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’.

Book Murderer Excerpt for Hal Duncan’s Storybusking

Hal Duncan, the juggernaut responsible for Ink and Vellum, is storybusking. Go help him out–he’s a great writer. And in solidarity with him, here’s an excerpt from a novel I’m working on, The Book Murderer. If you like what you read, go donate something to Hal.

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Weird Tales, Ann VanderMeer, and Utter Stupidity

Many of you may have seen the disappointing and sad and just plain stupid post by Marvin Kaye, editor of Weird Tales today—except wait! It was deleted (screen capture here). You may also have seen N.K. Jemisin’s great post about it.

Of course, there’s also an apology, including this really blithe and stupid comment from the publisher (yeah, this is all hilarious, John):

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Also, the website was hacked and he didn’t write that.

No, that’s not true.

Ann VanderMeer, my wife, was the editor-in-chief before being forced out by Marvin Kaye and his financial backer John Harlacher. She tried to be a team player because they offered her a role picking one story by a new writer every issue. This appealed to her because of her ongoing commitment to up-and-coming writers and new voices—it seemed like she could still do some good work. But ever since a meeting with Kaye and Harlacher in New York in June, it had become obvious that she would be extremely uncomfortable working with them. Although they did not consult with her on editorial decisions, they did mention during that encounter that they planned to publish an excerpt from a YA novel written by the wife of a film director about “the last white person on the planet trying to survive in a world of black people.” This seemed deeply problematic on the face of it, and Ann was kind—perhaps too kind—but adamant and firm in saying that they shouldn’t do this. Ever. During this meal, a startling lack of understanding about international fiction and other subjects was also evinced, to the point that afterwards both Ann and I wished we had not stayed for the entire meal. It was one of the worst experiences we’ve ever had. Still, Ann believed that John Harlacher had gotten the point and that perhaps a lesson had been learned. Clearly not.

Ever since that evening, Ann has been planning her departure, complicated by a few previous commitments to writers. Kaye’s plan to go ahead with publishing this excerpt has led to this statement of resignation on Ann’s part. I know from talking to her today that she is deeply upset about this entire situation—that it troubles her greatly and it also is personally devastating given that the new vision for Weird Tales seems to be so against everything that she envisioned for the future of the magazine. I am just quite frankly livid and utterly enraged.

We are also sickened by the fact we all didn’t just walk out of that dinner, the situation complicated by the fact that no one could hear what everyone else was saying and so none of us had the full picture until afterwards. We are clear on the fact that such a situation will never happen again.

This is Ann’s statement in leaving Weird Tales in any capacity.

Due to major artistic and philosophical differences with the existing editors, I have resigned from Weird Tales as a senior contributing editor, effective immediately. This resignation has been in the works for several months, ever since I was removed as the editor-in-chief, but was delayed by my commitment to writers whose work I had accepted for the magazine and to whom I felt a responsibility. I will, as always, continue to be an advocate for exciting new writers at Weirdfictionreview.com and my various anthologies.

Summer Road Trip Book Haul: More Than You Might Think…

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(An anthology of Bruno Schulz-inspired fiction ffrom Ex Occidente and the latest from Wendy Walker–check out Wendy Walker’s back catalogue.)

I never intend to buy books on trips, and I especially didn’t intend to on this latest one, where from July 10 through August 5, I went from the Stonecoast MFA program to ReaderCon to the Shared Worlds teen SF/F camp. But, as usual, no matter what I plan, books accrete to me without conscious thought…So here’s the run-down on what I acquired, or was gifted to me.

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On the Road: Stonecoast, Maine, ReaderCon

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(Core samples I have taken, which tend to manifest as organisms; thanks to Eric Schaller for his help with taxonomy, although all mistakes are my own.)

I am in New Hampshire at the moment, with a short break hanging out at Matt Cheney’s house before driving on to Newport and then to Richmond, Virginia, with the goal of winding up in Spartanburg, South Carolina, by Friday—in preparation for teaching at the Shared Worlds teen SF/F writing camp for two weeks.

Stonecoast: Memory and Fantasy

It’s been an eventful and fun time on the road thus far. I started out in Maine, giving a presentation at the Stonecoast MFA program and then doing a reading that night. I had a wonderful time. The Stonecoast house is near the water and the grounds are lovely. I stepped out of the car and all of the stress in my body just left me…and then came back as I came to realize we wouldn’t be able to print the notes to my presentation. But someone—someone miraculous whose name I’ve lost—managed to do a kind of split screen thing where the slides showed up for the audience and my notes, on the same computer, just showed up for me…

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(Art by Myrtle Von Damitz III)

The presentation was on Memory, History, and Fantasy: Urban Landscapes and Characterization, focusing on my novel Finch—basically swooping down from an eagle-eye view to a street-level view to talk about the ways in which characterization and settings interact. It’s not presented like Finch is the be-all and end-all, as that would be presumptuous, and indeed I told the audience that what I was about to show them was predicated on an ideal of the novel, including thoughts I’d had about it since publication. Since it was an MFA group, I thought I’d just bring it re the complexity and have the visual element and some bullet point lists strewn throughout help make it not too dense.

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One of the central ideas of the presentation is that spaces and buildings are not neutral, inert things in novels—or shouldn’t always been seen as such. That in fact structures are important opportunities in fiction, related to characterization. I tie this into the following idea, a note from the presentation: “Everything we see around us, whether functional or decorative, once existed in someone’s imagination. Every building, every fixture, every chair, every table, every vase, every road, every toaster. The world we live in is largely a manifestation of many individual and collective imaginations applied to the task of altering reality.” I like to pull back to the abstract level here because it helps the audience to envision these elements as not inert but as kinetic and alive at the level of idea and metaphor.

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