This week’s learning-how-to-edit interview is with one of my favorite people in the world. Full disclosure, I’ve worked with Gavin for years running Weightless Books, and for additional years before that performing various technological and zymurgical somersaults for his and Kelly Link’s much-lauded small press as “chief technical officer” and “head brewer”. In fact, if it weren’t for Gavin putting a bee in my ear about guest-editing an issue of LCRW, Reckoning would not have happened. I love Small Beer Press, I love what they publish. If Reckoning manages to be anything remotely like what they have, I’ll consider it a resounding success.
In the time I’ve known Gavin I’ve asked him for a great deal of advice over a great many cups of tea and pints of beer. So it is a singular and strange opportunity to get to interview him in this formal setting.
If you’re new here, the point of these interviews has been to help me learn how to be a good and conscientious editor, to practice what I preach, to understand whether and how and to what extent fiction can inspire and encourage people to change the world for the better, and hopefully to encourage others to do the same.
Michael: You’ve advocated for creative commons. You’ve advocated for women writers. You not-so-subtly celebrated Obama’s first presidential win with the cover of LCRW #23. You published Sherwood Nation, one of my favorite meditations on climate change in fiction. How do you negotiate the line between progressive politics and activism and the practical concerns of publishing?
Gavin: At this point I don’t spend too much time thinking about the line. I want a level playing field. (I sound like my 7-year-old: why isn’t it fair?!) I do want to sell a lot of books — two of the best days of the year are the royalty check writing days — so I guess I don’t want to get in the way of that but I think readers will find the books anyway. In some ways I would have expected to have published more environmentally leaning novels but while we’ve been sent a few over the years they have not been a good fit. We were very lucky with Sherwood Nation that we’d published Benjamin Parzybok’s first novel, Couch, so got a chance at his second novel. He takes on deeply serious themes while still managing to be hilarious.
Michael: What’s the most political thing you’ve ever published?
Gavin: Perhaps Angélica Gorodischer’s novel Kalpa Imperial which was originally published in two parts in 1983/84 in Argentina although by the time we published Ursula K. Le Guin’s translation in 2003 the government in Argentina had changed over.
Michael: Do you ever think, I’ve gone too far, this is going to put people off?
Gavin: No. I’m on the humanist side: we have one planet, one life, and I’d like it to improve for everyone, not just the historically privileged. I’m an immigrant but I’m still a middle-aged white guy in the US trying to get outside my own bubble. I’d like to find out (a little) more from the people who are voting in the racists and misogynists. I know that Trump et al have been sending jobs abroad for years — I was no fan of NAFTA when it was proposed — and now he has settled a lawsuit for ripping off thousands of people so I don’t see how people can vote for him on an economic basis. The only person he is looking out for is himself. I suppose looking for logic is foolish and I should pay attention to the victory rallies that he’s about to do. Scary? No. Terrifying? Yes.
Michael: Does fiction influence people? Has a piece of fiction ever convinced you of something you weren’t sure about before?
Gavin: I think fiction can at least introduce people to ideas, places, and peoples that might be unfamiliar to them and once someone is no longer the “other” it is (can be?) harder to treat them badly. That is my most optimistic interpretation. I’ve been convinced of how little I know about the world.
Michael: Have you actively sought work from marginalized writers? How? Do you think it’s important?
Gavin: More and more as time goes by — see above for why. Also I want to read about all parts of this world (and, hey, sf&f: other worlds!), not the same old, same old.
Michael: Small Beer Press has been around for sixteen years. In that time you’ve obviously had an influence on the field. There’s a certain kind of unclassifiable, unquantifiable fiction that might never have found a place otherwise. And you’ve given a lot of great writers their start. How else do you think you’ve influenced fiction and publishing? Can one small press really make a difference?
Gavin: We probably made a difference for the writers we’ve published and for the readers who found the books but I do think that anyone we have published would have been snapped up very quickly by other publishers given the chance.
Michael: If you had it all to do again, is there anything you’d do differently or do better?
Gavin: Apply for an editorial assistant job at a huge publisher at age 23 and have a multi-million dollar buying budget by now. Or probably not. I would not want to miss out on any of the books we’ve published and what if I did not see them?
Michael: Any forthcoming titles you’re particularly excited about?
Gavin: Yes! Some of them not even announced. How about two short story collections next spring and summer which I think Reckoning readers may like: Sofia Samatar’s Tender: Stories (April) and Christopher Rowe’s Telling the Map (July). Both have unique, very different, voices.
Michael: That sounds amazing! Thank you so much.
This is the next-to-last interview before Reckoning One comes out on the winter solstice. The next and final, at least for the nonce, will be in two weeks or thereabouts, with Michael Damian and Lynne Thomas of Uncanny.