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Ann & Jeff VanderMeer: The Weird

Ann Bordman was born March 6, 1957 in Kansas City MO and raised in Miami FL. She attended Florida State University in Tallahassee, graduating with a degree in criminology, and has remained in the area ever since. Though she originally intended to become a homicide detective, she fell in love with computer programming and design in graduate school, and has a long-time day job in that field. In 1989 she co-founded magazine The Sterling Web, which she edited under the byline Ann Kennedy. After publishing six issues of The Sterling Web, her co-editor left the publication. The magazine’s name was then changed to The Silver Web, subtitled ‘‘A Magazine of the Surreal’’, and ran until issue #15 in January 2002. Her company, Buzzcity Press, also published novels, beginning with Dradin in Love by Jeff VanderMeer (1996). She became fiction editor for Weird Tales in 2007 and was later named editor-in-chief. During her tenure the magazine was nominated for three Hugos, winning in 2009. She left her position in 2011 when the magazine changed hands, though she remains a contributing editor. She is editing the forthcoming Steampunk III: Steampunk Revolution (2012). She married Jeff VanderMeer in 2002, and has two adult children from her first marriage.

Jeffrey Scott VanderMeer was born July 7, 1968 in Belfont PA, and grew up in the Fiji Islands (where his parents worked for the Peace Corps), Ithaca NY, and Gainesville FL, where he attended the University of Florida for three years. He attended Clarion in 1992, and is perhaps best known as a fiction author, most recently of novel Finch (2009) and collection The Third Bear (2010) – see his interview in the October 2002 issue of Locus for more about his writing. He has been a prolific editor since the 1980s, when he founded The Ministry of Whimsy Press while still in high school, and in 1989 began publishing zine Jabberwocky, which ran for two issues. He co-edited three volumes of the Leviathan anthology series (1994, 1998, and 2002, with assistance from Ann, though her name does not appear on the books), and edited anthologies Album Zutique (2003), The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases (2003, with Mark Roberts), and The Steampunk Bible: An Illustrated Guide to the World of Imaginary Airships, Corsets and Goggles, Mad Scientists, and Strange Literature (2011, with S.J. Chambers).

Together Ann & Jeff VanderMeer have worked on the Best American Fantasy anthologies, which published volumes in 2007, 2008, and 2010. They have co-edited numerous volumes, including Fast Ships, Black Sails (2008), The New Weird (2008), Steapmunk (2008), Last Drink Bird Head (2008), Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded (2010), The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities (2011), and massive retrospective The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories (2011). They co-wrote humorous volume The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals (2010), and recently founded e-book publisher Cheeky Frawg Books. They also run website The Weird Fiction Review at . They are co-editing forthcoming projects including anthology Leviathan 5, a feminist speculative fiction anthology, and e-book anthology Odd? The couple lives in Tallahassee FL.

Jeff VanderMeer: Ecstatic Days

Excerpts from the interview:

Ann VanderMeer: ‘‘While I was doing the magazine and other projects, Jeff was doing his projects, but we were constantly helping each other – totally! The first anthology Jeff and I did together was Best American Fantasy, which was a dream that we had talked about for a long time. When we came to it, we said, ‘We might as well put it out there, and say we’re doing it together.’

‘‘We wanted to put out a Year’s Best that would come out every year, that had rotating editors (so you didn’t have the same point of view every year), but would reach beyond the borders of what most people consider to be genre. At that time, we were reading everything we could in mainstream literary journals, and the first few years there was quite a bit of amazing fantasy being published!’’

Jeff VanderMeer: ‘‘With cross-genre projects, you always run across territorial issues in both genre and mainstream. I think in our case, one thing we were surprised about was finding more territorialism than we expected. We encountered resistance to the concept, and the chain bookstores refused to put Best American Fantasy in the mainstream anthology section – which is really why the first book was designed as it was: to not look like a straight-out genre book.

‘‘It’s something I think we will go back and retry in some form, just because when we do these anthologies we come into contact with so many writers from both sides of the so-called genre divide. When we do a joint reading, writers who have never come into contact with one another before – some academics from the universities, some writing epic fantasies and living off their writing income – finally get the chance to meet. So many new ideas get generated, so many allegiances get formed, that you see a kind of natural symmetry occur. And we’re pretty devoted to that idea.”


AV: ‘‘When I heard they were looking for someone else to edit fiction for Weird Tales, I was doing Best American Fantasy, as well as serving as a judge for the International Horror Guild, and I thought I was pretty busy. But Paula Guran told me, ‘Ann, you really should do this. You would be great!’ I started to think about it. I would only have to read and pick fiction – it wouldn’t be like running The Silver Web, where I had to do every single job. I could just do what I love. So I got very excited about the idea. And it turned out to be wonderful.
‘‘In doing Weird Tales, and also these multiple other projects, lots of times there would be this cross-pollination. Someone would send me a story for Weird Tales and I’d say. ‘That doesn’t really work for here, but guess what? I have this anthology coming out, and it would be awesome for that’ – and vice versa. Like when Jeff and I were doing the pirate anthology Fast Ships, Black Sails, a couple of stories came in that just did not fit but we ended up taking them for the magazine.”


JV: ‘‘The idea for The Weird came when I was in the middle of the woods of New Hampshire hiking. I got an e-mail from an editor at Atlantic in the UK saying, ‘We have a spot in our November schedule. Maybe a 750,000-word volume of the Weird, covering 150 years, would be a good thing to put there.’ I was hiking up this hill, thinking, ‘This is either the biggest trap or the best opportunity I’ve seen in my entire life!’

‘‘He said, ‘Once we get the contract finalized, you’ll have about five months to research this and put it together’ (something which David Hartwell told us was nearly impossible, after we’d already agreed to do it!). It turned out he was thinking of something pulpier, much higher in public-domain stories, and we were thinking, ‘Oh, this is a chance to do stuff from all over the world, including literary authors like Borges.’ The good thing is, when he finally got our preliminary list, he actually gave the go-ahead.

‘‘You always have to have at least this one guiding light, Lovecraft’s definition of the Weird: it has to include the supernatural. But we chose by feel, and found some stories that didn’t necessarily have a clear supernatural element yet were still Weird – Kafkaesque stories, stories of weird ritual. Naturalistic horror just has a different feel to it. We tried to go with the Lovecraftian definition as the core, but then we branched out from that with an idea of this continuum of stuff that’s exploring the unknown, that’s on the darker side.”


AV: ‘‘Jeff and I are doing a website, The Weird Fiction Review. That was supposed to be just a companion to The Weird, and now it’s taken on a life of its own.’’

JV: ‘‘It was meant to be a blog, but our web designer went in another direction and created basically an online magazine. We had all of this extra material that couldn’t go in the book, and all of these contacts with people who did amazing non-fiction about our authors, and additional translations…. It seemed a shame not to find a place for it.

‘‘And the Weird Fiction Review gives us an opportunity to publish some more unclassifiable stuff on the darker side, because it doesn’t have as narrow a focus as the anthology did. Also, we’re getting a lot of e-mails from editors and writers overseas, so it’s become a sort of clearing house for information which feeds into other projects.’’


JV: ‘‘What’s next? I finished a new novel that took me about a month to write – which is kind of crazy! The setting is heavily influenced by hiking in north Florida. There’s an expedition to a quarantined wilderness area called Area X, where 30 years ago something inexplicable happened and a border came down. People keep sending expeditions in to try to find out what happened. It’s from the viewpoint of a female biologist in the expedition that’s in there now. It’s basically a journal of what happens to them once they’re inside this strange area, which is not quite as wildernessy as they think it is. The book is called Annihilation – but it’s not as bad as it sounds!’’


Comment from Jeff VanderMeer
Time August 19, 2012 at 2:53 pm

And by bad, I mean not everyone gets Annihilated!

Pingback from This is how you destroy something beautiful. | Epiphany 2.0
Time August 20, 2012 at 9:50 am

[…] Tanith Lee; I read an issue or two to sample it, but again — not my thing. In 2007, however, Ann VanderMeer, Stephen Segal, and some other folks decided to revive the old Weird Tales brand and evolve it […]

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