Monday, January 30, 2006

THE BEST MUSIC OF 2005: Ben Peek's List

I think Ben Peek is one of Australia's most exciting new writers, with a novel out from Prime soon and a second just completed. His blog is also quite good. I like Ben's nonfiction because he isn't afraid to speak his mind and he backs up his ideas with logical arguments and analysis. I wouldn't be surprised if Ben pisses off some people, but it is invaluable to have people in the field who are willing to speak up.

Anyway, Ben has been kind enough to give me his list of 2005's best music (see below).

As for me, I'm almost done with George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones. I won't be blogging again until I finish it--and I may not blog again until well into the second. It's pretty addictive stuff.



The Herd, The Sun Never Sets.

The Herd's third album was released in October of 2005, and I haven't had a copy for long, but I'm going to list it as my choice for favourite album of the year. This might change some months down the track. It might be number two. At any rate, the Herd are a local hip hop act who produce, record, and put out their albums through their Elefant Tracks label. The Sun Never Sets, their third album, is an uncompromising tour through political and social concerns with their gritty, real world hip hop that is devoid of the shallow sparkle that can be seen in big name hip hop acts from the States. The band love their pop culture, too, and you find a snippet of Orson Welles from The Third Man, as well as references to Casablanca and William Shatner while they attack the Australian Prime Minister, the war in Iraq, and the soulless nature of working in corporations. Do yourself a favour and check it.

And now, nine other albums, which are in no particular order except alphabetical:

A Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band, Horses in the Sky.

It's a long band name, but everyone calls them A Silver Mt. Zion. I suppose it's unfair to say that the band is an offshoot of Godspeed You Black Emperor now that they have released their fifth album, but I typed that line, so there you go. After two mixed outings after the band's second (and best) album, Born into Trouble As The Sparks Fly Upward, A Silver Mt. Zion have finally found the right mix of vocals and beat to accommodate their new lyrical based sound, and the result is a matured, seasoned album. Easily equal to the second album.

Bettye LaVette, I've Got my Own Hell To Raise.

I must admit, I have a secret love for cover albums. I just love it when a musician takes songs and remakes them as her own, as LaVette has done. The opening track, a cover of Sinead O'Connor's 'I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got' isn't much to my taste, but after that, it's flat out joy. LaVette has one of those rare and beautiful voices. Her version of 'How Am I Different' is superb.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Howl.

On their third album, the band, with a new drummer, find what I refer to as pop cowboy gospel. I don't know if I would buy an album that someone promoted to me as pop cowboy gospel, but, strangely, it works, and works well. Indeed, the biggest disappointment of the whole album is that it is called Howl. Still, if you can get beyond that, this is a great album. I loved the harmonica. Any time they used the harmonica, I was right there.

Bloc Party, Silent Alarm.

You know, when I first heard this album, I wasn't so impressed by Bloc Party. The album kinda passed me by, to be honest. But then slowly, slowly I kept returning to it. Without a doubt it was my of my top spun albums this year, especially in the winter. Silent Alarm is really a winter kind of album. There are a few down points, such as 'The Price of Gasoline', but strong showings at the opening and end, especially 'Like Eating Glass' the opening track, hold it together.

Bright Eyes, I'm Wide Awake It's Morning.

It's the indie folk rock album choice. Heh. Yeah, I know, I know, but Bright Eyes manage to capture an intimate atmosphere on this album, perhaps through the simple act of having it start with the sipping of a drink and the casual story of people in an airplane crash. Sometimes, when I play the album, I wave my arms in the air, just for the hippie feel. Then I go find some mescaline to take. That's my Bright Eyes experience.

Broken Social Scene, Broken Social Scene.

The Broken Social scene are the Godspeed You Black Emperor of indie rock. Their new album is just superb, and if you can snag a copy of it with an extra EP, you're doing yourself a favour. The standout of the album, I reckon, is the final track, 'It's All Gonna Break'.

Cog, The New Normal.

Cog's debut album is fine hard rock by the three piece. It even comes with anti-authority leanings, which is always welcome. The only misstep on the album is the pseudo spoken word track, 'The River Song', about the Ironic Factory, which no one needed to hear, and is a bit unintentionally funny, as all pseudo spoken word tracks by hard rock bands are. Tracks like 'Anarchy OK' and 'Silence is Violence', however, more than make up for this.

The Drones, Wait Long by the River and the Bodies of Your Enemies Will Float By.

The Drones have easily the best album title of the year. That title is more than enough reason to buy this album, really. Should you do buy the album, however, you'll find a guitar heavy blues-rock-punk band that reminds me, in part, of the Beasts of Bourbon (others have also said The Birthday Party). The Drones do a lot of things right on this album, but easily the best thing they do is on 'Sitting on the Edge of the Bed Cryin'' where they show up Chris Isaak's only good song, 'Baby Did A Bad, Bad Thing'. There's no studio smoothness to this album: it's spiky and digs into your skin and forces you to listen. It's not the kind of thing you can put on in the background and zone with while doing something else. This album forces you to listen.

Mercury Rev, The Secret Migration.

Mercury Rev's new album is a beautiful thing. You play it when daylight is dying and the night is starting to come on. It's for those in between hours.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

EMERALD CITY: Shriek Article, Review, and Book Give-Away

Like SF Site and a few other online SF/Fantasy review websites, Emerald City has the distinction of coming out every month, like clockwork--chockful of reviews, convention reports, and interviews, all written by or coordinated by Cheryl Morgan. Cheryl consistently covers all manner of fantasy and science fiction in an interesting, lively, and thoughtful way.

This month, Cheryl is featuring dozens of interesting new reviews, commentary on the best of 2005, and:

My article on politics and fantasy

A review of Shriek

A special offer

The special offer is five copies of the Pan Macmillan Shriek, signed by me, to be given away to new subscribers to Emerald City.

But Emerald City is free, you say. Well, it is, but it's a bit like PBS or any other non-profit organization that depends on donations to survive. It's free and here now, but it might be gone before you know it, like a couple of websites that have closed down recently. Not to mention, it's a lot of hard work to keep putting out something like EC month in and month out.

So, please, if you want the chance to win a free, signed copy of Shriek and/or you read Emerald City regularly and you're not yet a subscriber, go ahead and subscribe. It's not a lot of money--only $12--and it's a good way to show your appreciation for one of the most stable, dependable SF/Fantasy review sites on the web.

In fact, I'll throw in some Ambergris stickers and some other small "Ambergris extras" for the five lucky winners. So subscribe early and subscribe often. :)


Saturday, January 28, 2006


Just a few little things to catch up on, that are either amusing or of interest.

Rick Kleffel (Agony Column) will be heard on National Public Radio, on the national show All Thing Considered, tomorrow. If you want to hear more about SF and Fantasy on national NPR programs, visit the link and email the story to your friends using NPR's email story option at the bottom

Somebody thinks that Shriek would be good reading for a character from Lost.

My Ambergris gets name-checked in a general definition of "Ambergris." (And thus it begins...)

Catch a quick look at the rough of the City of Saints page Mark Roberts is creating for me and Bantam. (It's being re-organized quite a bit--the final will be up in February and I'll blog about it officially then.)

Rajan Khanna proves he wasn't hallucinating when he mentioned this to us in a bar the night after the KGB reading....sorry, Rajan, we believe you now.

Clark Ashton Smith lovers beware: I have written two introductions to books of his, including Out of Time and Space, forthcoming from the University of Nebraska Press. Here's a short excerpt:

I would offer that there are few writers who seem to write so wholly for themselves, who seem so enraptured in a vision only they can see that they sacrifice accessibility for that vision. Smith, it seems to me, is an outsider precisely because, in pursuit of his own gratification, he makes the reader an outsider, looking in. This is what attracts readers to Smith's writing—that voyeuristic sense of peering in on a world and worldview never meant for us—and at the same time can repel us from it. I do not believe Smith cared one way or the other about the reader, so long as he could write what he wanted to write, in the way he wanted to write it. His visions may thus be incomplete, sometimes cloudy, but they are also to readers today, ironically enough given his pulp origins, undiluted by any appreciable commercial taint.

Finally, I am reading and LOVING George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones. Yes, I know I come late to this series, but I am just so happy that the Martin of "Sandkings" and "Nightflyers," an incarnation of Martin that I really learned a lot from, has, in the heroic fantasy genre, done something quite extraordinary.


Friday, January 27, 2006


Shriek: An Afterword is officially out in the UK and the rest of the British Commonwealth. Neil Williamson has already sighted Shriek (facing out, thank god, not spined) at a Waterstones in Glasgow. Cory Doctorow has sighted it at Holtzbrinck.

If you've seen it, let me know--post a comment.

I'm already getting emails from readers telling me they've started Shriek and are really enjoying it, which I'm very pleased about!

Also, don't forget to check out the blog entry below, about special offers and my mailing list!


P.S. It looks like a European book tour is a go for the summer! Roughly as follows:

Summer 2006 (dates tentative; specifics of events to follow)
July 22 - July 27 - Portugal (for various events facilitated by Luis Rodrigues, and hopefully in support of a book/let of a novella from City of Saints)
July 28 - August 4 - France (in support of Calmann-Levy's release of City of Saints & Madmen; they're putting a major major push behind the book)
August 5 - August 11 - Germany (in support of Klett-Cotta's release of City of Saints & Madmen in a beautiful hardcover edition and of the soon-to-be-released Veniss Underground from Piper)
August 12 - August 16 - Czech Republic (in support of the Laser edition of Veniss)
August 17 - August 23 - Finland (Guest of Honor, Finncon)

...which puts us back in the U.S. just in time for the U.S. signings and readings for Shriek from Tor, then World Fantasy Con, and a collapse from exhaustion in late November/December...

Thursday, January 26, 2006


More about NYC soon, I promise, but some deadlines are kicking my butt.

In the meantime, something I should have done a long time ago...

Want to get special stuff in the mail about my books, in particular my novels and other books set in the imaginary city of Ambergris?
Just email your snail mail address to my wife, Ann (annv @ - sorry, I can't post this addy as a hotlink or she'll get spammed; just delete the spaces after the v and after the @), and she'll add you to our database. It doesn't matter where in the world you are...

Your information will never be sold to or shared with a third party. But you will get cool stuff in the mail from time to time, some of it about special offers, including stuff directly from my publishers. But only about my books.

Please add addresses of friends who might also like to receive these materials. (Don't worry--you won't be getting tons of junk mail.) It's probably long overdue to formally compile a reader database, and I thank you in advance for your support. We're about to kick Ambergris into high gear.

Readings and Appearances
Also, I'm looking to finalize my reading and appearances schedule for 2006-2007. If you have contacts with bookstores, art centers, book festivals, or other venues, please feel free to share any contact information and I'll see what I can do about appearing at a venue near you.

Thanks for your support.


Wednesday, January 25, 2006


I got tagged by La Gringa, bless her.

So, here you go...five weird habits. Or, I guess they're weird. I'm not really that weird.


(1) When I play racquetball, I have to bounce the ball 7 times or 14 times before serving. Also, if I win a point on serve and the ball rolls against the front wall after the point is over, I have to bounce it against the front wall and side walls a total of 3 times or 7 times before I can take it back to the server's box. If there's a time out and I'm serving, I will stay inside the server's box. If the game is close at that point, I bounce the ball with my racquet while walking along the inside edges of the server's box.

(2) If something is on or past its sell-by date, I won't eat or drink it.

(3) I had a lot of odd writing habits, but I gave them up because they were getting in the way of writing. I used to need the right journal to write a story or novel--the texture of the paper and the texture of the cover had to fit the story. If I was writing in a lush style, the journal or notebook had to be lush. If I was writing noir, I needed an old manual typewriter. I had to have a pen that bled just the right way across the page, matching the texture of the story. I wouldn't start the story otherwise...All of that is history, though.

(4) The toys on my desk at work need to be arranged just the right way. If I have four of something, like smoking bunnies, then one of them is designated the leader and the other three form the advance party. If I have 7 smoking bunnies, then when I buy little devil ducks, I need 7 devil ducks. Okay, so this is kinda stupid rather than weird, but I'm running out of weirdnesses.

(5) I'm gonna let Ann use the comments field to post something about any other weirdnesses. I just can't think of any others. I'm a normal guy.

(Evil Monkey: "I brought you a present." Jeff: "Holy shit! What the hell are those?!" Evil Monkey: "Heads. On spikes." Jeff: "I know that, but whose are they?!" Evil Monkey: "Michael Crichton, Ann Coulter, and Newt Gingrich." Jeff: "That's horrible!" Evil Monkey: "Yeah, well..." Jeff: "Put those back where you found those! I'm fairly sure they need those." Evil Monkey: "I'm fairly sure they're not using them at all. At the moment." Jeff: "Well, honestly, I could care less. I just got a peek at the interior design for the Tor edition of Shriek and it's fucking gorgeous. Just great. So, behead as many people as you need to." Evil Monkey: "I was going to anyway, without your permission, thank you very much.")

Monday, January 23, 2006

NEWS (and delay)

I'll be posting more about my NYC trip soon, but in the meantime...I'm still in NYC. Our flight got delayed due to bad weather in Atlanta. But we'll be home by tonight.

In other news, my story "Farmer's Cat" has been selected by Sean Wallace for his year's best fantasy and by David Hartwell/Kathryn Cramer for their year's best fantasy anthology.

I've also completed introductions to two Clark Ashton Smith short story collections being put out by the University of Nebraska.

My interview with Rebecca Pawel, author of Summer Snow, just appeared in Publishers Weekly.

Interviews with Conrad Williams and Keith Brooke will appear in future installments of SF Site. In addition, I've agreed to write the introduction to Conrad's new novel, forthcoming from Earthling Publications. And at some point I will be writing the introduction to Night Shade Books' reprint of Glen Cook's Dread Empire trilogy.

Finally, as you may have noticed, I will be a World Fantasy Award judge in 2006, reading 2005 material. I thought it was a good year to do it since I had very little original material out in 2005, and because it was also a year in which few of my close friends published major fiction. In the few cases where they did, it will be easy enough to recuse myself. I'm excited about the opportunity, looking forward to reading widely, and was delighted to find out who my fellow judges are--good souls all.

Reading for the World Fantasy Award strikes me as a very general proposition. I love a lot of different kinds of fantasy. I choose to promote and champion very specific sub-genres because they need the help and because they're close to my first love as a writer. But, as a reader, it's exciting to think about being able to read and champion a broader selection of work for this award.


Thursday, January 19, 2006


The World Fantasy Award judges have been announced:

Steve Lockley
Barbara Roden
Victoria Strauss
Jeff VanderMeer
Andrew Wheeler

Reading material from 2005.

NYC is great thus far. Had a wonderful lunch with Patrick Nielsen Hayden and Liz Gorinsky and great meetings with PR and marketing about Shriek, not to mention meeting the really quite lovely Tom Dougherty and catching up with my gentleman agent Howard Morhaim. Last night, the reading was a blast. Met so many great people and also got to catch up with me old Clarion mate Cory Doctorow (very nice of him to make it), among others. Thanks to Ellen and Gavin for the invite.

More--and video clips--later.

(Evil Monkey: "You didn't let me out, Jeff. You didn't let me breathe." Jeff: "Stay in that box and shut up!")

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


Right. We're off tomorrow morning to do a KGB reading, to hobnob with editors and marketing and PR people. We're feeling good, but not cocky. We're alert but not brash. We've washed, but we're not spotless.

Next week--Ben Peek's best-of music list, and a lot more. In the meantime, have a good week, and hope to God Evil Monkey doesn't follow me to the Big Apple.


Monday, January 16, 2006


Honestly, fuck SF as a predictive literature, and read this instead.


Sunday, January 15, 2006


After a lot of internal discussion and argument, I have decided to allow Evil Monkey to post his New Year's Resolutions as well.


(1) Find time to write. I've been doing so much "support" for my books, which have come out with such rapidity from the major presses, that I've fallen behind on my writing. Granted, in 2005 I wrote a lot of secret lives, a 10k story for Argosy (which will hopefully see print soon), about 30k of nonfiction total, and did four months of revisions on Shriek. So it's not like I didn't write in 2005. But I had hoped to start back in on the next Ambergris novel, Zamilon File. And since I'm now itching to dive back into a major project, I'm amending my 2006 schedule. I thought I would be using 2006 just to promote Shriek and City of Saints, but I now see I'll go completely, utterly nuts by about June if I don't do some fiction writing. So I've taken out all of my notes on Zamilon and the 10k of rough draft I've got and I'll be spending at least three lunches a week at the day job just working through that, gradually adding new material, and generally getting up to speed.

(2) Branch out into other media. I'm working on the Shriek film, but I'll also be working on a couple of other projects involving multi-media and film. I'll work on them off and on during the year to give myself time for the PR and writing. I see fiction very visually and have stolen a lot from film for a lot of my fiction, so it feels very natural to branch out in this way.

(3) Work on physical fitness/nutrition. At the start of 2005, I weighed 205 lbs, about 5 to 7 pounds from my final goal. At the end of 2005, I weighed 225 lbs (I'm now down to 217). About 7 lbs of that was added muscle mass and the rest was me not getting the balance of exercise and nutrition right. To build muscle mass, you need a certain amount of protein. I over-estimated. So, in 2006, the goal is to gradually get back down to about 205 while building up another 4 to 5 pounds of muscle mass, possibly more. At that point, I'd be where I want to be because of the extra muscle. To do this, I'm going to hire a nutritionist.

(4) Buy fewer books and CDs. When I look at how much I spent on "entertainment" in 2005, it makes my jaw drop. This has got to stop.

(5) Trade in the Corolla for a Celica. By the end of the year, I want a 2002 or 2003 Celica, in dark blue or in silver.

(6) Become a better listener. One problem with having so many projects going is that the brain is racing a bit too much and things become too internalized. It's easy to tune out the outside world. So I'm going to work harder on becoming a better listener this year.

(7) Remember more birthdays. I forgot the birthdays of just about everyone but my wife in 2005. This will not happen in 2006.


(1) Return Anne Rice's head to her.

(2) Fight impulse to tear heads off of other shitty high-profile writers like Dan Brown.

(3) Move away from wall art derived from own vital essences.

(4) Stop chasing Jehovah's Witnesses past property boundaries and onto street.

(5) Clean baseball bat, iron spike, pick-axe, and chainsaw more frequently.

(6) Read more "chick" lit.

(7) Pay more attention to Ape-Gone-Wild (like, send flowers and stuff).


I think Conrad Williams is one of the most exciting new writers to come along in quite some time. I say this on the basis of Use Once Then Destroy, his short story collection, and now London Revenant, his second novel (both books from Night Shade). Williams comes out of some of the same sensibilities and literary tastes that brought us writers like M. John Harrison and Nicholas Royle, but he is distinctly and firmly his own man. I love reading his prose. It is a wonderful mix of the gritty/dark and the colorful. Which is to say, the details he notices and chooses to use in his fiction--the way in which he expresses himself-- is lively and luminous no matter how tragic the events in the story. Williams' characters are often haunted and haunting, but they're also real people. It's also good to see someone using horror as a springboard for something complex and deep.

Except for the "not for the squeamish" bit, this review of London Revenant from Publishers Weekly does a good job of suggesting both the complexity and the uniqueness of Williams' work:

Not for the squeamish, this dark contemporary fantasy explores the rotting underbelly of London, where desperate 30-somethings live out meaningless lives devoted to sex, alcohol and perversity. Adam Buckley, a narcoleptic who suffers horrific dreams, gradually finds the line between waking and dreaming harder to distinguish. Events from his conscious life take on a surreal cast. He meets people from his dreams on the streets of London. Ordinary events transform into Grand Guignol and his friends become obsessed with a new game that threatens their sanity and leaves them covered in unnatural sores. Terrified of the London Underground for reasons unknown, Adam dreams of traveling its many disused and dangerous tunnels, while a madman begins a reign of terror, pushing Londoners under the wheels of the Underground carriages. An unreliable narrator, who's often unclear on what's real and what isn't, Adam is the perfect vehicle for this stylish and bloody novel. Williams (Head Injuries) moves seamlessly back and forth between realism and the fantastic, capably bringing his tale to a murderous and apocalyptic ending.

In addition to the interview below, I am (with Ann's help) in the process of interviewing Conrad for SF Site.



Why should readers pick up your book(s) as opposed to, say, just about anybody else's book(s)?
Because my little boys are starving. Imagine them. Imagine their big, moist eyes turned up at you as you peruse the W section at the local Waterstones. Can you hear them? 'Buy Daddy's book... oh, please, buy Daddy's book.'

Does your book have any socially redeeming qualities? If so, what are they?
Christ, no.

Does your book have any medicinal or mental health value to readers?
Only if you eat it.

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?
Not as horrified as I'll be, nor suffer as many years in therapy as I'll have to, when I get around to reading Harry Potter to my kids.

If your book were an animal instead of a book, what animal would it be--and why?
A blue whale with an eight-foot erection. Just because.

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?
Writing the blurbs for books by Dan Brown containing acrostics that read: THIS IS A PILE OF SHITE.

Saturday, January 14, 2006


Here's the Guardian review, by Mr. Grimwood, with some pretty quotable stuff in it.

Jeff VanderMeer's latest is as complicated, impressive and exasperating as anything he has written. An afterword to a book that doesn't exist, it presents Janice Shriek's account of her dead brother's life, with his annotations, since Duncan Shriek isn't actually dead, merely transformed by his own research from obsessive historian into something much darker. Like City of Saints and Madmen, Shriek takes place mostly in Ambergris, and features war between rival publishing houses, society feuds and, inevitably, the grey caps, original rulers of Ambergris and now a marginalised race banished to underground tunnels beneath the city. Owners of a fungal technology, they haunt the subconscious of the citizens above, always present, in fear if not in actuality. VanderMeer makes no compromises with his readers, but Shriek is twisted, darkly funny and ultimately rewarding.

Some readers will get the bends from Shriek--this is true. It requires some patience (shouldn't novels require some patience?). Some will be exasperated but still like it. Others will likely toss it across the room. Some people who loved City of Saints aren't going to like it as much. Some people who didn't like City are going to love this book.

Ultimately, this is a much more accessible book than City while still being deeply strange (in a good way).

We shall see as the year continues, but I believe Shriek's deeply focused human story, and its central tragedy, laced with comedy, is going to win me a lot of new readers.

Anyway, the game's begun. LOL!


(Evil Monkey: "Were you drunk when you wrote that inspiration post?" Jeff: "Er, I was a bit tipsy. Thus all the repetition. I totally stand by it, though." Evil Monkey: "Well, it inspired me. Look at all of this writing I've done on your kitchen wall using my own natural essences." Jeff: "Oh God, I think I'm going to be sick." Evil Monkey: "Well, not on this wall, please. My masterpiece is already finished.)

Friday, January 13, 2006


Everyone talks about perspiration. Everyone talks about the long slog. Everyone talks about things like endurance and practice.

But what about inspiration?

I'll be honest. I've never understood writers who find the actual physical act of writing painful. To me, there's nothing more pleasurable than writing. There's nothing more insanely beautiful than sitting down to write--either longhand or on the computer--and find your fingers out-running your brain. To be so inspired that you're not thinking as you write, that you're just the vessel, the receptacle, for the words, which are pouring out as if they were your life's blood.

Look, the slow slog is true. A lot of your days are spent slogging through, of just making the forced march necessary to complete a story/novella/novel. You can't be inspired every day just like you can't be madly, deeply, insanely in love every day. It's just not possible. No one can sustain that. Your relationship over time with words, with stories, with characters, has to be deeper than that first rush of emotion.

But also, at base, that's what it's all about. It's about the almost sensual pressure of your fingers on the keyboard or the press of the pen against the notepad. It's about the point at which you stop thinking and you're channeling something through your fingers and you almost don't know how you got to that point.

You can't be madly in love all of the time, but if you're not in love some of the time, how do you continue?

I'm not suggesting that what one produces during blind inspiration/infatuation is superior to what you produce during the slow slog, but my god, why do you write if not for that moment when the world opens up before you and yet narrows to that singular point of pen against paper, that sensual drag of fingers across keys? Why do you write if not for that moment when you’re opened up to the point where there’s nothing of you left but the story and the characters and the words? Why?

We live and we die in such a short period of time. Why waste your time doing something you don’t get pleasure from?

I get pleasure from writing. An obscene amount of pleasure. From the physical act of putting pen to paper, or of typing words into a Word document, unromantic as that sounds. And on those days when I feel my heart beating fast and my mind focusing on something unreal to make it real. When I rise from sleep full of story or moment or character or image and when I write it seems as natural as breathing…well, that’s a bit like knowing what it’s like to be alive. Of being reminded. And of something flowing up and through me, which whether it is from me or something greater than me, imbues me (and the writing) with the same feeling.

I know the excrutiation of choosing the wrong word, of knowing I’ve taken the wrong path. I know the deep disappointment of being unable to make the vision on the paper match the vision in one’s head. This happens a lot. Sometimes it is unbearable.

But, regardless, on a basic level, why does one write except for the pleasure of the physical act of writing—without thought, without intent, without agenda. But simply…writing until there is nothing to the world except for the story.

God, I want to write right now. I want to be written.



This is still a rough draft cover, but it won't change very much. I think it's great.

Go here for a larger version.


Thursday, January 12, 2006


Anne Sydenham recently sent me her latest Edward Whittemore calendar. It's really gorgeous and looks great on the office wall.

She has two more hardcopy ones available, which she is giving away. The calendar is also available in PDF form.

Contact Anne at amf47 at to get one of the two hardcopy calendars. They're really cool and I can't believe she's giving them away.

Anne, as you may know, runs the Jerusalem Dreaming website, devoted to the work of Edward Whittemore. It's a real labor of love and some of the material on it is very poignant.


Wednesday, January 11, 2006

THE BEST MUSIC OF 2005: Liz Gorinsky's Picks

My long-suffering editor at Tor, Liz Gorinsky, has excellent and eclectic taste in music. She's been kind enough to put together her selections for the best of the year. A really great list.



When Jeff first asked me if I could make a list of my favorite music of 2005, I was a bit worried that there hadn't been enough albums I loved to add up to a proper list. But in the process of relistening to the albums I'd bought and researching a few things I'd missed, I somehow emerged with 10+ items I'm proud to recommend (plus a few I'm proud to snark at). Thanks to Jeff for motivating me to discover that ought-5 was a pretty good year for music after all, and to his readers for putting up with me while I explain why.

BEST OF 2005

Best Reason to Get In Touch With Your Inner Hippie: Although it's been 38 years since the Summer of Love, it's impossible to walk around with hair as long as mine without occasionally being accused of being a hippie. But that's a stereotype I'll gladly take on if that's what it takes to be a Devendra Banhart fan. Cripple Crow, his latest, provides the best insight yet into Banhart's earthchild soul, as he slips in and out of Spanish and discusses his desire to raise long-haired children, stop war, and marry little boys, all the while spreading loving genderqueer ideals around the world with the help of an assemblage of bearded freaks called the Hairy Fairy Band and an endless barrage of songs that ricochet from spirited and silly to gorgeous and sincere.

Best Payoff For Superstition: Devolving into personal narrative for a moment, somewhere in my youth I developed an odd habit wherein, every time I noticed a digital clock that read 11:11, I'd stand stock still and stare at the readout until the minute elapsed and the numbers were no longer homogenous. When I discovered a few months into college that one of my first-year floormates did the exact same thing, I instantly suspected that we'd be friends forever. History has thus far done a fine job of bearing that out. So a few years later when, in my nascent Regina Spektor fandom, I found out that she'd recorded a whole album called 11:11, I was pretty certain that we were in it for the long term as well.

     Fast-forward to a few weeks ago, when the Best Of 2005 lists started coming out. I found myself particularly intrigued by what I was reading about Andrew Bird, who I'd heard of, but just barely. So I download the free MP3 from his web site, adore it, discover that he's written a song called "11:11", download that too, pick up The Mysterious Production Of Eggs, and watch as it effortlessly becomes one of my favorite albums of the year. I suspect that the fact that Eggs bears more than a little resemblance to The Divine Comedy—orchestral swells, pretty-boy vocals, a penchant for songs about topics that no sane person would write songs about, and all—didn't hurt, but I'm not too guilty about it. After all, there's always room in this world for more well-executed schmaltz.

Lamest Payoff For Superstition: On the other hand: Maria Taylor's bland, utterly missable 11:11. Bleah.

Best Use of a Gateway Drug: Even though I've been hearing good things about The Decemberists for years, none of the buzz took until a friend made me watch the video for "16 Military Wives". It's hardly ingenious to point out how easily said video summarizes to "Rushmore + politics - 88 minutes", but how better to describe something that's not only a spot-on Wes Anderson tribute, but a stirring and cleverly metafictional paean to the power of the protest song? "Wives" proved more-than-ample impetus to finally get me to check out Picaresque, its source album. On it, you'll find ten more songs that boast vocabulary and historicity to rival your dreamboat high school social studies teacher, thus proving that "Wives" is no fluke and cementing the Decemberists as one of the smartest bands in the business.

Best EP / Worst Miscalculation: I'm not the first to note that 2005 saw formerly white-hot brother-and-sister duo The Fiery Furnaces earn the rare distinction of releasing both one of the year's best albums (their self-titled EP, which, at over 41 minutes, handily tops out a lot of other bands' full-length CDs) and one of the most-reviled (Rehearsing My Choir). Granted, no matter which data set you look at, the Furnaces are an acquired taste. Even the fans that find them creative, quirky, adventurous, and addictive can hardly deny accusations that they're also atonal, vaguely awkward, and weirdly disengaged in concert. Or, as my roommate once remarked upon seeing me rock out to Blueberry Boat: "Wait, so you actually like the Fiery Furnaces? I thought everyone just pretended to like them."

     Suffice it to say, that—since I really do like this sort of thing—I was thrilled silly by their EP, which collects a bunch of B-sides and is positively hummable compared to certain 80-minute concept albums in the Furnaces' past (which are also great, but, y'know, slower about it). It's hard to have such enthusiasm for Rejoicing, an album about which even many respectful reviews had nothing good to say. Most of them concur that recording an album about one's 83-year-old grandmother and casting her as the central vocalist was an interesting and gutsy move... just not "interesting" enough to counterbalance the fact that her deep, warbly old-lady vocals are a distraction from the music underneath and not necessarily pleasant to listen to.

     While I appreciate much of Rejoicing, my interest in it is admittedly much more clinical than passionate. The big problem is that I keep flashing back to the Furnaces' last tour, which took place a few weeks before Rejoicing went on sale and saw them performing almost the entirety of the new album in sequence. However, as per usual with the Furnaces' live shows, the concert version switched up time signatures, melodies, vocalists, and instrumentation, resulting in a live version radically different and considerably rock-ier than what wound up on the album, and leaving the audience palpably excited by and wildly appreciative of the new material. Now, I'm no business manager—and far be it from me to question a band so stubbornly inventive that even the indie kids don't know what to do with them—but if I were them I'd certainly be thinking about leaking a few bootlegs right now. There's clearly music in Rejoicing somewhere. I just wish they'd decide to let it out.

Best Reason to Embrace Chaos: You've heard plenty about Gogol Bordello's Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike on Jeff's blog already, so I won't belabor the point. Except to say: If the concept of raucous, jubilant, utterly unpredictable Ukranian gypsy punk music piques your interest even a little bit, you do yourself a disservice not to give it a try. If it doesn't pique your interest, I suspect it must be because you're terrified of becoming instantly bored with the rest of your CD collection. Start wearing purple, indeed.

Best Band With No Albums: One of the best cures for falling hard for a band, only to discover that they broke up a few months before you got there, is finding out that they're already partway back on their feet. Luckily, the folks at the Secret Unicorns Forum are on the case, carefully gathering live and rare material from the Unicorns and their spin-off projects—including Nick Diamonds and J'aime Tambour's rap group Th' Corn Gangg, Alden Penner's solo material, and Islands, featuring Nick, J'aime, and an uncertain array of other indie rock somebodies (think: eight-to-ten man band playing odd, cheerful rock)—and offering them as free downloads for one-third of each month. Islands, who have been playing shows since October and have an album due in early 2006, are certainly the most prolific group to emerge from the ashes of The Unicorns. While they're not quite as good as The Unicorns, that still leaves a lot of room for them to be pretty darn great. What made it for me is how endearingly dorky they are live: I mean, you don't go to many packed rock shows where the band's two violinists jig on stage or pass time while the singer's changing a guitar string by launching into a sneaky impromptu duet of "Turkey in the Straw". Curious? Check back at the Forum after the 20th and download a few live tracks. Sure, it's barely legal, but what am I gonna do... wait until March to hear 'em? Tscha.

Best Album You Can't Get in the US: Although Jeffrey & Jack Lewis' City & Eastern Songs only has distribution in Europe and the UK, many of Jeff's American fans will be familiar with much of what's on it, since—like most antifolk artists—he spends years perfecting songs at live shows before taking them into the studio. Nonetheless, there's still much about City that will surprise them, since all of the songs on it have considerably more polished and lush arrangements than any of his prior recordings. These ornate backings mark a fascinating change from the low-fi fare we're used to, but as usual, it's Jeff's masterful lyrics—from the heartbreakingly truthful "Don't Be Upset" to "Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror," assuredly the funniest song that's yet been written about gender politics, relativities of genius, and being sodomized by indie rock stars—that make this album so brilliant. You can hear a few tracks at the BBC's Collective... and, yes, there are stores that'll import it if you're as desperate as I was.

Most Bizarre Musical Event: I must have been hiding under a rock this Halloween, because it wasn't until November that I first heard "Do They Know It's Hallowe'en?" by the mysterious North American Halloween Prevention Initiative. NAHPI was actually spearheaded by ex-Unicorn Nick Diamonds, who inspired folks as diverse as Beck, Elvira, David Cross, The Arcade Fire, and an Inuit throat-singer to get together and record a response to Band Aid's awful, insulting "Do They Know It's Christmas?" benefit single. Odder still, creepy creepy VICE magazine funded this effort and is donating all profits to UNICEF. Throw in a music video that employs five or six totally different animation styles, and you've got yourself... well, something pretty damn weird. And, incidentally, pretty damn awesome.

Most Needful of a Time Machine: The problem with albums by old-timey artists like Langhorne Slim is that no matter how good they are, they can only ever vaguely approximate the vitality and exuberance of the live act: the hand-claps, the sing-alongs, the absurd thrill of watching Langhorne hop off the stage with his guitar and join the audience as they dance wildly to an extended jam version of his closing song. It is therefore a testament to the strength of When The Sun's Gone Down that even the recorded version can't help but convey an aesthetic so appealing that you'll desperately want to trade your suit-jacket for a snappy vest, hop a train straight back to 1930, and simultaneously fall in love with and become desperately jealous of whichever woman he happens to be serenading.

Best 2005 Album That Came Out In 2003: 2005 was a weird year to be a fan of literary piano pixie Regina Spektor, the year where her transition from teenage immigrant to opener for the opening acts at basement antifolk shows finally culminated in the Sire Records release of Soviet Kitsch. Of course, crazy Reginka fans like me have been clutching Kitsch in our hot little hands since 2003, when they did a limited pressing of it for her opening stint for The Strokes. Luckily, the sting of having to share our Russian doll with hordes of major label fans has been dulled by the fact that it gave us a charming video for her single "Us" and newfound clout that she's levied into 2-hour+ concerts where she didn't even play said single. If you have yet to make Reginka's acquaintance, never fear: her web page streams not only the video for "Us," but significant portions of each of her albums to date. Listen to it all: 2002's Songs is even better.

Best Revisitation: Alright, so it's not technically a revisitation if you hear the new version first. But since I missed the boat when Julian Crouch first staged Shockheaded Peter in 1998, I was thrilled silly when they bought it back to New York this year. The show is a musical adaptation of Heinrich Hoffmann's Struwwelpeter, a German book of cautionary tales for children, with songs by the inimitable Tiger Lillies, a three-piece English band who somehow made their name via bizarre falsetto-and-accordion-fronted songs on macabre topics (including an adaptation of unpublished Edward Gorey stories that netted them a Grammy nom). After falling hard for the show, I tracked down the soundtrack CD and was surprised to find a recording just as good as but quite different than what I'd heard live, with radically different tempos, arrangements, melodic emphases, and the like (check out the videos for a comparison). No matter: get it any way you can, but if ever a ghoulish eight-year-old has existed inside of you, you must add Shockheaded Peter to their etiquette regimen at once.

     Grudgingly, I must award a tie in this category to the new Broadway production of Sweeney Todd. Grudgingly, because I'm vaguely notorious for being one of, like, three musical theatre fans who holds the unpopular opinion that Stephen Sondheim oughta stick to what he's good at (lyrics) and leave composition to people with better (credible song):(tuneless mass) ratios. Thus it is a particularly impressive feat that—thanks to gorgeous vocal performances, fine acting jobs, the even-better-than-it sounds conceit of having every actor do double-duty as orchestra member, and a heck of a lot of blood—I was so engaged by this new Sweeney that I couldn't help but find it haunting, witty, and even pretty. You win this round, Mr. Sondheim.


None of these bands released albums in 2005. Still, that was when I made their acquaintance, and all three immediately went into such heavy rotation that they'll permanently echo in my memories for the year. Just in case they haven't hit your radar yet either, here are my top three new old favorites from last year:

If a band you've barely heard of is slated to open for two artists you love (Regina Spektor and the Dresden Dolls) in the space of six weeks, it would be reckless not to pay attention. If they then show up with a bouzouki, a theremin, a glockenspiel, an accordion, a tuba lined with red Christmas lights, and soulful gypsy vocals, and proceed to ply you with gorgeous songs about spurned love, it would almost be criminal. That band is Devotchka, and there's a reason why Filter called them "the best band in America you’ve never heard of". Fix that now.

The Unicorns hit big before I started paying attention to the machinations of Pitchfork and the music blogosphere, so it's somewhat understandable that I didn't hear about them until a friend forcibly pressed a copy of their CD into my hands. What's less understandable is that even after that point it took almost a year of hearing the album on trial-by-shuffle until I got hit by its full weight. But when I was... voilà—instant addiction. The Unicorns are such a bizarre, messy, playful, blend of pathos, banter, and brilliant innovation that I'll get too boring for them long before they get too boring for me.

Try as I might, I can't come up with a better description of the World/Inferno Friendship Society than their own copywriters could: "NYC's disturbingly cult-like, circus-related, Halloween-tent-revival orchestra perform red-eyed soul showtunes for the swarming punk rock masses. [It's] not a rock band with a horn section; it's a fully-integrated orchestra of young men and women writing for you songs of the wine, freedoms and foibles which make life more than waking up and going to work every day." The only thing I regret about falling under W/IFS' spell is that it's very much the sort of music that leads to disturbing propensities (like singing aloud to your iPod or dancing around on deserted subway platforms) from which there are no turning back. Proceed with caution.

-Liz Gorinsky


It appears, from this NYT article, that an accused cannibal has chosen one of his own to defend him:

Harald Ermel, the lawyer for Mr. Miewes, who is serving an eight-and-a-half year sentence for eating a man he met on the Internet, called the film a "slavish re-enactment" of the real-life events and said Mr. Miewes did not give permission to the producer to fictionalize the story.


Monday, January 09, 2006


Just got my author copies tonight! It looks excellent! And coinciding with that, a blurb for the book from Steve Erickson, one of my favorite authors, the writer who brought us Tours of the Black Clock, Arc D' X and many others.

There's a madness in Jeff VanderMeer's literary eye, and I would be a liar if I didn't admit it seems intimately familiar. VanderMeer envisions an outlaw literature of shrieks and shouts and a screaming across the sky, worth a thousand polite and respectable mutterings. I, for one, am listening.

Anyway, a very celebratory night! (Which is good, after an hour of cardio at the gym, two hours of weight lifting, and a couple of racquetball games....)

Now it's off to collapse.



Via Lou Anders blog:

For Immediate Release

2005 Philip K. Dick Award Nominees Announced

The judges of the 2005 Philip K. Dick Award and the Philadelphia SF Society are pleased to announce six nominated works that comprise the final ballot for the award:

COWL by Neal Asher (Tor Books)
WAR SURF by M. M. Buckner (Ace Books)
CAGEBIRD by Karin Lowachee (Warner Aspect)
NATURAL HISTORY by Justina Robson (Bantam Spectra)
SILVER SCREEN by Justina Robson (Pyr Books)
TO CRUSH THE MOON by Wil McCarthy (Bantam Spectra)

First prize and any special citations will be announced on Friday, April 14, 2006 at Norwescon 29 at the Doubletree Seattle Airport Hotel, SeaTac, Washington.

The Philip K. Dick Award is presented annually for distinguished science fiction published in paperback original form in the United States. The award is sponsored by the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society and the award ceremony is sponsored by the NorthWest Science Fiction Society. Last year’s winner was LIFE by Gwyneth Jones (Aqueduct Press) with a special citation to APOCALYPSE ARRAY by Lyda Morehouse (Roc). The 2005 judges are Charles Coleman Finlay, Kay Kenyon, Robert Metzger, Lyda Morehouse, and Graham Murphy (chair).


Other Words: A Conference of Literary Magazines and Independent Publishers, will take place at Florida State University January 13th and 14th. I'll be on a panel on Saturday at 10:15 am:

Writing and Publishing Fantasy.
Richard Mathews (M) Jeff VanderMeer, A.H. Holt, Melanie Abrams

This will be pretty much off-the-cuff and there's no telling what I'll say, especially if I bring Evil Monkey along. I might say something like "There's no difference between writing fantasy and any other kind of fiction." We will see.

The bios of my co-panelists are as follows:

Richard Mathews is Director of the University of Tampa Press and Editor of Tampa Review. He is also the author of two collections of poetry, A Mummery and Numbery, and five books about science fiction and fantasy. He teaches at the University of Tampa.

Anne Haw Holt was born in Richmond, Virginia. She graduated from Piedmont Community College in Charlottesville in 1987 and Mary Baldwin College in Staunton in 1989. Anne completed her Masters degree in Historical Administration and Public History and is now a candidate for a doctorate in History at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida.

Melanie Abrams isn't listed in the program bio notes.


Sunday, January 08, 2006


Evil Monkey:
Did you see Chronicles of Narnia yet?

Yes, I did.

Evil Monkey:
I saw it with my sweatheart, Ape-Gone-Wild.

Don't you mean sweetheart?

Evil Monkey:

Let's change the subject, then.

Evil Monkey:
So what did you think of the movie?


Evil Monkey:
Awful?! I loved it!

The wolves looked fake. The beavers in armor were retarded. The witch's command-and-control is a mess.

Evil Monkey:
It was the best bad movie of all time!

It was…creepy…

Evil Monkey:
Wasn't that the greatest?! You had the creepy scenes with the faun and the little girl, with some kind of weird subtext in them.

Followed up by the creepy subtext of the witch and the kid who eats the marzipan.

Evil Monkey:
What was his name?

I can't remember. They all kind of blurred together into one uber ennui.

Evil Monkey:
What I can't remember is how faithful to the book the movie was.

I can't either. Those Blitz scenes at the beginning, though…wow.

Evil Monkey:
I know! Exciting!

Fakey-looking. Not to mention, I think they'd all have been in a bomb shelter well before the bombs started dropping.

Evil Monkey:
But that wouldn't be as dramatic. Ape-Gone-Wild loved that part.

She would.

Evil Monkey:
Don't be dissin' my sweatheart!

Anyway, I think the whole movie was summed up by the stupid scene where they're sitting around with it raining outside being bored.

Evil Monkey:
Great dialogue for a bad movie right there!

Yes. "I'm bored. I'm going to whine about it."

Evil Monkey:
"Now let me play a word game with the dictionary."

"But that's boring. I want to go outside."

Evil Monkey:
"It's raining. You can't go outside."

"But I want to go outside. I'm bored."

Evil Monkey:
"Oh, but you can't."

"Well, then, fuck all of you--I'm going to sulk."

Evil Monkey:
"Hey, wait--let's play hide-and-seek and find Narnia!"

"That sounds like lots of fun! Yes, let's."

Evil Monkey:
"Okay, cardboard brother, cardboard sister--I'm up for that! Just don't get that candle near me or I'll go up in flames so fast it'll make your head spin."

That about sums it up.

Evil Monkey:
What about the closet, eh? Pretty swanky. All that carving. Very proper!

Yeah. It was all jazzed up. And at first they've got it hidden beneath some white sheet. Very prophetic.

Evil Monkey:
Very Shroud of Turin!

Didn't the little girl freak you out? I think she had a lazy eye or something.

Evil Monkey:
She was pretty scary. I kept expecting her head to rotate 360 degrees and green vomit to come spewing out of her mouth. But, it never happened. I was waaay disappointed.

I kept expecting Swinton to step out of her witch's costume and say, "I'm not going to mouth another word of this shitty dialogue."

Evil Monkey:
I kept hoping the wolves would catch the children, but they never did.

I kept expecting the children to freeze, like when they got dropped in the river for a long period of time. But they never did. They would have made nice ice sculptures. And it would have saved the witch from having to do it.

Evil Monkey:
I kept expecting the beavers to get beyond traditional 1950s husband-wife gender roles, but they never did. Why does the female beaver keep worrying about how her hair looks? Her whole body is "hair."

I kept expecting consistency in which animals were naked and which were clothed, but it never happened.

Evil Monkey:
I kept expecting the battles with the computer generated animals fighting other computer generated animals to be more emotionally draining to me, but that never happened.

I kept expecting to care more about the characters, but I never did.

Evil Monkey:
I kept expecting things to make more sense, but, luckily, they never did!

I kept expecting to see $100 million on the screen, but I never did.

Evil Monkey:
I wanted them to throw in a rhinoceros, a white tiger, and a porcupine--and they did! They did!

Yeah. I never really got the ecosystem situation in Narnia. I mean, you got your fauns. You got your gryphons. Then you got your beavers and your wolves and your foxes. But then you gots yer rhinoceros, you gots yer cheetahs, you gots yer…well, whatever.

Evil Monkey:
Maybe it was just too complicated a system for us to see it entirely. Do you want my take on it?


Evil Monkey:
Okay. At your ground level, you have your trees, your bees, your other insects. These are all eaten by the beavers and the foxes. The beavers and the foxes are eaten by the rhinoceroses and the cheetahs and the tigers and whatnot. Then, above that, you got your magical animals like the fauns and the leprechauns and the santa-clauses and the gryphon. They eat the cheetahs and the tigers. And Aslan eats them all! It's the cycle of life!

That reminds me. Santa Claus is in the movie. I think I must have edited him out of my reading of the book or something.

Evil Monkey:
That was Santa Claus? I thought it was just an overweight diabetic pervert with a sleigh.

It was Santa Claus.

Evil Monkey:
Does that mean the Easter Bunny comes out in the spring in Narnia?

I dunno. But Santa Claus was seriously creeping me out.

Evil Monkey:
I know. He looked a little like I imagine Leather Face in Texas Chainsaw Massacre would look if he wasn't wearing a mask.

And then the poor beavers get screwed! Santa Claus leaves presents for the kids and nothing for the beavers. Poor, poor beavers.

Evil Monkey:
That wasn't the problem, I didn't think. The problem was those presents. Jesus Christ! What about a train set or, I dunno, a nice doll or toy soldier. Instead he gives 'em elixirs, bows-and-arrows, and sword.

Yeah, and the bows-and-arrows are the best part, cause it seems like the Magic of Narnia creates a special scene later in the movie just so that the arrows can be used. Cute!

Evil Monkey:
Oh, but the best part were the costumes for the witch's minions. I had no idea there were so many costumes and extras left over from Lord of the Rings. I'm surprised they didn't thank Peter Jackson for his largesse in the movie's credits.

It was like a bargain sale at a flea market. Orcs for sale! Get your hideously malformed, crappily clad orcs right here! Perfect for a Narnia movie.

Evil Monkey:
Perfect! And I loved that the witch's minions were so incompetent.

I cried when that guy who played the oompa loompa in Charlie and the Sugar Factory got killed. I thought, "Why did they kill the oompa loompa?"

Evil Monkey:
I loved that an oompa loompa was the main advisor and aide to the Ice Queen witch. Such a wealth of knowledge. But the best part of that--and it was Ape-Gone-Wild who brought this to my attention--

I can't wait.

Evil Monkey:
This sets up a tie-in between the Narnia and Charlie and the Sugar Factory universes. It'll be like Alien versus Predator, only better.

I thought the oompa loompa and the rest of the witch's minions were pretty incompetent. I don't know if I'd want to see a tie-in movie based around that.

Evil Monkey:
Oh, but that was some of the best physical comedy I've seen in a long, long time! I mean, the scene where the wolf leads the centaurs to where the witch has the dumb sullen Son of Adam tied to a tree like it's a bugs bunny cartoon and then they rescue him in the midst of the whole witch army, which apparently doesn't have sentinels or guards or, really, much discipline at all…that was priceless.

Yeah, those wolves were pretty useless, too.

Evil Monkey:
Jeff, Jeff, Jeff. The wolves are archetypal.

In what sense?

Evil Monkey:
You know--archetypal. The Evil Keystone Kops. Must be, because that sort of thing shows up in all the fantasy movies.


Evil Monkey:
You got your Black Riders in the Lord of the Rings, right?


Evil Monkey:
And in Harry Potter, you've got those faceless, robed minions of Voldemort. And in Narnia, it's the wolves. You always have to have seven to nine black-robed or furred minions that can't do the job to save their lives. I find them to be the most sympathetic characters in these movies.

How so?

Evil Monkey:
I feel sorry for them. They've got a job to do, right? And they just can't do it. They try really hard, but time and space work differently for them than for the people they're chasing. For example, time and again in the Narnia movie, the wolves seem like they're right behind the kids, but there's actually collapsed worm holes or white dwarf suns or something between them and the kids--some kind of singularity or fold in time, because they never catch up. There's this horrible flaw in them that they can run and run but never get there. Really, if you think about it, the minions are always the 9-5 rotters who have a bad-tempered boss and can never get ahead. I think that's kind of sad.

If you say so. By the way, do you think you've gotten enough of a tan? I think the neighbors are looking at us with binoculars now and even though the sun's out, it's a bit cold out here.

Evil Monkey:
I just have to stay out a little longer, to get rid of that underlying tan line on the left there. Ape-Gone-Wild hates my tan lines.

Okay. Just a little longer…I'm sick of holding this reflecting plate for you.

Evil Monkey:
…what did you think about Aslan?

Looked just like a lion.

Evil Monkey:
That's all you have to say about the mighty cat?

Oh yeah--he had bad dialogue, too.

Evil Monkey:
But he's Aslan, lord of the animals. He makes all these sacrifices--

Not much of a sacrifice.

Evil Monkey:

Well, think about it. Aslan, from what he says after his resurrection, knows he's going to be coming back from the dead. Sure, he gets tortured a little, but he can steel himself mentally against that cause he knows he's coming back. Not much of a sacrifice.

Evil Monkey:
I guess you have a point. But it's still sad, isn't it?

What's sad is that Aslan has Liam Neeson's voice. And that he changes sizes depending on which kid he's juxtaposed against.

Evil Monkey:
Maybe this is just my intrinsic awe of any kind of lion coming out.

And it was never clear to me why Aslan had been gone for a hundred years. Or where the hell his army came from, or why the centaurs were so butt-ugly.

Evil Monkey:
Some things are just not meant to be known.

But, mainly, if I were a fundamentalist Christian, I'd want my money back, because it's all pagan beyond belief, including what Aslan believes in. And because, in the movie at least, as I said, Aslan knows he's going to come back, so it makes a compelling argument for Jesus' "sacrifice" to be really pretty pathetic.

Evil Monkey:
I hadn't thought about that. I have to admit my attention was on Ape-Gone-Wild during parts of the movie.

And I kept thinking about the poor beavers.

Evil Monkey:
Yeah--they sacrificed a lot.

And at the end, what's it all for? So Aslan can install a monarchy to replace a dictatorship. So instead of one white witch to deal with, the beavers and other animals have four kids to rule them. Woo-hoo! If I were the beavers and other animals, I would have kicked out the witch, the kids, and Aslan, and just told them all to stay out, for good.

Evil Monkey:
Boy, you're harsh. It's just a fairy tale.

And another thing.

Evil Monkey:

The witch is a terrible sculptor. Every time she turns something to stone, it looks 80 percent uglier than it did before, and that's saying something in the case of some of those fauns and centaurs.

Evil Monkey:
I think it was interpretative sculpture, which means she was actually a really good sculptor.

Yeah, well, I think I preferred the version of Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in The Young Ones, with Vivian encountering the witch.

Evil Monkey:
Fair enough. Okay. I think I've gotten enough sun. Let's go inside. I gotta call Ape-Gone-Wild and see if she wants to go to that ice skating thing at the Civic Center tomorrow.

They'll let you in to that?

Evil Monkey:
I'll be wearing my faun costume.

Good on ya.


There were three books in 2005 that have gotten hardly any press in genre publications, and hardly any press in mainstream literary publications, as far as I can tell (although Frank may be an exception to this latter category). I think they all deserved better than that, although in the case of the Payseur & Schmidt book, the limited run of copies and the nature of the project conspired to make it so. Check all three of these out--and the presses that produced them, as I don't think the presses are that well-known either, and all are doing unique things.


FRANK by R.M. Berry (Chiasmus Press) - Berry is a keen postmodernist who likes to deconstruct story structures and build them up again. I thought that his previous novel Leonardo's Horse was brilliant in the sections from Da Vinci's time period. His short story collections have been hit-or-miss with me in that the concepts behind his stories are formally experimental--they sometimes seem like husks that should contain depth but don't. However, he now has a second novel out, and this is a clever, often very funny, retelling of the Frankenstein story--or, as Berry says, an "unwriting"--that involves Frank, the distant cousin of Gertrude Stein, among other absurdities. Definitely worth checking out, and likely to slip under the radar, coming out as it has at the end of the year.

KAFKA'S UNCLE AND OTHER STRANGE TALES by Bruce Taylor (After Birth Books) - I published Taylor's first collection, The Final Trick of Funnyman, through my Ministry of Whimsy Press back in the 1990s. Now Taylor has a collection of longer fiction and some short fiction out from After Birth Books, with an introduction by Brian Herbert. Taylor has always suffered from being too productive, in a sense--he writes too much and when it comes to putting together collections, he wants to stuff too much into them. Kafka's Uncle is no exception to this rule, but the fact is that Taylor is a legitimate talent, writing odd surreal/magic realist tales, and an often unfairly overlooked one. Expect to like some stories and dislike others, but give the book a chance; it has its charms. Another one that seems to be slipping under the radar.

MECCA & METTLE by Thomas M. Disch, Bloodhag, Tim Kirk (Payseur & Schmidt) - Easily one of the best-designed and most idiosyncratic books of the year. I love this little book. But: it's really, really hard to describe. So I suggest you go to the publisher site at, because they do a much better job of it there. Trust me--if there are copies left, you want one.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

YEAR'S BEST MUSIC: Ann VanderMeer's List

My wife is a huge music fan. She used to work in a record store when they actually sold records and we have a huge collection of vinyl, including some really cool seven inches. There's stuff she hasn't even opened, and a collection of pristine Beatles half-masters that a lot of collectors would die for. Since she's taking a couple weeks off from her duties as a judge for the International Horror Guild Awards and her work on Buzzcity Press projects, I thought I'd hit her up for a list of her favorite music from 2005.


Top Ten Albums of the Year - 2005
Ann VanderMeer

Yeah, I know we don’t call them albums anymore. They are really CDs. But old habits die hard. And vinyl is making a comeback, slowly but surely. Anyway, here are my top picks for 2005...

1 – The New Pornographers: Twin Cinema.

What can I say about an album that is seemingly perfect? This band came into being purely by accident as these musicians came to know each other playing in different bands. And the experiment has been hugely successful. This one has been in my CD player almost continually. A.C. Newman is a genius after my own heart. Helps me to forget that Andy Partridge has abandoned me (and when will he get back to writing his wonderful pop music?). My favorite song? Jackie, Dressed in Cobras. But they are all gems.

2 – The Cloud Room : Self-titled

I was lucky enough to catch this band live. They came to Tallahassee supporting the Pernice Brothers. This was their first show after the Katrina debacle and we were all feeling pretty low. But their music brought me out of my chair. Not too many opening bands can do this for me. This band is from NYC and this was their first visit to Florida. They had a lot of energy and great music. Check it out.

3 – Gogol Bordello: Gypsy Punks - Underdog World Strike

Can’t remember how I first heard of this band, might have been from my husband’s iPod (and what a good investment that was). The title says it all. Gypsy punk music. You can’t listen to this music without wanting to get up and dance. Eugene Hutz, the frontman for this group, is now trying his hand at acting with an appearance in Liev Schrieber’s new film Everything is Illuminated.

4 – Hot Hot Heat: Elevator

I have been in love with this band ever since my daughter had me listen to Bandages off their first album. Jeff and I were in Victoria, B.C. (their home town) when this album came out. I can’t listen to their music without thinking about that wonderful trip! Also, they came here last month and put on a helluva show. And the infectious hooks! “Pickin’ it up and then I put it back down” or “Welcome to the Island of the Honest Man.” You can’t help but sing along. Great pop music!

5 – Graham Parker: Songs of No Consequence

So glad to see Mr. Parker getting back to his old wonderfulness. This album reminds me of why I love his music in the first place. Over the last several years I was not impressed and was afraid he had lost it (whatever it is). But this one truly redeems him. It just goes to show you that you never know what the future will bring and you should never write off an old rock-n-roller.

6 – The Dead 60’s: Self Titled

Jeff turned me on to this one. They’ve been compared to the Clash, but they are so much more. A bit of reggae, a dash of good old-fashioned rock and roll and incredible sounds coming from the guitars. Feel good music all around. Again, we were fortunate to see them at a free concert in Atlanta. They opened for The Bravery and Weezer. And I have to tell you, we left before Weezer even came on. The Dead 60’s blew everyone away that day.

7 – John VanderSlice: Pixel Revolt

I don’t usually go for the singer/songwriter types, but for some reason, this one really spoke to me. I don’t know if it’s his lyrics or the quirky way his music sounds. But there is definitely something special going on here. And I forgive him for being from Gainesville, home of the Gators!

8 – Richard Cheese: Aperitif for Destruction

Step aside Weird Al Yankovic. Richard Cheese and his Lounge Against the Machine band know how to give other artists their due when they cover these songs. Imagine your favorite Hip Hop, Rock and Punk songs done in a Las Vegas Club setting and you have a good idea of what this is all about. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard this version of 2 Live Crew’s Me So Horny and the Beastie Boys Brass Monkey. Or check out The Guns and Roses song Welcome to the Jungle.

9 – AK Momo: Return to N.Y.

I love this album. It is so ethereal to me. I think this comes from the unusual synthesizer instruments this Swedish duo exploits. Instruments such as the Optigan, Orchestran and the Mellotron played by Mattias Olsson. To be honest, I don’t even know what those are but the sounds that come out of them are hauntingly beautiful. Add to this AK von Malmborg’s voice and this can’t be beat. Makes me feel mushy and warm all over. And I mean this in a good way.

10 – The Leevees: Hanukkah Rocks

Yes, I know. It’s a Hanukkah record. How can it be good? Well, let me tell you, it is. This is some of the best pop I’ve heard this year. Kind of a surprise, really. I was in Vinyl Fever (the coolest record shop in Tallahassee, which my daughter manages) and saw their holiday music. They must have had about 1000 Christmas records – all kinds. In the Hanukkah section there were only three CD’s. Three lonely CDs. So I had to buy one. And this was it (one I already had and the other was instrumental). I don’t know where Adam Gardner and Dave Schneider (the two masterminds behind this) came from, but this record was excellent. Cool pop tunes showing a bit of Kinks and Ramones influences. Song titles like Applesauce vs. Sour Cream and Goyim Friends. And I forgive them for the incorrect lyric in the song At the Timeshare; “Maybe Naples, Perhaps Captiva/Or Tallahassee but there are no Jews there!/It doesn’t matter as long as it’s in Florida.” What am I, chopped liver????

And one more for good luck!!!!

11 – Zap Mama: Ancestry in Progress (2004)

Okay, technically not a 2005 pick, but I first heard it in 2005 and since this is my list, I can do what I want (I may be tiny but I’m fierce; just look at my fists). Zap Mama has been around for a number of years, but I was ignorant of their unique sound. Their website describes them as Afro-European music from Brussels. It’s a group of talented women using their voices as instruments and Marie Daulne is the genius behind all of this. The music ranges from gospel to soul to African to pop to (what they call) pygmy song and all things in between; they sing in French, English and other languages as well. This particular album includes guest appearances from Erykah Badu and Tabil Kweli. My favorite song is Vivre. I can’t think of a more diverse and yet universal sound.

So this rounds up my list. Enjoy and Happy 2006!

(Evil Monkey: "So, if your stepdaughter works in a record store, what were her picks of the year?" Jeff: "Oh, she's going to submit a list to me, trust me. In the meantime, on the Vinyl Fever site, if you scroll down, you'll see her pick of the year on the right." Evil Monkey: "You do know that Erin is way cooler than either of you." Jeff: "Yeah--she's too cool for even the likes of you." Evil Monkey: "By the way, Evil Bunny was very tasty.")


Congratulations to Juliet Ulman, my editor at Bantam, who was recently made a senior editor. In this photo, which she kindly agreed to let me post, she can be seen with just a few of her new minions, who magically appeared to her a couple weeks ago...


(Evil Bunny: "What a great photo!" Jeff: "Yes, it is." Evil Bunny: "Now I need to get a photo with my minions." Jeff: "You have minions?" Evil Bunny: "Of course! And you're one of them!" Jeff: "Hey--wait a minute. You're not Evil Monkey! You're Evil Bunny!" Evil Bunny: "Bwaahaahahahahahahahaahahaaa." Jeff: "Noooooooo...")

Friday, January 06, 2006


Samuel R. Delany's About Writing: 7 Essays, 4 Letters, and 5 Interviews, out soon from Wesleyan University Press, is just brilliant. It features a few reprints from books like The Jewel Hinged Jaw, but mostly collects previously uncollected nonfiction about writing. The letters, which I thought would be slight turn out to be one of the best things about the book--insightful, focused, and consistently fascinating. The interviews are sometimes a little long, a little too detail oriented, but still wonderful to read. And the essays are, of course, magnificent. I love that when Delany talks about even the most basic details of writing, it resonates with me in a way that makes me see certain technique and approaches in a totally new light. On top of all that, it's a well-edited and thought-out book, and I'll be blogging about it in depth later in the year.

(Evil Monkey: "What about those other two books you were going to blog about?" Jeff: "Which two?" Evil Monkey: "Storyteller: Writing Lessons and More by Kate Wilhelm, about Clarion and, well, writing. And then there's that Tiptree Award anthology from Tachyon Press." Jeff: "Hmm. Yes. I have both of those." Evil Monkey: "Well. Should I read them? Are they good?" Jeff: "Define good." Evil Monkey: "Not bad." Jeff: "Then they're not bad...hey, what the fuck?!? Let go of me." Evil Monkey: "I'm going to keep you in this headlock until you say something meaningful about those two books." Jeff: "I don't want to say anything about either book. Let me the hell go!" Evil Monkey: "Not until you spill your guts...I've got all day." Jeff: "Stupid bastard." Evil Monkey: "I'm waiting..." Jeff: "All right, all right! Geez. I can't breathe. Let me up and I'll talk." Evil Monkey: " talk." Jeff: "You're a bastard, you know? You really are." Evil Monkey: "Stay on topic." Jeff: "Right. Here goes. The Wilhelm is a mess. Some interesting anecdotes, some boring ones. A real hodgepodge. A rare misstep from a publisher I usually love. And nothing like the wisdom Wilhelm imparts in person at Clarion. So, it's not bad, but it's underwhelming." Evil Monkey: "And the Tiptree?" Jeff: "Look, we should all support the Tiptree, dammit. Can't we just end this discussion now?" Evil Monkey: Need another demonstration of how I can kick your ass?" Jeff: "Fine. The Tiptree anthology looks like it was edited by Jackson Pollock flinging paint across a canvas. The introductions to stories are amateurish and inconsistent. The story selection is arbitrary and seems as likely to have been done by throwing darts at a dart board as anything else. There are good stories in the collection, but from the perspective of a well-edited book, it's a mess. Shoddy." Evil Monkey: "So...I shouldn't buy them?" Jeff: "No, actually, you should buy both of them, but you'll have to do your own editing. They're both for worthy causes." Evil Monkey: "See, now just how difficult was that?" Jeff: "Actually, to be honest, I feel a lot better now..." Evil Monkey: "Down to the pub for a beer?" Jeff: "Sure. And I think that headlock cleared up my stiff neck." Evil Monkey: "I'm always there for you, Jeff.")

Thursday, January 05, 2006

NEW HAMPSHIRE: Hedgehogs, Dirty Jokes, and Tiaras

So, we had a great time in New Hampshire, although it was nothing like I was led to believe it would be. At risk of embarrassing our hosts, Eric and Paulette, and our mutual friend, Matt Cheney, here are some photos. I couldn't get some of them to rotate and there are entirely too many of hedgehogs, but so it goes...This was around the Dartmouth area, in Lebannon, New Hampshire.

The Photo Album

The Slide Show

Thanks to Matt, I managed to pick up both People of Paper and The 13 and 1/2 Lives of Bluebear. Thanks to Eric, I picked up some first edition Nabokov. Woo-hoo!

New Year's Eve, Eric and Paulette took us and several other friends down to the local pub. It was wonderful for Ann and me--it was snowing in big, thick flakes and the town green was just beautiful. We hadn't seen snow for a decade.

Later, Ann, Eric, Matt, and I went outside to smoke cigars about ninety minutes before midnight. The pub was great, but pretty loud and we couldn't hear ourselves think. A (drunk--but we all were) carpenter named Rick came up to us, we offered him a cigar, and soon we were being treated to some filthy but hilarious jokes and some choice comments about people from Vermont. A medical intern joined us with some additional jokes. (At one point, Ann had to go inside. She held out her hand and said, "I enjoyed meeting you." Rick's jaw dropped and he said, a look of genuine bemusement on his face, "You did?" as he shook her hand.)

Later, a guy decided to hitchhike by lying out in the middle of the road--and damned if it didn't work! Later still, as my body began to shut down from the cold, a stretch limo pulled up and out careened about a half-dozen women in flimsy dresses, some in heels, all of them totally smashed or stoned out of their minds. With the kind of single-minded focus you usually only see in salmon swimming up-stream, they flailed their way to the pub, slipping and sliding in their inappropriate footwear.

We took that as our cue to go back inside, especially since I couldn't feel my hands anymore.

We had a great time in New Hampshire, and I also managed to conduct a bit of business with Eric (responsible for many of the City of Saints illos) and Paulette (a jeweler), both of whom will be contributing to the Shriek limited edition. (More on that later.)

Even better, we got to hang out with hedgehogs and turtles. Even better than that, you couldn't ask for better company than Matt, Eric, and Paulette. Not to mention, great beer. And, oh, did I mention hedgepigs?



I'm happy to report that Kate Bernheimer has taken my 4,500-word essay "The Third Bear" for her essay collection, Brothers and Beasts, to be published by Wayne State University Press in the Fall of 2006. Other contributors (I believe) include Charles de Lint, Robert Coover, Christopher Barzak, Gregory Maguire, Neil Gaiman, Ben Rosenbaum, etc. It's the companion volume to a volume of essays on fairytales by women writers, and will be taught by universities across the country. Below find a little teaser of the essay. I'm pretty pleased with it.

In other news, I'm working through various deadlines but hope to have New Year's photos up soon, along with a bunch of interviews and other interesting things.



THE THIRD BEAR--excerpt from Part I


The first bear may be uncouth, but not unkind, despite appearances. His English isn’t good and he lives alone in a cottage in the forest, but no one can say he doesn’t try. If he didn’t try, if the idea of trying, and thus of restraint, were alien to him, the first bear wouldn’t live in a cottage at all. He’d live in the deep forest and all anyone would see of him, before the end, would be hard eyes and the dark barrel of his muzzle. The third bear would be so much in him that no first bear would be left.

The first bear is a man’s man, or, rather, a bear’s bear: “golden brown, with enormous claws on his padded feet and sharp, pure-white fangs bigger than a person’s hands, and eyes a startling blue.” This bear smells like mint and blueberries, and his name is Bear.

One day, a girl named Masha gets lost in the woods. Bear finds her and takes her back to his cottage. He refuses to show her the way home, for his cottage is a mess and, as I may have mentioned, so is his English. Masha can help him with both disasters, although she isn’t happy about the situation. She thinks Bear is the creature her parents warned her about when they told her not to go into the forest. But Bear is the first bear, not the third bear. In an odd way, Bear has saved her from the third bear.

Of course, Masha doesn’t see it that way—and why should she? It’s largely a matter of degree, and not just because she can’t imagine what worse might happen to her. Bear is gruff with Masha, makes her work long hours, and ignores her pleas to be shown the way back to her village. As far as Masha’s concerned, this is as bad as it gets...

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


UPDATE: Clare Dudman has posted an extensive interview with me here. She didn't ask the usual questions and I felt very comfortable giving candid answers.

"Here is a desert island book, a tale you can lose yourself in for days, a novel of character in which the setting--the magnificently gritty city-state named Ambergris--proves as the light fails to be the finest character of all." - Gene Wolfe, blurbing Shriek...

"VanderMeer explores brilliantly, penetratingly, the frail, evanescent intersection of human understanding and historical actuality. In the telling, Shriek:An Afterword is an exceptional novel, a tapestry of fine writing, deep psychological insight, and acute narrative excitement...Shriek: An Afterword is a dark fantasy of tremendous distinction." - Nick Gevers, Locus, January issue