Archive for January, 2010

Finch Novel, Opening Chapters: Discarded Approaches

Jeff VanderMeer • January 6th, 2010 • Writing Tips


(The timeline I decided not to include–without the context of events in the novel, terms like “Hoegbotton” wouldn’t have any weight.)

As per my post from Tuesday, this is the first of two follow-up entries on the opening of my novel Finch. Finch is set in my fantastical city of Ambergris, but also borrows heavily from such genres as the spy novel, the noir mystery novel, and certain types of political thrillers. In the novel, an inhuman subterranean species called gray caps has risen up to take control of the city and subjugate the human population. As in Paris during Nazi control, the gray caps attempt to give a semblance of normality by providing institutions of order like a police force, even though these institutions are often merely a façade or horrible/absurd in nature. Against this backdrop, reluctant detective John Finch must solve a strange double murder.

The discussion that follows is by no mean complete with regard to what the opening of the novel is trying to do. Nor is authorial intent always paramount, in that when readers encounter a text, the text changes. Neither am I claiming the opening of Finch is perfect. I am simply relating the process that led to the final versions of those first two chapters.

You can read the first two chapters here.

To recap, I felt I had four possible entry points to the novel:

(1) John Finch, standing over two dead bodies, at the crime scene. Beside him are his inhuman gray cap boss, Heretic, and a Partial (a kind of traitor willingly working for the gray caps).
(2) John Finch poised at the door to the apartment, inside of which are the bodies, the Partial, and Heretic.
(3) John Finch at the police station, receiving the call from Heretic about the murders, telling him to come to the apartment.
(4) John Finch in some guise giving readers an overview of the fantastical city of Ambergris in which the story takes place before being called to the crime scene.

I tried all four of these approaches, but finally settled on #2.

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Jewcy Riffs on The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals

Jeff VanderMeer • January 6th, 2010 • Culture

Jewcy.com has run a cool little gallery feature on the Kosher Guide. They’ve used their own stock images, but run snippets of our text with it. Check it out–and buy early and often on this one.

And, for your mid-week entertainment, this piece by Rick Kleffel in the SA Current about New Weird, and the John Scalzi remix of the Finch insurgency poster (originally meant for my Big Idea piece on Whatever and created by Jeremy Tolbert)–in part as a way of introducing new readers to the Finch Reader’s Page, which has a bunch of cool stuff on it.

Finch: A Primer on Novel Openings (Please Chime In)

Jeff VanderMeer • January 5th, 2010 • Writing Tips

>>This is the second post in a continuing series on craft centered around discussion of my novel, Finch.

Sometimes the most complex effects rely on simple decisions. If you don’t put thought and effort into such decisions, the foundation of your novel is flawed and nothing you build on that foundation will be truly sound. (See Vladimir Nabokov’s Cornell lectures, which discuss things like the floorplan of a house in Jane Austen’s work, for example.)

In Finch, I had several decisions on how to begin the novel, each of which would’ve made a big difference to its tone and its later effects.

Choices on where to begin included:

(1) John Finch, reluctant detective, standing over two dead bodies, at the crime scene. Beside him are his inhuman gray cap boss, Heretic, and a Partial (a kind of traitor willingly working for the gray caps).

(2) John Finch poised at the door to the apartment, inside of which are the bodies, the Partial, and Heretic.

(3) John Finch at the police station, receiving the call from Heretic about the murders, telling him to come to the apartment.

(4) John Finch in some guise giving readers an overview of the fantastical city of Ambergris in which the story takes place before being called to the crime scene.

I tried all of these openings. Only one stuck.

>>>If you’ve read the novel, you know what I settled on. Do you know why I chose it? I’d love to hear reader speculation.

>>>If you haven’t read the novel (or even if you have), what do you think are the pros and cons of each approach above?

(If you participated in one of these discussions during my book tour, it’d be great if you’d chime in after a day or two, allowing others to comment first.)

I’ve prescheduled a longer post for Thursday explaining my own point of view on the various approaches so that you can read my thoughts prior to me factoring in your comments, and then we can discuss further if anyone’s interested. (I’ll include further analysis of the opening two chapters, as well.)

If you’d like to read the beginning of Finch, the publisher has the first chapters online.

Best American Fantasy 4 Now Reading: Guest Editor, Award-Winner Minister Faust

Jeff VanderMeer • January 4th, 2010 • News


(Cover by John Coulthart)

Feel free to spread these guidelines far and wide…

BEST AMERICAN FANTASY #4 NOW READING

The Best American Fantasy series (Underland Press) founded by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer is now reading fantasy short stories up to 10,000 words published or to be published from May 1, 2009 through May 31, 2010 for volume 4.

Stories must be by Latin American or North American residents and published in Latin American or North American publications (or magazine websites) during the May-to-May period. All work must have been published in English to be eligible.

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On Joanna Russ and The Secret Feminist Cabal

Jeff VanderMeer • January 4th, 2010 • Culture

On the Amazon book blog, I just posted an interview Graham Sleight did with Farah Mendlesohn about a book she edited titled On Joanna Russ. It’s a fascinating book and an equally fascinating interview, and I highly recommend you check it out.

Among other things, Farah points out the potential problems of the old boys’ club as typified by guys hanging out with guys at cons. Inasmuch as conventions are business opportunities–work-related–she has a good point, although I wonder if this is more of a UK phenomenon? (Update: I may wonder this, but Farah says it’s something observed at US cons.) At least, I know Ann and I always meet with and hang out with a wide variety of creators and editors whenever we’re at a con–there’s absolutely no backroom, smoke-filled nudge-nudge, wink-wink. She also says that men should be more proactive about complaining about male-only panels at cons. I agree in theory, but in practice the decision-making process behind con panels tends to be muddled and disorganized across many different criteria. My hope would be two-fold: (1) that cons wouldn’t put us white males on panels in this position to begin with and (2) that cons would be more systematic and thoughtful about programming in general. (With the understanding that being in charge of programming, and dealing with writer egos generally is a really thankless job.) In any event, food for thought.

I also talk briefly in the premable to the feature about The Secret Feminist Cabal, which I hope to devote a blog post to late in the week, depending on other deadlines.

Spore Score, Spore More, Bookspore, Linkspore?

Jeff VanderMeer • January 4th, 2010 • Culture

Cynthia Hawkins has an interview with Murder by Death, about the Finch soundtrack, up at InDigest, under the title “Spore Score” as well as an interview with me at Strange Horizons. (Phone interview from World Fantasy, with me somewhat breathless and using the word “stuff” too much.)

Futurismic has a nice Booklife review, and I’ve just posted a cleaned up version of a long comment I wrote awhile back about the whole publication payment issue.

Boston’s The Edge has an intriguing list of books from 2009 not to overlook, including Finch. It also includes Best American Fantasy 3, which isn’t out until next month.

Enough about me. What about you? I’m working all day–post me some linkage I oughta be looking at. (More than one link per post, and my blog spam may catch it.)

The Decade of the Aughts: Genre Fiction

Jeff VanderMeer • January 3rd, 2010 • Culture, Fiction

Much happened outside of the world of genre fiction in the early part of this century that might give further context to it, but for purposes of a focused overview, I have eschewed both general History and the Personal in terms of my intimate relationship to all I set out below.

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Scott Eagle: Art Is Life, Life Is Art

Jeff VanderMeer • January 1st, 2010 • Culture


(Scott Eagle, in his studio, which is in a lower level of his house.)

My wife Ann has just posted a gallery of Scott Eagle’s art as part of her regular feature on io9. Ann first published Scott’s art in the 1990s in her magazine The Silver Web; here’s the cover of the last issue of that magazine, by Scott.

It’s through Ann that I first experienced Scott’s amazing art. When it came time to think about cover art for City of Saints and Madmen, I recommended Scott, and he did an amazing original, which now hangs on the wall next to the equally wonderful piece he did for my short story collection Secret Life. Other art by him has graced the cover of my nonfiction collection Why Should I Cut Your Throat?, my novella The Situation, and, most recently, Last Drink Bird Head.

On my book tour, I was lucky enough to be able to stay at Scott’s house in Greensville, North Carolina, before heading on to Chapel Hill. Scott’s house and workspaces were as imaginative as his art. Since Ann’s just posted her feature, I thought a short visual tour of those spaces might be a worthy grace note, and Scott has graciously given his permission for me to do so. All photos were taken with my phone, so please forgive the quality.

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