Borne in Progress


After helping Ann deliver the Lambshead Cabinet antho, I’m back on track with my novel Borne.

In case anyone thinks writing a novel is a swift or easy thing to do, above find the marked-up first page of Borne above. I think it’s safe to post this since I’ve posted a version of this opening before.

Process-wise, I originally wrote the description of Mord in this post-apoc city with no real sense of the character’s point of view. I was more interested in getting down the description/details and making it a tactile, real experience. So I polished that until it was in shape for that initial, very simple purpose.

But, as usually happens, you get a deeper sense of character as you write, and have to go back. Somewhere around 10,000 words, the character clicked into focus and the next 10,000 words were different in style and voice. I let that run out to about a total of 35,000 words before coming back to the beginning, just so I’d have enough text to work with.

Now that I’m going back over the manuscript frag, that first 10,000 will change radically in voice as well as structure, and that will affect the next 25,000 because some stuff that occurs later in the novel will be placed closer to the beginning and the whole thing will eat itself and regenerate along different lines. Among the things that entails is fleshing out a character called the Magician, researching the history of traps, and reading Mike Davis’s Dead Cities.

The page above had gone through five drafts to get the description down, and now I’m ripping up the floorboards and constructing a different kind of room, so to speak. Some changes have to do with the narration, some with moving around information, some with setting. And in more than a few places this draft had way too many words better suited for an essay. I was much too in love with the descriptions, which would work perfectly well if this were a short-short. But it’s not. It’s the opening of a novel that is supporting, foreshadowing, and setting up many different things. In an odd way, it has to be simpler to become more complex. And, since I now know I’m writing a novel not a novella the opening can simultaneously convey less pure information since I have more space to add in what needs to be added in to properly contextualize.

A lot of this may seem bloodless in the way I’m describing process, but it’s actually an extremely personal, intimate, and emotional type of drafting, as my aim is to remain true to character and to the integrity of the events that should occur. There are also issues of balancing types of scenes, as the past is integral to the present of the story, but big lumps of past inserted incorrectly will, from the reader’s point of view, just slow down the story. So they must be correctly connected to the other scenes, including transitions that aren’t arbitrary or surface but hardwired and integral to the narrative.

All in all, just another day on the job, and immensely satisfying. But: requiring patience. Shortcuts and thinking something is done when it isn’t are killers to drawing out the full potential of a manuscript.

Purging the Past: Ambergris Beta Version, Frag #1

[encoded on the back of the dust jacket photo on the original hardcover of City of Saints:] I didn’t disappear. I tripped through one of the [redacted]. I became Samuel Tonsure, trying forever to return but failing, while my doppelganger, put in place by Dar Sarduce’s people, continued to write about the place: a hollow man writing an echo while I continued to flail through the history of the place, the link between me and my surrogate a hair-thin connection between my waking thoughts and his sleeping dreams. It is not because of the internet that he feels weak and attenuated at times. It is because he exists in two places at once, and is the copy. [airlifted: 3quests/sarnod]

Eventually, I came to a halt. I came to the edge of an underground sea. I became content in my exile and the world I had come from became the dream. I rested there dormant and then dead for a long time.

Then Duncan Shriek came and ate my memories. Brought me back. In his head. An original now a copy. Forever ensconced within his brain and copies of his brain. The link with my doppelganger renewed, faded, then severed for good.

Once, I stood on the shore of an endless sea and wondered what would become of me. Now I am everywhere and nowhere. Now I am at rest.

Excerpt: Finch Presentation, Thrilling Wonder Stories 2 Conference


From Thrilling Wonder Stories 2 (Nov. 26, London)

The Occupiers, the gray caps, flood the city. They transform the city of Ambergris through chaos and purpose. And six years later, Finch is stuck within the new order as reluctant collaborator. Is compromised by his mere presence in a police station, his status as investigator of a double murder that the rebels don’t want him to solve and his inhuman bosses insist he solve on penalty of his life.

But what does the Rising mean for the city of Ambergris? What does it mean for the spaces Finch must negotiate in his investigation? What is the city occupied, and what is it as a failed state?

(Aeron Alfrey)

As the city moves to a post-colonial situation, it is becoming a colony again, just for a different side. It is becoming contaminated from within and without. An occupied city can be a city in a straitjacket—martial law, curfews, road blocks, imprisonments—but occupied cities that also exist as failed cities can have both less and more agency. They are simultaneously closed vessels and extremely porous. The cross-pollination that occurs creates hybrids of necessity, and allegiances that make little sense out of context.

In Ambergris, then, Occupation takes roughly three forms.

Reconstruction, Renovation, and Transformation. All three of these contexts or states of being impact not just the city’s present, but also its past and its future.

—Re/Construction: Rebuilding and new construction that alters the very map of the city in ways that favor the Occupier.

—Renovation: Perhaps more properly, repurposing, as in the repurposing of existing spaces.

—Transformation: More radical than “construction” or “renovation,” “transformation” creates change in an irreversible way while at times revealing the gap between the reach and intent of the occupier and the culture of the occupied. These transactions sometimes lead to situations beyond the ken of even the occupier.

It is in all three states that my fantasy world and the real world coincide, echo, and mirror—communicate with each other.

[Read more…]

Monstrous Creatures to Debut at FOG Con, March 2011


Happy to finally have a release date for my nonfiction collection: March 2011. The delays have been my fault entirely, due to the pressure of other deadlines (like delivering, with Ann, 750,000 words of The Weird to Atlantic). You can preorder the hardcover or trade paper here. The publisher’s description of the book, cover by Eric Orchard:

Guide Dog Books is proud to announce the release of Jeff VanderMeer’s Monstrous Creatures: Explorations of Fantasy through Essays, Articles and Reviews. An entertaining, eclectic chronicle of modern fantastical fiction, this collection delivers incisive commentary, reviews, and essays pertaining to permutations of the monstrous, whether it’s other people’s monsters, personal monsters, or monstrous thoughts. A two-time winner of the World Fantasy Award, Jeff VanderMeer is one of speculative fiction’s foremost voices. For the past 20 years, he has not only written weird literary fiction, translated into 20 languages, but written about it extensively, influencing the way people think about fantasy through reviews in major papers like The Washington Post and The New York Times, as well as through interviews, thoughtful essays, blog posts, teaching, and guest-speaking. Monstrous Creatures, a follow-up to his 2004 nonfiction collection Why Should I Cut Your Throat?, collects all of his major nonfiction from the past five years, including such controversial pieces as “The Romantic Underground,” “The Triumph of the Good,” and “The Language of Defeat.” Interviews with writers like Margo Lanagan and China Miéville are an added bonus, creating a dialogue with VanderMeer’s own interpretations of the monstrous in the fantastical.