Booklife Masterclass in Seattle, November 8th at the Hugo House

I’ll have a post next week setting out book tour info, including more information on other gigs in Seattle, but for now I wanted to point out that registration is now open for my Booklife Masterclass November 8th at the Hugo House in Seattle.

The description reads:

In this new age of social media, award-winning writer Jeff VanderMeer, the author of “Booklife: Strategies & Survival Tips for 21st Century Writers”, shows you how to achieve a sustainable career and sustainable creativity. From dealing with white noise and “open channels” to multi-tasking your creativity, distinguishing process from habit and rediscovering passion in your writing, this workshop is all about balance and working smarter. The workshop addresses questions such as “How can thinking strategically about your career actually enhance your private writing time?” and “What types of promotion or networking enhance your life?” For beginning and intermediate writers.

…which might be a little misleading, even though I wrote it, in that we’re going to do plenty of things on the creativity side, but the point is: there are certain kinds of bleeds between creativity and career that are energizing and useful to both.

One goal of the workshop is to show you ways to enhance your creativity by establishing more control over not just your career but your idea of what a career might be…as well as exploring what things you simply will never be able to control, and why that’s okay.

This masterclass is suitable for both beginning and intermediate writers. (For example, if you’ve had a first or second novel out and are still reeling from the experience, saying to yourself, “What truck just ran me over?”, you’re well within the range of writers that will benefit from the class.)

The class will also be small enough that I should have more than enough time to deal with any individual questions about any aspect of writing or the writing life. I will be there to be of use to you, drawing on 25 years of having seen the writing life from every possible angle, as well as having written all kinds of fiction and nonfiction.

As time allows, I will be contacting all students beforehand via email with five or six questions so I have all of the context about your level of experience and what you personally hope to get out of the workshop. On the back-end, once I’ve returned from the book tour, as per usual, students can contact me with follow-up questions.

This is a full-service operation, from beginning to end. If you’re interested and have questions now, feel free to comment on this post and I’ll reply.

The Third Bear Story Collection–Turned In (sorta)

(cover by Jacob McMurray)

I just turned in my story collection The Third Bear to Tachyon. The table of contents is as follows:

The Third Bear
The Goat Variations
The Quickening
Finding Sonoria
Shark God Versus Octopus God
The Situation
Fixing Hanover
Three Days in a Border Town
The Secret Life of Shane Hamill
The Surgeon’s Tale (with Cat Rambo)

“The Quickening” and “Komodo” are new stories, and, to be honest, I’m still working on both, but will still turn them in before advance copies need to be created–the collection will be approximately 95,000 words in length. The publication date for The Third Bear is late May 2010.

As I wrote in a brief end note in the collection, my novelette “Errata”–published in January of this year and available to read here–isn’t included because no collection can work as a cohesive unit if there are two major pieces that both function as endings. In this case, “Appogiatura” fits the themes of The Third Bear much better than “Errata.” Still, it’s in the collection in ghost form, since I provide the link therein. (Another story, “The Three Quests of the Wizard Sarnod” fell afoul of timing, since it’s exclusive to the Songs from the Dying Earth antho for awhile.)

Here are brief teaser excerpts from the new stories.

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Sea Planes and Citrus: Vintage Art from an Imaginary Past

The first time I met Steve Hlavac it was on South Beach, where he had a busy night ahead of him as a professional photographer. We followed him to a bar where Warren Zevon was playing–he got his shots even though a customer wanted to punch him out. (Ann’s known him ever since he was her boss at a Record Bar in Tallahassee.)

In addition to his professional work for national and and international magazines (see also his page on photographed celebs) Steve’s had a couple of cool exhibits in recent years, one based on his travels in China and another called Floridustrial that you should really check out.

Now Steve’s got a new exhibit called Seaplanes and Citrus: Vintage Art from an Imaginary Past in which he’s repurposed some of his photographs in the context of vintage imaginary advertisements for various products, from Little Hailey’s Extra Large Baby Jumbo Shrimp Miniatures to Laughing Tiger Sour Citrus. Most of it is Florida-specific. He’s still adding context to the site, but the images are up there now. (For those still addicted to the meat world, you can also find them on display in the Tavares City Hall–north of Orlando–until the end of October.)

Below find a small sample of work from all three exhibits (all images copyright Steven Paul Hlavac). Steve also has prints of some of his work available.

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My Complicated Relationship with Facebook

(A screen capture from my profile photo album on Facebook; I love how the juxtapositions form a kinda cool collage.)

I’ve got a complicated relationship with Facebook. When Matt Staggs first set up an account for me, I kind of scoffed at Facebook. Me? Wanting to interact with people using status messages on a daily basis? Not this curmudgeon.

Then I started using Facebook and became an addict. On a basic level, yes, the appeal was that I could keep up with my friends despite being frantically busy. I could actually remember their birthdays using this great external brain called “Facebook”. I started using Facebook while doing projects that didn’t require all of my brain—like editing, writing reviews, etc., so I found it a nice way of feeling connected and also of having some fun while getting stuff done.

Eventually, I began role-play using Facebook, as a lot of these profile photos should demonstrate. Role-playing is a form of storytelling, and since I had so many book projects on my plate but not much time for writing fiction, I think I used the role-playing in the guise of, say, a capybara or a giant bear or a komodo dragon as a way of fulfilling a creative urge on a micro level. This was also important because, well, after writing my novel Finch I didn’t really want to write any major fiction. It usually takes me awhile to recharge.

At one point, in the guise of an alien baby icon, I wrote the beginnings of a short story in first person—on Facebook. I know many of my friends didn’t know what the heck I was going on about, and others thought I was joking, but I found the process fascinating. As long as I stayed in character and answered the responses to my little posts of story fragments, I was advancing the narrative—and because many people didn’t realize I was telling a story, the narrative took twists and turns I wouldn’t have thought of without the prompts from my friends. In another case, I took on the persona of Mord, a giant Shardik-like bear who will figure in several future stories, and doing so gave me some idea of the parameters of the character.

Now, about eight months since I became serious about Facebook, I use it as a mini-blog as well as a source of creativity, and, still, to keep up with friends. I have almost 2,000 friends now, many of whom I don’t know, and so it really is more like a micro-blog platform than anything else. I post thoughts and content there that don’t overlap with Ecstatic Days, or I try to provide it in a different context. (If you’re not my friend on Facebook, feel free to add me—it’s a mix of close friends, colleagues, readers, fans, industry professionals at this point.) I’ve also thought about finding some graceful way to include a Facebook feed in the sidebar, since this blog and my Facebook activity are often linked in some ways (blog posts here have sometimes started as posts/responses on Facebook).

When I go on tour this fall, it’ll be interesting to see how it affects how I use Facebook. It might mean I’ll break from it and won’t come back for awhile. In part because there have been instances at which Facebook has felt cramped—as if it allows thousand of voices into a mind already crowded with information. And I’m also aware that I may simply be conditioned to the response, much as a rat in an experiment becomes conditioned to receiving a food pellet if it performs a certain function. It’s also led me to mistake it for a diary, in that I’ve posted status updates containing information I’d never divulge here on the blog, and in a couple of cases I’ve regretted it. (Other stuff is just perhaps too silly–like an updated status message at two in the morning about a flying cockroach.) And, finally, I’m sure Ann’s felt like a Facebook widow at times.

But I do know it has served a creative function for me this year as well, and three or four creative relationships that have led to projects have come about because of being on Facebook. So I may just have to accept the aspects of it that sometimes stress me to get the benefits from it . One thing’s for sure—as in all things, moderation is the key. Currently, I’m glutting myself on Facebook, but eventually I’ll have to pull back a bit.

A Report on the Living Dead (A Memoir of the Last Days)

In looking at all possibilities for my collection The Third Bear (cover above), I found a very old story I wrote when I was 16, “A Report on the Living Dead,” which is up on my parody of author sites, VanderWorld. Given the popularity of zombies, here’s the first bit and a link to the rest. I, um, abjectly apologize to the French for this piece. In my defense, I was very young. It’s pretty silly. (Erm, not right for the collection, either.)


“I dream badly–accursed kings and queens and nobles visit me. And as I wake, I see the dead; they walk under the noon sun, waving and laughing and calling me ‘friend,’ though I am loathe to join them…” – Moliere, on his deathbed

I. In Which A Problem Is Brought to My Attention

When spies first reported incidents of flesh-eating zombies, I threw my hands up in disgust and said, “Sacre bleau! Next it shall be a plague of locusts! Will I have no rest?”

I banished my lieutenants with a snarl and brooded from behind my desk.

July 7, 1768, the hottest day, the hottest month, of the year. Grapes fermented on the vines beyond our walled city. Farmers fell from heat stroke—causing the price of legumes to rise to ridiculous heights. The garbage in the streets moldered and stank and added to the oppressive moistness. Garments clung to the skin, despite the application of powders and liniments. Dogs expired almost as frequently as peasants and the nobles rarely staged masquerades, for the heat ruined the painted disguises. On the Rue de Diablo, fanatical Jesuits traded insults with equally fanatical Jansenists. One learned to let them kill each other off, rather than risk the lives of gendarmes, who were in short supply.

A week before, a troupe of Hannibal’s elephants had trumpeted their way through the mountain passes of the Southern Alps and down to our gates. Lost twenty centuries or more, Carthage long since razed and salted. Who could imagine such a thing—except, perhaps, our esteemed philosophe, Monsieur Applecart, who had devised the theory – and yet, there they were, stomping about and threatening to bring down the walls.

Mice appeared to be our salvation, and so my secret police combed the sewers and collected ten thousand of the rodents. We let them loose among the pachyderms…to no avail. Can you imagine the consternation? Quelle vacherie! The mayor—who prefers the title, “Chevalier”—almost had my head.

But I snatched victory from defeat, as I have done so many times before: giant rats, specially bred in Romania, drove them from our door, to roam toward Avignon, and from Avignon to Paris.

But I digress.

Read the Rest

Got a Question? I’ve Got an Answer (maybe)

I’m here anyway all day laboring away on various projects, attention fragmented, so if you’ve got a question–burning or otherwise–feel free to ask it. These days we tend to think writers should be experts on more than just writing, so in addition to writing/editing/publishing questions, I’ll field any questions you have about Nabokov, Edward Whittemore, Angela Carter, Decadent literature, mushrooms, squid, music, alien babies, weightlifting, Byzantine history, noir, and movies.

Excerpt and News – Buy Finch While There’s Still Money?

Victoria Blake at Underland Press emailed me the other day to let me know that Finch is about five days away from being printed and shipped–just about right, timing-wise, for the book to reach the distributor and then be sent out to the various chains, indies, and online stores that have ordered copies. It looks like chain bookstore distribution will be solid, but you can preorder it now through Amazon or Indiebound and make my little freelancer’s heart beat a little less frenetically. (Amazon appears right now to be offering Shriek, Finch, and Booklife for a ridiculous $31.)

Meanwhile, in all the hullabaloo about the limited editions, you might’ve missed the fact that the first sixty pages of the novel are available online in a nice PDF format.

I’ll also have a complete six-week book tour schedule to post early next week.

Finally, one of my heroes, Jack O’Connell, has read Finch and offered up a blurb, Publishers Weekly has reviewed it, and readers in Amazon’s Vine program have started to offer their opinions…

“Finch is a head-trip of the highest order—rich, complex, thoughtful and deeply intriguing. The novel’s twisting alleys echo with the vibes of Kafka and Peake, Chandler and Borges, Orwell and Burroughs, but VanderMeer is an original. This haunting story is an unsettling mystery about, I’d argue, evolution, mutation, identity, control and rebellion, and dissolution. In Ambergris, Mr. V has created a hauntingly alien world that—for all its viral, fungal darkness—sometimes feels like a visit to the darkest corners of our contemporary reality. VanderMeer is a visionary and Finch is a riveting work of profound imagination.” – Jack O’Connell

“The fantasy elements, even the dark or grotesque ones, are beautiful. From page one, I was sucked in, a now fan of those books which are cut into ‘day’ chapters. He has a very good use of vocabulary especially describing color and locations, it reminds me of Romantic Poets, yet this isn’t a poem by far. The mixture is fantastic. It’s gritty and violent, yet highly lovely in spirit, the only thing I could say even comes close to it…is Nick Cave’s And the Ass Saw the Angel. The two books are completely different in plot but share the same gorgeous intensity in their gothic imagery and dark joys.” – N. Graabe (Amazon Vine)

“VanderMeer’s third book set in the fungus-laden city of Ambergris is an engrossing recasting of the hard-boiled detective novel. Traditional tropes—femmes fatales, double-crossing agents, underworld crime lords—mix seamlessly with a world in which humans struggle to undermine the authority of [the gray caps] a century after the events of 2006’s Shriek: An Afterword. By the time titular detective Finch solves the double murder of a human and a [gray cap], he’s been drawn into a conflict in which he’s rarely sure who’s manipulating him or why he’s so important to their plans. VanderMeer’s stark tone is brutally powerful at times, and his deft mix of genre-blurring style with a layered plot make this a joy to read. Though the book stands well on its own, fans of the earlier Ambergris novels will appreciate it even more.” – Publishers Weekly

LAST DRINK BIRD HEAD FOR CHARITY: Party, Pre-Orders, Awards, and More

So, here’re details and the spiel about Last Drink Bird Head, but it’s a spiel for a good cause, so please read–and please spread this link through your own blogs. We’d love to sell out this hardcover edition well before publication and give ProLiteracy a nice check for the holidays. Thanks! (Also note that this is the first new project from my Ministry of Whimsy Press, marking a return from its hiatus.) – Jeff

What Is Last Drink Bird Head?

That’s the catalyst editors Ann and Jeff VanderMeer provided to over 80 writers in creating this unique anthology. The result? Last Drink Bird Head is a blues musician, a performance artist, a type of alcohol, a town in Texas, and even a song sung by girl scouts in Antarctica. Contributors include Peter Straub, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Brian Evenson, Henry Kaiser, Gene Wolfe, Hal Duncan, Jeffrey Ford, Rikki Ducornet, Holly Phillips, Stephen R. Donaldson, K.J. Bishop, Michael Swanwick, Ellen Kushner, Daniel Abraham, Jay Lake, Liz Williams, Tanith Lee, Sarah Monette, Conrad Williams, and Marly Youmans. (See the ordering page for a full list of contributors.)

Pre-Ordering Makes You Feel Good Inside

Ministry of Whimsy, through Wyrm Publishing, has made the Last Drink Bird Head flash fiction anthology available for preorder at a $5 discount. All proceeds go to ProLiteracy, an organization that “champions the power of literacy to improve the lives of adults and their families, communities, and societies. We envision a world in which everyone can read, write, compute, and use technology to lead healthy, productive, and fulfilling lives.” Please note that if you plan to attend the World Fantasy Convention, you can preorder now and pick up your book at the Last Drink Bird Head Party (details on the party below). While we will be selling the book at the party, we cannot accept paypal or credit card orders there, so if you plan to pay using one of those methods, preordering is your best option. Just note that you want to receive the book at World Fantasy and we will have it there for you.

Last Drink Bird Head Party at the World Fantasy Convention in San Jose, October 29th

Thursday evening’s opening festivities at the convention will feature THE LAST DRINK BIRD HEAD PARTY, beginning at 8:00 PM, and open to all (room number to be announced). Join Guests of Honor Ann & Jeff VanderMeer in celebrating the release of Jeff’s new novel Finch, the last in the Ambergris Cycle, his writing book Booklife, and especially Last Drink Bird Head. Copies will be for sale at the event, and over 20 contributors will be at the party to sign Last Drink Bird Head! All proceeds on Last Drink go to, and 10% of all proceeds on Finch and Booklife will go to the 2009 World Fantasy Convention’s designated charity, Variety Childrens’ Charity of Northern California. Highlights will include Ann and Jeff giving out the 1st Annual Last Drink Bird Head awards, plenty of food and drink, and the chance to win a limited edition of Finch. Have fun and help some good causes at the same time. (Note: our primary purpose is to HAVE FUN and celebrate book releases. Even just blogging about the party and the antho would be a lovely contribution.)

The First Annual Last Drink Bird Head Awards

During the party, Ann and Jeff will give out the first Last Drink Bird Head Awards, which they hope will become an annual event at World Fantasy. A panel of judges convened in Switzerland to decide on the winners using a complex series of criteria (more information at the party). Winners receive a LDBH trophy, a lovely certificate, and, probably, chocolate.

A Sneak Peek at the Anthology

Scott Eagle provided the distinctive cover art, Jacob McMurray of Payseur & Schmidt contributed the cover design for the dustjacket, and John Coulthart contributed the interior design as well as the stamp imprint for the boards. Here are a few details from the interior, along with snippets of text from some of the entries.

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In the Dragon’s Jaws: The Immaculate Interrogation of Jesse Bullington

First of all, I want you to know that we will find out the truth.
If that were the case your first question would not be such a bald-faced lie.

What’s with the damn moustache?
This isn’t the Sceptered bloody Isle, this is America, and in America it is not spelled “moustache,” it is spelled “dandy whips,” and “it” is “with it.” I suggest you get with the same. Also, I wear a beard now.

Would you rather be dead?
That’s how we know we’re alive.

What the hell were you thinking, man?
Money money money money money give me money give it to me money money money. Glittery stalkerish nosferatu had been done, religious conspiracy thrillers owing more than they gave to speculative historians had been done, eight hundred page broomstick rugby epics had been done, and that left me with fuckword-and-vomit-spewing graverobbers pillaging Medieval Europe as the only can’t-miss cash cow of the upcoming holiday season.

Your characters all bastards. Yes? Ass.

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Linky Link Linkage for a Wednesday

Just a quick run-down of a few links for your lazy Wednesday afternoon…

– For Omnivoracious, I interviewed Eoin Colfer about his forthcoming Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy book, which included questions like “Were you aware there are easier ways to potentially receive a massive public beating than attempting to write a book as part of another author’s iconic series? Is it just that you’ve never taken the easy way out?”

– Also for Omnivoracious, I interviewed Nick Mamatas about his involvement with a new Viz imprint–good stuff!

– SF Signal interviewed me and other anthology editors about our various carpentry projects the whole process of editing anthologies.

– Our pirate anthology, Fast Ships, Black Sails (best original fantasy antho of 2008? I thought so, arrrr), got reviewed in a lot of different places as a result of Talk Like a Pirate Day. (Thanks, Matt and John.)

– Mr. Hines pulls a Dr. Seuss about the slushpile–hilarious. (Thanks, Chris.)