August 4th, 2014


2014 Snapshot Interview: Chuck McKenzie

SnaphotLogo2014Chuck McKenzie was born in 1970, and still spends most of his time there. A former author, editor and reviewer, he now runs a specialty SF, Fantasy & Horror bookshop in darkest Chelsea, Victoria.

1. You opened up ‘Notions Unlimited’ just over 2 years ago, when many other independent bookstores were closing. What was your motivation in opening the store, and what has been the most challenging aspect of operating a bricks and mortar bookshop in the current publishing climate?

In a word, finance. It was always a calculated risk to open the shop at a time when traditional publishing and bookselling was going through a major downturn, and - to be honest - even with a dedicated core of regular customers, it's still very hard to make ends meet, which means that we constantly trade under a cloud of uncertainty regarding the future.

2. Notions Unlimited could be considered be a ‘value added’ bookshop, with many regular events such as trivia nights, roleplaying and gaming sessions, writing groups and even Klingon language lessons (!!). How essential do you think these ‘extras’ are to the viability of the store?

Absolutely vital. We don't charge for most of these events, but those that we do charge an entry fee for - such as trivia nights and paranormal information evenings - go a long way towards keeping us afloat. Such events also attract people who wouldn't otherwise bother to visit us in person, which often leads to them becoming regular customers, so these events are also important in growing our customer base.

3. Notions Unlimited stocks and supports many Australian small press publishers and authors. Is this something that you do as a service to the Australian spec fic community, or do you think stocking small press publications provides a point of differentiation that is valuable compared to larger chain stores?

Both. I do have a number of customers who come to me specifically because they know I stock small press publications. I also feel a great deal of affection and loyalty for the Australian small press community, both because it nurtured and supported me as a writer when I was 'breaking out', and also because some of the very best Australian writing (in my humble opinion) comes from the small presses due to them being willing to take chances on niche-interest and/or slipstream titles. At the moment, I actually think that Australian small presses are outperforming many bigger publishers in terms of comparative output and quality of publications. In my opinion. :)

4. What Australian works have you loved recently?

I'm over the moon to see Martin Livings' CARNIES back in print through Cohesion Press - it's a modern classic that more people should read. I've also loved DYING EMBERS (M R Cosby) and GREAT SOUTHERN LAND (ed. Stephen Ormsby / Carol Bond), both from Satalyte Publishing, and AMBASSADORS (Patty Jansen) from Ticonderoga Publications. I've also got a few interesting-looking books from IFWG Publishing currently calling to me from my 'To Read' pile.

5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

Not particularly - I might be a bit more careful about what I keep on the shelves, since finances are tighter, but that's about it. I imagine that in five years' time - assuming that current trends are maintained - there will be a great deal more small press material available, and also that many small press authors will be making the jump to larger publishers, due to those authors' proven track records sales-wise.

This post is part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. Snapshot 2012 is being conducted by Tsana Dolichva, Nick Evans, Stephanie Gunn, Kathryn Linge, Elanor Matton-Johnson, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Jason Nahrung, Ben Payne, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Helen Stubbs, Katharine Stubbs, Tehani Wessely, and Sean Wright. To read the interviews hot off the press, check our blogs daily from 28 July to 10 August, 2014.