Ecstatic Days Jeff VanderMeer Tue, 21 Oct 2014 21:59:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Texas Book Fest’s Lit Crawl Jeopardy Brawl: Be There Saturday Night Tue, 21 Oct 2014 19:27:03 +0000 128

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 ( and website (

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.

Texas Book Fest’s Lit Crawl Jeopardy Brawl: Be There Saturday Night originally appeared on Ecstatic Days on October 21, 2014.

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Jeff VanderMeer Tour Dates: Through The End of 2014 Mon, 20 Oct 2014 19:51:36 +0000 >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 […]]]> 10735978_10202890292322183_1907938610_n
(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 for a special Southern Reach offer debuting at World Fantasy)



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)

(Southern Reach art by Andrew Mamo)

Jeff VanderMeer Tour Dates: Through The End of 2014 originally appeared on Ecstatic Days on October 20, 2014.

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Mike Allen’s Unsettling Collection Unseaming Fri, 17 Oct 2014 02:30:12 +0000 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.)


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.

The narrow reason results specifically from the intense adoration I had for J.R.R. Tolkien in my pre-teen years. I read everything Tolkien, not just his works, but works about him, and even the works of writers who were discussed in essays about and critiques of Tolkien. The late Colin Wilson, in his treatise “Tree by Tolkien,” made much ado about how Tolkien’s writing compared to some fantasy author named H.P. Lovecraft. In the Appalachian town where I grew up it wasn’t easy to get my hands on books by any out-of-print writer, but when the chance to read a bunch of Lovecraft finally arrived I pounced on it, thinking he was someone in Tolkien’s vein. And given what my first exposure to Poe did to me – oh, boy, was I in for a shock!

But following right on the heels of that, tracing connections away from Lovecraft the way I had from Tolkien, I began exploring the wild ranges of modern fantasy short fiction, which is where the weird thrives.

Your work can be very disturbing in a way that’s graphic, but also subtle. Do you have a good sense of when to go in a particular direction when it comes to the horrific elements?
For me that stuff is based more on gut feeling than careful construction: I’m really hard to scare now, at least when it comes to reading stories and watching movies, so I try to figure out what would get through my own defenses. Usually it’s not a matter of leaving everything off stage or putting everything on stage, but some artful combination of the two. Or put another way, if what you have seen is this horrific, just imagine what’s still waiting in the wings…

Where’s the autobiography in your work?
It’s there in every story, but it’s chopped up and recombined like Frankenstein’s monster with anecdotes I’ve heard, things I’ve read, encounters I’ve had as a journalist, and stuff that I just flat out made up.

Does your editing inform your fiction? And does it ever get in the way of your fiction?
It’s strange: the fiction that I pick for Clockwork Phoenix and Mythic Delirium is on the whole quite different from my own stories. I tend to write in two modes: contemporary horror or really over-the-top surreal speculative fiction. You’ll find examples of those in the books I edit, but also a number of quieter stories that seem to fall completely outside my writerly nature. I’m perfectly willing to showcase them but I have no urge to produce them.

Certainly editing a book can get in the way of writing one, especially as my projects, both as an editor and as a writer, keep getting more ambitious. But, I actually tried to put editing projects aside in order to focus more on writing, and found that the absence drove me nuts, just as going too long without writing drives me nuts. So my creative life is now one vast wonky scheme that has me hopping from project to project to project. Like Marcello Mastroianni at the end of Fellini’s , I choose it all.

What drew you to write a sequel to your Nebula-nominated story? And was it difficult to re-enter that milieu?
Originally I had no plans to write a sequel to “The Button Bin,” but an email exchange with a film producer caused me to think about whether it could be expanded. The creative part of my brain started worrying away at the problem, and of all things, as I was listening to “Lux Aeterna,” known to many as the theme from the trailer for The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, an image came to me of a man whose flesh was violently unraveling, like a spinning, flapping window shade, revealing nothing underneath but more and more layers of flesh, the stitched-together, coiled up skins of thousands. I knew then that the tale would have another chapter. Other scenes grew from that first seed, and my job, essentially, was to explain them: who were these people I was seeing, how did they end up in these terrifying predicaments? That part, actually, turned out to be uncharacteristically easy. I was on fire with the sequel, “The Quiltmaker,” from beginning to end.

What elements or qualities do you love in short fiction, personally?
The economy; the relative freedom to experiment and to deviate from commercially acceptable things (such as happy endings! or tidy resolutions, even); the sense of intimacy, like you’re sitting at the table with the writer as she spins a tale.

It’s funny: you’d think, as crammed with activity as all our lives have become, we’d value the short story more. Instead it seems like everyone wants to speed read long novels, without much concern for actual comprehension of the materials so ingested. I lack the ability to speed read, and I consider that a blessing, and also a practical reason to appreciate short fiction.


Mike Allen’s Unsettling Collection Unseaming originally appeared on Ecstatic Days on October 16, 2014.

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Book Release Day: Julia Elliott’s Sublime The Wilds Tue, 14 Oct 2014 12:55:29 +0000 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.

Book Release Day: Julia Elliott’s Sublime The Wilds originally appeared on Ecstatic Days on October 14, 2014.

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On Birds: Owl Eyes, Acceptance, and the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia Mon, 13 Oct 2014 13:25:48 +0000 DSCN2792

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.

(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.

Sybesma is the Manager of Adult and Strategic Programs and the creator of the science and film program Mega-Bad Movie Night, and co-lead on science cafe programs like Science on Tap and Nerd Nite Philly held in two locations in the city. In her free time at work, she’s “also a Teacher Naturalist which means I get to handle birds of prey, skunks, alligators, scorpions and other amazing animals, but my favorite are the owls.”

Sinclair Owl
(Alyson Sinclair, FSG’s publicist for the Southern Reach novels is a birder too–and sent me this photo of an owl taken while hiking.)

I totally understand about the owls. Getting to see a great horned owl up close and also screech owls and barn owls was fascinating—both for the differences in personality between the species and because the texture of their feathers is amazing. There’s no substitute for being able to watch an owl close-up like that, and I’m grateful to Jill for letting me have that experience. I still can’t get over how unreal the horned owl’s feathers looked, how perfect the patterns. The expressiveness of a barn owl’s face is also unforgettable, as is the defiant tenacity of the tiny screech owls.

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(Screech owl, behind-the-scenes, reacting to my presence.)

Somehow this experience was very different from encountering horned owls in the wild. A local neighborhood park with a pond has a very vocal great horned owl population and of an evening I will often hear them basically hooting and hollerin’. On rare occasions I will see them overhead, staring down at me from branches. In one amazing instance, I came across a creature I could not at first recognize, around dusk, and was astonished to find that it was two animals not one: a tortoise with a horned owl atop its back, trying to get at the tortoise’s soft bits! The owl was so engrossed in its task that it didn’t notice me until I was standing right next to it. At that point, the owl swiveled its head to look over at me and took the measure of me and only with great reluctance flew off into the trees. I would’ve left it to its task, except I was afraid some other passerby might not be as owl-friendly.

Jeff VanderMeer with owl
(Kyle Cassidy photo of author and owl)

I related this anecdote to Sybesma, who in turn passed back some amazing facts about owls. I didn’t know that ears in some owls aren’t the same size and sometimes not even at the same height on the sides of their heads. This asymmetry actually gives them better hearing. Even the flat faces of owls help them to channel sound. Eye tubes rather than eye balls mean that owls have to swivel their heads because they can’t move their eyes. Farsighted, they “see” close-up using their beak and foot feathers. In a sense, owls have eyes in their feet!

(Me, Jill Sybesma, and the barn owl that was part of my Southern Reach event at the Free Library in Philly. The horned owl is very old and not up for these kinds of visits. Jill also very carefully monitors the stress levels of the owls during events. Photo by Chris Urie)

All of this information thankfully didn’t contradict anything in my depiction of owls in Acceptance. My own contribution to owls in literature starts out this way, combining personal observation with a hiking experience of mine that included cormorants:

On one outstretched branch, the unlikely silhouette of a common horned owl with sharp tufted ears: rustbrown face with white feathers at chin and throat, mottled gray- and- brown body. My loud approach should have alarmed it, but this owl just perched there, surrounded by the cormorants sunning themselves. An unnatural scene, to me, and it brought me up short.

I thought at first the owl must be hurt, more so when I came closer and it still didn’t move, unlike the whirling circle of cormorants that, complaining bitterly, flew away, a long low line over the water, exiled to rove, restless. Any other owl would have taken wing and disappeared back into the forest. But instead, it remained glued to the ridged, scaly bark of the branch, staring out at the fading sun with enormous eyes.

Even when I stood right beside the tree, awkward on the rocks, the owl did not fly, did not look over at me. Injured or dying, I thought again, but cautious, ready to retreat, because an owl can be a dangerous animal. This one was huge, four pounds at least, despite its hollow bones, lightweight feathers. But nothing I had done had yet provoked it, and so I stood there as the sun began to set, the owl beside me. I had studied owls early in my career and knew that neuroses were unknown among them as opposed to other, more intelligent bird species. Most owls are also beautiful, along with another quality that is hard to define but registers as calm in the observer. There was such a hush upon that beach, and one that didn’t register with me as sinister.

At dusk, the owl turned its fierce yellow gaze upon me at last, and with the tip of its outstretched wing brushing against my face, the bird launched itself into the air in a smooth, silent arc that sent it off toward the forest behind me.

(Photo by Chris Urie.)


I say I’m an amateur birder, more of a hiker, but the truth is that most of my hikes have been defined by the birds I’ve seen, whether spotting a rare limpkin near-invisible against marsh-flat reeds or turning a corner to find two bald eagles not five feet away perched precarious on some bushes. Sometimes my wife and I joke that Acceptance is a Birder’s Guide to the Southern Reach, given how many birds are mentioned in the novel (over 50). This aspect has even led to someone from the national offices of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service asking if I’d come to do a presentation. Which is just highlights one of the most wonderful things about the publication of these novels: it’s allowed me to focus on and write about such passions as biology, ecology, the wilderness, our relationship to animals, and, of course, birds.

If you’re ever in Philly, I highly recommend the Academy of Natural Sciences. The birds they keep are all injured in some way or were given up by individuals who shouldn’t have tried to keep them as pets in the first place. A turkey vulture too socialized to people to return to the wild stands out in particular as lucky to be at the Academy, among experts who understand her particular situation.

Should you go, you might even run into Sybesma, who is currently “developing two new programs in 2015, an Overnight for Adults (exactly how it sounds) and an evening program focused on art and science.” Online she can be found at @jillsybesma on Twitter, Facebook and IG at @jsybs. The Academy is @acadnatsci on twitter and IG and is on facebook.

(The barn owl, wings aflutter, looking as delicate as a moth. I can’t recall who took this photo; contact me and I’ll add the credit.)

On Birds: Owl Eyes, Acceptance, and the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia originally appeared on Ecstatic Days on October 13, 2014.

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Oculus Rift For Reality: Under the Surface Wed, 08 Oct 2014 20:16:17 +0000 DSCN2888

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.


[Reddit username JeffVanderMeer; I am that dude.]

Oculus Rift For Reality: Under the Surface originally appeared on Ecstatic Days on October 8, 2014.

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The Steampunk User’s Manual–It’s Release Week! Tue, 07 Oct 2014 03:00:06 +0000 SUM

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.

(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.

(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.


The Steampunk User’s Manual–It’s Release Week! originally appeared on Ecstatic Days on October 6, 2014.

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Southern Reach: On the Road with Acceptance–DC, Baltimore, Richmond, Austin To Go Sat, 27 Sep 2014 02:53:21 +0000 Jeff VanderMeer with owl
(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

The Acceptance book tour started with the Brooklyn Book Festival where I took the stage with Lev Grossman and Deji Olukotun to talk about fantastical thrillers–just a great conversation, I thought, along with short readings. I also got a chance to peruse the booths and buy some books. Such great energy at the festival, even on a humid, hot day. Also got a chance to have coffee with Lauren Beukes, Laurie Penny, Deji, and Matthew Rossi. I had to take a photo of that, since it seemed like a confluence that might never happen again.

(Me, Laurie Penny, Lauren Beukes, Deji Olukotun, and Matthew Rossi)

That night, I went out drinking with Lauren and some writing students and other friends. I’ll embarrass the writers because I think you’ll want to know all their names sooner than later: Martin Cahill, Zach Lisbeth, Kristen Roupenian, and Puloma Mukherjee. From a beer bar and then Char 4, we made it to the Zombie Bar and then over to the Brandy Library, where old pal Gabriel Mesa met us…all in all a fine evening that really, in retrospect, had some aspects of a pub crawl. We also met two monster dogs the size of ponies.

(With Lauren Beukes and Lev Grossman at Housing Works)

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Then Lev Grossman, Lauren Beukes, and I did an event hosted by Housing Works and WORD Bookstore, which was so much fun. A lot of cracking wise and a running theme about a sausage. Jenn Northington from WORD was a great moderator. I also brought Area X with me, although I’m sure the great audience (standing room only!) hadn’t expected Carrot Top. Raging Biblioholism has a write-up of the event here. I also got in what’s becoming a running meta-reference, to Kristen Roupenian’s grand unified baked goods theory of the Southern Reach.

(Signing in FSG’s conference room.)

The next day, I headed over to FSG to sign over 600 copies of the trilogy for indie bookstores, NY Comic-Con, et al. I also happened to pass the Strand Bookstore and was blown away to see Acceptance in the front window as one of their bestsellers, and also a prominent display of the book inside as well. I’ve been visiting the Strand for so many years, and I never thought I’d see the day when one of my books was a store favorite. It was, I have to admit, a very special moment for me.

(Inside the Strand Bookstore…my heart a-flutter…)

From NYC, I hopped on a train to Philadelphia for a behind-the-scenes tour of the Academy of Natural Sciences by Jill Sybesma and Carolyn Belardo, with Chris Urie of Geekadelphia, a co-host of the event the next night, also there. Chris’s enthusiasm for the academy was very evident as was Jill’s commitment to the rescued raptors. Getting to see the owls and hawks up-close was stunning. Photographer Kyle Cassidy was there to document the experience right before heading off for an LA photo shoot. Lovely people all. Although as you can tell the screech owl was not delighted to make my acquaintance.

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(Screech owl at the Academy of Natural Sciences)

The night of the event, at Philly’s Free Library, Jill brought a barn owl and between that, the slide show, reading, and discussion I thought everything went off flawlessly. Someone even came from as far away from Ohio and I had many great and humbling conversations with readers who had truly connected with the novels. (They also asked insightful questions.) Taylor Feld, one of our Shared Worlds teen SF/F writing camp students was even in the audience. I was also very glad to catch up with a dear friend of Ann’s and mine, Stephen Segal. A local Philly paper wrote a great review of Acceptance and Michael Swanwick did a nice little write-up of the event. Many thanks to Geekadelphia, the Free Library, the Academy of Natural Sciences, and Joseph Fox Bookshop for teaming up for the event. You can now find signed copies in Philly at Joseph Fox Bookshop, too.

(The security guard who thought I might be trouble, me, Jill Sybesma–whose title at the Academy of Natural Sciences must be Coolest Job Ever–and an awesome barn owl. After the Southern Reach event last night.)

Owls, of course, figure prominently in Acceptance. You could say that an owl is at the heart of the emotional resonance of the novel. So it was an experience for me that is, as they say, hard to put into words. I felt so blessed and grateful that the Southern Reach novels have put me into this place where I get these kinds of opportunities. Also thanks to Philly for this great review the day of the event.

I can’t wait to visit Politics & Prose, a truly great bookstore, experience the Baltimore Book Festival, and return to another fav, Fountain Bookstore and the brilliant Kelly Justice. I hope to see some of you there. And please spread the word–and if you like Acceptance, thanks for reviewing it or mentioning it online.


Southern Reach: On the Road with Acceptance–DC, Baltimore, Richmond, Austin To Go originally appeared on Ecstatic Days on September 26, 2014.

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Bear Versus Texting Man: Our Spectacular Disconnection Thu, 18 Sep 2014 02:32:55 +0000
(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.


In a popular YouTube clip, a man walks out of a doorway in some suburban location and meanders down the sidewalk, texting, his attention locked in on his phone. The black bear padding down the sidewalk toward him lumbers in the questing way typical of ursines. The man doesn’t see the bear and keeps on not seeing the bear for a very long time. When the bear is so close it has eclipsed the man’s vision, the man jumps half out of his skin and runs away. The bear also seems startled. The video has aired on many found-footage television shows and a lot of people find it very funny. But I’m not sure how funny it is, really.


Black bears are common here in North Florida, but it’s rare to spot them while hiking except through binoculars because they are shy, careful creatures. A black bear crossing the trail far ahead is a graceful, almost ethereal shape, delicate in a way you wouldn’t suppose from seeing them on film.

When hiking, smart phones distract because part of the point is to exist in the moment and because in the wilderness it’s important to be observant of your surroundings. The landscape I walk through transitions from pine forest to black-water cypress swamp, and then to marsh flats and, finally, the sea. Along the way, you might encounter anything from wild pigs to alligators to water moccasins—and sometimes that snake is lunging at you, the pig charging, and the alligator, sprawled across the trail, triggers a decision about whether to jump over it or not.

Wildlife encountered in its natural environment—whether a bear, bandy-legged raccoon or myopic armadillo—gives you some sense of animals as they really are and how they live. This is a kind of contact we’re losing, and with it our own connection to the landscape. A 2010 study by researcher Joe Heinrich concluded that American children grow up developmentally challenged in their perception of animals and the natural world. Americans also experience accelerated rates of myopia and Vitamin D deficiency due to living so much of our lives inside, glued to screens.

Perhaps as a kind of slurry or run-off from these trends, our online experience is full of animals pushing slogans of universal truth or some humorous saying. Wise owls, “otter nonsense,” smiling dolphins. Because we love animals. We usually love them as long as they’re funny or wise or cute or in some other way reduced down to a meme. We breathe life into them using carelessly corrosive received ideas, each iteration farther from any kind of true seeing.

Even worse are images like a popular “cute” one of an otter in a small glass cage. Holes in the cage allow people to shake hands with the otter. This image is shared and re-shared with seemingly little realization that if the image showed a human being in a glass cage, trained to shake hands with visitors, no one would be calling it “cute.” This is all a wretched lie and we shouldn’t buy into it.

How did we get here? Perhaps if not for the false sense of superiority brought on in part by the comforts and gadgets of our post-Industrial Age, we might have continued to decentralize the role of human beings on Earth. That healthy process started when astronomers first discovered the Sun did not revolve around the Earth, that there were thousands of stars and worlds beyond our own. It never quite went as far as it should have, however.

Despite the many genuinely wonderful things that our modern civilization has accomplished, we have continued to find the most destructive ways to differentiate ourselves from the animals, and in so doing treated the finite as if it were infinite. Today ideas like Manifest Destiny still permeate our society, sublimated in a devotion to unsustainable and endless growth. Continuous clear-cutting and bulldozing. The slaughter of animals for, increasingly, not even the semblance of a purpose.

Despite all the evidence to the contrary, however, we seem trapped in the haze of an increasingly chronic state of disconnection, a superiority not supported by the facts: garbage-strewn oceans and studies suggesting saltwater fish may go extinct by 2050.

Perhaps if we paid more attention we would already have cities that take as inspiration the complex ecosystems found at the top of redwoods instead of thoughtless development. Maybe we’d be able to see that a smart phone is fairly crude next to the ways plants communicate with one another, that the symbiotic relationship between the albatross and the sunfish reveals a startling and unexpected complexity. In such a context, I don’t think I’m a luddite to wonder if we’re not often using primitive modern tech like smart phones and GoogleGlass to build an inaccurate prism of the world around us, when we aren’t busy ignoring the world around us entirely. The natural world, at least.

Otherwise, maybe we’d also see less obvious things—like the fact that our TV shows and movies are becoming a record of what we’re losing. Even cop shows from the 1970s document the erosion of wilderness and our fetish with concrete. This surreal record of loss of bio-diversity is matched by the even more surreal lie given to us by almost any historical or period piece: that of our current biosphere being the norm throughout time instead of the depleted, often gutted mono-sphere it is. Only a hundred years ago the skies were dark with passenger pigeons. Only two hundred years ago the average forest was a crowded landscape with animal life far more numerous and vigorous than we can now imagine.

The truth of our essential situation right now is this lack of attention—even as we send out space probes and pride ourselves on the leaps we’ve made in understanding quantum mechanics. Yet we still haven’t discovered every creature that lives on Earth. Nor do we have a clear idea of the most basic relationships between some organisms, nor a sense of the larger picture that develops out of those relationships.

Despite pockets of enlightenment, we often act as if we’re settlers on an alien planet, destroying and changing much that we don’t even recognize as important. But we don’t live on an alien planet. We have no home world to go back to if things fail here. We were born here, and we will die here, no matter how many new planets astronomers discover. This is the place we must pay attention to, and re-learn how to live in—to find a good answer to the question of what we contribute to the global biosphere.

Can we abandon strategies that justify despoilment or enable a “stewardship” that consists of cataloguing an often near-catastrophic decline of habitats and bio-diversity? If we cannot, then efforts to re-tool technology to eliminate carbon emissions only serve to prop up an unsustainable human hegemony.

Bears display, according to researchers, behavior that hints at intentionality and a long-term memory better than that of human beings. Most bears found in urban environments have experienced habitat loss. Most animals in cages don’t enjoy the experience.

But the conflict here isn’t bear versus man. What we continue to ignore is the fact that if the bear is in trouble, we are too. And yet, until the day that we truly feel that in our guts, in our hearts—and that may be a painful day indeed–we won’t truly be paying attention. And we won’t see clearly enough to understand what constitute not mere patches on a failed system but true paradigm changes.

Bear Versus Texting Man: Our Spectacular Disconnection originally appeared on Ecstatic Days on September 17, 2014.

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The Keepers of the Light: St. Marks Lighthouse in the NYT & Reader Response Wed, 17 Sep 2014 21:06:09 +0000 20120406_140720

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.


From Mel Kelly, former mayor of Carrabelle, Florida

If you had gone a bit further west from St Mark’s to Carrabelle [you would have seen] ‘our’ beautifully restored lighthouse, wonderful museum, keepers’ house replica, original wash house, and take the historic tour of the setting!
In addition, you could have safely climbed our 120-years-old lighthouse for a wonderful bay view, and watched the beam guide boaters in at night. Our original Fresnel lens is in the Coast Guard building in New Orleans (where they won’t part with it despite our restoration and security) but we have an exact replica.

The Lighthouse and grounds are a wonderful example of what can be done with public support and interest – please come back and check it out when you return to the area

(Mel Kelly was the Carrabelle Mayor when the light was being restored and the park was created, complete with very popular ship replica, the Lady Carrabella. The navigational beacon was re-lit in December, 2007.)

Dr. Ryan K. Smith, Virginia Commonwealth University

I liked your take on entropy/survival of the lighthouses “as is.” My own take is that in the successful lighthouse restorations, we see a too-rare example of local, concerned citizens working with government to actually create solutions to modern problems. (As well as seeing the mysteriously deep-rooted attraction to these iconic structures.)

My father has been in practice for over 40 years, developing a specialty in historic preservation. Early on, in the 1980s, I think, he got some commissions to do work at the St. Augustine Lighthouse and the St. John’s River light, and it just kind of snowballed from there. He is near retirement, and not digitally-savvy, so his firm does not have a website, but luckily he has won lots of awards and gets lots of commissions through the preservation community. He was at St. Marks about a month ago to meet with the Refuge Association and the Fish/Wildlife Service, and to present them with his structural assessment survey of the property and his design work for the proposed restoration.

I have not been to St. Mark’s myself, but the route in sounds appropriately atmospheric. He says, as you likely know, that the group could not do much to raise money or move forward until the property was officially transferred from the Coast Guard to the Fish/Wildlife Service. His firm has also been recognized for its work on the Crooked River Lighthouse, the Anclote Key Lighthouse, the Cape St. George Light, and others. He is currently at work on the Pensacola light. A brief article on him here.

(Dr. Smith teaches at Virginia Commonwealth University and is currently studying the twentieth-century restoration of historic lighthouses in the southeast. He hopes, in book form, to tell the full story of the structures’ decline and then their subsequent adoption by various local groups. His most recent book came out from Yale University Press.)

From a geologist who lives in California

Thank you for writing on this topic. [I once] took a ferry across Pamlico Sound [in North Carolina] and drove north from Ocracoke Island along the barrier island chain. When we arrived at the mother of all U.S. lighthouses, the light at Hatteras, it was closed by the National Park Service because NPS was preparing to move the light inland. I was very disappointed. Given the ephemeral nature of barrier islands I told NPS staff that the lighthouse should have been left to the energies of the Atlantic Ocean, and following collapse the bricks should have been sold for $1 to the all comers of we the people.

I have believed for many years that we Americans are conflicted about out past and the future—we want to preserve some element of the infrastructure past as a durable physical testament and reminder of, the now former, industrial might of our nation. Yet we are quick to demolish our history, as infrastructure, in the mad belief that progress exists and the immediate new is somehow [better] than the durable past.

[The geologist also notes that…] Beginning in 1964, I drove by the Pigeon Point Lighthouse on coastal San Mateo County for decades. In the beginning the light was a Fresnel lens , made in France, and tremendous booming fog horn. In the not too distant past the crew quarters were handed over to an organization as a hostel, the light was replaced with “modern” technology and the horns were turned off. Then the State of California Department of Parks got its greasy incompetent hands on the light and the adjoining property was purchased by the Peninsula Open Space Trust, which installed ugly glitzy terracotta tiles and a big semi-circular bench telling all the reading world the names of the individuals that funded the purchase of the property.

Yet another ugly “thing” grown on a coast that for over a century was an expansive agriculture district—think artichokes, brussle sprouts, pumpkins and cut-flowers, into another novel sensory stimulus for the bored ill-focused majority of Americans that can think of nothing better to do on their time-off work than to drive California 1 all the while emitting climate change gases, incrementally consuming the finite petroleum resource, and trying to connect to a past, or future, that is and was not tenable and hastening the encroachment of eustatic change on the lights they pine to visit. My two cents is keep the lights burning, exclude the public, and roll it back to a point where GPS and sonar are not the only tools used for coastal navigation.

The Keepers of the Light: St. Marks Lighthouse in the NYT & Reader Response originally appeared on Ecstatic Days on September 17, 2014.

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