Happy Holidays–and Thanks

(Matt, Ann, and Eric. Yes, Cheney and Schaller are nuts.)

Today I’d like to thank everyone who read with me at events and/or put me up (put up with me?) during my recent five-week book tour. Special thanks to my wife Ann, Matt Staggs, Luis Rodrigues, Jeremy Tolbert, S.J. Chambers, John Coulthart, my publishers, the bookstores & other venues, people like Rob Davies who put up posters, and my readers, without whom the tour wouldn’t have been possible.

Sincere thanks and affection to:

My fellow readers/presenters…

Natania Barron
Terry Bisson
S.G. Browne
David Anthony Durham
Jeffrey Ford
Will Hindmarch
Glen Hirshberg
Ron Hogan
Jeff Johnson
Jay Lake
Mur Lafferty
Brian Lindenmuth
Geoff Manaugh
J.M. McDermott
Cherie Priest
Ekaterina Sedia
Cat Rambo
Sandra Ruttan
Eric Schaller
Kevin Smokler
Paul Tremblay

My gracious hosts…

Natania Barron & Michael Harrison
Jeanne B. Benzel
Victoria Blake
Darin Bradley & Rima Abunasser (and Lizzie)
Matt Cheney
J.T. Glover & Kyla Tew
Leslie Howle
Jason Kennedy & Duane Manka
Brian Lindenmuth & Sandra Ruttan
Cat & Wayne Rambo
Eric Schaller and Paulette Werger
Jacob & Rina Weisman
David & Pamela Wesley

And below the break, some shots from our awesome Thanksgiving holiday with our friends Matt Cheney, Eric Schaller and his wife Paulette Werger…

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Air Fish Anthology: 1993 Genre “Core Sample”

In doing research for a project, I came across my contributor copy of Air Fish: An Anthology of Speculative Works edited by Joy Oestreicher and Richard Singer. It was published about 17 years ago in 1993. For its year, I thought it was one of the stronger anthologies. Here’s the complete table of contents. I reproduce it here because I find an occasional “core sample” from the history of genre instructive at times, especially as we slouch toward 2010.

The particulars about Air Fish: It was a cross-genre, indie-press anthology that probably shared a lot in common with the now defunct(and always interesting) fiction magazine New Pathways, which itself shared points of view with the largely nonfic magazine SF Eye, one of the great lost mags covering genre fiction.

Much as CDs and downloads brought many albums back into wide release, I think anthologies like Air Fish provide a good argument for finding ways to bring back inexpensive PDF or print-on-demand editions of these ghosts lost to hardcopy history. (Assuming copyright issues can be dealt with.)

What do the contents tell us about genre fiction in 1993? What does it tell us about the arc and longevity of careers? What does it tell us about the indie press of the time? (Recognizing…it’s a very small sample, but still…)

(Larger version of the image here.)

(Larger version of the image here.)

For me, this TOC is first and foremost…awesome. It’s jam-packed with talent. It also brings back nostalgia and “where-are-they-now” emotions, along with a recognition of fellow survivors.

Cory Doctorow and I went to Clarion East together in 1992. Brian Evenson and I met when our first books both went south with the same publisher around 1994. Misha, Michael Andre-Driussi, and Thomas Metzger were all writers I always felt I looked at from across a long hallway with an admiring nod. Jacie Ragan is a prolific poet with whom I had a correspondence via letter. I first encountered Ursula Pflug in this anthology, and subsequently published her in Album Zutique and elsewhere as a result. Bruce Holland Rogers would become one of my favorite writers.

Cliff Burns was, for a time, one of my best friends. Steve Rasnic Tem I knew of before Air Fish–had, in fact, published him in Jabberwocky in 1991–and still count as one of the best dark fiction writers out there.

John Shirley already had a heavy-duty career by then, and Adam-Troy Castro would get one. William Browning Spencer was championed by Gordon Van Gelder at St. Martin’s Press. Mark McLaughlin came up through indie press around the same time I did. Sue Storm, who I haven’t seen fiction from in several years, was a rising star at the time. Gerard Houarner I don’t think had books out yet, but has books out now. David Memmott has done great things as both a writer and as a publisher. t. winter-damon and D.F. Lewis have been indie press stalwarts, their surreal and wonderfully eccentric work having been published now for almost three decades.

Look at the artist list, too: early work from Shaun Tan; creators don’t just fall out of the sky fully-formed. The great surreal collage-ist Thomas Wiloch is also there, among others.

Which brings me to some specific questions…

—Would it have been clear to a reader in 1993 that “Jeff VanderMeer” by 2004 would have a publishing deal with Pan MacMillan and Bantam? Or even have books out at all?

—Could you have predicted Tan’s “The Arrival” from his image on the cover?

—Who, in today’s TOCs, are the equivalents of some of these writers career-wise or creatively?

—What are the creators I didn’t mention up to? How many of them are still writing? (Perhaps others can fill in the blanks.)

—What will a core sample from 2009 look like in 2026?

Finch and Black Hawk Down: Translating Technique from Movies to Fiction

(What does a scene in the movie Black Hawk Down have to do with fiction? Read on below…)

In a general way, TV and movies have often had a terrible influence on fiction, in that some writers substitute received experience and received ideas from mass media for their own personal vision–some even think the structure of most TV shows is perfectly suitable, untranslated, for novels and stories. A lot of this material, reading like scripts or in other ways underwhelming, appears on editor slushpiles every day.

But there are also specific ways in which other media enhance and influence fiction. One example common to most fiction now is the cut-away from scene to scene, wherein you don’t get, for example, our hero or heroine driving from point A to point B. One reason that Lord of the Rings feels dated sometimes is because Tolkien doesn’t cut away for the most part, leaving in pastoral bits of quest that slow the pacing and don’t always resonate with a modern reader.

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Reports from the Road: Richmond/Fountain Bookstore

(Me, looking a little worn and fat–nothing a few weeks in the gym and a haircut won’t cure.)

I’ve just posted a piece on Amazon’s book blog about my experiences in Richmond, especially with regard to the Poe Museum and the marvelous Fountain Bookstore, as well as book recommendations and links to articles about Poe by S.J. Chambers.

The video above was taken by Kelly Justice and the great people at Fountain, and includes my take on the tour thus far–including something about maps on underwear. My readings from Booklife and Finch will be posted as separate videos in the fullness of time.

I should note that Fountain sells new books. One of the best used bookstores I’ve seen is Richmond’s Chop Suey (photo from their stairs below the cut) and it’s made even better because of the Bizarre Market that they share the second floor with (second photo)…I bought a lot of my holiday gifts there. Thanks to J.T. Glover for taking me there.

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Housekeeping, Fountain Bookstore, and More

The video above is a promo I shot for Fountain Bookstore in their basement, with blooper at end. I highly recommend Fountain, and they may still have signed copies of Finch and Booklife; if you live in Richmond, check them out–great owner and staff. Just look at the cool display they did for Finch, for my reading there:

…But there’s an additional purpose to this post, as the end of the year closes in on us. Some reminders and other housekeeping.

– Victoria Blake at Underland Press is offering a special on Finch limiteds. Mention this code with your order and you get 15% off your total: xmas09

– We are reading reprint submissions for the Steampunk Reloaded anthology. Check out the original guidelines post here. If you don’t submit and we don’t find your story in our research phase, well, it’s on you, bud. LOL. (Please help us spread the word.)

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Madras Press Tiny Editions: Perfect Stealth Gift for Holidays

Okay, so maybe these tiny books from Madras Press featuring original stories by Aimee Bender, Sumanth Prabhaker (the founder of the press), Trinie Dalton, and Rebecca Lee wouldn’t make it to their destinations in time for Christmas, but probably by New Year’s. You can’t find them on Amazon or anywhere except the press’s website and some indie bookstores. Which makes them great stealth gifts. They’re beautifully produced and I’ve read all four–great writing, lovely design. Sumanth had a story in Best American Fantasy #1 and both Ann and I love his work.

So go check out the website for Madras Press and learn more about this cool new boutique publisher. Highly recommended.

Finch and Booklife: Bring ‘Em Home for the Holidays?

Just a note that although Finch and Booklife have both gone back to reprint due to brisk sales, they should still be available in most bookstores. Also, Finch will be a featured selection of Indiebound in January, apparently, so support your indie bookstores by picking it up there if you can. (If you want to give me a holiday gift, btw, go to Amazon and write a review of Finch.)

Finch is out from Grove Atlantic in the UK/British Commonwealth in August of next year, and Booklife from A&C Black in July. There’s a distinct possibility I’ll be in the UK in July.

Signing My Booklife on Tour: “Zombie boy doesn’t need brains.”

Because I’d never done a five-week book tour (44 days including the World Fantasy Convention), I decided to bring a copy of my writing strategy guide Booklife with me that anyone I met could sign–at the events and outside of them. Even though I forgot to take it to a few of the 30-plus gigs and even though not everyone at the events signed the book, I wound up with an amazing memory of the tour–over 800 signatures, many with drawings, several of the personalizations hilarious. The vast majority were also huge morale boosters, with people wishing me well and pointing out some aspect of my talk or reading or presentation that they’d enjoyed.

Especially early on, a few readers were puzzled when confronted by the idea of going to a reading and signing a book for the author. A few declined to sign. A friend’s father basically said he didn’t sign anything he hadn’t read first and spent the next half-hour scrutinizing Booklife before finally signing it. In general, though, most people really liked the idea and got into the spirit of it. (The only folks who said mean things were good friends who were being cheeky.) In many places, it also added to a kind of party atmosphere, especially since at most events I would encourage everyone to join me at the bar afterwards. I honestly think more writers on long tours should do this–it’s a lovely way to get more of a sense of your readers.

Here are a few of my favorite scrawlings (with attribution where legible), followed by some photos of some others that have to be seen in context or involve drawings. I’m planning on getting someone to bind this copy into hardcover boards, as it’s beginning to fall apart a bit…

“While you Twitt, I will Knit” – Drea

“Jeff is a fungus among us.”

“Jeff—[Booklife] is great. It was also delicious.” – Keyan Bowes (referring to the Booklife cake at the World Fantasy Con)

“No matter what, don’t look for filarial worms on Youtube.” – Zak

“Survival Tip #1: There are no survival tips—MARRY RICH.” – Louis Phillips

“More Torture Squids, please.” – Mason

“This is a great idea—make the readers do all the work.” – Jennifer

“You’re friendly even before coffee.” – Joy

“This is a formal apology for Greensboro.” – Nadine

“Zombie boy doesn’t need brains.” – Chris

“I totally put my poetry on Myspace and, like, nobody has offered to buy it. I think I’ll write a poem about it. Then they will be sorry.” – Randy

“Now I know hamsters are a good thing.” – Eirk Allen

“Just imagine I wrote something pithy and insightful on page 47.” – Eben

“Maybe the next edition will allow for something about dealing with people who call you Vanderberg.” – Tim

“Some things are unGoogleable!” – Kathy Sedia

“It was nice meeting you at Thanksgiving.” – Raquel, aka “cholera girl”

“Did you get your fucking coffee? Thanks for coming to Joisey.” – Jeff F

“Don’t forget the undead fetal pigs.”

“I’ve heard a lot of good things about Booklife–mostly from Jeff!”

“One foot on orange ladder. One foot on nonfunctioning big TV hovering over mile-high stack of PBR to do your reading: Priceless.” – S. Parsons

“Are Appendices even legal?”

“Thank you for letting me spend an hour telling you what your books are about.” – Ron Hogan

“Jeff VanderMeer is a curmudgeon and does not get any ice cream.” – Tessa

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Review of N. K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (Orbit Books, 2010)

Jeff suggested to me yesterday that he’d be all right with me posting this before Friday, so I hope this entry is not ill-timed. If it is, Jeff, feel free to take it down!

Now here’s the review:

More spheres floated in this room, dozens of them. They were fantastically varied—of all shapes and sizes and colors—turning slowly and drifting through the air. They seemed to be nothing more than a child’s toys, until I looked closely at one and saw clouds swirling over its surface.

Sieh hovered near as I wandered among his toys, his expression somewhere between anxiety and pride. The yellow ball had taken up position near the center fo the room; all the other balls revolved around it.

“They’re pretty, aren’t they?” he asked me, while I stared at a tiny red marble. A great cloud mass—a storm?—devoured the nearer hemisphere. I tore my eyes from it to look at Sieh. He bounced on his toes, impatient for my answer. “It’s a good collection.”

Trickster, trickster, stole the sun for a prank. And apparently because it was pretty. The Three had borne many children before their falling-out. Sieh was immeasurably old, another of the Arameri’s deadly weapons, and yet I could not bring myself to dash the shy hope I saw in his eyes.

“They’re all beautiful,” I agreed.

It was when I reached this passage, on page ten of N. K. Jemisin’s debut novel The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (forthcoming from Orbit Books in 2010), that I fell in love. [Read more…]

Endurance Book Tour Book Haul: Five Weeks of Acquisitions

(A book on Nabokov’s work I hadn’t yet acquired, and an indie chapbook bought in Portland’s Powell’s Books.)

I thought I’d been most reasonable as to my book-buyin’ ways while on tour, but when confronted with the full weight of my acquisitions, it became clear I’d been a little profligate in my purchases. Still, some of these were snatched for free from the National Book Awards, some given for free by various booksellers at the bookstores in which I hawked my Finch and my Booklife. Others came into my possession as the result of steep discounts. Still others I would’ve bought regardless. For example, I cannot resist a Picador Europa Edition. If you ever want to lure me into an alley to mug me, simply attach a Europa edition to a hook and reel me in.

“But, Jeff, where are the genre books?” Heh. Dude. While I was gone, over 500 copies of SF/fantasy/horror books came in for review, not including graphic novels and other, non-genre stuff. When I buy for myself, it’s rarely genre. My reading tastes are pretty wide anyway.

So here’s what I bought, with some notes.

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