Area X: The Bird Watchers

Annihilation-Feature

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wonderbook-Shared-Worlds-beasties-Web-extra-Jeremy-Zerfoss

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

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

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

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

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

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

Southern Reach / VanderMeer Events: Summer-Fall 2015

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

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

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

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

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

July 2-5: Sardinia Literary Festival

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

October 13-18: Calgary Wordfest

October 20-25: Vancouver Book Festival

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

Jeff VanderMeer Southern Reach Events: April through June

tumblr_nfnkrfl6ye1qezuy5o1_1280

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leena Krohn Omnibus: Call for Nonfiction

Cheeky Frawg Books is publishing a hardcover Leena Krohn Omnibus consisting of several of her short novels and some short stories.  The publication date is December of this year.

We would also like to publish some nonfiction essays, articles, or appreciations of Krohn’s work in the omnibus. We have no particular length restrictions and reprints are, of course, fine. Academic pieces are fine as are those intended for a more general audience. We have some limited ability to translate into English from various languages and to take some original pieces as well.

Our deadline for receiving materials is April 30, although the earlier the better. We must receive queries prior to April 1. Please provide a description of what you propose with credentials, or an attachment of the piece in question. We have no particular length or format requirements. We can provide more payment details on request.

Krohn is an iconic Finnish writer and we hope in this omnibus to do justice to her fiction. It should go without saying, but we expect anyone who queries to already be very familiar with Krohn’s work.

You can send me email about this project to: vanderworld at hotmail.com. Please note that I am traveling intermittently from February 20 to March 8 and may not answer all email immediately.

 

31

 

 

Amsterdam: VanderMeer Events at the Sonic Acts Festival and American Book Center

10410766_10152577766197379_8553404112635917584_n

I’ll be in Amsterdam the end of this month, where my Dutch publisher is releasing their edition of Authority, the second novel in my Southern Reach Trilogy. My two events are listed below–hope to see some of you there! Should be fun!

Friday, Feb. 27, 6pmAmerican Book Center, ABC Treehouse (Voetboogstraat 11 1012 XK). I’ll give a brief reading from the Southern Reach (what I call my “vegetation medley” and then be joined by Hugo Award-winning editor Ann VanderMeer and Dutch sensation Thomas Olde Heuvelt for a wide-ranging discussion, followed by a book signing.

Saturday, Feb. 28, 2pm–Sonic Acts Geologic Imagination Festival (Paradiso main halllocation; see info here). I will read from the Southern Reach and take questions, but I will also present some thoughts  on relevant and outdated approaches in fiction related to ecology and the environment. “In this modern era, what constitutes escapism or commodification in near-future fiction, what are old ideas in new clothes, and what is truly revolutionary? How can the philosophy behind new ways of looking at the world inform fiction?”

Books will be available at both events. Click on links for any ticket information.

Over at The Atlantic: A Southern Reach Tell-All

tumblr_nfnkrfl6ye1qezuy5o1_1280

Over at The Atlantic’s website, you’ll find my 6,500-word behind-the-scenes essay about writing and touring behind The Southern Reach Trilogy. It’s a kind of tell-all and as such that comes with certain risks.

Revealing weakness or eccentricity can influence a reader who then goes on to read the novels. Being candid about the life of a full-time writer—which is both fraught with uncertainty and one of the best jobs you can have—is also dangerous, especially when many think book tours don’t happen any more and that most writers self-publish. Encountering a narrative suggesting that traditional publishing is still going strong can be bracing. Encountering a narrative suggesting that you can be a full-time writer can be bracing, too. (Full disclosure: I’ve been full-time since 2007, but sometimes made my living from editing anthologies and writing nonfiction, and until recently I supported only myself, with a firewall between my finances and my wife’s finances—for her protection.)

The issue of all three novels being published in one year led off a New York Times article on “binge reading,” which raises the question, too, of “binge writing.” Yet any writer will tell you that you can spend a decade writing a bad novel and nine months writing a good one. Depends on the situation and the novel. In my case, I was lucky to have more uninterrupted time to work on the Southern Reach than ever before, if in a slightly compressed number of months. Although not mentioned in the essay, I was given additional time, too, during the editing phase. FSG was kind enough to let me make substantial changes long after the proof pages would be locked down in a simple proof-read. That, and a disciplined day-to-day writing schedule—something that in its sheer repetition doesn’t make for good reading in an essay—brought me through and meant the novels as-published are exactly as I meant for them to be.

Along the way,  I had really amazing editing from Sean McDonald  and great support from everyone over at FSG. Publicist Alyson Sinclair was amazing, too. When you know you have that kind of support, it makes the writing and revising very easy. You’re willing to take more risks and you relax into the writing. It also helped that I had a partner in my wife, Ann, with whom I could discuss scenes in progress and novel drafts when finished. She also took a lot of other projects off of my plate, meaning she did almost all the work on our time travel anthology and took over management of other book projects, too.

I’m also truly blessed and fortunate that so very many readers have embraced the Southern Reach trilogy. So, what the hell–why not a tell-all? It’s certainly in the tradition of my usual “debriefings,” including this one about City of Saints and Madmen. (Thanks to the Atlantic for their enthusiasm, too–really great people over there.).

Soliciting Your Suggestions: The Big Book of Science Fiction From Vintage

We are editing The Big Book of Science Fiction for Vintage and would like to solicit your ideas between now and the end of March of this year. This is a massive anthology of more than 500,000 words scheduled for 2016 publication.

As we conduct our own research, we would love your own recommendations. We know readers of SF are passionate about what they read. You can email us at [email protected] Due to expected volume of emails, we cannot reply but rest assured we will read all recommendations. Please read this entire post before sending us a recommendation. – Ann and Jeff VanderMeer

–The Big Book of Science Fiction will publish short stories originally published during the period 1900 to 2000.

–We define short story as any work of fiction under 10,000 words. Works under 6,000 words will have the best chance.

–We define “science fiction” very broadly, from realistic hard SF all the way to surreal material with a science fiction flavor. This includes what might be called “science fiction myths.” However, we do not define SF as including traditional stories about ghosts, zombies, werewolves, vampires, unicorns, etc.

–Whether recommending the stories of others or your own work, please provide: the title of the story, the author’s name, the date of original publication and the publication source. 

A sentence or two describing the story and author would be helpful–as well as why you are recommending the story. You may make multiple recommendations in one email, but whether single or multiple please list at least the author last names in the subject line of the email.

If recommending your own work, please limit yourself to three stories.

–As possible, attach a scan, PDF, Word, or RTF document of the story. If the story is online, a link is sufficient.

–We are very interested in international SF originally written in English.

–We are very interested in existing translations of international SF originally published in a language other than English. (In such cases, the date of original publication, not the translation date, must fall between 1900 and 2000.)

–We are very interested in commissioning a limited number of new translations. We would love recommendations if you read in a language other than English and have encountered a mind-blowing story. (We have translator resources in place already.)

If the story appeared in a Nebula Award reprint anthology, or an anthology edited by Judith Merril, Michael Moorcock, David Hartwell, Damon Knight, Kathryn Cramer, or Robert Silverberg, we are probably already aware of it.

–Keep in mind that we are already aware of the best fiction by iconic writers like Ursula K. Le Guin and Ray Bradbury.

Thank you in advance for sharing your opinions–we appreciate your time. We wish we could reply to all emails. However, we will be in touch if we have questions or further interest.

(Art by Richard Powers, just ’cause we love his work.)Richard Powers art

Sweet, Cute Ann and Beastly VanderCurmudgeon Featured in Origins Magazine

44866_Origin22_AmandaSide60 (1)

Origins Magazine asked Ann and me what makes a relationship work. Ann said plenty of drugs while I’m talking helps and $$ penalties for putting up with my stupid. Or maybe we both said laughter goes a long way long-term. As does mutual respect and sharing the same passion for certain things.

Here’s a photo from a recent workshop we ran that demonstrates that wearing serious hats is of use, too.

20140722_092326

It also doesn’t hurt that Ann’s smart, cute, hilarious, and much better with a tool kit than I am.

Anyway, the issue hits newsstands this week and it’s kinda cool to be featured as one of their top couples. (Thanks, Nancy H., for recommending us, and thanks to Francesca Myman, who took the photo that’s in the mag.)

Origin22_FB

 

 

 

The Morning News Tournament of Books, Current Reading, Odds ‘n’ Ends

20150105_183715

If you came here via facebook or twitter, please note that while I won’t be on social media much this year, I will be blogging–and those posts should auto-populate to my fb and twitter accounts.

Last week, the Morning News announced the 16 titles for its 2015 Tournament of Books. Annihilation is one of them and, as my editor said, it would be only appropriate for Annie to be knocked out in the first round and come back as a zombie. But we’ll see. It’s one of those situations where you say it’s an honor to be nominated…and you actually mean it. In non-morning news, thanks to Joe at Book People for choosing Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy as his book of the year. Thanks also to The Stake for making the publication of the trilogy it’s pop-culture event of the year. You can find highlights of Area X best-of-year honors here.

Since the Southern Reach tour ended, I’ve been spending time at home relaxing and reading–and thinking a lot about the next novel, Borne. I tend to take a fair amount of time living with the characters in my mind before writing a rough draft. But I’ve also made good progress on a draft. Part of that progress is always about what you surround yourself with reading-wise. In this case, Timothy Morton’s Hyperobjects, which Matthew Cheney talked about here. I’m also slowly savoring William Vollman’s rather brilliant Imperial before tackling his 7-volume work on violence–meanwhile devouring Zizek’s much smaller tome on violence, Violence.

Some of this feeds into what I will talk about at the Sonic Acts 2015 Geological Imagination Festival in Amsterdam next month. Ostensibly I’m reading from the Southern Reach trilogy and participating in a Q&A, but I’ve decided to preface that with some comments on the ways in which fiction has failed to keep current with what is happening to the world–as well as delineating those pathways and approaches that seem to hold promise.

Speaking of the former, I have to say my most depressing current fiction reading has been in the post-Collapse or mid-Collapse genre–which most commonly now takes the form of a novel in which some virus wipes out all but X percent of the population. Never all but 1 percent, though, since no doubt that would be confused by reader with The One Percent. Almost inevitably, these novels reduce down their character lists to a pretty generic and non-representative core sample of the population and proceed to get on with the Nostalgia Show, the longing for the life before–i.e., the unsustainable one we’re living now, which is also a misery for so many–whilst discreetly hiding the bodies of millions and millions somewhere offstage. Incredibly, in most of these books global warming is just a kind of nebulous thing, no hyperobject or true catastrophe but perhaps responsible for some storms and such off in the distance. In any event, real life–and the future we live in right now–is much more effective a critique of this approach than anything I could say here.

On a more pleasant note, there are some books I read over the holidays that I liked quite a bit and I’ll blog about them soon. As Ann and I read and research more for The Big Book of SF (Vintage), I’ll talk about that as well.

In addition to the Amsterdam conference, this spring I’ll be appearing at the University of Buffalo, Tallahassee’s Word of South lit-music festival (with Vernon Reid!), and at MIT. Over the summer Ann and I will teach at the Yale Writers’ Conference and at the Shared Worlds teen writing camp. I’ll post a full schedule sometime in the next week.

Outside of that, it appears I’ll probably be on NPR’s Science Friday (February 6) if all goes well and The Atlantic online will be publishing a long tell-all about the story behind the Southern Reach. My interview with Richard House, author of the fantastic novel The Kills, will post at The Millions next week. I’ve also turned in an introduction for Melville House’s edition of the Strugatsky Brothers Dead Mountaineer’s Inn, am working on another intro for a Ligotti reprint from Penguin Classics, and will complete an intro for PM Press’s reprint of Moorcock’s Breakfast in the Ruins later this year as well.

In blurbing news, I’ve been happy to blurb Kelly Link’s forthcoming story collection, Leah Thomas’ first novel, and Rikki Ducornet’s latest nonfiction collection.

And, I’ve not really had time to blog about it, but Italian editions of the Southern Reach Trilogy will come out this year. Indonesia, Finnish, and Czech Republic rights recently sold, too–meaning Area X will appear in a total of 22 countries.

And, also, happy to see Jenn Brissett’s Elysium made the PKD Award finalist list. Congrats, Jenn!

Finally, why is there a photo of our cat Neo at the top of this post? Just because.