Archive for January, 2009

Last Dragon J.M. McDermott’s 2008 Year’s Best (on Amazon)

Jeff VanderMeer • January 21st, 2009 • Book Reviews, Booklife Now

I invited writers who made Amazon’s SF/F Top 10 for 2008 to send me their own year’s best list. The latest, from J.M. McDermott, is now up on the Amazon book blog. It’s a function of genre being a small pond that two anthologies I co-edited with Ann are on the list. Sometimes there’s no getting away from that kind of interconnectivity, and it’s always hard to know how to deal with it. But it also balances out: despite being on Amazon’s top 10 list several times in the past, I am not eligible to be on it so long as I do work for their blog.

I’ve also reproduced his list below, without his annotations. What would you add to it? What do you disagree (politely) with?


Writing Exercise for a Wednesday: Mimicry and Gap Analysis

Jeff VanderMeer • January 21st, 2009 • Writing Tips

Evil Monkey says “do this or else”:

– Choose a chapter or scene from your favorite novel.

– Photocopy it so you can easily place it on your typing stand. (For even more interesting results, perform this entire exercise in longhand.)

– Now retype the chapter or scene verbatim.

– Set aside your retyped version. Set aside the photocopy of the chapter or scene.

– Now type the chapter or scene again, from memory. Worry less about remembering the exact words than getting the mood and tone right, but do try to reconstruct it as the author intended it. (This part doesn’t work if you have a photographic memory, you freak.)

– Compare your reimagined version to the original.

What did you learn? Report back between now and Sunday.

Obama’s Speech

Jeff VanderMeer • January 20th, 2009 • Uncategorized

I was struck by his skillful mixing of a state of the union speech with the more general aspects of an inaugeration speech. He had reassurances to foreign powers, in addition to setting out a list of the challenges facing the United States. He also did a good job of invoking our forefathers, and that specific point in history where a nascent nation could’ve been extinguished, but toughed it out. He set a tone of mixed pragmatism and idealism throughout the speech. Obama also made clear allusions to the Bush era, and just as clearly repudiated it…while Bush sat there no doubt oblivious.

I’m looking forward to seeing a transcript, because this was a Byzantine task he had–so many things he had to do in those 18 minutes. In doing so many things, he had to in some ways tone down the soaring rhetoric that typifies many of these kinds of speeches, and thus I think some of the power of the speech reveals itself more gradually, and will continue to do so over time.

We Are All Connected

Jeff VanderMeer • January 20th, 2009 • Fiction

Every human being is a puppet on strings, but the strings do not ascend to some anonymous Maker, but are glistening golden strands that connect one puppet to another. Each strand is sensitive to the vibrations of every other strand. Every vibration sings in not only one heart, but in the hearts of many, so that if you listen carefully, you can hear a low hum as of many hearts singing together…When a strand snaps, when it breaks for love, or lack of love, or from hatred, or from pain…every other connected strand feels it, and every other connected heart feels it—and since every strand and every heart are, in theory, connected, even if at their most distant limits, this means the effect is universal. All through the darkness where shining strings are the only light, a woundedness occurs. And this hurt affects each strand and each of us in a different way, because we all hurt and are hurt. And all the strings shimmer on regardless, and all of our actions, no matter how small, have consequences to others…After we are dead, gone to join the darkness between the lines of light, the strands we leave behind still quiver their lost messages into the hearts of those others we met along the way, on our journey from light into not-light. These lost strands are the memories we leave behind…Each extinguished life leaves a hole in many other lives—a series of small extinguishments that can never be completely forgotten or survived. Each survivor carries a little of the void within them as a result.

Saruman’s Almost Gone

Jeff VanderMeer • January 20th, 2009 • Uncategorized


Bush was never Sauron. He was always Saruman. The snake in the grass who thinks he knows everything and knows nothing.

All hail the new guy. Let’s give him a chance.

Meanwhile, no 60 in 60 today as I’m giving myself time off for the inaugeration. Normal life will resume tomorrow.

Top Five Things Editors Hate–And What Do YOU Hate

Jeff VanderMeer • January 19th, 2009 • Writing Tips

Last week we discussed the things that writers hate. Now it’s time to discuss the things that editors hate. Please note that we’re all in this together. The word “hate” here is used in the same context as saying “I really hate it when my husband forgets to clean the kitty litter box.” We’re a family, and there’s a constructive element here in terms of making one family member see another member’s point of view. Followed by a group hug.

I asked my wife Ann, fiction editor of Weird Tales, for her top five first, and here they are:

1 – Writers who blast me on their blog for rejecting their story or who send threatening emails because of rejection.

2 – Writers who query before the published upper limit of my response time.

3 – Writers who make substantial edits on page proofs after I’ve told them the time for that kind of editing is over.

4 – Writers who constantly bug me to tell them why I form rejected their story when I have another 500 submissions staring me in the face.

5 – Prima donnas, whether unpublished or “famous”.

And here are my top five, from the perspective of years of running the Ministry of Whimsy and editing anthologies. I should note that “dealing with cranks and curmudgeons” isn’t on my list because some of our best writers are cranks and curmudgeons. I don’t take this personally when dealing with such writers–in fact, I find it endearing, so long as it doesn’t cost me much time dealing with their quirks.

Please do add your own, too.


60 in 60: #32 – Sir Thomas Browne’s Urne-Burial

Jeff VanderMeer • January 19th, 2009 • 60 in 60


This blog post is part of my ongoing “60 Books in 60 Days” encounter with the Penguin Great Ideas series–the Guardian’s book site of the week and mentioned on the Penguin blog. (Their latest post comments on the first 20.) From mid-December to mid-February, I will read one book in the series each night and post a blog entry about it the next morning. For more on this beautifully designed series, visit Penguin’s page about the books.

by Sir Thomas Browne (1605 to 1682)

Memorable Line
“Life is a pure flame, and we live by an invisible Sun within us. A small fire sufficeth for life, great flames seemed too little after death, while men vainly affected precious pyres, and to burn like Sardanapalus; but the wisedom of funerall Laws found the folly of prodigall blazes, and reduced undoing fires unto the rule of sober obsequies, wherein few could be so mean as not to provide wood, pitch, a mourner, and an Urne.”


The Church’s Shriek Soundtrack: Text vs Lyrics

Jeff VanderMeer • January 18th, 2009 • Uncategorized

For me, this link to Shriek on the Church’s discography site is pretty interesting in terms of seeing how something gets “translated” from fiction into lyrics.

If you click on a track listing, you get the lyrics for the non-instrumental pieces and the part of Shriek they came from. Seeing the transformation is fascinating. For example, “Aan Tribal War” (Shriek SPOILERS follow), which gets its title from the beat in the background, but with lyrics from the end of the novel:


Tamar Yellin’s The Genizah at the House of Shepher

Jeff VanderMeer • January 18th, 2009 • Book Reviews

Below find a short piece I wrote for the Tallahassee Democrat awhile back on Tamar Yellin’s first novel. It was in honor of her doing a reading at Ann’s synagogue. At the time, the hardcover was out from Toby Press and had gotten good reviews from the library journals. Since then, the book has won a $100,000 literary prize, was bought for an absurd amount of money in Germany, and been a finalist for other prizes. It was published in trade paperback by St. Martin’s this summer while Ann and I were in Europe, which is why I forgot to blog about it at the time.


60 in 60: #31 – Thomas Hobbes’ Of Man (Penguin’s Great Ideas)

Jeff VanderMeer • January 18th, 2009 • 60 in 60


This blog post is part of my ongoing “60 Books in 60 Days” encounter with the Penguin Great Ideas series–the Guardian’s book site of the week and mentioned on the Penguin blog. (Their latest post comments on the first 20.) From mid-December to mid-February, I will read one book in the series each night and post a blog entry about it the next morning. For more on this beautifully designed series, visit Penguin’s page about the books.

Of Man
by Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679)

Memorable Line
“There be beasts, that at a year old observe more, and pursue that which is for their good, more prudently, than a child can do at ten.”