One of my favorite independent publishers is Meteor House, who specialize in works related to the great Philip Jose Farmer. Meteor House is one of the prime motivators (along with Titans Books’ reprint line) behind the resurgence of interest in Farmer’s work in general and in Farmer’s Wold-Newton Family work in particular. I had a chance to sit down with Mike Croteau, the founder of Meteor House, to talk about the imprint, its goals, and of course about Phil Farmer.
Anthony: How long has Meteor House been in existence as a publisher?
MIKE: Meteor House launched in 2010. After publishing the fanzine Farmerphile: The Magazine of Philip José Farmer from 2005 to 2009, it felt like the right time to take the next step, to start a company and publish some books.
ANTHONY: Where does the company name come from?
MIKE: The “Meteor” in question refers to the Wold Newton Meteorite which crashed in Wold Newton England in 1795. This historical event plays a significant role in many of Philip José Farmer’s works.
ANTHONY: The focus of your efforts is clearly on the great Philip José Farmer. How much of an influence has his work been on you personally?
MIKE: To really get this answer, you need to pick up Titan Books’ brand-new reprint of The Wind Whales of Ishmael. I was honored to be invited to write the foreword to that edition, and in it I take about 1,700 words to answer that question! I will say that between maintaining Farmer’s official website, Facebook page, Meteor House, my book collecting, selling books from his estate for his heirs, rereading his books and still trying to read a lot of the books that influenced him…it’s safe to say that Philip José Farmer is my full-time hobby.
ANTHONY: You started with plans for annual Words of Philip Jose Farmer anthologies. Tell us a bit about the focus of the series and the kinds of writing readers can expect.
MIKE: Each issue of the fanzine Farmerphile, which I mentioned above, contained never-before-seen material by Farmer himself (stories, articles, speeches, letters, excerpts), all culled from his “Magic Filing Cabinet,” so named because every time it is searched a new discovery is made. Each issue also contained tributes to Farmer and critiques of his work, by his fans and his fellow science fiction writers. Everyone who contributed to Farmerphile really did it for the love of Phil—because the only payment was two contributor copies! The money from sales went to cover printing and postage expenses, while the lion’s share went to Phil himself (thus making it worth his while to let us continually search through his files).
With The Worlds of Philip Jose Farmer anthologies, we shifted gears a bit. Since Phil was no longer with us (he passed away in February 2009) it was no longer about writing tributes to him that he would get to read. While each volume still contains stories, articles, speeches, letters, excerpts, interviews, tributes, critiques, all by or about Farmer, we also obtained permission from his estate to allow writers to create new licensed fiction using his creations. So we are able to publish new stories about some of his most popular characters and worlds, like Greatheart Silver, John Gribardsun, Roger Two Hawks, the World of Tiers, Khokarsa, members of the Wold Newton Family, and many others.
ANTHONY: When will the next Worlds of PJF volume be out, and what authors/focus can we expect?
MIKE: The first three volumes in the series were all released each year at FarmerCon, our annual gathering of Farmer’s fans (now being held in conjunction with PulpFest). This year, however, volume 4 is being delayed because Meteor House is releasing two other books at FarmerCon this summer. The first is a joint venture we’re doing with Altus Press to reprint Farmer’s biography of the Man of Bronze, Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life. Altus Press is publishing the ebook and trade paperback edition, while we’re publishing the deluxe hardcover edition, which is full of bonus material.
The second book we’re releasing is the second in our series of original signed limited edition novellas: The Scarlet Jaguar by Win Scott Eckert. Win is one of the foremost experts on Farmer and his Wold Newton Family, as well as the Wold Newton Universe that Win helped expand from Farmer’s original concept. This story is a sequel to the novel The Evil in Pemberley House, which Farmer and Eckert co-wrote and was published in 2009.
So, to finally answer…wait, what was your question? Oh yeah, the next Worlds of PJF book. As soon as we get back from FarmerCon we’ll kick into high gear to get that out well in time for Christmas. The book is actually pretty far along, except there is more material than can be used, so we’re in the process of culling that down. But there is still so much work to do on the other two books we’re bringing out we’re focusing our energies on those first.
Each book in the Worlds of PJF series has a theme. Volume 1 was subtitled “Protean Dimensions” and it focused Farmer’s near utter disregard of literary boundaries. The second volume, “Of Dust and Soul,” looked at Farmer’s interest in the softer sciences like philosophy, psychology, and theology, among other things. The third volume, “Portraits of a Trickster,” focused on the trickster nature of many of Phil’s characters, as well as his own.
I actually don’t want to say too much about the next book yet except to say that it will focus on, of all things, Farmer the science fiction writer. That is, a science fiction writer in the “classic” sense, one who wrote about space exploration, the far future, alien invasions, and the like. But I am excited to announce that it will have a foreword by Robert Silverberg!
ANTHONY: I’m a big Silverberg fan, so that’s doubly exciting for me! How has Meteor House grown since you started? And where do you see the company going in the near future?
MIKE: In 2010 we published one book, The Worlds of PJF 1. In 2011, we also published just one book, The Worlds of PJF Volume 2. We started slow as we made the adjustment from fanzines to books, which turned out to be a bigger adjustment than expected.
In 2012 we published two books, The Worlds of PJF Volume 3, and our first signed limited edition novella, Exiles of Kho by Christopher Paul Cary. Chris was the coauthor, with Farmer, of The Song of Kwasin, the third and concluding novel in Farmer’s Khoharsa series (begun in the mid-1970s with Hadon of Ancient Opar and Flight to Opar). Exiles of Kho is an origin story about that world, and it is currently out of print.
So here we are in 2013 and we will be publishing four books. The first, due out in June, is our first non-Farmer title (although he is mentioned in the book), The Abnormalities of Stringent Strange by Rhys Hughes. Rhys is a brilliant writer who is hard to classify, although I guess surrealism is probably the one word that does the best job to describe his works. Stringent Strange starts off as a 1930s-style aviation pulp, then turns into a time-travel science fiction novel, then gets rather surrealistic, and then it gets weird. This book is currently only available as a signed limited edition, and it is nearly sold out.
Then, of course, we have the three books already mentioned. The hardcover edition of Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life (full of bonus materials), The Scarlet Jaguar, and The Worlds of PJF 4.
Other than The Worlds of PJF 5, and another signed limited edition novella, or two, we don’t have nearly as much planned for 2014. But I’m fairly sure that will change.
ANTHONY: As a small independent publisher, what challenges do you face in promoting your books, and how are you working to overcome those challenges?
MIKE: Having maintained a website about Farmer since 1996 (and his official site since 2001), there was a built-in audience for the Worlds of PJF series, but not enough of one to sell out an edition of 500 copies. We do a lot of social media, of course. To date we haven’t spent a lot of money on marketing, except for the money we put into hosting FarmerCon at PulpFest. We’re very proud of our books, from the artwork and design, to the contents, to the editing, layout, copyediting, etc. We believe we put out books that are just as good as any publisher of any size, so word of mouth is important to us. It’s a good sign that a small percentage of our customers who only buy one of our books.
ANTHONY: Why does Farmer’s work still speak so strongly to readers after all these years? What has prompted the resurgence in interest that seems to be occurring?
MIKE: That is hard to answer. The seeming resurgence might just be due to the state of publishing these days. Most of the great authors from the early days of science fiction, even the biggest names, are going out of print to make room on the shelves for all the current writers. I suppose this is natural. So when someone like Titan Books decides to reissue a dozen Farmer titles, it seems like he’s “coming back.” Then again, other than the Riverworld series, Farmer has mostly been published by smaller presses (Subterranean Press, Monkey Brain, Ramble House, Meteor House, Overlook Press, Bison Books, Creation Oneiros, IDW, Baen, etc.) over the last decade or so. So his books are staying in print, but for the most part they are through specialty publishers and you have to buy them online.The Titan reprints I mentioned above are different, since they have major distribution and we haven’t seen anyone print this many Farmer titles since Ace in the 1970s.
As for his resurgence, I think some of it has to do with his fanbase and the big following of his Wold Newton theory. I believe it was the idea of marketing many of Farmer’s books as “Wold Newton Novels” that got Titan Books interested in reprinting Farmer in the first place. And guys like Danny Adams, Win Scott Eckert, and Christopher Paul Carey completing some of Farmer’s unfinished works, and giving readers “new” Farmer, has kept the interest level up.
But to answer your question as to why his works speak so strongly to readers, to me the most remarkable thing about Farmer is that his knowledge was very broad, and in many places very deep. So he put so much into each book. If you ever come across something in one of his books, a random fact about a place he created, like the natives not having any generic words in their language, and you think, “that was a throwaway he probably made up on the spot,” you’re wrong. If he goes into detail about something, he’s done the research. Farmer is one of those writers who, no matter how many times you reread one of his books, you always discover something new.
And he was into so many things which people are still discovering are cool, like pulp heroes, and alternate universe/timelines, writing fiction about real people, or trying to prove someone you thought was fictional was in fact a real living person, and other outside-the-box thinking.
ANTHONY: And my usual closing question: What is your favorite book and what would you say to someone who hasn’t read it in order to convince them that they should?
MIKE: Let’s see, you started this interview on a Tuesday, but I started typing this on a Thursday, and now it’s Saturday, so…which answer should I give? I have a hard time picking my favorite Farmer title, or in most cases my favorite from any author. It often depends on the person I’m recommending the book to. But since it’s Saturday, I’ll go with today’s answer: The Maker of Universes. This is the first book in the World of Tiers series and introduces Kickaha (aka Paul Janus Finnegan, note the initials), who although an ancillary character in the first book, by the third book takes over as the focus of the series. If you’re not familiar with Kickaha, think Tarzan, but without the Victorian restraint that Edgar Rice Burroughs gave him. Even if The Maker of Universes isn’t always my favorite book, Kickaha will always be my favorite of Farmer’s characters.
You can learn more about Meteor House at their site.