A Summer of Writing: Fiction, VanderMeer Creative, Upcoming Events

If you’ve followed me on twitter or facebook, you know I’ve had a fair number of gigs already this year, including a great one at the Arthur C. Clarke Center for the Human Imagination in San Diego last week. I also saved a toad at my sister-in-law’s wedding in San Antonio and that same night learned I’d won the Nebula Award for Annihilation (the first for my publisher, FSG)this after recently selling my new novel Borne to FSG, with the UK rights going to Fourth Estate and Canadian rights to HarperCollins Canada. Today, too, I learned the Southern Reach trilogy has a Portuguese publisher.

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2015 Shared Worlds Teen Writing Camp Line-Up Change: Buckell and Sedia Added

Happy to say that Ekaterina Sedia and Tobias Buckell are returning to teach at Shared Worlds again this year. They’re both excellent instructors and the students will really enjoy them.

Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant unfortunately have unforeseen circumstances that will not allow them to attend as our guests. But we hope to reschedule them in the future.

Here’s more on Sedia and Buckell–and you can see our entire line-up online, including Catherynne M. Valente and Monica Byrne. All of our guests will be reading at Hub City Bookstore, schedule to be announced. Ann and I will also be there, of course.

Tobias S. Buckell is a New York Times Bestselling author born in the Caribbean. He grew up in Grenada and spent time in the British and US Virgin Islands, which influence much of his work. His novels and over 50 stories have been translated into 18 different languages. His work has been nominated for awards like the Hugo, Nebula, Prometheus, and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Science Fiction Author. He currently lives in Bluffton, Ohio with his wife, twin daughters, and a pair of dogs.

Ekaterina Sedia resides in the Pinelands of New Jersey. Her critically-acclaimed and award-nominated novels, The Secret History of Moscow, The Alchemy of Stone, The House of Discarded Dreams, and Heart of Iron, were published by Prime Books. Her short stories appeared in Analog, Baen’s Universe, Subterranean, and Clarkesworld, as well as numerous anthologies, including Haunted Legends andMagic in the Mirrorstone. She is also the editor of the anthologies Paper Cities (World Fantasy Award winner),Running with the Pack, Bewere the Night, and Bloody Fabulous as well as The Mammoth Book of Gaslit Romanceand Wilful Impropriety.

A Summer of Reading, Sardinia, the Warwick Prize, & More

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This summer I’m a guest at the Isle of Stories Festival in Sardinia, with an event July 3 (more details here). I’m taking some writing with me–about done with a novella entitled “Bliss” and some short stories. But I’m also taking some books! And what books. Great stuff has come in the door recently. In addition to the Lispector Complete Stories (more info below), I’m in the middle of reading some great books. Here are some first impressions.

ENRIQUE VILA-MATAS’ A BRIEF HISTORY OF PORTABLE LITERATURE (New Directions)–I must admit I envy Vila-Matas. He’s sneaky, funny, gets to be somewhat experimental but is still accessible, and underneath it all he knows how to tell an entertaining story. This tale of a secret society of writers and artists could just be an in-joke, but it’s not.

JOSEPH ROTH’S THE HOTEL YEARS (New Directions)–Written between WWI and WII, these essays cover a variety of topics, serious and less serious. Some are observations in a moment, others deeply evocative of setting, and some touch on politics. I’m just getting into this one, but it’s already an interesting look at the past, in a sense. For some reason, I’m drawn to think of the movie The Grand Budapest Hotel (perhaps I should be chided for that) and then its source material while I’m reading.

MARIANNE FRITZ’S THE WEIGHT OF THINGS (Dorothy Project). Brian Evenson blurbed this one as starting out simply and gently and then wading “into resonant darkness.” I haven’t gotten to the darkness yet, but it is already striking me in good ways and I’m intrigued. ALTHOUGH NOTHING INTRIGUES ME MORE than backcover copy mentioning a 10,000-page book by Fritz titled “Fortress” that she created elaborate diagrams in full color for and which Dorothy Project claims is untranslatable. For shame for shame, Dorothy. I think you should do it. At the very least, I am going to have to track down a copy in the original Austrian.

JUSSI ADLER-OLSEN’s THE KEEPER OF LOST CAUSES (Plume)–Although this one starts out a bit shakily, this first Department Q novel soon finds its sea legs and becomes an engrossing mystery about an abducted woman and the eccentric and shaken detective who picks up the cold case and begins to pursue it. Lively, with some unexpected scenes on a human level as well as good twists. I’ve become addicted to this one and expect it to hold up to the end.

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Earlier this summer, I also read the following books (in no particular order), all of which I recommend and some of which seem like essential reading.

EKA KURNIAWAN’s BEAUTY IS A WOUND (New Directions) –This Indonesian author’s English-language debut is scatological, scandalous, lively, beautiful and dark and messed up and fantastical. It’s like One Hundred Years of Solitude kicked into another gear, with almost a punk sensibility housed within gorgeous writing–and stories coiled within stories within stories. One of the most brilliant things about the novel is how Kurniawan never loses the thread even when spinning so many tales at once.

PHIL KLAY’s REDEPLOYMENT (Penguin)–I still feel that this is best paired with The Corpse Exhibition by Hassan Blasim but on a re-read I really liked quite a few of these stories. A couple fall flat, like one set on a college campus, but in general it was a recommended read, with several that seemed brave and different to me.

JOANNA WALSH’s VERTIGO (Dorothy Project)–Stunning short, sharp shocks with insight that reminds me of the very personal work of Clarice Lispector. Forthcoming–don’t miss it. Packs a wallop into a very small space. I suspect this will get some year-end kudos.

AMELIA GRAY’s GUTSHOT (FSG Originals)–Odd, weird, disturbing stories about people in air ducts and casual conversations about, well, being gutshot. Modern fables with a visceral quality that will alter your brain.

ALEXANDRA HOROWITZ’s ON LOOKING (Scribner)–“Eleven walks through expert eyes” that should be required reading for writers as it’s a fascinating showcase of bias, emphasis, and how we miss things in our environment depending on our background.

NELL ZINK’s MISLAID (Ecco)–A hilarious but also serious comedy of errors and comedy of clashing cultures. Zink’s strengths from her first novel Wall Creeper are all on display in this tale of the South. Some good interrogation of dominant hierarchy and systems as well.

CLARICE LISPECTOR’s The Complete Stories (New Directions)–I don’t know how to describe this book except as a revelation and transcendent. It’s tough to write such personal stories that seem so universal. Lispector can take the smallest detail and make it fascinating and the center of a story, or she use a wider lens. This collection, to me, is as important to any writer as the collected stories of Vladimir Nabokov. Like the Nabokov, these stories are arranged in chronological order, so you can chart the writer’s progress over the years. (I’ll be reviewing this one shortly.)

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Finally, in other news, my Nebula Award for Annihilation came in the mail yesterday–and if you missed it, Annihilation is on the long list for the Warwick Prize, which comes with a generous 25,000-pounds for the winner. Will my slim novel containing multitudes beat out some of those heavy hitters? We’ll see. The short list is announced in a few months.
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Nebula Award Acceptance Speech for Best Novel–Annihilation

Saturday the Nebula Awards were announced, and my novel Annihilation won in the best novel category. You can find the entire list of nominees and winners here–congratulations to all. I was in San Antonio for a family wedding and so couldn’t attend the ceremony. But my friend (and very talented writer) Usman Tanveer Malik accepted on my behalf and read the speech below Thanks for all of the congratulations on social media–I’m afraid I haven’t yet caught up on my thanks individually since it’s been overwhelming and I was away from my computer much of the weekend. Special thanks to my editor Sean McDonald at FSG.

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Thank you for this honor—my thanks to the voters and my heartfelt appreciation to the other nominees. Thanks to my wife Ann, love of my life and the only person I felt comfortable talking to about the Southern Reach trilogy while writing the rough drafts. The characters and situations were immeasurably enriched by her contributions—as are most things. A huge thank you to my agent Sally Harding and to Farrar, Straus and Giroux, as well as the many publishers world-wide who have been so enthusiastic about this series.

My novels have been nominated for many awards, but this is the first time I’ve won something. Which is funny because I wrote this novel while I had severe bronchitis and for a long time thought maybe I’d just written something aimless about four women wandering a wilderness landscape that happened to resemble the 14-mile trail I hike in North Florida. Also, given that the Southern Reach trilogy as a whole is an examination of the dysfunction and absurdity found in human-created systems, it’s astonishing to me that I was up for a Nebula rather than this year’s Hugo. For which fact I am eternally grateful, however.

If I have anything else left to say—beyond cursing the fates at having a scheduling conflict the year Nick Offerman hosted the Nebulas—it would just be this…It’s an encouraging sign that Liu Cixin’s novel made the ballot this year, and I hope it’s the start of a trend. I’m uncomfortably aware of the fact that for a lot of international writers US- and UK-based awards seem distant and inaccessible. The more that writers from outside of  the Usual Places feel like their work is being seriously considered, the more we build a broader and more diverse community. The more we enrich our own work as well.

If I had to confess to influences on the Southern Reach trilogy, they would come from all over the world, and from amazing writers who published stunning novels and stories in English but who never even made a Nebula ballot. In accepting this award, I must also accept that I am only as good as the sum of that diverse reading. So I dedicate this win to those writers and to their legacy.

Thank you very much again for this honor.

My Novel Borne Sells to Farrar, Straus and Giroux: More Details

As the Hollywood Reporter reported last week, I’ve sold my new novel Borne to Sean McDonald at Farrar, Straus and Giroux in a mid-six-figure deal that’s a landmark for me. Many thanks to my agent Sally Harding and everyone at the Cooke Agency. In all things career-wise Sally has been a great boon. There’s also a very robust deal with The Fourth Estate for the UK rights, and it appears there will be more news soon about other rights sales involving Borne—on several fronts.

FSG did an amazing job with my Southern Reach trilogy and I am really glad to be back with them. They’ve been kind of a dream to work with, and even though I’ve been in this business 30 years I’m continually learning from what they do and how they do it. I also appreciated their tenacity and endurance in supporting the release of all three Southern Reach novels in one year. I’m very thankful they’re taking such good care of me, and I look forward to seeing what they’ll do with Borne.

Borne is the novel I’ve talked about for a couple of years now, the same one the New York Times wrote about here last year. An excerpt from an early draft appeared in Black Clock, edited by Steve Erickson. Erickson’s comments on the excerpt also were helpful in thinking about Borne as a whole. The novel’s about a woman in a ruined city of the future who is a scavenger of biotech, who finds a strange creature in the matted fur of a giant, psychotic bear named Mord that’s been terrorizing the city. The woman, Rachel, takes the creature home and slowly begins to bond with it, against her best instincts. Is Borne an animal or plant? A deity, or a cruel experiment?  “Am I a person?” Borne asks Rachel, in extremis. “Yes, you are a person,” Rachel tells him. “But like a person, you can be a weapon, too.”

What follows is kind of like an intense Chekov play in the round, with monsters fighting in the backdrop. It’s meant to be harrowing, yet sometimes very funny. If ever I’ve written something that’s dark and dangerous but also hopeful and uplifting, it might just be Borne. A lot of it is taken from life and my family and there’s a lot that’s relevant to our current environmental situation. But more than anything, it’s kind of satisfying that Borne has a traditional three-act structure and lots of natural resolution at the end. The Southern Reach trilogy was always going to be more ambivalent about closure due to the nature of the novels. But Borne’s a different kind of creature…

An exact publication date for Borne hasn’t yet been set, but hopefully I’ll know by the fall or winter.

In other news, rumor has it that Natalie Portman may join the cast of the movie version of my novel Annihilation, which is being written and directed by Ex Machina’s Alex Garland. More info on the Annihilation movie when I have it.

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Area X: The Bird Watchers

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For those who’ve asked me on Twitter about the possibility of new Area X/Southern Reach fiction, I can report that I’m (slowly) working on a novella entitled “The Bird Watchers.” The novella is set during the last week before the event that created Area X and the viewpoint character is Old Jim. Some readers will remember Old Jim as “ol’ piano fingers” in one of the more chilling scenes in Acceptance. Well, it turns out Old Jim was involved in the Seance & Science Brigade’s mission, among other nefarious things.

Without giving too much away, I can tell you that Control’s grandpa Jack makes an appearance. You might also catch sight of some characters from the lighthouse keeper’s thread in Acceptance. Structurally, the story is broken into sections that delve into the present and the past, each with Old Jim in the title. Like, for example “Old Jim and the Lighthouse” and “Old Jim and the Thing From Below”.

This isn’t an attempt to “wrap things up,” and I really didn’t expect to even work on any additional Southern Reach fiction. But the idea came to me while thinking a bit more about the S&S Brigade–an organization that has really stuck in my brain. It’s stuck there not just in the context of Central parasitically infiltrating and using the Brigade, but also in thinking about how their mission might extend to other places than the Forgotten Coast.

I had the idea for the S&SB when I visited the Coral Castle near Miami several years ago. On the day I visited, I stumbled upon two separate groups of researchers taking readings. One was comprised of psychics and the other of physicists. As you might imagine, I couldn’t let go of that juxtaposition and knew it would eventually come out in my fiction.

I’m letting “The Bird Watchers” coalesce slowly and organically, so I have no idea when I’ll have a final draft, but I’m enjoying revising the S&SB, exploring Old Jim’s involvement with various elements along the Forgotten Coast, and also in returning to a fictionalized history of that area. It feels very natural.

Here’s the start of the section entitled “Old Jim and the Biologists.” It’s atypical of the style of the novella as a whole, but the only part I feel comfortable unveiling for now…

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Once there had been biologists here, in numbers so great that the forgotten coast shook with the tremors of their vehicles. These men and women bestrode the terrain like conquerors, sent by government money in the form, it was rumored, of gold bars well-hidden that could not devalue or decay like the money kept in banks.

In the summer of that first year they established their headquarters in the ruins of the ghost town, a bivouac of scientists unprecedented for that place even when it had been alive. As they spread out across their migratory range, the biologists as observed by the locals began to carry out a series of arcane rituals. They shoved pieces of swamp grasses and bits of bark into vials. They put up tents out in “the field” as they called it, even when it was just black swamp. They used binoculars, scopes, and microscopes. They took readings with innumerable peculiar instruments. At times, they stopped in their labors to swear about the heat and humidity, which did not endear them.

The biologists tagged many living things—at least one of every creature that moved and breathed across the pine forests and the cypress swamp, the salt marshes and the beach. They took fine nylon nets and set up capture zones for songbirds, the worst among them running clod-stepped to the rescue of what they had themselves endangered. Fragile wings and fragile beaks, heads to the side; small eyes looking up at giants that held their bodies in half-closed fists. They tagged so many things, had brought so many tranq darts, that the blue caps removed from the tips still showed up years later in the marshes, along the river bank or crushed into the gravel of the dirt roads.

In their heyday, at the zenith of their powers, some said their boot prints outnumbered the tracks of deer and raccoons and otters on the salt flats.

But over time, the effort that had quickened slowed, the impulse behind it dulled, and the biologists began to die out. Their mobile tents that had once dotted the camping ground near the lighthouse began to disappear. The sounds of their idle conversations before expeditions in the early morning became muted and infrequent. That last spring there might have been a hundred of them and by the fall only four or five. Their diminishment hastened by a lack of grant renewal and a moving on of government attention, that great eye roving toward other lands and foreign wars.

Research and development went to other projects, men who would soon walk upon the moon, while down below soon no one observed the marshes except the few people who had always lived on the forgotten coast. In the winter, the last biologist assigned to an area of remote swamp was recalled, never to return. The great initiative had receded into history, the ghost town left to the ghosts again.

At least, that was the story told down at the village bar, where Old Jim often sat and paid in cash for beer and sandwiches tossed to him out of coolers. Sometimes they told it for the strangeness, sometimes more serious. Every time it achieved an added velocity and detail that might not have been there before.

Shared Worlds: The Eighth Year of This Unique Teen SF/Fantasy Writing Camp

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(Above: One of Jeremy Zerfoss’s wonderful pieces of art for the camp’s annual book of student writings.)

Can you believe the Shared Worlds teen SF/F writing camp has been around for eight years? Program director Tim Schmitz shares his thoughts on getting close to a decade.

We’ve grown from 20 students to 60 each year, from all over the world. And this year is the most robust yet, with over 150 applicants with several weeks left to register. Any teen who loves writing but also using their imagination in general should enjoy this unique camp. In the first week, the students build worlds in groups of 10 and then in the second week they write stories set in those worlds. Along the way, they receive expert instruction on creative writing as well as presentations on game creation. Many also have the opportunity to indulge their artistic bent in creating videos to present their worlds to the entire camp at the end of the two weeks. The students also receive a consult and critique from a professional writer–and a book of their fiction after the camp.

Written up by the Guardian, Washington Post blog, and many more, Shared Worlds has been a recipient of an Amazon.com grant for several years. We’ve also entered into such unique creative ventures as its Critter Map and Hand in Hand—with contributors like Patrick Rothfuss, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Neil Gaiman.  (You can view these wonderful projects via the link above.)

This year we have a stellar list of guest writers coming to Shared Worlds: Catherynne M. Valente, Kelly Link & Gavin J. Grant, Monica Byrne, David Anthony Durham, Nathan Ballingrud. Hugo Award-winning editor Ann VanderMeer will also be there, to, along with Grant, give the students insight into the world of editing. I will be there to teach from Wonderbook, the world’s first image-based creative writing book. In addition, camp founder Jeremy L.C. Jones will continue to add his worldbuilding insight and writer/game-design expert Will Hindmarch, our assistant director, will provide valuable thoughts on storytelling in general.

I’ve served as co-director of the camp for many years now, and it’s just simply the most rewarding thing I do every year—to see such dedicated and creative teenagers, who are also so invested in reading and the written word. Please help us spread the word as we enter our eighth year. Just a few more weeks to register for what might just be a life-changing experience.

Southern Reach / VanderMeer Events: Summer-Fall 2015

Southern Reach--paperback covers(The brilliant new covers for The Fourth Estate’s UK release of all three Southern Reach paperbacks on July 30.)

It’s going to be a busy second half of the year for me and for Ann, especially with more foreign-language editions of the Southern Reach trilogy being published–and The Fourth Estate bringing out the S.R. paperbacks in the UK on July 30. Here’s a look at the schedule, with additional events in Italy and Germany in September still possible. We’re looking forward to all of this–some great opportunities and some wonderful lit fest invites. Ann will be with me for Sardinia, Calgary, and the Vancouver Wordfest, too.

May 1-3: Ann VanderMeer is the editor guest of honor at Mo-Con X.

June 18-21: Wonderbook Workshop at the Yale Writers’ Conference (with Ann VanderMeer)

June 25, Thurs, 7pm: Worthington Library event (Ohio; ticketed event)

July 2-5: Sardinia Literary Festival

July 17-August 1: Teaching at the Shared Worlds writing camp in Spartanburg, Wofford College (with Ann VanderMeer; Hub City Bookstore event TBA)

October 13-18: Calgary Wordfest

October 20-25: Vancouver Book Festival

October 26–November 6: University of British Columbia mini-residency (with Ann VanderMeer;  public events TBA and classroom visits/critiques)

Hyperobjects: The Slow Apocalypse, Spooky Science at MIT, and Ex Machina

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A few things of interest have occurred in the past week or two, and I wanted to draw your attention to them.

—Ex Machina is out in theaters, a film written and directed by Alex Garland. Since Garland’s on board to write and direction the movie of my novel Annihilation, I was curious to see what his debut as director would look like. Both Ann and I found the movie mesmerizing, intelligent, thought-provoking, but also visceral. It also carries through to the end in a way that’s rare in cinema these days. There are also so many little details that are so right, including something as simple as a Jackson Pollock painting that creates a chaotic counterpoint to the stasis of the principal setting. The acting is also first-rate. Ex Machina is also a film that assumes an intelligent audience, and so there’s really not a scene or moment wasted in unnecessary exposition. The cinematography we also found first-rate. Highly recommended, and it makes me even more excited for a possible movie version of Annihilation. (There’s a great interview with Garland here, in which he briefly mentions my novel.)

—Recently, I spoke at MIT, for an event entitled “The Spooky Science of the Southern Reach.” You can now listen to that conversation here. For over an hour, I talked about science and SF and collaboration with my long-time collaborator and friend G. Eric Schaller–he also happens to be a scientist and a fan of SF and fantasy. We talked about the slow apocalypse, when science seems right in novels, and a host of other subjects. The event was moderated by author Seth Mnookin, and I thought it turned out pretty great. We had a very responsive audience and thanks again to Harvard Square for providing books for the event.

–Finally, I wrote a long piece on “The Slow Apocalypse and Fiction” for Electric Lit, which documents my reaction to participating in the Sonic Acts Geologic Imagination Festival and which also includes a review of the book published in conjunction with the event. I also touch on how we perceive animals in fiction, talk about the relevance of hyperobjects to fiction, etc. As noted, novels by Margaret Atwood and Kim Stanley Robinson have entered the public awareness in a way others have not. What does this mean? What doesn’t it mean? The essay is meant to serve as an initial personal inquiry, not to be taken as a definitive list of answers. These issues are so vast that it is generally a mistake to reach conclusions, but it is important to ask questions.

As I said in my presentation at Sonic Acts festival, there’s a caveat to some of this exploration. “Fiction is contamination–of the writer by something foreign to the self (if you’re lucky) and yet intimate to it, and contamination of readers, who themselves mutate, and mutate the text. Because people are not at heart rational. Because fiction is not a road to a theorem or a final accounting of sums–and not just the hackneyed idea of a ‘journey,’ but also a series of microcosms in the paragraphs along the way and sometimes a series of traps. In such a context, philosophy or ideas must warp and be rendered at times as disinformation or misinformation, overheard wrong even, and remade as something living, understood and misunderstood in the usual, everyday human world. In other words, to ‘cook’ philosophy into most fiction, you must beat the living crap out of it metaphorically speaking.”

Jeff VanderMeer Southern Reach Events: April through June

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Starting in April, I’ll be doing a series of interesting events in the U.S.. In the second half of the year, I’ll be teaching at Shared Worlds and may be going over to Europe for some literary festivals. In addition, Ann VanderMeer and I will be teaching at the University of British Columbia for a couple of weeks in late October. I’ll have more information on all of that shortly. In the meantime, here are the details for April through June…

April 9, Thurs, 7pm, Buffalo, NY: University of Buffalo Exhibit X Reading Series, at 468 Washington St (WNYBAC), Off Campus. More information on this exciting series and on my event.

April 11, Sat, time TBA, Tallahassee, Florida: Word of South book festival Southern Reach/Weird fiction event with Living Colour founder musician Vernon Reid, moderated by Ann VanderMeer. More information on the events at this new festival, which will feature Oscar winner J.K. Simmons.

April 14, Tues, 7 pm, Beloit, WI: Beloit College reading at Richardson Auditorium (Morse-Ingersoll Hall). More information here.

April 16, Thurs, 5pm, Boston, MA: The Spooky Science of the Southern Reach: An Evening With Jeff VanderMeer also featuring G. Eric Schaller and Seth Mnookin (Stata Center–32-123). Jeff VanderMeer, author of the New York Times bestselling Southern Reach Trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance), will join G. Eric Schaller, Professor of Biological Sciences at Dartmouth, for a broad-ranging discussion about the scientific and philosophical ideas that inspired the series. The two friends and occasional collaborators will discuss conservation science, VanderMeer’s relationship with the natural world, and the theme of extinction in “slow apocalypse” fiction, as well as the role of real-world science in science fiction. Moderator: Seth Mnookin. Event listing here.

April 21, Tues, 7:40 pm: Inside the Writer’s House Skype Series (in association with Rutgers); details here.

June 18-21: Wonderbook Workshop at the Yale Writers’ Conference (with Ann VanderMeer). Hugo & World Fantasy Award winning editor Ann VanderMeer and NYT bestselling author of the Southern Reach trilogy, Jeff VanderMeer, teach a mini-course on literature of the imagination, using Jeff’s Hugo Award-finalist Wonderbook, the world’s first fully illustrated creative writing guide. Whether expressed literally or through metaphor, a non-realist worldview permeates aspects of many genres and approaches. In-class exercises will include finding the autobiographical in the fantastical, use of surrealism and constraint to energize even the most traditional approaches, and analysis of successful but atypical scenes as the jumping-off point for discussion of characterization, setting, and the numinous.More details here.

June 25, Thurs: Worthington Library event (Ohio); details TBA