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Gryphons Silver, Gryphons Gold
An Interview With Gary Turner & Marty Halpern, Editors at Golden Gryphon Press
by Nick Gevers
February/March 2003

Golden Gryphon Press
Golden Gryphon Press was founded in 1997 by Jim Turner, the long-time editor of Arkham House. He wanted to publish handsome, quality books of short story collections. Upon his death in 1999, Gary Turner and his wife Geri took over the operations Shortly thereafter, Marty Halpern joined the publishing house to help in the acquisition and publication of new titles. Jim Turner won the 1999 World Fantasy Award for his work at Golden Gryphon Press.

Books slated for future release include:
Louisiana Breakdown by Lucius Shepard (Novella, April 2003)
Custer's Last Jump and Other Collaborations by Howard Waldrop (Collection, April 2003) with A. A. Jackson, Leigh Kennedy, George R.R. Martin, Joe Pumilia, Buddy Saunders, Bruce Sterling, and Steven Utley (April 2003)
The Silver Gryphon edited by Gary Turner and Marty Halpern (Anthology, May 2003)
Brighten to Incandescence: 17 Stories by Michael Bishop (Collection, June 2003)
High Cotton: Selected Stories of Joe R. Lansdale by Joe R. Lansdale (Trade Paperback Reprint, July 2003)
Nothing Human by Nancy Kress (Novel, September 2003)
Budayeen Nights by George Alec Effinger (Collection, September 2003)
Think Like a Dinosaur and Other Stories by James Patrick Kelly (Trade Paperback Reprint, September 2003)
Mockymen by Ian Watson (Novel, October 2003)
The Resurrection Man's Legacy and Other Stories by Dale Bailey (Collection, November 2003)
Two Trains Running by Lucius Shepard (Collection, March 2004)
A Better World's in Birth! -- Howard Waldrop (Limited Edition Chapbook, ReaderCon July 2003)
The Atrocity Archives -- Charles Stross(Novel plus Novella, Spring 2004)
Secret Life -- Jeff VanderMeer (Collection, Spring/Summer 2004)
Thumbprints -- Pamela Sargent (Collection, Fall 2004)

Golden Gryphon Press Website
SF Site: Golden Gryphon Reviews and Reading List

Louisiana Breakdown
Custer's Last Jump and Other Collaborations
The Silver Gryphon
Brighten to Incandescence
Nothing Human
Budayeen Nights
The Resurrection Man's Legacy and Other Stories
Two Trains Running

Golden Gryphon Press, based in Illinois, is one of the most important independent publishers in the SF/fantasy field. It was founded in 1997 by James Turner, who had had a long and brilliant tenure at the most venerable of the small presses, Arkham House; through Golden Gryphon, he published five major books: collections by Tony Daniel, R. Garcia y Robertson, Robert Reed, and James Patrick Kelly, as well as the anthology Eternal Lovecraft. After James's tragic death, his brother Gary assumed command, and since 1999, with the assistance of his fellow editor Marty Halpern, Gary Turner has continued and expanded the operation, issuing anywhere from five to seven books a year, the emphasis remaining on single-author collections.

So far, the Turner/Halpern team has issued collections by Jeffrey Ford, Andy Duncan, Paul Di Filippo, Neal Barrett, Jr., Ian Watson, Geoffrey A. Landis, Michael Bishop, Joe R. Lansdale, Richard Paul Russo, Richard A. Lupoff, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Kevin J. Anderson, James Patrick Kelly (a second one), George Zebrowski, and Kage Baker; a novel by Warren Rochelle; and a chapbook novella by Alastair Reynolds. Imminent are a long novella by Lucius Shepard (Louisiana Breakdown), a collection of collaborative stories by Howard Waldrop (Custer's Last Jump), and The Silver Gryphon, a big anthology of new stories by almost all of the authors mentioned above.

I interviewed Gary Turner and Marty Halpern by e-mail in February/March 2003.

Gary, what's it like being the publisher/editor of a "small press?" And Marty, being an editor for such a press? What are the particular pleasures and frustrations?
Gary Turner: Well, I have nothing to really compare it to, given that I've never been connected with anything but a small press. I believe that the attraction of any small entity is the ability to make decisions rapidly, without having to worry about committee decisions, shareholders, presidents, and other such riffraff. It's also a treat to be able to work closely with the authors, artists, typesetter, etc., and to be able to talk to clients individually.

Marty Halpern: Since joining Golden Gryphon in mid-1999, I've had the luxury of being able to pick and choose the authors with whom I work and the books that I edit. I regularly keep Gary up to date on my projects -- I have to, since he negotiates the contracts and writes the checks! -- but I have no "boss," per se, micro-managing my activities. That kind of freedom, if you will, is rare, and truly cherished.

Golden Gryphon is a major presence in SF/fantasy publishing, particularly in the area of story collections. Why collections? What is the guiding vision, the mission, of Golden Gryphon?
Gary Turner: I personally have always enjoyed short stories more than novels, and single author collections are relatively ignored by the larger publishers. So this is a natural niche for us to fill.

Marty Halpern: Over the past year or so I've finally begun to relax more in my capacity as editor, but certainly for the first few books I always felt that the spectre of Jim Turner was looking over my shoulder -- so I've always strived for absolute perfection, or at least as close to perfection as is humanly possible. I'm confident that all the authors with whom I have worked would concur. (My wife, Diane, on the other hand, would use the term "anal" as opposed to "perfection.") Jim may not have agreed with every collection I've chosen to publish, but I would hope that he would be pleased with the quality of the finished book.

Why collections? Because, simply, that's what I've chosen to work with. I am open to considering novels as well, I just haven't received any so far worthy of publication (in my humble opinion). Most of the novel submissions I've received have been first novels, all requiring excessive work to be publishable. Gary's had all the luck when it comes to novel submissions.

Gary, as Marty has mentioned, Golden Gryphon was the brainchild of your late brother, James Turner. First at Arkham House, and then through Golden Gryphon, he published some extraordinarily impressive books, by writers like Lucius Shepard, James Tiptree, Jr., John Kessel, and Michael Bishop. What was Jim like, as a person and as an editor? Marty, were you personally acquainted with Jim?
Gary Turner: My perception of Jim will differ widely from anyone else's, as I knew him from his teenage years. But I expect most people will agree that he didn't suffer fools gladly, was a meticulous scholar, and loved to gossip. The sheer effort he would expend as an editor puts most other editors to shame. He would read everything an author had written, then study the stories carefully, reading all reviews and references about the author that he could locate. He read every book he could find on editing and publishing, in order to be the best possible.

Marty Halpern: I never knew Jim Turner personally, only through correspondence. I will note though that the one thing I learned early about Jim was that he was very opinionated -- and not embarrassed to express that opinion. And now that I've been editing for nearly four years, I see how important one's steadfast opinion is; it's a matter of survival in this world of authors, agents, artists, editors, and competing small press publishers.

Gary, after Jim's death, it seemed for a while as if Golden Gryphon would disappear, but you stepped in, took it in hand. What were the special challenges of picking up where he left off?
Gary Turner: My heart wasn't really in it, at first. Everything about Golden Gryphon was Jim's, and I was unsure if I had the minimum qualifications to continue. I had no desire to soil my brother's memory with books both he and I would be ashamed of, simply because of my inexperience and lack of publishing skills. But what drove me was the promise I had made to Jim, made when he realized that his time was short. I had agreed to finish any outstanding books. Since this was one of the two things he asked, I went ahead and tried my best.

Which were the books initiated by Jim but incomplete at his death? A number of the subsequent Golden Gryphon volumes contain dedications to him...
Gary Turner: When Jim died, The Robot's Twilight Companion (by Tony Daniel) was in galley proof stage, and Perpetuity Blues (by Neal Barrett, Jr.) was in manuscript stage. These were the only two books started but not finished by Jim. He was very ill the last year of his life, so he was planning to perhaps terminate Golden Gryphon after those two. Jim had discussed a collection with Joe Lansdale, but the stories did not arrive until two days after Jim passed on. These stories did make it into the Lansdale collection, High Cotton.

From being a one-editor operation, Golden Gryphon has expanded under your management, publishing a larger annual crop of titles; Marty edits many of your books. How did Marty come to join the firm?
Gary Turner: I had decided to finish the two books in production, and then end Golden Gryphon, as I didn't expect anyone would want the press to continue under Turner the Lessor. But Marty, first of many, convinced me that Golden Gryphon should continue, and offered his assistance. He has skills and knowledge that I lacked, so this seemed to be exactly what the Gryphon needed. So he was right there from the beginning of the "new" Golden Gryphon, and was the editor of the first "non-Jim" book we published.

Marty Halpern: I was absolutely shocked when I learned that Jim Turner had passed away. As I said, having not known him personally, I wasn't aware that he was ill -- and since our correspondence was irregular, it wasn't unusual for months to go by without any communication from either of us. But I felt that what Jim had started with Golden Gryphon Press was special and needed to continue. I wrote to a few Golden Gryphon authors and thus tracked down Gary's name and address. Then the question became: how soon after Jim's passing do I write to this Gary Turner? If I write too soon, my communication might be construed as inconsiderate and infringing on the family's privacy; but if I wait too long, I was worried that the Turners would either dissolve or sell the Press. I obviously timed my letter just right.

How do you decide which collections to publish? Do you have a perpetual eagle (or gryphon's!) eye open for promising or unfairly neglected bodies of work?
Gary Turner: We receive many suggestions for collections, from readers, reviewers, and the authors themselves. And, of course, we spend as much time as possible reading the short fiction in F&SF, Asimov's, Analog, Weird Tales, etc., and reading various anthologies, especially the Year's Best. It seems that our problem is not finding a collection that we feel would make a good book, but rather finding the time to publish all the collections that we like.

Marty Halpern: I select the authors whom I enjoy reading (with a bit of the gryphon's eye, as you say, toward commercial viability), and then hopefully everything falls into place from there. Most of the authors I have edited, I have approached myself, but a couple have contacted me.

In preparing Golden Gryphon story collections, you often include original stories along with the many culled from earlier printed sources. Is it an special satisfaction of the job, causing new stories -- sometimes quite major ones -- to be?
Gary Turner: The satisfaction of a new story is always that of the author and the reader, not the editor or publisher. I generally believe that it adds to the collection to have a new story in it, but we certainly don't insist on a new story.

Marty Halpern: I undoubtedly encourage authors to include new fiction in their collections, more so than Gary does. A new story, especially one written exclusively for the book, adds a special touch to the collection; the author has to get more involved and thus the book becomes something more than just a gathering of reprint stories. Certainly not all of the collections I edit contain original stories, but the new stories that have transpired have turned out to be some of the authors' best work.

Do you ever suggest that an author revise stories that are being reprinted in a collection? And when you've commissioned an original story, how much influence do you wield over its conception and execution?
Marty Halpern: Well, I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a purist when it comes to reprint fiction. If I read a story and discover a logic hole, or come upon a grammatically incorrect sentence, or a sentence that could use some revision to give it more strength, then I will suggest the edit/revision to the author. The bottom line is, nothing's sacred in my book, so to speak. But the story is ultimately the author's -- and s/he has to decide whether or not to make that change or leave the story as is. In three-plus years with Golden Gryphon I've never argued my case for an edit/revision with an author -- at least not yet. On the other hand, many authors take this opportunity to rework stories, to correct text that previous editors tweaked without permission, etc., thus making the collection the definitive version of the stories contained therein.

I've made a suggestion or two for new stories -- and provided encouragement when necessary -- but other than that I try to stay out of the author's way during the creative process. The Muse can be a lover or a trickster, and the author certainly doesn't need my interference!

Some writers are highly distinctive stylists. Is editing such an author an special challenge?
Marty Halpern: Every author has his/her own individual nuances and thus presents a unique challenge. And, in fact, I have my own quirks as an editor as well. So my initial responsibility is to smooth out that transition until we learn how to work together. Hopefully, we both have the same goal at hand -- to produce the highest quality book possible. What makes the editing process such a joy is all that I have learned from the authors with whom I have worked. I would hope that each author can say the same about having worked with me.

Going a little further: SF writers are a sometimes temperamental or eccentric lot -- do you have any favourite anecdotes concerning authors you've known and worked with?
Gary Turner: No way I'm touching this one!

Marty Halpern: It's been a wonderful experience for me working with each of these authors. Again, I've certainly learned something from each one which has helped make me what I hope is a better editor. I'm more attuned to individual nuances than when I began this adventure. And believe it or not, I don't really have any tall tales to tell... well, maybe just one!

Golden Gryphon cover art is usually quite striking and effective. How do you match author to artist? Do you have a precise governing aesthetic as to how Golden Gryphon books should look?
Gary Turner: We try to match the artist with the book (e.g., Bob Eggleton with dinosaurs, Jeff Potter with heads on stakes), give them a suggestion or two, and let them do their thing. I'm not a believer in trying to teach the horse how to eat grass.

Marty Halpern: Occasionally the author has a particular cover artist in mind, but typically I try to match the author's tone and content with an artist's style. And then, as Gary says, we just let the artist do his/her thing. At the 2002 Worldcon in San José we had our first tables in a dealers' room, and it was such a gratifying experience to see twenty-two books spread across these two tables. The cover art really is impressive, if I have to say so myself. Our books all feature wraparound cover art with no blurbs, no text whatsoever other than the title and author's name -- and I think because each artist knows that his/her work is going to be used as is, in all its glory, they give each piece that extra "something" so that it rises above the masses.

You're increasingly branching out -- although your primary emphasis remains on collections, you've started issuing novels and novellas also. Why this decision, and how different are the challenges of editing such longer works?
Gary Turner: Anyone will get stale if they do the same thing, year in, year out. So Marty and I need to do other projects aside from collections, simply to keep fresh. Since the number of details in a novel is far greater than is found in a short story, I find I have to make pages and pages of notes, so I can cross-reference details. So a novel is more difficult to check for consistency of detail, although this is offset by having only one set of protagonists in the novel. A whole new cast is introduced for each short story!

Marty Halpern: The limited edition novella was actually my idea. We can spend as much as a year or more on a collection (or novel) from its inception through to publication. I wanted a forum where we could bring "hot" authors to market in a much shorter period of time. The novella-length story is alive and well, but there is such a hesitancy for the SF/fantasy magazines to publish these stories because of their length. So we're now providing another outlet for the novella. Turquoise Days took only about four months to produce, and that includes Al Reynolds's writing time, too. I actually thought I would be inundated with novella submissions once this first book was published, but that hasn't been the case -- yet.

Of all the books you've published, which have been the most commercially successful? Do you have any particular favourites?
Gary Turner: As you'd expect, in general the books that sold best were those from authors with established fan bases. I know no one will believe this, and accuse me of leaving triangular footprints, but each book has its own merits, its own joys, and I really can't pick a favourite. Every time I try, I drive myself nuts.

Marty Halpern: Of course I'm still partial to the first book I edited for Golden Gryphon -- the "first born," as it were, but each book I've edited since is special in its own right/write.

What are the economics of small-press publishing like? Without giving out any confidential information, what sort of profit margins are you able to achieve? Can one make a living as a small press publisher?
Gary Turner: Well, I think Howard Waldrop says it best: the best way to make a small fortune in publishing is to start with a large fortune. We're doing a bit better than that! But like anything else worthwhile, it all takes time. In the last three years, Golden Gryphon has gone from being a large tax shelter to being mildly profitable.

Just coming up is a big original anthology you and Marty Halpern have co-edited: The Silver Gryphon. The line-up is very strong, consisting of virtually everybody previously published by Golden Gryphon. What's the occasion for this book, and how have you divided the editorial labour?
Gary Turner: The Silver Gryphon is a celebration of our twenty-fifth book, a milestone of sorts. And this gives me occasion to make one of those statements that drives Marty nuts (Am I serious, or not?): The fiftieth book will be The Golden Gryphon, the seventy-fifth will be The Platinum Gryphon, and the hundredth will be The Tired Gryphon. Then I'll retire and read all the books I've been missing.

We split the editorial duties for The Silver Gryphon, where Marty did half the stories, I the other.

Marty Halpern: Well, when Gary first proposed the idea for The Silver Gryphon, he was talking retirement by book number seventy-five. Now I read here that he's upped that retirement by another twenty-five books -- so I guess we'll be around for a while yet!

As Gary said, we split the contributing authors between us based on who we had each previously edited, our thinking being that the editing process would go more smoothly if we worked with authors whose style and nuances we were already familiar with. For the two authors with whom neither of us had worked before (Jim Turner's authors) -- Robert Reed and R. Garcia y Robertson -- we each selected one and that worked out quite well too. However, at the proof stage, Gary and I each reviewed and edited the complete anthology -- twice!

And Marty, speaking of anthologies: you've co-edited another new anthology, Witpunk, with Claude Lalumière (published by Four Walls Eight Windows). What is the "witpunk" sub-genre, and which writers do you associate most strongly with it?
Marty Halpern: I don't know that there is a "witpunk" sub-genre, per se. This anthology came about as a result of a discussion on an electronic forum, called fictionmags. Someone posed the question: "When did reading SF/fantasy stop being fun?" -- to which Claude took exception, and the anthology just sort of sprang forward from there. The title Witpunk was our poking fun at the other "punk" sub-genres: cyberpunk, splatterpunk, steampunk, and cowpunk. Did I overlook any others?

I believe every author has the potential to write witty, sardonic, in-your-face fiction. In fact, I think reviewers and readers alike will find some surprises amongst these twenty-four contributing authors. Of the stories in Witpunk, approximately half are original to the anthology, and the other half are reprints, with the earliest story originally appearing in 1983. Actually, I would have to say that "witpunk" is more a state of mind, rather than a sub-genre.

Gary, looking ahead: in addition to The Silver Gryphon, you have some extremely exciting books imminent and on the horizon. What can we expect, soon and further in the future?
Gary Turner: It's a humbling assortment of talent, for a small press like Golden Gryphon. Books by Howard Waldrop, Lucius Shepard, Michael Bishop, Nancy Kress, George Alec Effinger, Ian Watson, Dale Bailey, Charles Stross, Jeff VanderMeer, Pamela Sargent, Ian R. MacLeod, Joe Lansdale, Neal Barrett, Jr., and others. Marty and I plan to keep busy.

Copyright © 2003 Nick Gevers

Nick Gevers, an editor at Cosmos Books, writes extensively on SF for a wide variety of publications. He produces two monthly columns for Locus, and his reviews and interviews have also recently appeared in The Washington Post Book World, Interzone (the March 2002 issue of which he co-edited), Locus Online, Foundation, and Infinity Plus. He lives in Cape Town, South Africa.

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