The End of Ambergris: Remembering It All, Forgetting It All

(Finch, hitting bookstores on November 3.)

The postman brought a box of Finch today. I opened them half-reluctantly for some reason, then just about died when I saw the top copies were gap-toothed: the left margin of the cover didn’t quite match up to the interior pages. Then saw these were only the first few on top, and the rest were fine. I’d had a sudden image in my head of these village-idiot-looking copies populating bookstores. But, not to worry. The majority look awesome.

In the back, there’s the classiest advert I’ve ever seen in a book:

And it looks awesome next to the Murder by Death CD (that band is just so bad-ass; don’t know another word for it).

For awhile I didn’t have the heart to open Finch up and look it over. I just didn’t know if I could take, after one of the hardest pre-production schedules ever, which included re-typesetting the book…if I could take finding an error. What if a page number was missing or a whole page was missing? I know it sounds ridiculous, but after being so involved in every aspect of this novel for so long, the agony of that would be excruciating. It’d be like having a fingernail pulled out.

So I put the copies out on the table and then kind of circled them for awhile before diving in. There are no errors that I can find. Of course, by then I had a different problem: the weight of it finally hit me, that this is the end of Ambergris, the end of a cycle of stories and novels I’ve worked on ever since I was 25. It’s defined most of my adult life as a writer. This work is primarily responsible for my being able to keep freelancing full-time. The books have been translated into twelve languages. I’ve seen people dressed as characters from the books at conventions. People have gotten tattoos of images from the books. And art–a lot of art has been used in the Ambergris Cycle, and a lot of art has been inspired by it.

Thanks to Ann for being by my side during the writing of every single bit of Ambergrisian fiction. Thanks to all of the artists and other creators involved, especially Eric Schaller, Scott Eagle, and John Coulthart. (John, you made Finch look like a million bucks, and King Squid and the title pages in City of Saints are classics.) And, heck, the great musicians like Robert Devereux and The Church and now Murder by Death–has any book cycle ever had three such distinctive soundtracks?–and Juha Lindroos for the Shriek movie. Thanks to everyone who ever commented on rough drafts, and to everyone who’s read and enjoyed (or not enjoyed) the books. I can’t name everyone because I’ll forget someone, but in addition to my foreign editors, thanks to these editors who took chances on the Ambergris books: Sean Wallace at Prime Books, Peter Lavery at Pan McMillan, Juliet Ulman at Bantam, Jim Minz and Liz Gorinsky at Tor, and Victoria Blake at Underland. (The British Commonwealth rights to Finch just sold to a prestige editor at a real heavy-hitter in the UK, but the multiple tiers of my superstitions don’t allow me to mention that person’s name until the contract is signed.)

So I’m sitting there looking at a copy of Finch–this book I put blood, sweat, and tears into–and feeling a little maudlin and a little proud at the same time, remembering everything, forgetting everything. If I ever write about Ambergris again, it’ll be a totally different place. It’ll be unrecognizable. And I’ll be in a different place.

Untold Story of City of Saints


  1. says

    Go, man! That is a glorious achievement, sir. It’s your Holmes. And I hope that myriad new worlds await when you’ve collected your brain scatter from the Finch chaos.

  2. says

    Hey Jeff, and Congratulations! Still remember leafing through my copy of City of Saints as a 15/16-year old. :)

    At some point down the line (one Finch and Booklife has quietened down, at least partially), would it be possible to make a poster/print of the “raw” City of Saints cover art? I know the logistics would probably be pretty intense, but – assuming a hi-res version exists, and the artist (Scott Eagle?) is willing – I’d love to have something like that grace my bedroom wall!

  3. says

    Justin–it’s been in the back of my mind to do for some time. That and the original hardcover dustjacket, which looks absolutely beautiful. I’m sure Scott would be willing. (Exciting, too–I finally get to pick up the original art from Secret Life from Scott on the last part of the tour.)

  4. says

    Anne Rice has found a fulfilling creative life after Lestat and the Mayfair witches. I’m sure you’ll find new worlds to create after your fungus. I will be exploring Ambergris myself soon. I’m a new reader to your world. Thanks for sharing your creations with us.

  5. Hellbound Heart says

    finch released november third, what a birthday pressie that’ll be…..well, the day after my b’day, anyway…….

    your ambergris literature is an astounding body of work…..thanks for sharing it with us, jeff……

    peace and love….

  6. Johanna Vainikainen-Uusitalo says

    Well, Jeff, here’s another pair of teary eyes. I loved translating City, loved reading Shriek and Finch and sincerely hope to get to translate them some day. Thank you for Ambergris. And congratulations!!!!

  7. says

    I’m rereading City of Saints and Shriek at the moment to make sure I can get the most out of Finch. Dradin in love leaves me reeling every time.

  8. Transfiguring Roar says

    ‘Ambergris is dead?’ – TR

    ‘TR is dead!’ – Ambergris

    City of Saints and Madmen rekindled my passion, my hunger, for fantasy. It now keeps me going, looking for something with a unique flavour. Well done, Jeff, on creating some very awesome work.

  9. says

    Congratulations, Jeff! City of Saints was one of three novels that really relit my passion for fantasy at a time when I was becoming increasingly disinterested in what was being published. And in finding out more about you and your work, I’ve been introduced to a whole host of other writers, titles and publishers I never knew existed, so it’s not ‘just’ your Ambergris cycle that I’ve to be thankful for, but all the work you do. Thanks!

  10. says

    I remember hearing of City back in 2003, just a little bit after Prime put out the hardcover edition. I wanted something different from the turgid multi-volume works that dominated internet forum discussions back then and I’m glad that not only have I enjoyed your Ambergris books (and your other fiction), but that through this blog I’ve been introduced to several more authors of similarly-high quality.

    I’m just amazed that you’re seemingly more able to close such a setting after three books, rather than attempting to beat it to death, like so many authors seem to have done over the past few decades.

  11. says

    I haven’t been acquainted with Ambergris quite as long as you, Jeff, but digging through my order history at Amazon, I see it’s been seven years since I first visited it. Looks like City of Saints turned up in a box with some Italo Calvino and some Lenny Bruce–pretty good company, I’d say.

    Your books have been a frequent touchstone since then, obviously. Thinking about how much has changed in my life over this time, I’m kind of blown away to imagine the journey you’ve been on for (gulp) three times as long. Keep writing the good write.

  12. Jeff VanderMeer says

    go back to sleep, those who are supposed to be asleep! thanks for the comments. it’s interesting to get different perspectives on it all.

  13. says

    My brother gave me City of Saints and Madmen for Christmas just three years ago and I had it standing in my bookcase for almost a year before starting to read it. Not only did it turn out to be one of the best books I’ve ever read, it also rekindled my love for the genre in general. I’ve since read both Shriek and Veniss Underground as well as some of your short fiction and now I’m extremely excited about my Christmas present this year, the Heretic Edition of Finch.

    Is this really, really the end of Ambergris? Have you ever considered revisiting Veniss? Congratulations and good luck with your upcoming projects!

  14. Juha T says

    I’m not supposed to be asleep (I’m supposed to be working), so I’ll just say that I’m really looking forward to Shriek arriving in the mail. Like many of the other commenters here have said, your work has both inspired me and acted as a gateway drug to a whole world of great literature. Reading through your account of the struggle involved in getting City of Saints published gave me a whole extra level of appreciation for your acheivement. I just hope you remember to live it up once in awhile. Congratulations!

  15. says

    What’s cool about a book is Ambergris will never die. As long as a new reader picks up one of the books for the first time, Ambergris lives again, and all your blood, sweat, and fears continue to shape the imaginations of the world.


  16. Jonathan K. Stephens says

    I just had to say something in this impromptu Ambergris guest-book because in so many ways, both real and imagined, access to Ambergris has changed my life. Many, many thanks for sharing it Jeff, and here’s to you! I’m sure it’s 5 o’clock somewhere but anytime is a good time for a pint of Smashing Todd’s!



  17. the dooz says

    I remember my first encounter with Ambergris. City of Saints blew my mind. Shriek is one of the coolest books i’ve ever read Jeff. I can’t wait to get my hands on Finch. It’s writers like you and Nabokov that make people like me not want to be a writer. You are too good. It pisses me off! Lol. I’ll always enjoy your work and I am sad to see this may be the last of Ambergris. I was always curious about Duncan’s underground adventures. I wonder what ever happened to him. Take care and congrats on completing the cycle.

  18. says

    “…I think Finch will satisfy you.” BWAAAAHAAAAHAAAaaaaa! Oh man, you’re so clever.

    Finch will blow you away. I read it probably six months ago and it’s still affecting my consciousness. Every day.

    So is Dradin. City of Saints. Shriek. This is all such a deeply-ingrained part of my life that honestly I’m sad and ecstatic at the same time. That’s confusing for a simple man, but I’ll deal with it. Jeff I’ve been thinking back over all the years and it’s really been special. You have no idea.

    Thank you.

  19. says

    City of Saints and Madmen just blew my mind. After that, I just wanted to read everything you wrote. I am looking forward to getting myself a copy of Finch. I just love Ambergris.