Interview Transcripts

Jeff VanderMeer: All About Writing 4/6/06

Event start time:

Thu Apr 06 16:59:45 2006

Event end time:

Thu Apr 06 21:07:54 2006



Legend:
Questions from the Audience are presented in red.
Answers by the Speaker are in black.
The Moderator's comments are in blue.

Mary Rosenblum

Hello, all.

 

Welcome to our Professional Connection live interview.

 

I'm very pleased to have Jeff VanderMeer with us tonight. He has been a very shiny rising star in the SF and fantasy and magic realism universe

 

all my favorite playgrounds, of course.

 

Jeff VanderMeer is a two-time winner of the World Fantasy Award, as well as a past finalist for the Hugo Award, the Philip K. Dick Award, the International Horror Guild Award, the British Fantasy Award, the Bram Stoker Award, and the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award. VanderMeer is the author of several surreal/magic realist novels and story collections, including City of Saints & Madmen, Veniss Underground, and Shriek: An Afterword, which have been or will soon be published by Pan Macmillan, Tor Books, and Bantam Books, among others. VanderMeer's most recent books have made the year's best lists of Publishers Weekly, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Los Angeles Weekly, Publishers' News, and Amazon.com. He is the recipient of an NEA-funded Florida Individual Artist Fellowship for excellence in fiction (1995-96) and a Florida Artist Enhancement Grant (2004-2005). In 2001, Locus Online named him one of the ten best speculative fiction writers in the world. International bestselling author

 

Peter Straub has called his work "brilliant playful, poignant, and utterly, wildly, imaginative, while CNN.com has called it "Darkly distinctive! Not to be missed!" He currently lives in Tallahassee, Florida, with his wife, Ann. He is 36 years old.

 

Jeff, welcome!

Jeff VanderMeer

Thanks for having me here, Mary. I'm delighted to be here.

Mary Rosenblum

Jeff, why don't we start with the basics maybe tell us a bit about how you got into writing and why you write what you do?

Jeff VanderMeer

I started writing around the age of six or seven. I don't remember why.

 

Except that I enjoyed writing poetry

 

and also

 

retelling folktales.

 

My parents read to me a lot.

 

I think that helped.

 

As for writing what I do, it's mostly I think a way of reconciling all of my experiences as a child growing up abroad.

 

We visited so many countries that I never had a firm sense of place like some writers do

 

and the only way to reconcile all of those experiences was to write fantasy.

Mary Rosenblum

That's interesting that your constant move from place to place contributed to your writing. Why did you move so often, if I may ask?

Jeff VanderMeer

My parents were in the Peace Corps. Fiji Islands. India. Visited a lot of places. Nepal. Thailand. Peru. Etc.

Mary Rosenblum

Those are certainly different cultures, languages, ecologies quite a wealth of new universes for a kid. :-)

Jeff VanderMeer

Yes. I got bitten by a monkey in Calcutta.

 

That was fun.

 

Lost in Rome.

 

Also fun.

 

Sunburnt in Madrid not quite as exciting,

 

dodged a theater bombing in Thailand,

 

saw trance dances in Bali,

 

not the run-of-the-mill kinds of experiences.

 

I was very lucky to have an unusual childhood.

Mary Rosenblum

No, not your run of the mill experiences certainly. The theater bombing I could live without everything else is pretty cool. :-)

Jeff VanderMeer

About a half an hour after we saw Disney's Cinderella,

 

the theater was blown up.

 

I mean, those are some vicious critics.

Mary Rosenblum

There's a weird sort of irony in that the film playing right before the bombing. I mean I have my quarrels with Disney but!

Jeff VanderMeer

Exactly.

 

Although the funniest thing ever

 

was

 

being in Singapore

 

watching

 

Planet of the Apes

 

in some Southeast Asian dubbed language

 

with German subtitles.

 

As a kid, I had no idea what Planet of the Apes was about, to be honest.

Mary Rosenblum

Oh, lordy! I'm laughing out loud. And I wasn't sure what it was about when I saw it and I was a teen, I think. LOL.

Jeff VanderMeer

Yes, well, regardless it scared the crap out of me. LOL.

Mary Rosenblum

The Asian dub might have been an improvement.

nextjulia

Is Ambergris based on a real European city somewhere?

Jeff VanderMeer

That's a great question.

 

I've always thought of it as London and Prague mixed with Shanghai

 

and some other Southeast Asian city.

 

The great cities of Indian had an amazing influence on me, too, I think

 

but there are bits of Rome in it, too. Oh--and certainly Florida, with it's decaying fungal environment.

Mary Rosenblum

And do you think they're richer because you saw them very young, when you didn't have the larger context of knowing history, politics, etc,

 

but simply reacted to what you saw around you?

Jeff VanderMeer

I don't know that they're richer.

 

But I do remember specific details,

 

and not so much the travel brochure version of those cities.

 

I remember the piss and heat and crowded qualities of Calcutta

 

and the huge banyan trees.

 

Things like that.

Mary Rosenblum

Cool.

 

So when did you realize 'I am going to be a writer' or were you there before you really thought about it?

Jeff VanderMeer

I've never not wanted to be a writer. I wanted to be a marine biologist for a short time but only because I liked looking in tidal pools.

 

But I can't remember a time when I wasn't a writer.

 

I was a pretty shy kid

 

and writing was a way for me to express myself that didn't require putting myself out there, so to speak.

 

And I was a pretty emotional kid, too, so writing was a natural outlet.

grishamwannabe

Hi Jeff, so great to have you with us! I noticed your Shriek: An Afterward is available in the UK. Have you ever sought the English market out first and can you give some pros and cons to doing so? How is it that your work gets published internationally?

Jeff VanderMeer

Another great question. It'll take a bit of time to answer.

 

In the 1990s, I had great difficulty publishing my work in the US. The same work now coming out in the US to critical acclaim and good sales couldn't gain a foothold

 

so I went looking elsewhere.

 

In part I think my sensibilities are kind of Anglophile, so I had a natural affinity for the UK and for Europe in general

 

so in the 1990s, a lot of my short fiction and excerpts from novels

 

came out in the UK and elsewhere. In fact, my first major publisher was Pan Macmillan in the UK

 

I guess the pros and cons depend on what you want from your writing and your career.

 

The UK market is smaller than the US market

 

but I also think they have more devoted readers. There's less influence of TV.

 

My main point would be, sometimes you need to bang your head up against a brick wall

 

and sometimes you should seek out other markets.

 

I find the Brits are willing to accept more eccentric writing into the mainstream.

 

A lot of their most popular authors are very eccentric.

 

As for publishing Internationally, here's some practical advice:

 

Study Locus magazine --

 

they do a lot of reports on international genre fiction and publishers.

 

Back in the 1990s, I got a lot of information from them.

 

And then it's a matter of networking, contacting editors and publishers,

 

even asking them for further contacts.

 

To be honest, the most important thing in any field is who you know and who they know.

 

If you accept as a given that you have fiction that's worth publishing

 

and now there's the internet,

 

which makes it a lot easier to do business and find places to publish your work.

 

People wondered why I was bothering to publish stories in, say, the Czech Republic

 

but guess what? Now, 10 years later, those contacts have matured into publishers for my longer work.

Mary Rosenblum

Jeff, I think you're making a VERY important point here

 

and one that I want to dwell on for a moment, since most of our audience is made up of new writers.

 

And that is, that getting rejected doesn't mean that your work is forever doomed to be ignored that you can find markets, times change the publishers who reject you today may nominate you for awards down the road.

Jeff VanderMeer

Right.

 

It's a delicate balance.

 

The problem is, you have to be a weird mixture of humility and arrogance.

 

Because you have to take criticism non-defensively

 

but you also have to reject criticism that really has nothing to do with the value of your work.

 

A lot of the time, you are rejected because you're work isn't up to snuff .

 

But, I mean, for example, every piece of short fiction I've ever written

 

has been rejected by F&SF

 

and a lot of those stories have wound up in awards anthologies and been up for awards.

 

So in some cases, your work may just not work for a particular editor or set of editors.

 

Me, I was helped by the (abhorrent) term New Weird, which helps me from a marketing standpoint.

 

Sometimes you gotta just stick to your guns.

pamla

How do you handle critics, Jeff?

Jeff VanderMeer

With a spatula and a sword-cane.

 

Well, actually, I'm very bad about this, because I have been known to engage a reviewer

 

who has written a bad review of my work if I think they're distorting the actual text--taking it out of context,

 

but that's a young person's game.

 

As I move ungracefully from Young Turk to Old Fart

 

I do that less and less

 

because, frankly, there are so few reviewers who have the guts to even write a negative review

 

that I prefer to applaud their initiative than to try to squash or sour it.

 

And the fact is, there is no work of fiction adored by all.

 

If you write that adored piece of fiction, chances are you've done something wrong, frankly.

Mary Rosenblum

Well it would have to be pretty darn broad to appeal to the wide range of human sensibilities out there, that's for sure.

nextjulia

Dan Simmons says that new writers should learn to "read critically." Do you have any advice on how to do that, writing reviews, taking specific types of notes?

Jeff VanderMeer

Hmmm--that's an interesting question. I'm not sure I agree, if I'm thinking of the same definition of "critically."

 

I don't think writing reviews has anything to do with being a fiction writer.

 

I don't think it does more than define what models a writer does and doesn't follow.

 

I think it's not so much reading critically as emotively,

 

putting yourself in the place of the writer and trying to figure out why they did what they did

 

but it's not analytical,

 

it's more organic than that .

 

For example, I used to transcribe my favorite scenes from my favorite books.

 

I'd type them up word-for-word and try to inhabit those scenes from the writer's point of view.

 

Kind of re-live them.

 

You get a real sense for how it's put together just by the physical act of re-creating them,

 

and when I was done with that, I would type up the first paragraph again

 

and then put the book aside and try to recreate the scene from memory.

 

Then I would compare my version to the writer's version

 

and note the variations

 

and ask myself why I made the decisions I did.

 

Another trick I use is, any time I see a technique I really like, I'll plug it in to whatever I'm doing

 

just kind of artificially, to see how it works.

 

And sometimes I'll delete it afterwards cause it isn't right for the story I'm working on

 

but I'll understand the technique a lot better .

 

I think that answers your question? I hope so.

 

(Re feeling like an Old Fart at 37, as someone mentioned--I've been writing seriously since I was about 10. I feel old sometimes. LOL!)

Mary Rosenblum

I'd like to ditto that technique I think it's a very valid way to learn, and it's something I did quite often myself or try to recreate the author's style in something I was working on. I think you learn a lot that way.

Jeff VanderMeer

Right--definitely.

 

But it has

 

to do with inhabiting the work in question..

 

sure you can also analyze that work and break it down

 

but you have to know how it works on a holistic level, too.

nextjulia

How do you do research, generally? Do you do a lot?

Jeff VanderMeer

I do a lot of research, yes,

 

depending on the story. The Ambergris stuff, like for City of Saints

 

took a lot of research,

 

but I'm not doing straightforward research.

 

I'm looking for the odd fact, the strange, funny, beautiful piece of information that's the perfect detail

 

and I don't even care if it's accurate hearsay and innuendo in old documents are wonderful sources

 

because I'm transforming it all into a fantasy setting.

 

So I look for eccentric, weird sources of information.

 

I look for the people who during their time were shouting on street corners about the end of the world.

 

And then I layer that into the text.

 

I don't really worry about it in the rough draft because the rough draft is all about passion and

 

allowing yourself to make mistakes,

 

and then I try to layer in any research,

 

but, ideally, I'll have internalized the research so it comes out naturally.

 

For example, the novel after the next one has a huge erotic component

 

so I’ll do that research now

 

and by the time I write the novel

 

I won't need to actually consult any texts.

Mary Rosenblum

You started with the small presses and now you're coming out with the NY houses how do those experiences compare?

Jeff VanderMeer

Depends on which way you like being screwed

 

Just kidding

 

There are differences of scale, of course,

 

but not as much as you'd think.

 

I'm not sure how they compare.

 

There are the obvious differences.

 

Large presses have specialized people doing tasks and indie presses have like one guy with a pen

 

but I'm always pro-active with my PR and marketing

 

so it feels like I'm doing as much work with the large houses.

 

It’s just different kinds of things. For example, with the small presses, I need to make sure copies go out to the primary reviewers, etc, but  

 

with Bantam, I'm providing subsidiary support.

 

I don't need to worry about that primary level of PR. It frees me up to do other, more inventive things.

 

I love indie press, but I love the leverage and chain bookstore penetration you get through the large presses.

 

The print runs are not as far apart as you might think, but they are still larger for the big presses.

 

I really enjoy the challenges of both experiences

 

because with the big presses, they're putting out 20 books a month and the same publicist is handling all of them

 

so in a way it's sometimes the same as indie press in terms of time they can spend on you

 

but they have way more resources.

Mary Rosenblum

Speaking of PR you have a very active blog. Has that helped you, PR-wise? Or does it become yet another deadline at times?

Jeff VanderMeer

The blog's a pleasure to do, frankly. I love doing the blog. I'm just glad a substantial audience has accreted around it. I sometimes do features on the blog

 

rather than review websites because I get more visitors

 

so that's cool

 

and it allows me to bring new and eccentric writers to the attention of readers, so I can pay something back.

 

But PR-wise, I hope it doesn't help me too much

 

because I have a real problem with writers whose persona rather than their work sells books.

 

It’s still all about the fiction writing at the end of the day.

 

 

 

And as Luis Rodrigues likes to point out

 

I get a lot of help on the blog from Evil Monkey.

Mary Rosenblum

I was going to ask about Evil Monkey? :-)

 

Is this the Evil Twin?

Jeff VanderMeer

Yes. Evil Monkey is my alter ego I found that sometimes Jeff VanderMeer would say things that were a bit acerbic.

 

And people would say, "Wow--Jeff VanderMeer is an ---hole."

 

But when Evil Monkey started saying the same things

 

people said, "oooh--look at Evil Monkey--he's so cute. "

 

So now Evil Monkey is kinda the person/animal who says the things we all would like to. And he's actually pretty funny sometimes.

Mary Rosenblum

Hmmm maybe we could all use an Evil Monkey.

Jeff VanderMeer

I think we all have one.

 

Not all of us use them, though.

janecj333

How did you get in at Pan MacMillan? Was it because of 'who you knew'?

Jeff VanderMeer

No, that was my agent's doing.

 

Let me re-state: the work is still the most important thing. But you do have to be aware of the leverage issue.

 

And also Liz Williams recommended my work to Peter Lavery at Pan Mac.

 

So it was kind of a confluence of things.

 

That's one thing that is important to note: saturation.

 

So I had my agent working on it, writers recommending me

 

and the US indie press editions of Veniss and City of Saints

 

did extremely well, which made the large publishers take notice.

 

It was no one thing.

 

(But ultimately, Lavery had to read and like the work. Which he did.)

Mary Rosenblum

Which is, I think, a very good argument for going to conferences, talking with other writers, and doing the networking?

Jeff VanderMeer

So long as it doesn't consume your life

 

and so long as you go because you like to meet people and you're not going to cynically sell yourself .

 

I genuinely love to meet people and talk to them and find out what they're about

 

and then anything else that happens is secondary.

 

It'd be terrible to force oneself to hang out with people one didn't like.

Mary Rosenblum

Jeff how much of yourself is in your writing, and do you ever have trouble maintaining distance between self and story?

Jeff VanderMeer

It's funny--people think fantasy writers don't deal with autobiographical issues

 

but that's not true for me.

 

Every story I've ever written, just about, has a secret biography of me or me and my family in it,

 

it may not be entirely on the surface, but it's there.

 

I think it's important that fiction be grounded in the personal, especially fantasy fiction, which can become too diaphanous and unmoored in anything real.

 

But I have had problems maintaining that distance--it's why my latest novel, Shriek, took so long to write.

 

It is very autobiographical in certain ways

 

and I had to wait until I could think about an re-imagine certain real-world events before I could write the novel.

 

It's important to let some novels and stories simmer and reach their full potential over time.

 

Several times I've tried too early to write about autobiographical things

 

and wound up with a still-born story.

Mary Rosenblum

I think that's very important. A little distance gives some perspective or a lot of distance!

nextjulia

What books are on your reading list now and why?

 

Yes--it provides the writer with the ability to layer things.

 

What book isn't on my reading list? LOL! .

 

I'm a judge for the World Fantasy Awards, so I'm deluged in books.

 

But in terms of reading for my personal pleasure,

 

a few I'm really excited about reading, though:

 

The Town That Forgot How to Breathe by Kenneth J. Harvey

 

The Empire of Ice Cream by Jeffrey Ford (story collection)

 

The Vengeance of Rome by Michael Moorcock

 

Alan DeNiro's short story collection from Small Beer

 

Theodora Goss's collection from Prime

 

oh---and a reprint from Night Shade that I'm doing the intro to

 

The Dread Empire Trilogy by Glen Cook

 

Some amazing heroic fantasy there.

 

Also, the next George RR Martin

 

and whatever K.J. Bishop is cooking up right now.

 

The Kevin Brockmeyer (sic) novel that's out now,

 

Tamar Yellin's Kafka in Bronteland collection,

 

there are so many

 

But first I gotta read all of the WF Award eligible stuff.

Mary Rosenblum

The price of getting to make those choices, heheh.

canyon

Have you read any of the Chris Paolini novels. And if so, what are your thoughts on them?

Jeff VanderMeer

They're crap.

 

But he's 18 or 19.

 

It's sludgy heroic fantasy.

 

Put it up against a Martin novel to see the difference. He’s a PR phenomenon who may mature into a good novelist or may not.

pamla

Do you have a lot of friends who are writers?

Jeff VanderMeer

Yes--I have a lot of friends who are writers --

 

probably too many.

 

It's a tough business. You have to band together. LOL.

nextjulia

Do you use a Windows PC or a Macintosh? (Sorry to bring up religion)

Jeff VanderMeer

Neither.

 

I write longhand

 

on legal pads

 

then when I type it up, I type it up on a PC,

 

but then I print out that draft and write it up longhand again,

 

and I keep doing that

 

until the dough is perfect. LOL.

 

(Or at least not full of little annoying bits.)

Mary Rosenblum

And how do you know that? How do you know when that dough is ready? What keeps you from just polishing it forever?

 

What is 'done' for you?

Jeff VanderMeer

That's a great question. It depends on the story.

 

If it's first person, probably less revision to keep a loose style,

 

if it's more stylized and third person, probably more drafts.

 

I average about 10 to 20 drafts, layering the whole time.

 

It really just depends. You just have a sense of it after awhile,

 

you know what effects you're trying to achieve and you know if you revise too much it'll be too perfect and if you revise too little it won't be fully realized.

 

I do think a lot of writers who use computers don't revise enough

 

because it looks too finished to begin with,

 

but that's just me .

 

I gotta do the longhand to really do substantial revisions.

gskearney

Just reading a writing book by Ted Kooser and he recommends longhand also. --gk

Jeff VanderMeer

It does make you slow down, which is important.

 

But the other thing is--whatever takes you out of your comfort zone is good. Try doing things in a different way and you may be surprised at the result.

foxx

What is layering?

Jeff VanderMeer

For me, it's the process of adding depth to the story.

 

You don't want to be worried too much about anything other than getting the rough draft down so you have a complete if flawed story in front of you.

 

That's the first step

 

and you don't want too much conscious thought involved,

 

you want to get at the essence of the story,

 

but then you want to let it sit a bit

 

and you look at it

 

and you try to see what's working and what's not.

 

You try to see if there's anything unexpected that you want to emphasize,

 

what you want to de-emphasize, too,

 

and so in your next draft you smooth things out, take things out, put things in

 

and that's a very basic level of layering .

 

And then you add more stuff in your next draft,

 

stuff to do with character and things to do with setting,

 

little details that weren't there before or weren't precise,

 

then maybe you think about the political and social implications of what you're writing about,

 

and you layer some more--add some description, change some dialogue,

 

you think about what your themes are, etc.

 

And you just keep layering.

 

For me

 

this is most acute on the Ambergris stories

 

where I need to also add a layer of history or historical detail

 

while not clogging the story up with it .

 

In a way, I’m like a historical novelist when I'm writing about Ambergris.

 

and it's also like tuning your stereo, too.

 

You want to get the balance right but if you change the bass, that means you have to adjust something else

 

so you're continually tinkering with the balance to get it just right, because every part of a story is affected by every other part.

janecj333

With computers, you can't tell how many drafts you're doing, because you don't print out any revisions. The revising just goes on and on until you're not stumbling over any lines anymore, and the story's not entirely fragmented.

Jeff VanderMeer

That's not a question. LOL!

 

But to address that

 

I don't know if you're saying that's a good or a bad thing, but you can certainly keep drafts on your computer. I do, when I work on the computer just as you can throw away your longhand drafts.

Mary Rosenblum

So what is your writing life like? How do you work? In spurts long stretches? One new project at a time? Multiples?

Jeff VanderMeer

I'm not a big proponent of the "write 1,000 words a day," although that might be helpful when you're just beginning. But I figure, if you're a writer, you're going to write.

 

If you don't write naturally because it brings you joy, who am I to say you should be forced to go to the computer every day.

 

But for me it is in spurts.

 

I have long ago forced myself to abandon any rituals or times of day when I write.

 

I write when I have the urge to write, whenever that is.

 

So, for example, last September, I didn't write anything for two weeks

 

and then I wrote a 10,000 word story in about a day and a half ,

 

but the key was, I'd been thinking about the story and doing little notes for about a month before that -- I'd been writing it in my head .

 

That's for fiction writing.

 

For fiction revision or nonfiction writing

 

I'm doing that just about every day.

 

I do think it's important to do some kind of writing every week, even if it's not fiction.

 

Oh--

 

and I'm always working on several short stories and nonfiction things

 

but never more than one novel at a time.

Mary Rosenblum

You're also involved in publishing and multi-media productions, too, yes? Care to tell us a bit about that? Aren't you making a movie right now?

Jeff VanderMeer

I'm making a 12-minute short film based on my novel Shriek, with a soundtrack by The Church, an Australian rock band .

 

I was sick of doing regular PR so I thought I'd do something more creative that would be a piece of art in and of itself.

 

I just finished the script for it, which was very instructive,

 

learning how dialogue can drive narrative,

 

how images and voice-over can achieve synergy,

 

and with Ann I'm editing several anthologies over the next few years;

 

Leviathan 5: Dark Humor,

 

an anthology from Night Shade of Pirate fiction,

 

and a year's best (those last two aren't public knowledge yet).

 

(Yes--I can hear it now: Pirate fiction? You sell out!)

Mary Rosenblum

I won't tell a soul.

Jeff VanderMeer

LOL!

 

These projects fulfill a different, more critical side of creativity for me and for Ann (assuming she doesn't kill me during the process)

Mary Rosenblum

The Shriek project sounds WAY cool what a fun way to do PR.

Jeff VanderMeer

It'll debut at Finncon in Helsinki and be shown at quite a few conventions and a few film festivals.

 

And be on the internet. Another project is a documentary about the book business, aimed at beginning and intermediate writers.

Mary Rosenblum

Oh, great!

 

When is Finncon?

Jeff VanderMeer

August 18-20

Mary Rosenblum

Oh, I like the documentary!

 

That's something most aspiring writers could REALLY use.

Jeff VanderMeer

After I sold Shriek, I thought, why don't we just take a video camera with us everywhere we go and show what happens after you sell a book.

 

So we've interviewed gatekeepers like the people at Publishers Weekly,

 

editors in NY,

 

even taped the PR meeting I had with Tor,

 

and early next year

 

we will edit it all together

 

and writers will be able to see in a cohesive way the whole lifecycle of a book .

 

I don't believe this has been done before

 

so I'm pretty excited.

 

You haven't lived

 

until you've seen Michael Moorcock describing how a publisher wanted to strap him

 

to the wing of a bi-plane and fly him over London

 

as a publicity stunt.

Mary Rosenblum

You should be. I learned this stuff AFTER I published and more or less the hard way, or by word of mouth, or talking with other writers. Oh, I nearly fell off my chair laughing at the Moorcock image!

Jeff VanderMeer

That's why I wanted to do it,

 

because I learned the hard way, too.

 

These publishers they keep no documentation, no manual for writers.

Mary Rosenblum

So when will this be out do you think? Next year?

Jeff VanderMeer

Yes, we'll finish shooting in December (Shriek is out in August)

 

and I imagine it'll be out in the fall of 2007 if all goes well..

 

It's just a question of distribution,

 

either through a regular documentary distributor

 

or as a DVD through a publisher that does books on writing.

 

We’ll see.

Mary Rosenblum

Keep me posted. And I'd love to have you come back here when it's out and talk about it

Jeff VanderMeer

Oh sure! Be happy to.

Mary Rosenblum

It has a LOT of application to the people taking the LR courses..especially the novel course.

 

I am rubbing my hands in anticipation!

Jeff VanderMeer

I would imagine so! Imagine if every first novelist had the opportunity to not make the mistakes most of us made.

Mary Rosenblum

The mind boggles.

red 1

How many short story ideas do you work on at any given time?

Jeff VanderMeer

Well, right now, I have three, all completely different--one far future SF, one contemporary realism, and one kind of Nabokovian .

 

That's about as many as my head can hold at one time.

 

But I sometimes get story ideas I know I'm not good enough to write yet and I put them aside in a journal and wait for them to germinate and for me to not suck as much.

gskearney

Ah, new writers will just make new mistakes. It's human nature. That's how the species advances. I have great faith in the infinite capacity of mankind to screw up. I am living proof.

Mary Rosenblum

Hey, at least they'll be new.

Jeff VanderMeer

Yes. True.

cosmos

Do you find it's energizing to film and write screenplays? Do you find that it adds to your novel writing? Are you a better novel writer because you are creating films and that you see your writing from a different perspective?

Jeff VanderMeer

Yes--definitely!

 

In my fiction, dialogue doesn't drive my narratives.

 

In film, it has to at least a bit

 

so it is changing my relationship to dialogue.

 

It is also changing my relationship to description because of the way you have to put a screenplay together, wedding text and image in different ways.

 

So one reason I took on these projects is to re-imagine my fiction and how I approach it, and to pick up new techniques.

 

I am a huge believer in putting yourself in uncomfortable situations as a writer.

 

I think it's imperative for growth.

 

Every time I sit down to write a novel, I want it to feel like the first time, when I felt like I knew nothing.

 

That feeling is how I know I'm stretching myself.

red 1

May I also ask what inspires most of your stories?

Jeff VanderMeer

Give me a second on that one,

 

it's tough to generalize.

 

I think that in a certain sense love and obsession inspire my stories.

 

I become obsessed with a situation or a character or something else, and it drives me to write about it.

 

And then, to see it through, love for the characters, even the nasty ones,

 

but it's tough to generalize.

 

Lots of stories come about for different reasons.

 

I think the world is a beautiful and horrible place, often at the same time, and I feel the need to keep documenting that--and to keep documenting

 

how people interact with one another and, even just specific details about the world.

 

It’s tough to answer that question.

Mary Rosenblum

I think it should be tough to answer that question.

 

I think I would be uncomfortable if I knew the 'why' of what I do too well.

Jeff VanderMeer

Yeah, and my answer is kind of b.s. in a way, because I don't really think when I sit down to write. I just write.

red 1

Sorry about that.

Jeff VanderMeer

If you really knew the why, would you write?

 

Oh no--it's a good question!

 

It’s just tough to answer!!!

 

Sometimes when you've been doing something for so long,

Mary Rosenblum

Exactly, Jeff what you said about that why.

Jeff VanderMeer

You no longer can answer that type of a question.

Mary Rosenblum

Well, I will bet the 'why' has changed since you first wrote. It has for me, I know.

Jeff VanderMeer

Probably. I think writers should not feel like they have to be tied down to one approach or ideology

 

otherwise, how can you get into the heads of so many different people, for example.

cosmos

Is it becoming more common for novel writers to write screenplays and create their own films? Is this a plus when marketing yourself?

Jeff VanderMeer

I don't think it is more common. It may be more common in the future

 

It's only a plus if it's something you want to do and like to do and have the resources to do properly.  The work itself is the most important thing

 

but again I don't really think of this as PR or marketing--that's only a secondary effect.

 

I'm creating an art object

 

and stretching myself as a writer.

 

Now, as for short movie-style trailers for books

 

I think those are great--like, a minute or less.

 

I also think podcasting and video of writers reading is going to become the norm

 

because it's so cheap to do now .

 

So in that sense, those kinds of things are a plus--if you're a good reader, for example.

Mary Rosenblum

Yeah, I've really been looking to the podcasting to take off.

 

Where do you see the publishing world going over the next decade or two?

Jeff VanderMeer

Probably taking advantage of these "new" technologies more

 

and with the democratization of these new technologies, I see the indie press being ever more relevant

 

and being competitive in niche ways with the large publishers,

 

and then I see the large publishers reacting to that and changing the way they do things

 

and then I see the collapse of civilization from global warming and going back to stone tablets.

Mary Rosenblum

Well, hopefully a LITTLE farther along than two decades!

Jeff VanderMeer

Eh. Who knows. Depends on who is president.

 

Fewer chimps for president, that's what I always say.

Mary Rosenblum

Uh..yeah there IS that.

red 1

How many "great" stories did you write before you got published, and how much emphasis would you put on persistence?

Jeff VanderMeer

Well, it's not for me to say what was great or not.

Mary Rosenblum

Sure it is.

Jeff VanderMeer

I wrote some great crappy werewolf stories that never got published, but by golly I thought they were good at the time.

 

And a lot of my crappy stuff got published, which is why

 

you never use editors for validation.

 

I'd say I wrote maybe four great stories before I got published

 

and the rest sucked.

 

Mahout was my first really good story

 

and Asimov's eventually picked it up.

 

But then there are stories that wound up being good after the fact.

 

A ton of Veniss-related stories that everybody told me sucked and now are in the Bantam edition of Veniss have gotten good reviews

 

so, it's all relative, sometimes.

 

As for persistence--it's 75% of everything --

 

persistence with editors,

 

persistence in rewriting,

 

etc.

jlundberg

At what point in career did you decide to write novels?

Jeff VanderMeer

I didn't

 

Hey--Jason!!!

 

It just happened naturally.

 

As I accumulated technique, I was better prepared

 

to write longer works

 

so a lot of the stuff in City of Saints is novella length

 

and then the work got longer and longer.

 

I actually rarely write short stories these days and for the past few years

 

I've felt like the novella and novel are my natural lengths

 

but I was pretty determined not to set out to write a novel because that way lies madness.

 

You can kill yourself wondering why you can't do it--everybody else can do it

 

why can't I?

 

Just write what comes naturally.

 

Length will take care of itself.

canyon

Have you read Abarat by Clive Barker?

Jeff VanderMeer

Bits. I prefer Barker at the shorter lengths.

 

I don't mind the novels, though.

Mary Rosenblum

Since we're near the end of our time, Jeff, want to give us some insight into what you have coming out?

Jeff VanderMeer

Well, City of Saints just came out from Bantam. Shriek is out from Tor in August. A story collection is out from Prime in July, but it's already sold out.

 

And then a lot of editing projects in 2007.

 

Happy to take a couple more questions.

Mary Rosenblum

While we're waiting for the last straggler questions want to sum up for our aspiring writers? What's your one piece of advice?

Jeff VanderMeer

Oh--I'm also doing a book tour in Europe this summer.

 

One piece of advice

 

hmmm

 

Wear clean socks and underwear.

 

Dn't type in the nude like Harlan Ellison

 

but, seriously--

 

Don't look to others for validation. You'll never find it. The writing itself is the most important thing--the act of writing.

Mary Rosenblum

Wow, I think that really DOES sum it up.

Jeff VanderMeer

(Of course, look to others for comments on your work, of course.)

Mary Rosenblum

Here are our questions.

Jeff VanderMeer

Okay

codeblue

How long are novellas??

Jeff VanderMeer

Longer than a banana and shorter than a catamaran.

 

Depends on your definition.

 

SFWA has a specific length

 

because they do love their novelettes.

 

But for me, anything over about 9,000 words is venturing into novella territory.

 

Anything above 50,000 begins to become a novel.

cosmos

What keeps you writing through difficult times?

Jeff VanderMeer

Writing does.

 

I love to write.

 

The rest is all bonus.

 

Just sitting down and writing is an amazing experience.

 

They could take the rest away tomorrow and I would be okay with that.

 

I'd be unhappy for a little while

 

and then I'd be okay with it.

 

I just love to write.

Mary Rosenblum

Jeff, thanks. This has been a delightful evening. Will you be at WorldCon this year? I assume?

Jeff VanderMeer

Alas, no. I'll be in Europe--six countries, five weeks. Should be fun. I will be at World Fantasy, however.

 

Oh--seven countries.

 

Belgium. But just for the beer.

Mary Rosenblum

Oh, Europe sounds cool! Well, I'll see you at World Fantasy then.

Jeff VanderMeer

Looking forward to it.

 

Thanks for having me and thanks for all the questions.

 

I appreciate it.

Mary Rosenblum

Okay the really late stragglers are ducking in under the wire.

 

Game for the last few?

Jeff VanderMeer

No problem!!!

 

sure

janp

Do you enjoy any other pursuits?

Jeff VanderMeer

Yes

 

I like hiking, bird watching, weightlifting, mountain biking

 

Ann says I like housecleaning but she's lying.

 

I like studying history.

 

I tend to get new interests every couple of years.

 

I love to just hang out and shoot the breeze with people.

 

But I wouldn't call it a pursuit.

canyon

How do you feel about creative liberties some film producers take w/ novels?

Jeff VanderMeer

Depends on what they promised the writer

 

I've always said that I would prefer not to be involved with any film based on my work (any Hollywood film)

 

because it would drive me nuts,

 

then you look at someone like Kubrick, who ALWAYS changed his source material and was a genius.

 

So I would just consider a Hollywood film of my work something totally separate from my book .

 

I guess it just doesn't bother me much just don't mess with my written words on the page in book form LOL.

Mary Rosenblum

Greeneyes51 asked if you still write poetry.

Jeff VanderMeer

Nope. I was a lousy poet. That's why I write fiction now. My first written piece was poetry: "Oh how I love the sea/Yes, I love the sea/etc."

Mary Rosenblum

LOL

Jeff VanderMeer

I had an eye for imagery but wanted to tell a story.

cosmos

Thank you for coming. This has been exciting.

janp

Thank you Jeff. This has been a whirlwind evening

Mary Rosenblum

It has been a fun evening, Jeff.

sallyk

Thanks Mary…Jeff… inspiring  (even for us NF folks)

Jeff VanderMeer

Oh sure--thanks for having me. I enjoyed it and I hope it was useful.

Mary Rosenblum

You have been a fun guest.

Jeff VanderMeer

It's a fun venue. Thanks so much.

Mary Rosenblum

We'll let you get back to your TEN deadlines and let's do this again.

Jeff VanderMeer

Someday Evil Monkey will write a book on how to write fiction

 

okay-thanks!

Mary Rosenblum

I want Evil Monkey's book!

 

Good night, Jeff!

Jeff VanderMeer

Hope you all have a good evening.

 

Good night!

Mary Rosenblum

Good night, all, and thank you for coming.

 

Good night all.

 

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