Clarion San Diego SF/F Writers’ Workshop 2014: Selected Sentences

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Ann VanderMeer and I have finished anchoring the last two weeks of the Clarion San Diego SF/Fantasy Writers’ Workshop. The instructors in the other four weeks were Gregory Frost, Geoff Ryman, Catherynne M. Valente, and N.K. Jemisin. Thanks to Shelley Streeby and Laura Martin, who run Clarion on the UCSD side, for doing a great job.

We had a great time with these students–not just great writers but also really interesting people–and we are just so happy about now sitting back and getting a chance to read all of the amazing fiction they’ll be writing post-Clarion. This is one of the privileges of teaching creative writing: to come into contact with imaginations and world views that are unique and full of life and depth.

Wednesday at our Mysterious Galaxy reading, Ann read a sentence from each student, and I’ve posted them below so you, too, can get a small sample of what’s in store for the future. Take note of these names, because you’ll be hearing a lot more from these writers.

So, congrats to the Clarion class of 2014–it was a real pleasure and honor to get to know you and be able to read your stories. We learned a lot from you. Much love from both of us.

***

Kiik Araki-Kawaguchi: And though it had been sixty years since Margaret had fed Kane, she knew instantly, absolutely his favorite things to eat were the seeds of mesquite, creosote bush and prairie broomweed, precisely the plants that were growing wild in her yard.

Martin Cahill: He descended on the town like a star from Dark Heaven, salamander six-guns shining like twin suns, a flask of firespice ringing against his hip like a bell that tolled of his coming.

Ryan Campbell: The two men at the door look like little buildings: one poorly made and beginning to crumble; the other new and modern and glassy with a smile like a receptionist.

Amin Chehelnabi: This sudden moment was three things to Ashraff: the silence between words, the pauses between breaths, and the eternal quiet of the Olympian Gods in council.

Nino Cipri: His first cellmate nicknames him Maps, because that is what Sal hangs on the walls.

Vida Cruz: Sit beneath the shade, child, and I, Saha, will tell you how the mango came to be.

A.J. Fitzwater: In the third month after the cities collide, the girls dance out of the walls.

Noah Keller: I know of a jewel of dust, in a creaking drawer in a dresser with a thousand knobs.

Leena Likitalo: Ocelia, my little sister, I will reclaim your feathers.

Zach Lisbeth: After an epic battle (which has already been approximated in several oral traditions) Maggie defeated the Boneless Emperor and his Band of Belligerent Boys (most of them turned out to be more misguided than belligerent, but such is the fickle nature of alliterative names).

Haralambi Markov: The kiss that came well before love and whose memory outlasted every definition of the word.

Manish Melwani: I digest the cosmos, fermenting star-stuff in my infinite guts.

Kristen Roupenian: She had carried her daughter home to David for safekeeping, but David—half-mad with fear, not knowing what he had—had lost her: yes, he said, please, take care of this for us, and so Lily’s body disappeared into a basement furnace and burned along with waste and needles and other unloved things, and when Anna woke up and opened her arms for her daughter, David had nothing to give her.

Ellie Rhymer: I dreamed about the moon last night, so full that it burst its seams, and you and I ate pears from orchards watered by the silver moonbeam deluge.

Kayla Whaley: Sunlight trailed in behind us, as if light could stick to your sneakers as easily as mud.

Marian Womack: One believes in mirages because there are no dreams, and one must believe in something.

Tamara Vardomskaya: And as we lie, in bed in his arms, on the carpet floor alone with the TV show still chattering empty stupidities, we seek to find our centre and we can’t.

Sarena Ulibarri: The Elders said that lightning used to follow the wires from one side of the world to the other, until the sun reached a finger across space and snapped the wires with a single flick.

Books Read and in Progess: Smith Henderson, Evie Wyld, and More

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So far this year I’ve had a chance to read and review a handful of novels for the NYTBR, LA Times, and the Guardian—here are some links and info, along with, first, my current reading—very excited about everything I’m reading now.

CURRENT READING (in progress)

Right now, I’m on the road and am reading the following, all of which I’m really enjoying thus far. I don’t know why, but I’ve been going back and forth between them without it destroying my immersion in any of them.

–After the Fire, A Still Small Voice by Evie Wyld (magnificent author—such a sharp, sharp writer)

–McGlue by Ottessa Moshfegh (out in October; profane, ‘orrible in the best way, and brilliant style for the protagonist)

–Idiopathy by Sam Byers (so far a spot-on critique of every aspect of our modern post-industrial existence)

–Tove Jansson: Life, Art, Words by Boel Westin (most excellent biography of the wonderful writer and artist, lovingly written and with copious illos and photographs)

–The Poetry of Derek Walcott 1948—2013 (the best from the Nobel Prize-winner; I’m making this one last, reading a couple of poems every day)

THE BEST

Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson: “Early in the story, Pete observes that “We’re all animals. Just dancing bears in tutus and monkeys with cigarettes. Painted up and stuffed into clown cars.” Henderson is committed to showing us unhappy and unstable people existing at the edges of any safety net. But they’re also people struggling to find a kind of truth, and they’re portrayed with compassion and humanity, in a voice that crackles and lurches with the intensity of a Tom Waits song.”

All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld: “Wyld’s also not afraid to just give the reader the blunt, brutal truth. There are aspects of Whyte’s past—because of what’s been done to her and what she herself has done—that you get full-on, in detail…some level the rest of All the Birds, Singing is nothing but exploration of her character, a kind of clear-seeing that creates empathy even through the most disturbing sequences.” (Granted, this one’s a cheat—I posted this review on my blog, but it’s a favorite read of the year so far and if I’d found it earlier would’ve pitched it for review.)

The Great Glass Sea by Josh Weil: “Yet Weil’s earnest, deep commitment to a portrait of brothers in crisis means that these issues recede into the backdrop. There’s pathos and tension in how Yarik becomes trapped in his relationship with Bazarov. There’s breathtaking brilliance in Weil’s portrayal of Dima as an outcast estranged from society, especially in one astonishing scene in which Dima walks around in a reverie of dissolution.” (Note: I had some negative things to say about this novel, but it’s the kind of book that I think a good many readers will enjoy a lot and a fair number of reviewers may not have the same caveats I did. I’ve now ordered his story collection and awaiting it eagerly.)

[Read more…]

Weird Fiction StoryBundle: Two Weeks to Go!

StoryBundle has given me the exciting opportunity to curate a “weird fiction” bundle based on some of our Cheeky Frawg offerings, with my last story collection, blurbed by Junot Diaz, thrown in. You can pick up e-book versions of amazing work by iconic Finnish writer Leena Krohn and sample some of the best current weird Finnish fiction in the anthology It Came From the North, edited by Desirina Boskovich.

You can also read two classic weird novels from the American Kafka, Michael Cisco—as well as Karin Tidbeck’s amazing collection Jagannath, which won the Crawford Award and was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award. Also on offer: the humor book The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals, written by me and my wife, Ann. Last but not least, read the wonderful The Honey Month by Amal El-Mohtar, a beautifully written book.

How does it work? The details are on the StoryBundle site, but here’s what it means in practical terms: Whatever percentage of the amount you pay is allocated to the writers goes to us here at Cheeky Frawg Books. We take our cut and the rest goes to the writers. In all but one case, these books have already earned out, so the authors get a very nice chunk of change out of this special deal—and we’ll be giving that money to the authors right after the end of the StoryBundle. (Our contracts are very generous on e-book rights, much more than the industry standard, so…)

In addition, the monies Cheeky Frawg retains will go toward future translation projects and our operating costs. We’re planning such delights as a huge 900-page omnibus of Leena Krohn’s work, which is not an insignificant undertaking. StoryBundle’s contribution to these efforts cannot be undersold, frankly.

So, thanks for considering buying this weird fiction bundle—it’ll directly benefit authors and help us, too.

It Came from the North--Finnish Fiction

Southern Reach UK Tour: London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dublin, Bristol, Bath

Annihilation--Fourth Estate cover

The last two weeks of August I’ll be over in the United Kingdom for a book tour behind the Southern Reach trilogy. You can find the basic details below, and I’ll provide more information closer to August. My wife Ann VanderMeer will be traveling with me and participating in some of these events. We hope to see many of our UK friends and fans!

London

Aug. 14, 4pm—Reading and signing at Forbidden Planet; exclusive reading from Acceptance (London Megastore)

Aug. 15-17—World SF Convention; panels below, Walk-with-Stars Saturday morning; rest of schedule TBA

**Big Anthologies: Bookends or Benchmarks?, Friday Aug. 15, 4:30pm—Jo Walton (M), Jeff VanderMeer, Ellen Datlow, Martin Lewis, Jonathan Strahan
**Imaginative Resistance, Saturday Aug. 16, 11am—Jeff VanderMeer (M), Robert Jackson Bennett, Pat Cadigan, Daryl Gregory, Sarita Robinson
**The Wrong Apocalypse, Sunday Aug. 17, 1:30pm—Mark Charan Newton (M), Nina Allan, Jeff VanderMeer, Tiffani Angus, Ivaylo Shmilev
***John Clute’s The Darkening Garden, Sunday Aug. 17, 4:30pm—Paul Kincaid, Jeff VanderMeer, Lisa Tuttle, Ellen Datlow, Dr Paul March-Russell

Edinburgh

Aug. 19, 8:30pm—Edinburgh International Book Festival event, “Fantasy That’s Terrifyingly Believable, with Charlie Fletcher and Jeff VanderMeer” (Baille Gifford Corner Theatre; ticketed event)

Glasgow

Aug. 21, 7pm—Waterstones, an evening with Ann & Jeff VanderMeer, Amal El-Mohtar, Hal Duncan, and Neil Williamson (Argyle Street)

Dublin

Aug. 23, 24—Eurocon; schedule TBA

Bristol-Bath

Aug. 25, 7pm—Small Stories Big Books event featuring Ann & Jeff Vandermeer (The Lansdown,8 Clifton Rd, Bristol)

Aug. 26, 7pm—Mr. B’s Emporium of Reading Delights a conversation with Jeff VanderMeer (and short reading) (14/15 John Street, Bath, UK; ticketed event)

Authority--UK

Review: All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld

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I picked up Evie Wyld’s All the Birds, Singing on a whim, because I liked the cover design and the tone of the review quotes on the back. I didn’t know anything about the author, and it wasn’t until I was about three-fourths of the way through that I discovered she’d won a lot of literary prizes for the novel. All I knew by then is that Wyld deserved all of those prizes.

I can count on one hand the number of novels I’ve read in the last couple of years where the prose is truly exceptional and the author’s vision has both clarity and substance. In All the Birds, Singing Wyld creates an unforgettable character in Jake Whyte, a woman with a troubled past who, in the present, lives on a farm she owns on a remote British island. The story of her encounters with a strange beast and neighbors she wants nothing to do with is interwoven with a narrative about the past that gradually delves farther and farther back in time.

We learn that Whyte knows a lot about how to shear and care for sheep, a job she’s taken up again by choice in her isolation on the island. We learn that she grew up in Australia and in fleeing her past she got a job at a sheep station in Australia. The scenes in which she is navigating a landscape full of men, many of whom don’t trust her, are riveting and contain brilliant moments of character insight. All of the secondary characters come to life with deft, economical precision, and the bustling sheep station provides a great early contrast to the isolation of Whyte’s life on the island.

But the contrast between these scenes and the ones in the present isn’t just expressed through a shift in tense—the past cleverly presented in present tense—it’s also in the atmosphere. Whyte’s subtle but adept in how the island scenes are slowed by cold and mud while those in Australia are alive with heat; the syntax shifts and adjusts to fit the setting. This is in part a function of conscious thought about style by the author and in part due to first-hand knowledge of both landscapes…or at least this is my impression; perhaps Wyld’s just a really good liar about details of setting.

Wyld’s also not afraid to just give the reader the blunt, brutal truth. There are aspects of Whyte’s past—because of what’s been done to her and what she herself has done—that you get full-on, in detail. To describe them here would be spoilery, in that the life of the novel is in the moment and in the particulars of sometimes fairly brief scenes. But my point is that we begin the novel with a mystery about Whyte—who she is and why she’s now on the island— and on some level the rest of All the Birds, Singing is nothing but exploration of her character, a kind of clear-seeing that creates empathy even through the most disturbing sequences.

The writing in the novel is muscular without being lush or overly descriptive; Wyld knows how to pick her spots so that everything we get counts. A bicep on a scrawny man bulges like “a new potato” during an arm-wrestling contest. Recalling a horrible encounter, Whyte feels like “wax is coating me from the inside.” Trees in a moment of tension “appeared to swell and shrink with the rhythm of breath,” which is perfectly placed after a description of birds rising out of the trees and then settling back in that reinforces the illusion.

As All the Birds, Singing progresses, it’s true that the evocations of the past aren’t always as fresh or new as at the novel’s start—and the conclusion feels much more like stopping than ending, perhaps in part because no matter whether a mystery is about a dead body or a living one the reveal can’t be as compelling as the set-up.

But the clear-eyed self-appraisal present throughout, the evocations of island life and Whyte’s interactions with a mysterious man who shows up at her farm, the utterly stunning set-piece involving her home town and a tragedy…all of these elements have softened my slight disappointment at the end to the point where all I remember are the brilliant things about this novel. Especially in a context where Wyld gives the reader such a memorable, unique, strong-yet-flawed woman as her viewpoint character.

In short, All the Birds, Singing now makes me want to read everything Wyld has ever written.

Southern Reach Summer Tour: The Carolinas, San Diego Comic-Con, Mystery Galaxy

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

“”Truly visionary, epic…VanderMeer has done something extraordinary in the Southern Reach. Wild. Bizarre. Romantic. Evocative of Gibson, Lovecraft, Kafka. Thank you for creating something original in a world that’s referencing itself to death. It is refreshing.” – Vernon Reid, Living Color

As featured in Entertainment Weekly: The Southern Reach trilogy, chronicling efforts by the Southern Reach secret agency to solve the mystery behind Area X, a pristine wilderness cut off from the world by an invisible border.

The Summer Southern Reach tour–otherwise known as the Authority Tour–starts out in the Carolinas before I take one huge leap over to California and San Diego. I’m teaching at the Shared Worlds teen SF/F writing camp in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and then joining my wife Ann VanderMeer in teaching at the Clarion Writers Workshop in San Diego.

For the Carolinas events I’ll be giving away one copy of Acceptance, the third volume in the Southern Reach trilogy (not out until September). I’ll also be giving teasing sneak peeks at Acceptance, in addition to reading from Authority and sharing some of the more absurd real-life influences on the novel. Oh–and I’ll be giving away Acceptance by throwing a bunny into the audience. I might even have some free FSG shot glasses for one lucky reader.

I should also note that the Comic-Con panel will include cool visuals from the participants and should just be a heck of a lot of fun. Hope to see you there.

Click on the links for event listings with more details. In a week or so, I’ll post about my UK tour schedule, which includes World Con, the Edinburgh International Lit Fest, Glasgow, Eurocon, Bristol, and Brighton.

July 9, Wed, 7pm—Hub City Bookstore (Spartanburg, SC)

July 10, Thurs, 7:30pm—Quail Ridge Books (Raleigh/Durham, NC)

July 12, Sat, 7pm—Malaprops (Asheville, NC)

July 16, Wed, 7pm—Hub City Bookstore (introducing Carrie Vaughn; Shared Worlds event)

July 24, Thurs, 10am–Comic-Con San Diego Wonderbook Creativity panel (San Diego, Room: 25ABC; with Lev Grossman, Charles Yu, Anina Bennett, Paul Guinan, Ann VanderMeer moderator)

—>Also July 24, 11:30 signing at the Comic-Con Abrams booth (Wonderbook) and 2pm signing at the Tor booth with Ann VanderMeer (Southern Reach trilogy and The Time Traveler’s Almanac)

July 30, Wed, 7pm–Mysterious Galaxy (Clarion Writers Workshop event, San Diego, with Ann VanderMeer)

Acceptance--FSG

Wonderbook Wins the Locus Award

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Yesterday, Wonderbook won the Locus Award for best nonfiction. Sally Harding, my agent, was kind enough to accept on my behalf and read my short speech, which I’ve reproduced below. I’d also like to acknowledge Caitlin Kenney who originally acquired the book for Abrams Image, Maya Bradford and Melissa Esner in PR/Marketing at Abrams, Luis Rodrigues who designed the website–which has another book’s worth of content connected to the print version–and Greg Bossert, who created the Wonderbook video, among other contributions. A full list of the contributors can be found here. The full list of Locus Award winners has been posted here. Thanks again to everyone. – Jeff

Wonderbook

Many thanks to the readers for this award and to Locus Magazine. Much love and respect to my fellow nominees, who have done important work. Thanks to everyone who contributed to Wonderbook: more 150 writers and artists, including 15 of the creators on the Locus Award ballot. Thanks to Jeremy Zerfoss for art and John Coulthart for design. Thanks to Sally Harding and the Cooke Agency for keeping me grounded and making me see what’s important and what’s not. Special thanks to Matthew Cheney for serving as the book’s creative writing consultant and to my dear wife Ann who was instrumental in developing ideas along the way. Grateful thanks to my editor David Cashion and everyone at Abrams Image. I’ve never before had a publisher give me a budget and then say, “We trust you. Do whatever you want. Just bring it back camera ready.”

***

Writing is supposed to give expression to our better selves, to show how we try to rise above even if we don’t always succeed. If I had one hope for Wonderbook it was that it would come close to embodying a “sense of wonder” that had nothing to do with escapism or nostalgia but instead everything to do with how much talent, diversity, and complexity exists in the ecosystem that is science fiction, fantasy, and horror…so long as we see that ecosystem entire and don’t render parts of it invisible. That the book might tell some beginning writer somewhere, who might feel misunderstood—and there are so many ways to be misunderstood—that writing is full of joy and curiosity and passion and community. That this joy occurs in part because using your imagination is a regenerative act, almost a spiritual act, but also because the art of storytelling comes to us not just from one voice but from many voices. That, because there are many voices, there are many paths. So many paths that some days we get lost and tangled up in them, and that’s okay too. Because getting lost is part of the point.

***

Kindness, trust, loyalty, good humor, immense amounts of creativity and wisdom—I received and experienced all of this in the form of the support of so many amazing people while working on this project. I’ll never forget that, and so again: thank you very much for this award.

Entertainment Weekly’s Spotlight on the Southern Reach Book Covers

The print issue of Entertainment Weekly that reaches subscribers today and newsstands next week includes a feature on the Southern Reach book covers–showcasing the amazing designs from various foreign editions. The image below is from the online version, available to subscribers only, I believe.

I’ve also uploaded the covers to a flickr album. Which are your favorites? The set of three to start are roughs of the German editions.

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Living on an Alien Planet: NPR’s Cosmos & Culture Runs Conversation with Karen Joy Fowler

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NPR.org’s Cosmos & Culture blog has run a long-form conversation between me and PEN/Faulkner Award-winner Karen Joy Fowler focusing on animals and the environment. Here’s an excerpt:

Fowler: On the limits of empathy — I just read the new book by Frans de Waal called The Bonobo and the Atheist. A lot of it was about our natural proclivity towards empathy and how many animals we find this in, and cited many studies and observations. But in the end the book concluded that there seems actually to be what they call an empathy deficit for people or creatures that you don’t see as part of your own tribe. Not only do you not empathize with them, you actively dis-empathize.

VanderMeer: Dis-empathize, right. If sharks were as smart as chimpanzees — using our conventional definitions of worth — it wouldn’t make a difference, in a sense. So how far do you think “personhood” should go in terms of our thinking of animals? Is there a cut-off point? Or is it simply that we need to rearrange our entire thinking about this?

If you missed it, this weekend NPR’s To the Best of Our Knowledge ran an interview with me as part of a discussion of weird fiction.

Also, Laboratory Lit is a thing, and Annihilation is on their most recent list of novels. (Probably best they don’t read Authority…)

Finally, Rick Kleffel has a list of novels “better than blockbusters” that includes the Southern Reach trilogy.

Yale Writers’ Conference and New Canaan Library Event June 19: Jeff VanderMeer, Terence Hawkins, and Louis Bayard

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(Believe me, after the marathon of writing the three Southern Reach novels, I look a lot more Area X’d than this now…)

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

This week Ann and I will be teaching at the Yale Writers’ Conference. There are semi-public readings at the campus B&N that are mostly for the students and faculty. But for anyone in the area who’s interested, I’ll be doing this event:

Join us on Thursday, June 19 at 7:00 p.m. for a program with a trio of authors fresh from the Yale Writers’ Conference: Terence Hawkins, conference director and author of American Neolithic; and instructors Louis Bayard, author Roosevelt’s Beast; and Jeff VanderMeer, author of Wonderbook, The Illustrated Guide To Creating Imaginative Fiction. In addition to speaking about Wonderbook, Jeff will read from and discuss his latest book, Annihilation.

I’ll probably give some teasers about Acceptance, too.

I always love doing events with writers I’m just encountering, and in this case two with such intriguing novels out. Here’s some more information on both…

Terence Hawkins’ American Neolithic is America is a Police State Lite. Drones patrol the skies. The Patriot Amendments have gutted civil liberties. The Homeland Police and Patriot Tribunal have exclusive jurisdiction over all legal actions implicating national security. And then Neanderthals enter the story. Political satire, courtroom thriller, and speculative fiction, American Neolithic is also a story of loyalty, betrayal, and redemption.

Louis Bayard’s Roosevelt’s Dream. A reimagining of Teddy and Kermit Roosevelt’s ill-fated 1914 Amazon expedition—a psychological twist on the smart historical thriller that first put Louis Bayard on the map. A story of the impossible things that become possible when when the mind plays tricks on itself and when old family secrets refuse to stay buried.

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