Texas Book Fest’s Lit Crawl Jeopardy Brawl: Be There Saturday Night

Jeff VanderMeer • October 21st, 2014 • News

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Okay, maybe “brawl” is a strong word to describe “Nerd Jeopardy,” but whatever you want to call it–I prefer “Heroic Heroes Jeopardy”–I’ll be part of it Saturday night at 8:30pm at Wonderland in Austin (1104 East Sixth St). You can even click “going” on the facebook page. The Austin LitCrawl is full of amazing events, in support of the Texas Book Festival. (Here’s info on my festival appearance earlier on Saturday.)

My opponents appear to have unfair advantages, such as possibly knowing much more stuff than I do. But I’ll have at least two sisters-in-law–Jody and Jennifer Bordman–in the audience to heckle me toward an honorable and not-to-distant defeat. I’ve also been told by my agent Sally Harding and my publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux that there will be “some kind of penalty” if I lose. Since they have money riding on the results.

Besides, maybe I do have a shot. I’ve been in the backyard for three straight days now, slapping home-made buzzers glued to tree stumps and shouting answers in the form of questions at the squirrels. Things like:

“What is air?”
“What is ice cream?”
“Who is Solomon Gursky?”
“What is the daily double?”
“What is the hair on the back of your neck?”
“Who is the Vice Admiral of Guam?”

Who are my opponents?

Charles M. Blow has been a columnist at The New York Times since 2008, is a CNN commentator, and has appeared on MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, the BBC, Al Jazeera, and HBO. Blow lives in Brooklyn with his three children.

Kate Payne is an author and freelance writer, and a frequent consultant for design, decor, cooking, and crafting publications and sites. She lives in Austin with her wife and teaches classes on food preservation and other topics both privately and at culinary centers across the country. Her books Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking (HarperCollins, 2011) and Hip Girl’s Guide to the Kitchen (HarperCollins, 2014) are available wherever books are sold. Read more about Kate on her blog (http://hipgirlshome.com/) and website (http://katepayne.net/).

Paul W. Morris from the PEN Center is going to be moderating. So come one, come all. It would probably be more intense if the combatants knew each other or harbored long-standing grudges. But the truth is we don’t, and all you can hope for is a grudge nursed for less than 30 minutes, stemming from some green-room dispute. Which might still be spectacular.

What I can say is: Nerd Jeopardy is likely to be a lot of fun. I hope to see you there.

Jeff VanderMeer Tour Dates: Through The End of 2014

Jeff VanderMeer • October 20th, 2014 • News

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(Southern Reach art by Tony McMillen)

“I’m loving the Southern Reach trilogy…Creepy and fascinating.” – Stephen King

“[A] masterpiece.” – The Guardian

“An instant SF classic.” – The New Statesman

>>Recently read by Catherynne M. Valente, who tweeted about it. Not familiar with the S.R. series? Check out this link.

Since Acceptance, the third book in the Southern Reach trilogy has come out, I’ve done an event with both a live owl and with a plastic owl. I’ve done a gig with Lev Grossman and Lauren Beukes, which was very cool, and met the fine folks at a number of bookstores, including Politics & Prose in DC. The novel even made the New York Times bestseller list. But the fun isn’t over yet. See below for the last tour dates.

Austin, TX

October 25, 1:45pm–Texas Book Festival , “The Stuff of Stars,” reading, Q&A, and signing with Ofir Touché Gafla and moderator Lincoln Michel.

October 25, 8:30pm–Texas Book Festival LitCrawl, Jeopardy edition at Wonderland (1104 E 6th St). Battle for Jeopardy supremacy against Charles Blow and Kate Payne, with host Paul Morris.

(I’ll also try to go to all three author reception events. See you there! – JV)

Washington D.C., World Fantasy Convention Events

November 7, 8pm–Autograph Party at World Fantasy

November 8, 10am–WF Convention Panel: The Role of Animals in Fantasy with fellow panelists Goldeen Ogawa (M), Judi Fleming, and Garth Nix.

November 8, 12-4pm–Steampunk User’s Manual/Southern Reach party (more details soon; inquire via [email protected] for a special Southern Reach offer debuting at World Fantasy)

Acceptance--FSG

Florida

November 14, 5pm, Inkwood Books in Tampa, FL, reading, signing.

November 15, 7pm Functionally Literate reading series (with Usman Tanveer Malik) in Orlando at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center. Reading, Q&A, with slideshow and signing.

November 19-21–The Center for Literature, Wonderbook workshop (cosponsored by the Miami International Book Fair) in Miami – must sign up for the workshop

November 22,3pm–Miami Book Fair International – Event along with Daniel Suarez and Geoff Nicholson (reading, discussion, and signing in Room 8525, Building 8, Miami-Dade College)

New York City

November 23, 2pm–Barnes & Noble Tribeca, Steampunk User’s Manual event with special guests TBA

November 23, 6pm–Steampunk User’s Manual party (save the date–details TBA)

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(Southern Reach art by Andrew Mamo)

Mike Allen’s Unsettling Collection Unseaming

Jeff VanderMeer • October 16th, 2014 • Nonfiction

Mike Allen first made a real splash with his unique Clockwork Phoenix series, which he edited in addition to Mythic Delirium. But he’s an interesting and unsettling writer of dark, weird fiction as well, with a first collection out that’s beginning to get some buzz. Library Journal just gave his Unseaming a starred review. You can buy the collection here. Recently, I interviewed Mike about his work and weird fiction via email.

When did you start writing?
I’ve made stabs and feints at writing since grade school, but it was never a constant thing. For much of my youth I thought I was going to be an artist when I grew up, and I started out college as an art major before eventually figuring out that my passion lay with writing. (Though my preoccupations in art and writing were much the same; see one of my old drawings below as an example, heh.)

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What drew you to horror and weird fiction?
There’s a broad reason and a narrow reason, both rooted in morbid curiosity and childhood trauma. The broad reason: I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with the dark and the monsters in it. In fact, one of the stories in Unseaming stems from a nightmare I had as a toddler. This part of my nature metastasized permanently in the third grade, when our teacher read “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Raven” to us for Halloween, setting off night terrors that bedeviled me for years. Becoming a connoisseur of horror and finally a writer of horror made it possible for me to regain control over my own imagination.

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Book Release Day: Julia Elliott’s Sublime The Wilds

Jeff VanderMeer • October 14th, 2014 • Uncategorized

The Wilds

Julia Elliott’s phenomenal first short story collection is out this week and I hope you will buy it. I hope you will buy copies for your friends. The Wilds is wonderful in every way. The stories range from mainstream realism and magic realism to surreal science fiction—all unique, all demonstrating Elliott’s wonderful ability to see the absurdity and seriousness of life in equal measure. In a tie with Laura Van den Berg’s The Isle of Youth, it’s my favorite collection of the year.

Here’s an interview I did with Elliott for the Tin House blog (excerpt below). Go read it. Go buy the book.

Jeff VanderMeer: What do texture and tone mean to you when writing a short story? And do you have to get them right before you can finish a rough draft?

Julia Elliott: As a hedonistic texturist, my initial impulse is to cram every particle of a story with texture and tone, so that each and every sentence bursts with perfumed, purple language like an overripe fig—an oozing, fermenting, parasite-infested mess of a fig. When I return to early stories, I’m struck by the electric, visceral moods that end up going nowhere—especially plot-wise. Although I’m now more ruthless about gagging and straight-jacketing the bad poet within, I don’t feel at home in a narrative unless I’ve created a palpable texture that I can inhabit as I work out character motivations and plot, elements that occur less instinctively for me.

On Birds: Owl Eyes, Acceptance, and the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia

Jeff VanderMeer • October 13th, 2014 • Culture, Nonfiction

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Some of my most pleasurable experiences have been while birding and I love seeing birds on book covers, so you can imagine how happy I was to see this feature on birds on book covers–some stunning designs, including my own Acceptance. Even just in the context of book design you can see how various and interesting birds can be.

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Admittedly, I’m a rank amateur as a birder—sans scope, for example, and also sans the patience to stand for hours in a blind. But I kept a birding journal until I was about 14 years old and have always bought and used birding guides. I’ve also always admired the intensity and devotion of birders and the ambition behind the idea of doing a Big Year. For a period of a few years as an adult I hung out with birders and shared their enthusiasms. But our paths diverged when it became clear that I was someone with an abiding love of hiking who just enjoyed bird watching on the side. The two types are not always compatible.

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(Two of the Academy’s owls, from the behind-the-scenes tour.)

This year, though, has brought birds back to me in a big way—first because they form an important part of my novel Acceptance, but also because touring behind the novels has led me to birds. Especially owls, and especially the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University in Philadelphia. There, I was fortunate enough to have a behind-the-scenes tour led by Jill Sybesma and documented by photographer Kyle Cassidy. Chris Urie from Geekadelphia was kind enough to set it up.

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Oculus Rift For Reality: Under the Surface

Jeff VanderMeer • October 8th, 2014 • Nonfiction

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First, They come to your neighborhood with a horde of biologists and chemists and environmental scientists and a host of other experts in various fields, to pre-map things. Afterward, you’d put on the device and walk down your street. Everything would be identical to what you’d see with your own eyes…except you’d also see the chemical signals in the air from beetles and plants, pheromone trails laid down by ants, and every other bit of the natural world’s communications hidden from us by our primitive five senses. You’d also see every trace of pesticide and traces in puddles of water of run-off and invisible carcinogens and other human-made intercession on the landscape. It would be overwhelming at first, especially since this would come with simulated approximations of how you might experience these things, still bound by your own puny senses, so you’d have to get over cognitive dissonance.

Once you got used to it, maybe you’d go with more advanced settings. Like, you’d look at the ground and it’d open up its layers, past topsoil and earthworms down into the deeper epidermis, so to speak, until you’re overcoming a sense of vertigo, because even though you’re standing right there, not falling at all, below you everything is revealing itself to you superfast. And maybe then, while still staring at the ground, you’d have an option to regress to simulations of the same spot five years, ten years, fifty years, two hundred years ago…until when you look up again there’s no street at all and you’re in the middle of a forest and there are more birds and animals than you could ever imagine because you’ve never seen that many in one place. You’ve never even seen this many old-growth trees before. You’ve never known that the world was once like this except in the abstract.

When you come back, the game’s over. The initial experience would only last 10 or 15 minutes because we’re talking about a real onslaught of sensory information that requires time to process, followed by longer and more complex sessions. A basic initial session might strip away certain layers of experience for a more gradual immersion over a period of six sessions. By that time, there may be enough of an overlay through the user’s imagination that walking through the same area evokes a simulation of the experience without the equipment: sensory pop-ups in the brain based on the prior immersions.

If enough people play the game right and understand what it means, you, your children, your grandchildren, and your great grandchildren live long lives and everybody continues to be able to have things like electricity, which makes using devices like a future Oculus a lot easier.

Otherwise, it’s just a dead helmet sitting atop of a head full of rotted meat.

oculus-rift-inside

[Reddit username JeffVanderMeer; I am that dude.]

The Steampunk User’s Manual–It’s Release Week!

Jeff VanderMeer • October 6th, 2014 • News

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This is the release week for the follow-up to The Steampunk Bible: The Steampunk User’s Manual, written by Desirina Boskovich and me–along with a ton of other contributors of images and text. What’s different this time around? Well, the emphasis is on the act of creation. Through examples, instructions for projects both small and large, and interviews with top creators, you get an inside look at how to get started creating your own Steampunk visions. But if you’re not into creating the book’s also full of amazing finished shots of current Steampunk works–along with their tips and insights into their work habits.

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(An example of a “finding inspiration” section, with quotes from top creators.)

Some of the exclusive highlights only available in the book include:

–A Steam-powered mecha-penguin created by Thomas Willeford (you can get a sense of how to build your own 100-foot-tall one based on the conversations between engineers in the book)
–A two-page spread of original artwork by Ivica Stevanovic, the artist whose Wonderbook art appeared in the Spectrum award anthology
–A two-page spread by Wonderbook genius Jeremy Zerfoss based on Richard Ellis Preston, Jr’s Steampunk novels
–Wonderful new extended “alternative history” Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana entries by Jess Nevins, in unique and beautiful layouts by the amazing John Coulthart.
–Steamarama Retrofuture Home diagrams and descriptions by Bruce and Melanie Rosenbaum
–Tor art director Irene Gallo providing an overview of the creation of classic Tor Steampunk book covers
–Original Steampunk fashion sketch by Molly Crabapple
–Nancy Hightower’s feature on the Swedish puppet theater production of award-winning author Karin Tidbeck’s Steampunk story “Beatrice,” complete with behind-the-scenes photographs.
–A feature on Anna Chen’s Steampunk Opium Wars
–Images from the Irish theatre production of my novella “Dradin, In Love”
–Essays and articles by Diana M. Pho, Katherine Gleason, Matthew Cheney, and more
–Projects by a wide variety of steampunk creators, including fashion, collage, making musical instruments, and much more.

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(John Coulthart layout for Jess Nevins’ encyclo entry.)

If you want to support the book, here are some of the things you can do to help.

–Walk into your local bookstore and buy a copy.

—Buy Acceptance now from your preferred online bookseller, and recommend your preferred sales link to friends on social media. Direct links include Indiebound, Powell’s, Amazon, B&N, and Book Depository–or order direct from the publisher.

—Review the book. Blog, review site, or on social media. Any mention, especially noting whatever you really liked about the book, helps immensely.

—Review it on sales site you bought it from. Tell other readers what you liked about it. A quick and easy way to help get the word out and create interest. Online reviews at B&N, Amazon, and elsewhere do help.

—Request it from your local library.

—Spread the word through twitter and facebook. Tell people about the book through social media, using your favorite link about the book.

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Southern Reach: On the Road with Acceptance–DC, Baltimore, Richmond, Austin To Go

Jeff VanderMeer • September 26th, 2014 • News

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(This amazing photo by Kyle Cassidy.)

The release of the final book in the Southern Reach trilogy, Acceptance, has been a wild, great ride. In addition to the great reviews from Slate, NPR, Entertainment Weekly, the NYT Book Review, and many more, I’ve been gratified that readers have followed along for this last adventure. Acceptance made the NYT bestseller list at #16 and has popped up on several indie and regional bestseller lists as well. More importantly, readers have been emailing and face-booking and tweeting about how much they’ve enjoyed the entire trilogy. I’m really thrilled about that–thank you.

The book tour has been a blast–with these events still to come, with further details in this post:

–Saturday, Sept. 27, 6pm: Politics & Prose Bookstore in Washington DC
–Sunday, Sept. 28, 12pm: Baltimore Book Festival reading
–Tuesday, Sept. 30, 7pm: Fountain Bookstore reading in Richmond Virginia
–Oct. 25-26: Texas Book Festival in Austin, for which I’ll have an event and also participate in a Jeopardy competition during their Litcrawl

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Bear Versus Texting Man: Our Spectacular Disconnection

Jeff VanderMeer • September 17th, 2014 • Nonfiction


(Photo by Mike Bender/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

I wrote the short essay below before encountering this blog post about dystopic fiction, this op-ed about useless creatures, and Steven Shaviro’s blog post of 22 short theses. But all three are relevant to the issues set out below. (And in talking about the environment and our relationship to animals, let’s be clear: I’m not making any special claims about my own Southern Reach trilogy.)

The op-ed about useless animals cuts to the heart of our problematic relationship to our fellow animals. The blog post of theses is important because it begins to suggest, on a philosophical and practical level, how to begin to move forward on these issues.

As for the blog post on dystopias, my two cents: It’s become harder and harder for near-future science fiction to be considered cutting edge or paradigm-shifting if it doesn’t on some level or sub-level engage with an aspect of the issues set out below, in my opinion. This may be a different issue than whether a novel is aesthetically successful or works in other ways. However it is worth noting as well that most contemporary mainstream novels with no speculative elements in them do not successfully convey the “science fictional present” in which we live. Which is to say, they could have been written any time in the past 50 years–plus smart phones.

That lack in contemporary realism isn’t great. But the escapism in a fair number of Collapse novels is, to my mind, perhaps more insidious because it trades off our own fears of, well, almost imminent collapse and turns them into somewhat comforting disaster porn. At the same time, this is a difficult endeavor. The instantaneous commodification and coopting of terms like “eco-fabulism” and “cli-fi” by pop culture and culture at large speaks to how difficult it is to find fresh ways to address these issues in fiction that do not immediately lose the shock of the new required for them to infiltrate minds in a meaningful way. (Especially in a context within which the 1970s disaster novels of, for example, J.G. Ballard, still seem more relevant than much current fiction.)

For additional, related discussion, read this “in conversation” piece between me and Karen Joy Fowler.

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The Keepers of the Light: St. Marks Lighthouse in the NYT & Reader Response

Jeff VanderMeer • September 17th, 2014 • Culture, News

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This past weekend, in addition to a great review of my novel Acceptance and a mention of my next novel in the New York Times Book Review, the New York Times op-ed section ran a piece of mine on lighthouses–including our local lighthouse at the St. Marks Wildlife Refuge. (In other exciting news, Acceptance, which features a lighthouse prominently, appears on the NYT bestseller list next week.)

There was a fair amount of material I couldn’t fit into the article, all of it due to the wonderful writer Kati Schardl, who earlier this year had written up a feature on me and the Southern Reach trilogy for the Tallahassee Democrat. It was because of that feature that I got to go inside of the St. Marks lighthouse in the first place. I’ve reproduced some further words from Schardl below, which gives further context about the lighthouse and the lighthouse restoration fund.

The reaction to the lighthouse piece was very positive, including a thumbs up from the Lighthouse Directory on twitter. I also received a fair number of emails from lighthouse enthusiasts. In addition to Schardl’s comments I’ve reproduced some of those emails, with permission, below. I think you’ll find them of interest. I should note that the opinions expressed are those of the writers and do not necessarily reflect my own. – Jeff

Katie Schardl on plans for the St. Marks lighthouse and its Fresnel lens

The Fresnel lens will be professionally preserved in its current condition and put on display in the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center while the building itself is restored. The ultimate goal is to relight the beacon, but the lens will first need to be restored to optical quality, which will be costly–there aren’t a whole lot of artisans out there who have the knowledge and expertise to work on Fresnel lenses.

[As for] restoration bringing in too much tourism. It’s a very delicate balance, isn’t it? The paramount concern is to restore the lighthouse and keeper’s quarters in a way that has the least impact on the surrounding environment, and also work within federal guidelines and requirements, since the refuge is a federal entity. There’s currently a moratorium on expanding structural square footage in federal wildlife refuges, so there is no plan to expand the footprint of the lighthouse/keeper’s house with reconstructed historic out-buildings, etc.

However, there will be site enhancements such as new walkways, refreshing the current historic marker, and an ADA-compliant ramp. There will probably be an extra fee charged to tour the lighthouse, once it’s restored, which will help support expanded staffing and maintenance, etc. The staff at the refuge, and the volunteers as well, are very canny and vigilant stewards and, if it came down to it, I think terroir would trump tourism in the long run.

In the end, yes, we hope more people will want to come learn about the lighthouse and will experience the happy side-effect of falling under the spell of the refuge’s primeval landscapes!

It’s my personal belief, as someone who’s been exploring and loving the refuge for 20-plus years, that the more people make contact with those landscapes—breathe the air, walk the trails, watch the birds and wildlife doing their thing, feel the peace of it all—the more people will want to protect a place where that wild magic seeps into the soul. As a refuge ambassador and volunteer ranger, I’ve seen that magic do its work time after time.

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