Wednesday, April 27, 2005

NEXT NOVEL--Where to Begin?

I'm thinking about beginning on the new novel soon, but I have multiple ideas. I'm going to choose one of these. Any feedback welcomed.

Summary: It's one of the guys who played a teletubby on the BBC series, and his getting involved with a gang of E-cstasy drug dealers. There's also an Eastern European assassin and a love interest who only has one leg. It becomes a kind of road movie book half-way through as the teletubbies go on the run because of a weird millionaire who is searching for his lost daughter, who, unbeknownst to him, has been starring in off-off-Broadway productions of The Crysalis, a play about a woman who wants to become an insect. Then the shit really hits the fan.

Summary: A scar on televangelist David Rubin's arm from his days in the army begins to obsess him. He names the scar. He begins to talk to the scar. Eventually, he begins to write a memoir about how he got the scar--and this forms the bulk of the novel, which covers the 24-hour period during which the scar incident occurred, and will probably be about 300 pages long, since it covers the period in minute detail. Rubin is searching for some truth or awakening that he can't get from religion, through this examination of the scar and the events surrounding its creation. At the end of the novel, in an ironic scene, he determines that his problems have nothing to do with the scar and that he probably just needs "a lady friend".

Working title: MANDIBLES OF FEAR
Summary: An entomologist becomes obsessed with a research assistant of his and begins to write love poems to her, etched into the carapaces of Rhinoceros Beetles, which he trains to fly in her general direction. When this doesn't work, he sends out hundreds, Leaf Cutter ants, using a complex series of pheromone signals to get them to bring a letter written on a banana leaf to her desk. Due to a competing pheremone trail, the letter is delivered to the wrong woman and she, also an entomologist, begins to send back love letters to the original entomologist, who works in a different research building. Over time, the male entomologist begins to emit his own pheremones, drawing the female entomologist to him. When he sees that she is not the woman he thought he was corresponding with, he tries to get away from her, but she uses a complex series of chemical reactions to bind him to her. At the end of the novel, they are communicating entirely through pheromones and have, in essence, discovered a new kind of language. The original object of the male entomologist's desire, meanwhile, steals all of their research work and publishes it herself, but they don't really care by then.

Working title: THE LARCH OF TIME
Summary: This novel takes place under the leaves of a larch tree, over a period of over 100 years. The main characters, the tragic lovers Edmund Rerache and Tiffany Anglepart, meet there once a year to discuss how they can get out of their doomed marriages, but never manage to do so. Meanwhile, their partners meet under another tree, where their conversations, due to the limited structure of the novel, cannot be heard. Gesticulations are allowed to be represented in the novel. Edmund and Tiffany live for a long, long time, and each time their conversations are more tragic and heartfelt. They come to realize that although, over the 100 years they've known each other, they've only spent 100 days together, it's felt like a lot longer. The last 20 years or so is spent in reminiscence over the past 80 years, with Edmund saying, "Do you remember our larch tree conversation in 2007?" Or Tiffany saying, "You really broke my heart during the larch tree conversation of 2010." Finally, the larch tree is cut down and they meet for the last time, where the stump still stands. They realize their conflict/dilemma cannot be resolved in this lifetime and decide to volunteer for cryo-genic freezing, hopeful that when they wake up their equally long-lived spouses will have kicked the bucket. "Like this larch tree," Edmund says to Tiffany in the stirring last scene, "our love must be cut down to grown again." Then they each take a piece of larch bark and go off to get frozen.


At 6:38 PM, Blogger The Head said...

go with gone with the wind part 7
or the nice one about the scar on the televangelist but beware over analyzing the character remember what nietzche said happened when you looked into an abyss

At 4:31 AM, Anonymous P.Stuart said...

Go with 'Maroons', I smell franchise!

At 6:52 AM, Anonymous Rob Devereux said...

The two I would most want to read are Maroons and Mandibles of Fear. But how different from your previous material do you want to be? I suspect Mandibles would be closest to it, so perhaps Maroons would be more challenging to write.

At 6:58 AM, Blogger Jason Erik Lundberg said...

Maroons! Maroons!

At 6:58 AM, Blogger Paul M Jessup said...

Mandibles sounds the most unique and thought provoking. Maroons seems a bit long-winded and plot-oriented for my tastes (I perfer characters over plot 99% of the time, to the point of where in my only published novel, the plot self destructs and reinvents itself throught the characters).

All sound very unique and interesting. Maroons sounds like something that would work well in John Fowles sort of writing style. Maybe something like the Magus.

At 11:14 AM, Anonymous Woolly Marmot said...

I don't want to presume to give writing guidance to an award winning author -- but -- since you asked, I like the one about the beetles, but maybe you could change it so that instead of beetles they were turtles, but genetically-engineered super turtles, like the meerkats in Veniss. Yes, that's it -- anthropomorphic super turtles, perhaps with the powers of pyrokenesis and the ability to see 2 hours into the future. The entomologists would obviously have to be changed into reptilologists or genetical researchers. And perhaps instead of love notes, they could be exchanging a series of gradually escalating threats by turtleback.

The story is starting to evolve in my head. Let me know if you want more detail. Or let me know if you're not going to use it, because, with your permission, I would love to run with this.

At 3:28 PM, Blogger Christopher said...

You just made them stories up.

At 3:51 PM, Anonymous StephenB said...

I'd say your ideas are all imaginative, but some may not work so well as a novel; however, it all depends on how you approach it, I guess.

The Rubin story doesn't interest me as much because I'm not sure if I'd like to read a whole novel about a real contemporary person, who I don't like in the first place. But regardless of whether I like him or not, those types of stories, that feature real living people as the main narrator, seem to work better as humorous shorts, if at all.

I think I like Maroons and Larch Of Time the best, but Mandibles could be interesting too. Maroons seems like the most original, but the theme of Larch, although it's been done before, is, well, timeless.

At 4:26 PM, Blogger The Editor said...

Here are my rankings:


Seems I don't agree with the crowd!


At 6:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Was I the only one who thought this was a joke?

Ben from the Gong

At 6:37 PM, Anonymous StephenB said...

I considered that, but figured why?

At 6:39 PM, Anonymous StephenB said...

To Editor: I have trouble believing that Jeff would accurately get into Rubin's head, considering how alien it must be for him.

At 7:07 PM, Blogger The Editor said...

StephenB, oh I don't know, televangelist, small-press publisher, they all want your soul....


At 7:09 PM, Blogger The Editor said...

LOL! I always sign stuff 'JK' for John Klima since they are next to each other on the keyboard, but I signed the last one 'KL'! How stupid! And how stupid to post a comment about a comment. :(


At 7:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Er, it was a joke. I assume everyone was going from that assumption?

Those ideas are so retarded that I can't imagine anyone would think they were real.


At 8:16 PM, Blogger Jason Erik Lundberg said...

Yeah, I got that. :) Plus, I know you're working on Fragments From a Drowned City next. Right?

At 5:21 AM, Blogger Paul M Jessup said...

Heh, I didn't- but then again I've known people to write books like those you've mentioned. I did think that all the love-themed stuff was a little too sappy for you....but, meh.

At 5:22 AM, Blogger Hal Duncan said...


I can't believe you've offered us the positively Proustian exegesis of trauma which would be The Scars Of David Rubin, not to mention the potential thrills-and-spills edge-of-the-seat tension of Release The Maroons only to then tell us that this entire blog entry was a mere "joke"!

You toy with us, VanderMwah-hah-hah. You are a wicked, wicked man. I mean, how could we be expected to realise this was a joke when teletubbies on the run is so clearly the logical extrapolation of your ouvre? :P

At 5:30 AM, Anonymous Rob Devereux said...

My first thought was "Is he serious about these ideas?" Then I thought perhaps he's trying to start with a silly idea and try turning it into something worth reading. I thought the concept of a book about a Brontosaurus, a computerized jeep and a Mexican woman crossing a desert sounded silly, but it was turned into a great book.

At 5:41 AM, Blogger neil williamson said...

Well it seems clear to me that however jeff originally intended these ideas, there's enough representation for a market for them.

So we should MAKE him write them.

C'mon Vandermeer I'm calling your bluff, you have an eager readership drooling at the prospect of Maroons. You've planted the memes, created demand. You owe us big boy!

Affectionately, as ever


At 6:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good. I just had this little nightmare in which somehow my sense of the absurd had gone belly up.

Neil--What do I owe to big boy?


At 7:30 AM, Blogger Tessa said...

This little girl likes bugs best, scar second...

At 7:43 AM, Blogger neil williamson said...

>Good. I just had this little nightmare in which somehow my sense of the absurd had gone belly up.

**Fear not, your sense of the absurd is as finely tuned as ever.

>Neil--What do I owe to big boy?

**Er... a dozen home baked coconut macaroons. He likes those - with chocolate drizzled on top. Then you're off the hook. For sure.

At 7:51 AM, Anonymous Woolly Marmot said...

So.... since these are 'fake' story ideas, can I take the Mandibles idea, and modify it as I suggested in my earlier comment? I see this as a great challenge -- to polish discarded (and mistaken) irony until it shines and glows like an well-exercised thoroughbred.

At 8:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Go for "Maroons". On the cover you can have a blurb from Bugs Bunny: "What a maroon!"


At 9:36 AM, Anonymous Woolly Marmot said...

Here's the draft opening to my adaptation of 'Mandibles of Fear'

Carapace of Malice
by T. Barrett Callas-Fenton

Archie, diamondback terrapin number D-112, crept across the laboratory floor, toenails scrabbling for traction on the waxy linoleum. His left eye mechanism glowed red and dilated as he saw his target. Stuck to the back of his horny carapace was a Post-It note. Dr. Gevin Pourcel saw Archie approaching and put down the shell clamp and plasma torch. Gary, terrapin B-214, an early Hamlinson prototype, saw the opportunity for rest and shut down all tertiary operations.

"Archie, old boy, what are you doing out of storage?" asked Dr. Pourcel as he slipped off his welding mittens and reached for the hand sanitizing gel. "You should have centrifuged and put on the network yesterday."

A faint irregular clicking sound starting to come from the underside of Archie's shell. His cloacal antenna began to bend and flap like a landed fish.


Please Jeff. I feel this story is going somewhere. Somewhere good.
Can I please use this story idea?

At 11:50 AM, Blogger Paul M Jessup said...

I'm kind of glad these were a joke. I was actually thinking they were really terrible ideas...but I've had my share of crappy novel ideas. I was sort of confused on the move away from fantasy and into more experimental waters.

Now I feel the fool. (fondle, fondle)

At 12:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The third one. Definitely. The fourth idea is a good idea, but you'd have to write it in such a way that readers can read it in real time.


At 12:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm just prepping you for the move away from fantasy. As for experimental--how more experimental could I get?!?


At 12:34 PM, Blogger Paul M Jessup said...

By writing a novel about people communicating entirely via pheromones at the end...

I mean, it would be even more experiemental if the last half of the novel was actually written in pheromones (ie: dips of scent onto the paper itself).

It's always possible to become more experimental :) Wether or not it's a good thing is an argument in itself.

At 1:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

plus, as a writer of fantasy, what could be more of an experiment than writing absolute realism?

At 1:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've written plenty of realism, actually.


At 2:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I still think Larch of Time could be good. But you obviously wouldn't write it as you described, with the characters saying things like "Do you remember our larch tree conversation in 2007?" Or Tiffany saying, "You really broke my heart during the larch tree conversation of 2010." (which was clearly intended as a joke).


At 2:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The way I see it. The story would take place from the trees point of view and wouldn't just feature the two lovers, but a multitude of friends and lovers who cross the trees path over the trees lifespan; in vingettes that span ganerations and shows how so much and so little changes over time.


At 2:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That should be generations, obviously.

And Jeff, you could totally run with a teletubby, as hero. Who hasn't wanted to know more about the man behind the suite?

What started as a joke could really blossom into something good.:)


At 4:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

suit. And I'm joking Jeff (except for the tree story). Like the rest here, at first I thought you were joking, but wasn't totally sure and didn't want to be rude and say all your ideas were silly. But as it started as a joke, if you ever wanted to write a comedy...

So do you have a novel in mind that you're really starting?


At 6:13 AM, Blogger Joe Gordon said...

Much as I like these, I still have a desire to see you produce a multimedia work along the lines of City of Saints and madmen the Musical. I think Dradin singing 'my love keeps perfect time' to the ticking of a metronome would be highly effective. Perhaps Phil Glass could do that one? And perhaps a Bluebeard-style number of Manzikert Underground? And just when will you get round to exploring the important role of prehistoric giant penguins shaping the ladnscape Ambergris now stands on?

At 6:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Odd you should mention that. In all seriousness, I am working on a multi-media "Rough Guide to Ambergris" that could be delivered via the web or video.

There will also be a movie-style "trailer" for the new novel, Shriek, that I'm working on with a graphic designer at the moment. The influence is part movie trailer, part Le Jete (sic)--that short French movie that 12 Monkeys was based on.

As for the penguins--shhh. That's a secret.

As for real novel ideas--I have to finish the secret lives project first (and to anyone who, based on a few samples, tells me again that isn't worth my time: kiss my ass [, B.]. You have no idea of the full scope.).

But after that, I still plan on finishing two more Ambergris novels: Zamilon File and Fragments of a Drowned City. Both will fry your brains. Zamilon's a kind of spy novel. Fragments is kind of a detective/erotic novel.

But I'm also excited about working on some non-fantasy ideas, to be honest. The thing is, I've got a surrealist/absurdist world view, so no matter what I tackle, it's still gonna have that sensibility, whether it's set in the real world and nothing fantastical happens or it does....

I guess when you write a novel in which a cyborg meerkat assassin is decapitated and glued to a plate, you gotta expect even crazy-ass ideas will seem true.


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