Nonfiction

Where is Story? Story is…Everywhere

Jeff VanderMeer • April 16th, 2012 • Writing Tips

Thesis: This entry from C.W. Hart, Jr’s A Dictionary of Non-Scientific Names of Freshwater Crayfishes (Astacoidea and Parastacoidea), Including Other Words and Phrases Incorporating Crayfish Names contains all of the elements needed to inspire and create fiction. Therefore, story exists all around us, everywhere, and is inhibited only by the limitations of the imaginations that surround it.

Discuss.

***

Shrimp “(A) crevice, first a spron frey, then a shrimp, then a sprawn, and when it is large then called a crevice.” ASTACIDAE [U.K.] Randle Holme (ca. 1688), quoted by Phipson, 1883:435. [I was unable to find this quotation in Holme.]

“One of the courses was whole crevisses in a rich sauce….The guest of honor…muttered… ‘What do I do now?’ …[B]ecause I had struggled before with the same somewhat overrated delicacy…I winked at him and said, ‘Watch me.’ I picked up a shrimp between my left thumb and forefinger….” [France: Dijon] Fisher, 1943 (1954): 430 (Noble and Enough); and:

“The season for shrimps is short, and Madame Mossu paid well for all the boys and old men could find in their hundred icy streams.” [Switzerland: Chatel St Denis] Fisher, 1943 (1954):506 (I Remember Three Restaurants); and

“A light curry of shrimps or crayfish tails.” [Unspecified locality] Fisher, 1943 (1954):708 (W is for Wanton).

Fisher’s apparent lack of attention to her crayfish/shrimp food-stuffs is puzzling, considering she is (was) an important figure in gastronomy. In the first reference she speaks of ecrevisses and shrimps as if they are the same animal; in the second she is undoubtedly speaking of crayfishes that live in the streams of Switzerland; in the third she paradoxically distinguishes between shrimps and crayfishes. I suppose, like so many people, she just didn’t care. See also crawfish, crayfish and ecrevisse.

Books Being Read: The Eclectic List, for Your Perusal

Jeff VanderMeer • April 4th, 2012 • Culture

It’s been a busy week of deadlines and I’ve been more active on facebook than here, but I’ve wanted to post some photos of the books I’m reading or have set aside to read, because I think all of these titles are fairly fascinating. Some of them are perfect for dipping into, like the nature titles. The Tim Robinson books are magnificent in that regard—the finest I have ever read. Others like the Nabokov and the Perec are re-reads: books that certainly deserve and reward the effort. Dalkey Archive Press continues to bring us great translated works, and you can see a Michael Cisco title peeking out there. The Vanishers also looks quite intriguing. Rondo I’ve started and it’s very promising. Click through the links to check out more about all of them.

What book piles are you currently working your way through?

IMG_1009

Fiction from Georgia edited by Elizabeth Heighway

Walaschek’s Dream by Giovanni Orelli

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson

Transparency by Marek Bienczyk

Dadaoism: An Anthology edited by Justin Isis and Quentin S. Crisp

Lectures on Russian Literature by Vladimir Nabokov

Celebrant by Michael Cisco

A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar

Engines of Desire by Livia Llewellyn

IMG_1011

Rondo by Kazimierz Brandys

The Towers of Trebizond by Rose MacAulay

Stones of Aran: Pilgrimage by Tim Robinson

Stones of Aran: Labyrinth by Tim Robinson

Ice Trilogy by Vladimir Sorokin

Life: A User’s Manual by Georges Perec

IMG_1016

Dra- by Stacey Levine

The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson

Walking the Wrack Line: On Tidal Shifts and What Remains by Barbara Hurd

Stirring the Mud: On Swamps, Bogs, and Human Imagination by Barbara Hurd

Entering the Stone: On Caves and Feeling through the Dark by Barbara Hurd

Beyond Binary: Genderqueer and Sexually Fluid Speculative Fiction edited by Brit Mandelo

The Vanishers by Heidi Julavits

Evil Monkey, Christopher Priest, and the Arthur C. Clarke Awards

Jeff VanderMeer • March 29th, 2012 • Evil Monkey

Evil Monkey:
Did you see that Christopher Priest threw his feces all over the Arthur C. Clarke Award?!?

Jeff:
Yes. Don’t bother me. I’m working.

Evil Monkey:
No, no. You have to respond. You have to blog something.

Jeff:
I’M WORKING, GODDAMN YOU, MONKEY!

Evil Monkey:
I’m not leaving until we talk about this!

Jeff:
I KEEL YOU WITH MY MIND BULLETS!

Evil Monkey:
I SNUFF OUT YOUR MIND BULLETS WITH MAH BUTT MISSILES!

Jeff:
I give up. But what’s to talk about? I don’t completely disagree with Priest on a general level about always striving for better, always analyzing awards processes and our own writing…but there’s little discourse to be had here directly, because he poisoned the waters by dissing his panel-mate Billingham, dismissing Tepper with “it’s about horses, man, and horses ain’t cool in my book” and calling for the judging panel to be disbanded. His Stross comment also seemed too personal. If he had merely stated his opinion of the nominated books, of which I have read only China’s, then it would be different, I think…But also, as someone who has a leg in the mainstream and in genre, it’s hard to muster up much energy one way or the other. Newsflash: Mediocre books make awards ballots all the time. I think the only mistake is to set your watch by them.

Evil Monkey:
And then Damien G. Walter set out a psychological profile of Priest! Priest is just a twisted Gollum gone insane from getting sooooo close to the Ring but never possessing it!

(more…)

Incoming Books: Polish Dying Earth Antho, Dalkey Archive, Blake Butler, and More

Jeff VanderMeer • March 27th, 2012 • Culture

IMG_1006

Just a few of the incoming books in the last day or two. The book in the upper left is the Polish edition of the Songs of the Dying Earth antho edited by Gardner Dozois and George RR Martin, including my story that I now call “Grod Impatient With All.”

Below the cut you’ll find new titles from Lazy Fascist press, Lethe, and Dalkey, among others. To be honest, the titles from LF and Lethe use this kind of uncoated matte cover stock that feels unpleasantly like slightly rough latex. It’s very hard for me to hold them for even a couple of seconds as the texture makes me nauseous. I’m going to have to rip the covers off to read them. Does anyone else have this reaction to that texture? Ann doesn’t. The books themselves look cool.

(more…)

Treasures From Abroad: Secret Europe, Tartarus Press, Eric Orchard Art

Jeff VanderMeer • March 7th, 2012 • Culture

IMG_0984

Lots of incoming mail, but just a few gems to show off for now…

Eric Orchard is selling the original, large, hand-painted pages of the comic art he did for my story “The Situation. He was kind enough to send me this one, but you can still buy a page if you’re interested, I believe.

IMG_0978

IMG_0979

Tartarus Press spoiled me by sending these beauts, which we’ll feature on Weirdfictionreview.com soon: work by Aickman, William Hope Hodgson, and a Jason A. Wyckoff collection that looks interesting. You can buy all of these and more at their website.

IMG_0982

Ex Occidente sent Secret Europe, an oversized limited hardcover collection by John Howard and Mark Valentine, which we’ll also be featuring on Weirdfictionreview.com. You can order the book here. A couple more shots of this beautifully crafted tome…

IMG_0980

IMG_0981

Eric Basso Week at Weirdfictionreview.com

Jeff VanderMeer • March 7th, 2012 • Culture, News

Commander Galaxy
(Eric Basso in a lighter moment, and a different career…)

One of the great discoveries Ann and I made while editing The Weird compendium was the work of US author Eric Basso. His neo-Gothic, beautifully strange fiction, poetry, plays, and nonfiction are without a doubt essential reading for anyone who loves weird literature. He has had a cult following among avant-garde gothic writers since “The Beak Doctor” was first published by the Chicago Review in 1977. Since then he has published a novel, several plays, many poetry collections, and a book of nonfiction. In part, “The Beak Doctor” reads like a modern, more Joycean version of the first selection in The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories, Alfred Kubin’s “The Other Side,” in that the nameless city is plagued by a strange sleeping sickness.

So we’re very happy to be hosting a week of appreciating the works of Eric Basso over at Weirdfictionreview.com. If you’ve never read Basso before, or read critical essays on his work, you’re in for a treat.

We’re running more material tomorrow and Friday, but for now here are the relevant links, with teasers…

Our managing editor, Adam Mills, provides his thoughts on Basso, and welcomes readers: His writing is marked by a quality I would label as simultaneity. Oftentimes within even the same paragraph, there are details and cues suggesting actions taking places at different levels of action, possibly even in different locations. It is left up to the reader to try and maintain the order of events while they read his writing. More often than not, typical conceptions of time and causality cannot be taken as givens.

Mills also interviews Basso: “I was a great admirer of the principles of Surrealism, the daring mind-experiments they performed on themselves, which really carries back to Rimbaud. So I began, at nineteen, to experiment on my own consciousness, particularly the process through which we pass from the conscious to the unconscious every time we fall asleep. What most would regard as an eccentricity became a discipline with me. I was able to remember and recount the bizarre and illogical journey that takes place, on a daily basis, in our heads. I learned to lie still, immediately after waking from a dream, so I could seize the memory of it before it slipped away.”

An exclusive excerpt from Basso’s most famous work, “The Beak Doctor”: Before the mask. I must at least go through the motions for as long as the antitoxin can keep me awake. An increase from 0.5ml. of a 2,000 million per ml. vaccine, given as the first dose. My eyelids are get¬ting heavy. A little while, and yet a while longer, to follow the tick of the clock (corner-of-the-eye hallucinations: livid specks that seem to jump out of the walls before a glance decomposes them), and I will have begun to dream. A window impossible to distance. Somewhere beyond the grimy panes there was, there is, another room, high above Promontory Wall, where he used to spend his time.

Larry Nolen’s 101 Weird Writers appreciation of Basso and “The Beak Doctor”: As the story unfolds and the narrator wanders through a city afflicted with a strange sleeping sickness, he encounters strange sights, such as a “headless shirt with no visible legs. One bare arm reaches slowly for the glass stem. Suddenly the hand draws back, as though a spark had passed from the smoky helix through the tip of one of its fingers.” There are even deeper, weirder mysteries to be encountered as he moves on through the city.

Weird fiction icon D.F. Lewis chronicles his real-time encounter with Basso’s Beak Doctor: Imagine the almost endless ‘sweep-shot’ of the Dunkirk madness in the film ‘Atonement’?–?here densely textured, bememorised, TS Eliot blended with Dickens, a cruelly fog-masked synaesthetica of a journey over variegated surfaces and amid befogged characters towards an inconclusive ‘Roundhouse’, a bookful journey by the I-Narrator doctor (interspersed, say, with a cat’s journey (Maybury’s cat?)), a stumbling rite-of-passage through a modern (post-holocaust?) world become Dickensian again as transcended by a discrete imagination that is granted you by the author as your imagination…

Part 1 of Basso’s own brilliant essay “Annihilation”: The human head may be taken as an ideal model for the contradictions inherent in animastic annihilation. Consider the case of a corpse newly dead and in full habit; that is, of one who has died without suffering the ravages of starvation or disease. The flesh lends itself readily to a close, pore by pore examination; its finest details gain an incredible sharpness by virtue of their immobility. Nostril hairs, commissures of tooth and gum, shallows between half-open lips where the tongue curls in the dry cavern of the mouth, these are subtleties that go far beyond even the most skillfully crafted waxworks effigy, though the skin, through the slow gravitation of blood to a lower depth, assumes the pallor of dulled candlewax. Often, as in litera¬ture, a physiognomy much troubled in life can ransom a few lost years from the brief repose preceding rigor mortis; fretlines may yield to a smooth, unaccustomed complexion as the eyes flatten under their lids, settling fast in the skull’s sockets.

Matthew Pridham’s excellent dissection of Basso’s work, from the Beak Doctor on to several other texts: Basso’s oeuvre is a challenging one, filled with odd states of consciousness and mutable, disorienting realities, as well as a referential, grimly poetic style. These pieces reward careful attention and a willingness to temporarily surrender some of one’s expectations. I hope that new trends in critical theory and genre tastes will bring his work the broader readership it deserves. Those who delve into it will come away with an enhanced sense of what is possible in fiction as well as the sensation of having briefly visited a strange new, yet oddly familiar, world.

Selected poetry from Basso:

what I could feel on my eyes
blank spatulate tips of stone
cold against the heaviness of the lids
hands caked with coal slivers and dust
and no ointment to salve the horror
of the haunting ground below

And, finally, Larry Nolen’s “Caught in a Moment,” providing some insightful thoughts into Basso’s poetry: Throughout “Villa of the Mysteries,” references to “dreams” and “blindness” abound. There are references to dreams that foretell horror and doom, dreams of separation. Blindness lurks in the dark caverns, in the personified monster, in fates that are unseen by others. Both are bound together in the person of Tiresias, whose own fate figures in several Greek poems and myths. “Villa of the Mysteries” grabs attention quickly because it cuts straight to the heart of the matter: we often enter labyrinths that confuse us, upset us, and make us turn our heads away in shame and eagerness to forget what we have just encountered.

Tomorrow we’re running part 2 of Basso’s essay “Annihilation” and a great appreciation by John H. Stevens…

Thirty Years of the Mississippi Review

Jeff VanderMeer • February 29th, 2012 • Book Reviews

IMG_0957

This 850-page rock thumped down on the doorstep yesterday with an emphatic “you’d best take me seriously” look in its eye.

Thirty years of the Mississippi Review, including fiction and poetry by Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates, Samuel R. Delany, John Barth, Rick Bass, Robert Olen Butler, Raymond Carver, Rita Dove, Miranda July, Ben Marcus, Rick Moody, Wells Tower, and, well, about 200 other contributors, it looks like.

All taken from Frederick Barthelme’s long reign as the editor. I kinda think you can’t miss this one.

Support a Worthy Cause: The SF/Fantasy Translation Awards

Jeff VanderMeer • February 28th, 2012 • Culture

Cheryl Morgan notes that her fund drive for the Science Fiction & Fantasy Translation Awards is entering its last day or so. You can easily donate by clicking the paypal button on this post. We’ve contributed some cool stuff to the cause, but there’s a ton of great material. Help them reach their goal!

Panic Attack: Understanding Your Work Cycles

Jeff VanderMeer • February 28th, 2012 • Writing Tips

Sometime in the past month or so I must admit that I had a kind of panic attack, one that had me stressed and depressed at first—especially in the context of so many writers producing a novel a year. Although I’ve never thought this was necessarily a good idea for me, except career-wise, it still exerts a kind of pressure if you start thinking about it too much.

My panic attack occurred while I was looking through a copy of my last novel, Finch, which came out in 2009 in the US and 2010 in the UK. I suddenly realized that I was still months away from completing my next novel. How could I have let that happen? What in the heck had I been doing the last few years?

The answer was that I’d done a lot of anthologies, like The Weird, which is after all like producing about seven anthos in terms of word length. Not to mention the nonfiction book The Steampunk Bible. Between The Weird, The Steampunk Bible, and our Lambshead Cabinet anthology, I along with Ann (and on the Bible, SJ Chambers) had dealt with over 800 creators, which is in itself a kind of crazy time-suck. Getting our ebook imprint Cheeky Frawg off the ground had taken more time, as had creating Weirdfictionreview.com and doing a lot of work for the Shared Worlds teen writing camp (a recurring, annual time commitment).

So, I told myself, with some sense of relief if not a bit of sadness at perhaps losing sight of my priorities, I had a great excuse. All of these other projects had taken up my time. That was the simplest explanation. It’s not healthy to beat yourself up for not being able to do everything simultaneously.

But then I took stock again after looking at what I did have in the works fiction-wise—and a different picture started to emerge. There had been a lot of time spent on a long film treatment entitled Jonathan Lambshead and the Golden Sphere that had taken a whole summer (and may still bear fruit). More time had been spent on conceptualizing a space opera trilogy, another project for the future. More importantly, I realized I had written about two-thirds of a novel entitled Borne, about three-fourths of a novel entitled The Journals of Doctor Mormeck (serialized on this blog), and another twenty-thousand words of another novel which we’ll just call Mainstream Novel #1 for now.

Seeing the amount of fiction I’d actually produced, even if most of it wasn’t finished, made me look back at the previous “cycle” of novels: Veniss Underground, City of Saints and Madmen, Shriek, and Finch. I realized that there had been significant overlap between those books, in terms of partial rough drafts. Veniss had lain dormant with about half of it done while I worked on much of City of Saints and Madmen (the first of my Ambergris novels), then come to life again. Shriek had been conceived of while writing the last parts of City of Saints—I had a 12-page summary of sorts—and a very early section of what became Finch was sparked by the original illuminated manuscript cover of City of Saints. I had about seven thousand words of proto-Finch well before finishing the extended City of Saints. While working on Shriek, additional ideas for Finch accrued over a period of years. Shriek itself took several years of work, although no one noticed the gap because Veniss was published after City of Saints.

Even though Veniss stands alone, it partakes of the same aesthetic as the beginning of the Ambergris Cycle. The two books speak to one another in some ways, and then Shriek and Finch, although written in different styles, are pursuing and following up on themes and issues first brought up in City of Saints. Thus, coming to the end of Finch was like coming to the end of the first part of my career.

People think I’m prolific, but part of that is simply that I initially had so much trouble finding publishers for my work and thus I had a back-log. So I think I’m only just beginning to see the complete outline of my long-term work cycle, obscured in part by the pattern of publication, not creation, of my prior novels. It may seem odd to not have recognized this, considering I’m 43 and been writing for three decades, but sometimes you need to take a step back to really see everything clearly.

Now I feel that I’m at the beginning of another cycle, one that’s more various despite certain connections between Borne and The Journals of Doctor Mormeck. And to some extent the process is similar: stops and starts on the novels prior to publication, overlap in writing parts of each of them, and a slow inching toward completion. At this point, I’m not entirely sure which novel will be finished first, because I’m equally passionate about each of them. What I do know is that they will be finished, especially because in each case I have a good idea of the overall structure and an image in my mind that corresponds to a rough understanding of the ending of each novel.

I’ve come to recognize that it’s important for me to realize that after living in Ambergris for so long it was natural that there be a break before the next book—and to give myself a break about that. It’s even more important to realize I’ve actually made significant process over the past couple of years—enough so that if I had just been working on one novel, it would have been completed and turned in. Understanding that this is part of my process, remembering that I’ve worked on multiple books in the past, is now helping me relax into this next phase of finishing the novels. I just have to be patient and ignore the idea of turning in a novel a year. Right now, apparently, I’m working simultaneously on the novels that I’ll have published over the next few years.

Still, I have to say that the part of me that requires instant gratification is thankful for finally returning to short fiction. It was a weird feeling to realize that a story I finished last month, “No Breather in the World But Thee,” was only the third story of any kind I had finished since Finch, the others being “The Quickening” in my collection The Third Bear and a story for a Vance tribute antho. (Not including, of course, meta-fiction for Steampunk Reloaded and the Lambshead Cabinet and something set in the Halo universe).

Now I’m working on another story entitled “The Last Redoubt” and a long novella entitled “Annihilation” and I’m excited about completing both. But I’m no longer stressed about the situation with the novels. I know I’ll finish them eventually and I’m confident that my organic approach to them is the right one. The fact is, your career has to follow and fit your fiction and the rhythms and cycles of that fiction—the needs of a career can’t dictate those things. Not if you want to remain sane and retain whatever makes you unique as a writer.

Weirdfictionreview.com Features Kali Wallace’s Short Story The Liberators

Jeff VanderMeer • February 27th, 2012 • Culture

This week on Weirdfictionreview.com, I want to direct your attention to Adam Mills’ editorial about taking over as managing editor, Ann VanderMeer on Weird Tales, a great interview with Steve Duffy, and “The Liberators” by Kali Wallace, a new story from a rising star.

A trace of road skirted the dead city, the same road the platoon had followed months ago on the last days of their desert march. Bloody blisters had made every step agony, and the soldiers had passed nervous nights beneath the city’s walls and windows as aimless wind moaned through its streets. And during the day the sun, the blinding, inescapable sun had quivered from dawn to dusk, throbbing in Francisco’s eyes, peeling the skin from his neck and melding the scaled armor to his body like a carapace. When they rested, stinking of sweat and blood, the soldiers shared stories of what they might find in the city. Alien riches and encampments, enslaved colonists and mountains of human bones, every possibility more outlandish than the last.

Wallace was part of the Clarion San Diego 2010 class, during which Ann and I were lucky enough to be the instructors for the last two weeks. She has already had short fiction appear in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction with a story workshopped at Clarion, the stunning “Botanical Exercises for Curious Girls,” and you can read an interview with her about that story at F&SF’s website.

In the comments on that interview writer Carolyn Ives Gilman rightly notes that “This was an awesome story. Creepy, yes, but really original. I’d never read anything like it, and that’s getting harder and harder to say. I want more.” We really love her fiction—it’s sharp, unique, always has depth, and it consistently surprises. She also has stories forthcoming this year in Lightspeed and Asimov’s SF Magazine, and made a cameo with a short entry in our Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities antho.

The 2010 Clarion class was incredibly talented, and as far as we’re concerned any or all of them could go on to have major careers— already readers are discovering writers from that class like Karin Tidbeck (Weird Tales, Unstuck), John Chu (The Boston Review), Tom Underberg (Weird Tales), Jennifer Hsyu ( Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword & Sorceress XXVI), Gregory Bossert (already published in Asimov’s before Clarion), and Tamsyn Muir (Fantasy Magazine and Weird Tales), to name just a very few.

We really count it a blessing to have encountered their work at Clarion and thus to be on the look out for all of the great writing they’re doing. I’ll be blogging about more writers from this class as the year progresses, I’m sure.