The Uncanny Power of Weird Fiction–At The Atlantic

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(“How Doth the Little Crocodile” by Leonora Carrington)

Today The Atlantic posted my essay on weird fiction. The essay focuses on the ways in which beauty and humor coincide with the bizarre in this kind of fiction, using my experience coediting The Weird. Among the writers I mention or discuss are Murakami, Leena Krohn, Clive Barker, Thomas Ligotti, Leonora Carrington, Helen Oyeyemi.

Here’s a short excerpt. Please go read the essay and share it if you like it.

The intel begins to takes on an almost luminous quality—hidden linkage and lineage interwoven with literary resonance to reveal a greater, deeper sense of the complexity of the world. Confusions of writer and work become inevitable and can even be clarifying….Yet, I also began to have the sense, fostered in part by the cross-contamination of research, that around the world enclaves that never knew one another—writers who could not have read each other—still had communicated across decades and across vast distances, had stared up at the same shared unfamiliar constellations in the night sky, heard the same unearthly music: a gorgeous choir of unique yet interlocking imaginations and visions and phantoms. At such times, you wonder as both a writer and an editor if you are creating narrative or merely serving as a conduit for what was already there.

P.S. David Davis has some further thoughts on the weird based on the essay, over at Weirdfictionreview.com. And my prior essay, posted on this blog, “Bear vs Texting Man,” has some relevance as well.

Book Release Day: Julia Elliott’s Sublime The Wilds

The Wilds

Julia Elliott’s phenomenal first short story collection is out this week and I hope you will buy it. I hope you will buy copies for your friends. The Wilds is wonderful in every way. The stories range from mainstream realism and magic realism to surreal science fiction—all unique, all demonstrating Elliott’s wonderful ability to see the absurdity and seriousness of life in equal measure. In a tie with Laura Van den Berg’s The Isle of Youth, it’s my favorite collection of the year.

Here’s an interview I did with Elliott for the Tin House blog (excerpt below). Go read it. Go buy the book.

Jeff VanderMeer: What do texture and tone mean to you when writing a short story? And do you have to get them right before you can finish a rough draft?

Julia Elliott: As a hedonistic texturist, my initial impulse is to cram every particle of a story with texture and tone, so that each and every sentence bursts with perfumed, purple language like an overripe fig—an oozing, fermenting, parasite-infested mess of a fig. When I return to early stories, I’m struck by the electric, visceral moods that end up going nowhere—especially plot-wise. Although I’m now more ruthless about gagging and straight-jacketing the bad poet within, I don’t feel at home in a narrative unless I’ve created a palpable texture that I can inhabit as I work out character motivations and plot, elements that occur less instinctively for me.

Southern Reach: Jeff VanderMeer Sept.-Nov. Acceptance Tour

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(Owl from the Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia)

NOTE: Coming here because of the lighthouse article in the NYT? To contact me email vanderworld at Hotmail.com

–Featured in Entertainment Weekly’s Summer Binge recommendations, along with an A- for Acceptance

Acceptance came out September 2–the concluding volume of my trilogy about the increasingly urgent search for answers about the mysterious Area X. I’ll be touring behind the novel’s release, with some expectation that copies may be available in time for the Decatur Book Festival, too. Here’s the general information so you have it early, with specifics and possible additional events to follow.

Most of these events are some combination of reading and Q&A, with anecdotes about writing the books that range from strange wilderness experiences to weird workplace experiences. With slideshow where possible. If you need more information on the series, this lovely roundup gives you maximum information.

Brooklyn

September 21, Sunday, 4pm panel with signing to follow–Brooklyn Book Festival

4:00 P.M. Fantastical Thrillers: Face Your Fears, or Else… Confronting the evils of the past, deliberately pushing into the unknown, and even stealing the moon. Join NYT bestselling author Lev Grossman (Magicians Trilogy: The Magician’s Land), Jeff VanderMeer (The Southern Reach Trilogy: Acceptance) and debut novelist Deji Olukotun (Nigerians in Space) in a conversation about traveling to the brink and back, and what redemption means in magical worlds. Moderated by Noreen Tomassi, Center for Fiction.

Manhattan

September 22, Mon., 7pm – Housing Works event with fellow NYT bestsellers Lev Grossman & Laura Beukes in New York, NY (short readings, slide show, discussion, signing)

Philadelphia

September 25, Thurs, 7:30pm–Free Library in Philadelphia, PA Reading, Q&A, and slideshow, with live owl; additional event partners Geekadelphia and The Academy of Natural Sciences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Southern Reach Spanish Book Covers: An Interview with Pablo Delcán

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(Finished covers)

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.

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Summer Reading Lists: Southern Reach Influences, Tove Jansson, Rachel Carson, and More

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(Google honoring Rachel Carson, born on this day in 1907)

For your summer reading consideration…first off the HuffPo list of ten influences on the Southern Reach trilogy, including Under the Sea-Wind by Rachel Carson:

This was the famous naturalist’s first book, and it contains her observations of several coastal environments in the 1930s. Taken just as an intricately detailed account, Under the Sea-Wind has a mesmerizing rhythm that places the reader under a spell. But not only does this book fascinate with its documenting of the lives of animals and the environment around them, it describes pre-World War II landscapes that today do not exist in quite this complexity. This chronicle is thus also an important account of our natural history.

I also contributed to a Conde Nast Traveler list of summer reading, along with David Sedaris and several others. I chose Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book as my classic summer read. Go check out the other recs.

My novel Authority made this New York Post list of the 29 best summer books, along with work by Emma Straub, Haruki Murakami, and more.

Authority’s also on this Tampa Bay Times best-of summer list, along with intriguing titles by Emma Donaghue and John Waters.

GQ’s list of May recommendations includes…um, you know, Authority, but also some *other* books that might be of interest.

If you’re looking for some rock-solid trade paperback fiction, the latest New York Times’ bestseller list includes quite a few interesting titles, including David Eggers’ The Circle. In a first for me, Authority also pops up on the list.

I should also point out this Coode Street podcast if you want some summer listening, in which Gary K. Wolfe and Jonathan Strahan have a conversation with me. I think it turned out really well. Other recent episodes feature the likes of Joe Abercrombie. (I also highly recommend any of Bookworm’s interviews, except the one they did with this bastard.)

And, if you have a question through early June, I’m answering them over at Goodreads–at least one a day.

Finally, FSG Originals has a roundup of some of the great press for my novel, for those who are interested.

Goodreads’ Ask the Author: Q&A Featuring the Southern Reach, Atwood, Allende, and a Host of Others

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(Check out the FSG site for Authority with interactive map here.)

Goodreads has all the info on their site, but basically they’ve launched a new section where you can ask authors questions directly. What amounts to the beta launch includes a plethora of writers, including yours truly. You can see what questions I’ve answered and ask me a question yourself. Below find the links for the other participants.

I’ll be answering two or three questions a day through early June, at the very least. Although I’m laser-focused on the Southern Reach trilogy, feel free to ask me anything you like. I’ve already asked my own questions of Robin Sloan, Margaret Atwood, and Isabel Allende. (Click on images to enlarge.)

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Wonderbook: An Interview with Artist Jeremy Zerfoss

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(Watch the Wonderbook video, by Gregory Bossert, in HD.)

As readers may know, last week Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction was released, along with the debut of the related website, Wonderbooknow.com (created by Luis Rodrigues). The main artist on the project was Jeremy Zerfoss, who worked with me on it for almost two years. Zerfoss is best known for his innovative and bold line of book covers for Cheeky Frawg Books. He has also done art and design work for Symantec, BullSpec Magazine, Shared Worlds and RDS Press. He lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, where he runs Tenno Art House.

You can find some very cool coverage of Wonderbook in the form of a preview at FastCreate and a lengthy interview at B&N Review. In addition, Wonderbook is a Amazon.com October selection, and a selection of several other prominent booksellers and media outlets. Writers can enter this contest about getting the end of the journey at Booklifenow.com (worldwide; includes Booklife too) to win a copy.

Here’s an interview between me and Zerfoss that gives you a little bit of a sense of the scope and approach of the project…

Jeff VanderMeer: When you first emailed me, did you ever imagine it would result in a book collaboration?

Jeremy Zerfoss: I had no idea. It was just a really horrible, crappy time of my life and I randomly thought—well, why don’t I just send him some artwork of mine that’s suitably creepy and maybe he’ll get a kick out of it. Even just receiving a reply blew my mind at the time. I yelled a bit to my parents about it, all excited yah know.

Jeff: I remember how I’d been searching for new art, a new approach for our Cheeky Frawg e-books and also just in general, wanting something that had more of a pop-art feel but with depth and weirdness. I clicked on the link you sent thinking it’d be the usual crap, and was blown away….So, we did work on some smaller projects before this one, but nothing that could prepare anybody for Wonderbook..How would you describe the process of working on Wonderbook?

Jeremy: Right out the gate it was a huge honor of course, to even be considered. But it was crazy, in a good and frustrating way. First of all, nothing was set in stone and the book and the projects and art were constantly evolving, depending on your ideas and at times my input or thoughts. I’d get these crazy emails from you to STOP RIGHT NOW DO THIS OMG! It was very chaotic and fun and horrifying. It felt like a wolverine trying to mate with a tornado… we shotgunned quite a few emails back and forth.

Jeff: Do you think it could’ve been a more efficient process?

Jeremy: At times, yes. If I wasn’t juggling a 9-5 at the same time and had a bit more time to focus on long projects it would have gone smoother—working with you was an experience worth noting, both fun and exasperating in differing degrees. I’m sure it was mutual, h aha. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything though—I liked what we were doing. I think we needed to do more phone calls, but our schedules hampered that.

Jeff: And I felt every time we had a phone call that it didn’t work, just ‘cause I hate phone calls. And then your gmail would do what gmail does and disorganize everything. What did you enjoy the most…and the least?

Jeremy: What I liked best was getting these, just…whack-a-doo sketches and getting a chance to do new styles and techniques and concepts I would have never thought of. I still think every sketch should get put into a book on its own—call it Blunderbook: Or How I Learned to Trust My Gut. I really liked nailing a concept or maybe adding my own spin and we’d just go back and forth about how great Wonderbook was going to be—the times where you and I were ‘wonderbookin’.

What I liked least was the times where I just could not get. The. Damn. Art. Correct. I was stressed, you were stressed…setbacks. There were times where I felt so down because I couldn’t get the gold out of the mountain. I never gave up though, and I’m glad you never gave up on me.

Jeff: I loved the fact you just kept going with every nutso idea that came down the pipes—and then out of the blue would come up with something like the image that became the cover. So that was fun.

Jeremy: Getting all sorts of funny postcards is a hoot, but mainly you will work through issues and yer flexible to suggestions. Yer one hell of a cheerleader as well.

Jeff: I thought for sure you’d say it was ‘orrible. Was there ever a point when you just wanted to walk away?

Jeremy: At no point did I ever want out of the gig, but there were quite a few times I felt out of my league, both in my skills and my handling of your ideas, those moments when creating both the layout and the art started to really hamper each other—I was bummed that I had so little experience in some areas, and had to do quite a lot of emergency studying to even understand the systems I was working through. I did quite a bit of, uh… loud creative discourse with you (in spirit) when you’d change your mind on something. I should have recorded myself. Mostly I was just really frustrated with my own foibles.

Jeff: I’m sure I cursed you a few times, but not in any sense other than how family does, if that makes sense. Seriously, though, why didn’t you walk away?

Jeremy: I was having too much fun—regardless of how bad it seemed at times. I knew it was a big opportunity and I really wanted to be a part of it. Quitting wasn’t an option in my mind.

Jeff: Was there one illustration that was tougher than all the rest? Why?

Jeremy: That cover, hands down—which was also the first step we took and the one that hit me hardest right off the bat. At the risk of sounding like a dope, all I ever draw on my own time is usually desert flora, so when you wanted this lush, verdant jungle the first thought in my head was, “Trees?! I don’t know how to draw —— trees!” I still don’t—I kept looking at these simple friggin’ drawings online and just ramming my head in to a wall. We went through so many false starts for weeks—I had horrible artist block for a month; you even got really worried for a time, which made it worse, ha ha.

Jeff: I was worried, but I was worried mostly that I had gone down the wrong path, that I was trying to force something, which is never a good idea, But I didn’t have another idea for the cover, so when you came up with the whale, that kind of made everything come into focus. Besides the cover, what else gave you the most satisfaction?

Jeremy: The evolution of the author piece because I learned a new way of doing art I had never really done—most the details are invisible but I’m really proud of those two. That was when this project clicked in my head and I felt that maybe, just maybe I could do this justice.

Jeff: What did you think when you finally held the book in your hands?

Jeremy: It felt so surreal. Just weird. I remember chatting to you about it and we both were going on about how weird it was to be done finally, two years or so of work. Mainly I was proud—it really turned out amazing, and people have been so into it already.

Jeff: Would you ever work with me again?

Jeremy: Aren’t I at this very moment? Of course! I almost threw yer gift basket onto an effigy though – “Burn the VanderMan! Arggggghhhh!”

Jeff: LOL! Is there anything else you held back from telling me during the process of working on Wonderbook?

Jeremy: There were definitely some points where I just wanted to vent, but I’m the kind of person who tends to forget they’re miffed, and then I forget that I was miffed to begin with. I’m pretty sure there were a few days where I just said, “Screw it!”, and played Battlefield III, or just went and read a book. I’ll admit I should have maybe brought up that working a job on a computer all day and then going home to work another 8 hours on the book was getting to me, but hey, what’s a few 48 hour straight non-sleeps, really? Conversation starters! Oh and one day I rebelled and just got totally drunk, but that ended up culminating in one of the better pieces for Wonderbook – I was wonderbookin’.