Thursday, December 30, 2004

Sin City, Robert Rodriguez, and Lee Horsley

Check out couple of trailers for Robert Rodriguez'* adaptaton of Frank Miller's Sin City:
Quicktime and Windows Media

* One site says that Miller is co-directing. Another says that Tarantino is the co-director.

Speaking of Rodriguez... Robert Rodriguez's 10 Minute Film School

About a year and a half ago I stumbled across a wonderful book called The Noir Thirller which traces the development of noir as a literary form. The book's author, Lee Horsely, is a noir maven. She runs a site, Crime Culture, which is a repository for information on all things noir - reading lists, academic papers, links, analyses, and courses. (Lee, *ahem* Dr. Horsley, teaches several courses on noir and crime fiction at Lancaster University in the U.K.)

She is a busy woman, so I'd like to send her a big "Thanks!" for taking time during her holidays to answer a few questions:

What sparked your interest in Noir?

I suppose that like many others of my generation (I was born in 1944), my interest in this sort of writing and film-making was sparked long before the label 'noir' had come into general use. I remember when I was very young being fascinated by the 'tough guy' stories in old magazines my father had around (Argosy, Dime Detective, Saturday Evening Post) and, when I was a bit older, loving films like Maltese Falcon, Touch of Evil and Double Indemnity. Then when I came to live
in Britain (in the mid-60s) I discovered some of the writers who were much more highly regarded (and more available) in Europe than in the States (Chester Himes and Patricia Highsmith were particular favourites of mine). But it was only in the 70s and 80s, with the production of so many great neo-noir films, that I reflected on the 'noir' qualities of this whole range of literary-cinematic preferences, and started to think in a more connected way about the links between hard-boiled
writing, film noir and other kinds of literary noir.

How did your book "The Noir Thriller" come about?

It was another decade or so before this 'spare time' fascination with noir started to come together with my academic writing. I had been doing research on 20th-century political fiction, and a book I wrote for Longman (Fictions of Power) had a chapter on the interwar thrillers of Graham Greene and Eric Ambler. My strongest academic interest has always been in satire and the various ways in which literature can be used for the purposes of socio-political critique, and in writing about
the 30s thriller, I started to think about the effectiveness of the critique developed in 'dark' crime fiction. Then I stumbled on Jim Thompson and read every novel of his I could track down - after which I thought, Why not a book just on literary noir? I drafted a proposal, and Clive Bloom (general editor of the Crime Files series) encouraged me to make it as wide-ranging a study as I could - not just limiting myself to books currently in print but filling out the whole picture.
And after a few very enjoyable years of obsessive book collecting and of reading some amazing writers I'd never known about before (Harry Whittington, Gil Brewer, David Goodis, Charles Williams, Day Keene...) I was lucky enough to get a year's sabbatical to write about them and to try to make their work known to a larger audience.

In your book and on your site, between the fiction, non-fiction studies, and true crime material, you deal with some pretty bleak stuff. Have you come across anything that's made you go, "That's enough. That's crossed the line."

I tend to have an 'anything goes' view - an opposition to censorship and 'line drawing' in all its forms, partly, no doubt, a reaction against a certain kind of middle-American moralising and intolerance that deeply disturbed me when I was growing up in suburban Minnesota (and that I find even more disturbing, at a distance, in contemporary America). But the question of line-drawing probably surfaced most for me when my children were growing up - arising in the form, are there things that 'go too far' for them to read/see? And yes, if I think back, there undoubtedly were a few such things - the example I remember most clearly being American Psycho. A brilliant book, one of the most effective ever uses of crime fiction to create excoriating social satire. But I do recall saying very firmly, 'Yes, it's a very good book...but not something you should read. Not just yet, anyway.'

What books and films would you recommend for someone who is new to the genre?

Because I teach two courses on crime fiction/film, I have the fun of making this sort of recommendation every year. Some of the choices I make, of course, are to do with illustrating a particular phase of generic development (I always start my noir thriller course with Stranger on the Third Floor, just because it illustrates so much about the origins of film noir in expressionism). But most of the things I
select are chosen just because I know they will make a real impact on readers new to the genre - Hammett's Maltese Falcon (and the Huston
film, of course), Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely, Jim Thompson's The
Killer Inside Me
, Highsmith's The Talented Mr Ripley or Strangers on a Train (coupled with Hitchcock's film), something from Himes' Harlem
, Mosley's Devil in a Blue Dress, Hjortsberg's Falling Angel, Behm's Eye of the Beholder - combined with films like Out of the Past, Double Indemnity, Vertigo, Get Carter, The Grifters, Twelve Monkeys, The Man Who Wasn't There. The selection keeps changing because there really is so much to choose from! I've recently finished writing
another book, called Twentieth Century Crime Fiction (due out next August), and in the process of writing this came across all sorts of other novels I plan to add to future courses - Charlotte Carter's Walking Bones, Jason Starr's Cold Caller, John Ridley's Love is a
, Lisa Cody's Monkey Wrench...sorry, I'd better stop there - it's a list that could go on for several pages!

Finally, What's the most "noir" thing you've done?

Well, actually I'll have to admit that my liking for noir is a lot to do with the fascination of things most removed from your own experience (I never understand readers who insist on being able to 'locate themselves' in a book before they can be interested in it - reading, to me, seems all about the whole intriguing business of encountering difference--or indeed darkness, depravity and deviance!). But I suppose, at a stretch, I can at least claim some links with the American tough guy ethos that fed into the development of cinematic and literary noir. My father's magazines full of hard-boiled stories went with his passion for 'roughing it' - hunting, fishing and camping in the north woods of Minnesota, teaching me to shoot at an early age (I was in consequence a state and national rifle champion when I was in my teens), insisting that if I shot an animal I had to skin it and eat it (being made to skin and clean a porcupine I carelessly shot when I was about 8 - that was a fairly hard-boiled experience!). But otherwise (though I of course aspire to being cynical and tough-minded) I really lead a very tame, unadventurous and un-noir life!


Monday, December 27, 2004

Help for those who need it

I'm sure you've all heard about the horrible earthquake and tsunamis that devestated parts of Asia. The following organizations are helping to organize relief for those affected:

Red Cross

Oxfam America


Matt Cheney has compiled a more comprehensive list over at The Mumpisms.

In situations like this $15 or $20 can go a long way.


Sunday, December 26, 2004

Mandatory music entry

I hope everyone's holidays are going well - lots of good food, many gifts, not too much family drama, etc...

I knew when I started this that at some point I was going to have to talk about music, so it might as well be now. Right up front, you all should know that when it comes to muisc I'm a picky, contrary, jaded bastard. I play in a band. I've worked in a record store. You know the movie High Fidelity*? Cusack's character? That could be me. (Except I'm not a list obsessive and I would like to think that I'm not quite so hard on the women in my life) As a matter of fact when my girlfriend and I saw the movie for the first time she put her head in her hands and whispered, "It's you..." about, oh, every five minutes. When it hit on DVD I watched it with my girlfriend's dad and he white knuckled it through the entire movie. After it finished, over a cup of tea with my girlfriend and her mom he kept saying, "The main character. There was something about that main character. I couldn't stand him. I couldn't put my finger on it but..."

*As separate from the book "High Fidelity" which, for some reason depressed the hell out of me.

With that in mind, here are some discs from 2004 that spent a considerable amount of time in my player:

(Format - Link to artist's page or a really good fan site - link to somewhere where you can buy the record.)
Mark Lanegan Band - Bubblegum
Lanegan's been putting out excellent solo records for years, and for years before that he sang with the (*sigh* I hate to use this phrase, but in this case it's true) criminally underrated Screaming Trees. The 'Trees, incidentally, released two of the best records of the '90's, '92's "Sweet Oblivion" and 96's "Dust"

On Bubblegum, Lanegan is joined by such luminaries as Polly Jean Harvey, Nick Oliveri and Joh Homme from Queens of the Stoneage; QoTSA producer Chris Goss; Qotsa collaborators Dave Catching, Molly Mcguire, and Alain Johannes; Duff and Izzy, formerly of Gun's 'n' Roses, members of the Burning Brides, and one Wendy Rae Fowler, who for my money puts Ms. Harvey to shame.

The sound is, as one might guess, reminiscient of Queens of the Stoneage, but rootsier, less slick, darker, and more honest. (Considering that the Queens are about a step and a half away froim being a goth band themselves, that's an accomplishment.) "Bubblegum" when taken with Lanegan's other solo discs ("The Winding Sheet" and "Field Songs" being my favs., but to be honest he hasn't made a bad solo record.) position him as the American equivalent of Nick Cave, steeped in folk and blues traditions, but not held by them. There are similarities to Tom Waits as well, but Lanegan is more rock 'n' roll, less arty, less theatrical.

For those w/a high-speed connection I suggest checking out this show from 2003 in which Langean and his band tear through his back catalogue in front of a hometown crowd in Seattle.

The Narrows - The Skull At Life Size
Most of the music I listen to is either lond and abrasive or sad and quiet. This disc is both. One song, clocking in at over 30 min., the piece runs through several movenments before building to a big freakout crescendo. Awesome. Oh wait, what do they sound like? Think Slint, Codeine, and maybe Low, but very heavy.
A sample: here.

Timothy, Revelator
- Lost Gospel Music Volume One: Beneath The Bleeding Moon
So a while back The Wire did an article folk music made by young hipsters, they dubbed this movement, "New Weird America." (Sound familiar?) They tipped people such as the much over-hyped Devendra Banhart, Six Organs of Admittance (probably the best of the hipster crowd), Sunburned Hand of Man, and a bunch of other stinkin' hippies reviving the sounds of John Fahey, The Incredible String Band, and more recently Current93. As with most things, while a few media friendly types (i.e. young, "eccentric") grab most of the the hype there are people in the underground plugging away 'cause they love what they do, with no expectation of stories in glossy mags. or hanging with rock stars. Timothy, Revelator is one of those people and for years he's been doing the "free folk" (Free Folk and New Weird America are pretty much interchangeable) thing, even before it had a name.

On this, his first proper solo record, he combines the creepy, creaking sound of a heavily customized banjo, bowed dulcimer, and assorted incidental noises with the poetry of Catholic metaphysical poet Richard Cranshaw, subtle political commentary, and his own devotionals into some of the most haunting music you're likely to hear.

Gin Palace - Kicking On
Now this is rock 'n' roll. This lean, mean, trio from the U.K. start with the primal rockabilly scream of The Cramps, make it big and hairy like Black Sabbath, and amp it up to Black Flag like levels of aggression. They should be huge.
Noise here.

The Lost Sounds - The Lost Sounds

They call what they do "black wave" (with a wink and a smirk) as in black metal + new wave = black wave. It's a fairly apt description. Take the dark, creepy vibe of black metal, strip it of most of its ridiculousness (no "vox of the dead" here), bring in some new wave synths, pille on the hooks, toss in a bilstering guitar solo or two, and and some lyrics that would make Philip K. Dick proud and you have a disc that kicks all kinds of ass.

- Dove
Bad Brains + High on Fire/Sleep + some of the best hardcore and heavy metal (is that redundant after mentioning Bad Brains and HoF?) + a touch of DLR-rea Van Halen (the guitar sound) + a touch of emo (the good stuff, like Planes Mistaken For Stars, not lame-o stuff like alexisonfire) = Dove.

Some discs from 2003 that I couldn't seem to pull out of my player:
Federation X - X-Patriot

Nina Nastasia - Run to Ruin

Growing - The Sky's Run Into The Sea

Favourite trend of 2004
The rise of MP3-blogging. If you're as obsessive about checking out new music as I am, then MP3 blogs most likely made your year. The deal: Some guy or girl discovers a band. It could be someone established, it could be someone new. They want to share, so they post an MP3 or two along with a brief (or extended) discussion of the artist and/or album. The writer gets to write, the band gets publicity, the surfer gets to check out a new band or get their hands on rarity from one of their fav. artists w/out the icky feeling that comes with downloading an entire album (although, there are links to "'dexes" or "indexes" where full albums are sometimes available.) Everybody wins.

Some of my favourites:
Something I Learned Today

Mystery and Misery

20 Jazz Funk Greats

An Idiot's Guide to Dreaming

Largehearted Boy

There are also a couple of aggregator sites that monitor a bunch of blogs and post the headlines:

Web Nymph Music


That should keep you all busy for a while. Up next: more noir.


Thursday, December 23, 2004

Nemonymous 4, a review.

Nemonymous 4

The concept is brilliant in its simplicity: An anthology/magazine (or “magazanthus” if you prefer) comprised of stories with no bylines. No big names, no names at all. Everyone on a level playing field. Every aspiring author's dream, right? “But it's not a level playing field,” one might say, “The editor knows who submitted the stories. In fact, the field could be quite crooked. How do we know that the he or she doesn't only publish stories written by his or her friends? Or worse, what if the editor only says that there was a submission process? What if all the stories are by the same author? And what if the editor is an author, who posing as editor only publishes his own stories? Huh? What do you have to say now smart guy?” Well, the stories are submitted anonymously as well. Names don't come into the picture until the author accepts a piece. “How does he contact the author?” Email. The authors are asked to submit anonymously via a free email service or via an aquaintance's account. Upon acceptance, the author can reveal himself or herself, or not. “Oh. I still see some problems.” Yeah, well nothing is perfect, now is it? “But what if I really enjoy a story. How will I find out the author's name?” The authors' identities are revealed in the issue following the one in which their story appeared and are posted to the Nemonymous website, message board , and email list. “That's all very web-centric and not simple at all.” Nothing is perfect, and when you get right down to it most things that appear to be “simple” are quite complex. “Yeah, but...” Look, I have a review to write, ok?

So there's your background. A labour of love for editor D.F. Lewis, Nemonymous 1 appeared in 2001 and featured sixteen stories by a mixture of known, unknown, and soon-to-be known writers (the curious can find the bylines here), Nemonymous 2 appeard in 2002, Nemonymous 3 in 2003, and the issue I have sitting on my desk, Nemonymous 4, was published earlier this year.

As an object, Nemonymous 4 is quite striking. The front and back covers are blank, literally. All that white space can be a little disconcerting, especially when taken with the smooth, almost slippery texture of the paper. It's as if you're holding a void. Which, is quite in keeping with the concept behind the anthology. The interior layout and design courtesy The Third Alternative Press are quite well done. The book looks good.

Of course, when it comes to literature, looks don't mean a thing, right? In this case the stories match the presentation. For those of you unfamiliar with the editor, Mr. Lewis writes fiction of the weird, horrorific, and surreal variety; as an editor, his tastes run along similar lines. Before I go any further, I should stress that there are no bad stories in this anthology. There are stories that aren't to my taste, but nothing that made me think, “Why the hell is this here?” With that in mind, the following stories make Nemonyous 4 worthy of your attention.

“Embrace” pissed me off at first. Mostly because nothing grates on my nerves like a story about a middle-aged professor who gets tangled up with one of his students. Invariably the authors of these stories are middle-aged professors who wish they could become tangled up with one of their students. Or even worse, they're middle-aged professors leeching ideas from their students. In this case the story revolves around a professor named Chris. Chirs is minding his own business, shagging one of his students, and preparing for an evaluation when he comes across a “Kid so frighteningly ugly that I didn't dare look at her, so I couldn't be sure just how ugly she was. She looked damaged, somehow. Inhuman.” After the initial encounter with the mystery girl, things get very bad for Chris. As I said above, the story irritated me on the first pass, so much so that I read it again just to be sure that it really had annoyed me that much. On the third pass I realized that while I still didn't particularly like any of the characters, or the setting, or the plot, it had made an impression.

“The Frog's Pool (a surreal script in three emergences and six resonances)” is a fable of sorts about a group of frogs in an Australian desert and what happens when worse comes to absolute worst. To go into more detail would spoil the story, so I'll just say that this is how experimental writing should be, but rarely is.

“Maledict Michela” is a fever dream about ugly people doing ugly things to each other told in language so salacious, slippery, and opulent that it almost makes one gag. (This is a good thing in my book.) It's the one story where I think I might be able to guess the author. (And really that's part of the fun of a project like this.)

“Nocturne For Doghands” is the most bizarre piece in the collection. It opens, “I just can't scream anymore. Wrung out, flat and gasping, a dreadful dissonance pulsing through my veins. Beside me on yellow-stained satin sheets, my hands gaze at me, panting.” The narrator, a pianist, has just woken up with dogs for hands. It's not giving too much away to say that his left hand has been replaced with a female daschund, his right with a male pug. Needless to say his day his day is off to a bad start. It gets worse.

“The Withering”, which closes out the collection, is set in a dystopian future, very much in the vein of Orwell's 1984. The nameless protagonist is charged with what amounts to thought-crime is sentenced to the titular punishment. I'm sure most readers will be able to guess the ending well in advance, but the author brings the final scenes to life in such a way that the hapless reader is pulled into the room with the protagonist, and you can't help but cringe. Or maybe it's just me.

Other stories of note include: "The Painter", a tale of artistic obsession; the noir-inflected "The Rorschach-Interpreter"; and the steamy, sticky "Sexy Beast."

There have been some rumblings that this may be the final volume in the Nemonymous saga (or at least, the last issue to follow the format laid out above,) I sincerely hope that this isn't the case as Nemonymous is a unique venture, very few paying markets would take a chance on a story like "Frog's Pool", just to name one, and it would be a shame to see such an outlet disappear.*

*And rumours of its demise may have been greatly exaggerated as guidelines for Nemonymous 5 have been issued.


Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Something a bit less lurid...

I hope the previous entry didn't throw too many people. To bring things back in a more writerly direction, here are some links that should be of interest:

Author Will Christoprher Baer (whose stuff I've not read but whose novels are on the gargantuan list of "books Neddal will check out when he gets the time and/or money") talks to about many things, including crazed fans and having his work compared to that of Philip K. Dick.

My friend Roy (who happens to be a fine writer himself) talks about the vagaries of rejection


The fine people at have put together a Thomas Ligotti quotation index, tentatively titled The Voice In The Bones


And finally, the ultra swank Fantastic Metropolis has an ultra swank new look. Great job Luis!


Getting the feel of the place/Photo Noir (Warning - links to material that is NOT SAFE FOR WORK)

Hello everyone. I'm Neddal, and I'm going to be your host for the next couple of weeks. Many thanks to Mr. VanderMeer for the invitation. Bear with me while I get oriented and adjust to the blogger interface.

Right then, let's get going:

There's that hoary cliché about a picture being worth a thousand words. You could hang a novel on the work of the following photographers.

Chas Ray Krider's site, Motel Fetish, features pictures of fetish models in motel rooms. If that was as far as he went, he'd just be another "erotic" photographer. Krider's work is much more ambiguous that your average "erotic" photographer. Some of the photos are staged to look like they could be crime scenes, some of them give you the impression that something nasty has or is about to happen, some of them look like the work of a voyeur. There's a sense of unease pervading his work that rivals that of the best film noir and strangely, despite everything I've written above, one doesn't get the impression that the women in his pictures are victims. His work has been collected into a book by noted art publisher Taschen.

For those whose curiosity has been piqued, click here some excerpts from an interview with Mr. Krider by Eric Kroll.

A couple of articles on Krider's work can be found here and here.

In a similar vein, a young photographer named Melanie Pullen has put together an exhibition of photography called High Fashion Crime Scenes. With (obviously) staged photos of suicides, drownings, kidnappings, crime scenes, and autopsies, all the models are immaculately dressed in Prada, Louis Vitton, and the like, it doesn't make for easy viewing, but it is compelling. Especially since some of the pics. display a savage sense of black humour - one titled "Dorothy" depicts a two feet, clad in bright red shoes poking out of a weathered barrel in the middle of a lush green field.



Monday, December 20, 2004


I've been thinking about the idea of having guest bloggers for the past couple of months, and the idea has finally come to fruition for two reasons. First, the time is right. In the next month I'll have much less time to blog than I have had in the past due to reading a lot of books and writing a lot of Secret Lives for my new book. Second, Neddal Ayad and Iain Rowan are always sending me interesting information about books and other topics. Both have an affinity for noir and general mystery fiction in addition to SF/Fantasy/Horror. I'm very interested in mysteries, so this allows me to read and learn from two individuals who know a lot more about it than I do. And both are extremely talented writers.

So, starting Wednesday or Thursday, Neddal Ayad will take over blogging duties here for a two-week stretch, followed by Iain Rowan. Although I certainly hope they will each have one or two posts about noir, there is no restriction on the subject matter they may cover.

Now for the formal introductions:

Neddal Ayad is a writer and musician who lives in Canada. He specializes in tracking down and interviewing elusive writers such as Thomas Ligotti and Jack O' Connell. His work has appeared on Fantastic Metropolis, Lost Pages, and Crime Culture.

Iain Rowan's fiction has appeared in magazines and anthologies including Postscripts, Black Gate, Ellery Queen's, Alfred Hitchcock's, The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases, and others. He's currently working on revisions to his first novel. Still. Iain lives in the north-east of England, near the sea but not near enough. Yet. Although he has his own blog, he's never blog-sat before and he just hopes that he can get all of the ugly stains out of the carpet before Jeff
gets back.

And last but not least--I hope everyone is having a very happy and safe holiday season. See you next year.



Man, I just got my copies of Scattered, Covered, Smothered in the mail, and it's gorgeous! Just a beautiful package. And in browsing through the pages, it looks like there's some wonderful content. Really, this is a neat little anthology that deserves a lot of attention.



I had the privilege of first reading this novel in manuscript form when Prime published it. It gives me a great deal of pleasure to see it now out in trade paperback from Bantam Spectra and featured prominently on chain bookstore tables all over the U.S. and Canada. Back then, I wrote "Bishop has written an accomplished and brave first novel that doesn't pull punches. The novel gets stranger--and more strangely beautiful--as it progresses, until the reader is completely trapped by it (in a blissful way)." I'm looking forward to re-reading it, and urge anyone who hasn't yet discovered it to go out and buy it. The packaging from Bantam is quite beautiful, as well.


Liz Williams lives in Brighton, England, and is the author of five novels, with more books coming out soon. (She's also one of the doctors contributing to this, and has participated in many of the associated medical conference readings.) Her latest two books are The Banquet of the Lords of Night (Night Shade Books)...

...and Banner of Souls (Bantam Spectra).

Banquet is Williams' first story collection and is overdue from a multiple Philip K. Dick Award finalist. Banquet fully showcases Williams' restless, eclectic nature in 18 tales that span a wide spectrum, from fantasy to SF to unclassifiable cross-genre work. Lush, romantic, witty, and dark, many of these tales first appeared in Asimov's SF Magazine, Realms of Fantasy, or Interzone. Highly recommended--and available direct from the Night Shade site.

Banner of Souls, meanwhile, is Williams' highly lauded new novel, out from Bantam Spectra, blurbed by such rising stars as K.J. Bishop and Charles Stross. Here's part of the Publishers Weekly review: "In the far future, when the only males are dangerous "men-remnants" hunted by Martian warriors, and women are not born but made, what counts as human is far different from what we would think today. On the planet Nightshade, a mysterious clan of humans has joined with aliens to become stranger still. The women of Earth and Mars mainly know of the sinister doings on Nightshade through the use of "haunt-tech"—powerful objects possessed by spirits of the dead. While Lunae, an Earth girl with special gifts, tries to manipulate time and save humanity from an unnamed threat, an experimental woman, Yskatarina Iye, is sent from Nightshade to destroy her and the warrior Dreams-of-War sets out from Mars to protect her. Within this universe there are a great many grand, creepy creations, such as weather-controlling Dragon Kings and the murderous scissor-women. Readers who aren't put off by the mind-bending oddness of Williams's universe will find themselves rapidly flipping the pages." But mind-bending oddness is a good thing!

As is, subjecting thyself to...the five questions...


Why should readers pick up your book as opposed to, say, just about anybody else's book?
Anybody else's books do not have a dancing pink elephant on the cover.

Does your book have any socially redeeming qualities? If so, what are they?
1. If you MUST be a stripper, remember to stop at your epidermis. 2. When staying in a Greek monastery, seducing mysterious young men is always a bad idea. 3. Even if you are a demon, listen to your sister. See? Highly moral tales.

Does your book have any medicinal or mental health value to readers?
God, I hope not.

Assume your book has been filed under "Ages 8 to 12" in the children's section, perhaps by mistake, perhaps not. How horrified do you imagine a child would be after reading your book, and why? How many years of therapy would the child take to recover from the experience?
This actually happened to me, via a temporal loop. I read my own future stories at the age of 9, and have been quite dreadfully scarred as a result.

If no one buys your book and you are unable to continue publishing your fiction due to the intense vilification that occurs in the media, what line of work will you go into?
A close friend and I plan to open an Emporium for the sale of laudanum in Murano glass bottles. Just in time for Christmas.


I don't usually use this blog to sell things, but Terry Rentzepis, who is doing the illustrations and cover for my Secret Lives collection, is making a special offer to friends and family--and friends of friends--on some of his prints. These are really cool paintings.

Terry says:

"Hello and happy holidays! I have worked out a deal with my printer, which is allowing me to offer a great savings on some of my prints! I am only going to offer this deal through January…So take advantage of it! The prints are 12X15 (my small sized prints) and are limited edition giclee’s on 100% Cotton rag archival water color paper! I am not putting this special on my site! This is extended only to friends and family and anyone they deem worthy! Order them through this e-mail: See the flyer for specifics and prints available!"

Saturday, December 18, 2004


Music is important to me. I rarely write without listening to music, and I'm very particular about what I listen to depending on what I'm writing. The music often opens up a space in which I can write, and the type of space created is very important.

My musical tastes span a vast spectrum--from pop to power pop, from rock to alternative. I.e., pretty narrow. But, within that narrow slice of the musical pie, here are my choices for the best releases of the year (really, the top 3 are interchangeable)...

(Note: Most of these descriptions came from my VanderWorld Report. To sign up for this monthly e-newsletter, go to my website and click on the link at the bottom left on the home page.)

Top Ten

#1 - THE FEATURES - Exhibit A

Until earlier this week, I thought Franz Ferdinand was going to be my top pick of the year, but then The Features came along, and they do everything FF does, but they add some additional sneer, flair, swagger, and range. A stunning, stunning high-energy CD, which, in 12 songs and just over 30 minutes, manages to invoke everyone from The Kinks to the Strokes to the Violent Femmes to XTC while being totally original. This one will be on my CD player for weeks and weeks.

#2 - FRANZ FERDINAND - Franz Ferdinand - What a great CD!!!! Go out and buy this immediately. It's like everything you ever loved about the Buzzcocks mixed with everything you ever loved about every intelligent post-punk band of the last 15 years. This stuff is amazing, and danceable, too.

#3 - ROBBERS IN THE HIGH STREET - Fine Lines - Sounds almost like the band Spoon, down to the lead singer's voice (sometimes). Very strange, in that sense, but just gorgeous stuff. Sounds like a lost Spoon CD--brilliant. Also a little like White Stripes and The Strokes, if those two bands didn't suck. I can't say it's derivative because it's too good. I'm still listening to this six-song CD months and months after I first got it. If this had been a full CD of music, it might have been #1.

#4 - NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS, Abattoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus double CD - This is one of Cave's best efforts. The lyrics are wonderful, the contrast between the choir-backed "Abattoir Blues" CD and the quieter "Lyre of Orpheus" CD creates a nice balance, and the music is Cave's best in awhile. After a few listens to their last CD, Nocturama, which seemed like it was just marking time, I wound up selling it back in to our local CD store. This one, by contrast, is a classic. If I don't have it rated higher, it may be that I'd taking Cave for granted, just a bit.

#5 - DIVISION OF LAURA LEE - Das Not Compute / Black City (an earlier release) - These two CDs have an aura of menace like the best Radiohead songs, with a heavier sound to them - a rock band with a definite ethereal side, but with that side subservient to the guitars. A nice guitar hero sneer and snarl to the lead singer's delivery, too. Basically, if Radiohead had gone punk instead of experimental, they would have sounded like Division of Laura Lee.

#6 - GREEN DAY - American Idiot - I don't think this is quite the masterpiece some have claimed it is, but it's damn close. Green Day has made an excellent concept CD that's also very good musically, marred by just a couple of filler songs. The best songs on this CD are among the very best of the year.

#7 - TOM WAITS - Real Gone - After a few CDs that either tread water or were so out there that they became an acquired taste, Waits has come up with a companion piece to his brilliant Bone Machine

#8 - THE DRESDEN DOLLS - The Dresden Dolls - This CD has piano--sometimes wild piano cutting across the lovely lyrical talents of Amanda Palmer, with drums as accompaniment. It's a bit like some kind of Tom Waits carnival music with a bit of Ben Folds Five thrown in and a definite music hall atmosphere, and a kind of Violent Femmes vibe in some of the vocals. Very hard to describe, but refreshing. This one sounds better on the stereo than on the headphones.

- WILCO, A Ghost Is Born. I finally got around to listening to this one, and I like it a lot better than Yankee Foxtrot Hotel. To me, Yankee Foxtrot Hotel was like Radiohead's Kid A, only the country version: so experimental or minimalistic that it disappeared up its own arse half the time. (I realize this is probably not a popular opinion.) A Ghost Is Born pulls back from that just a bit, which may also be an unpopular opinion, since several reviewers think Ghost goes much farther than Foxtrot--too far, in fact. But I love it. It has a kind of faded and beautiful quality to it.

#10 - THE KILLERS - Hot Fuss. A big hot fuss has been made of the fact that The Killers sound a bit like a modern version of Duran Duran, as if this were a negative thing. Pop music becomes new by recycling itself through slightly different environmental factors, and that's the case with The Killers. Lovely, forceful glam-Duran Duran rock-pop. With the real Duran Duran (always one of my favorite bands) on life-support, it's nice to have the tradition carried forward.

Also Noteworthy

DOGS DIE IN HOT CARS, Please Describe Yourself. Lovely, carefully constructed pop-rock songs with an XTC flair. A little bit of ska influence and some clever guitar work, too.

ELECTRELANE - The Power Out - I don't even know how to describe this alternatively loud/quiet band that a friend calls "naive rock," in a positive way. All I know is that the harmonies on some of the songs are exquisite and that it creeps in under your skin without you realizing it. I fully expected to sell this back into our CD store, but after three or four listens, I was hooked.

THE HIVES - Tyrannosaurus Hives - Another superlative release from The Hives, providing a punk/post-punk clinic on song styles and pulse-pounding fun. This one could easily have made my top a different mood, on a different day.

RASPUTINA - (frustration plantation) - What to call this? Goth? Southern Gothic? Insane mix of rock and electronic/experimental? Whatever it is, I love it. They've created some kind of Gothic sub-category that's entirely their own. I plan on checking out their earlier CDs as well.

SECRET MACHINES - Now Here Is Nowhere - Someone at our local CD store calls Secret Machines "a poor man's Can," but I like them a little bit more than that, even if they do sound a bit too mechanical sometimes. There's a bit of Pink Floyd in them, and the songs grow on you. Nice, big sound.

THE THRILLS, Let's Bottle Bohemia - The second CD from The Thrills is a vast improvement over their first, which I wound up selling back to our local used CD store. There's a more empathetic quality to the music this time. It's still somewhat laid back, but in a nice Wilco kind of way. Despite many reviewers calling this CD disappointing compared to the first, I think that over time, this CD will grow in stature.

TUESDAY - War All the Time - An aggressive emo band that has for me the same qualities as Nirvana, although in a totally different context. But you definitely can discern melodies and it feels like music that, unplugged, would be just as beautiful in that context as it is deadly plugged in. A lovely slow piece, "This Song Brought to You by a Falling Bomb," breaks up the aural assault. Songs like "Division Street" are future classics. This one would have been top 3, if not for the fact it was released in 2003.

Reissues of the Year--Personal Favorites

THE DREAM SYNDICATE - The Complete Live at Raji's / Ghost Stories + 8 - I still remember the chill that went up my spine when I first heard, rescued from a bargain bin, The Dream Syndicate's second album, Medicine Show. Those guitars! That literal slow burn on "Burn" and "Merritville." Stunning work. Live at Raji's and Ghost Stories have always been close second favorites for me to Medicine Show, and now Ryko has re-released both with extra tracks. Highly recommended.

THE VIRGIN PRUNES, The Moon Looked Down and Laughed (reissue) - I remember buying the cassette of this release for 99 cents in a discard bin at Record Bar years and years ago. I wasn't expecting much, and was thrilled to discover what I can only describe as neo-electronic tribal Gothic Art Wave New Wave era music, with a front man who sounds like a brother to Johnny Rotten. It's insane and highly listenable, and it's now available along with all of the Virgin Prunes' work on reissues from Mute US. I like them a lot better than the broody, moody Bauhaus, who I can admire but who aren't particularly easy on the ears much of the time. The Prunes' If I Die, I Die is also highly recommended.

Guilty Pleasures:

IN FLAMES - Soundtrack to Your Escape - This Danish prog metal (as my friend Dan Read correctly identifies them) is metal with a dash of the electronic and some melodic bits that you might not expect--added to a dense wall of sound. I love this CD, and it's great to listen to in the car.

RHAPSODY - I don't think it even matters which CD you pick up. Imagine if Dungeons & Dragons fanatics had formed a band and then proceeded to do rock-metal with keyboards and extremely pompous lyrics, but delivered with such seriousness that they actually begin to seem to have a bit of gravitas. My crazy stepdaughter Erin--crazy in terms of her eclectic musical tastes--introduced me to these insane purveyors of sugar-coated heroic metal-stuff. Their website is a hoot, too.

Coolest Discovery (courtesy of my stepdaughter, Erin):

PLEASURE FOREVER - Decadent rock-alt pseudo-goth band with two CDs of their peculiar blend of early Rolling Stones bravado and absinthe-drenched Baudelaire-as-rock-star joyful angst.

Most Disappointing Release:

ROBYN HITCHCOCK - Spooked - No one has been a bigger supporter or fan of Robyn Hitchcock than me. I've incorporated paraphrases of his lyrics into stories, written a story based on one of his songs, and purchased all of his limited CD releases and tribute books/CDs about him. I love this guy. But for the last few years, except for his reunion with The Soft Boys, Hitchcock has forgotten how to write a decent pop song. I don't mind the folk songs, but does he have to feed us such an unrelenting diet of them??!?! So what does he do to follow up on the piss-poor Luxor CD? He teams up with some guest musicians...and produces yet another undistinguished folk CD. Listening to Hitchcock these days is like grinding a rock against another rock for hours: the sound is pretty consistently the same, except possibly to a geologist.

Most Overrated Releases:

MODEST MOUSE - Good News For People Who Love Bad News - Ripping off Nick Cave on the second part of this CD and engaging in herky-jerky crappo emo-alt-pop in the first half, Modest Mouse has my vote for most overrated band of 2004. Just 'cause all the young dudes are humming this stuff on the way to work and in their little tuna fish can cubicles doesn't mean it's good.

U2 - How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb - Well, you don't dismantle a bomb by recording one, that's for sure. Or by writing a bunch of middle-of-the-road boring songs, that's for sure. This CD is being called a return to form by rock's elder statesmen. It's nothing of the kind. I can't remember being more bored by a release in recent memory. Anyone remember The Joshua Tree? That was a great CD.

Friday, December 17, 2004


I must admit to defeat, and to now having more modest goals for this blog. Way back in long-lost August or September (could it have been July?) I decided to blog, in detail--agonizing detail; agonized detail--about the best or most interesting books of the year in genre. It all started out promisingly, with posts about Elizabeth Hand's novel Mortal Love, as well as individual stories in The Circus in Winter by Cathy Day, the anthology Flights, edited by Al Sarrantonio, and Novelties & Souvenirs by John Crowley. I got some pleasure out of all of them (well, not a lot of out Flights, as far as I got, at least, especially when I skipped ahead and saw that Mr. Sarrantonio had not only included one of his stories--this has become an addiction of his in anthologies he's edited--but gone beyond poor taste into the absurd by having Joe Lansdale introduce his story, thus, I suppose, hoping the reader would be confused enough to think Joe Lansdale had edited the anthology; it's not anything approaching a horrible offense, but it is silly)...Anyway, as I say, I got pleasure out of all of them--most notably the Crowley--but it soon became clear that not only would I not be able to read and blog in agonizing detail about everything I read of import in 2004, I wouldn't even be able to finish doing so about the books I'd started blogging about.

So, apology. I can't keep my promise. If I quit my day job and stopped writing fiction, it might be possible. But although I'm sure these blog entries are more important than both my continued employment and my continued ability to create claustrophobic secondary worlds peopled with insane sub-humans, something tells me it would be too drastic a course to pursue...

However, I am doing a year's best article/essay that will appear online somewhere, and in it I will mention, in less arduous detail, many of the books I have read since last blogging about books.

For the record, my "pile" at the moment consists of the following (in no particular order; or, rather, the particular order in which they lie sprawled across my office floor), along with annotations where I've read bits already:

Stephanie Swainston's The Year of Our War (85 pages in--so far, an ambitious but flawed first novel from a good stylist whose next novel will naturally be more interesting)

Adam Robert's Swiftly (Am a fan of "Jupiter Magnified" included in this collection, originally published by PS Publishing)

Lucius Shepard's The Handbook of American Prayer

Lucius Shepard's Trujillo & Other Stories (excellent so far, but also overwhelming and perhaps more monotone, in this particular combination, than is wise)

Elisabeth Vonarburg's Dreams of the Sea

Al Sarrantonio's Flights (1/3 of the way in; see prior entries for thoughts)

Ian MacDonald's River of Gods (haven't started it yet, but this guy's been so good for so long--why the hell is he so taken-for-granted?!)

David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas (50 pages in and just not thrilled with the particular story threads I've been reading so far; good writing, though)

Jon Courtenay Grimwood's Stamping Butterflies. (read it, although swiftly, to blurb it for Grimwood; now looking forward to a more leisurely read; very impressed with it first time around)

Justina Robson's Natural History (can't remember if this is 2003 or 2004, but I need to read the damn thing, so add it to the pile)

Kage Baker's Mother Aegypt (hmmm. oddly, there's a blurb from me on the cover. don't remember giving it. i guess i'd better read it to see if my general comment applies to this book...)

Cathy Day's The Circus in Winter (half-way through and really enjoying it)

Philip Roth's The Plot Against America (haven't read it yet, but if I hear one more genre gripe about "he doesn't know anything about our long and proud history of writing alternate history novels," I'm going to puke)

John Crowley's Novelties & Souvenirs. (almost finished and enjoying it quite a bit)

Gene Wolfe's The Knight and the Wizard (75 pages in and enjoying it, but thus far, John Clute's hedging-of-bets in the latest NYR of SF, it feels like something a dozen other writers could have written; thus, Wolfe Lite. Still, it's early days...)

Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. (Despite a few reservations about the middle of the book, I found this one very entertaining and droll.)

Lucius Shepard's (again!) Viator. (currently waiting for this to arrive)

China Mieville's The Iron Council. (I've read one page. I liked the one page. I will dive again soon.)

Eileen Gunn's Stable Strategies. (Beautiful packaging, endless introductory and afterword materials, pushing down on the stories themselves with an awful weight. Is the book as Classic as the over-the-top quotes claim? No. But it's definitely good. This is the first time in recorded history, for me, that the book's PR literally threatened to crush content by over-emphasis and repetition. I didn't think it was possible...But this is why I've put off reading it, so as to encounter it fresh, soon mentally prepared to ignore all of the stuff surrounding the stories and just enjoy them on their own terms. From just a quick dip, I expect to enjoy them immensely.)

Nalo Hopkinson's Salt Roads (haven't read it)

Liz Williams' The Banquet of the Lords of Night (read parts of it, and enjoyed what I've read)

Robert Wexler's The Circus of the Grand Design (read and enjoyed it quite a bit; still not sure about the languid pace of the middle of the novel, but had to read it quite quickly, so...)

Iain M. Banks' The Math Eater (his latest space opera; at least, I'm guessing the title of the forthcoming US edition will be something other than the Algeibraist, since not only can't I spell it, but I and Americans in general will be frightened by anything that suggests as high an order of math as Algebra; from the UK reviews, I can't tell if this is a typical cool Culture novel or a steaming pile of donkey crud, but we will find out...)

So...what am I missing? Quite a lot, I'm sure. But, hopefully, I'll have hit most of the highpoints by the time I have to write that article...

What sympathy I have for any poor bastard who tries to take the length and breadth of the short fiction published in the field over the past year...




There are all kinds of overlooked books. Books reviewed but misunderstood. Books that hit the marketplace and readers at just the wrong time and are ignored. Books that are poorly publicized and sink without a trace, only to re-emerge years or decades later as part of a shadow cabinet of essential titles. Books so strange and encrusted with the lesions and scars of their creators' imaginations that we must wait a hundred years for our culture and our mores to curve and entwine in such a way as to permit complete epiphany. (Granted, these last are rare and may look to us today like utter rubbish. Certainly, Mr. Kenji Siratori hopes this is so--and in a few years time, who knows? I may join him in this wish as well!)

The Right Honorable Matthew Cheney addressed the issue of the most neglected book of the year on his blog recently, but since it's The Labyrinth, a book I wrote an introduction for and posted about, as well as interviewed the author about, it's hardly been neglected by me!

However, two books this year do appear to have received less attention than they perhaps deserve. (Aside: Getting a review in the widely circulated Publishers Weekly has a lot to do with sales, but not as much to do with creating PR buzz. For example, to address the "But-but..." rising on your lips this very moment.)

I've read neither of them (you may understandably look askance at this confession; please, bear with me), but they look enticing and I hope to get to them soon.

By saying they deserve more attention despite not having read them, I mean that the first story collection, Swiftly, from a notable UK author, Adam Roberts, with five novels under his belt (one an Arthur C. Clarke Award finalist) should certainly warrant a few more reviews than I've been seeing...

...And when one of the acknowledged masters of Canadian SF/Fantasy, Elisabeth Vonarburg, has a book widely considered one of her best, Dreams of the Sea, translated into English, then I would think that also warranted some respect, and more reviews than I've been seeing.

Both books operate under some external constraints. Swiftly is from indie publisher Night Shade Books, which has been putting out a plethora of short story collections and novels recently, with the result, I think, that they've been unable to give it all an equal push (which does, granted, require being able to find something in the story behind the book or the author with which to apply leverage). In the case of indie publisher Tesseract Books, which put out Dreams of the Sea, the problem is different: Their PR efforts in general tend to be subpar and unimaginative, which only compounds the problem of promoting translated fiction. (Not to mention the eccentric refusal of at least one of her relatively widely published book reviewin' C.ountrymenL. to review translated fiction.)

But none of this has anything to do with the possible quality of the books, and Swiftly and Dreams from the Sea both exist pristine and perfect on my bookshelf--their titles an unintended ironic juxtaposition, promising entirely opposite pleasures--waiting for me to barge in at some point and destroy their potential with my fumbling thumbs and readerly prejudices. Nevertheless, I will get to them soon, if only because they do seem unduly neglected...


Not only is this the ultimate cat photo, but for some reason it seems a rather sublime summation of the holidays. Maybe that's just the cat lover in me speaking, but note the contented look on the woman's face and the rather enigmatic/Mona Lisa look on the cat's face.

Happy holidays.

Thursday, December 16, 2004


An interview I did with Alan M. Clark is now up on the SF Site. Alan is an incredibly talented artist whose work naturally falls into the surreal/dark fantasy category.

Here's a short excerpt from the SF Site interview.

I've known you for well over a decade now, and so I know that you have an extraordinary and rather sneaky sense of humor. Do you think this quality expresses itself in your paintings? If so, how specifically?
Well it wouldn't be sneaky if I told you all about it. I will say that I believe in having a sense of humor in nearly all things and I try to put a dose of it in much of my work. It could be something as subtle as the techniques I use to flesh out a painting or it could be more in your face, like the doctors playing in the open chest cavity of the surgical patient in my painting, "Blasted Femurs, a Sack o' Religion." Since much of my work is in the horror genre, I try to always approach the work with tongue in cheek. As far as I'm concerned, the more gruesome, grotesque or violent an image is, the more it needs the humor as a release for the audience. To be effective, horror and humor both need to do the same thing: catch you off guard. Good humor in horror can create a wonderful tension.

What excites you in the art world now, whether a movement, a particular artist, or...?
Any artist not afraid to allow the medium and process of their work to show. Compositions that are the product of creative risk-taking. Arresting, evocative, compelling themes and subject matter. Artists I like a lot: Rick Berry, Jill Bauman, Charles Vess, Jason Van Hollander, Darrel Anderson, Dave McKean, Joel Peter Witkin, Phil Hale. Truth is that picking a favorite is like picking between apples and oranges. I like them both. Some artists I don't like their artwork so much as I like what it says or says about them.

Alan has just released a retrospective called The Paint in My Blood. It's a fascinating portrait of the artist and a fascinating tour through the many styles and approaches to painting that Alan has covered over the past 15 to 20 years. The text is informative and honest. The paintings are wildly inventive, with a dark sense of humor at times. This book makes a great present for anyone with a vivid sense of imagination. I highly recommend you buy a copy.



A lot of people have been asking me about the images in the blog entry below--who did them, how, etc? I don't want to go into how, but I do definitely want to go into who. The "who" in this case is Jonathan Edwards, an outstanding photographer/artist and graphic designer, who has an excellent site that everyone should check out. Jonathan is a co-worker of mine and did the wonderful cover design for Leviathan 4 (the back cover of which is just as cool as the front cover) and was kind enough to try out some of the ideas I had for Shriek images, including the mushroom-strewn typewriter, which turned out great. I also think the page helps people visualize exactly how Duncan's comments appeared on Janice's text.

Jonathan will be an integral part of The Zamilon File, my next book. Zamilon will be set up exactly as if you had been handed all of the hardcopy confidential reports, papers, photographs, etc., on a particular security-sensitive issue--secret police type stuff.

As for publication dates--another question I've been asked--it appears the Tor US edition will be out sometime around May-June 2006. I'm not sure about the Pan Macmillan edition.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004


Shriek: An Afterword is narrated by Janice Shriek and typed by her on an old manual typewriter. Here's a sample page, with additional comments by her brother, Duncan:

And a look at her typewriter:

And an excerpt from and description of the novel...

By the wet, glistening outdoor lamps, I could see the beginning of a vast, almost invisible migration—from the broken remains at our feet, from the burgundy bell-shaped fungi, from the inverted wine glasses, from the yellow-green nodules. Like ghosts, like spirits, a million tiny fruiting bodies, in a thousand intricate shapes, like terrestrial jellyfish—oh, what am I trying to say so badly except that they were beautiful, gorgeous, as they fled out the window, to be taken by the wind. In the faint light. Soundlessly. Like souls…In that moment, almost in tears from the combination of exhaustion and fear of the unknown, I think I caught a glimpse of what my brother Duncan saw; of what had created the ecstasy I had seen in him.
- From Shriek: An Afterword

Epic yet personal, Shriek: An Afterword is a tragi-comic family account covering several decades in the author's imaginary Ambergris, a city previously chronicled in the award-winning City of Saints & Madmen (Pan Macmillan). Narrated with flamboyant intensity by ex-society figure Janice Shriek under increasingly urgent conditions, the novel presents a vivid gallery of characters and events, including a historian obsessed with a doomed love affair and a secret that may kill or transform him; a war between rival publishing houses that threatens to change Ambergris forever; and a marginalized people known as "gray caps," armed with advanced fungal technologies, waiting underground for their chance to mold the true future of the city. This is the story of the Family Shriek, a novel of love, life, and death.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004



Effective January 1, 2005, the Ministry of Whimsy’s association with Night Shade Books will end and the press will go on hiatus for the foreseeable future. Ministry of Whimsy and Night Shade reached an amicable parting of the ways.

Founder Jeff VanderMeer cited an inability to continue to juggle a day job, writing, publishing, and editing.

“Since the flavor of the Ministry has always been based, for better or worse, on my individual vision,” VanderMeer said, “it doesn’t make sense to continue at this time. Another factor, to my mind, is the recent proliferation of publishers doing a great job of publishing work in the same or similar vein to the Ministry. Great presses like Prime, Wheatland Press, Small Beer Press, Golden Gryphon, and, of course, Night Shade, among others, have all published a number of books I would have loved to have published through the Ministry. When we started, there weren’t as many outlets for idiosyncratic fantastical fiction.”

Among the Ministry's many successes were the Philip K. Dick Award winning The Troika by Stepan Chapman and the World Fantasy Award winning Leviathan 3.

VanderMeer will now focus his attention primarily on his own writing and on individual editing projects.

One of those editing projects will be Leviathan 5, slated for release in 2006 or 2007. VanderMeer will edit Leviathan 5 with his wife, Ann. Forrest Aguirre, editor of Leviathan 4, has left Leviathan to edit and promote his own anthology series through Raw Dog Screaming Press, as well as a stand-alone anthology through Wheatland Press.

“Forrest did a great job with Leviathan 4 and these new projects of his will allow him to further develop his own unique editorial identity,” VanderMeer said. “As for the decision to co-edit with my wife, she always did at least a third of the work on any anthology I edited anyway; the only reason she hasn’t been a co-editor before is that she was running her own publishing company.” Leviathan 5 will have a theme revolving around dark humor.

Jason Williams, founder of Night Shade, said, “Jeff was a great help to us and we both learned a lot from each other. This decision is best for Jeff and for Night Shade as we expand our own roster of books, many of which are in a Ministry vein anyway. We look forward to publishing Jeff’s fiction in the future.”

VanderMeer recently sold novels to Bantam Books, Pan Macmillan, and Tor Books.

Monday, December 13, 2004


I got this list of questions from Jonathan Strahan’s blog, and he got it from Tim Pratt, who may have nicked it from somewhere. So, just because it’s important to carry these Internet memes forward…

1. What did you do in 2004 that you'd never done before?
I went to WorldCon, sold a book (four books, actually!!) to major US publishers, and went biking on off-road nature trails on a mountain bike. (Leading, incidentally to a new first: the pinkie and ring fingers of my left hand are now permanently semi-numb after one thirty-mile bike-hike.) I also did squats for the first time, resulting in more muscle soreness than I have ever before experienced in my life.

2. Did you keep your New Years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
Yes. I took more weight off and added more muscle mass. I also finished my novel. For next year, my New Year’s resolution is to get rid of the last bit of paunch and to finish my new novel, Zamilon File.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
No, but define close. A few people at my office and Ann’s office had babies.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

5. What countries did you visit?

6. What would you like to have in 2005 that you lacked in 2004?
More free time to just read and clean the house.

7. What dates from 2004 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
The day in July when I finished my novel looms large. The day when I sold it, as well. I had been working on it for so long I never thought I’d finish it, and then I wasn’t sure I’d sell it.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Finishing my novel and then, with my agent’s help, finding publishers for it.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Cleaning the house and organizing my office.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
I fucked up my back at one point from weightlifting and learned a valuable lesson about proper form.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Probably the mountain bike. But getting barbells for the house is a close second.As is finding a cool brown designer jacket in England at a second-hand shop for an incredibly low price.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
My wife Ann’s efforts in canvassing, calling people, and helping out during election day made me very proud.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
The 40-plus idiots who emailed me to quote scripture at me when I wrote a letter to the editor (local newspaper) decrying Bush’s extremist religious social and political positions.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Books, CDs, exercise equipment, the post office, vacations, and Gil’s Tavern (Tallahassee)

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Finishing my novel. Ending every night with the salve of the Daily Show.

16. What song will always remind you of 2004?”Hiding All Away” by Nick Cave, Abattoir Blues, for the ending chorus of “There is a War Coming.”

17. Compared to this time last year, you are:
Happier, in better shape, better off financially, but more depressed about politics.

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
Exercise. Spend time with family.

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
Drinking chai. Eating bagels. Hanging out on messageboards.

20. How will you be spending Christmas?
As quietly as possible—watching football, goofing around with Ann, and reorganizing my office and computer files.

22. Did you fall in love in 2004?
Every year--sometimes once or twice a day--Ann does something that makes me fall in love with her all over again.

23. How many one-night stands?

24. What was your favorite TV program?
The Daily Show. It kept us sane.

25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
John McCain and Colin Powell.

26. What was the best book you read?
One Day the Ice Will Reveal All of Its Dead by Clare Dudman. Every other book I’ve read this year has been in some way flawed.

27. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Pleasure Forever (thanks to my stepdaughter, Erin)

28. What did you want and get?

29. What did you want and not get?
A free and fair election with Kerry winning.

30. What was your favorite film of this year?
The Eternal Sunlight of the Spotless Mind. I also really enjoyed The Incredibles.

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
Ann took me up to Jacksonville for a pilgrimmage to Chamblin’s Book Mine, the best used bookstore east of the Mississippi. We spent the evening before watching the river flow by while drinking Jack-and-diet-Cokes in a cool little lounge and shooting the breeze. And then a whole day of rummaging around Chamblin’s. It was great. I turned 36.

32.What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
If all of Ann’s efforts regarding the elections had paid off, and if the stress at her day job had been less.

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2004?
Heavily influenced by the show What Not to Wear, and very much revolving around the idea of vertical stripes and comfortable fabrics.

34. What kept you sane?
Ann’s hugs and offbeat sense of humor, and the Daily Show.

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

36. What political issue stirred you the most?
The US presidential election

37. Who did you miss?
All the people who didn’t come to WorldCon but did go to World Fantasy, which I skipped this year, including Stepan and Kia Chapman, Robert Wexler, Eric and Paulette Schaller, Howard Morhaim, and too many others to name.

38. Who was the best new person you met?
Artist Terry Rentzepis and his wife Sheri are right up there. Most of the people I met were old friends. I did enjoy getting to know people better--like WorldCon attendees Jonathan Strahan, Chris Roberson, Lou Anders, John Picacio, Juliet Ulman, Justina Robson, Cheryl Morgan, Matt Cheney, and others.

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2004:
If you hold the line long enough and stubbornly enough, if your cause is just, you will prevail.

Saturday, December 11, 2004


I first moved up to Tallahassee to be with my now-wife Ann in October of 1992. At the time, Ann's daughter was seven years old and as accepting of the situation as she could be, most tension assuage by the fact she still saw her father on a regular basis. But I was still anxious to show her that life as she knew it wasn't going to change too drastically, and that it might even be fun. Hannukah was coming up, so I suggested we go shopping for Ann at the local mall. Erin agreed and we set off for the mall in high spirits. Erin, in those days, was a mischievous little sprite of a girl with dark eyebrows and a glint in her eye that was either piratical or good natured depending on her mood. She would say things like, "I want to be a taxi driver, but if that doesn't work out I'll be a doctor or lawyer. And if that doesn't work out I'll just be a plain old beauty queen and live at home with my mom." Once, she said she'd like to be a "scientist of crayons." For awhile, she used to say twenty minutes was "churney midgets." She was the cutest little kid I'd ever met, but also tough as all get out. I enjoyed telling her impossible things as fact and getting that little indignant half-smile out of her and the folded arms, which told me she was entertained but she wasn't buying any of it.

I should perhaps mention now that at the time I didn't know anything about Hannukah. I had not come across any traces of Hannukah learnin' in any books I'd read or through any people I'd met. But, being an agnostic, I had no organized faith for Judaism to come into conflict with, and I was eager to learn everything I could. So I was in perhaps an overly receptive state of mind as we entered the mall.

As we shopped for Ann, we eventually encountered the inevitable Santa Claus display, complete with the man in the fake beard ho-ho-ho-ing for the kids. Erin looked at the Santa without comment, but a little later, when we passed a display showing a huge white animatronic bear holding a red wrapped present, she said, "Oh--look. It's the Hannukah Bear!"

A certain madness seized me. Here was an opportunity to learn something about Jewish culture.

"The Hannukah Bear?" I said. "What's the Hannukah Bear?"

"You know," she said, "the Hannukah Bear. It's the bear that helps light the menorah. It helps with the cooking, too, sometimes."

"Really?" I said. "I didn't know that."

Erin frowned. "You don't know about the Hannukah Bear. Everybody knows the Hannukah Bear."

"Okay," I said, "What else can you tell me about the Hannukah Bear?"

The glint in Erin's eye intensified and as we walked toward a Walden's Bookstore, she told me all about the Hannukah Bear. A lot of what she said is lost in the farthest reaches of my sieve-like memory, but I remember that she went into a complex explanation of the Hannukah Bear's relationship to Hannukah, what it symbolized, where the reference had come from, and a lot of other stuff. Wonderful was the Hannukah Bear! Excellent in all of its intentions and abilities! Why, it even appeared in the night sky sometimes as points of light! It was a beautiful and brilliant concentrated flow of bullshit, of smart assery, that fooled me utterly. I don't think before or since I've heard anyone feed me such a wonderful line of sustained, extemporaneous crap. And I bought it. I bought into it completely.

By the time we got home, I was stuffed full of facts about the Hannukah Bear, and feeling very pleased with myself. I had learned something about Hannukah. It was knowledge I could use when meeting Ann's synagogue members for the first time. I could even show Ann that I was trying hard to learn about her religion and culture!

Alas, of course, there were instead looks of puzzlement, even concern. Silly, silly goyem...When I realized how completely I'd been fooled, I laughed my ass off. Since I'd arrived in Tallahassee, I'd been fabricating little stories for Erin off and on. She'd just returned the favor, in spades...with a shovel, so I could dig my own grave. It was, as I say, one of the most amazing extemporaneous displays of applied imagination that I've ever been privileged to witness.

From then on, it was no-holds barred. Whether it was the pet iguana Erin and I pretended lurked around the house when her timid friends came over to play or the extended "incident" at Chucky Cheese involving the giant rat mascot and an ill-timed kick, we had a series of adventures based almost entirely on riffing off of each other's imaginations.

Eventually, she became too old to have fun with parental units and those times faded into memory. But the Hannukah Bear story is still a staple of family lore and legend--the event that started it all.

Friday, December 10, 2004


From time to time beginning writers ask me what books I recommend. Here are a few suggestions. I tend to think most writing books are full of crap--a lot of posturing or just plain old bad advice. But the following books have been helpful to me at various times in my career. Some of them, like David Madden's Revising Fiction, I go back to again and again.

Creating Short Fiction by Damon Knight is a classic text for beginning writers. It's useful because it actually shows you diagrams of certain story paradigms. A lot of beginning writers have difficulty with form, with creating a mental picture of a story as an organic structure. Knight's approach allows a writer to understand the basic structures as the skeleton off of which the other elements of a story hang (organs, blood, flesh, skin, etc.). This question of form and structure is one that the writer needs to feel intrinsically, and not divorced from content/characters/style, but in the beginning it can be useful to think of form and structure separate from other story elements. It can also result in cookie cutter fiction, as the student begins, out of laziness or a misunderstanding of fiction, to use these diagrammed story structures as the basis, the reason, for the fiction.
(Possibly Nonsensical Rambling Adjacent Thoughts Appended to Questionable Metaphor: At base, a swallow is a structure that cuts through the sky, but we don't see a structure when we look at a swallow, unless we're some cyborg Terminator with enhanced vision. Instead, we see a bird darting through the sky. Writers need to see their stories in that organic way, rather than as piecemeal parts, or the bird falls out of the sky, skeleton divorced from feathers divorced from flesh. In other words, you or I can take a bird's skeleton and append to it feathers and flesh, but when we throw it up into the sky, it'll just plummet and fall apart. It takes a holistic magician to make a swallow, or a story.)

The Passionate, Accurate Story by Carol Bly is a discussion of the imagination and its intersection with fiction (it’s not at all as new-agey as it sounds—very practical and useful). There’s some fascinating stuff in the Bly book about the imagination and lack thereof, and how it’s difficult for a writer to overcome a stunted imagination, and how that tends to happen—things like, you’re a kid, you come home from playing outside, your parents ask you about the new family that just moved in next door, and you say "It’s a family of bears"—and you go off on a riff about that. If your parents go with it and encourage that kind of creativity, you learn that a sense of play in creativity is a good thing, and it’s nurtured in you. Whereas parents that say, “Be sensible—tell us the truth” wind up making their kids suppress their natural creativity. She also discusses the idea of social and political issues being important to include in fiction because they are part of our daily lives. She discusses this not with the intention of making fiction didactic, but to make the case that these elements should be intrinsically and in subtle ways woven into fiction because to exclude them is to be false to the reality of our world, and thus false in our fiction.
(Parenthetical Recommendation: Carol Bly writes amazing short stories. Seek out her story collections. She does wonderful things with shifting points of view. She does wonderful things with characterization.)

Revising Fiction by David Madden is wonderful because it shows early and later drafts by famous writers trying to solve specific problems in their fiction. It also divides these possible problems encountered by fiction writers into sophisticated and plausible categories. This is a sometimes complex book. It can seem daunting to a beginning writer. This is a good thing. When I was a kid, I would sometimes have the at-sea sensation of reading a book and finding it to be written in a strange language that I only half understood. Lord of the Rings was one of those books. I read it when I was too young to completely understand it. Each time I re-read it, it became a different book, as a result, as each time my understanding of it improved and changed. Revising Fiction is a little bit like that. The first time you read it, you may only get something out of 20 or 30 percent of the book. The next time, you will get more out of it. Then, when you go back even later, you will find yourself understanding almost all of it, but in a different way than you understood it before. Revising Fiction, then, becomes a good barometer of your progress as a writer, in terms of absorbing technique. My point being, it is good to read above your current level of ability when it comes to books on writing. And it is okay to be unable to internalize everything you read about the art of writing. Some of it will stick on a subconscious level regardless.
(Minor Aside: Jerome Stern has a similar book about the creation of fiction, but his categories are simplistic and divorced from the reality of how writers write. Which is to say in his book, a chapter on the lungs of a story is followed by a chapter on the toes of a story. It's a jumble of story parts and comments therein. Counter-intuitive. Much better to be mystified by what you read than to be disengaged from the reality of writing when you read.)

The Art of Fiction by John Gardner is indispensable simply because of Gardner's practical advice to beginning writers--avoiding common pitfalls, whether on a sentence level or the story level. He speaks with uncommon wisdom and clarity from experience.
(An Ancillary Recommendation: Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway is a good overall, meat-and-potatoes/nuts-and-bolts approach to writing fiction. It systematically covers all of the basics, with examples and common sense. If I have less to say about this book, it is only because it didn't speak as personally to me as the others mentioned above.)

And, then, to prepare you for the slings and arrows of the writing life after you begin submitting your fiction, you should definitely pick up Bruce Holland Rogers' Word Work: Surviving and Thriving as a Writer. Without posturing and with a minimum of bullshit, Rogers provides insight into and salve for the wounds that a writing life can create. When to give yourself a break. What to do about reactions to bad or indifferent reviews. Ways to find a path to tranquility despite setbacks. My only beef with the book is what I feel are some rationalizations for doing hack work. Otherwise, this is a great book.
(Last Aside, Which Cannot be Proven with Empirical Evidence: What do I mean about rationalizations for doing hack work? That Rogers' justifications for taking on work-for-hire or writing in someone else's universe flirt with the claim that it can be just as creative as doing your own work. I'm not saying you can't learn something from such work. But I do think you should enter into it with the clear, unclouded vision that you're doing it for the money. There's nothing dishonorable about that. There's nothing dishonorable about writing porn to pay the rent, for that matter. It is, however, dishonorable to create rationalizations or justifications for doing such work. I also feel that doing such work changes or transforms, in subtle ways, the work you do for yourself. For the worse? Not necessarily. But changed it will be, if you are any kind of organic/empathic writer, just as you are changed by the work you do for yourself.)



Jason Erik Lundberg has edited his first anthology, Scattered, Covered, Smothered, with the inspired theme of cooking, food, and recipes.

Not only does the antho feature a wonderful cover by Janet Chui, but, if I do say so myself, a great list of contributors, including Nalo Hopkinson, Rhys Hughes, Christopher Rowe, Brendan Connell, Barth Anderson, and Heather Shaw.
Here's the blurbage about the antho on their site:

Two Cranes Press is delighted to present 54,000 words of literary ambrosia from a wide gamut of authors, from established novelists to writers who have never published before. Scattered, Covered, Smothered also showcases a range of genres, from the literary to the truly bizarre, and all areas inbetween. Inside these pages, you'll find infatuation in Buenos Aires, quiet relationship struggles in American suburbia, an imaginary land constructed entirely of edibles, and the Lovecraftian horror of a very unusual café, among many others. The tales in this anthology have been exquisitely crafted, gently kneaded and lovingly shaped into imaginative literature that will leave you hungry for more.

The anthology also features a collaboration between me, M.F. Korn, and D.F. Lewis called "The Strange Case of the Lovecraft Cafe". This collaboration is something we've worked on in fits and starts over the past three or four years, but it only came together as something cohesive when we heard about Lundberg's anthology. What is it? It's both homage to and pastiche of Lovecraft's writing, while also including fragments of a menu from the mysterious Lovecraft Cafe, a place that serves unimaginable atrocities, but with a very good wine list.

I'm very fond of this story, and also quite proud of the fact that it's a true collaboration, with all three of us adding our own distinct flavor to each portion of the story. Here's a short excerpt from the menu portion...

Flaming Whole Giant Penguin – Served flaming in its entirety, from beak to excavated bowels (filled with smaller fowl such as whole marinated quail, owls, and dwarf eagles), and recently retrieved for your eating pleasure from the Mountains of Madness, the bird is first plucked, the feathers replaced in a more aesthetically pleasing pattern. A delightful concoction of fat, pounded ham, offal, spices, prunes, dried sour cherries, cheese, and eggs is injected under the fat layer. The whole is then alternately slow-roasted on a spit and placed on mounds of melting ice to preserve the glacial allure of the living bird. Note: We require three days’ advance notice to capture and prepare this dish for you.

Pan-Tossed Nemonymi From Yuggoth - These delicate rare fungal tastes from the Lost Atlantis of our deepest unknown cellar are baked for months between specially made clay brickbats. However, for optimum tenderization and to trigger their true toothsome Yuggoth flavor, they will be lightly tossed by your table in red-hot woks of evaporating apricot juice. The hissing scream emitted thereby is simply a byproduct of the steam, not, as some have supposed, a final death cry.

Crustaceans A La Hodgson - A sumptuous dish rendered by tossing undistressed winged crustaceans that have Fallen here to our mote dust globule from vectorless vortices of unplumbed galactic space into a large iron pot of steaming parboiling rainwater. Served hot with garlic butter and plenty of napkins. Note: Very hard to unshell but worth the effort.

It's available in time for the holidays and it's a one-of-a-kind item. I'm ordering dozens for friends and family. Given the small initial print run, I recommend ordering immediately if you're interested.


Thursday, December 02, 2004

LEVIATHAN 4: A Short Interview with Editor Forrest Aguirre

This November, Ministry of Whimsy Press/Night Shade Books published Leviathan 4, edited by Forrest Aguirre. As many of you know, I created the Leviathan series back in 1994 and this is the first volume in which I had no editorial involvement. I thought it would be interesting to interview Forrest about the anthology, which has been getting excellent reviews. Forrest has several other anthology projects in the works, in addition to his own novels and short stories.


Forrest is a recipient of the World Fantasy Award for his editorial work on the anthology Leviathan 3. His work has appeared in a wide range of publications including Flesh & Blood, The Journal of Experimental Fiction, Exquisite Corpse, 3rd Bed, Indigenous Fiction, Notre Dame Review, Redsine, Polyphony, and many others. His work is forthcoming in The MacGuffin and Surreal Magazine. He has recently finished his first novel, Swans Over the Moon.

How is Leviathan 4 different from previous volumes?
If I could, I'd first like to comment on how Leviathan 4 carries on in the tradition of previous Leviathans. The first three volumes of Leviathan have been recognized for their excellent writing and disregard for hackneyed genre conventions. I view them as all beautifully dark, somewhat surreal anthologies that push the envelope of speculative fiction. That said, Leviathan 4 differs somewhat in that I took a more formally experimental tack in editing it than had been done in previous volumes. Since cities are collections of structures, I wanted a wide variety of narrative structures in this anthology, something that reflected the complexity of cities within the book itself. This necessitated that I take a liberal view on story structure, considering rather unorthodox styles while reading submissions.

When you had, for example, two really well-written stories to choose from, what made the difference between a rejected submission and an acceptance?
I had some very, very difficult decisions to make in this regard, some of them painful, to be quite honest. I remember kneeling on my living room floor at midnight, toward the end of the selection process, with two dozen manuscripts laid out in a grid. These stories, I knew, were the best of the best. A handful of those stories were a lock - works I definitely wanted, no matter what. From there, all things being equal in terms of being well-written, I chose stories in such a way that there would be a variety of styles but, hopefully, an atmospheric unity. An anthology such as Leviathan 4 should be more than the sum of its constituent parts. It should be a fully functioning organic whole with a life, a look, a smell, if you will, all its own. So I assembled, broke, and reassembled the story selection and order over a dozen times until I had what I wanted. I was truly saddened when I looked at the rejection pile. If I had half again the space, I could have filled it at the snap of a finger. There is, simply put, a lot of great writing out there.

A lot of Leviathan 4 stories are long. Did you intend to choose several long stories?
I felt, initially, that one would be hard-pressed to write a story that engaged with the theme in the way that I wanted using fewer than 5,000 words. I was looking for stories that couldn't take place in any other setting than the ones in which they took place. This meant that each story would either have to imply what historians call the "constraints of place," or that the city would have to be described in such detail that readers would clearly understand how the environs would affect character and plot. Put bluntly, this takes time, which means words. Lots of words. There were shorter pieces that approached my criteria, but in almost all cases (there were a couple of exceptions), the brevity of those pieces didn't allow me to "inhabit" the city in which the tale was set.

What did you learn from editing Leviathan 4?
Tough question! Of course, there are all the organizational and professional aspects learned or re-learned while managing a project like Leviathan 4, but the thing I'm taking with me, personally, is my own editorial "voice". It is, in many ways, similar to my finding my voice as a writer. I feel that I now have a process, a way of going about my editorial work and, most importantly, a sense of how I want my editing to feel - a flow, a groove, an ouvre. Ultimately, I want people to pick up an anthology I've edited and, without seeing my name on the cover, say "Hey, this seems like a Forrest Aguirre anthology." I feel, with Leviathan 4, that I'm getting close.

Do you have any other editing projects in the works?

Besides my writing projects, I'm working on two editorial projects at the moment. First, I'm working with Deborah Layne at Wheatland Press on an anthology of women's fictions about women's experiences. The tentative title is Muses, and we hope to release the book at Wiscon next spring. This will be a one-shot collaboration, not a series, but a rather exciting project, I must say. The second project is scheduled to be a series of anthologies entitled Text:UR. I'm working with Raw Dog Screaming press on this series, which will highlight even more strongly experimental work than that found in Leviathan 4. I am currently working on the first volume, subtitled The New Book of Masks, though I'm not currently open to unsolicited submissions. Readers of decadent and symbolist literature will recognize the title as an homage to Remy du Gourmont's The Book of Masks, but the similarities end at the title. Text:UR - The New Book of Masks will be an anthology in which the central conceit will revolve around both the objects of masks, marionettes, puppets, automata, and such, and, even more importantly, the themes of obfuscation, misrepresentation, deceit, and spectacle. This anthology, and the series as a whole, will have, as I've said, a strongly experimental sensibility. As with Leviathan 3 and 4, I am reaching out to both the speculative fiction and experimental literary communities, challenging the writers to take the best aspects of each tradition and apply them to the theme at hand in innovative ways. It is exciting to step out and establish my own place in the editorial community. On that note, I want to say thank you for getting me started.

Thanks, Forrest. All of those projects sound extremely interesting. One of the fun parts about Leviathan 4, for me, is that for once I was able to enjoy an anthology that appealed to my most esoteric tastes, but that I hadn't edited--and these new projects you have planned will give me similar pleasure.