City of Saints & Madmen: The Untold Story

Since this blog has picked up a ton of new readers since 2004, when my essay on the untold story behind City of Saints & Madmen came out, I’m reposting the link from The Agony Column for those who are interested. I wrote the essay because City of Saints had such an incredibly difficult journey into the world. In fact, if not for pushing as hard as I did on that book, I probably would not have a career right now. I also wrote the essay because I figured showing a kind of worst-case scenario of all the things that could go wrong, while also providing some insight into how the stories came to be written, and how I’d originally tried to get them published, would be of value to not only beginning writers but writers just about to experiencing having a first book out.

Anyway, just seemed like it had been a long time since I’d referenced it. It’s long, so you’ll probably need to print it out if you want to read it. If so, note that it consists of Part I and Part II.


It is difficult for me to articulate just how I felt when I held the finished book in my hands sometime in mid-May of 2002. I had spent nine years working on the various stories included in City of Saints & Madmen. I had spent another eight months coordinating the layout and design and artwork–all the while helping to plan my wedding. I had spent hundreds and hundreds of hours on the hardcover edition. Now, the book in my head had become a reality in my hands. What to think of this? (Not to mention, in less than two weeks, I was getting married.)

I know I felt relief, a sense of peace, because even if no one reviewed it or bought it, I still had accomplished what I had set out to do. I felt a bit of triumph, and a bit of sadness because of all the things I’d sacrificed to do the book–family time, my physical fitness, and much else. Ann had been there the whole way, helping out, keeping my spirits up, providing solutions. And I felt just a hint of melancholy, because even after all of those efforts, even after the wrenching dislocation required to retool the book after receiving the proofs, it still wasn’t quite the book I’d imagined in my head.


  1. Alan says

    I remember this essay from Why Should I Cut Your Throat? It made fascinating reading. As did the rest of the book, for that matter.

  2. Jeff VanderMeer says

    Geez, I’ve done so much nonfiction that I’ve forgotten what was in that book. Yes, it’s in Why Should I Cut Your Throat?, too.

    Planning a new nonfiction collection to start shopping around the end of this year. Same with fiction. It’ll have been five years since the publication of both my nf and f collections, so it seems about time.


  3. says

    I too first read this in Why Should I Cut Your Throat? I also just checked – I bought the Prime hardcover back in the Spring of 2003 off of a friend’s recommendation. Seems like it was just the other day that I read that and Veniss Underground. But if you’re releasing new collections, I’ll sign up for them, even after reading the harrowing experiences of the CoSaM preorderers!

  4. Timblynod says

    I read halfway down the first part, then fled in terror. Then I went back and finished both parts. The Writer’s Ordeal–it’s a thing of awe. The evolution of life seems infinitely less of an achievement.

  5. Transfiguring Roar says

    For the past couple of hours I’ve been repeating the words, “Fucking hell,” aloud. What a story!

  6. Transfiguring Roar says

    I forgot to add: For what it’s worth, Jeff, you single-handedly re-ignited my passion for fantasy.

  7. Mary C says

    For what it’s worth, all your feverish work is appreciated. I love City of Saints because of its unconventionalness. The many layers of story give it a truly historic feel. It’s a book I’m going to read over and over.

    And I’m going to stop moping about day-job constraints and get back to work on my own novel. (You may see the revised first couple of chapters soon. Sorry, it’s been so long you’ve probably forgotten.)