Welcome Dario, it's great to have you here! Would you like to start off by telling us a bit about your journey as a writer? How did it start, and what experiences have most influenced its development?
My Father was a journalist, quite a heavyweight in his time, and my earliest memories are of going to sleep with him clacking away on his Olivetti Lettera 22 portable next door. My parents were both huge readers -- we had books everywhere -- and I've loved books since I can remember. As an only child, I had no distractions in my leisure time. I still have my first little story from when I was 9 or 10, and it's solidly in the SF/weird category with an oppressive overtone of cosmic dread. I was clearly already channelling Conrad and Poe, which just makes me wish I'd got serious about writing earlier instead of in my middle years. I guess my bottom line is that there are stories I want to read but which nobody else has written, so I'm going to have to roll my sleeves up and do it myself.
A writer's sensibility is no doubt inseparable from their tastes as a reader. Which writers and/or genres have touched you most deeply, and which writers do you see as prominent influences on your own style?
Yes. I think my trajectory's a pretty standard one for an SF & F writer who was a child in the 'fifties. After graduating from nursery and fairy tales I discovered Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. There's that great saying, the Golden Age of Science Fiction is thirteen, and I was certainly reading classic SF -- Asimov, Clarke, A.E. Van Vogt, Poul Anderson, E.E. 'Doc' Smith, and all the rest -- right around then. On the Fantasy side. I'd devoured everything by Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard just in time to discover Hobbits in 1967.
But the real revelation that bonded me forever to the power of SF came when I came across Roger Zelazny at around age 15. The New Wave -- Zelazny, Ballard, Blish -- was reshaping SF at that time, and Zelazny just blew me away. (He still does, actually, and I re-read his work regularly). It wasn't just his astonishing stories but his wild, unique prose style as well -- there's been nobody like him before or since. The story that really did it was his novella, 'For a Breath I Tarry,' in which he seamlessly blended Genesis with the story of Faust and a few other things besides on a post-human Earth peopled only by robots. Unbelievable. The only perons who comes close to Zelazny in power for me is C.J. Cherryh. Though I find her work since the mid-90s a little tedious, she was producin both Fantasy and SF of astonishing quality for almost two decades. Anyone who hasn't read the Morgayne series (Fantasy) or the Chanur series (SF) is missing out. I'd definitely cite Zelazny and Cherryh as major influences.
I was always a style junkie, a throwback, and to this day resent Hemingway for the damage he did to English letters. His stripped-down minimalism is poison to me. Prose can be complex and beautiful wihtout being distracting. Which is why, outside of SF & F, I absolutely revere Jorge Luis Borges and John LeCarre (okay, Borges is borderline SF with a big side of metaphysics) -- nobody shapes prose so well as these two at the same time as telling a solid story. And LeCarre does character so well.
Written in Blood is a powerhouse of a writing group. Its members are widely published and some of them have gone on to gain novel publications with major publishing houses in the US and UK. What motivated you to form the group, and what brought this particular group of writers together?
I'd just moved to Greece in 2006, to this tiny island -- which suddenly became famous as the 'Mamma Mia!' island -- and I felt the need to stay connected to writers. So I had this idea of a distributed critique group with a twist: instead of a regular schedule we'd be an 'on-demand' group. So whenever anyone has a piece to crit the group would get a 24-hour heads-up and a short window in which to turn the piece around and deliver critique (we work on 5 days for shorts and a 30-day max on the longest pieces). And there'd be no flaking -- the group is called Written in Blood because we see our commitment to one another as a blood oath (I hate flakes!). I wanted people who were grown ups and took their writing seriously enough to commit at a professional level.
I'd met Juliette (Wade) at a con and invited her into a previous group when I was back in the 'States, and I knew she was frustrated, so she was the first invitee. Traci and Doug were old mates from my 2002 Clarion West, so they were invited. Aliette was an online buddy of Traci's through their shared interest in Aztec mythology, and Janice Hardy -- who writes YA Fantasy -- was a good friend of Juliette's via Critters. So we had our core group right there, and only added a couple more in the following year. I'd had this clear vision of the sort of group I wanted, capping it at eight, and it worked -- we've been solid for five years now. Amazing.
These people are awesome writers -- actually, Traci (T.L. Morganfield, who along with Aliette de Bodard, writes Aztec Fantasy) has just landed a terrific agent for her own two-volume Aztec epic. So of the eight of us, two have published trilogies, one (Juliette Wade) is rocking the SF world with a run of great stories in Analog, and another just got a major agent. Gives the rest of us something to shoot for!
Did Panverse Publishing evolve from your practice as a writer, or did you have a longer term goal of becoming a publisher? What inspired you to take the unusual step of specifically publishing scinece fiction and fantasy novella anthologies?
A good part of the impetus behind Panverse was frustration, frustration at the lack of markets for novella-length fiction, especially for newer writers; anger at the unprofessional way the industry in general deals with submissions -- nobody should ever have to wait more than 60 days in the slushpile; and above all frustration with what I perceived as the decline in the prominence of story in the genre. It seemed to me that SF & F had become so concerned with literary respectability that the field was losing sight of its core value -- story. Being the proud SoB I am, I believed I could do better!
Now I've always loved the novella form, and it's perfect for our genre. I missed the novella anthologies of old, and there were so few slots for stories over 12k words that I thought I could have my pick at a price I could pay. And I really wanted to give some newer writers a market -- not everyone can write to that popular 3-7k word slot. At the same time, Print on Demand was emerging, and gaining respectability. I figured that I couldn't lose much, and that in the process I'd be able to perhaps help some good work into print.
Panverse has expanded to publish a short story anthology, and your Greek odyssey of a travel memoir, Aegean Dream. What have been the highs and lows of Panverse so far, and what would you most like to see in its evolution from here?
The short story antho, Eight Against Reality, was something I really wanted to do for Written in Blood. It's a group anthology to which we each contributed a piece and which we shared the cost of.
The lows -- well, marketing is hell for me. Never been good at it, and starting Panverse in what has been the most financially challenged period of my life didn't help. Add to that the fact that it's impossible to get brick-and-mortar distribution as an independent using PoD technology, and getting significant traction is very hard indeed.
On the upside, Panverse has had some solid, even excellent reviews. Many critics were excited to see an annual all-novella anthology (and UNthemed at that!), and were happy to give this rare beast a look over. Alan Smale's AH story from Panverse Two, 'A Clash of Eagles', has just been nominated for the Sidewise award, and fully deserves it. But more rewarding than anything has been the knowledge that I've helped several new writers into print and recognition; like Mike Winkle, an unknown whose weird tale about Charles Fort and the Jersey Devil received high praise from several top reviewers. And all the writers have been great to work with.
I'm also hugely proud of the quality of the Panverse volumes. I was fortunate enough to find some terrific artists who'd work with me; and Janice Hardy from my crit group -- who happens to be a professional graphic and layout artist -- contributed all the layout work for Panverse One and Eight Against Reality and set the standard for me. Everyone is blown away by the quality of these books.
Finally, it's been a huge revelation to see how things look from the editor's side of the desk. It's just so important to OWN your story from the get-go. Now that I've started writing again after a long fallow period, I've learned a great deal that I can apply to my own writing.
As to Panverse's evolution, I'm pondering that. I dont' think I'll be doing any more Panverse novella anthologies -- it's a truly huge amount of work and I'm barely breaking even. I've considered digital-only editions, but with my sixtieth birthday coming up next year, I think I'm going to focus on my own writing instead. I'd like to make a mark of some sort before I shuffle off.
That said, I still have a handful of ISBNs, and with the current upheavals in the industry and editors terrified to take chances, I wouldn't be surprised if I end up publishing friends' books, or even something further of my own.
As a 'micro-publisher', how do you view the current upheavals in the publishing industry and what advice would you give to writers about navigating those changes when it comes to getting published (and/or self-publishing)?
Frankly, I think the traditional publishing industry deserves to die. Like the music industry, they do few favours to the artists who allow them to exist, and are -- in the main -- incredibly resistant to change. The booksellers aren't much better: between the mess of distribution and the insane 'returns' system, it's hard to imagine a worse business model. As Bob Dylan said, "Get out of the doorways, don't block up the halls!" If these people can't change, they just need to go away.
We're right in the the middle of a revolution, now. Digital books and sales of eReaders are achieving critical mass. With the switch to digital, traditional publishers have fewer bullshit ways to play games with authors -- the returns game is over and the cost of print and distribution becomes a non-issue. They're trying to draw some hard price lines on the basis of the cost of promoting and marketing books, but the average, non-celebrity author knows that the money the majors spends on marketing them is close to zero. It's becoming hard not to notice that the Emperor has no clothes.
I'm cautiously optimistic that the fallout of this will be mostly good for authors. I think Amazon and maybe Sony will get into the publishing business very soon and offer authors a far better deal than traditional publishers have or do -- certainly far higher royalties, though perhaps not advances. Others will follow. One or two of the majors and many of the smaller presses will adapt and survive what is certain to be a sizeable extinction event. I think print will certainly survive, but perhaps as a more high-end or collectable product...unless the Espresso machine, which prints books in five minutes on demand, becomes commonplace. Agents won't go away, and the smarter ones are already ahead of the curve on digital rights. Both they and their authors will see a more varied landscape as new players enter the field and experiment with different business models. It's a very exciting -- and very confusing -- time.
As for self-publishing, that's changing too. Right now it's still widely viewed as an exercise in ego, and professional reviewers have pretty much a blanket policy of not reviewing self-published work. It's true that 99.99% of it is dross, and -- worse -- dross that's poorly edited and produced. but by the same token, the vast majority of traditionally published books are dreck, only better packaged.
I think this will change. Some reviewers are already beginning to consider this policy, and there have been several instances of good self-published books seeing commercial pickup -- rare, but it's happened. The challenge, as always, is marketing, getting heard above the exponentially increasing static roar. But with some name authors experimenting with self-publishing and a growing number of authors choosing this option, it seems likely that channels will emerge for self-published books to be reviewed and noticed. Authors will likely have to be even more involved in marketing than they currently are -- which I think is not a good thing -- but that's the world we live in.
In conclusion, then, I'd advise a new author -- for now -- to go the traditional route of seeking an agent and publisher. But at the same time keep an eye on the industry, and in particular blogs like Kristin Kathryn Rusch's (http://kriswrites.com - her 'Business Rusch' section especially) and the guru megastar of self-publishing success, J.A. Konrath (http://jakonrath.com ).
The most important thing, of course, is to hone your craft. If you write SF & F, you're fortunate to have lots of pros and semi-pro markets that publish short fiction. Unless you only write novels, submitting and selling short fiction is a tremendous way to get real-world feedback and benchmark your progress, as well as learning to work with editors. And whether your fiction is long or short, a good crit group is absolutely vital.
But whatever the publishing landscape looks like, I do believe that success begins with a very simple formula: tell me a STORY, and make me CARE.
Thank you, Dario!
You can check out Panverse's current and upcoming publications at http://www.panversepublishing.com/