Lafferty in New York: The Impure Science of Publishing by Matthew Keeley

This was a hard talk to begin. The problem is not that I’m new to this literary conference speaking thing — though I am — it’s that I can’t begin this talk about Lafferty in the usual way that talks about Lafferty begin. If I weren’t the preacher and you weren’t the choir, I would begin by explaining what that ‘R’ and that ‘A’ stand for, cite Dangerous Visions, dredge up a Neil Gaiman or Harlan Ellison or Gene Wolfe quote, briefly explain Lafferty’s tragicomic Catholic vision, and conclude that really you just have to read him for yourself.

Of course this is entirely the wrong audience for the Lafferty 101 talk, and so I am presenting a topic that I’m sure has vexed many of you, just as it’s frustrated me. Why oh why is a writer this good so very obscure and so very underpublished?

In 1992, Michael Swanwick, one of Lafferty’s greatest supporters and, incidentally, a longtime friend of this conference, wrote an introduction, equal parts admiring and despondent, to Lafferty’s Iron Tears. I quote:

First, Lafferty is one of the best writers ever to work in the science fiction and fantasy genre.

Second, he is the single most original writer the field has seen.

Third, he is – except for small press publications such as this one – unpublishable.

More than twenty-five years later, does this judgment hold? Does Lafferty remain unpublishable outside the “gallant band” of small publishers who sacrifice their time and burn their money on the Lafferty altar?

Or might things be changing?

At this point, you may be wondering just who I am to give an opinion on Lafferty’s prospects in contemporary publishing. I’m a copywriter by trade — I write 700-to-1000-word hymns to “emerging technologies” for a PR firm — but until last November I was a book scout.

What’s a book scout? I’m glad you didn’t ask. If you have ever heard of book scouts, you’ve probably heard about the bookseller book scouts: These are the scruffy disreputable folks with monkeys on th