Poplar Press, the mainstream fiction imprint of Hamilton, Ontario, publisher Wolsak & Wynn is rebranding as a speculative fiction line. The announcement came in a press release on September 1, which also announced an editorial board composed of managing editor Ashley Hisson, production coordinator Jennifer Rawlinson, and Andrew Wilmot, an editor and author of The Death Scene Artist, which Wolsak & Wynn’s Buckrider Books imprint published in 2018.
The move to a dedicated spec fic imprint came about as a result of what appeared to Noelle Allen, Wolsak & Wynn’s publisher, as an underserved market in Canada, particularly following the disappearance of horror and dark fantasy publisher ChiZine Publications in 2019. “It became pretty clear, especially after ChiZine imploded, there were not that many spots to publish spec fic in Canada,” she says. It was also clear that, to publish well in the area, it would be necessary to bring on an editorial team that was conversant in the area. “It’s always been something we’ve been interested in. But it’s somewhere you really need to have people who deeply understand that section of the industry to do it well.”
Hisson, who has been with Wolsak & Wynn since 2008, inherited a love of spec fic from her mother and has regularly attended conventions and fan expos, where she got to know the organizers and others in the community. Like Allen, Hisson also noticed a paucity of Canadian publishers serving the genre. “I’d been attending various conventions – Fan Expo, the Polaris convention, Ad Astra – and ChiZine would be there, but the only other [Canadians] would be vanity presses or authors who had teamed together to publish their own books,” she says. “It did seem like in traditional publishing there was a bit of a hole.”
With its new mandate to publish works of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and new weird fiction, Poplar will be joining a small clutch of Canadian presses that also includes Undertow Publications, Stelliform Press, and Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing.
“When I was a teen and in my early twenties, I read a tonne of genre. So I have a deep fondness for it,” says Allen, who also recalls her first impressions as a young reader of spec fic literature set in her home country. “I remember one of the first genre books I read [Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Fionavar Tapestery] was set in Toronto. Then I read something by Charles de Lint that was set in Ottawa. And I thought, ‘This is amazing. You can do this stuff in Canada.’ ”
The revamped version of Poplar Press will start by publishing one book per season, with plans to have the first title available for spring 2023. Submissions to be considered for the first season will be accepted beginning in January 2022.
In addition to looking for work that is character driven, the editorial board will also pay particular attention to manuscripts from feminist, queer, and other underserved communities. “I am, and I think Andrew is as well, into seeing more queer stories, more diverse stories,” says Hisson. “We’re both on the queer spectrum, so I think we’d like to see some of that.”
While the potential to expand the Poplar editorial board exists down the road, the current three-member composition was intentional and based on each person’s affinity for and knowledge of the Canadian genre landscape, both its literary aspects and the sales side. “It’s actually a completely different sales area,” says Allen. “It’s different styles of marketing, different groups. Different people have different experiences. And we all work really well together to figure out, where’s the best place to plug this book?”
If this year’s World Fantasy Convention goes forward as an in-person event in Montreal (it is currently scheduled to run November 4–7 with policies for masking and proof of vaccination applying to all attendees and staff), Hisson and Rawlinson will attend and use the venue as a kind of soft launch for the imprint. “If [World Con] does happen, we’re buying a table,” Allen says.
While the pivot to genre fiction may seem unexpected from an established literary publisher, Wolsak & Wynn – including its imprint Buckrider Books, edited by poet Paul Vermeersch – is no stranger to speculative fiction, having published books such as The Society of Experience by Matt Cahill, The Midnight Games and The Medusa Deep by David Neil Lee, The Grimoire of Kensington Market by Lauren B. Davis, and Has the World Ended Yet? by Peter Darbyshire. The new iteration of Poplar Press merely inverts the polarity of the literary spectrum, according to Allen. ”We’re comfortable with this content; we like it,” she says. “But it’s often literary that blends to [spec fic]. This is going to be more spec fiction that blends to literary. So, we’re going to go the other way.”