The New Yorker has weighed in on The Southern Reach Trilogy, and I’m delighted they’ve focused on weird ecologies. I also think this may be the first time they’ve had to explain something like “mushroom dweller” to a general audience. Anyway, it’s heartening to see them differentiate Area X from the post-apocalypse subgenre and to bring up Timothy Morton, whose latest book I’m currently devouring. The first Morton I’ve read, and it’s truly strange the parallels and similarities with some of the subtext of the Southern Reach novels. And this all tends to feed into the next novel I’m working on as well.
Over at The Millions, I’ve interviewed the author Richard House–some fascinating answers. Anyone who read my year’s best list over at Electric Literature or my pick of the year for The Globe & Mail knows I loved Richard House’s The Kills–my favorite fiction read of 2014. I also included it in my list of daring books over at FSG’s site, where I wrote:
Richard House’s The Kills approximates the general idea of a thriller but the structure of four interlocking short novels makes the reader work to put the story together. (in a good way) The fact that one of the four novels is primarily thematically linked to the other three creates a unique kind of connectivity, and a situation where the entire shape of the story only locks into place on the very last page of the book. It’s not that The Kills just subverts genre tropes-—it’s not actually operating via those tropes, even in how characters enter and leave the narrative, and yet the ghostly outline of thriller expectations still do intercede on the reader’s behalf. The exquisite tension caused by this ghostly outline, brought to the text by the reader, held me transfixed and admiring as The Kills keeps becoming something different, and something different again.
There are few novels these days that read to me as if the writer understands some of the unique aspects of our modern condition. The Kills is one, Ledgard’s Submergence was another, and The Corpse Exhibition by Hassan Blasim (translated by Jonathan Wright) a third. I believe we’re in an era where a lot of what we’ve held to be universal or relevant in literature will begin to seem dated and nostalgic. But not these books.
(The start of it all: At Elliot Bay in Seattle, this February; photo by Todd Vandemark.)
Over on Farrar, Straus and Giroux’s Housekeeping site, they’ve posted my year in indie bookstores. I was fortunate enough to spend much of 2015 on the road in support of the Southern Reach Trilogy, and a big part of that was reading at or signing in independent bookstores.
Head on over and check out my notes on Bookmark It, Book Passage, Bookshop Santa Cruz, Booksmith, Book Soup, Chop Suey, City Lights, Elliott Bay, Fountain, Kramers, Green Apple, Housing Works, Hub City, Inkwood, Malaprops, McNally Jackson, Mysterious Galaxy, Politics & Prose, Powell’s, Quail Ridge, WORD, and more.
A special shout-out here to Kathmandu Books for handling the limited edition S.R. chapbook, Subterranean for various kindnesses, and for Borderlands for providing books for the Writers With Drinks event I did in San Fran–one of the best events ever.
(Thanks, Matthew Revert, for the great info-graphic.)
It’s a perennial problem, isn’t it? How to make that dang-blasted book look like something else when you wrap it, because otherwise what’s the point? It can be slathered in wrapping paper that’s covered in three-dimensional rainbow-colored topographical anomalies interspersed amongst Satanic dog-headed kittens and the person receiving the gift will still figure it out.
But don’t despair! As a public service, you can find my preferred method above. I finally admitted to this approach when NYT bestselling author Lois H. Gresh asked the question on her facebook page. Matthew Revert was then kind enough to provide an illustrated version as a holiday season mitzvah.
Of course, Gresh then had to raise some issues that point to a possible need for refinements in this approach. Specifically:
So let me get this straight. I use the Fishomatic to pulverize 12 dead fish. I dump the fish pulp into a 12″-diameter sphere-shaped ice tray (and good luck finding one of those). Then I push the book into the fish pulp. Clearly, a pulp title is best. I freeze. Carefully, I pop the frozen sphere from the “tray” and arrange it in a nest of fish scales. Then I put it under the recipient’s pillow in his/her bed. Oh, wait. That’s The Godfather Method of Wrapping a Gift Book.
This interpretation is a little time-intensive and perhaps limiting in terms of the type of book. And, granted, sometimes I will just strap the dead fish to the book and cover both with wrapping paper and hand that to the lucky recipient–especially if there’s no convenient sea nearby. Her next suggestion, however, may further streamline the whole process…
If I hide the book or toss it into the sea, and hence, the supposed recipient doesn’t know that he has this wonderful gift… then I can save my book money and give him something much smaller and cheaper, such as a pea. Yes, I can hide a pea and feel good, knowing that I intended to give him a book. After all, it’s the thought that counts!
I have no suggestions on how to hide a pea. Nor for wrapping an e-book. But for less avant garde suggestions on book-wrapping, here are a few links.
—Google Image Search (less terrifying than you might expect)
—Pinterest, suggesting disguises that will fool no one (like if you put a fake moustache on)
Of course, you could always just wrap the damn book using time-proven and careful techniques.
Or share your own secret ways in the comments below…
One highlight of my year-long book tour in support of the Southern Reach trilogy was doing a Functionally Literate event in Orlando, Florida. The organizers did perfect pre-event publicity, had their own built-in PR through their own radio show/podcast. They also knew exactly what details to take care of to make my life easier after having been on the road a lot, and the gig itself was impressive as hell. From the venue to the format to the dedicated, extremely large (and enthuastic) audience of regulars–with great back-up from the awesome independent bookstore Bookmark It–Functionally Literate had pretty amazing organization, logistics, and support. (I highly recommend this reading series to all writers and their publicists–I put in a good word for them with Farrar, Straus and Giroux.)
They also had books they’d published–beautifully designed books, smartly edited, imaginatively conceived, featuring really interesting writers. I got a sampling of them at the hotel they’d put me up at. They all bore the Burrow Press logo. Burrow, you see, is the driving force behind Functionally Literate. And Burrow quickly has become my favorite new independent press.
After only three years and 10 books published, with four more scheduled for 2015, Burrow Press has become a prominent part of the Orlando literary landscape. One recent title, the story collection Train Shots by Vanessa Blakeslee, blurbed by Laura van den Berg, won an IPPY in addition to being long-listed for the Frank O’ Connor International Short Story Award and named a Sherwood Anderson Fiction Award Finalist.
Burrow Press seems poised for continued and sustained national attention–especially with its release of the novella on which Terry Gilliam’s latest movie is based. Indeed, you could say that Burrow Press is both reflecting a revitalized Orlando culture scene and helping drive that revitalization. It was energizing to see, and reminded me of ancient days back in Gainesville, Florida, where my cohorts and I founded one of the first significant indies in that city. (Today morphed into Cheeky Frawg.)
With the year coming to the end, and in celebration of the indie press/bookstore renaissance that seems to be sweeping the U.S., I thought I’d interview Ryan Rivas, the publisher and co-founder of Burrow Press. His writing has appeared in decomP, Annalemma, Prick of the Spindle, Best American Nonrequired Reading 2012, and elsewhere.
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.
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.
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.
One of the great pleasures of seeing the Southern Reach trilogy in print has been the ingenuity and sophistication of the foreign language editions. Among the absolute best of the many versions are Destino’s covers for the Spanish editions. Destino commissioned artist and designer Pablo Delcan to create these covers, which capture the surreal vibe of the novels as well as the theme of transformation running through the narrative.
I caught up with Delcan via email this month to ask him about how he created these striking images, and to share with readers some early versions. You can experience more of his amazing work at his website. Spanish readers can also check out the Destino Southern Reach webpage and also check out updates on twitter @_SouthernReach.
Finnish Weird now has a fruiting body: a one-off magazine that allows you to sample some of the best examples of this delectably strange Nordic truffle. Download these infectious spores or enjoy them right there online.
In addition to iconic Finnish writer Johanna Sinisalo’s editorial, “Rare Exports,” Finnish Weird includes an essay “Finnish Weird From the Land of the North” by Jussi K. Niemela and features Emmi Itaranta, Jenny Kangasvuo, and Tiina Raevaara. Fiction and interviews and essays all come with a great visual presentation, too.
Mentioned in the nonfiction is It Came From the North, an anthology of the Finnish fantastic edited by Desirina Boskovich from our own Cheeky Frawg Books. In honor of Finnish weird, we’ve discounted it for Kindle to $2.99 for one week only. If you’d prefer a different seller, we recommend Weightless (although we can’t discount that version).
So go read Finnish Weird and check out It Came From the North if you’re so inclined.
This month our Cheeky Frawg press released our 2013 Weird Summer Beach Reading E-books…all four of them by the American Kafka, Michael Cisco.
You can buy them at Amazon, or through either of these two preferred vendors (direct links):
Wizard’s Tower (which is also offering all four at a special rate)
And if you go over to Weirdfictionreview.com, you’ll find we’re serializing The Divinity Student and generally having a celebration of Cisco. Part 1 of the Divinity Student and Ann VanderMeer’s appreciation as well as a general editorial.
The Divinity Student
The International Horror Guild Award-winning novel that launched the career of a writer sometimes described as “the American Kafka.” Struck by lightning, resurrected, cut open, and stuffed full of arcane documents, the Divinity Student is sent to the desert city of San Veneficio to reconstruct the Lost Catalog of Unknown Words. He learns to pick the brains of corpses and gradually sacrifices his sanity on the altar of a dubious mission of espionage. The divinity student’s strange adventures will haunt the reader long after finishing this unique and exciting novel. As Publishers Weekly wrote, “Cisco wields words in sweeping, sensual waves, skillfully evoking multiple layers of image and metaphor. Though his novel is brief, it is a gem of literate dark fantasy, concisely illustrating the power, both light and dark, of words and meaning.” Recommended for fans of Clive Barker, Thomas Ligotti, Gemma Files, Kafka, Leonora Carrington and other masters of weird fiction. With an introduction by Hugo and World Fantasy Award winner Ann VanderMeer.
Struck by lightning, resurrected, cut open, and stuffed full of arcane documents, the Divinity Student constructs a golem replacement to pursue his love underground, with lyrical consequences. As Publishers Weekly wrote, “Cisco wields words in sweeping, sensual waves, skillfully evoking multiple layers of image and metaphor.” Recommended for fans of Clive Barker, Thomas Ligotti, Gemma Files, Kafka, Leonora Carrington and other masters of weird fiction. With an introduction by Paul Tremblay.
From the author of the award-winning The Divinity Student comes an audacious dark novel detailing a battle in a phantasmagorical hell. Full of amazing scenes and images, The Tyrant has become a cult classic of weird fiction. Recommended for fans of Clive Barker, Thomas Ligotti, Kafka, Leonora Carrington and other surreal masters. “Michael Cisco’s works immerse the reader in worlds that are not simply dreamlike in the quality of their imagination but somehow manage to capture and convey the power of the dream itself. The Tyrant is his masterpiece.” — Thomas Ligotti. With an introduction by Rhys Hughes.
As Publishers Weekly writes, “Cisco (The Tyrant) ups the ante for provocative dark fantasy by giving this coming-of-age tale a subtle metaphysical edge. While still a boy, sensitive Nophtha realizes that he’s uncommonly empathetic and able to see the world from the perspective of others. Tutored by his uncle, Nophtha apprentices as an itinerant spirit eater, or someone who absorbs lingering ghosts that congest the surrounding atmosphere and converts their essence into formidable healing powers. One day, Nophtha crosses paths with his alter ego, Wite, a soul burner who hopes to evolve to a higher level of being by gorging himself on the souls of the living.” Things get worse from there. Recommended for fans of Clive Barker, Thomas Ligotti, Gemma Files, Kafka, Leonora Carrington and other masters of weird fiction. With an introduction by Jeffrey Ford.