Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Ann/Jeff Vandermeer (Interview by Charles Tan)

Ann VanderMeer/Jeff VanderMeer - Fast Ships, Black Sails

What spurned both of you to work on a pirate anthology? Did you pitch the concept or was it assigned to you?

A - The good folks at Nightshade asked us to do it. It sounded like a lot of fun, an all-original pirate anthology. We were excited to do it.

J - In addition to the fun aspect, I wanted, following on the New Weird antho, to show that we could also deliver a satisfying traditional good-old-adventure-and-excitement kind of anthology. Thing is, we usually focus on the more surreal stuff because no one's really doing that. But we both love more traditional fiction, too. So in a way we got to satisfy another part of our reading experience with this opportunity. I'd like to do more in this vein, in addition to the more cutting edge stuff.

You mentioned in the introduction that there were some stories that surprised you. Did the fact that you were open to submission for the anthology affect that result or is it more due to the diversity of the subject matter?

A - Having an open reading period is what made all the difference. It allowed us to discover other writers we might not have read before. In addition, I have published some of those writers in Weird Tales, too! So the surprises were delightful ones. I understand the appeal of doing anthologies purely by invitation only, but in doing so you run the risk of all anthologies being exactly the same, with the same writers. Pirates is also a broad theme and we were determined to create a book that showed diversity.

J - We picked about half the stories from the open reading period. Kelly Barnhill's story is amazing, for example. We wouldn't have seen that one otherwise. Even writers we rejected, like Jonathan Wood, wound up getting into Weird Tales because of the open reading period. And Jonathan Wood went on to become a good friend, in part because of that. There's a guy who is going to hit the big time soon. So you also keep your finger on the pulse of what's going on out there by reading slush. Whenever possible, we're committed to that process. We make money on anthologies, but we don't edit anthologies to make money, if that makes sense. I mean, we can do a four-hour workshop and make more than you usually get from anthos, so you have to edit for the love. The Conrad Williams story up for a Jackson Award (which cracks us up, since our cat is named Jackson) was, I believe, by invitation, though. We just thought Conrad would create something mysterious and bloody and weird. He's such a great writer--totally underrated no matter how much praise he gets.

What were your criteria in selecting stories for the antho?

A - Well-written, unusual and unique - first. Then we make sure that the stories work well together. We wanted to make sure that each story was completely different from all the rest. That's why you'll see a traditional adventure story next to a horror story next to a humor story.

J - Yeah, but we also did want to work off of a more traditional model, and some of our favorite writers who are known for being more off-beat delivered in that sense--like Rhys Hughes, whose story is hilarious. We must have done something right, since stories were taken for several year's bests and they continue to be up for various awards. It's very satisfying.

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