“The Hardest Working
Man in Fantasy”
A Jeff VanderMeer
by Bill Ectric
In close proximity to primordial Florida swamps, branch-shrouded canopy roads, and Kafkaesque state capital
intrigues, Jeff and Ann VanderMeer are Tallahassee's greatest unnatural resource.
Ann is the fiction editor of Weird Tales Magazine, its continuing mission to publish brilliantly strange original
material unavailable anywhere else. Jeff is on the cutting edge of the "New Weird," infusing literary proficiency
back into Gothic fantasy and sci-fi with such novels as Veniss Underground, City of Saints and Madmen, Shriek, and
most recently, Finch. Together, Ann and Jeff have edited a number of anthologies, most recently, the
pirate-themed Fast Ships, Black Sails, in which, according to Publisher's Weekly, "Saintly pirates, loony pirates,
pirate cooks and talking animal-buccaneers slash and swagger through the Caribbean, the Internet, the perpetually
frozen Atlantic and the seas of distant planets in this collection of 18 original stories."
Bill: Congratulations on finishing your latest novel, Finch. Is this another
Jeff: Finch is the third in the Ambergris Cycle, set 100 years after Shriek. It
features a detective.
Bill: I understand you've been hunkered down, hard at work on Finch for quite a
long time. Are you in a state of decompression?
Jeff: I am in a state of severe imaginative withdrawal in the sense that I need
to recharge before the next novel.
Bill: When did you first read Nabokov's Pale Fire and what effect did it have on
Jeff: I can't remember when I read it but it has had a profound effect. It
showed me that using an experimental structure didn't mean you couldn't also
achieve an emotional response in the reader. I think Nabokov's formal brilliance
blinds some critics to the emotional resonance in his work.
|Above: Vertemnus by Italian painter
Bill: Are any of the artists, writers, and musicians in Ambergris
based real people or real groups of people, for example, the Lake
Poets, the Beats, or the Romantics?
Jeff: A lot of them are loosely based on the Decadents. Some are
based on Chagall and Arcimboldo. The rest are based on
contemporaries and thus I cannot divulge who...
Bill: Is there a reason you do some rewrites in longhand? Doesn't
your hand get tired?
Jeff: No, my hand doesn't get tired any more than my wrists do
typing on a computer. Longhand allows me to get into the fictive
dream more easily. I also will break a scene back down into longhand
after it's been typed up if I need to radically revise it. I tell writing
students who only have laptops that they're missing out. You're
ignoring a potent tool in seeing your fiction in a new light. A lot of
beginners are doing light edits, not revision, and they also allow the
computer, through IM and other things, to fracture their attention
Bill: J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan refused to grow up and H. P. Lovecraft
feared that reaching adulthood meant "growing too old for
pleasure." Is it important for a writer of weird fantasy to stay in
touch with childhood feelings and intuition? How does one balance
that with the responsibilities of real life?
Jeff: Every writer needs to see the world fresh. Lovecraft, for all of
his brilliance, was trapped in an adolescence fearful of women and
foreigners and unable to live a fulfilling normal life. That's definitely
Bill: We hear about indie bands having their CD "picked up" by a
major label. Do major publishers ever "pick up" independent and/or
Jeff: Sure. I've had the majority of my books picked up by majors
after being out first from indies. That's how I finally got on people's
Bill: Fantasy author Ekaterina Sedia suggested I ask what your
favorite dark beer is.
Jeff: Heh. It is Delirium Nocturnum followed closely by Arrogant
Bill: How did it come about that you wrote a Predator novel?
Jeff: I think you write from love, mental illness, money...or some
combination of the three. Predator I wrote for fun (love) and
money. Brian Evenson got me an audience with Dark Horse and they
liked my pitch.The challenge I set myself was to write the Predator
movie I would want to see. I actually think both Predator movies are
good action movies. So it is meant to be fun and exciting ... with a
few signature VanderMeerisms as part of that.
Winner of the World Fantasy Award, Jeff VanderMeer has been compared to
Jorge Luis Borges, Mark Z. Danielewski, Edgar Allen Poe, and Vladimir Nabokov.
His novels are sublime mixtures of genre, meta-, and literary fiction, books
within stories within other books where the characters provide commentary via
footnotes, illustrations, and other appendixes. If that sounds dry, it's because it
doesn't convey the absurdist humor, nightmarish fear, and sweeping epic drama
of VanderMeer's secret history of the city of Ambergris. Tragic poets and artists
populate dark cafes, naked holy men and furtive mushroom people menace
hapless wanderers in alleys and alcoves, and once a year, the Festival of the
Freshwater Squid plunges the city into decadent mayhem.
It was hard to catch Jeff when he had time to answer questions. He pours his
energy into writing with a perfectionist's drive to "get it right." When he isn't
writing, Jeff and Ann spend a lot of time on the road. Jeff conducts writing
workshops and Ann recently attended a Weird Tales reading at the KGB Bar in
New York. Earlier this year they traveled to the Czech Republic and Romania in
conjunction with the release foreign VanderMeer editions. The couple breezed
in to San Francisco on November 4th to sign copies of their Steampunk
anthology at Borderlands bookstore.
I finally caught Jeff at home in Tallahassee to ask him some questions by email.