and recently retitled Masked.
MH: Thanks for taking the time out to update us about your latest happenings.
LA: My pleasure.
MH: With Pyr celebrating its 5th anniversary this year it seems you are growing the imprint in many new and different directions. One of those seems to be Steampunk. Are you at all worried about doing too many Steampunk related books? I'm still a huge fan of the subgenre, but with Akers' The Horns of Ruin, Resnick's The Buntline Special, Clay and Susan Griffith's Vampire Empire, and Mark Hodder's Burton & Swinburne in The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack it does seem like a lot. Plus George Mann's Ghosts of Manhattan just came out and Tchaikovsky's Shadows of the Apt has elements of Steampunk as well. Do you feel Steampunk is that in and will be for years to come? Or do all these books just rock too much not to publish?
LA: No, Yes, and Yes. Or, to elaborate. We'll hit our 100th title around this coming September, with only the Tchaikovsky and Ghosts of Manhattan available then, so while it may look like a lot of steampunk coming down the pike, there are still plenty of alternatives in our list. We're also up to publishing over 30 books a year, so the books remaining aren't even that big a percentage of the overall. I've taken an oblique angle on steampunk too - the Tchaikovsky are really epic fantasy with hints of steam, in the same way that steam works its way into China Mieville's Bas Lag books. The Akers is, interestingly, what China has been calling noird, a sort of fusion of New Weird and Noir, and has elements of both epic and urban fantasy in there as well. Mann's book is 1920s New York, not Victorian England, and Resnick's is Weird West. The Hodder is actually the only Victorian steampunk of the batch. Though I should admit to having just bought The Society of Steam from Andrew P. Mayer, a duology about a sort of steampunk Justice League-type association of superheroes. So, okay, yes, there's a lot of steam coming, ahem, down the pipe. But we're also moving into vampire fiction, with Jasper Kent's Twelve and Thirteen Years Later and Clay & Susan Griffith's Vampire Empire series, werewolves with MD Lachlan's Wolfsangel and James Enge's The Wolf Age, and have just purchased our first YA title, Ari Marmell's Household Gods. You'll see more sword & sorcery in the fall with Sam Sykes Tome of the Undergates (as well as the Enge), more epic with the fourth book in Tchaikovsky's series, and, of course, we have Ian McDonald's next science fiction masterpiece out in a few months.
Now as to whether steampunk is "that in" - that is certainly the impression I get when I talk to B&N and Borders. But I'd say that rather than being a subgenre, we'll see it as a spice you can choose to add to the mix, as the Tchaikovsky books do, which is why I am perhaps interested in so much that touches on the edges without the Victoriana, which I was hesitant to approach head on. That being said, the Mark Hodder book just rocked too much not to publish. As did they all.
MH: You mentioned quite a few Pyr books in the pipeline, but the only Sci-Fi read mentioned was McDonald's new book. What other Sci-Fi is upcoming?
LA: Actually, I would argue that, although in fairness it may not be clear from our description, Mark Hodder's Burton & Swinburne in The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack is very much SF. The book is one of the best time-travel novels I've ever read, and the only steampunk novel I've read to explain the steampunk setting as the result of a very specific divergence between this world's history and our own. We also have Paul McAuley's utterly brilliant Cowboy Angels, about a secret branch of the CIA that are conducting Black Ops projects into parallel universes, and Kristine Kathryn Rusch is currently hard at work on the sequel to Diving into the Wreck.
MH: You mentioned Ari Marmell's Household Gods as your first entry into YA, but I read Finlay's The Prodigal Troll, which Pyr published a few years back and that definitely had a YA feel to it as well so this doesn't feel that far afield. I know some publishers end up putting YA books in the normal adult SFF section like Tor did with Zoe's Tale rather than YA. Do you know what kind of strategy you'll be taking with it? Was there anything in particular that drew you to this Household Gods?
LA: Well, first, it's early days here, and this is our first and only YA acquisition as of this moment, but we took it on with the expectation of publishing it in the YA section of the bookstore, not the adult section. It's too soon for me to discuss strategies though as to what drew me to it, Household Gods was actually submitted to me first, as an adult fantasy offering, and I fell in love with it, and Ari's writing style and imagination, but felt it was too short for the adult SF&F category. I asked him if he could expand it, and to his credit, he told me honestly that he could not. But I loved - loved! - his style, and let him know how much I'd like to work with him, so we put our heads together, he showed me five different proposals, and The Goblin Corps, a tale of an elite military force of orcs, goblins, trolls, kobolds, etc... in a Dark Lord's army, was the one I chose. He's just delivered that manuscript as of a few weeks ago - and it rocks! Meanwhile, I never forgot Household Gods, and then one day it hit me like a ton of bricks that with its teenage protagonist it really was a YA, and its word count wasn't problematic for that category either.
MH: What gets you excited about a new submission?
LA: Depends on how you mean. If it's excited *about* a submission, since I demand a few paragraphs synopsis before I agree to read, then there has to be a hook in the description that interests me. But if you mean, while I'm reading, which is how I think you mean it -- then its excitement itself. There's a great scene in the movie Ronin where DeNiro is going to an arms deal and says to his partner, "Remember, if there is any doubt, there's no doubt." That's how I read. If I am in a manuscript and I look up at my wife and say, "I am not sure what I think about this," she replies, "You don't like it. Put it down and move on." But if I am jumping up out of my chair to run tell her about it, and she says, "Hey, shouldn't you be reading it?" and I say, "But..but... you wouldn't believe what just happened?" then we know I am going to go after it. Whenever they survey kids about why they like Harry Potter the answer is always something like "because something happens on every page." Which I take to mean that people want their entertainment to, you know, entertain them.
MH: I've had similar things happen with my wife, especially when reviewing books. She'll say things like "I don't think you liked it much. You barely told me anything about it." Which is a bit of a check for me to get at what didn't click. Once you know you like a project enough to want to publish it what is the process? And without mentioning any specific titles do any of the projects you ever want to do get turned down?
LA: Once I want to go for a project, I call an acquisition's meeting, which is a phone conference where I will present 1 to 4 titles to my boss and a few other board members, discuss what the book is and why I want to go after it. I've only been turned down at this stage maybe four times in 100 books, which is a testament both to their trust in me but also that we've been a team for six years now and have a pretty good understanding of what it is we're going for with the line. Once approval has been given, I email or phone the agent with an offer and negotiations start. This is a boring, tedious process and not worth going into here. Then the book goes into production and we put an illustrator on the cover and the fun starts. Having been at this for six years now, I've obviously seen plenty of books that I either passed on or was outbid on come out from other houses (as has everyone). I'm very proud that when I've tracked their performance, I've been pretty accurate in my judgment as to how the books I've passed on would do, and also right about how good the ones that got away were.
MH: Do you have any particular pet peeves about submissions and manuscripts? Or any habits when reading them?
LA: I'm not quite sure if this is what you mean, but basically I require synopsis first before agreeing to read the manuscript, and I say "no" to a lot right at this stage. I take all my submissions as Word docs, and read on Stanza for iPhone and now iBooks for iPad. I tend to read either while walking or while in Starbucks.
MH: Are there any bad or over used tropes of genre fiction or are they just author tools to be twisted?
LA: There is nothing new under the sun. Nor are there any bad tropes. It is entirely in the execution, always.
MH: You've been quite busy on the anthology front lately with two really interesting line-ups. First you have Swords & Dark Magic, which looks to be quite an authoritative look at the Swords & Sorcery genre from the last 50 years albeit with all-original stories. And you also have With Great Power..., which is a awesome line-up of authors taking on superheroes in prose form. How did the process for selection and procuring the stories differ? Was it easier or harder to work with a co-editor as you are doing with Swords & Dark Magic?
LA: Thank you. When Jonathan Strahan and I set out to do Swords & Dark Magic, we wanted it to be a definitive look at today's S&S, and we feel we've really succeeded. With names like Abercrombie, Cherryh, Cook, Erikson, Keyes, Lee, Lynch, Moorcock, Silverberg, Wolfe, we feel like it really is a great mix of the masters and the new guard, and has every indication of being the book folks are expecting it to be. With Great Power... (which may be getting retitled for reasons you can probably guess at [retitled to Masked: see update here]), stands out for me in that apart from being a book of costumed heroes in prose adventures, the book actually boasts that 9 of its contributors currently write for DC or Marvel. We've got Mike Carey, Paul Cornell, Peter David, Gail Simone, Matthew Sturges, Bill Willingham, and others -- all names that are very well known to contemporary comics readers, which is something other super-prose anthologies haven't had. As to the process - anthologies can either be open read or invite only, meaning that you either have a reading period, during which you get a deluge of submissions and after which you pick the best, or you have a closed anthology in which the editorial discernment occurs at the level of who you invite. I do all my anthologies invite only. I couldn't possible read all the Pyr Books submissions and read short story submissions too, and I view anthologies as a change for me to both say something about the genre that I think needs to be said and to work with writers that I've always wanted to work with. So the process for both books was very similar, with the difference that I've never co-edited before, and I really enjoyed working with Jonathan. With the caveat that you should never say never, I'm not sure that I'll be doing too many more solo anthologies in future. I have some other projects I want to devote myself to for the immediate future - my own writing not least among them - but I really enjoyed working with Jonathan and we've left the door open for future collaborations between us.
MH: Does that mean we'll have some new Anders authored work to look forward to? So far all I've found is your story And How His Audit Stands in the The Clockwork Jungle Book, which was a hoot and a half. Any chance you're trying to do more with it?
LA: Thank you very much for that! No, that was a one-off. I have a swords & sorcery novelette that is out on submission right now though, which began bubbling unbidden out of me while I was (co)editing Swords & Dark Magic, which I hope to be the first of a planned series of at least five loosely-linked tales, maybe more. And I'm exactly at the half way point of a Young Adult urban fantasy novel that I plan to have finished and ready to shop by the end of the year. There is a short story related to the novel (and actually a sequel to it, though it was written first) that is also out on submission now.
MH: Sounds great. Did any of this have to do with your NaNoWriMo experience last year? How did it feel to push out 50,000 words in a month?
LA: Ah, well, basically early last year George Mann asked me for a fantasy short for the Solaris Book of New Fantasy series, and then did me an immense favor by not telling me that the project was off when Solaris went up for sale (else I never would have finished it). I used the opportunity to test the characters for the YA - they've been in my head for several years now - and wrote the story as occurring six months after the end of the novel. Though the anthology never came out, George and enough test readers were happy with the story that I was encouraged to tackle the novel for my NaNoWriMo. I have to say NaNoWriMo was one of the hardest experiences of my life, mostly for the strain it put on my family, who were very patient with me, and because I had not one but two convention appearances to make during the month of November (including a GoH spot at OryCon). I actually finished the 50k words at Friday night between 2am and 3am at the hotel room in Portland. I put it all aside, and have spent the time in between polishing the S&S short. I thought the NaNoWriMo results were all a jumbled, disjointed mess, but just read them through this past Sunday and was stunned to find that's only true of the last two to three thousand words. The first forty-eight thousand are actually pretty damn solid! My harshest critic (my wife) is currently reading through it now, and after I get her feedback I'm going to start in on the second half. So I have to say I found NaNoWriMo incredible beneficial, if an exhausting marathon. What was the most amazing to me was the way it forced you to write even when the tank was on empty, and related to that, how what came out at such times wasn't the garbage you would expect.
MH: Who is the dream author, living or dead that you've never had a chance to work with? And why them?
MH: To go along with my other obsession what is your favorite type of hats? (or just your favorite hat)
LA: I wish that I looked good in hats, but sadly I look horrible in them. I even look bad in most baseball caps. This is doubly tragic given that I shave my head and frequently need sun-protection. I have found one baseball cap that I don't look utterly goofy in, and that's it. But I did have a huge hat collection at one time, which included cowboy hats, a Trilby of the style worn by Inspector Clouseau, and, of course, a Deerstalker (though Holmes never actually wore one). But I've a question for you - before the Batman: The Animated series cartoon reconciled them into one person, which of the two Mad Hatter villains was your favorite - Jervis Tetch or the red haired "imposter" from the 1980s?
MH: Honestly, the way DC handled the Mad Hatter character confused me at the times. But I'd say I'm more of a fan of Tetch, since he was the real crazy one not being able to tell what is real and what isn't instead of just trying to control everyone's mind. Although one of them had a monkey, which would sway me, but I can't for the life of me remember which one any more. I just recently read the first of Frank Beddor's Hatter M graphic novels and found the way he twisted Carroll's world really intriguing. The Hatter is a badass bodyguard to the Queen with knifes that sprout from nowhere.
Thanks for playing along. I'll let you play us out. Feel free to plug away.
LA: Plug you say? Well, everybody keep an eye out for Jon Sprunk's Shadow's Son, first in a fantasy trilogy about an assassin with the power to melt into the shadows who has an invisible girlfriend. Also forthcoming is Matthew Sturges's (of DC/Vertigo fame) next work, The Office of Shadow, which might best be described as Sandbaggers in the world of the Fae. For more, see: http://www.louanders.com/, http://www.pyrsf.com/, or Twitter @Pyr_Books. On Facebook as "Lou Anders" and also at here.
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REVIEW | Ghosts of Manhattan by George Mann
REVIEW | Empire in Black and Gold by Adrian Tchaikovsky
INTERVIEW | Kristine Kathryn Rusch author of Diving Into the Wreck