that slushpile on my own! I was lucky enough to have 7 generous readers who kindly volunteered their time and worked through most of them and offered their thoughts and noted what they thought I should read. I did do a bit of quality assurance testing and am really happy with how that process went in terms of what was forwarded to me to read.
Slushing the manuscripts really helped me cement exactly what it is that I’m looking for and what I see my novel line being. I think it’s been a really worthwhile exercise in that regard. Opening to novel submissions was also a really important step in coming out and stating a future direction for TPP. I have a really clear vision now for the novels I want to develop and publish and hope to clearly express that going forward. Of course, you still get submissions that are completely outside your guidelines no matter how you frame them.
I think I liked slushing for novels better than shorts in that we had a reading crew which meant I was able to discuss manuscripts with people and get a bit of an idea about how others saw the same piece of work. It was much less lonely. You tend to spend longer on a novel submission than a short story because you’re more forgiving as a reader with a novel than a short story and novel stories take longer to develop and unravel, they’re bigger beings. And because you have a package with the submission including the synopsis, you have more to consider and maybe, if the synopsis is written well, more reason to invest in some submissions than others? Like, well the story starts slow but it sounds like it might go somewhere interesting?
I should mention that I haven’t finished the manuscript reading yet. Maybe I’ll get more jaded by the end of it (June 30).
What work by Australians have you been loving recently?
PODCASTS! Australians are dominating the soundwaves and there are some truly fantastic Aussie podcasts. We have real depth in this format, with so many great ones to choose from. My faves are probably the Writer and the Critic, Coode St Podcast and Boxcutters though I’m just starting to warm to Shooting the Poo. 🙂
As for fiction, Kim Westwood’s The Courier’s New Bicycle was by far my favourite Aussie work in 2011, and I cannot rave about it enough. I also, despite common folklore, finished and loved Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Power and Majesty and am working on The Shattered City (I read slowly, and trilogies are a huge commitment).
I also adored Outland. I hope there will be a second season some day.
It’s been two years since Australia hosted the WorldCon. What do you think are some of the biggest changes to the Australian speculative fiction scene?
It feels like more authors are gaining international recognition but I’m not sure if that’s just my perception in that authors *I* am friends with are progressing and growing in their careers. It also feels like a lot of authors have left short stories to work on novels. Certainly a lot of the authors I came into the scene reading in the short form have sold novels in that time and have tended to be quiet, working at the long length.
Novellas have kind of grown too. I remember a time when the Ditmar ballot couldn’t field a shortlist for novellas/novelettes and now this has become one of the most competitive categories. Again, I think this relates to the maturing of a lot of our authors as they play with form and length towards the elusive novel.
Women authors are being taken more seriously outside of the epic fantasy subgenre. And more women are being collected.
Podcasts – Australians really are punching above our weight class in the podcast department and I think that’s brought the world closer to us in ways that have really previously been hard to overcome. We have a greater voice in the international scene and with that comes the ability to get the word out about what we’re doing here. Exciting, when I think about it. Where will be next time the Snapshot comes round to take a picture?
This interview was conducted as part of the 2012 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 1st June to 8th June and archiving them at ASif!: Australian SpecFic in Focus. You can read interviews at:
This is the delightfully-packaged third book in the Twelve Planets series, from Twelfth Planet Press. I should mention that I am friends with the editor/publisher, Alisa Krasnostein, and a passing acquaintance of the author, Lucy Sussex. But don’t worry; I would have no trouble saying I didn’t like it much, if that were the case…
The first story is, for me, the blazing outstanding story of the four. Called “Alchemy,” it is set in Babylon, a city as evocative, perhaps, as it is foreign. We are presented with a story told from two perspectives. The first is that of Tapputi, a perfumer from a long line of such. She is a mother, a widow, and a skilled artisan. She has also attracted the attention of Azubel, a spirit whose point of view we also read. Azubel has knowledge of the past and the possible paths of the future, with a particular passion for and understanding of what we would call chemistry. The stories of these two, over a long span of time (by human standards) has many strands, weaving in examinations of knowledge and the dangers thereof; juggling career and family; tradition and innovation and the pitfalls of each; and that essential conundrum, discerning good from evil when the world is grey, not black and white. Tapputi is finely, delicately drawn, the balance of concerns inherent being in being a widowed mother and artisan nicely indicated. She is both practical and romantic and, perhaps most wondrously, is actually based on a woman known to historians because her name and trade are recorded in cuneiform from the second millennium BC. This is a story that mixes fantasy and history in a glorious blend, and is one of my favourite stories for the year.
The second story in the collection is Krasnostein showing her readers that the Twelve Planets series is not going to follow the path set by the first two sets (Nightsiders and Love and Romanpunk), because it neither follows “Alchemy” (sigh) nor falls into SF/fantasy. “The Fountain of Justice” was first published for the Ned Kelly Awards, given in Australia to crime authors, and is indeed a story of crime and policing set in Melbourne, Sussex’s home city. It wasn’t really my sort of thing – crime never really has been. We get the story predominantly from the point of view of Meg, a solicitor who works mainly for the Children’s Court, and with the juveniles accused there. It’s a convoluted story questioning issues of justice and truth, asking I think whether our legal system delivers justice and even whether it can/should. It is clever, but it didn’t ultimately work for me.
Thirdly, “The Subject of O” is again completely different, and perhaps on the face of it far simpler than the preceding two – although it would be a mistake to actually believe that. Petra, a probably twenty-something university student, is the focus, as a stupid comment from an acquaintance sends her memory over the past few weeks and months in which she has been thinking about, and learning about, women and orgasms. On one level it is quite a funny story about students and their conversations, and plays into the common theme that university students are all rather busy with sex and drugs. But the reality is that underneath is a genuine questioning of why discussion of women’s sexuality and experience of sex is more often than not hidden, or spoken of only hazily, or left to blokes leering and imagining them as God’s gift to womankind. It’s frank and honest, refreshingly spiked with wry humour. But don’t read it on public transport if you are the blushing type.
Finally, the collection is rounded out by the eponymous story, “Thief of Lives,” which itself contains a book of the same name (confused yet?). This is the most complicated story of the set, although fortunately almost everything is clarified by the end, making hindsight a wonderful thing. It’s set in Bristol, and told from the first person by someone who is not what they at first appear to be, and whose intentions in Bristol are far from straightforward. It’s impossible for me to give a good idea of the narrative, really, without spoiling it. Let me say that it toys with ideas like a cat with string: why (as the blurb puts it) do writers think that other people’s lives are fair game? How do writers get their ideas? Can writers and their writing have a concrete impact on those around them, especially when drawing on them for inspiration? It’s a little bit labyrinthine, which is echoed somewhat in the maze-like qualities of Bristol itself for our protagonist. It’s very, very clever, and the main character herself is a little bit hypnotic.
Also, isn’t it a totally lovely cover?
Nightsiders is the first anthology of the Twelve Planets series, a set of twelve collections being put out by Alisa Krasnostein at Twelfth Planet Press. Each of the collections will consist of four short stories. This one, by Sue Isle, features stories that all deal with the same place and similar issues: a near-future Perth, a city ruined by an almost complete lack of water, infrastructure damaged by bombs some time ago, and largely deserted in the Evacuation.
It should be said up front that I am friends with the editor, Alisa, although I do not know the author.
As a package, this is a nice little book. It’s 138 pages of narrative (with a short introduction from Marianne de Pierres), and given that’s split over four stories it’s the sort of book you can consume in one sitting or over several. I’m not a huge fan of the colour, but it is certainly appropriate given how much time is spent in the stories talking about the near-desert nature of Perth.
The first story is “The Painted Girl,” and follows Kyra and Nerina as they come into the city for the first time ever in Kyra’s experience; they’ve been wandering from place to place, never setting down roots. Kyra ends up with the Drainers, a name which is never fully explained, and learns something of the ways of this weird new place she’s been brought to. As an opening to the collection it works well, because the reader too is new to this near-future city, and has to come to grips with the lengths people go to to get and conserve water, the lack of basic amenities, and the fundamental changes which have happened in Perth, of all places.
The title “Nation of the Night” does not reflect the nature of the second story in the slightest. However, the story itself is fascinating, and I think the strongest of the collection. It deals with multiple issues with an elegance that makes reading the prose very easy indeed. Here, we follow the experiences of Ash – biologically female, psychologically male – as he heads East for surgery to resolve his conflicted nature. In Melbourne – described as intimately and recognisably for me, a Melbournian, as I am sure Perth is for natives of that place – Ash discovers that things over that way aren’t that much better, in many ways, than they are back home. The individuals Ash meets are vividly, if briefly, described, but it’s really the landscape and geography that stand out in this story; the changes wrought on a city that has taken in millions of refugees are as stark as those wrought on the city from whence all but a few thousand have fled. The story is not without problems – for all the talk of how difficult it will be for Ash to get to and from Melbourne, it feels quite easily achieved. However, as an investigation into gender identity, attitudes towards refugees, East/West relations in Australia, and the impact of climate change, this is a remarkable story.
Third comes “Paper Dragons,” which initially appeared in the ezine Shiny, also produced by Krasnostein. For all that I know entertainment has been a basic, perhaps essential, part of human civilisation since the earliest examples we have, I still found it slightly unbelievable that a community struggling as much as the Perth one appears to be would be able and willing to support a troupe of players who appear to do little else but rehearse and perform. Perhaps I’m too much of a pragmatist. I enjoyed the new characters introduced here, and the fact that Ash reappears in a different role, but I also didn’t really understand quite what the point overall was – of post-Evacuation teenagers staging an excerpt from a pre-Evac TV show, and its impact on the older people in the community. However, overall it allows yet more insight into how Perth society operates; the often brutally pragmatic choices that need to be made, and the suppression to some extent of ‘finer feelings’ that find at least a partial outlet in the theatre.
Finally, the collection closes with “The Schoolteacher’s Tale.” Here, a character referred to in other stories – Elizabeth Wakeling, teacher to generations of post-Evac Perth residents – gets a voice of her own. As a teacher myself, this story struck a chord with me, with its discussion of what learning would be necessary for generations growing up in a society like this. Elizabeth was delightfully curmudgeonly – as the oldest person in the area, and the only teacher, she’s entitled to it – but also pragmatic and willing to be flexible. Appropriately, as the collection opened with a confused young woman entering Perth, this story closes the collection with a determined old woman leaving it, with clear and specific plans in mind.
Across the four stories Isle portrays a striking, not-quite post-apocalyptic world that’s not quite believable, but not quite foreign enough to dismiss out of hand. The society she portrays in Perth is ethnically mixed, pragmatic, fiercely independent, and built on cunning. Most of those traits are ones that Western Australians would probably claim today, as well. I’m uncomfortable with the idea that the eastern seaboard would abandon the western so completely, but with Isle’s portrayal of Melbourne it becomes all too possible. Overall, Nightsiders is an intriguing collection, and it left me wondering whether Isle plans to return to the world in a novel – it certainly feels like it would be sustainable. And if this is the standard of the rest of the Twelve Planets series, I cannot wait for the next eleven.