Feminist SF Anthology–Fully Funded, and Then Some!

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Ann and I are thrilled to announce that not only did the kickstarter for the Feminist SF Anthology hit its $12,000 goal for full funding, but went over $15,000. The extra money will help in areas like funding translations and adding pages to the book. Thanks SO MUCH to Jef Smith for proposing this project to us and to everyone who contributed or helped signal boost. In the end, the contributions averaged out to about $31 per person—a true group effort. And every little bit helped.

Personally, I feel very proud of our community and as we now move on to the hard part—selecting stories—we very much feel a responsibility to do the best possible job we can on this project. It’ll be a tough job—we were just talking the other day about how the book could be 500,000 words and not include all of the great stuff we love. Winnowing it down is going to be excruciating and painful.

Ann will be reading unsolicited reprint submissions starting in mid-June (more on that next week) and I will be using part of July for research, traveling north to visit some private libraries. (This travel is not on the kickstarter’s dime.)

Again, thanks to everyone—you’re all incredible, awesome people. We really feel a little choked up right now over the support for this project, and we’re looking forward to getting to work.

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Interviews and Advice

Furious fiction interview with me above, and Jenn Brissettinterviews me for the Gotham City Workshop, with questions about writing advice. I want to spotlight this bit, since these people were so important to me as a beginning writer:

“I had a creative writing teacher, Denise Standiford, in high school who introduced me to Angela Carter and who took me seriously. That was more important than any advice. In college at the University of Florida I was fortunate enough to fall under the wing for three very well-published writers. The first was Jane Stuart, the novelist daughter of Jesse Stuart. She also took me seriously, even when my work didn’t perhaps merit it, and she critiqued it, too. At the same time, the novelist Meredith Ann Pierce allowed me to be part of a workshop she ran. Pierce really looked at my work and offered great comments. And also during that period, the poet Enid Shomer critiqued my work and was very kind to me. All of these women during my formative years as a writer made it clear to me that I had some talent and that I should pursue my writing. I’m sure they all gave me great advice as well, but you can find advice anywhere. What you can’t always find is faith.”

BEA in New York City Next Week–Ann and Jeff VanderMeer

Right, so I’ll make this short and sweet. Ann and I will be at BookExpo America in NYC next week promoting The Weird compendium from Tor Books. Media requests can be sent to our publicist at Tor, Alexis Nixon, or send ‘em to us at vanderworld at hotmail.com and we’ll forward them to Alexis.

Our schedule:

12:00pm, June 5, Tuesday—SF/F & The Mainstream Panel on the Uptown Stage, with John Scalzi and Walter Mosley (moderated by Ryan Britt)

11:30am to 12:30pm, June 6, Wednesday—Table 21, Main Autographing Area, autographing!

In addition, there’s a strong probability that we’re going to show up at both of the awesome events listed below. We’re not involved in them, but we’d like to support them…and given our limited time in New York City and other stuff we’ve got to do at BEA, it’ll be really the only time we can see friends. So join us, friends!

June 4, 7pm, Monday—Bookrageous BEA Bash with Brian Slattery, Lev Grossman, etc. Info here.

June 5, 7pm, Tuesday—NYRSF Reading with N.K. Jemisin and Ekaterina Sedia, guest curated by K. Tempest Bradford. Info here.

The Science of Difficult Topics

Athena Andreadis has an interesting and useful post about rape over on her blog, which also includes a re-posted Evolutionary Psychology bingo card that I found quite illuminating. I think my favorite one was “Believes women out-talk men but keeps talking nonstop” since I’ve seen that one in action many times before. (I’ve also been guilty of the over-talking myself.)

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Post Human Conditions: Arc 1.2 Now Available with Komodo

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(Splash page for “Komodo” in Arc 1.2–art by Lydia Wong)

I posted here earlier about having had a novelette accepted by Arc Magazine, the awesome new glossy SF periodical being published by New Scientist in the UK. Well, it’s out now in Arc 1.2: Post Human Conditions–along with an amazing piece of art by Lydia Wong. Also in this issue of Arc, fiction by Nick Harkaway and features by Anne Gallaway, Frederick Pohl, and Regina Peldszus, among much other cool stuff. The first issue had fiction by Margaret Atwood and a lovely piece about China M. visiting squid and octopi at a marine lab. There’s ordering information here for electronic and print versions, and their blog entry about “Komodo” here.

I’m fairly excited about this story—it’s my longest published piece of fiction since my novel Finch came out in 2009–and I think Arc’s amazing look-and-feel is just what SF needs. It’s a stunningly beautiful magazine and I can’t wait to see what they get up to in the future. Always difficult to have the full sense of a magazine until you’ve read three or four issues.

Here’s the beginning of “Komodo”…

Child, standing there in your flower dress considering me with those wide dark eyes while the mariachi band plays out in the courtyard…I’m going to tell you a story. It doesn’t matter if you can’t understand me—they can, and they need to trust me, need to know I’m telling them this for a reason. But I need you, too, because every tale requires an audience, and you’re mine. So I hope you’ll stay awhile. It won’t take long. I don’t have long, anyway.

It starts in a strange place, I’ll admit, inside of a giant green plastic alien head. I was all dressed up. I was on my way to a party. Let’s say the party celebrated something like the Day of the Dead, and that I was in a hurry to get there not even because of looking forward to the party but to the after party. The after party is always where it’s at—if you can get an invite.

The Southern Reach Novels: Annihilation

As I’ve mentioned here before, I’ve been working on a new series of novels: The Southern Reach series. The first one, already completed, is entitled Annihilation and it’ll be sent around soon to publishers. Here’s a very rough draft description of the book: “Area X: mysterious, remote, and concealed by the government as an environmental disaster zone for more than 30 years. But strange forces are gathering in this pristine wilderness protected by an invisible, deadly border. The secret agency known as the Southern Reach has sent in eleven expeditions to discover the truth about Area X. Now, the twelfth will attempt to succeed where all others have failed…This is the story of that twelfth expedition, narrated by the biologist attached to the mission: a reticent, misanthropic woman who brings her secrets to Area X.”

Short excerpt below, which is somewhat atypical of the whole–don’t want to give away any spoilers! A flashback to her childhood.

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Entry Points into Fiction: Text Shows You How to Read It

This post was written in solidarity with Booklifenow, which has been publishing lots of wonderful and unique content—check it out!

I’ve been thinking a lot about the protocols of fiction in terms of story and novel beginnings, in part because of my own recent resurgence in writing fiction but also from reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312 (more on that later). Inherent in the idea of a beginning is a sense of what kind of story or mode of fiction you are about to enjoy (or hate). Some approaches to this riff off of the idea of formula, not necessarily in a bad way—it’s just as a shorthand to guide the reader to the right set of precepts for what the writer intends. Examples include prologues or first chapters of noir novels that contain certain elements—down-and-out detective, beginnings of a case—that create expectations. There will be a mystery. The main character will operate within certain constraints of opinions and options. Constraint can be a great way to write an amazing and original character, the original cliché become simply…original.

Other types of fiction require different approaches. A sloppy opening to a mystery still more or less serves the function of letting you know what you’re reading, whether the writer intends to support or subvert that expectation. But what if you’re not working off of a common pattern? For fiction that aggressively wrenches the reader out of existing patterns and modes it is even more important that the writer show the reader how to encounter the story. This is not to say that the writer is trying to straitjacket the reader, but that without an idea of the reading protocols, the reader may well feel adrift and the intended effect or effects of the story will not be part of the reader’s experience of the story. For example, take the beginning of “No Breather in the World But Thee,” a story I wrote recently and which is out in submission at the moment:

The cook didn’t like that the eyes of the dead fish shifted to stare at him as he cut their heads off. The cook’s assistant, who was also his lover, didn’t like that he woke to find just a sack of bloody bones on the bed beside him. “It’s starting again,” he gasped, just moments before a huge black birdlike creature carried him off, screaming. The child playing on the grounds outside the mansion did not at first know what she was seeing, but realized it was awful. “It’s just like last year,” she said to her imaginary friend, but her imaginary friend was dead. She ran for the front door, but the ghost of her imaginary friend, now large and ravenous and wormlike, swallowed her up before she had taken ten steps across the writhing grass.

What does this opening accomplish? Well, in some ways it may provoke whiplash in the reader, so there’s a risk involved in the approach, but in terms of an expectation set for readers it tells you that this is a story that will travel from point of view to point of view. Indeed the narrative then opens up after this paragraph into several connected set pieces from different perspectives, although at a more leisurely pace. The story is also telling you what it is and what it is not. It is a story of the weird, but it is not a traditional story of the weird. Giant birds, dead fish staring, imaginary friends, etc., all could be deployed in fairly conventional fashion in a story. Here they are not. Yet, you probably want to know what happens next.

In other cases, like my story “Komodo,” which will appear in the next issue of Arc magazine, the opening takes the opposite approach, in that the teaching to read will take place across the entire narrative:

Child, standing there in your flower dress considering me with those wide dark eyes while the mariachi band plays out in the courtyard…I’m going to tell you a story. It doesn’t matter if you can’t understand me—they can, and they need to trust me, need to know I’m telling them this for a reason. But I need you, too, because every tale requires an audience, and you’re mine. So I hope you’ll stay awhile. It won’t take long. I don’t have long, anyway.

It starts in a strange place, I’ll admit, inside of a giant green plastic alien head. I was all dressed up. I was on my way to a party. Let’s say the party celebrated something like the Day of the Dead, and that I was in a hurry to get there not even because of looking forward to the party but to the after party. The after party is always where it’s at—if you can get an invite.

I use a whole two paragraphs from the opening of “Komodo” as an example because the story is constantly redefining itself, in part because the narrator is acutely aware that too much information too soon will only confuse the issue and erode suspension of disbelief in those she is telling the story to. Thus, she is constantly finding comfortable analogies or lies to feed said listener to contextualize the story she is telling in familiar elements. Her hope is that as the story becomes stranger and stranger this approach will serve to keep the listener from becoming confused. Perhaps sneakily, perhaps not sneakily at all, this approach also saves the reader from discomfort in terms of concepts and context—especially since not only did I want to write a story that was continually unpacking and redistributing its context but also use the idea of rich nodes of exposition as tiny but satisfying explosions of micro-story within the main narrative, all framed by an engaging and energetic narrator with a personal stake in the described events. Which is to say, a more conventional approach that simply gave the full context in the first couple of paragraphs of the story would, in this case, have made the story less accessible; it also would not at all support the central conflict nor the narrator’s role in it.

Despite the complexity of these various elements, “Komodo” is still focused on just a couple of effects repeated multiple times in an order that provides a hopefully pleasing and continually eureka-ing effect. But what if you are telling a story that wants to do several diverse things, achieve more than one effect? How do you establish reading protocols for the multi-various? The most effective technique almost seems like indecision: it requires not committing immediately to any one set of protocols, with the danger that the reader may find your story at first adrift, unfocused, even if the individual scenes are quite precise and effective. But it’s all about not creating the distinctive tell in the reader’s mind that this is a particular type of tale.

In this case, there has to be a compelling reason to continue to read even as you’re not quite sure what kind of story you’re reading…and here we come back to Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312. It is an epic science fiction story on the one hand, a character story of the person Swan on the other. It is a love story between Swan and a man named Waltham, but also a tale of interplanetary intrigue. Robinson could have started with any of these things. He could have started with Waltham meeting Swan. He could have started with the first disastrous attack that sets off the intrigue. But he doesn’t. Instead, we start with Swan by herself, engaged in an interesting activity. From there, we are gradually are clued into the various elements of story and how they will work in combination. This serves the useful and obvious purpose, too, since it is an SF novel, of acclimating the reader to Robinson’s vision of the future. However, this inclination not to choose a position, so to speak, to foreground neither love story nor intrigue allows Robinson the space to privilege both strands, to make the novel somehow deeper and more real, less like fiction. The risk (slight in this case) is that a few readers may indeed be confused as to the point of the story for a few chapters, not to mention reviewers. At least one reviewer wrote all about the interplanetary plot and mentioned the relationships not at all, even though close to one-half the book may be said to be about Waltham and Swan. But this issue is irrelevant next to the more important point that 2312 is a better novel because of this approach.

This relates, too, to the ways in which writers sometimes destabilize their fiction to provide a more comfortable entry-point for the reader—you see these kinds of suggestions often from editors or agents, and they are not without validity; even the pushback against these ideas can provide interesting third options, or help strengthen other parts of a novel. To another writer reading such material, the destabilizations can read like deformities of structure or character; to many readers, it’s invisible and all they notice is that the launch-point into story is easy. Some would thus argue that the deformity is actually an enhancement and I’m not going to take issue with that here, in part because I think it also marks an ideological difference of opinion on what the beginning of a story is supposed to do. Some writers will argue that distortion is worth it if it provides a more efficient and readable delivery system for weirder/less conventional material embedded later on. (I personally find it irritating and disappointing more often than not.)

Sometimes the very genre creates an expectation that is more commercial—Alistair Reynolds’ early novels in particular are very, very strange, but the subgenre of space opera and the expectations the words “space opera” conjure up provide a smooth entry point for the reader, who once engaged finds themselves in marvelously weird territory indeed. So this smooth launch-point can come naturally as a function of the writer working within a recognizable and established genre, and thus it is an integrated element of the approach. I’m not arguing that the only difference between, say, China Mieville and Michael Cisco is the entry point, but if you look at Mieville’s beginnings as opposed to Cisco’s, you will note an easier time being had reading Mieville. There is no time to acclimate to Cisco. He’s not particularly interested in reader comfort levels and his idea of audience is probably very different from Mieville’s. (Yet, would Cisco’s novel The Narrator have reached more readers more easily with a different entry-point?)

I think about this issue more and more, in part because I’m working on so many different kinds of novels right now. This is nothing new for me. I had pieces of Veniss Underground and all three Ambergris novels done well before I completed them, and I can no longer tell where one started and another began. The new batch is accumulating much the same way, and in contemplating their effects, I need to think about beginnings, and where one approach makes more sense and where it doesn’t, where an easier way is a deformity as opposed to simply an enhancement, and so on and so forth. In all of it, too, you must think about what affects the reader and how, within the context of your idea of the ideal reader for the work. This is separate from the Reader that permeates the internet, the Reader that is generalized and for whom we are told all sorts of things that may or may not be true about their tastes, their wants, and what may or may not interest them.

Beginnings, then, are about levels of commitment—to the text, to the reader, to yourself. The possibilities are endless, and important.

HuffPo Posts Our List of 13 of The Weirdest

Just a note that the Huffington Post has run a slideshow featuring our list of 13 of the weirdest stories written in the past century, from our anthology The Weird. It’s an impossible task, but I think everything on the list, from Leena Krohn to Amos Tutuola, Kelly Link to Clive Barker…is pretty darn weird.

Release Week for The Weird Anthology: How You Can Help

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This week our anthology The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories is officially on sale. All this week we’re posting original content over at Weirdfictionreview.com, including an exclusive interview with the son of Amos Tutuola, fiction from Tutuola, an interview with Kathe Koja, Georg Heym’s iconic poetic short-short “The Dissection” and an essay on Heym by Gio Clairval, among other features. However, ever since the site debuted in November, we’ve been posting content related to the anthology, so check out the archives.

How You Can Help!

If you like weird fiction and want to support huge honkin’ anthologies full of weird fiction, here are some of the things you can do to help. Note: The Weird is a May featured pick of Amazon, Kirkus, Powell’s, and io9!

—Buy the book. It’s currently selling for a good price for an oversized hardcover. Buy it for friends. Buy it for family. From your preferred seller:

Barnes & Noble
Amazon
Powell’sIndiebound

—Review the book. Blog, review site, or on a sandwich board in front of your local bookstore. Any mention, especially noting whatever you really liked about the book, helps immensely.

—Review it on Amazon. Go to the Amazon sales page for the book and tell other readers what you liked about it. A quick and easy way to help get the word out and create interest.

—Make sure local booksellers carry it. The anthology seems to have a strong presence in bookstores, but you can always encourage booksellers who aren’t stocking it. You can even tell them it’s by the same people that brought them the Steampunk anthologies.

—Request it from your local library. Making sure your local library knows about the anthology not only increases library orders but allows multiple people to enjoy the book.

—Spread the word through twitter and facebook. Tell people about the anthology through social media, using one of the links above to bookseller sites or link to one of these Weirdfictionreview.com posts:

The Weird’s table of contents
More information about The Weird
—Come to the events. Ann and I will be at BEA in June, I’ll be at Stonecoast in Maine and at ReaderCon in July, and we’ll also both be doing some events in the Carolinas in late July (to be announced). We’ll have details on the events shortly.

More Info on the Anthology

I think by now, if you’ve followed this blog, you know the idea behind The Weird, but in case you missed it…

THE WEIRD: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories
Edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer

Tor Books (North American edition)
Foreword: Michael Moorcock
Introduction by the Editors
Afterword: China Mieville

Starred Reviews in Publishers Weekly and Booklist

Over one hundred years of weird fiction collected in a single volume of over 750,000 words, from around 1908 through 2010. Strands of The Weird represented include classic US/UK weird tales, the Belgian School of the Weird, Japanese weird, Latin American weird, Nigerian weird, weird SF, Feminist weird, weird ritual, general international weird, and offshoots of the weird originating with Surrealism, Symbolism, and the Decadent movement. The publishers believe this is the largest volume of weird fiction ever housed between the covers of one book.

‘The definitive collection of weird fiction… its success lies in its ability to lend coherence to a great number of stories that are so remarkable different and yet share the same theme’ TLS

‘Studded with literary gems, it’s a hefty, diligently assembled survey of a genre that manages to be at once unsettling, disorientating and bracing in its variety.’ James Lovegrove, Financial Times

‘It’s a tremendous experience to go through its 1,126 pages… there are so many delights in this that any reader will find something truly memorable’ Scotland on Sunday

‘Readers eager to explore a world beyond the ordinary need look no further’ Time Out

‘Massive…and indispensible.’ The Guardian