A quarter-view of the elusive author
A quarter-view of the elusive author

So, last night I gathered up your questions for Jeff Vandermeer, sent them his way, and settled down to do a bit of work on the script.  Less than thirty minutes later, I received a response from Jeff.  Well, not just “a” response.  ALL the responses.  What I assumed to be an acknowledgment of receipt turned out to be the completed Q&A!

You say you found his book unconventional and off-the-wall?  Wait ’til you read the answers to some of these questions. 

Oh, and if you want check out more Vandermeeran views and ventures, head on over to www.jeffvandermeer.com

A big thanks to Jeff for stopping in…   

Sparrow_hawk writes: “Questions for Jeff VanderMeer:
1. I think I  understand the squid, which seem to be inspired by Cthulhu, but what was your  inspiration for the fungus and Gray Caps?”

JV: The squid were inspired by…squid. The fungus was inspired by…fungus. The gray caps were inspired by…the little gray people who live in my cellar.

“2. How did you come to create  Ambergris?”

JV: A dream. At midnight. Eyes shot open. Ran to computer. Typed first ten pages of Dradin. Rest was perspiration.

“3. I loved Martin Lake.  Was the character based on a particular  artist?”

JV: Every arrogant irresponsible artist I have ever met, including the author. Art inspired by Chagall, Scott Eagle, etc.

Iamza writes: “I am dying to know if anyone solved the number puzzle towards  the latter half of the novel. I must have spent a good twenty minutes right  before sleep trying to crack the code – is it even crackable? Do I need to read  all the stories first to figure out the key?”

JV: Go to ambergris.org. Look under the tree…

TimC writes: “Some questions for Jeff Vandermeer:
 1. What do you think of the term New Weird? Is it something you embraced  after a time because, in a way, it places your work in an exclusive sub-category  of literature? Or is it, as some have suggested, an unsuccessful attempt to  pigeonhole works that defy easy classification (ie. It’s not quite fantasy and  not quite horror so let’s call it New Weird).”

JV: Your question condemns the term in the asking. But: Works are New Weird not authors. Therefore all New Weird authors are also not New Weird authors. See wiki entry. Read intro to NW anthology.

“2. I found the book incredibly unique not just in terms of the writing but  the presentation as well (ie. the different fonts, illustrations, etc.). It  really looks and reads like a labor crafted
of love. How long did it take you  to assemble the collection and why did you choose to assemble it this way?”

JV: Ten years two days five hours fifteen minutes.

Form follows function. Form is function.

“What  was the initial reaction to the books publication?”

JV: Chaos. Riots in the streets. Extreme anger. Indifference. Cookies.  Handshakes. Major book deal.

See also: Agony Column agony article on inspiration, creation, fruiting body.

“3. What authors inspired you to write and influenced your writing?”

JV: John Irving and Italo Calvino. Thomas Ligotti and Angela Carter. Edward Whittemore and Vladimir Nabokov. Margaret Atwood and Alasdair Gray. One of these things is not true. Which is it? Correct guess wins a book they may not want.

Mendoza writes:  “My questions for Jeff Vandermeer:
 Hello, Jeff. I was wondering what kind of jobs you held prior to your first  published work.”

JV: Infant. Toddler. Middle schooler. Junior high.

“Were there any job experiences that reflected the off-the-wall  nature of your writing (for instance, did you ever work in the fields of cephalopods or fungus?).”

JV: After first published work: editor, city code compiler, banjo salesman, bookstore manager, cpa manual writer, business process analyst, educational writing for kids, etc. However, autodidact qualities make up for much. Learned to talk. Hold a pen. Learn about squid. Learn to lie about being banjo salesman.

“If not, did you have a prior interest on either subject  prior to writing City of Saints and Madmen or was it part of the research done  for the book?”

JV: Squid and fungus are aliens temporarily residing on Earth. City of Saints simply returns them to their proper context.

“As I said, I’mm not familiar with your other work and I was wondering how  youd compare it to City of Saints and Madmen. Are they also collected works  along the same vein? Are they Abergris-related.”

JV: Different vein, same body. Some describe different bodies. One has a large alien carnivore with ‘dreds in it. Another features a flesh cathedral. Yet another has a flesh necklace. Many have underground scenes. In one a vine takes over an office building. In the new one a mushroom is a man and a bullet is a mushroom. The situation is confused, the transmission unclear.

“Finally, can you tell me a bit about your writing process. I, for instance,  find I’m more creative at night – between two and four a.m.”

JV: And you tend to take a break around three and turn toward the window, but you do not see me there. In the bushes.

“As an  established author, do you tend to keep more reasonable hours?”

JV: Until established, kept no hours at all. Now established, can afford to keep many hours and walk them on leashes. Particularly enjoy 8 til noon.

“Do you set a  certain amount of time each day to write?”

JV: Whatever it takes for whatever needs doing.

Sparrow_hawk also writes:  “More questions:
 1. Why all the different styles?”

JV: Why all the colors and brushstrokes in different paintings in a museum?

“2. Do you identify with “X”?”

JV: More than with R but less than S.  X is not JV. Like visiting a distant cousin for an awkward lunch.

“3. Are you a fan of Lovecraft or just a squidophile?”

JV: False contrast. Could love Lovecraft and love squid. Could like L and like S (see above). Could hate both. In fact like some L but all Squid. Just not on a cracker–they’re too intelligent to be appetizers.

“4. I thought the number puzzle referred to page and word numbers, but I  couldn’t figure out which of the many stories it might use as a source. I  thought it might be the “The Release of Belaqua” but there is no page 16. Is  there a solution or are you just messing with our minds?”

JV: Go to ambergris.org with your friend and look under the tree. You will come to no harm…probably.

Drldeboer writes: My Question for Mr VanderMeer, from the story on the  bookcover flap: Where did you go? Some ride, thanks.”

JV: There was a door where no door should exist. On the other side was a hill and a sky and a tree not of this world. Beyond the hill there was a sea. And a little boat. And a sad-faced cat with a nautical map in its mouth. The boat led to the Southern Isles, and there I stayed awhile. The cat turned out to be something else, but that is another story entirely. Except it explains the missing hand.

Stargrazer writes: “With so many small print publishers and genre magazines  going the way of the dodo, what are your feelings about the future of  publications like New Weird, Analog, etc.?”

JV: Analog’s name perhaps reveals too much about its fate. Weird Tales is the Indian Summer before winter. Not small versus large, but mammals versus dinosaurs.  Large things are going the way of the dodo too–they are just too large to tell they’re rotting yet.

ThreeSpring writes: “Questions that Jeff Vandermeer may or may not be able  to/want to answer:
 1. Why were the mushroom people so docile and willing to give up their lives  when the first settlers came to Ambergris, yet proved unwavering and cruel in  exacting their revenge?”

JV: If a stranger surprises you in your house with a gun, do you do what he says? And do you do it because he has the gun or because you are surprised, or both? Then, when you realize the man lives across the street, what do you do afterwards? Now, imagine that you are not human but the man is still a man. Even though he has a gun, how much of your inhuman ways will he comprehend?

“2. What is with the mushroom people’s fascination with eyes?”

JV: Mushrooms don’t have eyes. But if you were a mushroom with eyes and your eyes not only saw but were a repository of recordings of what you saw, might you not send back that which you thought had been seen, as a warning?

“3. What was the significance of the strange symbols (footnote 23 in the  history of Ambergris)?”

JV: Monad. Dee. Contamination of our world with theirs or vice versa? Coincidence? Collusion? Regardless, something is broken and cannot be fixed.

“4. Who was responsible for the many wonderful illustrations?”

JV: Credits exist in the back of the book to acknowledge an army of fine craftspeople from all over the world.

“5. Pursuant to what Joe was talking about yesterday, if you could bring only  10 books with you to a deserted island, which 10 books would they be?”

JV: The Collected Works of John Ruskin

Pale Fire
Maps of the Imagination
The World According to Garp
The Troika by Stepan Chapman
The Perfect Spy by LeCarre
Angela Carter’s Collected Fiction
The Chess Garden

Tomorrow all the answers would be different.

McKay12 writes: “Please tell Mr. Vandermeer that I loved his book and my  apologies for weighing in so late. Most of my questions have already been asked  but I wanted to throw in a few more if it’s not too late:
 1. What is a day in the life of Jeff Vandermeer like? Do you dedicate the  bulk of your day to writing or do you have other areas of focus?”

JV: Mornings to write. Afternoons to edit. Late afternoon, gym. Evening relax plus email. Repeat. “To be strange in your art, be normal in your life.” Also: “Never wear capes.”

2. What is your working relation with your wife? If I’m correct, she is an  editor which I imagine would make for some interesting discussions on occasions  when she reads your work.”

JV: All books dedicated to her. First reader. First everything. (Nervous in other room pacing as she reads latest surrounded by cats wondering why they are not being pet.)

“3. What have you got in the works?”

JV: Finch – last Ambergris novel

Booklife: Strategies & Survival Tips for the 21st Century Writer

Strange Journeys: Collected Nonfiction

Steampunk (coffee table book with Jake von Slatt)

Finding Sonoria (stories)

The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals

Last Drink Bird Head (anthology)

The leonardo Variations (anthology)

Bellysnatcher (illustrated storybook for adults with Eric Orchard)

& more

Visit jeffvandermeer.com for Blawg.

“What can your fans look forward to in the  near future?”

JV: Disappointment. Scurvey. High winds. Low seas. Unrequested fish. Men in tights. Gout. Insomnia. Inflation. Car sickness. Appearances at county fairs next to the two-headed calf. Avaunt!

29 thoughts on “January 29, 2009: Author Jeff Vandermeer Sweeps In – Like A Mini-Hurricane!

  1. Wow, Joe…you got off easy tonight. 😉

    I hope Paul is feeling better! Hope you had a good day!

    Oh, and…when and if you ever tackle the haggis, can you do so in a kilt? Pretty please?

    Have a nice evening, Joe. I saw a beautiful little pug today, and thought of your babies – so, please, give ’em kisses for me. 🙂


  2. Hehehehehe. Loved the way Jeff Vandermeer answered those questions. It’s as though when looking at the question, as opposed to just taking the usual line of answering, he tilts his head a little, thinks about it in a slightly different way and delivers a wonderful response.

    Joe, I saw an interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson on The Daily Show last night. What a great character to have involved in astrophysics. Off to go and find The Pluto Files.

    You know, I feel pretty dense at the best of times. Cruelly, this heat has made me realise there is a new level of denseness I can achieve.

  3. Went to the bookstore today to order up the February selections, and went 0 for 3. all three ordered, and I should pick them up in time to read each one before the scheduled discussion date. Got into a conversation with a patron and one of the store employees about City of Saints and Madmen. Mr. Vandermeer certainly has his fans. Enough so I’ve picked up another of his works to hold me over until the BotM club selections arrive.
    Which brings me to Mr. Vandermeer’s kind participation here. I’m kicking myself for not getting a few questions in, but I thorughly enjoyed both the questions and answers tonight. I will be checking out his websites, but only after purchings some monofiliment wire and making some diary entries to remind me of what I was like before I ventured there.
    Thanks for making the guest blog possible Mr. M, and thanks once again for Mr. Vandermeer’s participation.

  4. Jeff Vandermeer’s Q&A

    To quote Ronon: “What??” Crazy, crazy Author! Keep up the good work! LOVED IT!! LOVED IT!! His personality was flying . . . nevermind the occasional smacking into the walls. Mr. Vandermeer, sit down, its time now for your medication. Okay, don’t sit down.

    Joe thanks for another GREAT Q&A. The most unusual to date. LOVED IT!! (It was like reading Picasso’s thoughts-the scary ones).

  5. @Jeff Vandermeer: Thanks for answering the questions from your cell phone and for posting the picture. Riley is quite photogenic. And thanks for the info on where to find the translation (nice painting – looks like late Martin Lake). I don’t plan to read it until I make a few more attempts to crack the code myself. It’s just the way I am. I’d try to post a witty rejoinder but I don’t have the energy at the moment.

    @Joe: Thanks for hosting a truly unique guest blogger. And thanks for the link.

    @Narelle: “…a slightly different way”? You are a master of understatement. Keep yourself and your dogs cool. I hope the hot spell breaks soon.

    Long hard day. Going to bed.

  6. b>@ Narelle – I saw Neil deGrasse Tyson on the Tonight Show (Jay Leno) the other evening…he was wearing the same tie that he wore in SGA, which is exactly like one of my husband’s ties. Both hubby and I dabbled in astronomy before we got married, and though we never stuck with it, we still have a love for the stars. When I saw that tie, I just had to get it for him…it was so unique. Well, until that Tyson fella started wearin’ one, too… 😉

    @ Sparrow_hawk – Sorry you’ve had a rough day. 🙁 Here’s hoping tomorrow will be a better one for ya! *hugs* And hey, we gotta get our heads together and talk Elric soon…maybe that’ll pick ya up a bit. 🙂


    A huge thanks to Jeff for making my day!!!/

    To all:
    Open question of the night: How do you think inertial dampeners work? Obviously, they are fiction, but I was kind of hoping for a real-world explanation of how they work.
    We discussed this in my Einstein seminar class today and the analogy we came up with was that they were like shocks in a car, but we couldn’t explain how the clocks and people inside the ships didn’t experience the acceleration. Even if it isn’t felt, the body of the ship still experiences it, so the inertia has to go somewhere! And for special relativity to work, the people and (more importantly for our discussion) clocks inside have to experience the acceleration somehow. Is this explained more thoroughly in an episode of SG-1 or Atlantis?

  8. Jeff, never fear, if you are in Brisbane then you should have much more human friendly weather. Well, according to the Weather Bureau anyway. But they really aren’t that accurate when predicting weather. Which is a bit of an issue all things considered.

    Hope to see you making an appearance in Melbourne sometime.

    sparrow_hawk – Thanks for the cool thoughts. It’s going to drop to around 35 tomorrow (95 Fahrenheit) and we’re all saying, “Oh a cool day”. Just goes to show that along with petrol prices and economic crisis debt, you get conditioned.

  9. Dear Mr. VanderWeirdmeer, thanks for the Q & A roller coaster ride! Too fun. Will have to read it again… And you knocked that out in half an hour? On a cell phone!? At 1 a.m.? Crikey! bows in respect…

    Love the pic of Riley. Here’s a nice one of you and your wife Ann, courtesy of the auto-generated links on Cap’n Joe’s blog:


    I’m going to end up visiting so many author blogs, I may forget to come home! (JK!)

  10. “3. What have you got in the works?”

    JV: Finch – LATEST Ambergris novel

    -there you go. I fixed it for you.

  11. Trippy much! Brilliantly off the wall Q&A. Now I am intrigued enough to seek out City of Saints and Madmen and sample for myself the AU that JV obviously works from. That or get me some of what he is on. I wonder what the world looks like to JV?

  12. Hey Joe, converted a new SG fan in the last few days. One of my good friends has been on a mission for our church the last two years and just got back 4 months ago. We’ve been catching him up on the movie scene…and he is a HUGE scifi geek like me. I mean, we will seriously sit in Starbucks for hours on end and talk about the Star Wars Novels in such detail like people do with Harry Potter…so yeah, total freaks…but anyway, he’s never watched SG before. So us few SG freaks in our little group are starting to have SG marathons.

    We are 4 epis into S1, and he’s already hooked. I was telling him tonight of certain storylines that come later, mainly the bad guys…and then of course Atlantis (which will forever be my fav show ever)…

    And we even talked about going to the SG cons in the area this year. You can definitly plan on seeing us in the crowd at Comic Con…

    Anyway….one more convert down, and millions to go…

  13. Well I didn’t read Mr. Vandermeers book but after reading his responses I think maybe I will.
    His answers to the questions were hilarious!

  14. Jeff: Yeah, Narelle is right, the temperature here in Brisbane has been much lower than what they have been suffering in the south. However, the bit you never hear about is that the humidity here has been over 80%. It’s horrible. And wrong. And it kinda makes people nuts. Thanks for your Q and A – loved it. Personally, I’m looking forward to the ‘men in tights’ in my future. Thanks for the heads up. Hope you enjoy your trip to Brisbane, despite the weather.

    Narelle, hey look. I de-lurked. Second time ever!! Hope that ebook link was/is useful

    um………Hi, Joe. 🙂 I feel like I should apologise. You’d think I’d have more (better) stuff to say to you since I decided to de-lurk again and this is, you know, your blog. Sadly, no. It’s the humidity.

  15. Hello Joseph! =)

    Trop adorable ce petit en photo =)♥

    J’espere que vous allez passer un trés bon week end! Je suis impatiente d’être à Dimanche…devinez pourquoi? lol

    Kiss, a bientot.

  16. Hi Joe! Random question for ya. In New Order, when Jack wakes up and mentions last remembering “something about twins”, was that a scripted line or a RDA adlib? We were discussing on GW whether that was a bit of foreshadowing of the Carter “Twin” about to be created or just RDA being funny. Thanks Joe. 🙂

  17. Hi Joe!! Remember me? Possibly you don’t since I was forced to only sporadically visit your blog over the past 8 months or so (thanks to work, temporary dial-up internet and the giant koalas holding me hostage). But I used to be a regular here, and I’ve managed to work around the annoyingly unavoidable circumstances.

    Great to see the q&a with Jeff Vandermeer, I actually picked up a copy of City of Saints and Madmen last week and really enjoyed it. Jeff, if you’re still around I’m curious about what you’ll be doing in Brisbane…any publicity stuff I could come along to?


  18. Glad to hear Brisbane should be slightly better.

    I am primarily in Brisbane to teach the last week of the Clarion South writer’s workshop. But I am doing a reading at the Avid Reader on Thursday, Feb. 12th. I have very fond memories of Brisbane. We were there as guests of the writer’s festival a few years ago and it was such a delightful place. And since I love huge-ass fruit bats I was very happy. (Also, koala bear is delicious!)

    BTW–I want to emphasize that I am not nuts, but I answered the questions on my cell phone and it forced a certain compression at the beginning that I just went with. LOL. I think also I’ve answered too many questions about City over the years. Thanks for putting up with my insanity.

    And I really appreciate both the questions and the opportunity. It was fun to read all of the comments, pro and con, and see how much you all engaged with the text.

    All the best,

    ps kidding about Koala Bear. It’s pretty tough.

  19. Oh–I meant to add I owe you guys a thank you. This bit…

    JV: There was a door where no door should exist. On the other side was a hill and a sky and a tree not of this world. Beyond the hill there was a sea. And a little boat. And a sad-faced cat with a nautical map in its mouth. The boat led to the Southern Isles, and there I stayed awhile. The cat turned out to be something else, but that is another story entirely. Except it explains the missing hand.

    …which I wouldn’t have thought of without the interview opportunity looks to be subsumed into this picturebook/illustrative narrative I’m doing with Eric Orchard called Bellysnatcher.


  20. Hey Joe, I bring forth ponderings from the Fandom. They need this question answered:

    “because there’s quite a debate going on in the series finale thread and it appears no one is gonna stand down untill TPTB settle this once & for all -_-

    basically the problem is as follows :

    it’s about the megahive so easily owning the cityship even though the hive only had 1 zpm & the Atlantis has 3. an inconsistency several of us have tried to explain

    and there’s basically 2 views on this

    1) our explanation is that either the hive had more than 1 zpm plugged in (at least by the time it arrived in MW), or Atlantis’ zpms were already severely drained (eg. because of the wormhole drive since it was stated to be a power hog), or maybe even both those possibilities

    2) the other camp contends that it was because wraith tech is way way way more power efficient than ancient tech (or that ancient tech is – to quote them – “criminally wasteful”). IMO this would only harm the series by adding yet another inconsistency, but they stand by their argument

    so which is it ?”

  21. Enjoyed the answers from Mr Vandermeer, I didnt get the book, looked today at BAM, pretty worthless when I told them that all the books in the sc-fi section were not in order by author, the young clerk just tee-heed and said I know, I am working my days off to straighten it, DUH! gave me a headache going thru them ALL, simpler to order on line I think and NOT from them, she was nervy enough to ask if I wanted to pay 20$ for a renewed membership and I said no thanks, since they didnt have anything I wanted, Oh I take that back, I picked up the Last Unicorn. So long story short, bad day at the bookstore.. thanks for listening to the rant.
    >>narelle, how long is it til spring or cooler temps? looked at you blog, lots of water for dogs to cool down in, great pix. I live in Fla, tough for animals here also, can’t believe the people who take their pets to the store and leave them in the vehicle, ah but thats another rant, thanks again. Better day tomorrow.. 😀

  22. Hey Joe,

    Just wanted to give a shout out. Glad you are working on some eps for SGU. I cannot wait for the movie and hope there will be more than one.

    I wanted to let folks now that Gateworld.net forums have reached an all time low. I am spreading the word with how the forum has gotten even worse. They bash you and the rest of the crew, and when folks like myself defend, we get warnings. It is so biased there it is not even funny. I hope I can start spreading the word about how bad Gateworld has become. I now know why you don’t post there anymore. Wise decision.


  23. Hey Joe, a couple of questions involving SGA:

    1. In your unofficial opinion, did the Ancients erase critical information in the database when they abandoned the city? I’ve been wondering about this for awhile, because in season 1 Dr. Weir was thinking about all of the important info that might be in the Atlantis database, but it was never mentioned again. My only theory then, is that the Ancients erased this information.

    2. The Wraith knew Atlantis was still there, even when the Ancients abandoned the city. How come they didn’t create a submersible craft and blast their way into Atlantis and salvage what they could? The shield would’ve given out anyway.

    3. Can you confirm that a universal translator device will be used on SGU?

    4. Are you at liberty to say whether the attackers of the off world base in SGU will be familiar foes or not?

  24. Bonjour Joseph. Vous allez bien?

    sympas cette petite étude sur les ventes de DVD =)…roh en france je ne sais pas si il éxiste encore des gens qui achéte des DVD, c’est plutot téléchargement illégaux, et streaming. Oui encore une question à ce poser pourquoi la France autant?

    Sympas ces questions / réponses, moi aussi j’en ai^^!

    1) avez vous l’intention de faire une convention cette année?
    2) Dans SGU une personnes venant d’une autre planet que la Terre aura t’il la chance de faire parti de l’équipe d’exploration?
    3) Si Michael Shanks apparait dans SGU, vers quel moment de la saison 1 allons nous le voir?

    Bonne journée Super Bowl! Bisou.

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