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
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)
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!