Monday, May 4, 2009

Jeff Vandermeer (Charles Tan interview)

Jeff VanderMeer - The Situation

What is it about insects, mollusks, and Cthulhu-esque creatures that fascinate you and make them effective in producing the desired effect on the reader?

Heh. No disrespect to Lovecraft, but these creatures have existed for millions of years. I first encountered them in nature, and in nature books. Looking at them, they seemed like alien life forms on Earth. I'm fascinated by them because I find them beautiful in both their forms and their complexity, but I also know that in fiction they tend to enhance the sense of other or the alien. So they seem like effective delivery systems for making the familiar strange. So, in "The Situation" you have a typical office situation rendered up with bugs and giant fish, among other things, so that the reader will come to see that our modern "typical office" situations aren't, er, actually all that normal. But to get to that point, or the reader to get to that point, you have to add an element of disorientation. Personally, though, having grown up in a family with a father who studied rhinoceros beetles, moths, and fire ants, it's really the odd beauty of these creatures that drives me. Besides, I always seem to need to have a totem animal in my fiction. In "The Situation" that totem is actually fairly conventional: a giant bear-like creature. But, in the context of the other stuff, he seems normal even when he floats.

What made you tackle the corporate workplace in The Situation? Personal experience, catharsis, or simply another creative outlet?

In some ways, it's a fictionalization of certain events that happened to me. To get it out of my system, I wrote out the circumstances of my own "situation" and then one night woke up with the image of a giant fish and a giant bear in my head, sat down and typed the full rough draft of "The Situation." By that point, of course, only the bare bones of reality were left--just the basic situation at the core. Now, of course, it's being turned into a graphic novel for, with the art of Eric Orchard, and thus undergoing a totally new transformation through Eric's imagination.

As one of the editors of The New Weird anthology, do you think your novelette fits that category? (Why or why not?)

That's a good question. Not to dance around an answer, but one reason to edit but not be in a New Weird anthology is to stand a little apart from it, to have some distance from it. I don't consider myself a New Weird writer, but someone who writes some fiction that can be considered New Weird every once in awhile. I don't know if "The Situation" is New Weird or not, and I'm not sure it matters. This is what I mean about editing an anthology. As a reader, as an editor, perhaps as a critic or reviewer, I have interest in the term "New Weird." But as a writer, I'm not that interested in labels. What I'm most interested in is trying new things and pushing myself.

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