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Context? Meaning?

Jeff VanderMeer • June 21st, 2011 • Uncategorized

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Fire and Ice: I Doth Not Apologize for My Cheatery

Jeff VanderMeer • June 12th, 2011 • Culture, Uncategorized

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(The messages on the cover of the GRRM advance reading copy are NOT from the author, but a hoax I played on my facebook friends. I repeat: A forgery.)

For the record, I am not going to apologize for pulling out all the stops in my prep for reviewing the new George R.R. Martin novel A Dance with Dragons. That means I have been rapaciously feeding off of all applicable Wikipedia entries, revisiting the fifth book, watching the HBO series based on the first novel, and in all possible ways trying to once again get a handle on this vast, sprawling cast of characters and situations. What? Sansa’s name changes? Wait. What? That dead character is actually kinda alive? Ewww. Oh, Iron Isles, why doth you have so many possible pretenders to the throne?

I defended the house from an assailant the other day with the Dance with Dragons advance reading copy. The assailant, with a long gray beard and carrying a leather-bound leviathan of a Bible, came running up the driveway with book held high, like some kind of bibliophilic hedge knight, and I met him with my Dance of Dragons, and we struggled mightily to an impasse, whereupon he gave up with a curse and we went and got some lemonade while I complained about how freakin’ huge and long this new novel is…

But. I do not apologize for my cheatery.

Overlays: The Value of Temporary Structures

Jeff VanderMeer • June 8th, 2011 • Uncategorized, Writing Tips

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(Critics who use in-progress process posts as proof of anything in finished books are jerks and will not be tolerated.)

Avast! When you return to a novel you last looked at a few months before and you’re like me—which is to say, there might be three typewritten alternative drafts and two explorations in handwriting—it takes a bit to get up to speed. Is this me complaining about my own work habits? Hell no. The whole point of my process is inefficiency. Getting too quickly to where you want to go, getting there too smoothly, is antithetical to thinking through complex issues. You want roadblocks, confusion, chaos, and doubt. Unexpected, wonderful things come out of this approach, too.

But I have indeed spent the whole day sorting through variations and looking at the structure of the 25,000 words I’ve got on the page. One thing that just kept annoying me beyond belief was the amount of really cool exposition I needed to cut to keep the foregrounded story moving forward. This is pretty basic stuff, but sometimes your description is doing a lot of other things, like deepening character. Other stuff just needs to go or be rearranged.

What I did find is that rethinking the structure of Borne helped a lot. I had thought of the book as being in two parts, and the sort of book where you get a lot of context up front. As I was looking over scenes with the title character, I realized I should experiment with a three-part structure, and suddenly the whole idea of what scenes had to go where changed drastically, as well as what kind of approach this novel needs in terms of context and divulging certain kinds of information.

First off, thinking of the novel in three parts, roughly corresponding to stages in Borne’s development, meant that scenes involving other characters could now be spread out across all three sections. Before, I’d been thinking in terms of the narrator’s story arc, but that’s not going to be the structural determinant for the novel, as it turns out. Unspooling Borne-related stuff also allows this other spreading-out noted above. It also, for some reason, now means setting context will be situated more node-like at regular intervals along the way. This means the first place I go into extended description is much shorter, and the space created fills up with more of the emotional lives of the characters. And I can relax into that knowing the rest of what I need is coming later, and isn’t needed for reader understanding due to the new pacing and the new ways in which the past and present communicate with one another in the text.

It doesn’t even really matter if I wind up actually dividing the book into three sections, or I just hold that in my head as a construct and do chapters 1 through 20 without any section breaks. The point is, the re-think has allowed for better, more useful ways to distribute scenes and info, while also revealing what material isn’t needed at all. Something about visualizing the novel as a two-parter was also obscuring unintended repetition and wastefulness in what was on the page.

This is all a very dry way of saying that structure isn’t actually an abstract thing. It’s also not always an organic thing, in that you try out different approaches mechanically in aid of getting to a place where everything in the text becomes effortless and organic.

As a kind of side note, I’ve also had a great time on more of a sentence level applying lessons learned from Steve Erickson’s (author of Zeroville) edits to the excerpt of Borne appearing in Black Clock magazine. In the context of finalizing the piece for his mag, I thought of the edits as regular copy-edits, but in the context of revising and moving forward on new sections of Borne at novel-length, I now interpret them as character-related instead. Which is to say, most of the deletions and changes affect how the reader perceives the main character. What is understated by the cuts emphasizes different elements. What is now brought to the front also creates different emphasis. This in effect makes subtle but important changes to the character…and in charting why I think these changes were made, I have gained a much better understanding about the person I’m writing about, and this also now radiates out into my editing of the rest of the draft as it stands.

The good news, from my standpoint, is that because several scenes now bleed into part two, I am much farther along on the novel than I thought. It means I have new scenes to write in part one, but that’s preferable to being more adrift in the middle. This, too, is the advantage of thinking about the structure differently: I no longer have concerns about sag in the middle because of the redistribution of previously front-loaded scenes into that section. The third act is crystal clear in my head, so that was really the last challenge in terms of how to present the material.

Especially in a short novel, like Borne will no doubt be, getting it all right on this kind of technical level is key to the emotional resonance for readers. Pacing, correct development, managing progression aren’t issues of craft—they’re issues intrinsic to success at deeper, more psychological levels. Graham Joyce’s The Silent Land is a perfect example—if Joyce’s craft weren’t brilliant, his insight into human relationships would be useless, because it would be deployed within a malformed novel.

And so instead of a post on the movie Carlos or another Doctor Mormeck entry, you have this, my little weirdlings. I hope you find it interesting. Or maybe I don’t hope anything. Mostly, I’m just happy to be writing.

“The Quickening” from The Third Bear Story Collection

Jeff VanderMeer • June 5th, 2011 • Fiction, Uncategorized

The Third Bear, my story collection from 2010, is up for a Shirley Jackson Award. “The Quickening” is an original, new story included in the book. The story was posted as a PDF on the Largehearted Boy music site, but kind of got lost in the shuffle there…so I’ve posted it below for your enjoyment. As always, if you’re expecting some center-genre bullcrap, best not read. Cheers.

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The ODD? Anthology Has a Theme Song!

Jeff VanderMeer • June 5th, 2011 • Culture, News, Uncategorized

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Above you’ll find a snippet from Danny Fontaine’s awesome theme song for our ODD? anthology and the character featured on its cover, Myster Odd. Gregory Bossert is working on a video for the song, which will include Myster Odd, a creation of artist Jeremy Zerfoss. You can hear complete songs by Danny, along with his comrades the Horns of Fury here or here.

As for the release date for ODD?, we’re contemplating a trade paperback edition along with the e-book. This trade paperback book would include all the same authors, but because of rights issues one of the stories might change. But the trade paperback requires a shift in the publication schedule, probably to September/October. We’re going to release the full Cheeky Frawg schedule in the next fortnight or so, and will finalize ODD?’s pub date by then.

ODD? Table of Contents, edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer

“Is it odd or are you too normal?”

Amos Tutuola – “The Dead Babies”

Gustave Le Rouge – “The War of the Vampires” (new translation by Brian Evenson and David Beus)

Jeffrey Ford – “Weiroot”

Leopoldo Lugones – “The Bloat Toad” (new translation by Larry Nolen)

Mark Samuels – “Apt 205″

Michael Cisco – “Modern Cities Exist Only to Be Destroyed” (published only in a limited edition previously)

Nalo Hopkinson – “Slow Cold Chick”

Sumanth Prabhaker – “A Hard Truth About Waste Management”

Hiromi Goto – “Stinky Girl”

Eric Basso – “Logues”

Edward Morris – “Lotophagi”

Karin Tidbeck – “The Aunts” (new story; previously unpublished)

Jeffrey Thomas – “The Fork”

Rikki Ducornet – “The Volatilized Ceiling of Baron Munodi”

Leena Krohn – “The Night of the Normal Distribution Curve” (new story; previously unpublished, translation by Anna Volmari and J. Robert Tupasela)

Amanda le Bas de Plumetot – “Unmaking” (new story; previously unpublished)

Karl Hans Strobl – “The Head” (new translation by Gio Clairval)

Caitlin R. Kiernan – “A Child’s Guide to the Hollow Hills”

Stacey Levine – “Sausage”

Steampunk Bible Tour: Fountain Bookstore (Richmond, VA) and University Bookstore (Seattle)

Jeff VanderMeer • June 2nd, 2011 • News, Uncategorized

Phase 1 of the Steampunk Bible book tour wraps up in the next week or so, with two awesome events. Phase 2 will consist of my coauthor S.J. Chambers’ events in England and France. Phase 3 in the late summer will include DragonCon. Here’s the info on the two final events of part 1.

Richmond, VA – June 2 (Thurs–tonight!), Fountain Bookstore, 6:30pm – Signing and discussion with coauthor S.J. Chambers. Fountain Bookstore is awesome, and I’m sure Chambers would love a great turn-out for her last event. She’ll also be interviewed by 97.3 WRIR, Richmond Indie Radio, for a bit that’ll air Friday, June 10.

Seattle – June 6, University Bookstore, 7pm – Signing and discussion with Cherie Priest (writer), Jay Lake (writer), and Libby Bulloff (photographer), major contributors to the Steampunk Bible. I particularly wish I could be at this event because the great and knowledgeable bookseller Duane Wilkins will be presiding, and because in addition to it being a great bookstore and the entertainment value of Cherie and Jay, I’d love to hear a photographer’s perspective on the book. Libby contributed more images than anyone else. Great stuff.

To buy now while there’s still money, just click on the image…

NYC Book Haul: Martin Amis, Merce Rodoreda, Werner Herzog, Sorokin, and More

Jeff VanderMeer • June 1st, 2011 • Culture, Uncategorized

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(Art bought at a street market, and a book of cool stickers.)

Our trip to New York City was very bad for our financial health, in that we wound up finding certain books irresistible. Here are a few highlights, not including books gifted to us by Lawrence Schimel, and the book accompanying the Alexander McQueen fashion exhibit. I’ll be covering those in two separate posts…

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Which of these doesn’t go with the others? The one on the right is an Archipelago book, btw—they do awesome editions.

My Kind of Girl by Buddhadeva Bose
The Spirit of Terrorism by Jean Baudrillard
Story of the Eye by Georges Battaille

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Both of these books look fascinating. I’d heard of Ice, but not the other one, which seems to fall into a kind of pseudo-surreal mode. With guinea pigs!

The Guinea Pigs by Ludvik Vaculik
Ice Trilogy by Vladimir Sorokin

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Steampunk Bible Tour: Philly, Library of Congress, Richmond

Jeff VanderMeer • May 27th, 2011 • News, Uncategorized

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(NYC B&N Event, photo by novelist Myke Cole)

We had a great time at the event in NYC at B&N last night. A packed house, and great contributions from Jaymee Goh, Liz Gorinsky, Dexter Palmer, Ekaterina Sedia, Aleks Sennwald, Ay-leen the Peacemaker. S.J. Chambers, my coauthor, is now a seasoned book tour veteran and an excellent co-host for the event. The audience even did a shout-out for our poor left-behind Steampunk Bible blogger Mecha Underwood.

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(Photo by writer Laszlo Xalieri)

We met a lot of people and we had a great time hanging out at the Dead Poet pub nearby afterwards—highly recommend that place. BUT, the tour continues!

Philadelphia, PA – May 28, Between Books (Delaware, 25 min from downtown Philly), 6:30pm. Now S.J. Chambers is headed on to Between Books, which is just outside of Philly, for an event featuring her, live music from the Absinthe Drinkers, Ekaterina Sedia, and more. I can’t recommend Between Books highly enough—it’s just one of the best SF/F bookstores I’ve ever been privileged enough to explore. So go for the Steampunk Bible presentation, but make sure you get there early enough to browse, because you’re going to want to buy books. Greg Schauer, the owner, is an awesome guy, too, and extremely knowledgeable. If you’re anywhere in the area, you really don’t want to miss this one.

Washington, D.C. — May 31, Library of Congress, 12 pm. S.J. Chambers will be giving a lecture entitled “Edgar Allan Poe: SF’s Founding Father,” followed by Q&A and signing. This is a wonderful and prestigious lecture series, and definitely worth attending.

Richmond, VA – June 2 (Thurs), Fountain Bookstore, 6:30pm.. Signing and discussion with coauthor S.J. Chambers. Kelly Justice and her Fountain Bookstore…well, there’s a potent combination. The bookstore’s awesome and so is Kelly, along with her crew of ultra-experienced, friendly staff. Another event you don’t want to miss. It’s in downtown Richmond, so there’s plenty to do nearby after the event, too. You’ll love this bookstore if you haven’t been before, and Kelly is one of those dynamic, always-on-the-ball booksellers who are keeping people energized and enthusiastic about books.

23rd Annual Lambda Literary Awards: A Report by Lawrence Schimel

Jeff VanderMeer • May 27th, 2011 • Uncategorized

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While Ann and I were at the Steampunk Bible B&N event last night, Lawrence Schimel was at the Lambda Award, also held here in NYC. He was kind enough to file the report below. For those unfamiliar with Schimel, he has twice won a Lammy, for his books PoMoSEXUALS: CHALLENGING ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT GENDER AND SEXUALITY (with Carol Queen; Cleis) and FIRST PERSON QUEER (with Richard Labonté; Arsenal Pulp), and has also been a finalist on 14 other occasions.

23rd Annual Lambda Literary Awards report
by Lawrence Schimel

The “Lammies” have, in the past, tended to drag on. I was quite amused when one winner, David Lennon, quipped in his acceptance speech: “The nice thing about self publishing is that you don’t have to thank a lot of people.”

But thanks to tight organization by Executive Director Tony Valenzuela and lots of coaching of the presenters beforehand, the Awards ceremony, hosted by comedienne Lea DeLaria, moved at a good clip, especially considering they had to present awards in 24 categories, plus the two pioneer awards, a special recognition award to the University of Wisconsin Press, and a slideshow remembering queer writers who’ve passed away in 2010-2011 (where, incidentally, it would’ve been nice to have seen Joanna Russ represented).

But genre work was not overlooked throughout the evening. It was nice to see a queer speculative fiction novel win in an “open” category: Amber Dawn’s SUB ROSA (Arsenal Pulp), which won the Betty Burzon Debut Fiction Award, a special prize which also comes with a $1000 check. Curiously, this title wasn’t also a finalist in the SF category, which was presented by SF grand master Samuel R. Delany.

It was also nice to see comics accepted in different categories, competing with other prose books–and even winning, as is the case of TELENY AND CAMILLE by Jon Macy (Northwest Press), which won for Gay Erotica.

This year was the first in which there were enough titles submitted to create separate Transgender Fiction and Nonfiction categories.

Playwright Edward Albee and mystery/thriller writer Val McDermid were both honored with Pioneer Awards.

Susan Stinson and Alex Sanchez were awarded the Outstanding Mid-Career Novelists Award. Each received $5000, supported by a gift from Jim Duggins.

Susan Stinson

The presenters of the awards (a mix of authors, actresses, and even Miss New York 2010) included: Emma Donoghue, Jack Halberstam, Katherine V. Forrest, Kevin Sessums, and Stefanie Powers, among others.

The winners of the 23rd Annual Lambda Literary Awards:

Lesbian Fiction: INFERNO (A POET’S NOVEL) by Eileen Myles (OR Books)

Gay Fiction: UNION ATLANTIC by Adam Haslett (Doubleday)

Lesbian Debut Fiction: SUB ROSA by Amber Dawn (Arsenal Pulp)

Gay Debut Fiction: BOB THE BOOK by David Pratt (Chelsea Station Editions)

Lesbian Poetry: THE NIGHTS ALSO by Anna Swanson (Tightrope)

Gay Poetry: PLEASURE by Brian Teare (Ahsahta Press)

Lesbian Mystery: FEVER OF THE BONE by Val McDermid (HarperCollins)

Gay Mystery: ECHOES by David Lennon (Blue Spike Publishing)

LGBT SF: DIANA COMET by Sandra McDonald (Lethe)

Lesbian Romance: RIVER WALKER by Cate Culpepper (Bold Strokes)

Gay Romance: NORMAL MIGUEL by Erik Orrantia (Cheyenne Publishing)

LGBT Children’s/Young Adult: WILDTHORN by Jane Eagland (Houghton Mifflin)

LGBT Drama: OEDIPUS AT PALM SPRINGS: A FIVE LESBIAN BROTHERS PLAY by Maureen Angelos, Dominique Dibbell, Pega Healey, and Lisa Kron (Samuel French)

LGBT Anthologies: GENDER OUTLAWS: THE NEXT GENERATION by Kate Bornstein and S. Bear Bergman (Seal)

LGBT Nonfiction: KING KONG THEORY by Virginie Despentes (The Feminist Press)

LGBT Studies: (tie) ANOTHER COUNTRY: QUEER ANTI-URBANISM by Scott Herring (NYU Press) and ASSUMING A BODY: TRANSGENDER AND RHETORICS OF MATERIALITY by Gayle Salamon (Columbia University Press)

Bisexual Nonfiction: BORDER SEXUALITIES, BORDER FAMILIES IN SCHOOLS by Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli (Rowan &Littlefield)

Bisexual Fiction: THE LUNATIC, THE LOVER, AND THE POET by Myrlin A. Hermes (HarperPerennial)

Lesbian Erotica: SOMETIMES SHE LETS ME: BEST BUTCH/FEMME EROTICA, edited by Tristan Taormino (Cleis)

Gay Erotica: TELENY AND CAMILLY by Jon Macy (Northwest Press)
Lesbian Memoir/Biography: (tie) HAMMER! MAKING MOVIES OUT OF SEX AND LIFE by Barbara Hammer (The Feminist Press) and WISHBONE: A MEMOIR IN FRACURES by Julie Marie Wade (Colgate University Press)

Gay Memoir/Biography: SECRET HISTORIAN: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF SAMUEL STEWARD, PROFESSOR, TATTOO ARTIST AND SEXUAL RENEGADE by Justin Spring (FSG)

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Schimel lives in Spain, where he writes in both Spanish and English. His most recent book, ¡VAMOS A VER A PAPÁ! (Ekaré) has been translated by Elisa Amado and is forthcoming this fall from Groundwood, as LET’S GO SEE PAPÁ! He can be found on facebook or or on twitter as @lawrenceschimel

The Steampunk Bible Comes to Cambridge, MA, with Jake von Slatt, Jess Nevins, Aleks Sennwald, and Mike Libby

Jeff VanderMeer • May 20th, 2011 • News, Uncategorized

This coming Monday anyone in the Boston area should really check out this exciting event at Porter Square Books:

Cambridge, MA – May 23 (Mon), Porter Square Books, 7pm – Coauthor S.J. Chambers with contributors Jake von Slatt, Mike Libby, Jess Nevins, and Aleks Sennwald for book discussion, demonstration of mechanical beetles, and more.

These are all fabulous creators and it should be a really wonderful evening, led by ring-leader S.J. Chambers.