Tripping with the VanderMeers: episode three

I would have liked to write a bit more today, and give you details of what the pictures I’m about to show you are… But I had a terribly busy day, I’ve sent a book to the printer and I have prepared for a 12 hour ride tomorrow, to Prague.

Yes, I’m going to Prague, and from there I’ll go to Plzen, where the czech New Weird convention Parcon is waiting its guests of honour: Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, Hal Duncan, Ian MacLeod and Edward Miller. The Czechs are launching their own version of the VanderMeer’s NEW WEIRD anthology, and I (and my girls too!) are going to meet the VanderMeers! Again!

This will be my third third degree encounter with Ann and Jeff, after their Romanian tour in 2006, and Utopiales Festival in Nantes, last November. I can’t wait to see them! And I’ll promise I’ll write more tomorrow. Until then, HERE are a bunch of pictures taken during the four day blitz-tour of Romania. You’ll see the VanderFrog himself, and his princess, and if you look closely, you might recognize a certain big bad bear, the same who is now saying good night!

There’s Only Fun Left to Be Had

When I was a kid, my parents had a few couples of friends with whom they used to play cards on Saturday evenings. Whether it was bridge night or canasta night, we almost always had someone over for dinner on Saturday. This led me to believe that having guests was somewhat a fatality for my poor parents. At about the age my daughter Stefana has now, one of these visiting couples made the mistake to ask me what I wanted to become when I’ll grow up. I answered without hesitation: “I wanna be a guest!”. They laughed politely and my mom, knowing me, tried to move on with the conversation, but the lady who had asked me in the first place wanted to know more: “Why a guest?” And the answer silenced her (and sent my dad to the bathroom, where from we almost instantly heard him laughing histerically): “Yes, a guest, because guests always come when the house is cleaned, the food is ready and there’s only fun left to be had”.

I remembered this anecdote (one that my dad used to bring up whenever there were not so welcomed guests around) today, thinking that I have finally achieved my childhood dream. I am a guest, and a guest-blogger at that: the blog is here, the audience ready-built and eager for my words. In consequence, it’s time to have fun!

No, no more letters from my lawyer this time. Fun has become a peculiar notion for me, the almost forty-year-old publisher and reviewer (I do the occasional book reviews on my blog or for Nautilus, a webzine hosted by my fiercest rival in Romanian publishing but edited by my friend, writer Michael Haulică) who spends most of his time reading and writing about books. Fun is NOT reading books for review or publishing consideration purposes. Fun is spending time with my girls and doing carpentry work at the country house I bought this spring. And fun is also reading books for my own pleasure. I might end up reviewing them or even publishing them, but the initial impulse is, ALWAYS, aimed at having fun. I buy them from Amazon.com or B&N (they finally lifted the ban from Romanian ordering) or in the local bookstores or at bookfairs. Sometimes friends send them, sometimes I find them (on this blog, sometimes). I read them in days or merely hours. And these are the books I always end up recommending to others, even if I’m not their publisher, even if my best interest would be to push my own books. These are the ones that get pictured in my now regular bookporn blog posts, with their covers displayed to be seen by all, with sometimes even their first page being offered, scribbled with an autograph, to the salacious eyes of voyeur readers.

And, since being a guest is about having fun, I thought I’d show you some of the books I’ve had fun with this year, so far. [Read more...]

The Truth About Me and Other Memories

Thanks to Jeff, I’m now widely known to the world as an ex-wrestler turned mobster, with a murky past and a happy family life, who’s passing his time hunting big game in the South China Sea and trading weasels for iguanas in a remote corner of the world, where the navy patrols the Danube under noontime fireworks, fishing out bored swimmers looking to cool off…

Oh boy… Sometimes I wish all of that would be true. The (whole) truth is far more prosaic. Most of my adventures happen among books, me being a bookaholic. But how wonderful these adventures can be! Reading has brought me lots of excitment, and guest-blogging here brings back nice memories.

I remember a day far back in 1998, when I was writing most of my letters in longhand and only the official letters deserved to be printed, when I used to sneak in my wife’s office at the City Hall to get some time online when she wasn’t using her computer. Besides from reading my emails and quickly uploading my answers (written the day before on my ancient second-hand Pentium 286) from a 3.5” diskette, I searched like mad the internet for some free online fiction. Back then, Romanians were blacklisted by Amazon.com, online ordering for foreign books was an utopic dream and the local public library was stocking only classics in English.

That’s when I discovered a website called Infinity Plus, and the loads of fiction that a wonderful guy named Keith Brooke was putting out for us. Among the stories some of my favorite writers had allowed Keith to publish, there were some terrific texts written by names I had never heard of. One that really got to me was a story called “Flight Is for Those Who Have Not Yet Crossed Over” by a guy named Jeff VanderMeer. There were other stories by him on Infinity Plus, so I read them and was blown over by his imagery and wonderful imagination. Among other nice things Keith Brooke was providing – along with the stories and short author bios – there were links to the (somewhat rare at the time) websites the authors or their fans maintained.

So I went over to find out Jeff’s web presence and found an e-mail address and wrote him a passionate fan message. At the time I was editing a digest-sized magazine called Fictiuni, the only F&SF magazine that was published at the time in Romania. Its periodicity was erratic, but I had managed to put out some nice issues (two or three at the time, of the seven that got published by the time it folded, in 2001). I was also planning to move on from translating and editing for one of Romania’s major publishers to founding my own publishing company and, a dream I still entertain, representing foreign F&SF authors on the Romanian book market. So, besides asking for the right to translate some of his stories in Romanian (to be published in Fictiuni), I dared to offer Jeff the chance to be the first author I was to represent here, in the carpathic landscape. [Read more...]

Horia Ursu: Guest Blogger on Ecstatic Days (Aug. 18-22)

I’m very pleased to welcome Horia Ursu, one of my Romanian editors, as the guest blogger for Ecstatic Days this week. Ursu is very active in the Romanian literary community, running Millenium Press and working on various other projects (some of which I am sure he will tell you about). Ursu has also contributed photographs to articles in Locus. He lives in Satu Mare, Romania, with his wife Lucia and his daughter Stefana (all three pictured above).

UPDATE: Now, Horia is a dear friend and it just so happens that he is a character in my Predator novel, which is coming out in Romania September 1. So I thought I’d reproduce below a pivotal scene about Horia from the book, especially given Sir Tessa’s unease in the comments thread below. (And, yes, I know it’s unlikely, the single swat, head gone, but this is a Hollywood movie basically…)
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That’s all, folks.

Today is the final day of my stint here at Ecstatic Days, and I wanted to let you know that I’ve very much enjoyed the privilege of sharing my thoughts with you. While I prepare to surrender the stage to your next host, I’d like to invite you to come by my full-time blog http://www.entertheoctopus.wordpress.com any time. I’d love to see you there…after you visit Ecstatic Days, of course!

Thank you to all of you, and to Jeff, for hosting me here. It has been a pleasure.

Visit My Huffington Post Column on Political Fiction?

Just breaking in for a second to let readers know that the first installment of my political fiction column is up on the Huffington Post. This time around, most of the books reviewed are in some way science fiction. I do capsule reviews of Jessica Z, Little Brother, Pisstown Chaos, and several others. In the future, the column will focus on one or two books at a time, in more depth, and include non-genre fiction.

The visibility and longevity of this column will depend on clicks and comments. If you like the idea, or are just curious, please go check it out.

The Faerie Myth: Transformation, Appropriation and Survival

POSTED BY MATT STAGGS

What do you think of when you hear the word “faerie?” A tiny, winged lady in a sparkling cloud of pixie dust? Mischievous little people hiding beneath toadstools? Maybe those Keebler elves and their magically fattening cookies come to mind. No matter what, the image of the faerie – actually its very definition – has changed dramatically over the ages, and it is likely that your own idea of faeriedom has been shaped by shifts in religious thinking, technological growth and popular culture.

Like any other matter of folklore, the origins of the faerie myth are obscure and subject to scholarly debate. In the matter of Celtic faerie stories, some have posited that their stories of the Tuatha de Danaan’s war against the fierce “Fir Bolg” are actually ancient memories of Ireland’s early Gaelic invaders’ defeat and subsequent extinction of the isle’s aboriginal inhabitants. Some further suggest that some of the “goblins” of Celtic myth were based on this ancient people, described as dark and hairy, and that the Gaelic people – the Tuatha de Danaan were subsequently mythologized as the early Celtic gods and goddesses.

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Debate on fantasy literature currently in progress

Ken Wong’s “Stay and I Will Love Thee.”

Ken Wong’s “Stay and I Will Love Thee.”

POSTED BY MATT STAGGS

I’d like to direct your attention to a very active conversation that is currently going on over at my blog regarding the “essentials” of literary fantasy. I’ve asked my readers to recommend five titles that come to mind when they think of the term literary fantasy, and so far the response has been outstanding in both sheer volume and diversity. Most interesting is the side-conversation that has developed about the nature of fantasy and whether both authorial intent and the social context of the work should be deciding factors in genre classification. Here are some excerpts thus so far:

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Enjoy the Apocalypse: A conversation with Jacob Kier of Permuted/Swarm Press

POSTED BY MATT STAGGS

As the man behind Permuted Press, Jacob Kier has had an enormous influence in the horror community. He has single-handedly nurtured a niche fan base for post-apocalyptic and zombie-themed horror fiction into a thriving and loyal market. He has now branched out into science fiction and fantasy with a new imprint called “Swarm Press,” and I have no doubt at all that he will be equally successful in this latest endeavor.

I’ve known Jacob for some time now, and in a number of different capacities: first as a fan, then as a reviewer, and most recently in my role as a publicist working to promote several Swarm/Permuted titles. In all cases, I have come to know him as a passionate advocate for speculative literature, never afraid to take chances, and always willing to poke into the darkest corners of the world to find it.

He completed the following interview with me today.

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Jeffrey Ford’s “The Drowned Life”

Posted by Matt Staggs

Available November 4, 2008

Available November 4, 2008

I’m currently finishing Jeffrey Ford‘s phenomenal collection of short fiction “The Drowned Life,” and I’m experiencing a bit of anxiety as I approach the final few pages. You see, I am planning to write a review of the book. So why, you might ask, am I so nervous? Am I planning on writing a review that will evoke Mr. Ford’s ire? Indeed, not! Far from it. In fact, the reason I am so anxious about this looming review is that the book is so good.

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