Monday, October 31, 2005


See below for information on two new compilations. There's the possibility of one major new story in the Leviathan compilation. Of these two, the Silver Web collection may be the bigger surprise, in that current readers probably have not read most of the stories--and there is some amazing work to be collected from that magazine.

I debated the wisdom of a best-of from an anthology with only four volumes out, but Leviathan 4 is only out in hardcover and Leviathan 1 and 2 are out of print. In addition, Leviathan 5 will usher in a new era for the anthology, so I thought it would be good to cap the current period with a compilation.

I should also note that although I did serve as a first reader for Ann from time to time, by far the greater influence was of Ann on Leviathan. For my editorial decisions, there was not a story that Ann did not read and give me her opinion on, and many times stories were accepted or rejected based on that advice. I admire the work that my various Leviathan co-editors did--hard work, and not easy work, especially Forrest Aguirre, who now has his own antho series. But it is also good to now acknowledge Ann and put her at the forefront for future anthologies. (In the past, we didn't publicly share editorial credit because we both had our own separate publishing companies.)



Prime Books is pleased to announce the acquisition of two new collections that reprint the best from the ground-breaking publications Leviathan, founded by Jeff VanderMeer, and Buzzcity Press’ The Silver Web, founded and edited by Ann Kennedy (now Ann VanderMeer). Bothcollections will appear in late 2006 in trade paperback with possible limited-edition hardcovers.

Founded in 1988 and published for more than a decade, The Silver Web featured surreal dark cross-genre work at a time when traditional genre fiction was the norm. Stories published in The Silver Web won the British Fantasy Award, NEA-sponsored grants, and appeared in several year’s best anthologies. The Silver Web had a reputation for publishing many exciting new writers, including early work from John W. Campbell Award winner Daniel Abraham. This best-of collection will bring back into print several classics as well as a few unjustly overlooked stories.

Founded in 1994, Leviathan is the godfather of the current crop of cross-genre anthologies. Since its inception it has catered to readers who crave the beautifully strange, the off-beat, and the deeply unique. A World Fantasy Award winner, Philip K. Dick Award finalist, and British Fantasy Award finalist, the series now returns with a best-of, featuring work from the out-of-print first two volumes as well as selections from volumes 3 and 4.

The Leviathan best-of collection will feature an introduction from Ann Kennedy while the Silver Web best-of collection will feature an introduction from Jeff VanderMeer. Over the years, Jeff has served as a reader for The Silver Web and Ann has read for Leviathan. Future volumes of the Leviathan series will be co-edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer.

A full table of contents for both volumes will be forthcoming in 2006.

Sunday, October 30, 2005


Paula Guran recently interviewed me for Dark Echo. I'm really pleased with how it turned out.


The Semi-Rant

Sonya Taaffe comes to us from the worlds of poetry, academia, and the independent press. Not One of Us, edited by John Benson, should be given a lot of credit for encouraging Taaffe early on.

And yet, we are still early on. Taaffe is only 24. In the olden days that I can in my aged cranium remember as if it were the 1990s, it would take a writer a lot longer to publish a first story collection. Now, however, due to the wonders of modern technology, we are both blessed and cursed with an ability to put out books cheaply, and therefore take bigger risks.

What are the risks? Well, there's the obvious one concerning book sales. But there is also the risk of a writer being plucked too early. And the risk of a writer plucked too early not encountering enough resistance, if that makes sense. Of beginning to believe his or her own press releases. Of course, this is mainly an issue that's a personal one between the writer and him/her self, although it does affect readers. (All of this also ties into reviewers' continuing propensity for wanting to tag and identify the "next big thing". We are giving reviewers a lot more possible "next big things" to latch on to. And one reason I'm making these comments is that I'm re-evaluating my own procedure in promoting books on this blog--which is to say, you're going to see a lot fewer salivating raves and a lot more thoughtful analyses of strengths and weaknesses of books. For one thing, I'm conscious of the fact that this blog reaches a ton more people than it did in the past, or than I ever thought it would. There's something like a nagging responsibility implicit in that connection.)

Prime right now is churning out the short story collections left and right--and in the process giving us some really wonderful work, even if some of it is also uneven. So it's hard to complain, although I have these niggling doubts about the wisdom of such a flood. (This being not so much rant as an observation.)

The Review

Which brings us to Sonya Taaffe's first collection, Singing Innocence & Experience, published by Prime. It overcomes the inclusion of good but irrelevant poetry and story notes that are, frankly, boring. (Except in a retrospective covering a writer's whole career, story notes are usually boring--and self-indulgent.) Tim Pratt's introduction is functional and generally strikes the right tone.

At their best, the actual stories are infused with a lyricism that seems unforced and fresh. At their worst, the stories suffer from the kind of angst more typical of tortured teenagers. What saves Taaffe and what excites me about her future is the amazing level of detail in even the lesser stories in Singing Innocence & Experience. The passion accompanying this ability is remarkable. Taaffe basically lays it all on the line in the amount of emotion infusing each paragraph. Sometimes control suffers as a result, and sometimes the result is too over-the-top; if everything is dramatic, nothing is dramatic. But I much prefer to see this than the kind of careful crawling you often see new writers engage in. Even a description of tarot cards has visceral impact:

One after another, the cards showed her a sheaf of fortunes: all changed, all terrible. On The Star, a falling fire-drake plunged, trailing sulfurous light and smoke, onto the sketched suggestion of a crowd beneath. For Temperance, dull, lumpen fluid sludged from the veiled figure's pitcher. The Hanged Man creaked in the wind, flies swarming his gibbet, gore-crows at his eyes. The Sun in eclipse, stained and smudged, bruised the sky like a sore. Justice's scales tilted, the feather broken in half, the heart cracked black as coal or clinker. The Lovers no longer held hands face-to-face but grew into one another, lip and foot and finger, like something softening into mold.

I think this quote exemplifies both what I like about Taaffe--her energy, her ability to write in charged images, her intrinsic lyricism--and the cliches that sometimes inhabit her work--the "bruised" sky (with the anti-climax of "sore" following it), the "heart cracked black as coal." I suppose you could argue that in the second example Taaffe is trying to subvert the cliche or uses it intentionally, but I'm not sure it works.

And yet, there are pages and pages of superlative descriptions as well. "Her hair had become a froth of stars and glowing tides..." "...she did not look as though she would cast any more shadow than a floating handful of straw..." Generally, it is impossible to resist the power of Taaffe's prose and I wouldn't be surprised to see some of the stronger stories on year's best lists. (The "unicorn" story is delightful, too--I didn't expect to like it at all and was drawn in.)

Taaffe's collection promises a long, exciting career. I am energized by the thought of her next collection, her first novel, her poetry. It reminds me of being young. In the meantime, Singing Innocence and Experience is, in its exuberance, its lyricism, and its sincerity, still better than ninety percent of the short story collections being published in genre this year.

The Walking of the Plank

Publishers Weekly had this to say about Songs of Innocence and Experience:

At times the richness and sheer density of the author's wordcraft goes slightly over the top, as in the sensual "Nights with Belilah" and the tragic "Retrospective." Despite the presence of a few too many earnest young student-artists and musicians obsessed with love or knowledge, Taaffe's gift for evoking mood and revealing hard truths beautifully is nothing short of marvelous.

Sonya very kindly agreed to take time out of her busy study schedule to answer my silly five questions...

Why should readers pick up your book(s) as opposed to, say, just about anybody else's book(s)?
Oh, they should not, if they value their daily lives. Brief exposure may cause déjà vu, lucid dreams, and the common cold. Continued contemplation of this book, however, will cause one to become progressively isolated from the normal human world. Faces will appear masks, as fragile as the silvered backs of mirrors; there will be other languages in the spaces between speech. Lovers, family, tides and leaf-fall, the setting and the climbing of the moon, all will turn strange until you cannot see where one world rises and the other falls away. Even the slant of sunlight on the pavement may prove a threshold that, once crossed, bars itself against any turning back. And in the years to come, as you look back across the long and haunted measure of your life, the rips and creases of weirdness that scar your hands and sight, you’ll know——this book, you should have judged by its cover.

Does your book have any socially redeeming qualities? If so, what are they?
Well, assuming you survive the above-described experience with your sanity intact, you will be very polite to strangers.

Does your book have any medicinal or mental health value to readers?
The schadenfreude value is incalculable. Pages in the fourth, fifth, and fifteenth stories may also be taken in resin as a cure for insomnia.

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?
Let’s put it this way: they should live so long.

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?


Saturday, October 29, 2005


We went to Australia convinced that the high price of books Down Under would discourage us from buying any. This theory—much like the "only buy little books" strategy for our Canada trip earlier in the year—crashed and burned within a week of getting to Australia. As you can see below, we picked up much more than we planned to. Even though we had some books shipped back to the U.S. by Pulp Fiction, we still wound up buying a large suitcase to accommodate the rest. At this point, I no longer believe in any kind of Book Containment Theory. From now on, I will dispense with the pre-trip strategies. Because none of them work...and part of me is glad they don't...


PS Some of the descriptions below include reviews of the books we've already finished since we got back.

ARNOTT, JAKE – The Long Firm, He Kills Coppers. Crime novels set mostly in 1960s London. Amazing stuff. I think I prefer The Long Firm with its five different views of the same crime boss. I really think these books are going to become classics. Great evocations of a very specific historical period.

BALLARD, J.G. – The Drowned World. An illustrated series of excerpts from his stories and novels, with great full-color plates by Dick French.

BLUNT, GILES – Black Fly Season. This is the third Blunt crime novel featuring detective Cardinal. I loved his first one, Forty Words for Sorrow, but wasn't as high on the second. This one looks like a return to form. Blunt was at the Brisbane Writers Festival, where I had hoped to meet him, but all my events were at the same time as his. Ah well.

BOURKE, NIKE – The Bone Flute, The True Green of Hope. We met Nike in Brisbane, without having first encountered her novels. Both Ann and I found her fascinating to talk to, and just a really nice person. Then we bought her novels and starting browsing through them. Winner of a 2000 Queensland Award for best emerging writer, Nike Bourke is an excellent stylist, writing devastatingly personal prose. She's the kind of writer you re-read for the muscularity of the sentences. I highly recommend her work—and I'm excited to hear that her next novel has a fantastical element to it. (I believe Nike is also a Tiptree Award judge this year—an excellent choice by the administrators.)

BROOKMYRE, CHRISTOPHER – Not the End of the World. We had to go all the way to Australia to pick up a copy of this LAPD cop mystery featuring a Scottish photographer. And four scientists gone missing from a research vessel in the Pacific. What the ?! Well, looking forward to seeing how all of this holds together.

BROWN, SIMON – Born of Empire. Everyone kept telling us we had to read some Simon Brown, so were glad to pick up a copy via the extremely generous Pan Mac Australia.

BURDETT, JOHN – Bangkok Tattoo. There was no excuse for buying this book in Australia because it's already out in the U.S. I guess my eyes got too big for my stomach, as they say. Anyway, I loved Burdett's first Bangkok mystery and this one looks just as good.

CAMPBELL, ERIC – Absurdistan. A collection of essays by an Australian Broadcasting Company correspondent about his journalistic travels. From Kabul to Kosovo. It looks interesting.

CARTER, ANGELA – Nights at the Circus. A compact little mass market Picador edition of her classic novel that I didn't have already.

DOWLING, TERRY – An Intimate Knowledge of the Night. A recommendation by David Lynton at Galaxy Bookshop. I've read some individual Dowling stories, but not any collection. Am looking forward to it.

DUNCAN, GLEN – Weathercock. A recommendation from David Lynton at Galaxy Bookshop. For some reason, it reminds me of less cruel Will Self. I could be wrong.

EARLS, NICK – Bachelor Kisses, Zigzag Street. Nick was one of the nicest people we met in Australia, and is also a wonderfully entertaining writer. Like Nick Hornsby, when Hornsby is on. Ann's read these and liked them quite a bit. I'm looking forward to reading them.

ELLIS, BRETT EASTON – Lunar Park. Glamorama was Ellis' Waterloo as far as I'm concerned, but the new one, whatever its flaws, looks like a bold move at the very least. I'm going to read it, whether it's brave or a train wreck. One of the books given to us by the generous and fun folks at Pan Macmillan Australia.

FLINDERS, MATTHEW – Trim. A cool little edition about the cat that accompanied Flinders on his circumnavigation of the globe from 1799 to 1804. Anne Sydenham and Anna Tambour gifted us with this neat book.

GREENWOOD, KERRY – The Phryne Fisher Mysteries. Kim Wilkins' visage graces the cover of this two-fer of mysteries published by Pulp Fiction Press. A really nice package design-wise, too.

GRIFFITHS, ANDY – Bumageddon: The Final Pongflict. Another gift from Pan Macmillan, although I shouldn't pass off the responsibility on them, since we'd seen the books everywhere and were curious. Wow. This stuff is worse than Captain Underpants! Turd jokes all over the place. Amazing. Don't know if I can bring myself to read past Chapter 3...

HAYDER, MO – Tokyo. I thought Hayder's first novel, Birdman, was brilliant, if brutal. Her second, The Treatment, was so bleak I almost couldn't finish it. The Treatment was brilliant, too, but incredibly dark and hopeless. I wasn't sure where she could go from there, but what she's done abandoned the horror box to create a thriller-mystery set in Tokyo that looks like it probably transcends her previous novels. Hayder has an eye for detail that's the equal of Thomas Harris in Silence of the Lambs, and a clinical way of describing things that I admire.

HOOD, ROBERT and PEN, ROBIN, eds. – Daikaiju!: Giant Monster Tales. A gift from Cat Sparks. An Agog Press publication. I'm particularly drawn to "Seven Dates Ruined by Giant Monsters." Cool cover.

IRVINE, IAN – Geomancer. I must confess to not having read any of Irvine's work, although it had looked interesting. Luckily, Irvine showed up at Galaxy Bookshop while I was there and when I asked what I should start with, recommended Geomancer.

JURJEVICS, JURIS – The Trudeau Vector. Soho Press is one of my favorite crime publishers. Jurjevics is one of the co-founders of that press. So I kind of had to pick up his novel, out of curiosity. Besides it's set in the Arctic Circle with scientists "dying horrible deaths" and I'm a sucker for Arctic Circle mysteries...

KAFKA, FRANZ – The Great Wall of China. One of those wonderful Penguin samplers, with a bunch of his short stories. This will not be in our house long, since I bought it for a student from one of my Australian masterclasses who had never heard of Kafka.

KERET, ETGAR – The Nimrod Flip-Out, The Bus Driver Who Wanted to Be God. The short stories of a noted Israeli writer, from Picador in two handsome editions.

KERR, PHILIP – Berlin Noir – Three of Kerr's Berlin novels set in 1930s Germany. Gritty, grisly, gripping stuff. Another recommendation from Pulp Fiction in Brisbane. Ron and Ian at PF were determined to make us spend all our money in their incredible store.

KNEALE, MATTHEW – English Passengers. Anne Sydenham recommended this novel, which although set in 1857 doesn't look like your normal stuffy historical period piece. Featuring an expedition to Tasmania, it appears to be a rollicking adventure, among other things.

LAPCHAROENSAP, RATTAWUT – Sightseeing. A nicely designed short story collection from an acclaimed Thai writer. Called "raw and tangy" by Publishers Weekly.

LAWTON, JOHN – Black Out. Another recommendation from Ian at Pulp Fiction. Set during the Blitz in London in 1944. A German murder victim and a Russian émigré detective. Really love the careful prose of the first few pages.

LEUNIG, MICHAEL – Short Notes From the Long History of Happiness, Goatperson. Two books of words and illustrations from a gifted Australian writer/artist. Not New Agey, but containing softly resonant observations and stories. Marvelous illustrations.

MAHOOD, KIM – Craft for a Dry Lake. An interesting Australian memoir set in the Outback.

McMULLEN, SEAN – Call to the Edge. Geoff Maloney kindly gave us a copy of this collection by an Australian writer we hadn't read before. Looks very interesting.

McNAMARA, Peter and WINCH, MARGARET, eds. – Alien Shores. A gift from Geoff Maloney. a landmark collection of Australian SF.

McNAMARA, PETER, ed. – Wonder Years. A collection of a decade of Australian stories, one selected for each year. Including work by Lucy Sussex, Sean Williams, and Geoff Maloney. A gift from Geoff Maloney.

MORIARTY, JACLYN – I Have a Bed Made of Buttermilk Pancakes. Another gift. A light-hearted Aussie tale of the absurd Zing family. I have no idea.

NABOKOV, VLADIMIR – Nabokov's Dozen. Another compact little mass market edition of a book I don't have any copies of. Slowly, my Nabokov collection is becoming somewhat impressive. I've got just about every book of criticism about his work ever written, the Boyd biographies, the biography of Nabokov's wife, Vera, and at least one edition of each of his novels. The problem with Nabokov-collecting is that the McGraw-Hill editions of his novels are so plain.

NIX, GARTH – Sabriel. Nix's classic. Looking forward to reading it!

PEAKE, MERVYN – Mr. Pye. Just a little mass market Penguin of Mr. Pye, but since I don't have a copy...

POTTER, STEPHEN – The Theory and Practice of Gamesmanship or The Art of Winning Games Without Actually Cheating. Anne Sydenham gave us this book, and it's a delightful little tome with a ton of amusing illustrations. Chapter titles include "The Baskerville Lawn Tennis-Marker for Imparting Asymmetry to Home Courts."

RAFTOS, PETER – The Stone Ship. I'd been interested in this book, fascinated by it actually, ever since Sean Wallace pointed it out to me. Published by a small Australian university press, it looks like a unique dark fantasy. So when David Lynton at the fabulous Galaxy Bookshop recommended it, I pounced on the last available copy. Here's the description from the back of the book: "Set in a university managed by a Kafkaesque bureaucracy, The Stone Ship follows the adventures, misalliances, and misdeeds of the suicidal Shipton and the ghost who saved his life; and who demands a favor in return. As Shipton's experiences within the university are played out on the fringes of an administration that destroys lives with paperwork, rioting librarians hunt for students and academics dwell in the half-light of scholarly delusions. Lurking under these crumbling halls of esoteric learning is a creature whose monstrous malevolence is fed by the corpses of the unworthy." I can't wait to read this one.

RICHARDSON, BUCK – Dingo Innocent. An interesting account of the whole dingo-baby incident, by a Cairns resident.

ROBINSON, ALEX – Tricked. I loved Robinson's Box Office Poison. This new one concerns a jaded, blocked pop star, the owners of a diner, a crazed fan, etc. The build up to the ending is quite interesting, but Robinson cheats with a cheap twist and leaves the reader with a deep feeling of disappointment. Basically, Robinson inexplicably uses a lousy, hackneyed plot device. The strength of Box Office Poison is that it wove together a series of character studies. It didn't need a traditional plot—slice-of-life with some resolution was more than enough. I hope whatever Robinson does next doesn't waste its energy on what's basically a pulp fiction structure.

RONSON, JON – Them: Adventures with Extremists, The Men Who Stare At Goats. Two more Pan Mac Australia gifts. Essays about Ronson's investigation of various groups of extremists in the former case and investigations into the war on terror in the latter case. Very timely, and very insightful.

SANSOM, C.J. – Dissolution. Ian from Pulp Fiction in Brisbane recommended this historical thriller/mystery to us. Set in England in 1537. We're told it's pretty edgy. Looks very interesting.

SMITH, ZADIE – White Teeth. Anne Sydenham recommended Smith to us and we picked this up at a flea market in Newton, Sydney. Looks like an interesting novel.

STEINHAUER, OLEN – The Confession, The Bridge of Sighs. Iain Rowan turned us on to Steinhauer, so when we saw the books in Pulp Fiction, we had to get them, for fear of not being able to get them in the U.S. Set after World War II in the Eastern Bloc. Looks like more crime fiction that transcends the genre.

TEMPLE, Peter – Black Tide, Bad Debts, White Dog, Iron Rose. These Jack Irish lawyer-turned-detective novels set in Melbourne were recommended by Ron Serduik, owner of Pulp Fiction in Brisbane. I've found them very entertaining, and I like the local Melbourne color.

THEROUX, LOUIS – The Call of the Weird. Theoroux's BBC series traveling around America doing mini-documentaries on the subcultures of pornography, brothels, semi-pro wrestling, and dozens of others was fascinating. This book where he follows up by re-visiting the same people, a kind of where-are-they-now, is just depressing. It's basically the same story over and over again. Depressing, delusional people who aren't particularly successful. None of the true eccentricity you see from, for example, a Crumb.

WINSTON, TIM – The Turning. We were told by so many people to read Winston that it was a pleasant surprise when the PM A people gave us a copy of this short story collection.

ZUSAK, MARKUS – The Book Thief. Set during World War II, involving a transformative book and a woman who salvages books from book-burnings. Gotten a lot of international press.


UPDATE: I'm getting the impression that people outside of North America are not familiar with candy corn. Maybe this photo will help. Basically, it's pure corn syrup that's been dolled up to look like striped corn. Go figure. A favorite at Halloween. I used to scarf it down all the time.

Over the past week, culminating in a furious session late Friday night, my friends Leisa "Pirate" Pichard, Paul "Marmot" Larsen, Meredith "Flying Squirrel" McDonough and I ("Squid-Frog") have been compiling Halloween Haiku in anticipation of the festivities Monday (on which morning I am determined to walk by my manager's office at the day job wearing a huge alligator head). Below you will find the results. (Chapter headings/organization provided by Leisa, who also came up with the idea in the first place.)

In the grand tradition of the VanderWorld blog, after admiring our fulsome entries and praising them(granted, Paul and Leisa are the King and Queen of the Halloween Haiku), let's open this up to a contest. Deadline: By midnight EST on Monday. Limit: 5 haiku per person.

Top three Halloween Haikus posted in the comments field by then all get a copy of the Bantam Veniss Underground. 1st place gets a bag of candy, too. 2nd place also gets a candy bar. 3rd place also candy corn. Shipped priority mail.

The judges are Leisa, Paul, and Meredith, with Paul, by dint of his many, many entries, having the tie-breaking vote. The judges will be required to provide an explanation for their decisions. They can also designate honorable mentions if they so desire.

Er, nobody cares how many syllables are in each line. We're not haiku snobs.


Chapter 1: Grim Vision

Darth Vader mask
Impossible trick
Never coming home—JV

Inexorable sweet tooth
Tonight you spree through town
For a candy panoply—MM

Clown eyes stare.
Skeletal feet clatter.
Cherry blossoms weeping.—JV

Sugar bloating.
Last bite too much.
Red lights: ambulance.—JV

Morticia whispers,
Only the chocolate please.
Dark as death's grim worm.—LP

Avast Vile Children
Knock no more. Screech not so loud.
Death is solemn, palpable.—LP

Five trick or treaters
A cancer on my doorstep.
How can I kill them?—PL

Happy Halloween
Your costumes are so precious.
Pray for a quick death.—PL

Eat the red candy
Then close your eyes and be wrapped
In death's warm blanket.—PL

I'm out of candy
Get off my porch, little freaks
Or I'll start singing.---PL

Racing cross the lawn
I step in something slipp'ry
I wish I'd worn shoes.—PL

Lying on his back
The robot costume wearer
Flails like a turtle.—PL

The doorbell is rung
And the flaming paper bag
Awaits Mr. Gould—PL

Mister Gould's pursuit
The sharp chain link fence creates
A wound that won't heal—PL

Sweet Mrs. Thompson
Always gives out healthy snacks
Let's pee on her car.—PL

Put on the pumpkin head
Cannot get it off
Suffocating fall.—JV

Gorging like a tick
Choking down handfuls of treats.
Just ate a penny—PL

Curling into
Fetal position.—MM

Wearing a tick costume
Choking down handfuls of treats.
Hey, look, a penny.—JV

I thought it was great
My Dustin Hoffman costume.
Nobody gets me.—PL

Kids in cute costumes
Celebrate the sweetened feast
Of the Dark Lord Ba'al—PL

Fairies, princesses,
And cat costumes interspersed
In Hell's dark parade.--PL

Trick or treaters
Strung up like Christmas lights
Barbed wire fence—JV

Red Power Ranger
Proud of his sparkly costume
Trapped in the crawlspace.—PL

On Halloween night,
Just one night a year, his hunch
Is a glitt'ring prize.—PL

Glorious costume idea
But: No breathing hole
Death comes slowly—JV

Chapter 2: Sweet Retreat

Pointy candy corn
Works like a rubber stopper
In a bullet wound.—PL

My dearest Igor
Thy purloined toes glisten bright
I'll kiss thy candy corn.—LP

I honor thy kiss
the sweet drop of darkest bliss
my true candy corn.—LP

Shall I compare thee to a candy corn?
Thou art less yellow and orange and also not as sweet. Or stripey. Plus you are considerably larger.—PL

All haiku must have
Lines of five, seven and five
And some candy corn.—PL

My Wiccan neighbor
Is handing out these pamphlets
And no candy corn.—PL

Lonely haikuist
Keeps writing works of genius
About candy corn.—PL

Mighty candy corn
You've made my tinkle smell like
Super Sugar Crisp.—PL

'licious candy corn-
Zeus and Hera only thought
They ate ambrosia.—PL

Pair of candy corns
Make eyes in the brown frosting
Of this here cupcake.--PL

Candy corn teeth
Hammered into soft pumpkin flesh
Make the bitt'rest smile.—PL

I honor thy kiss
the sweet drop of darkest bliss
my true candy corn.--LP

When I ponder on
beauty. I think only of
darling candy corn.--LP

Sweet candy corn
Baits the ripening field in
This harvest of souls.--PL

Oh candy corn
Your sweetness inspires me to
Change my name to Brachs.--PL

Darn candy corn,
Whilst savoring thy fragrance,
Wedged in my nostril.—PL

When upon thy brow
a frown of worry borne nigh
candy corn says I.—LP

A kid's prank gone wrong
Sleeping Uncle Lou's stoma
Blocked by candy corn.—PL

When the winds of war
blow dust across the sad plain
candy corn come home—LP

It's March 23rd,
Candy corn under the couch
Is still delicious.—PL

Chapter 3: Ode to Ben

Underneath his gown
Ben felt more like a princess
than ever before.—PL

I am so pretty
Ben thought, as the little girl
Blossomed inside him.—PL

I am not so pretty
Ben thought, as the little girl
Ripped his guts out.—JV

Ben ate all his treats
And then refilled his pumpkin -
Technicolor puke.—PL

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


I have decided to start something called "The Okra Book Club". Every month, I will recommend another book and tens of readers will all read it at the same time. I will also sell the book out of my house, in the dozen. The criteria for inclusion will be my own personal taste in books inflicted on the general public. Here is the first book. Go forth and read.


(Evil Monkey: "You are one lame-ass mutha-fucka." Jeff: "Testify!")

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


Below find my offical World Fantasy Convention schedule. This year, the con is held in Madison, Wisconsin, which Ann and I are really looking forward to exploring. Please note that I may not be able to make the autograph session Friday night, but I am going to be available in the dealer's room at specific times. (Also happy to sign stuff after panels.) The Golden Gryphon table isn't listed below, but I will be dropping by their table as well.

Saturday, during the football, I will be intermittently at the bar when not going to panels (same for Friday). Where will I be Saturday night, you might ask? One event made official in Locus every year is the Howard Morhaim dinner, which I'm very much looking forward to. It's a black tie dinner, sometimes by way of limousine, hosted by my incomparable agent, Howard Morhaim. That's where I'll be Saturday night--I'm not being antisocial. This year, Jonathan Strahan joins the Morhaim family, so welcome, Jonathan.


PS Every morning from 7:45 to 8:30 I'll be giving readings whilst on the exercise bike in the gym.

THURSDAY, November 3rd

8:30pm - 10:00pm
International Horror Guild Awards (Capitol B room)
This year's World Fantasy Convention is also pleased to be hosting the 11th annual IHG awards presentations, recognizing creators in the field of dark horror and fantasy.
Presenters: Paula Guran, Graham Joyce, Peter Straub
(My wife, Ann, is a judge for the IHG. I've also been tagged to accept and read a speech should David Mitchell's A Serious Life (Savoy Books) win in the nonfiction category. This should be a great event with a lot of heavy hitters attending.)

FRIDAY, November 4th

2:00pm to 3:00pm
Manning the Prime Table
(I'll be available to sign books. I may not be able to make the autograph session, so this provides another opportunity on the off chance anyone needs a book signed.)

4:00pm - 5:30pm
Fantasy in Unexpected Places (Capitol B room)
As more and more "cross-genre" work is published and as writers explore new territory, fantasy has become more diverse, harder to pin down. What is "fringe fantasy?" Can a novel or story be fantastical without anything magical happening in it? Where can readers find fantasy on the fringe? Who is writing it? Why is such work important?
Panelists: Carol Emshwiller, Theodora Goss, Graham Joyce, Kelly Link, Jeff VanderMeer (M)
(This is going to be a really wonderful panel. I'm so pleased with the panelists. I will be doing my best impression of invisible, as a moderator should, except for the occasional comment, since this is a topic close to my heart.)

8:00pm - 10:30pm
Autograph Reception (Capitol & University)
Meet, talk, and get stuff signed.
(Again, not really sure if I'll be able to make this. If so, it'll likely be later than earlier. Email me at vanderworld at if you want to confirm my availability.)

SATURDAY, November 5th

11:00am - 12:00pm
Fantasy Down Under (Capitol B room)
In the past few years, there has been a surge of powerful fantasy writers from Australia , all with distinctive and innovative voices. How did this renaissance come about? What constitutes a uniquely Australian writer? Who will be the next breakout writers from Down Under?
Panelists: Justin Ackroyd, Deborah Biancotti, Jonathan Strahan, Jeff VanderMeer (M), Scott Westerfeld
(Having spent a couple months devoted to Australian SF/F and now having visited for three weeks and spent a lot of time talking about the subject with Australian writers, I thought this would be a good opportunity to extend my knowledge of the subject by running questions about what I've read and observed by a very distinguished and knowledgeable panel of Aussies. Again, as moderator--and especially on this panel--I'm gonna be invisible.)

2:30pm - 4:00 pm (Capitol B room)
The Reader: Foundation of Fantasy
None of this would be possible without our readers. A reader completes the cycle of writing by providing an audience for the work. Is the reader an essential part of the process of writing? How much attention to that audience is needed while doing the writing itself? In what ways have readers contributed to the journey that is writing?
Panelists: Hal Duncan, Liz Gorinsky, Jay Lake, Mary Rosenblum, Ann VanderMeer (M)
(My wife came up with this topic and has a great set of panelists to explore it with! Definitely check this one out as well. Hal Duncan is a powerhouse, my editor Liz Gorinsky kicks ass, Jay Lake is a monster of knowledge, and Mary Rosenblum is wonderful as well. Oh yes--and my wife is fierce but reasonable, so...)

SUNDAY, November 6th

12:00pm - 4:00pm
World Fantasy Awards Banquet
Luncheon (by ticket), followed by presentation of the awards for the best works of 2004. Seating will be available after the luncheon for everyone interested in watching the award presentations.
(We will be attending the banquet at the Bantam-Spectra table, at the behest of my Bantam editor, the superlative Juliet Ulman.)


Got the good news that "The Farmer's Cat" has been taken for the Strahan-Haber year's best fantasy anthology.

"The Farmer's Cat" appeared in Polyphony 5. Thanks to Deborah Layne and Jay Lake for taking the story. I remember Deborah said at the time that she never thought she'd take a story with trolls in it for Polyphony...


Monday, October 24, 2005


This is the longest of long shots, but since some Tallahasseans read this blog...we lost our cat, Jackson, last night. We don't know exactly how he got out, but he's an indoor cat, never been outside in his life, and we desperately want to find him. He's family. If you live in Tallahassee and see him, please email me at vanderworld at He's a friendly cat, may answer to his name. But although he's friendly, he doesn't like sudden movements.


Friday, October 21, 2005


Some people are posting the first lines of works in progress. I might get around to that, but in the meantime here are the first paragraphs of a couple of stories recently completed.


[Title Withheld]
I am writing this sitting in the half-submerged lobby of a rotting, half-finished condominium complex surrounded by cavorting fresh water seals, two pearl-handled revolvers in my lap, a bottle of vodka in my right hand, a human body in the freezer in the kitchens behind me, and a rather large displaced rock hopper penguin staring me in the face. Upstairs, on the second floor, is the room I’ve made my headquarters. It has a bidet but no bath. The toilet seat refuses to stay up. The wallpaper has succumbed in places to a grainy black fungus, despite the moderate climate. I smell mold everywhere, and fish. (Because, you know, fish have appeared in the lobby on occasion.) Sometimes the electricity works, but mostly I hope it doesn’t because I’m convinced what with all the water everywhere I’m likely to be electrocuted, perhaps even while I sleep.

A New Face in Hell
What do I know about Terry Tidwell? I know we watched him for over three years. No real suspicions, just general surveillance. "Secrets and scandals of deceitful type proportions," as they say. But there wasn't much to find out, and we've since stopped watching him, for reasons that will become clear. And for one other reason: I was following him so much that I began to think like him, to become him. This could be termed an occupational hazard. My superiors were not pleased.

The Great Bat Expedition
The Great Bat Expedition from Camp Crystal Lakes started out well enough. Nick, his sister Nikki, and their best friend Tom gathered outside Nick’s tent in the mid-afternoon. One by one they went through their list.

“Flashlight?” Nikki asked. She always kept the lists.

“Check,” said Nick. It was one of his favorite words. Sometimes he would say it all day long. Those were the days Nikki and Tom would try to avoid him.

Masha and the Bear
Once upon a time a talking bear found a girl named Masha wandering through the forest looking for wildflowers. Her parents had told her not to go out into the woods, but she'd ignored them. She was very surprised to see the bear—almost as surprised as the bear was to see her.

"Hello to girl," said the bear.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


Per this, I thought it might be good to post the current Author Tour Pro Rankings, which were just released this past week. These are just for "genre" writers.

(1) Neal Stephenson
(2) Neil Gaiman
(3) Kelly Link
(4) China Mieville
(5) Susanna Clarke
(6) Gene Wolfe
(7) J.K Rowling
(8) John Crowley
(9) John Twelve Hawks
(10) Jasper Fforde

- Stephenson held onto the top spot with his vicious serve and his ferocious delaying tactics, producing hundreds and hundreds of pages before anything happens and thus wearing out his opponents.
- Gaiman would have been higher, but in a key tactical error his leather jacket was out for touching up this week. Like a hermit crab deprived of his shell, he was thus vulnerable to Jasper Fforde's delicate but quick serve. (As a result, Fforde moved up, temporarily, from 105th to 10th.)
- Link would have been ranked higher this week but was oblivious to the tour schedule because she was "off somewhere writing" and did not show up for her face-off versus a nonplussed Cory Doctorow. (However, Doctorow also defaulted from a match because he was too busy emailing somebody, and he moved down to 11th.)
- Mieville made a strategic blunder by changing from a novel to short story racket during a clay court tournament and did not receive the usual attention, thus lowering his ranking before he even played his opponent, Terry Brooks.
- Clarke endured a vicious pummeling at the hands of ace specialist Elizabeth Kostova, but then trounced a flummoxed Dan Simmons (who was not on the court at the time, out walking his dog at the time of the encounter) to retain her top 10 ranking. (Kostova has not been playing long enough to be ranked.)
- Wolfe played in a difficult round-robin tournament against a slew of trilogy-writing heroic fantasy novelists due to the recent publication of the Knight-Wizard and survived most of them, despite hitting mostly ironic ground strokes, to maintain his current ranking.
- Rowling tumbled from the top 5 after losing a brutal three-set match against the ghost of Roald Dahl, who was hampered by being dead.
- Crowley appeared at his match dressed as Lord Byron and although he won against both Thomas Ligotti (who refused to use a racquet) and Poppy Z. Brite (who used a buzzsaw), he was disqualified due to "costume irregularities."
- Hawks won his match against a thoroughly discombobulated Octavia Butler by revealing during a crucial set point that he is actually Simon Le Bon from Duran Duran. This massive upset resulted in his first ranking within the top 500.

Other Notes
- Jeff Ford blew off his event, saying "This is bullshit" and fell out of the top 10 entirely for the first time in three years. "Who gives a crap?" he said when reached for comment.
- Charles Stross attempted to play in thirty tournaments over a four-day stretch, collapsed from exhaustion, and fell out of the top 10 for the first time since the 2004 WorldCon, at which he similarly collapsed from exhaustion.
- M. John Harrison asked to be left off the rankings, but promised to "drop by the next tournament with a two-by-four."


I just got confirmation from Peter Wild that my story "New Face in Hell" has been accepted for his anthology of stories based on songs by The Fall. The full line-up (by order of song date) so far is set out below. I have to say, I'm thrilled to be in an anthology with Robyn Hitchcock, a personal hero of mine. The antho is tentatively scheduled for June 2006. More details when I have them.


1. Bingo Master's Break Out (1978) - Niall Griffiths

2. Industrial Estate (1979) - Matthew David Scott

3. Like to Blow (1979) - Stuart David

4. New Face in Hell (1980) - Jeff VanderMeer

5. City Hobgoblins (1980) - Carlton Mellick III

6. Totally Wired (1980) - Mick Jackson

7. Lie Dreams of a Casino Soul (1981) - Nick Johnstone

8. Papal Visit (1982) - Nick Stone

9. An Older Lover etc (1982) - John Williams

10. Fortress/Deer Park (1982) - Michel Faber

11. The Man Whose Head Expanded (1983) - Steve Aylett

12. Neighbourhood of Infinity (1983) - Robyn Hitchcock

13. Disney's Dream Debased (1984) - Scarlett Thomas

14. God Box (1984) - Stav Sherez

15. Cruiser's Creek (1985) - Peter Wild

16. Lucifer over Lancashire (1986) - Nicholas Blincoe

17. There's a Ghost in my House (1987) - Clare Dudman

18. Edinburgh Man (1991) - Kevin MacNeil

19. The League of Bald-Headed Men (1993) - Andrew Holmes

20. Paranoia Man in Cheap Sh*t Room (1993) - Andre Alexis

21. The City Never Sleeps (1995) - Helen Walsh

22. The Aphid (1995) - Stewart Lee

23. Touch Sensitive (1999) - Richard Evans

24. My Ex-Classmates' Kids (2001) - Matt Thorne

25. Contraflow - Matt Beaumont

26. I Can Hear The Grass (2005) - Rebbecca Ray

Tuesday, October 18, 2005


It's been an interesting week. Apparently, the jetlag back is worse than the jetlag there, because we had almost no jetlag when we got to Australia. However, several strange phenomenon since, and a few observations.

(1) From 5:30pm to 7:30pm, we cannot keep our eyes open to save our lives. Which is a real pain driving home. Several times last week, I felt like I needed to pull over because I couldn't stay awake. Just barely made it home.

(2) Sunday, I sat down at 6:30pm to watch football...and next thing I knew it was 7:30 in the morning. I slept for 13 hours straight and I had the most vivid wonderful and horrible dreams the whole time, the kind where you don’t know it’s a dream while it’s happening. I spent half of it in the circus and half of it in New Orleans during the hurricane. Oy. Ann hadn't the heart to wake me, so she'd just pulled me by the legs so I was lying on the couch instead of sitting on it. So, for me, there was this delicious moment of dislocation, one second sitting up watching football, next second lying down looking at the ceiling.

(3) We are really active and alert, most nights, around 3:30am to about 4:30am. Nocturnal!! Like tree possums!

(4) We get home and sit on the couch and say, "What do you want to do tonight?" Ann says, "Let's go to a movie." Blink. Two hours later we wake up and go, "Um, I guess we're not going to a movie tonight...."

(5) Ginger cordial doesn't taste nearly as good when you're not drinking it in in Grace Dugan's apartment, with a nice cross-breeze going... :(

(6) Tim Tam's are good no matter where the hell you are, and everybody we know loves the ones we brought back.

(7) We're going to dine out on Australia stories for months!


Monday, October 17, 2005


Nicholas Blincoe recently did a piece for The Telegraph about writing and music, in connection with an anthology of short stories based on the music of The Fall. He used just a little bit of what he asked me, so I'm reproducing the full interview below, with his permission.



Do you think that novels, fiction etc occupies the same kind of terrain as music, or are they very different worlds?
Music is more immediate. It can appeal to the intellect, but it is distinguished from other media by its emotional intensity. But I do think good fiction strives to achieve the same effect as good music--to be effortless in transporting the reader into some other place or emotional state.

For music to be of interest to a writer does it have to have some special attributes. For instance, authenticity? a distinctive voice?
I have to have lyrics. Doesn't matter if they even make sense, so long as they make sense in combination with the music they're attached to. And the music has to have changes in it, or it has to, as The Fall do, use repetition to create change. Authenticity exists within the confines of the song itself, not in the background of the musician. I think in music, the "voice" is actually the music itself. In writing, "voice" is the style of writing. So in a sense, style in fiction is the music, with the lyrics being the narrative.

Are some genres of more interest than others? For instance, is pop or hip hop too young or too ubiquitous or too consumerist? Is Folk or Country and Western (say) better because it's more rooted or deals with mature interests? Or the other way around (pop says more about our world, because it is part of our world, for instance).
We're living in a cross-genre world--everything's getting mixed together, sampled, re-cast in different contexts. Both in music and in literature. The reason for that is that the world we're living in is getting more and more absurd, superficially complex, and desperate. The only way to make sense of it, to try to get at something universal, is to blend styles of music, to blend styles of fiction.

Who is a literary rock star or musician? Does this make them better or just different to other musicians?
Literary rock stars and music rock stars are just trading off of their sex appeal, basically, their charm or swagger. This is completely unnecessary to most forms of fiction writing, and has nothing to do with that writing. In music, on the other hand, because of the nature of live performance, this kind of swagger or sex appeal is indispensible to certain kinds of music. I think this is one major difference between fiction and music. Also, I think writers tend to adopt or exploit wagger and sex appeal more cynically than musicians. The result is that, unfortunately, mediocre writers often through charm alone get better notices than the ugly or socially inept ones.

The sixties seemed to bring a convergence of music and poetry, art and literature - at least for a lot of writers. Was this an unusual/unique era? Or is it more unusual now, when they have drifted further apart?
I think, again, this is a cross-genre period. House of Leaves, Danielewski's great novel, has a soundtrack. McSweeney's magazine out of NYC has blended music and fiction. My last novel, City of Saints & Madmen, has a whole CD of experimental music devoted to it. And I'm working on a dramatization of part of my next novel that will be a short film with a soundtrack.

Do writers envy the rock and roll life style?
Any writer with a few books out can emulate the rock and roll life style if they choose to. But let's face it--while a band can lurch on with a couple of members out of their minds on coke and still make decent music, a writer is a band of one. If he or she is out all the time partying and doing drugs and having promiscuous sex, exactly who is doing the writing? I had a friend who used to write novellas. Then he started doing drugs. Slowly, his stories got shorter and shorter. Finally, he was doing one-paragraph-length stories and justifying it by saying he'd created a new art form. Bukowski and other hard-liver-drinkers-druggies are exceptions to the rule. And the rule is: to be wild and edgy in your writing, be prudent and conservative in your private life.

Saturday, October 15, 2005


Okay, so Stellastar sucks and everybody knows the New Pornographers latest is great. You might also know that the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club has gone cowboy-gospel to good effect, while I’ve blogged about the new Vanderslice at length previously. But what else is out there? See below for a few recommendations. I also suggest Sleepover Disaster (brainy and cool), Vacation (brainless but lovely raw), and Tsar (fun! fun! fun!). (Newsflash: the new Michael Penn is pretty annoying.)

Please feel free to add your own recommendations by posting a comment.


APOLLO SUNSHINE – Apollo Sunshine
I don’t even know what to call it, except to say I really love it. It’s such an odd mix of cinematic music, rock and roll, pop, and low-fi, but it works. Yet another cool bright thing born of the Elephant Collective. I’ve been listening to this over and over again.

ART BRUT – Bang Bang Rock and Roll
One listener on Amazon called this “basically the new Fall album.” Well, sure, and that’s a good thing, but it’s also nice in a world composed of often-indistinguishable-from-one-another-pseudo-Brit-pop bands (which I often find irresistible, admittedly) to find something that isn’t arch, ironic, “cool,” hip, or artsy-fartsy. Straight-forward songs with solid hooks, but something about the lead singer and the funny/clever but honest lyrics lifts this above the norm. My favorite track is “My Little Brother Just Discovered Rock and Roll.”

CAESARS – Paper Tigers
This CD has been slagged by some reviewers, especially in the UK, probably because of the recent inundation of high-profile pop bands and also because the Caesars have been featured in iPod commercials with their song “Jerk It Out.” Don’t listen to them. This is one of the best pure pop-rock CDs I’ve heard in the last few years, with seamless production (yet not over-produced). “Jerk It Out” is included on the CD, but is really the least of the gems to be found here. In some ways, this is a strangely beautiful CD.

THE CHURCH – Momento Descuidado
A finalist for Australia’s prestigious Aria Award, this unplugged CD provides a new view of The Church’s fine musicianship and the band’s beautifully mysterious but never self-indulgent lyrics. Steve Kilbey’s voice is in fine form. Songs like “November” are mysterious and a bit chilling while renditions of hits like “Under the Milky Way” have marvelous warmth to them. “Sealine,” off their last CD, is a stunning song with lyrics that send a little shiver up the spine. A good way to catch up on current Church songs while revisiting old favorites.

CLOUD ROOM – The Cloud Room
We got to see this band when they opened for The Pernice Brothers and, frankly, they blew The Pernice Brothers away. If you get a chance to see Cloud Room live, do so. Now, their debut CD might sound a little Interpol, a little Brit-pop, but it’s also got some weird other influences on it, and what sounds poppy on the CD sounds like raucous rock-and-roll live. These guys are not just another anonymous pseudo Brit-pop band. They deserve your serious attention. Favorite songs include the incendiary “Blackout!!!” The thing Ann and I like about them the most is that the tempo and emphasis changes throughout the song, with some relatively complex arrangements. There’s a little Bowie in this CD, a little glam rock, too.

DANDY WARHOLS – Odditorium
The last Warhols CD I loved the first five times I played it, and then I couldn’t stand it. Odditorium, on the other hand, I hated the first five times I played it, and now I can’t stop listening to it. All of the slick production of Monkey House is gone, as is the pseudo Duran Duran posturing/influence. Instead, they’ve gone back to what made them great on Bohemia mixed with the stuff on the earlier CDs that was listenable.

FRANZ FERDINAND – You Could Have It So Much Better
Right. So everybody has heard about the new Franz Ferdinand CD, I’m sure. What you haven’t heard is that the reviewers are wrong. This isn’t the same formula from the first CD carried forward. You Could Have It So Much Better features a wider variety of material, with some slower songs and some very Kinks-influenced mid-tempo songs as well. It’s a more fragile CD than the first. It seems as wonderfully disposable as their first, but it lingers a bit longer.

THE GIRAFFES – The Giraffes
You’ve got your Led Zep rip-offs and then you’ve got your Led Zep rip-offs. Some of you prefer White Stripes for that kind of thing. I prefer Giraffe. Giraffe’s a little more on the heavy metal side of things, although just a tad. Really thick, tight guitar progressions. A general attitude of belligerence that works well. The sludge rises and it is good!

GOGOL BORDELLO –Gypsy Punks Underdog World Strike
Ukrainian immigrant punk-folk insanity. Everything will be illuminated if you just listen to this CD. I’ve been a huge fan of GB ever since I heard them, and this CD is as good as their previous infectious concoctions. Great energy and fusion of influences.

LITTLE BARRIE – We Are Little Barrie
White funk/R&B music, produced by Mr. Orange Juice himself. The second track, “Burned Out,” is particularly smoldering. Yes, it’s a bit of a throwback, but another nice variation given the amount of pop-rock out there. The CD is probably a couple of tracks too long, however, as it begins to all seem similar.

NINE BLACK ALPS – Everything Is
A Manchester-based Nirvana? Yeah, pretty much. But you know what? I don’t mind one bit because most of the American grunge coming out of Seattle sucked. This doesn’t suck. It’s mindful of its influences but it has a bloody minded edge all its own. (Evil Monkey: What does that mean? Jeff: I don’t know. It’s close to dinner time. Don’t press me. Evil Monkey: Jerk.) Tracks like “Ironside” are slash-and-burn grunge without the deep-voice-but-still-I’m-whining feel of most grunge.

OK GO – Oh No
So what happens if you create the perfect pop CD that just happens to reference a lot of different influences? Apparently, you get slapped down by reviewers. This is another underrated CD that deserves your attention. This stuff is the shit, as they say. Check it out. It’s the most fun I’ve had all year, to be honest. Check out the “A Million Ways” video on their website—it’s hilarious.

PERNICE BROTHERS – Discover a Lovelier You
We saw the Pernice Brothers a couple of nights after Katrina hit New Orleans and they were clearly bummed out. It was not the best show, certainly not as good as the first time we saw them. Discover a Lovelier You, however, ranks with their best, even if it’s beginning to seem they’ve got a pop-rock formula they’re following on every CD.

POSIES – Every Kind of Light
The dumbest thing Ann and I have seen in concert recently is the Posies. (The Deathray Davies, opening for them, completely and utterly blew them away. The DD were absolutely awesome in every sense.) Mostly because the Posies’ lead singer was “rocking out” even on the slow or mid-tempo songs. Oh—there he goes again. Is he having some kind of fit? Speaking in tongues? No. He’s just rocking out again. Wow. He really gets into these songs. Every. Single. Last. Song. That said, the new Posies CD is probably their best, mostly because there is simultaneously a darker tone to many of the songs and yet stripped down production, with lushness added only where it’s most required. While listening to this CD, I kept thinking of velvet, but not the dogs-playing-poker kind. Even if you haven’t liked the Posies before this, you might like this new one.

SILVER JEWS – Tanglewood Numbers
Any CD with song titles like “Sometimes a Pony Gets Depressed” and “How Can I Love You If You Won’t Lie Down” has to be considered semi-eccentric, and it’s true the lyrics on the SW’s latest release are sometimes just obscure rather than meaningful, but for once all of the self-indulgent guitar noodling is kept to a minimum and we get a set of complete songs instead of fragments. Does this mean it’s better than past releases (which I really liked)? No. But it is more cohesive.

Part Scottish folk, but also kind of Goth, kind of Nick Cave, the most impressive thing about Repulsion Box is the stripped-down approach, which allows the voices to carry the songs and allows the listener to focus on the lyrics. Since Sons and Daughters like to tell stories, that’s a very wise decision. Any additional layering of the music would have taken away from the comfortable feel. At the same time, the music itself is very detailed and lively.

VIERS, LAURA – Year of Meteors
Viers is a bit like Suzanne Vega—part pop, part folk—but her work is altogether more mysterious and cohesive. Her previous (quite beautiful) CD revolved around the theme of water. This one revolves around travel, in its various forms. I prefer the more upbeat songs on Year of Meteors, whereas I preferred the quiet stuff on her last release. But the lyrics on Year of Meteors are a little more polished. I liked it, but can’t yet tell if it’ll stick with me.



Cat Sparks, dynamo, force unto herself, Duran Duran apologist, and just generally one of my favorite people, has just posted photos from the dinner we shared with her, part of her immense and very enjoyable photo gallery. Her photos from dinner are much better labeled than mine...

A Love Letter to Australia from My Wife... (Usually we're cynical and curmudgeonly, I swear!--jv)

Dear Australia,

We were only together for 3 short weeks, but I think I am in love. In that short period of time I was able to do, see and feel things I never thought possible. And I couldn’t have done it without you.

I hiked in a rainforest and snorkeled in the Great Barrier Reef (even though I grew up in Miami, FL, I had never been snorkeling before and was scared to death!). I watched a fireworks display as fruit bats flew past my hotel window. I climbed up the steepest mountain I have ever climbed and saw the most beautiful land below me.

I experienced the sounds and colorful sight of lorikeets and parakeets in the trees. Also, cockatoos, goannas, tree possums and too many other wonderful creatures it list.

One of things I love about you is the way that even the urban areas are filled with nature. You don’t have to go far to be in the middle of a lovely park with flora and fauna that should be the envy of the world.

I love the way you smell – so clean and fresh. It makes me feel intoxicated when I breathe in (and yes, even in the cities!). I also love your mulberry trees--eating mulberries off the branches near Geoff Maloney's house, hands stained purple, was great.

I also love the way you nurture all of your artists, whether their venue is the written word, dance, visual art, music or any other artistic endeavor. I love how diverse your cities are, with all kinds of people from all over and with some of the best food and drink I’ve had.

I ate and drank and ate and drank some more. Can’t get enough of those Tim Tams--or that Toohey’s Old. Not to mention ginger cordial. And the wines!!! Too many good ones to list!

I woke up each morning with such anticipation of a great day and each day exceeded my expectations. How often can anyone say that even on one day? And yet it happened to me for 3 weeks.

I love the way your people talk and how they embraced us with their warmth and their friendliness. I love how they helped us to slow down and smell the flowers, so to speak, and made us laugh and smile. I guess the thing I love you best for is your people. They are what make you such a wonderful country, and one that I long to return to soon.



(Evil Monkey: "You ever do that to me again, I cut you real bad." Jeff: "Do what?" Evil Monkey: "Go off for three weeks and leave me at the mercy of a madman." Jeff: "Was Ben Peek that bad?" Evil Monkey: "That guy hit me over the head with a beer bottle when I wasn't looking and tied me to a chair. Then he forced me to read all of this disgusting crap." Jeff: "I'm sorry." Evil Monkey: "All he fed me was bananas, which was insulting. There was a perfectly fine corn souffle and left over steak in the refrigerator but I couldn't get to it! And the guy kept going on and on about his novel. Jesus Christ. I felt like that character at the end of A Handful of Dust by Waugh." Jeff: "Okay, I won't do that again. I did wonder why you were tied to a chair when I got home, but I didn't want to pry, just in case..." Evil Monkey: "Very funny." Jeff: "I try. So...what're you gonna do now? You seem to have some bags packed by the door." Evil Monkey: "I'm gonna find that bastard and cut him real bad.")


Clare Dudman is taking a hiatus from blogging, but before that she posted an interview with Jake Arnott, author of The Long Firm. I picked up this novel on the recommendation of Iain at Pulp Fiction in Brisbane and read it on the flight home. It's an absolute corker of a novel, very interesting structurally. The dialogue and description from 1960s London seems spot-on. It's an amazing character study as well as a damn fine historical novel, in a sense. And very clever without being facile. Definitely one of the high points of my reading recently, so I was glad to see Clare mentioning it.


Friday, October 14, 2005


I recently got the following email from Colleen Mondor that I thought was worth sharing. It seems definitely legit. Please help out if you can.




As you may have read in the Bookslut blog two weeks ago, (I am a regular contributor over there), I am working with a group in Baton Rouge who are helping children sheltered with their families at Southern University. We have put together a couple of wish lists of books and games that the folks at Parkview Baptist Church will happily deliver to the SU kids and other area shelter kids, all of whom would love to have a diversion right now. We are also trying to contact book and comic book reviewers in particular to let them know that any children, young adult or all ages titles they have lying around would certainly be welcome down in Baton Rouge.

If you could mention my project on your site when you return from Australia, it would help get the word out. Also, feel free to buy off the lists, and send the links on to everyone you know and pass on my email to anyone who has any questions.

Take care and thank you for your help in spreading the word.


Colleen Mondor
moroaircraft (at)

Mailing Address for Donations:

Josh Causey
Parkview Baptist Church
11795 Jefferson Highway
Baton Rouge, LA 70816

Thursday, October 13, 2005


Link to Complete Set of Sydney Photos


One of Meew Kim’s Felt Moi Bunnies (email:, discovered in Sydney’s New Town, and described as:

Every FeltMoi bunny has its own story. Born bright mismatched colors and without tails, these little animals are of an affectionately naive yet rebellious nature. They easily fit into your pocket and make lucky traveling companions. Optimistic and curious about your life they want to share adventures with you...Meew Kim could always take a break from sewing bunny mayhem. You can contact her via smoke signal or putting strawberries under your pillow before sleep...


Sydney seemed a little like Vancouver mixed with New York City, but with giant fruit bats, ibises, and other beasties. Our schedule was both busier and more relaxed—fewer formal events but more group lunches and dinners. But Sydney has the rhythms of a big city, and that means more people and more exhaustion, in a sense, even though it is wonderfully walkable. We were really happy to have booked a “relaxation suite” at the Hilton, because we needed it. Ending each night in the jacuzzi was really nice, and we figured we’d earned it, by god! It was also a great place to entertain people.

Anne Sydenham, Anna Tambour, Ann, and Ben Peek

We saw some of the usual tourist things, like the opera house, the zoo, and the botanical gardens. We absolutely loved the botanical gardens, with its countless cockatoos and other exotic birds—as well as our old friends, the fruit bats.

We ate dim sum in a great Chinese restaurant and tried a “degustation” meal at a trendy place called Becasse. We also checked out Sydney’s China Town and its relaxing Chinese Garden. In addition, we shopped a lot the first few days, buying some clothes and a few books. (Well, okay, so we had to buy a large suitcase to take all the books back.)

But this was very much a Sydney trip punctuated by our meeting various interesting people and groups. We met Cat Sparks (pictured below) and her friends, along with/including Margo Lanagan, Kim Westwood (also pictured below), and alumni of the latest Clarion South. Cat is a powerhouse of energy and fun; we also argued long into the night, in a very playful way, about the relative merits of certain Duran Duran albums.

Lunch with Garth Nix, his wife Anna (with Pan Macmillan Australia), Malcolm Knox (Sydney Herald), and Cate Paterson (also with Pan Macmillan Australia) was very relaxing, and offered up a lovely view of the harbor.

That same day, we had an amazing Nepalese dinner with David Lynton from Galaxy Bookshop, his wife Natalie, Michelle Kearns from Borders and her husband, Peter (pictured below), as well as three Anns (more on that later). It was outside and started raining. At one point, someone tried to deliver a pizza through a hole in the back wall. A great deal of fun, followed by playing pool and drinking beer in an Irish pub.

We also met members of rock group The Church at Bondi Beach—Steve Kilbey, Tim Powles, and Marty Wilson-Piper--for one of many highlights in Sydney.

I’ve loved The Church since picking up their CD Hey Day in the 1980s, so it was a real treat to have a chance to talk to them—and to find that they were all genuine, honest, intelligent, fun guys. (I’d rather not jinx it by mentioning the details yet, but it appears The Church will be collaborating with me on a future project of mine, debuting in August of next year. Check out their website. They’ve been making great music for over 25 years. Absolutely one of my favorite bands of all time—Shriek was mostly written listening to The Church.) This year, they're a finalist for Australia's prestigious Aria awards.

The photo below of The Church’s Tim Powles and his precocious daughter Bryn is my favorite of the entire trip. (Unfortunately we did not get a photo of Tim’s charming wife, Jane.)

Our final weekend in Australia, Anna Tambour and Anne Sydenham came up to tour the city with us. It was the weekend of The Three Anns, pictured below flying. (Check out the main photo link for several more amazing photos...) Anna had lived in Sydney and took us to New Town and other cool areas. On Sunday, the writer Ben Peek joined us for a trip to the zoo and a great meal in China Town.

...and then it was over, way too soon. That final night, we were very sad. We’d had an amazing time in Australia, to the point where I don’t have any bizarre stories. Everyone was so nice and everything went so well, there were none of those odd or unsettling moments that usually punctuate trips like these. We just generally loved Australia and want to go back as soon as possible.

Next time, we need to visit Melbourne, Tasmania, and maybe take a trip to New Zealand as well.


P.S. We shared the plane back with the band Unwritten Law and a guy who had just won a triathlon in Adelaide. The athlete was cool. The band, a kinda-punk outfit featured on MTV, was generally okay, but every once in awhile would say something really loud that was really for the benefit of the passengers, so everybody would know how cool they were...which was kinda uncool...


I just got some advance bound manuscript copies of Shriek from Liz Gorinsky at Tor! It's so odd to see it in book form, to be honest, and rather thrilling. I've worked on this thing for so long I never actually visualized this moment. These copies will go out to writers for advance blurbs. It's also great because it allows me to come to the novel fresh and make a few more edits.

A couple of blurbs have already come in, from Clare Dudman and Tamar Yellin. Admittedly, these are writers I know pretty well, but they're also not writers who give blurbs if they don't sincerely like a book.

"Jeff VanderMeer is an extraordinary writer. His vision of Ambergris is passionate, beautiful, complex, terrifying. What is remarkable about Shriek: An Afterword is the way it combines such surreal imagery with intensely human feeling. He writes about real people - about the real world." - Tamar Yellin, author of The Genizah at the House of Shepher

"An enthralling book which takes you into the vivid and superbly-realised world of Ambergris. It is in turn unsettling, moving and thrilling - with passages of writing that can be dryly funny on one page and beautiful on the next..." - Clare Dudman, author of One Day the Ice Will Reveal All of Its Dead


Link to Brisbane Photos
(slideshow option in upper right corner)


Going from Cairns to Brisbane was like going from wilderness to civilization, but in Australia civilization is still shot through with wilderness. Even though it's a city of about 1.5 million people, the cultural center, South Bank, featured scavenging ibises, tree possums, huge lizards, giant fruit bats, and an assortment of wading birds near the river. It is the difference between a tropical setting (Australia) and a subtropical setting (Florida).

The locals take the fauna in stride, but we were unabashed gawkers, snapping photos left and right. Even of the common lorikeet.

So much happened in Brisbane, but so much of it was also a blur, because the Brisbane Writers Festival organizers kept me (and Ann, because she helped with a lot of it) very busy. I did panels, attended the Devil in Brisbane launch, presented my Rough Guide to Ambergris presentation, had lunch with Friends of the Festival, and dinners with various members of the writing community. We met so many wonderful people that I'll let the photos do the talking in that regard rather than run the risk of leaving anyone out.

Figuring out what to write when signing...

The festival itself was great, and I enjoyed all of it. The masterclass went very well, although I kept wondering if the students' eyes were going to glaze over during the lecture component, which is the price I pay for doing this particular masterclass a lot, since the material I present becomes rather familiar—to me. The material the students give me back, though, is always a revelation, and I liked the way in which many of them produced fiction very different from their usual style. Although, as usual, they complained mightily about the part where I made them rewrite material without being able to use the letter "a". And there is an element of trust involved, because I have them do exercises that sometimes seem silly but are deadly serious—but I can't tell them why they're doing them until afterwards or they won't experience it for themselves first.

South Bank itself, and Queensland in general, showed a great commitment to the arts, although it was funny to find a Queensland literary award abandoned in the lobby of the Rydges Hotel. I had to take it to the concierge. I think it was for best first novel or best novel.

Favorite moments? It's difficult. There were too many. So many times Ann I found ourselves talking to people and it feeling like we had known them for years, more so than on any other trip to date. Lunches and dinners were a great pleasure for us, meeting so many interesting people. And even chance meetings, like encountering Candice Levett, who happened to be a bushwalker and helped us find our way to Mount Maroon.

Also, stupid things, like sitting in a café in Beaudesert, south of Brisbane, and watching as an employee from the Kentucky Fried Chicken across the street walked in, ordered a piece of fried chicken and took it back across to the KFC to eat it. (!?)

Or even just watching the Australian Rugby final on a big screen TV with Queensland and Sydney fans—such a raucous, committed group.

Or hanging out in the Belgian Beer Café, close to my idea of heaven.

Drunk But Happy

Or going to see Maximo Park at The Zoo.

A walk through the botanical gardens was pure bliss, especially after visiting the beer café.

Of course, Mount Maroon was something else and a definite highlight. A pretty steep ascent up the ridge of a mountain. Like walking for two hours up a flight of stairs. Our legs got rubbery, ropey, and we loved the burn of it. We loved every godforsaken boulder and crappy foothold, every look over the edge down the slope, and across to the crenellation of further mountain. The view from the top blew our minds.

We're Gonna Climb That?

But, there were other, less obviously spectacular moments. Like a catamaran ride from South Bank to the Power House, a cultural space for plays, readings, and concerts. We took it at dusk and sat in the front, watching the lights of the city. The spray from the river and the light breeze washing over us, as the catamaran sped silently across the water. The smell of honeysuckle or something similar creeping up from the shore. Lights to either side, some from the glass boxes of condominiums that looked fragile and vulnerable, the silhouettes of the people inside putting on a pantomime shadow puppet play. And in other places, highlighted mini-cliffs lining a public park. Or the bejeweled layer cake of a tourist boat. The playful arching red lights of a bridge passing overhead. We felt as if we were skating across the surface of the water, effortless, tinged with cold, and relented in our vigor long enough to succumb. Bats, dark warm shapes crossing the slate sky. Sometimes the call of a bird or animal unknown to us, a reminder of the shore. We both had smiles on our faces the whole way. I kept saying to Ann, "I can't believe we're in Australia." I can't believe we're gliding across the water. I can't believe the world is so big and bold and subtle and wonderful, and that I'm alive in it.


As I may have mentioned, my novel Veniss Underground is out from Bantam Spectra this month. I'm very excited about it, as this is my first book from a major publisher in the U.S., except for the disease guide, which I only co-edited.

You can buy it from Amazon and read more about it in the current Bantam Spectra Newsletter. Also below find some reader comments from those who read advance copies of this edition, which includes three related stories and a novella.

Also check out these reviews of the old version from the Guardian,, The San Francisco Chronicle, and SF Weekly.

An ad for the book recently ran in the New York Times Book Review, with another planned for the new magazine Fantasy, edited by Sean Wallace (among others).


Reader Comments from Spectra Edition

"What started out weird and totally strange ended up as a story of strength, love and courage. I was fascinated with the devotion of Shadrach to atone for his 'sin' and salvage his life and the life of his lover; the bizarre world of Veniss Underground added a wonderful depth and backdrop to the tale. Jeff VanderMeer has a marvelous way with words and images, evoking great emotion from his twisted and
fantastic world." Don S., Littleton, CO

"What is thought-provoking and terrifying and made this book very worthwhile is how much of the seed of the Veniss Underground world is already sown in our own. It truly is a speculation of what may lie in our future. It was not an easy book to read but, as I already mentioned, very much worthwhile. I really enjoyed the author's use of language and wish I were as adept at it as he. Sigrun S.,
London, Ontario, Canada

"A unique story. Alternately amazed and horrified at the depth of Jeff VanderMeer's
imagination, I remained glued to the pages. Enjoyable and intense. Debra G., Wolcott, CT

"A tale of post-cyberpunk that includes elements of horror. VanderMeer is a master in describing this futuristic world of Veniss. Readers of science fiction will appreciate his style and ability to give the reader a sense of possible advancements in technology along with examples of where science may not want to go. I highly
recommend this book." Michael M., Wauchula, FL

"A peek at a scary futuristic Earth where I felt horrified at what Jeff VanderMeer's imagination could produce. I could not believe that even with all this horror, he could make me see beauty also. I was surprised to find myself at times near tears. This book had passages that stuck with me after I read it. I really respect an author who can create a vision in my mind that lasts." Patricia R., Lombard, IL

"A departure from the typical science fiction or fantasy enjoyable tale, providing the reader an escape into a universe filled with mystery. The stories in Veniss Underground offer the reader an opportunity to glimpse a different universe, one not seen through rose-colored glasses. This is a novel that fans of fantasy
or science fiction will enjoy." Michael K., Sweet Valley, PA

"This very powerful book tells of the age-old story of the strength of true love, that of a brother and sister, and man and a woman. This story will amaze you, thrill you, defeat you, and renew you when love conquers." Judy H., Lebanon, MO

Wednesday, October 12, 2005


Link to Cairns Photo Album
(in chronological order, so the slideshow option in the upper right is useful)

From the moment we landed in Cairns and heard the raucous sounds of lorikeets in the trees, we knew we'd found a kind of paradise. Eve Stafford of Arts Nexus and her partner Buck Richardson, author of Dingo Innocent, met us at the airport and took us to our hotel. We quickly found we shared similar views on politics and we felt very comfortable with them.

We were in Cairns as part of the Brisbane Writers Festival, and Eve had helped facilitate part of the funding for the events and set up media events with the local newspaper and radio station.

I'd be working soon enough, conducting a masterclass and participating on a panel about regionalism in writing. But we had a few days to explore, and this we did. While in Cairns, we snorkeled on the reef, went to the rainforest, and drove up to Port Douglas, one of the most beautiful drives we've ever done--most of our adventures recounted in the photos above.

I Could Get Used to This Place

But one thing the photos can't really capture is the laid-back beauty of the region. We felt so relaxed and comfortable. I kept having flashbacks to my years spent in Fiji as a child, because the climate and vegetation were very similar.

It also can't convey the ambiance of some of the touristy aspects of Cairns, such as a tapas/Mexican/Italian/Australian place called Casa Meze, which had a bizarre mix of decor and at which we had sangria and sampled kangaroo, emu, and crocodile. (One of my favorite, relatively harmless, things to do while in Australia was to say to Australians we met, "We had koala, too, but it was kind of stringy," and watch the horrified looks and quick intake of breath.) While we ate, about fifty Japanese tourists took salsa dance lessons in the ballroom across the open hall.

We soon discovered the fruit bats, flying foxes, which we loved--from their golden heads to their black little feet. One night, we watched the fireworks of a festival from our hotel balcony and the juxtaposition of the lights and the dark shapes of the bats flying past was surreal and magical.

Everywhere we went, there was a subtle tropical breeze, taking the edge off of the heat.

Ann Likes Hats!

One night, we wound up having Turkish food with Mary, a member of the US Consulate, Eve and Buck, and the novelist Nick Earls, among others. It turned out, much to our surprise, that the US Embassy had helped sponsor my involvement in the Brisbane Writers Festival. We had a very interesting conversation. I had no idea that the embassy gave money for cultural events in Australia. (I know the Australian embassy in the US probably doesn't do the same for the US.)

Meeting Nick Earls was a pleasure. Funny and laid back but also sharp and detail-oriented, we got a real kick out of talking to him. (Later, in Brisbane, he'd recommend some mountain climbing to us. But the most hilarious thing was turning on the tourist channel in our hotel room and seeing his commercial for Brisbane. Until that moment, we had had no idea just how popular he was in Australia.) Nick, Eve, and Buck set the tone for the whole trip--everyone was incredibly nice and fun.

Even now, we're sad that we had to leave Cairns. We just enjoyed it so much. (I also have to say I was incredibly impressed with the masterclass participants, who produced some great writing.)



Thanks to all of the guest bloggers for their funny, insightful, and often fascinating posts. In a couple of days, when the dust settles, I will summarize by posting short descriptions and links to the various Aussie posts.

In the meantime, I'll be posting three photo essays about our trip to Australia, divided by city, along with some additional comments.



The New Orleans Bookfair will go on as scheduled on October 29, 2005 at Barrister's Gallery 1724 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd. From 10am to 6pm. Participating publishers include Fiction Collective II, Verso, Pelican Publishing, Last Gasp, Soft Skull, AK Press, Garrett County Press, Get Lost and many more. Free. Open to the public.

Organizer GK Darbey tells me that, "Please let your friends know that we're going to be open and would welcome people, bottles of wine, candy, books, songs, anything."

This is an important event given the devastation from Katrina and the rather cynical rebuilding plans bandied about by some Republican politicans. It's essential that New Orleans' creative minds return to the city and help with the recovery. And it's essential to support creative enterprises like the bookfair. It's a great event. If you have a blog, please spread the word.


Sunday, October 09, 2005


Ben Peek, guest blogging

So, yesterday, I met up with Jeff and Ann VanderMeer, Anna Tambour, and Anne Sydenham. It was pretty much everyones final day in Sydney (Anna and Anne also live outside the city) and we spent a bit of time wandering then got some food. In recognition of this final day, I figured I'd put up some images from the last dinner, just so you can all see Jeff and Anne and Anna and Anne (the Three Annes) in action.

We ate in Chinatown.

This is Jeff VanderMeer and Anna Tambour.

This is Anne Sydenham and Ann VanderMeer (left).

And these are the three people who eavesdropped on our conversation.

(Jeff's Evil Monkey: DADDY!)