What do you find most worthwhile about attending conventions?
Being around people who think things like books and reading and Speculative Fiction matter is both validating and nurturing, because a lot of people in the everyday world don’t get that these things are important. If you’re a writer—and I’m a writer as well as an editor/publisher—this is especially the case. You need to know you’re not nuts for thinking the way you do. There’s also the fact that SFF con-goers are, in general, high-IQ people, so intelligent conversation typically isn’t hard to come by. So although I’m actually not a very outgoing person and don’t enjoy crowds much, hanging out a con is very energizing for me.
If you could design your dream convention panel, who would be on it and what would you talk about?
Oooh! I like high-energy, dynamic panels run by quick-witted, humorous people with strong opinions and the brains and experience to back those up. A little friendly friction over a contentious topic is also a plus.
My panelists would be Robert Silverberg, Pat Cadigan, Mike Resnick, Bruce Sterling, and Larry Niven (Moderator). The topic would be “Design an interstellar empire that would be fun to live in, stand the test of time, and conquer anything it encountered.”
As a publisher, what do you look for in SFF stories? What do you wish you saw more of?
I’m mostly interested in story, which I believe has become something of an endangered species in contemporary SF. People pay lip service to sense of wonder, but most current SF reads to me more like literary work than genre fiction. In the last four or five decades of trying to escape the pulp ghetto, I think we’ve reached a point of serious over-correction and lost sight of what SFF really is. I’m not interested in seeing literary work where someone’s slaved for hours over each sentence and the story is more concerned with the character’s inner journey. Good fiction can be character-driven and fun and imaginative and saturated with sense of wonder—it’s not an either/or choice.
At the same time, I’m interested in non-formulaic work. Work that takes risks and which isn’t written for agents and editors and with an eye to the market, but which comes from a place of raw, hot vision; that’s exciting (or horrifying) to read, that takes me to another place. The kind of work I’m looking for has often been rejected elsewhere because it doesn’t fit the traditional holy categories that agents and editors and marketers obsess over, or doesn’t follow the dogma that we see on endless writer blogs.
I have one very simple initial criterion—do I care enough to finish the story? In most of the books I pick up, and 80% of the fiction in the pro SFF mags today, the answer is no. If I want literary I’ll pick up the New Yorker or some obscure literary review. In fact, some of today’s best SF is as likely to appear in unexpected venues like Nature, New Scientist, and Popular Mechanics as in the pro magazines.
Panverse’s three SFF titles this year are all what Herma, my business partner, calls “orphan books,” phenomenal novels turned down by shortsighted agents and publishers not because they weren’t good, but because the idiots didn’t know what to do with them or—and this is common in today’s nervous publishing market—weren’t willing to take risks. Doug Sharp’s extraordinary novel Channel Zilch (vol. I of the Hel’s Bet SF quadrilogy), after months of uncertainty at a well-known publishing house where all the editors loved it, was finally turned down because the marketing department didn’t know how to position it. T.L. Morganfield’s Aztec Fantasy/Historical, The Bone Flower Throne, an amazing, epic tale, had trouble getting traction because of length and challenging subject matter like incest, which actually was pretty standard among the nobility of the period. Bonnie Randall’s debut novel, Divinity and The Python, a terrifying supernatural mystery with romance elements which has kept many of those who reviewed it, including several librarians, up all night, was turned away by everyone else because it wasn’t mainstream paranormal and instead blended different genres. This lack of vision and willingness on the part of agents and publishers to take chances is their loss and our gain.
Finally, I’ve always been interested, since the very first Panverse novella anthology of 2009, in publishing new authors. Not just because I believe it’s the right thing to do, but because these are the people who often take the most chance and don’t limit themselves by trying to conform to editors’ and agents' needs. Even the normally welcoming pro SF magazines like Asimov’s and F&SF are wary of giving new authors novella-length spots, which is how an unknown fledgling press like Panverse came to publish Alan Smale’s 2011 Sidewise-winning novella, A Clash of Eagles and Ken Liu’s—then a newcomer—searing 2012 Hugo- and Nebula-nominated novella, The Man Who Ended History.
So what I want to see more of is daring, fresh work that focuses on story, that takes risks, that doesn’t pander to current trends and conventions.
How would you describe the "mission statement" of Panverse Publishing?
Panverse’s philosophy is unconventional. We believe readers are smart, and I’d sooner eat worms than chase the market and publish formulaic pap. We acquire extremely selectively, always putting story first. We’re very open to work that takes risks and breaks the rigid barriers of category and genre. We believe a book should carry the reader away and resonate long after the last word is read. We’re also particularly interested in discovering new voices and getting new authors into print.
All Panverse’s titles are released in both print and digital formats. We have high production values and put a great deal of effort into each title. Our contract is especially author-friendly. We’d like to be the go-to publisher for readers who are looking for something fresh, new, and edgy, and who are tired of seeing formulaic genre work.
Do you have any projects that you'd like to share with FOGcon fans and participants?
All of our current ones! I’d encourage everyone to download the free Panverse Reader’s Sampler, a 30,000-word ebook which features a full chapter or more from each of our six top titles, including the three novels mentioned above. It’ll give you a really good feeling for the quality and tone of our novels. Do it now, it takes about fifteen seconds. You can download the free sampler in all ebook and digital formats including pdf, and even as a plain text file, from Smashwords. Grab it at this URL: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/377740
You can keep current with what’s happening at Panverse by checking in at our website. We have an opt-in mailing list, and we never spam. If you’re a writer, you’ll also find submission info there. The URL is http://panversepublishing.com.