If you’ve followed me on twitter or facebook, you know I’ve had a fair number of gigs already this year, including a great one at the Arthur C. Clarke Center for the Human Imagination in San Diego last week. I also saved a toad at my sister-in-law’s wedding in San Antonio and that same night learned I’d won the Nebula Award for Annihilation (the first for my publisher, FSG)—this after recently selling my new novel Borne to FSG, with the UK rights going to Fourth Estate and Canadian rights to HarperCollins Canada. Today, too, I learned the Southern Reach trilogy has a Portuguese publisher.
Saturday the Nebula Awards were announced, and my novel Annihilation won in the best novel category. You can find the entire list of nominees and winners here–congratulations to all. I was in San Antonio for a family wedding and so couldn’t attend the ceremony. But my friend (and very talented writer) Usman Tanveer Malik accepted on my behalf and read the speech below Thanks for all of the congratulations on social media–I’m afraid I haven’t yet caught up on my thanks individually since it’s been overwhelming and I was away from my computer much of the weekend. Special thanks to my editor Sean McDonald at FSG.
Thank you for this honor—my thanks to the voters and my heartfelt appreciation to the other nominees. Thanks to my wife Ann, love of my life and the only person I felt comfortable talking to about the Southern Reach trilogy while writing the rough drafts. The characters and situations were immeasurably enriched by her contributions—as are most things. A huge thank you to my agent Sally Harding and to Farrar, Straus and Giroux, as well as the many publishers world-wide who have been so enthusiastic about this series.
My novels have been nominated for many awards, but this is the first time I’ve won something. Which is funny because I wrote this novel while I had severe bronchitis and for a long time thought maybe I’d just written something aimless about four women wandering a wilderness landscape that happened to resemble the 14-mile trail I hike in North Florida. Also, given that the Southern Reach trilogy as a whole is an examination of the dysfunction and absurdity found in human-created systems, it’s astonishing to me that I was up for a Nebula rather than this year’s Hugo. For which fact I am eternally grateful, however.
If I have anything else left to say—beyond cursing the fates at having a scheduling conflict the year Nick Offerman hosted the Nebulas—it would just be this…It’s an encouraging sign that Liu Cixin’s novel made the ballot this year, and I hope it’s the start of a trend. I’m uncomfortably aware of the fact that for a lot of international writers US- and UK-based awards seem distant and inaccessible. The more that writers from outside of the Usual Places feel like their work is being seriously considered, the more we build a broader and more diverse community. The more we enrich our own work as well.
If I had to confess to influences on the Southern Reach trilogy, they would come from all over the world, and from amazing writers who published stunning novels and stories in English but who never even made a Nebula ballot. In accepting this award, I must also accept that I am only as good as the sum of that diverse reading. So I dedicate this win to those writers and to their legacy.
Thank you very much again for this honor.
As the Hollywood Reporter reported last week, I’ve sold my new novel Borne to Sean McDonald at Farrar, Straus and Giroux in a mid-six-figure deal that’s a landmark for me. Many thanks to my agent Sally Harding and everyone at the Cooke Agency. In all things career-wise Sally has been a great boon. There’s also a very robust deal with The Fourth Estate for the UK rights, and it appears there will be more news soon about other rights sales involving Borne—on several fronts.
FSG did an amazing job with my Southern Reach trilogy and I am really glad to be back with them. They’ve been kind of a dream to work with, and even though I’ve been in this business 30 years I’m continually learning from what they do and how they do it. I also appreciated their tenacity and endurance in supporting the release of all three Southern Reach novels in one year. I’m very thankful they’re taking such good care of me, and I look forward to seeing what they’ll do with Borne.
Borne is the novel I’ve talked about for a couple of years now, the same one the New York Times wrote about here last year. An excerpt from an early draft appeared in Black Clock, edited by Steve Erickson. Erickson’s comments on the excerpt also were helpful in thinking about Borne as a whole. The novel’s about a woman in a ruined city of the future who is a scavenger of biotech, who finds a strange creature in the matted fur of a giant, psychotic bear named Mord that’s been terrorizing the city. The woman, Rachel, takes the creature home and slowly begins to bond with it, against her best instincts. Is Borne an animal or plant? A deity, or a cruel experiment? “Am I a person?” Borne asks Rachel, in extremis. “Yes, you are a person,” Rachel tells him. “But like a person, you can be a weapon, too.”
What follows is kind of like an intense Chekov play in the round, with monsters fighting in the backdrop. It’s meant to be harrowing, yet sometimes very funny. If ever I’ve written something that’s dark and dangerous but also hopeful and uplifting, it might just be Borne. A lot of it is taken from life and my family and there’s a lot that’s relevant to our current environmental situation. But more than anything, it’s kind of satisfying that Borne has a traditional three-act structure and lots of natural resolution at the end. The Southern Reach trilogy was always going to be more ambivalent about closure due to the nature of the novels. But Borne’s a different kind of creature…
An exact publication date for Borne hasn’t yet been set, but hopefully I’ll know by the fall or winter.
In other news, rumor has it that Natalie Portman may join the cast of the movie version of my novel Annihilation, which is being written and directed by Ex Machina’s Alex Garland. More info on the Annihilation movie when I have it.
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.
(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.
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)
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 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
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.
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, 6pm—American 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’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.).