Sunday, April 08, 2007

Q& A AS WELL AS BRAIN SAD FROGS AND ESCALATING TOADMEN

UPDATED April 12--Answers

(Heading out the door at 5 in the morning tomorrow to San Diego. Should be fun--sequestered in a hotel suite with the other Eisner judges, reading comics. There's even some radio guy coming by to interview us. Now *that's* how you run a judged award, by gawd! ...In other news, Kurt Vonnegut has passed away. He was always a huge favorite of mine and his sense of absurdism was an influence. But I don't really feel sad. He had a long, productive, happy life. He did everything he wanted to do. How can you feel sad about that? Instead, I think we should just celebrate what he left us--some amazing novels. And remember that even after people had written him off as past his prime, he produced one of my favorite novels: Hocus Pocus.)


At 11:31 AM, Anonymous said...
Hi Jeff, haveing read "City of Saints and Madmen", "The Strange Case of X" always remembered me about Doris Lessing's "Briefing for a Descent into Hell"; I'm wondering whether this link is just coincidence?Oliver

Answer: In this case, it's a coincidence. Some have also seen Harrison's "A Young Man's Journey to Viriconium/London/Unescapismville" (really, if you have to labor it that much, why bother?) as an influence. This is also not true. But now I really want to check out the Lessing!

Updated April 11--Answers

(Back in Tally, but out to the Eisner judging in San Diego on Friday. Trinity Prep was awesome, with great student writing, great questions from the English classes about "Martin Lake," which they were studying, and just a wonderful atmosphere all the way around. A former Trinity student who has been a real supporter of my work, Angela, even showed up for the reading. More on Trinity when I get back. Keep bringing the questions... - Jeff)

At 10:41 AM, Rajan said...
Can I ask another one? I was just reading something about BSG and I was wondering if you had continued to watch the rest of the season and, if so, what you thought about it in the end? Did they redeem themselves at all in your eyes?

ANSWER: We got so bored with BSG we haven't watched it for at least five episodes. Balth's trial? Who gives two shits?

At 2:00 PM, Anonymous said...
I have a minor question for you, Mr. Vandermeer. It concerns epic fantasy. What do you, as a writer of "weird" or "strange" fiction that is not "traditional" fantasy a la Tolkien think of Tolkien's modern children. Say the works of Martin, Bakker, Erikson, and countless more. Do you still think it can be a unique way to express yourself, or do you consider everything under the epic label copy-cats who don't invent any new tropes?

ANSWER: I'd like to get away from either-or thinking. There are crap-ass authors in "New Weird" and crap-ass authors in epic fantasy. And there are also great ones in both. I love Martin's work and haven't read enough of Bakker and Erikson yet to comment on theirs.

At 2:45 PM, Mark Bukovec said...
Hey Jeff. Just a comment to the MFA question. I worked on poetry instead of fiction at grad school. Working in verse gave me a good sense of sound quality and line work (or sentences in fiction) and a focus on the emotional impact of what I'm writing. I don't regret majoring in creative writing, but I also did a double major as an undergrad to learn something else.From what I saw, genre fiction was actively discouraged. So was experimental fiction, sadly enough. I think the biggest drawback to doing an MFA is that it's two (possibly three) more years in school, when you could be out in the world having more varied experiences to draw from.I have a question for you: as an up-and-coming writer (as in coming up from the subbasement to the root cellar), how can I benefit from attending cons? I'm going to ReaderCon.Keep pimping Cat Rambo. I'm fortunate to be in a workshop with her, and she rocks!Thanks--Mark

ANSWER: I guess it just depends on what you want out of writing and a college education. As for cons--At cons, if you're new to it all, go to the panels, go to the parties, introduce yourself to people whose work you admire and talk to them about whatever comes up in conversation. Just don't force your manuscript or info about your work into the conversation. You can always follow up by email afterwards if you want to use the cons for networking. The bar's always good, too, or the book room. Talk to the book dealers, most definitely. The main point would be--just don't be a wall flower but don't be in people's faces, either. And be yourself and be relaxed.

At 6:44 AM, Jonathan Wood said...
Random question: will there be an Album Zutique volume 2?

ANSWER: It's in the back of my head to do one. Just depends on time available.



Updated April 9--Answers

At 12:26 PM, Rajan said...
I'll play. As a writer who is also, at times, an editor, what would you say are the advantages and disadvantages of doing both? Do both jobs play well together or do they create conflict?

Answer: They play well together because they're both an act of creation, organization, etc. They feed into one another because you learn a lot about writing through editing--both the editing of anthologies by choosing stories and the editing of individual stories on the paragraph level. The only disadvantage is that there are people who are unable to understand that you can wear more than one hat at a time. You can either be a writer or an editor. The idea that you might perform at a high level in both areas seems to be horrifying to some. And sometimes there is a lot of genre politics behind the scenes when you edit an anthology, especially because the antho field is so crowded right now. For me, I just like creating things and I try to ignore the naysayers. Also, Ann and I work well together editing. She's a great general editor and I'm good at getting into the guts and analyzing them.


Updated April 8, 5:30pm--Answers to questions

As promised, answers to questions you've posted to the comments area thus far...

Jeff

At 10:26 AM, Caleb Wilson said...
Hi Jeff, I have a question. What do you think about genre writing in MFA programs? My experience so far is that the two don't mix (based, admittedly, solely on all my rejections to programs so far.) What do you think? Have any counterexamples? I'm basically looking for a variety of opinions before I decide if I want to apply all over again next fall.

Answer: One great counterexample would be Brown University, with Brian Evenson and Robert Coover on the creative writing faculty. I really do think this is a case of just finding the right program. However, it depends on why you're going. Although others might disagree, the main reason to go into an MFA program is to be able to teach once you're out. If you're not wanting to teach, I would strongly suggest just getting a good day job that doesn't stress you out and writing on the side, until the ratio of work-pay to writing-pay begins to swing toward the writing-pay part of your life. Some of the best advice I ever got was from Richard Wilbur, the National Book Award-winning poet. I asked him about college and graduate school, etc. He told me "Get a degree in science, in history, in English, in whatever, but don't get one in creative writing." Basically, he was telling me (and he's said this to a lot of people), get the most out of college by acquiring the most knowledge you can and apply it to your fiction. Anyway, that last part doesn't respond to what you were asking, but I hope the first part does.


At 12:55 PM, LTG said...
Hey there Jeff. I have read your books Veniss Underground, City of Saints and Madmen and Secret Life, in this order (and, by the way, they're relatively hard to find here in Greece). While reading the Veniss stories (the ones in Secret Life), I found their mood and imagery much more raw and brutal than Veniss Underground. Of course, the latter had its moments, but at least it was much more humane. Although I enjoyed both the stories and the novel, I wanted to ask whether this change of mood was intentional, and if the earlier stories reflected your feelings/thoughts at the time you wrote them. Also, in Veniss chronology, what is the distance between the novel and the stories?Thanks in advance, John.

Answer: Yeah, my first and last book in Greece was a story collection that tanked. Probably would've done better with a novel first. Still, very grateful to Oxy Publishing for their efforts there. Re the Veniss stories--most all of the stories were started before I started the novel, although some of them, like "Balzac's War," were finished after I finished the novel. I began as a horror writer and I think that's why the stories are more horrific. However, the stories--most of them--also occur in the future chronology much later in time during a bleaker time for humanity, so that's probably the main reason for it. I also think a novel is a much wider canvas and allows for more fluctuation of approach and emotion.

At 2:08 PM, Jordan Lapp said...
I have a question. I've recently started my own blog, so I'd like to ask "how do you create a successful blog?" I mean, "be interesting" and "content is key" is always good advice, and I'm doing that (hey, it's me!), but what other steps can I take to drive traffic to my blog?

Answer: I don't know, really. I began the blog as an outlet for my enthusiasm for certain writers, my curiosity about writing topics, and to let readers know more about my work. It's just kind of blossomed from there. I guess at the beginning I asked if other bloggers and websites would link to my blog, but I don't recall doing anything other than that. It's just that over a period of years more and more people visit the blog. (Right now, I can get more attention for something on my blog at times than on webzine sites.) I think beyond be interesting and having good content, having some kind of general focus is good. Also, it's good to have that focus be relatively unique, or have a unique perspective on it. "Be honest" is my general approach, and mix in a combination of the personal and the professional. I also try very hard not to just have this be a blog promoting my work. This will get easier when I move to WordPress, since News & Events will be a constant sidebar rather than individual blog entries. I wish I could be of more help.


***

Just got the edits from Jim Frenkel on my Year's Best Fantasy & Horror comics summation. Really good edits, but my favorites were (created by misplaced comma and context): "What is a brain sad frog?" "What are escalating toadmen?"

Although I've corrected the errors, I now really really want to know what brain sad frogs are, and escalating toadmen. I have a feeling they might be mortal enemies. And yes, I think I will be writing a story around this, probably called "The Brain-Sad Frog and the Escalating Toadmen".

I will have more internet access than I thought while gone, so will probably pop in from time to time.

My offer to answer questions (stolen, I must admit, from John Scalzi, who, as a result, may borrow Evil Monkey once or twice if he wishes) is still open. Questions on writing or anything you like.

Jeff

19 Comments:

At 10:26 AM, Anonymous Caleb Wilson said...

Hi Jeff, I have a question. What do you think about genre writing in MFA programs? My experience so far is that the two don't mix (based, admittedly, solely on all my rejections to programs so far.) What do you think? Have any counterexamples? I'm basically looking for a variety of opinions before I decide if I want to apply all over again next fall.

 
At 12:55 PM, Anonymous LTG said...

Hey there Jeff. I have read your books Veniss Underground, City of Saints and Madmen and Secret Life, in this order (and, by the way, they're relatively hard to find here in Greece). While reading the Veniss stories (the ones in Secret Life), I found their mood and imagery much more raw and brutal than Veniss Underground. Of course, the latter had its moments, but at least it was much more humane. Although I enjoyed both the stories and the novel, I wanted to ask whether this change of mood was intentional, and if the earlier stories reflected your feelings/thoughts at the time you wrote them. Also, in Veniss chronology, what is the distance between the novel and the stories?

Thanks in advance,
John.

 
At 2:08 PM, Anonymous Jordan Lapp said...

I have a question. I've recently started my own blog, so I'd like to ask "how do you create a successful blog?" I mean, "be interesting" and "content is key" is always good advice, and I'm doing that (hey, it's me!), but what other steps can I take to drive traffic to my blog?

 
At 9:48 PM, Blogger Jason Erik Lundberg said...

And yes, I think I will be writing a story around this, probably called "The Brain-Sad Frog and the Escalating Toadmen".

With a title like that, you can't not write it now!

 
At 12:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why not put together an anthology with each story having the title 'The Brain-Sad Frog And The Escalating Toadmen'? It would be fun to see how different writers express themselves through the same title.

 
At 12:26 PM, Blogger Rajan said...

I'll play.

As a writer who is also, at times, an editor, what would you say are the advantages and disadvantages of doing both? Do both jobs play well together or do they create conflict?

 
At 3:10 PM, Anonymous Patrick S. McGinnity said...

Hi Jeff. I just wanted to second your advice on Genre Writing and MFA programs. I'm a month away from earning my MFA from Hollins, where they are allowing me to write some weird stuff (I got in by submitting mostly mimetic fiction and a short meta-fiction, and then pulled the ol' switcheroo on them). So genre-friendly programs are out there, but as you said, unless you want to teach as a career, you're better off writing or studying something else that interests you. Teaching is actually one of the more difficult jobs to support your writing with--if you are really committed to it, it takes a lot of time and energy.

Thanks for providing the forum for this, Jeff. By the way, I'm doing an analysis of City of Saints and Madmen as a collection of short fiction for one of my final papers.

Regards,
Patrick S. McGinnity

 
At 7:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, Patrick. Thanks for that.

I tend to agree about teaching. I'm down in Orlando doing some workshops and classes with high school students at Trinity Prep, and it's definitely intense--just doing it for a short time, like I am now.

JeffV

 
At 10:41 AM, Blogger Rajan said...

Can I ask another one? I was just reading something about BSG and I was wondering if you had continued to watch the rest of the season and, if so, what you thought about it in the end? Did they redeem themselves at all in your eyes?

 
At 2:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a minor question for you, Mr. Vandermeer. It concerns epic fantasy. What do you, as a writer of "weird" or "strange" fiction that is not "traditional" fantasy a la Tolkien think of Tolkien's modern children. Say the works of Martin, Bakker, Erikson, and countless more. Do you still think it can be a unique way to express yourself, or do you consider everything under the epic label copy-cats who don't invent any new tropes?

 
At 2:45 PM, Anonymous Mark Bukovec said...

Hey Jeff. Just a comment to the MFA question. I worked on poetry instead of fiction at grad school. Working in verse gave me a good sense of sound quality and line work (or sentences in fiction) and a focus on the emotional impact of what I'm writing. I don't regret majoring in creative writing, but I also did a double major as an undergrad to learn something else.

From what I saw, genre fiction was actively discouraged. So was experimental fiction, sadly enough. I think the biggest drawback to doing an MFA is that it's two (possibly three) more years in school, when you could be out in the world having more varied experiences to draw from.

I have a question for you: as an up-and-coming writer (as in coming up from the subbasement to the root cellar), how can I benefit from attending cons? I'm going to ReaderCon.

Keep pimping Cat Rambo. I'm fortunate to be in a workshop with her, and she rocks!

Thanks--Mark

 
At 3:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the road today--will get to questions by tonight.

JV

 
At 6:44 AM, Anonymous Jonathan Wood said...

Random question: will there be an Album Zutique volume 2?

 
At 2:26 PM, Blogger Joe said...

Jeff, I believe the Escalating Toadmen are one of the original inhabitants of the Moons of Mungo in Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon strips. The Brain Sad Frogs are a race of telepathic amphibians from the swamp world of Gloopus Major. They write some of the finest poetry in the known universe but alas for the poor frogs when the literati come to pay their respects to such moving bards and find they are big, warty frogs they are all very upset. Being telepathic the frogs pick up on this and it is, naturally, very depressing for them, so they go off on their own, sit on a giant lily pad and write more poetry.

 
At 8:21 PM, Anonymous Mistah Kurtz said...

Tolkien's children?

Exterminate all the brutes.

 
At 11:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Jeff, haveing read "City of Saints and Madmen", "The Strange Case of X" always remembered me about Doris Lessing's "Briefing for a Descent into Hell"; I'm wondering whether this link is just coincidence?
Oliver

 
At 6:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/6549161.stm
Jeff -- some squid business.


Best,


Jeff F.

 
At 3:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

self promotion:

- an experimental (= pretentious)story called 'sky fall' online at: http://www.dreampeople.org

- upcoming sub called
'A Helpful Guide to Surviving a Massive, ATOMIC, End-of-the-world ATTACK!' to be featured in the End is Nigh magazine http://www.endisnigh.co.uk


-- Mo

 
At 10:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi,
In case you don't know, you've been nominated, with Greg Egan, Piccirilli, Jeff Noon and Ted Chiang, by a french Webzine (cafardcosmique.com)for the prize of the best SF book of 2007. I hope you win!

 

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