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I've been reading through this year's Best American Short Stories, edited by Geraldine Brooks, little by little, almost randomly, not quickly, and mostly as a reward to myself when I get other work done. I got it as an ebook, because that's a nicely convenient way to read it. What ultimately attracted me to it was that this year's table of contents is more interesting to me than any in the last few years. (Finally, a BASS that isn't a Best American Rich White People!) My favorite story so far is Rebecca Makkai's "Peter Torrelli, Falling Apart", originally published in Tin House. For me this story alone is easily worth what I paid for the book.
Before saying a few things about "Peter Torrelli...", though, I want to recommend Geraldine Brooks's introduction to you. BASS is in many ways the old guard of the old guard when it comes to self-consciously literary fiction, and the regime seems to be enforced by the publishers and series editors, as the more adventurous guest editors of the past (whether John Gardner, Michael Chabon, or Stephen King) have politely hinted in their introductions, and as the tables of contents have amply demonstrated. BASS is rarely a book you go to to find out what's new and interesting in the realm of short fiction; it's a book you read because there is a generally consistent level of accomplishment and pleasure. (True, also, of the annual Pushcart Prize volumes.) It's a rare BASS story that makes me feel like reading it was a waste of time; it's also a rare BASS story that overwhelmingly awes, thrills, inspires, or challenges me. (In that sense, "Peter Torrelli, Falling Apart" is a rare BASS story; I'd happily employ all four words to describe it. Also, and perhaps most importantly: enchants.)
What's interesting about Brooks's introduction, though, is that while she seems to be a fairly traditional reader, she is also clearly more open-minded in her approach than quite a few past guest editors. Her introduction's first pages are similar to the openings of past introductions, and then she offers specific observations about many of the stories included in the book; the really interesting bit comes at the end, beginning when she writes about George Saunders's "Escape from Spiderhead" (originally in The New Yorker), calling it "that rare example of full-bore speculative fiction to make it through the literary magazines’ anti-sci-fi force field," and says that "Coming across this story elicited the same joyful surprise I once felt when offered a glass of wine after a dry week in Riyadh." This leads her to say, "I would like to raise a small, vigorously waving hand in favor of releasing more such stories out of the genre ghetto and into the literary mainstream."
(Please, fankids, don't jump on that sentence and start accusing Brooks of somehow wanting to steal your beloved genre and suggesting that she should read at least 50 years of back issues of Analog or F&SF. No. Just: no.)
This leads Brooks to offer six, as she calls them, "carps of the day". They are:
1. Enuf adultery eds. Too many stories about
Jeff VanderMeer has announced
that the Best American Fantasy series
, for which I served as series editor, has been cancelled. I've known about this for a while now, but reading the announcement was a particularly sad moment for me, because I'd been looking forward very much to seeing what the next few books would look like, with new series editor Larry Nolen taking over for me, new resources to open up the literature of Latin America to the book, and exciting guest editors lined up: Minister Faust, Junot Diaz, and Catherynne M. Valente.
There are lots of reasons why we couldn't bring the series beyond three volumes, most of which boil down to the fact that we weren't able to find a way to reach a large enough audience to be profitable. As Jeff wrote, "BAF did not having a wide margin for error. A cross-genre fantasy year’s best that focused not just on genre magazines but also on literary magazines, that required sympathy and generosity from both the mainstream and genre, as well as the right placement in the chains, was always going to be a difficult sell."
Larry Nolen, the new series editor, had just sent a set of 65 stories on to Minister Faust for consideration when the decision to end the series was made. He has posted the list
of those stories for all to see, and to offer a glimpse of what might have been.
The books are still out there, and I'm proud of all three of them -- each volume is different from the others in tone and style, but the three stand as a testament to the breadth and vigor of short fiction being published today.
With one post, Larry Nolen simultaneously offers a thoughtful and well-informed response to folks who got all "wwaaaahhrrr! waaaahhhhrrr! genre good! waaahhhhrrrr!" about the New Yorker's "20 Under 40" promotional list (whereas I just offered snark) and he proves what we already knew -- that he was the perfect successor as Best American Fantasy series editor, because his perspective is exactly the one we wanted for the book when we created the series (and he's a much faster reader than I am, which will make the work perhaps a bit less arduous for him than it was for me). It's a post well worth reading -- one of the things being inundated with piles of lit mags does is show you the extraordinary variety of writing out there, both in terms of content and form.
Now if I can just get him to stop calling it "mimetic fiction", I'll have achieved all of my goals for world domination, bwahahahahahahahaaaa!
Update: The link for "20 Under 40" above goes to interviews with the 20. Here are some questions and responses:
Who are your favorite writers over forty?
Ursula K. Le Guin and Marilynne Robinson, John Crowley and Padgett Powell.
What was the inspiration for the piece included in the “20 Under 40” series?
Kate Bernheimer asked me to contribute a piece to her new anthology of fairy tales, “My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me,” and I was excited to have a chance to revisit a story that disturbs me: Goethe’s “The Erlking.”
What are you working on now?
A story about a haunted house.
What was the inspiration for the piece included in the “20 Under 40” series?
[...]I wanted to try a sort of fantastical-historical story—Hitchcock meets the swamp.
What are you working on now?
New stories and a novel about a whacked-out imaginary town during the Dust Bowl drought.
Who are your favorite writers over forty?
Just a very few on a long list would be George Saunders, Kelly Link, Joy Williams, Ben Marcus, Jim Shepard, and whole cemeteries of the well-over-forty deceased ones.
Dear Nebula Voters,
I know what your real purpose is with the nominees for this year's award. Don't think you can hide your secret, conspiratorial goals from me! I know what you really want to do is cause me immense angst by putting some of my favorite people up against each other in your various (nefarious!) categories. You know when it comes to awards I root for the people I know and like before I even consider anything else, because of course the people I know and like are all the greatest writer in the world, but what am I supposed to do when you, for instance, put VanderMeer up against Barzak in the novel category?!
I'm safe, at least, with the short story category. Jim Kelly is the only writer I know well there, so obviously he should win. Novelette is worse -- Paolo Bacigalupi is the one person whose short stories have caused me to write a long essay, and he's a really nice guy (well, as long as you don't burn lots of hydrocarbons in front of him. I tried digging an oil well at the World Fantasy Convention in 2005, and he threatened to punch me). Rachel Swirsky I've communicated with regarding Best American Fantasy (we reprinted her story "How the World Became Quiet: A Post-Human Creation Myth" in BAF 2, and all of the BAF contributors feel like family to me, even if I never talk to them, which is mostly what makes them feel like family...) And then there's Mr. Bowes, who once attacked me with a stiletto-heeled shoe when I suggested that Cats is not the greatest musical of all time. I've forgiven him, even though Starlight Express is obviously the greatest musical of all time, and in learning forgiveness, I have learned to appreciate the man himself, and so of course I want him to win as much as I want Paolo and Rachel to win. Maybe they all can. (Voters! Coordinate your efforts to please me!)
Novella is actually easy, too, because the only person there I've met is John Scalzi, and he's alright, even if I remain dead to him.
But the novel category ... it's killing me. I'm going to have to freebase my entire collection of pill-bottle cotton tonight just to calm my aching soul. Not only are Messrs. Barzak and VanderMeer, two of my favorite people, present there, but Paolo Bacigalupi is hanging out in that category as well, and so is China Mieville with The City & The City, a book I adored. And though I don't know Cherie Priest, I know her editor, who is also one of my favorite people, and thus is, by definition, the greatest editor in the world.
Okay, Nebula voters -- I give up! Uncle! Please please please start nominating more works by mean, nasty people I don't like! Or at least people I don't know! I'm working hard to be a recluse, so it shouldn't be all that difficult to locate more people I don't know. It will save me agonized nights of writhing on the floor, my loyalties pulling me in all directions, my heart torn asunder.
What's that you say? It's not all about me? Yes, I've heard that before, many times. Conspirators always deny their conspiracy. I know the truth, though, and in the immortal words of Bob Dylan: "I don't believe you!"
Meanwhile, congratulations to all!
Patient #45403892, New Hampshire State Home for the Criminally Bewildered
Whoever has my tinfoil hat, you'd bett
I haven't seen a copy yet, but various online outlets
say they're shipping Real Unreal: Best American Fantasy 3
, and Powell's
and St. Marks Books
report they've got some in stock at this very moment, so now's your chance to get them before they become collector's items and sell for tens of thousands of dollars on the used book market. Publisher's Weekly
and Charles Tan
both like it, so you should, too!
Or, if you just want to read it and aren't planning on buying a box or two of the book to hoard in preparation for the Last Days, there's always the library
and I were emailing recently, but I didn't realize until I read his comment on an excellent blog post by John Scalzi
that Paul's second novel, No Sleep till Wonderland
, is 1.) being published today, and 2.) published by Henry Holt, a subsidiary of Macmillan
, which means that for the moment it's not being sold on Amazon.com. (Yes, there are copies available from third-party sellers -- these are probably review copies, and they send no royalties to the writer.)
The first day of a novel's publication should be a day of celebration and joy, not a day when the world's largest monopolistic bookseller refuses to sell your book because they're in a spat with another massive corporation.
I don't know Paul well, and I haven't read his novels, but I've read his short fiction and met him a few times. His story "The Two-Headed Girl" is included in Best American Fantasy 3
. He's a nice guy and a good writer.
So here's an idea to help alleviate some of the collateral damage of Amazon's fight with Macmillan: Buy Paul's book or encourage your local library to buy Paul's book. If you like Paul's writing or you just want him to know that you're happy for him on this day of the release of his second novel, contact him (his website
has his email address; his blog is here
). Here are some places you can buy No Sleep till Wonderland
or find libraries that have it:
Lots of Macmillan writers are having their books published today, and none of those books are available via Amazon.com. Paul is the one of those writers I happen to know about. Let's not let a corporate argument sour a day that should be a proud and exciting one for him.
I've just posted the new guidelines and reading period for Best American Fantasy 4,
guest edited by Minister Faust
, on the BAF blog (the info is also available elsewhere
). If you are a publisher or editor, or if you know and have sway over publishers and editors, then please take a moment to check it out.
I'm also thrilled that Larry Nolen
is taking my place as series editor -- I can't think of a better person for the job. I continue to be thrilled by the development of the series, with volume four adding lots of new staff to help gather material, and, with Fábio Fernandez's
assistance, the ability finally to be able to cover South America as well as North. I'm sticking around to offer help and advice (much like Statler & Waldorf
helped The Muppets, I'm sure!) but it's also quite exciting that right now, for the first time since 2006, I do not have to try to read every journal, magazine, webzine, and anthology I can get my hands on...
I just posted lots of news about the Best American Fantasy series. Now here is what I've waited a long time to be able to share -- very much worth the wait, I think--
Best American Fantasy 3: Real Unreal
Guest Editor Kevin Brockmeier, Series Editor Matthew Cheney
"Safe Passage" by Ramona Ausubel (One Story, Issue 106)
"Uncle Chaim, Aunt Rifke, and the Angel" by Peter S. Beagle (Strange Roads)
"Cardiology" by Ryan Boudinot (Five Chapters, 2008)
"The Pentecostal Home for Flying Children" by Will Clarke (The Oxford American, Issue 61)
"For a Ruthless Criticism of Everything Existing" by Martin Cozza (Pindeldyboz, July 6 2008)
"Daltharee" by Jeffrey Ford (The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy)
"Is" by Chris Gavaler (New England Review, Volume 39, Number 2)
"The Torturer's Wife" by Thomas Glave (The Kenyon Review, Fall 2008)
"Reader's Guide" by Lisa Goldstein (F&SF, July 2008)
"Search Continues for Elderly Man" by Laura Kasischke (F&SF, September 2008)
"Pride and Prometheus" by John Kessel (F&SF, January 2008)
"The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates" by Stephen King (F&SF, October/November 2008)
"Couple of Lovers on a Red Background" by Rebecca Makkai (Brilliant Corners, Summer 2008)
"Flying and Falling" by Kuzhali Manickavel (Shimmer, The Art Issue 2008)
"The King of the Djinn" by David Ackert & Benjamin Rosenbaum (Realms of Fantasy, February 2008)
"The City and the Moon" by Deborah Schwartz (The Kenyon Review, Spring 2008)
"The Two-Headed Girl" by Paul Tremblay (Five Chapters, 2008)
"The First Several Hundred Years Following My Death" by Shawn Vestal (Tin House 34)
"Rabbit Catcher of Kingdom Come" by Kellie Wells (Fairy Tale Review, The White Issue)
"Serials" by Katie Williams (American Short Fiction, Summer/Fall 2008)
The editors would like to call special attention to the following stories published in 2008:
"Run! Run!" by Jim Aikin
"The Lagerstatte" by Laird Barron
The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by Ellen Datlow
"Within the City of the Swan" by Aliette de Bodard
Shimmer, The Art Issue 2008
"What the Redmond Men Found" by Matthew David Brozik
Zahir, Summer 2008
"The Loa and the Gaping Jaw" by Brendan Byrne
Flurb, a Webzine of Astonishing Tales, Fall-Winter 2008
"Jimmy" by Pat Cadigan
The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by Ellen Datlow
"Poor Little Egg-Boy Hatched in a Shul" by Nathan Englander
McSweeney's, Issue 28
"Drone" by Gemma Files
Not One of Us, Issue 39
"All the Little Gods We Are" by John Grant
Clockwork Phoenix: Tales of Beauty and Strangeness, edited by Mike Allen
"The Difficulties of Evolution" by Karen Heuler
Weird Tales, July/Aug 2008
"The Hand of the Devil on a String" by M. K. Hobson
Shimmer, Spring 2008
"The Last Dead" by Drew Johnson
Virginia Quarterly Review, Winter 2008
"Far and Wee" by Kathe Koja
Weird Tales, November/December 2008
"Litany" by Rand B. Lee
F&SF, June 2008
"We Love Deena" by Alice Sola Kim
Strange Horizons, February 11, 2008
"But Wait! There's More!" by Richard Mueller
F&SF, August 2008
"The Glazers" by Joyce Carol Oates
American Short Fiction, Winter/Spring 2008
"On the Banks of the River of Heaven" by Richard Parks
Realms of Fantasy, April 2008
"The Joined" by Helen Phillips
Mississippi Review, Spring 2008
"The Small Door" by Holly Phillips
Fantasy, May 19, 2008
"Creature" by Ramsey Shehadeh
Weird Tales, March/April 2008
"Detours on the Way to Nothing" by Rachel Swirsky
Weird Tales, March/April 2008
"The Body Autumnal" by Lisa Wells
Ecotone, Spring 2008
"A Different Country" by Wayne Wightman
F&SF, December 2008
"Two Tales" by Imants Zicdonis
Fairy Tale Review, White Issue
I'll post the contents and recommended reading from Best American Fantasy 3: Real Unreal soon, but until then, some news:
The Best American Fantasy series has undergone a series of important changes, starting with the publisher. Underland Press has acquired the Best American Fantasy series, and will publish the third volume, "Real Unreal," in January of 2010. BAF4, tentatively titled "Imaginary Borders," will appear in March 2011. BAF3 contains work by, among others, Stephen King, Lisa Goldstein, Peter S. Beagle, and John Kessel, as chosen by guest editor Kevin Brockmeier with assistance from series editor Matthew Cheney. The cover of BAF3 was designed by John Coulthart.
The guest editors for volumes 4 through 6 will be: Minister Faust, Junot Diaz, and Catherynne M. Valente. Each of these critically acclaimed writers will bring excellence and expertise to the position. BAF4 will include work published in 2010, as the series skips a year to accommodate the time needed for the change in publisher and general reorganization.
"Victoria Blake at Underland has worked hard to create the perfect home for this unique series," BAF co-founder Jeff VanderMeer said, "and the guest editors we've put in place reflect an exciting diversity of opinions about and approaches to fiction. Each will bring their own spin to the volume they edit, and that's going to be great in terms of keeping the series vital and relevant."
Starting with BAF4, the series will consider stories published in English in Latin American publications, as well as translations of Latin American writers into English in North American publications. In short, any story published in English in a Latin American or North American publication or website, and written by a Latin American or North American resident, is eligible for inclusion in BAF. (As and when possible, and keeping in mind constraints such as expense and a need for additional personnel, the Best American Fantasy series eventually hopes to consider material published in Spanish and Portuguese.)
A series of staffing changes have also occurred. Matthew Cheney, who has done wonderful work on the first three volumes, will be stepping down as series editor due to other demands on his time. Ann and Jeff VanderMeer will perform the role of series editor going forward, while Cheney remains in an advisory position. Former first readers Clayton Kroh and Tessa Kum will serve as assistant editors for BAF beginning with volume 4. Fábio Fernandes and Larry Nolen have been added in an editorial capacity, especially as regards the Latin American publishing community. Further staff additions will occur over the next year as necessary.
Guidelines for BAF4 will be made available by January of 2010. Any publications sent to Matthew Cheney will be forwarded to the VanderMeers. Publications should not be sent to the guest editors at this time. Please address queries to POB 4248, Tallahassee, FL 32315. The BAF website will be updated with all of this information shortly.
Guidelines for BAF4 will be made available by January of 2010. Any publications sent to Matthew Cheney will be forwarded to the VanderMeers. Publications should not be sent to the guest editors at this time. Please address queries to firstname.lastname@example.org or POB 4248, Tallahassee, FL 32315. The BAF website will be updated with all of this information shortly. Bookmark http://www.bestamericanfantasy.com and http://www.bestamericanfantasy.blogspot.com for future updates.
I'm extremely excited about everything in this press release. The biggest news personally is that I'm stepping down as series editor. I care deeply about the series, but being series editor is not a small time commitment, especially when you read as slowly as I do. I've helped put together three books that are each very different but equally excellent, and we've worked out some of the kinks in the system, so I feel confident that the series will be just fine without me, and will be able to prosper in new ways. I'll be hanging out behind the scenes to offer what help I can, and having conceived the series, the VanderMeers know the series editor job as well as anybody, making this a smooth transition.
Somehow, in the merry-go-round-that-aspires-to-be-a-rollercoaster that is my life, I missed this interview that Charles Tan conducted with me about Best American Fantasy (volume 2 is now, finally, making its way into the world!), writing, reading, theatre, teaching, reviewing, etc. It was a fun interview, and I'm grateful to Charles for giving me the opportunity to ramble on about some favorite topics. Here's a taste:
What for you makes a good story?
I wish it were something simple and reliable -- I wish, for instance, that I loved every story with the word "arugula" in it. That would make writing and reading much easier. But, alas, it's all more ineffable than that. Generally, it boils down to surprise and individuality. I don't continue reading stories if they don't contain some element of surprise -- if they don't make me wonder where the writer will take the next sentence, the next paragraph, the next page. I'm not a fast reader, so if I feel like I can write the rest of the story in my head, I stop reading. Similarly, I want stories that are not like all the other stories I encounter -- I want stories that create a sense of individual voice and craft. Thousands and thousands of stories are published every year, and most of them have far too much in common with each other.
BookSpot Central is hosting a roundtable discussion of the stories in volume 2 of Best American Fantasy -- first up is M. Rickert's "Memoir of a Deer Woman". It's an ambitious project, and I look forward to following it.
I discovered Frédéric Chabot's work when we were looking for cover artists for Best American Fantasy 2008. We looked at art from a bunch of different people, but I kept coming back to Frédéric's images. For a while, in fact, he was going to be our artist. Alas, the publishing world is mercurial, and in the end some marketing forces pushed us in other directions. It happens all the time, and I certainly understand. But this is such marvelous art, I couldn't help but share my enthusiasm with the world...
More of Frédéric's images are available here
Ann just posted this, and so I'm going to do the same, as all wise people follow her lead:
The advance copies contain few of the ancillary materials, because, well, we're kinda still working on getting things like my preface, Ann & Jeff's intro, the recommended stories list, and an accurate "publications received" list finished (note to self: next time finish this list before you pack everything up and move it to another state).
Matt Bell has won the StorySouth Million Writers Award for his story "Alex Trebek Never Eats Fried Chicken" from Storyglossia. (Galleycat has a good write-up about the award and Matt here.)
I'm noting this not because I'm a big fan of awards, but because I had not noticed Matt's name before Jeff and Ann VanderMeer picked his story "Mario's Three Lives" for Best American Fantasy 2008, and it's fun to see someone whose work we read without any knowledge of his background or abilities now achieving some recognition. So congrats to Matt, and let's hope this is just the beginning of many more accomplishments in the future!
We have now finally settled on the contents for Best American Fantasy 2008 (to be released this fall) and tracked down all the permissions, which means I can now announce the stories that will be included:
"Bufo Rex" by Erik Amundsen (Weird Tales)
"The Ruby Incomparable" by Kage Baker (Wizards)
"The Last and Only" by Peter S. Beagle (Eclipse 1)
"Mario's Three Lives" by Matt Bell (Barrelhouse)
"Interval" by Aimee Bender (Conjunctions)
"Minus, His Heart" by Jedediah Berry (Chicago Review)
"Abroad" by Judy Budnitz (Tin House)
"Chainsaw on Hand" by Deborah Coates (Asimov's)
"The Drowned Life" by Jeffrey Ford (Eclipse 1)
"The Naming of the Islands" by David Hollander (McSweeney's)
"Light" by Kelly Link (Tin House)
"The Revisionist" by Miranda Mellis (Harper's)
"In the Middle of the Woods" by Christian Moody (Cincinnati Review)
"Story with Advice II: Back from the Dead" by Rick Moody (Mississippi Review)
"Ave Maria" by Micaela Morissette (Conjunctions)
"Logorrhea" by Michele Richmond (Logorrhea)
"Memoir of a Deer Woman" by M. Rickert (Fantasy & Science Fiction)
"The Seven Deadly Hotels" by Bruce Holland Rogers (shortshortshort.com)
"How the World Became Quiet: A Post-Human Creation Myth" by Rachel Swirsky (Electric Velocipede)
Thanks to Ann & Jeff VanderMeer for great work on this volume and our previous one
. And now our next guest editor, Kevin Brockmeier
, is already reading his heart out for volume 3...
Read the rest of this post
I'm pleased to announce that the guest editor for Best American Fantasy 3 will be Kevin Brockmeier. The book will be filled with stories from this year (2008) and will be published in September 2009.
For the full, official press release (with a rare quote from series editor Matthew Cheney himself!), check out the BAF blog. For information on guidelines and publicity, see the BAF website.
I'm really thrilled Kevin agreed to join our endeavor -- I can't imagine a person who would be more perfect to take over. I'm also thrilled that I was able to convince Ann and Jeff to stay on and help with some publicity and packaging, because there's a lot I still don't know about putting books together, and their experience and knowledge and patience have been essential to the series.
If you don't know Kevin Brockmeier's work ... well, didn't you read his marvelous "Fable with Slips of White Paper Spilling from the Pockets" in the first BAF? (If not, it's online here.) Aside from being world-famous for being in the monumental first volume of BAF, Kevin has also written the simply perfect story "The Brief History of the Dead", which he later expanded into a novel. And he wrote the devastating novel The Truth About Celia, which is the work of his I first read -- I happened to tell Kelly Link that I'd heard good things about it, but never read it, and she went and grabbed a copy off a shelf at home, thrust it into my hands, and said, "You must. Now." I did, and she was right.
Kevin's stories have been collected in Things that Fall from the Sky and his new book, The View from the Seventh Layer. If you haven't read any of the tales therein, you're in for a real treat.
We're still selecting the contents for Best American Fantasy 2 right now, and it's due to be released in September. I'll have more information soon about the cover artist for that book, who is, I think, a wonderful discovery, and once we settle on the contents and get the permissions, I'll make the selections and the suggested reading list public, too.
Meanwhile, here are some Kevin Brockmeier links...
Due to various technical mishaps, I wasn't able to get into the AWP Bookfair on Friday to help the ever-erstwhile Clayton Kroh with the Best American Fantasy/Weird Tales table. Saturday, though, was no problem, and I spent the day in the labyrinthine world of the Bookfair -- three floors of tables and booths. It took me fifteen minutes just to find our table, placed as it was against a back wall of the farthest room, and once when I wandered out alone I managed to walk in circles for at least ten minutes before realizing the source of the profound sense of deja vu filling my brain.
Tempest Bradford stopped by, and I quickly convinced her to take over the table so I could wander around and give copies of BAF to any magazine or journal whose representatives I could convince to take one. It can be amazingly difficult to give things away at AWP, because so many people are traveling by airplane and cannot carry away piles and piles of the many things it is so easy to accumulate (although BEA is worse by an order of magnitude). But I persevered, and got to learn about a bunch of publications that were new to me. I also got to see folks I hadn't seen in a while, including Eric Lorberer of Rain Taxi, Rusty Morrison and Ken Keegan of Omnidawn, various members of the staff of Tin House (whose amazement that I no longer have a beard made me realize just how long it's been since I saw them last...), Eli Horowitz of McSweeney's, Aaron Burch of Hobart, a bunch of folks from Redivider, the wonder that is Richard Nash of Softskull/Counterpoint, and the great and glorious people of One Story, including editor Hannah Tinti, who, I learned, has a novel coming out in June: The Good Thief (Hannah's story collection Animal Crackers is excellent). I spent a bit of time chatting with Lawrence Schimel, who loaned me a lovely baby-blue bag in which to carry things. Small Beer Press was there in the force of Gavin Grant, Jed Berry, and Kelly Link, and I glanced at an advanced copy of John Kessel's upcoming collection, The Baum Plan for Financial Independence, a book all upstanding citizens will want to place on their bedside tables (no word yet on the deluxe coffee-table edition, which will feature photos of John Kessel and Jim Kelly acting out scenes from the stories). Finally, I got to talk briefly with Charles Flowers, of the Lambda Literary Foundation, who assured me that his excellent literary magazine, Bloom will, indeed, be producing a new issue soon.
And now a list of some of the journals I picked up copies of because they were new to me, though in some cases they are quite venerable publications (listed in the order of which I have pulled them out of my backpack): Third Coast, HOW, Dos Passos Review, So to Speak, Phoebe,The Yalobusha Review, Knockout, and Practice.
By the time I got back to the table, Theodora Goss had joined Tempest. Dora was at AWP to, among other things, help promote Interfictions along with her co-editor Delia Sherman, and there seemed to be a lot of interest among the AWP crowd in the book, as well as in such things as Omnidawn's Paraspheres and our Best American Fantasy. Core genre fiction is still not something that most people who attend AWP seem to get excited about, but particularly among the younger attendees, I noticed a great excitement for fiction that isn't in a strictly realist mode, fiction that draws from all sorts of different sources. Dora said a panel on fairy tales had been extremely popular, as was the panel on realist/nonrealist fiction. There was more interest in Weird Tales than I expected, too, with at least five people asking me, "Is that the Weird Tales?" -- people who seemed to think the magazine had died some years ago. It is very much alive, though, and new fiction editor Ann VanderMeer is working hard to bring its old traditions into the new century.
By the end of the day, I was completely exhausted, and my only regret was that I hadn't been able to be at the entire conference, nor did I get a chance to attend any of the panels, presentations, or parties. Chicago, though, is not so far away...
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Pindeldyboz is migrating from being a print-and-online magazine to being only an online magazine, and so they held a party Monday night, and I went. So did other people. Including Richard Larson, Dustin Kurtz, Ed Champion, and Sarah Weinman. The last print issue of Pboz is actually only appearing as a free PDF download. It's 16 megabytes of worthwhile reading.
Of last night's readings from the last issue, I was particularly taken by two. Here are excerpts:
As internships go—is that still what this is? -- you could do a lot better than zig-zagging through no man’s land carving up no man’s cows all summer. It’s not for credit, what the hell kind of major would give you credit for that? It’s more like an apprenticeship, but with no hope or desire to take over the business. Every Wednesday $250 is direct-deposited into my account back east. This job makes a lot more sense on Wednesdays.
--from "Every Creeping Thing of the Earth"
by Patrick Rappa
I agreed with you -- wholeheartedly, in fact -- that it was a relief that you were upgrading your BlackBerry that evening. If you hadn’t, then you wouldn’t have returned to the office and received the call from the Committee Chair, confirming that she did receive the proposal and she thought it was "exceptional." I also agreed with you that the shock you suffered was unfortunate and upsetting. And yes, I do understand that just because you had -- as you stated -- a "brain fart" it was not my responsibility to take it upon myself to complete the mandatory proposal for a grant that increases our project budget by two million dollars. I was to find you and have you view the final edition so that you may “put your spin on it” and I didn’t do that and, as I said, I am sorry.
What I really wanted to say was that you would certainly know that you had a "brain fart" because your head is so far up your ass you could probably smell it.
--from "What I Wanted to Say"
by Kristin McGonigle
The good news is that the Pboz website is going to continue to publish five new stories every other week, as they have done for a while now, and impressively so -- in fact, for Best American Fantasy
(which makes a great holiday present, by the way) we reprinted more stories from Pindeldyboz Online than from any other source.
Galleycat reports that five writers have been nominated by the New York Public Library for the Young Lions Fiction Award, and I was thrilled to see that three of the writers are people whose work will be appearing in our inaugural volume of Best American Fantasy: Chris Adrian, Kevin Brockmeier, and Tony D'Souza. I'm still reading Chris Adrian's amazing novel The Children's Hospital (and likely will be for a while), I reviewed Kevin Brockmeier's The Brief History of the Dead for SF Site, and I just bought a copy of Tony D'Souza's Whiteman, which was edited by the great and glorious Tina Pohlman.
In my copious free time, I hope eventually to start chronicling the awards and accomplishments of all of our BAF contributors at the blog, but for now little blips of congratulations are going to have to suffice. So congratulations to Tony, Kevin, and Chris -- and may you all win!
Best American Fantasy is the first book I've been completely involved in creating, and it's a book that's been very close to my heart, because I think Ann and Jeff chose a wonderfully diverse group of stories, and the three of us worked very hard to find those stories. Even though we'd love the book no matter what anybody else thought of it, and we know there will inevitably be people who don't much care for the selection, it's thrilling to see the work appreciated -- for instance, with this Publisher's Weekly starred review:
Best American Fantasy
Edited by Ann VanderMeer and Jeff VanderMeer.
Prime (www.primebooks.net), $14.95 paper (460p) ISBN 978-0-8095-6280-0
In a genre where yearly “best of” volumes often repeat one another, the first in Prime’s new annual fantasy anthology series is a breath of eclectic and delightfully innovative fresh air. While the VanderMeers have included such fantasy veterans as Kelly Link and Elizabeth Hand, most of the 29 stories are by nongenre authors as well as gifted newcomers. Among the more memorable tales are Tyler Smith’s “A Troop [sic] of Baboons,” about a troupe of unruly baboon thespians, and Tony D’Souza’s whimsical “The Man Who Married a Tree,” about a man in love with a birch tree. This outstanding entry in the crowded “best of” stakes may not be the most commercially successful fantasy anthology of the year, but genre and mainstream fiction fans alike will be pleasantly surprised by these unconventional short fiction gems. (July)
I've gotten some inquiries from people wondering when, exactly, Best American Fantasy will be available. (When we first came up with the idea of the book, we'd hoped for June, but that was a bit optimistic.)
The book is at the printer and should be leaving there sometime during the coming days, heading off to the distributor and then to retailers. (Or something like that.) With a little bit of luck, it will be in stores by the last moments of July or the first week of August.
Yes, a box o' BAF has landed, and yesterday I even delivered the very first contributor's copy to Meghan McCarron, and since Meghan is working during the summer at One Story, we met at the One Story offices and I presented that estimable publication with a copy as well -- they have been enthusiastic supporters of our work from the beginning, and provided us with one story for the book and one story for the recommended list.
Jeff and Ann are sending out the other contributors' copies in the next few days, and the book itself should be available in stores by a week from today. As Jeff notes, if you don't buy your copy from an independent bookseller, please consider picking one up at Borders. They've decided to take a chance on us, and we're grateful.
As we got closer to the publication date of Best American Fantasy, I grew anxious to read reviews of the book. My anxieties were relieved early on, when Publisher's Weekly gave us a starred review and NPR put the book on their summer reading list. Visions of bestsellerdom danced in my head. (Well, not quite. I'm not entirely delusional.)
But we knew the book was pretty weird, and not likely to appeal to certain types of readers. I was curious how readers for whom it was not a perfect experience reacted. Soon enough, we heard from a couple of folks who didn't really like the book on the whole, and couldn't connect to, seemingly, any of the stories. These responses were in private, because we asked anybody who even hinted that they had reservations about the book to tell us why -- we were curious to understand how people could not share in our enthusiasm for these stories, and hoped we might learn something from the responses. Not liking a few stories was completely understandable (that's the nature of an anthology), but not liking most of them was, perhaps naively, almost inconceivable to us. Sure, "The Chinese Boy" and "The End of Narrative" are difficult, dense pieces that are not going to win mass audiences, but surely no-one would fail to be wowed by "Bit Forgive". And even if someone thought we were tending toward the "literary" and ... whatever ... at least they'd have the longest story in the book, "First Kisses from Beyond the Grave" (a high school zombie romp), as relief. We spent a lot of time working on the order of the stories, and paid particular attention to the first few, wanting to demonstrate the variety available in the book and also wanting to reassure readers who didn't connect to one story that, with the next, they'd get something quite different.
Thankfully, there have been very few people so far who have disliked the whole thing. Some gaps can't be bridged, and readers who want nothing but "transparent prose" and plot-driven stories are going to find very little in this book to please them. Plenty of other books mine that material; it's not what we're after. We've got stories with strong plots and stories with perfectly ordinary sentences constructed in the most familiar ways, but on the whole, no, that's not the sort of story that most excites us.
What I hadn't considered before, but seems obvious to me now, is how much anthologies are sitting ducks for reviewers. Lazy reviewers love them, because they read a few stories and generalize from there. Philosophically-minded reviewers love them, because an anthology is a kind of argument, and the reviewer can then work through the book story by story and see how the argument holds up. (Interfictions has, I think, suffered from this.) I've written such reviews myself, sometimes ponderously so -- o, this form of review so easily becomes ponderous! Occasionally, such a tendency produces a review rich with insights rather than bloviation, but it's rare -- one fine example I'd offer is Alan DeNiro's review of Paraspheres for Rain Taxi.
All of which brings me to Gwyneth Jones's thoughtful, somewhat mixed review of BAF at Strange Horizons. First off, I should say I'm old fashioned and think it's unseemly for writers to respond to reviews, unless they need to correct gross factual errors. The people involved with the work under review slaved away and did the best they could, the reviewer has said his or her thing, de gustibus and all that. But with a venture like BAF, it's interesting to look at how such a book is received in general, and important, I think, to clarify some intentions and goals, since this is the beginning of a series.
What I like about this review is that it is so clearly personal -- this is one person's thoughts on reading through the book. (And she clearly read the whole book.) Some stories worked for her, some didn't. We get a clear idea of the sorts of things Gwyneth Jones likes, and readers can calibrate their own responses accordingly, while also getting a few ideas to think about. There are some assumptions I quite vehemently disagree with (particularly about "The Next Corpse Collector"), and though I may be oversensitive, there seems to be a certain snarkiness about U.S. writers in some of the remarks. Though I know more about the writers than is listed in their bios, I think the accusations of provincialism are absurd for a few reasons, but it is an undeniable fact that most of the writers are U.S. citizens and all of the stories come from publishers based in the U.S. That's how it happened this time. Next time, it'll probably be the same, for the purely practical reason that that's what we currently have the most access to, but in the future ... who knows.
Those are quibbles, though, and on the whole, the review pleased me quite a bit, because it's honest and specific and also says lots of great things about many of the stories. But there's one sentence I can't let go without responding to, because it succinctly and efficiently gets at the heart of what makes some of these stories difficult and even unreadable for some people who encounter them.
Jones writes: "Some pieces, I felt, relied too heavily on description, as if unfamiliar detail is all that the fantastic requires." Obviously, we disagree -- if we thought any story had lots of extraneous description or was just trying to be weird for the sake of being weird, we wouldn't have included it. (That's the de gustibus part of all this.) This response, and some others, have made me wonder what we are seeing in certain of these stories that other readers are not?
It may be that the last clause of Jones's statement is directed at the editors rather than the writers, most of whom probably weren't thinking to themselves, "Hey, I'm going to write a fantasy story today!" The classification is entirely our fault. I will hold back from commenting any more on that, because I want the editors to have the freedom to define "fantasy" however they desire.
But if we take the criticism to be one of technique, then I think it makes an interesting point, and one worth debating. In general, popular/commercial fiction avoids long passages of descriptive exposition, and certain types of literary fiction revel in it. It's difficult to generalize about this sort of thing, because the terms are inexact and exceptions abound, but there are differences of attention and pleasure worth noting, and too often, I think, those differences get judged rather than analyzed.
A few assumptions are hidden within the criticism. I'm going to ignore one, though it's a big one: Are the stories being criticized actually filled with extraneous details and descriptions, or is this a perception caused by something else? And what, exactly, does "description" mean and how is it separate from other elements? It would take an essay and a lot of examples to explore those questions, and I'd be fascinated to read it if someone else wrote it.
The assumption that interests me here is that description has a narrow function. This is the assumption that causes readers to grow impatient with paragraphs and pages they decide are "too descriptive". I am sometimes one of those readers. But, primarily through teaching high school students (who seem to have a genetic disposition to hate anything they can label "description"), I've learned that my knee-jerk reaction against descriptive writing is often shortsighted.
The best fiction, I believe, is fiction in which the sentences do many things at once. Such fiction is rereadable: it reveals more and more with each encounter. If, like me, you tend to make hasty judgments about descriptive passages, I think it's worth trying to break that habit with these stories. What I think you'll find if you suppress your superficial reactions to some of the stories is that their sentences are doing quite a few things at once, particularly the sentences in the descriptive passages.
An analysis of any strong passage of descriptive writing would point out a variety of things. First, there are the rhythmic features of the sentences, the sounds they produce together. Then there are the meanings the words seek to convey: they tell you something happened, they show a character's response to something, they describe an object or a scene. This is where we sometimes stop -- we assume a description, for instance, is just trying to create an image in our mind. As a reader, if I can't figure out what else a passage is doing, and I haven't been particularly entranced by the sound, I move on if a descriptive passage lasts for more than a few sentences, because I've got a good imagination and prefer to have sketches rather than oil paintings cluttering up the attic of my mind.
But description can do more, and, having read all of the stories in the book at least three times, and many of them considerably more than that, I think the tales in BAF all reward careful consideration of what their sentences are up to. In some cases, the descriptions are creating juxtapositions and patterns, building structures of image in your mind, an alternate logic in dialogue with the logic of the story's surface. They create worlds not just by illustrating a universe different from the rational one we take for granted, but by moving beyond denotation to utilize all the tools available -- not just evoking, but summoning and embodying a reality other than the one we inhabit (this, I would argue, is the wonder and pleasure and genius of "The Chinese Boy").
Most of the stories don't go quite that far, but nonetheless their best passages all do more than simply describe something: they allow what is being described to suggest so much more than the fact of itself, and to interact with the other elements of the story in multiple, and often subtle, ways. "The Stolen Father" shows its narrator grappling with loss, grasping at the words to represent all he believes and doesn't believe, all he seeks and aches for, repeating and revising until he can turn his life into a more comforting tale. "First Kisses from Beyond the Grave" is a kind of jazz riff on adolescence, a marvelously balanced confabulation of absurdities and unbridled ridiculousness with the yearnings of youth, like a tall tale told to fend off the destructive furies of our passing days. The details in "The Next Corpse Collector" are essential to understanding the narrator and the situation of the story -- nothing in the story would really make sense of it were a minimalist charting of this-then-that, and the vivid, painful, beautiful texture of the tale is essential not merely for its own sake, but for the patterns that reveal the character's lives and motivations. The details are also necessary for the sake of the story's pacing, which helps reveal its world -- the pace of a place is essential to its character.
If we go into a story and look at a passage with the attitude that it is simply a description, then we blind ourselves to what else may be going on there, and in reading and rereading these stories, I believe that each one of them deserves and rewards a more open mind than that.
I am nitpicking a review I am grateful for, mostly because I feel so warmly toward these stories and the book as a whole that I want readers to approach them with the best possible perspective, because the goal of the book is not to cause frustration and angst and repulsion, but rather to share the pleasure we had when we discovered these tales.
It's likely there won't be much in the way of updates around here for at least a few days, but I have a few fragments of information and marginal bits of thought to share before I go...
- John Joseph Adams wrote a nice piece for SciFi Wire about Jeff and Ann VanderMeer's guest editing of Best American Fantasy.
- Speaking of Best Americans, all the various ones from various publishers now seem to be out in stores. I stayed up much too late last night, utterly engrossed in The Best American Essays 2007, guest edited by David Foster Wallace. I always find a few essays in that book to be fascinating or impressive, but none of the other volumes I've read have so completely hooked me -- indeed, in all the other volumes I've encountered at least one essay that cured insomnia. That's not the case with this edition. I was reading the first essay, Jo Ann Beard's "Werner", last night at a pizza place across from Cooper Union, and I not only nearly missed the Jonathan Lethem event because the piece was so gripping, but it was a struggle not to burst into tears at the end of it. Breathtaking. As are so many of the other essays.
- I am doing everything I can not to run out and buy a copy of Denis Johnson's new novel, Tree of Smoke. The good people at McNally Robinson can attest to my immense powers of self-control. They watched as I struggled with the Mr. Hyde that kept pushing me toward it, toward it, toward it... People emailing to say how much they're enjoying it and how brilliant it is do not help the cause. I actually petted a friend's copy of it when we went out to see the play Have You Seen Steve Steven?. Even though it's a heavy book, she is addicted to it and carries it around with her wherever she goes. Actually, I think she does this to torture people like me, who lack the time to tackle a gazillion-page tome of brilliance right now. What else would explain her putting the book on the table at the bar we went to? In the middle of the table? Why why why do my friends insist on tormenting me?!?
- How was the play? Entertaining, generally well acted and directed, but the script (an amalgamation of Albee and Ionesco) falls apart in the last third, as if the writer didn't really know what to do with her set-up and threw her hands in the air and said, "Well, whatever!" I liked what was going on in the end more than what was going on in the beginning -- a bit too much of a familiar "aren't people in the mid-west funny?" and "isn't middle-class suburban life suffocating?" attempt at satire, despite some marvelous lines -- so it would have been nice if the script actually created a context for the absurdity of words divorced from meanings to be more, well, meaningful (the play becomes a game of ping-pong with free-floating signifiers). The end is amusing enough in its oddity, but there's no weight to it. It's strange, but not estranging. Nonetheless, watching the play was not at all a boring or tedious experience, and 13P is a really great venture, one I hope to continue to follow.
- Finally, as Woody Allen once said, "In summing up, I wish I had some kind of affirmative message to leave you with. I don't. Would you take two negative messages?"
Rick Bowes has taken to calling me "Garbo" (or, when he's feeling particularly familiar, "Greta"), but it is not true that I am avoiding the world, merely that I am busy with teaching, grading papers, writing lesson plans, etc. As proof, though, of my continued existence, I offer the following:
Tonight's Interfictions reading at McNally Robinson, where I will be reading alongside Tempest Bradford, Veronica Schanoes, and Delia Sherman. (I may also channel Theodora Goss, having last achieved this feat two years ago at the World Fantasy Convention, when Dora couldn't make it to a panel.)
A conversation about Best American Fantasy at Booksquare, in which Jeff, Ann, and I throw questions at each other. Many thanks to Kassia Krozser for inviting us to do this!
The evidence is before you, my children. Garbo or ... Harpo
? You decide!