Interview with Ann VanderMeer

Here’s the text of a recent interview I did with Ann VanderMeer, just in case you missed it the first time:

Ann VanderMeer is the fiction editor at that venerable institution of fantastic fiction known as WEIRD TALES, as well as a veteran editor, publisher and former punk rocker. She and her husband, novelist Jeff VanderMeer are well-known in the fantasy and science fiction community for their jointly edited anthologies, including BEST AMERICAN FANTASY, THE NEW WEIRD and the soon-to-be-released STEAMPUNK collection from Tachyon Publications, just to name a few. Ann was kind enough to take some time out of her very busy day to sit down and answer a few questions.

Hi, Ann! Can you introduce yourself to our readers?

Hello readers. I’m Ann VanderMeer. In a previous life I was known as Ann Kennedy when I thought it would be fun to publish a magazine.

I know that you work with your husband Jeff on a number of different projects, editorially speaking. Does this change the way that you work? Do you find yourself approaching things differently when you’re working with Jeff than when you’re working by yourself?

Not really. Each project is different and requires something distinctive. That, more than anything else, changes how I approach each venture. We’ve done reprint anthologies and original anthologies, very different. One requires reading a slush pile, as well as querying writers. The reprint anthology projects find us doing tons and tons of research, spending hours in libraries and bookstores.

What’s it like working with your spouse, anyway? Are you two always “working” or are there times when you put your work behind you and try not to think about it?

It’s actually wonderful to work with Jeff. Even when I’m working on something myself, it’s nice to have someone to bounce ideas off of. And it ‘feels’ like we’re always working – if the computer is on, we’re working. Most of our travel is working trips, too. But luckily we enjoy this work.

If we need some time away, we’ll hike or take a trip without the computers (we go to St. Augustine every year for our anniversary and we’re definitely not working then J).

Then again, when we hike, that’s usually a good time to clear our heads and talk about projects, brainstorming, etc.

Do you two have any rituals involving work that would confuse or amuse outsiders?

Well, we don’t have special hats; we don’t read slush in the nude. There aren’t any specific rituals, although we do have a schedule of sorts. We have a large annual calendar on the fridge where we place all our deadlines and travels (different colors for each one). The early mornings are set aside for Jeff’s fiction (it’s the best time of day for him).

A lot of people remember THE SILVER WEB very fondly. How did it come about? What inspired you to launch this publication? Was it a reaction to the state of fiction around you, and if so, was this a negative reaction or were you inspired?

It was more of a reaction to my day job. I am the kind of person who always has more than one thing going on. And I got together with a co-worker to start the magazine. We were inspired by what was being published at that time. Somehow I thought it would be easy and fun. It WAS fun, but it certainly wasn’t easy. I learned a lot.

I was fortunate to have many resources available to me, and remember this was before email, etc. All my correspondence was via snail mail and phone calls. At this time there were several magazines doing interesting things. Mark Rainey was publishing Deathrealm, Dave Wilson was publishing The Tome, James Van Hise was publishing Midnight Graffiti and Jeff was just launching Jabberwocky. And Ellen Datlow was the fiction editor of Omni. I approached everyone I could find and asked lots of questions. I was surprised at how open and welcoming everyone was. I got a lot of advice and assistance at various times. Not something you often find in other businesses.

You must have met a lot of interesting people. Did you “discover” any major talents during your time with THE SILVER WEB?
Not sure if I can take credit for ‘discovering’ anyone. I did publish many first and early sales of writers that went on to have successful careers in fiction writing. I published a story from Yvonne Navarro in the first issue titled Victory’s Ode. I couldn’t get that story out of my head and told her she should expand it to a novel. She did and ended up with a 3 book deal. (That first book was AfterAge). She is great. Even though we’ve lost touch over the years, I get a birthday greeting from her every single year.

Another writer who comes to mind is Daniel Abraham. He’s now doing all kinds of wonderful things! And let’s not forget Michael Cisco and his debut novel The Divinity Student.

You’ve been editing and publishing for twenty years now. What does it take to be successful in this field?

In order to be successful, you must love what you are doing, first and foremost, regardless of how you define success. I feel that I’ve been successful because I have been able to introduce readers to so much wonderful fiction and art (my publishing company was known almost as much for the art as for the fiction). But I’m not making tons of money. That’s not why I do it.

You also have to be patient and tenacious. Trends change and what’s popular today will be considered boring tomorrow. You’ve got to ride out the trends and stick to what you know is good. I was publishing cross-genre fiction back in the late 80’s and early 90’s and was being attacked for it. Now it’s all the rage and everyone is publishing it.

Have you tried your hand at writing fiction, yourself? Does it help to be a writer if you want to be an editor? Are there some advantages to being an outsider to the craft?

When I was 8 years old I wrote a book called Going to Grandma’s, complete with illustrations. That was the peak of my writing career and I haven’t written fiction since!

But seriously, editing and writing fiction are two different skills. Not all writers are good editors, just as not all writers can teach writing. One of the advantages I have is that I never have to consider the politics involved. If I turn down a story by Mr. Editor/Writer, will he reject my submission to his journal? And I know we’d all like to think that this sort of thing doesn’t happen, but let’s not be naïve.

There’s a lot more to being an editor than just selecting stories. If you are doing a magazine or anthology, you have to take care with how you blend the stories. What works together, etc.

You’re the fiction editor at WEIRD TALES now. How did this come about?
They asked me! Actually Paula Guran recommended me and when they saw my past work, they offered me the position. I had a phone interview with Stephen Segal and we just really hit it off. We had many of the same ideas of how to re-launch the magazine.

Was it intimidating stepping into the editor’s position at a magazine with such a storied history? (No pun intended!)

To be perfectly honest, it didn’t hit me until a few months later. Once I realized that I was only the second woman in 85 years, I understood that this is actually an historic event. And I’m very excited about what’s coming next.

What are some of the things that you’d like to continue at WEIRD TALES? What do you hope to change?

Weird Tales over the years has been a forward-thinking magazine – the kind that publishes work that could only be found in Weird Tales. I plan to continue in that tradition, but bring it into the 21st century. You’ll find some if your favorite WT writers right next to some fresh blood (new writers – or the next batch of WT writers).

What is a “weird tale,” anyway?

A weird tale is something not easily defined. It can amaze or wow you, but it may also make you feel uncomfortable. It will do things no other story can do. It likes to take chances and mix stuff up. Turn your head around. Weird, but in a gooood way.

Do you have any advice for people who want to submit to WEIRD TALES?

Yes, be patient! The number of submissions I get are steadily increasing every week. And I’m reading very selectively now. So, if I turn down your tale, that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s something wrong with it. Keep trying.

Don’t become married to one story. Keep writing. When you submit a story, don’t wait to hear back before writing another one. Keep writing.

Write what is true for you; don’t write for a specific market. I can tell when it comes from your heart or if it’s calculated.

And don’t jump on my case if I can’t give you specific comments. I simply don’t have the time.

I understand that you’re involved with computers as well as being an editor. Are there certain ways in which these two skill areas overlap? Does one help the other, or do they hinder each other?

I design and implement software for manufacturing companies, specifically Boats and Manufactured Housing. Right now I am in the middle of an implementation with Chris Craft Boats and Indian Motorcycles. My job basically is to improve the business processes for my customers thru software design. I also have to bring together diverse personalities and departments and make sure they work well together. I often sit between the end-user and the programmer – translating!

Any and all skills in one area will help you in another, even if it’s just a different way of looking at things. My professional career in the computer industry is very different from my editing/publishing work. But schedules are schedules and there are always deadlines. You still have to work with people, and people skills are important no matter what you do. Luckily I love people, and I have been very fortunate to work with some amazing talents in both of my worlds.

You’ve also been a musician as well. It seems that a lot of your other interests (music, computers) are very “left brain”? is this a fair assumption? Are you a very analytical person, and does this help you? Are there things that music and literature have in common?

I am a very detail oriented person. I also find that most of the best programmers I’ve worked with are also musicians (and don’t have degrees in computer science – they have degrees in foreign languages). In addition, many artists I’ve worked with have programming day jobs!

Let’s talk projects: what do you have planned in the upcoming months? What are you editing right now? Are you doing any traveling?

I am finalizing the 85th anniversary issue of WT, and putting together the next issueand also working on the International issue.

I am working w/Jeff on promotion for our New Weird anthology. We just turned in our Pirate anthology and now people are asking for piratical photographs of us! Steampunk will be out soon, so that PR project will begin soon (already doing interviews, etc – we were even interviewed by The Weather Channel). Reading for BAF, and also for the IHG awards (I’m a judge for IHG).

Arrgghhh – so many projects!

Travels? I’m a guest at I-Con next month. Also planning to attend DragonCon in Atlanta. Jeff is a guest for a conference in the Czech Republic, so I’ll be joining him there in August (Beer Spa here I come!).

Where can we find you online?

Jeff keeps on me about setting up a blog, but honestly I just don’t have the time. I leave that to the writers.

Anything you want to tell us about that maybe wasn’t covered in the interview?

Right now my brain is fried. But I do want to thank you for such comprehensive questions. Wait. Did I mention Riley, our amazing one-year-old grandbaby????

4 comments on “Interview with Ann VanderMeer

  1. My bad on the props, Matt. Please forgive! :)

  2. Eric Schaller says:

    Hey–issue #348 of Weird Tales is just tremendous–not a bad note in the whole symphony. Varied but true to the title.–Eric S.

Comments are closed.