Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Charles Tan Interviews Peter Crowther

Not a lot of mainstream publishers are in the business of publishing stand-alone novellas. What made the company decide to publish novellas?

Publishing standalone novellas was the raison d'etre of the company when I started it back in 1998. The novella (20,000 to 40,000 words) is, for me, the perfect length with which to develop characters. It's not as brief as the short story but it can still be read easily in one sitting. Our first four novella-length books appeared in the summer of 1999, our entire output for that year: in 2000 we published five more, again as our entire output. Last year, we managed to put out some thirty books, mainly novellas but also including full-length novels, collections, anthologies and four issues of our digest magazine, Postscripts. But I still consider the novella to be our 'bread-and-butter' work.

I'm impressed with the diversity of authors under your wing. What's your criteria for picking up others? Do the authors approach your company, you seek them out, or both?

Right now we have a big inventory so we're not really considering unsolicited material for our book-lines . . . though we still happily look at stories for Postscripts. But, of course, every now and again, an author will email us with an interesting outline of something he or she has written and we'll ask them to let us see it. That happened with the Dead Earth book by Justice and Wilbanks. But mainly we approach the authors we'd like to see something from and ask them to try us with a novella -- those authors can be household names or complete newcomers: I'm pleased to say our customers seem to trust us now and, generally speaking, they buy the titles from the newcomers almost as readily as the ones from the Big Guns. I guess there's a perceived quality in our output and that's a wonderful feeling. We believe it's there, naturally, but it's what the punters think that counts in the long run.

What's the appeal of genre fiction for you?

I grew up reading science fiction and horror -- it's the best material in which to lose oneself. But that's not to say I don't enjoy other areas of literature: I love Richard Ford's work (Rock Springs is one of the all-time great short story collections); Avery Corman's The Old Neighborhood, John Irving's The Cider House Rules and Ford's The Sportswriter are three of my Desert Island Books (and I'd be hard-pressed to decide which of John Updike's Rabbit quartet should be included as a fourth . . . and then, as a fifth, Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird); I adore reading Robert B. Parker's Spenser novels (almost a guilty pleasure!) and I loved William Least Heat-Moon's Blue Highways, Max Shulman's Dobie Gillis stories, Hemingway's, John Cheever's, Ed Gorman's and Daphne DuMaurier's short stories ('The Killers', 'The Swimmer', 'Render Unto Caesar' and 'The Birds' respectively are exemplars of the short-form) and so on. And I also feverishly devour old comicbooks (most usually those from DC -- particularly their Strange Adventures and Mystery In Space titles). But horror and SF is where my heart lies and, though I've loved and championed the work -- both novel-length and short story -- of many writers, there are two authors who, for me, take the cake: Ray Bradbury and Stephen King. Bradbury's novel Something Wicked This Way Comes says all there is to say about the relationship between a boy and his father: it should be available on prescription. By the same token, his Dandelion Wine (which we're particularly pleased to have re-published recently . . . with a wonderful Intro from King himself -- both of my heroes between two covers!) . . . that book can still bring tears to my eyes more than thirty years since I first read it (and I've read parts of it many many times in between).

And Stephen King . . . well, his work is maligned almost as much as it's revered -- go figure. Those early King titles have still not been surpassed, his mid-period work (notably the harrowing Pet Sematary) takes some beating and even much of his recent work shows an artist still able to flick all the switches when he really wants to. But it's King's ability to document the minutiae of American Small-town Life that will be what he's best remembered for over the years and, yes, the centuries to come. He's the Mark Twain and the Homer of his generation. And I don't make such claims lightly. Go re-read 'Salem's Lot -- it looks like a book about vampires but it's much much more. And his 'Hearts In Atlantis' segment of the book of that title is, along with Connie Willis's 'The Winds from Marble Arch', one of the all-time best novellas/short novels -- 'Atlantis' should have netted King the Pulitzer, in my book, but the self-appointed cognoscenti and the literati know best, of course (a pox on both their houses, say I).

Our fundraising anthology, Jack Haringa Must Die! is now available. Price: $10

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