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Dispatches From Smaragdine
A column by Jeff VanderMeer
October 2007

[Editor's Note: Here you will find the other Dispatches From Smaragdine columns.]

Installment #11

All's Quiet in Smaragdine
Spotlight on PS Publishing
Next Time
Contact Information

All's Quiet in Smaragdine

It's been very quiet here for a long time, because every fourth year, Smaragdineans take a month of silence, rather than a moment of silence, to commemorate their great military leader Saloment III. Saloment was without his tongue for most of his life, and thus the silence. As far as I can gather, Saloment saved Smaragdine back in the seventeenth century from the mighty Turkish hordes using only a piece of string, a flower pot, and a pebble. Most people are here are rather mum about how this saved the then city-state, but Horia Ursu tells me it also involved a large quantity of gold coins and a bad land deal, which provides some clarity at least.

Peter Crowther Spotlight on PS Publishing

Long before Peter Crowther started PS Publishing, he was a successful writer of dark fantasy and horror. It might be in part because he approaches things from an editor's and a writer's point of view that so many of the writers who have had books out from PS Publishing have heaped praise on both the publishing company and its founder. Another aspect of PS Publishing that fascinates me is the wonderful cover art. Every PS Publishing book has a distinctive look-and-feel, and because they usually publish limited editions not destined for wide-spread chain bookstore distribution, they can afford to do interesting things with cover designs. At least one cover didn't even sully the art with the author's name and the book's title. I find that attitude refreshing and unique.

In recent years, PS Publishing has expanded to include Postscripts magazine, a special edition of which debuted at the last World Horror Convention to wide-spread acclaim. Contributors to Postscripts have included everyone from Stephen King to Michael Marshall Smith.

I spoke to Crowther about PS Publishing recently, via email. (In the interests of disclosure, I do have a book, The Situation, coming out from PS in 2008.)

What's PS Publishing's main focus?

Top quality (in terms of both the work and the production values) collectable limited edition books, fiction and non-fiction, covering a fairly broad range and available at affordable prices. (Hey, that's almost a slogan! Not very succinct though...)

Mayflower II Riding the Rock Reality Dust Firing the Cathedral

What do you feel have been some of your most successful books?
I love all of our titles (naturally, I suppose... or I wouldn't have bought them) but the most commercially successful have been the Steven Erikson books, the Stephen Baxter books, Postscripts #10, Mike Moorcock's Firing the Cathedral, China Miéville's The Tain, Stephen King's The Colorado Kid, Mike Marshall Smith's The Vaccinator, the Bradbury books, Joe Hill's 20th Century Ghosts, Peter Hamilton's Watching Trees Grow... and right now it looks as though Phil Farmer's and Danny Adams's The City Beyond Play, Lucius's Dagger Key, and our new try-out series Showcase (#1 being stories by Gary Fry) are selling well even before they're actually available. So I guess the answer is that pretty much most of them are or have been successful.

The Tain 20th Century Ghosts The Vaccinator Watching Trees Grow

What differentiates you from other publishers?
I think the breadth of the nature of the material we put out gives us an edge. We're eclectic in what we publish simply because we're eclectic in what we read. In any one month, for instance, I'll read (purely for pleasure, irrespective of whether we publish them or not) Ramsey Campbell, Paul McAuley, John Updike, Elmore Leonard, Robert B. Parker, Anne Tyler, John Irving, Stephen King, Paul Auster, Joan Didion, Ray Bradbury, Martin Amis, Bill Bryson, Connie Willis, Spider Robinson, Ed Gorman, Steve Baxter, Garrison Keillor, Peter Straub and so on... plus graphic novels etc. from Vertigo (pretty much any title/author), old DC Comics collections (notably Eisner's The Spirit) and my bound volumes of various Archie titles and funny animal books such as Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck or Carl Barks's Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge. Plus, at any one time, all of the authors we've published or from whom we have work listed on the schedule. Nick Gevers is the same, and he has a particular love of historical fiction.

Of course, there's some wonderful work out there from other specialty presses -- Bill Schafer's Subterranean and Rich Chizmar's CD over in the US, plus Andrew Hook's Elastic and Guy Adams's Humdrumming in the UK. Those four are my faves... some beautiful stuff coming from them. But for sheer diversity, I truly believe that PS takes the biscuit.

The Healthy Dead Blood Follows The Overnight Ramsey Campbell, Probably: Essays & writings by Ramsey Campbell

How has the press changed over the years?
Well, we're doing more for a start. We began with four books in 1999 and we've got 31 (plus four issues of Postscripts) scheduled for 2008. Aside from the volume, I'd say the production qualities have gone forward in leaps and bounds. This is due to the simple fact that I'm no longer designing the books myself -- they're now designed by true craftspeople, usually Robert Freeman Wexler, our chief designer, or at least under his watchful eye. I'd also say that we're bringing in a lot more SF people whose work I'm not as acquainted with as I should be, and this is down to my right-hand man, Nick Gevers. Then there's the website, a phenomenal piece of work from Ariel, who's also handling our advertising and promotion work. And, of course, my wife Nicky, who left full-time teaching to handle the day-to-day office admin, payment- and process-chasing and generally keeping me sane and enabling me to get a few hours off here and there to do some of my own writing (for instance, I managed to write a new novel this past year -- unheard of a couple of years ago) and I'm hoping I'll get even more done in 2008).

Any amusing anecdotes from the early days?
Nothing too side-splitting, alas. But we have had a couple of splendid typos creep into our books -- like Ramsey's The Darkest Part of the Woods, which we put out with a cover-spine saying The Darkest Part of the Wods! Or Lisa Tuttle's name appearing on the title page of My Death as Lisa Tutle... and so on. (We're already working on ways to mis-spell VanderMeer -- lots of possibilities there!)

The Darkest Part of the Woods My Death

What have you learned from running PS Publishing over the years?
I think that, primarily, I've learned that great quality in writing does not necessarily translate to great success in terms of sales. If it did, then Ramsey Campbell would be one of the wealthiest writers alive. Similarly, of course, I'm constantly reminded when I read the book-performance charts every week that sales success does not necessarily mean a work is particularly good.

V.A.O. Floater The Fairy Feller's Master Stroke My Death

Every publisher has ups and downs. What was your low point? How about a high point?
I don't really feel I've had a particularly low point as such. Sure, I've had occasional disappointments but they really weren't any more debilitating than that. And high points? Well, every book is a high point and every author we've worked with has been a wonderful experience -- these people are not just hugely talented... they're wonderfully nice as well! But I've particularly enjoyed working with Ray Bradbury, Stephen King and Ramsey Campbell, three great gentlemen whose PS titles (notably Ray's Dandelion Wine, Steve's The Colorado Kid and all of Ramsey's titles -- we've now got seven of them on our list!) have them working at the top of their game. And it was particularly gratifying to see Joe Hill's 20th Century Ghosts receive such praise... and every single word of it hugely deserved. But I guess my highest high point was launching Postscripts magazine. That's really how PS got started -- on the back of a desire to do a new Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, which I've admired for the best part of fifty years. So that's my finest hour, I guess -- Postscripts... issue #12 going to the printers in the next couple of weeks and issue #13 still scheduled for December release!

Postscripts Magazine: Issue 11 Postscripts Magazine: Issue 10 Postscripts Magazine: Issue 9 Postscripts Magazine: Issue 8

Thanks, Peter.

Next Time

I'll be filing a report about Utopiales in France, catching up on books with some short reviews, and keeping you up to date on what's going on in Smaragdine.

Contact Information

If you would like to send me things for review, or even complaints, hints, suggestions, or other feedback, please do so via email at vanderworld@hotmail.com or via my U.S. snail mail address:

Jeff VanderMeer
c/o Smaragdine Dispatches
POB 4248
Tallahassee, FL 32315
USA

There will be a delay of about a month from receipt at the post office box to the arrival of your missive in Smaragdine, but to send direct would be folly as my stint at the hostel runs out at the end of the month and I don't know where I will be after that.

Copyright © 2007 Jeff VanderMeer

Jeff VanderMeer's reviews have appeared in The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, The New York Review of SF, Bookslut.com, and many others. VanderMeer writes the graphic novel/comics summation for The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror (St. Martin's Press) and is a guest editor for Best American Fantasy. Monkey Brain Books published his non-fiction collection Why Should I Cut Your Throat? in 2004.


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