September 20, 2016

All Things Chizine: an interview with Sandra Kasturi, co-publisher for Chizine Publications

CZP publishes the same kind of weird, subtle, surreal, disturbing dark fiction and fantasy that ChiZine has become known for since 1997, only in longer form—novels, novellas, and short story collections. -

Gef: So ChiZine has been at it for some years now and just seems to build up steam each year. Has there been much time for you or Brett to reflect on the progress and growth you've accomplished with ChiZine, or is it constantly an "on to the next one" attitude?

Sandra: Honestly, we barely have time to eat or sleep, so, not much time left for reflection! But once in awhile we get a great moment of "Hey... I think we really did something..." That happened a few months ago when we moved to a new city--our cover artist Erik Mohr gave us this great housewarming present--it was a framed poster of the covers of the first 100 ChiZine books we published... we hit that benchmark last year. Seeing all the covers laid out like that in (literally) one big picture--kind of made us a little verklempt. Oh, and I guess winning the World Fantasy, British Fantasy and HWA Specialty Press Awards didn't hurt either! But then, yeah, it was "on to the next one...holy shit, that has to get to press, like now."

Gef: Looking back, how big of a learning curve was there for you in terms of starting and running and growing a small press into what it is now?

Sandra: Oh, had we but known!!! Well, Brett had worked in publishing, and we'd both been through it from the author side--we knew it would be a lot of work, but really, the day to day grind and work poor publishers do... Like I said, had we but known. Well, okay, yeah, if we'd known, we'd still have done it, but maybe we'd have been a little more organized about it, especially as the press took off. Feels like a constant game of catch-up. But every publisher I've talked to feels the same way, so I guess this constant hysteria is normal? Heh.

Gef: Over the years you've published some greats like Tom Piccirilli and Steve Rasnic Tem, as well as featuring some bright up-and-coming talent like Gemma Files and most recently Ed Kurtz. When it comes to featuring established authors and newer authors, does either get you fired up more than the other as a publisher, or is that too much of a Sophie's choice?

Sandra: Well, it's quite something when you get to publish an established author. We were so honoured that people like Steve Tem and the late Melanie Tem and Tom Piccirilli, and other folks with such great pedigrees took a chance on us. I mean, who the hell are we, anyway? Some Canadian upstarts or something. But they couldn't have been nicer, and it was such a pleasure to work with them. Melanie and Tom and Phil Nutman are greatly missed. That's a whole heartbreak in publishing you're not really prepared for--when your authors, who have become your friends, or were your friends to start with, pass away. To witness those lights being extinguished and to know there won't be any more words coming from them--that's an awful sorrow.

Gef: What kinds of stories resonate with you as a reader?

Sandra: Brett likes weird, allegorical SF and horror, stories with ambiguous endings, that sort of thing. He's not really much of a fantasy reader. Whereas I read SF, fantasy, horror, magic realism, fairy tales. I'm much more in favour of narrative and story arc with definite beginnings, middles and endings, though. But we both like strange things, and weird storytelling and fucked-up ideas. We both just like to read. I love that moment when you've found something extraordinary. Better than heroin. (Oooh! A heroine is better than heroin! See what I did there? See? : ) )

Gef: How much of a role do you see Canada playing these days in speculative fiction at large? Are we holding our own, need to do more to make our voices heard? How instrumental has the ChiSeries played in this regard?

Sandra: I think we've got a whole bonanza of weird writers coming from Canada whose voices are being heard outside our borders. I think David Nickle, Gemma Files, Ian Rogers, Michael Rowe and Helen Marshall are great examples of that happening. I think we're holding our own, but hey--it'd be nice to have all the Canuckites get 6-figure movie deals from Spielberg, no?

As for the ChiSeries--and I should be very clear here that CZP is a sponsor of the ChiSeries across Canada, but the two are separate organizations; the ChiSeries (Chiaroscuro Reading Series) is publisher-neutral--I think ChiSeries helped create a community of genre folks that was already coalescing or waiting to happen. I mean, there's been a strong genre community in cities all over Canada for decades--but I think the ChiSeries, particularly in Toronto, ended up becoming a sort of monthly hub for a lot of folks--writers, artists, readers, publishers, agents, you name it. Drinkers! Madeline Ashby described it as being akin to the Paris salons in the 1920s. Well, maybe with less absinthe. And ChiSeries is now in six cities: Toronto, Peterborough, Guelph, Ottawa, Winnipeg and Calgary. 7 if you count Vancouver, but that's on hiatus for the time being. Hoping to launch Edmonton and Montreal and maybe Halifax in the next year or so. Coast to coast! I mean, why not? Writers reading their work and hanging out in bars... what could be more fun?

Gef: What was the draw in starting up ChiGraphic? Were there existing graphic novels or artists out there that prompted you to think ChiZine could offer a platform?

Sandra: I've always loved comics, especially those Boris Karloff horror ones from the 1970s. Just adored those. Scared the living shit out of me as a kid, but there you go: that stuff stays with you. So we always thought we'd like to get into that area. And weird stories and weird art together seem like a natural fit for ChiZine, so why not? I'm not sure how it all came together, but our first graphic novel was Infinitum by Greg Chomichuk...whom we met at...Fan Expo? TCAF? Maybe our managing editor, Sam Beiko met him as they're both from Winnipeg? I honestly can't remember. Sometimes it seems like we've all known each other forever. And maybe we have? Greg has time travel in that book... And after we published one graphic novel, we now get regular queries from comic writers/artists, so... it's quite exciting! My early love, come to fruition.

Gef: Along with ChiGraphic, there's also ChiTeen and its lineup of titles, one in particular catching my eye from the titles coming out this fall called Parasite Life by Victoria Dalpe. What can you tell us about that title and delving into YA fiction? What would you say is thebiggest misconception of YA?

Sandra: Parasite Life is a YA vampire novel, but for those who are turned off by that--this isn't Twilight, folks. It's a strange, elegaic novel that feels like... The Moth Diaries meets The Radleys. With maybe a seasoning of Twin Peaks for atmosphere and flavour.

I read kids books when I was a kid (duh), and this was before there was such a thing as YA--so again, this is kind of harkening back to an early love of mine. And I still read YA, so we thought, hell, why not publish it? Biggest misconception...hmm... Oh, I know! That you have to dumb things down for kids/teens. They're not stupid. They get it. Even when it's complicated, they get it. I mean, I was reading Lord of the Rings and adult SF when I was 11. So that's our audience--kids/teens who are doing that.

We're thinking of venturing into the middle-grade book market too. Still hammering out some details, but... I think it's gonna happen!

Gef: How much of a difference have you seen in ChiZine 's productivity since bringing on Samantha Beiko as your managing editor, taking over for you and Brett? I imagine the team growth has given you some semblance of breathing space as far as the day-to-day goes.

Sandra: Well, Brett and I cry a lot less. And my wine and Cheeto intake has gone down. Heh. Seriously, I don't know how we survived before Sam. She makes the ship go. If we could get one more person like her, then I could swan around in my garden drinking gin & tonics all day.

Gef: The news recently came out that ChiZine will be publishing Brian Hodge's next collection of stories in early 2018, so it looks like there's little chance of ChiZine slowing down anytime soon. Is there anything in particular that you are keen on readers discovering from ChiZine in the years ahead?

Sandra: I'm hoping our poetry imprint, KQP does well. I'm a poet myself, but I also hate a lot of poetry. I'm sure it's very annoying for people who want to submit, but basically, I like what I like. Terrible, isn't it? So maybe those books will resonate with other cranky readers of verse like myself. We've got Jason Taniguchi'sVery Sensible Stories and Poems for Grown Persons coming out this fall. As well as David Clink's The Role of Lightning in Evolution and Courtney Bates-Hardy's House of Mystery. They're all genre collections, and odd little books... but hey, that's what we do. Really, it's a very selfish imprint to run--I'm just publishing the stuff I like to read. Hell, ChiZine itself is pretty selfish--it's books we feel like reading, and we're forcing them onto you, the poor unsuspecting public. Oh dear!

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