A Writing Binge at the Malting House

Dylan Thomas and John Davenport The Death of the Kings Canary

Another home run from Wormwoodiana!

Here are some quotes:

In ‘The Malting House Summer’ (The New Review, Vol. 3, No. 31, October 1976), Diana Davenport recalled the place: “The Malting House still retains an air of legend: a tall, Provencal-looking building, flat against the main street, its putty-coloured wash peeling, lower windows shuttered, door ever-open.” Within, there were rooms that the Dylan Thomas party had named The Pub Room and The Music Room, and a study where Thomas and Davenport worked each morning at their book.

and

Thomas stayed with Davenport at The Malting House in the Summer of 1940, along with a spasmodic company of composers, musicians, artists and other writers. Here they spent some months in louche living.

. . . Thomas and Davenport writing alternate chapters, or possibly alternative sentences, or simply working together in some wayward, improvised duet of their own devising. They each appeared in the book, too, growing larger in it as it progressed, John Davenport as Tom Asgard, and Dylan Thomas as Owen Tudor.

Read entire article at Wormwoodiana

 

 

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Dead Men Naked, Book Review

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Dead Men Naked by Dario Cannizzaro

Dead Men Naked, a novel by Dario Cannizzaro

Review by Bill Ectric

Dead Men Naked  is the best novel I’ve read in while, satisfying to the end. All too often, books with supernatural overtones veer into preposterous territory, but not this one. Author Dario Cannizzaro achieves a near-perfect balance of realism and phantasm, humor and melancholy, the familiar and the uncanny. It is an incredibly fun read about soul mates, tequila, occult incantations, death, and visions of a giant crow. The somewhat flippant title derives from a poem by Dylan Thomas called “And Death Shall Have No Dominion,” and, indeed, there are people in Dead Men Naked who seek passage beyond death’s veil. Cannizzaro says on his website that while writing this book, he “pestered people with talks about religion, philosophy, death for an incredible amount of time.”

To get an idea of his background, consider this quote from an article Cannizzaro wrote for The Galway Review in 2016. The author talks about skipping school with his friends at age 15 while living in in Italy:

We would go in the city center of Pozzuoli, and hide into a dark alley. In the alley there was a tattoo joint, a hearing aid shop, and a very small library, called Il Nome della Rosa, after Umberto Eco’s book (The Name of the Rose). The owner, Gino, would entertain his guests with delicious comments about books, poetry, literature. It wasn’t long before we started spending our mornings there, talking with Gino and drinking Espresso, while watching the whirlwind of customers – lost souls on the lookout for human connection – writers, poets, mothers, sons; fishermen, shop-owners, unemployed hippies – the whole humanity passed in that library, 20 to 30 square meters of enlightened soil, much like the sacred ground of a secret church.

Dead Men Naked reflects that mixture of ancient mystery and youthful curiosity. The main characters, Lou and Mallory, seem like people I would hang out with for pizza and beer, or in Louis’ case, Tequila. He only sees his friend’s ghost while drinking tequila. Tequila has a mystique unlike any of the other major alcoholic beverages. A Huffington Post article presented by Patrón says, “In the mid-20th century, tequila sales spiked after California residents thought it was a psychedelic. They were just confusing mezcal with mescaline (the psychoactive alkaloid of peyote” (Huffington Post, Oct 06, 2014). Over the years, Jose Quervo has placed magazine ads that depict deeply surreal colorful sunsets over small gatherings of men and women, smiling as though in states of altered consciousness, with various taglines, including “It’s all true” and “Anything can happen.” Special limited edition bottles display gold and silver mustachioed skulls. One might argue that tequila’s mystique is a fabrication, but after all, most magic is about what one believes to be true. “The universe is what you observe,” the Grim Reaper tells Lou. “Whatever you experience in your life, you experience through your senses.” It’s all real.

We get a hint that maybe Mallory has seen beyond the veil, too. She has a collection of books on the occult and she knows how to use them. Something weird happens, resulting in Mallory’s disappearance. Hoping to find Mal at her sister’s house, Lou goes on a road trip with the Grim Reaper in the passenger seat to keep him company and call the shots. They drive through a noir world of seedy bars until they find Mal’s twin sister, Angie. Death takes either a holiday or a back seat when Angie joins Lou on a ride through the desert to an out-of-the way abandoned house where the girls once lived with their mother. It is on this trip that Lou quotes the Dylan Thomas poem, forming an emotional connection between the two, in which “there was no car, no time, no road…no faith, no evil, no sun, no sea… nothing but the nakedness of the word, sliding from me to her and bouncing back from her eyes.” At the mother’s house, in the basement, they find the books and notebooks evincing an in-depth study of dreams, mythology, religion, and “Old Latin spells mixed up with Caribbean voodoo and African juju.” It gets weirder and better.

There are so many good moments in Dead Men Naked, it’s impossible to discuss them all. Worth mentioning are the beguiling passages about crows in chapter twenty-two. Around the world, crows represent, variously, a trickster, a harbinger of death, a sign of transformation, and depending on what direction they are flying, the imminent approach of either your enemy or your true love. The crows in this chapter punctuate Lou’s action as they gather, squawk, and seemingly mock his angst with gawking, open beaks. It’s a great image and better than I can describe it.

I would like to mention one more thing. Perhaps you’ve heard about writers who don’t use quotation marks. Cormac McCarthy comes to mind. When interviewed in 2008 by Oprah Winfrey, McCarthy warns other writers that if they plan to leave out quotation marks, they really need to “write in such a way as to guide people as to who’s speaking.” I’m here to tell you that Dario Cannizzaro pulls off this feat like an expert. Trust me on this: You will have no trouble understanding who is talking to whom in Dead Men Naked.

I highly recommend this book.

Click here to find Dead Men Naked on Amazon.com

Folk Horror: Films and Music

Witchcraft '70

Thank you, Gary Platt, for posting this link on the M. R. James Appreciation Society’s Facebook page. The link takes us to a blog entry on Bandcamp Daily called A Guide Through the Haunting World of “Folk Horror.”

Folk horror is a contemporary term coined to describe a cultural strand running through film, art, literature, and music. Appropriately though, its origins are as old as the hills. The term appears to have entered the lingua franca in Jonathan Rigby and Mark Gatiss’ 2010 BBC documentary Home Counties Horror, where it was used to describe three British horror films—1968’s Witchfinder General, 1970’s Blood On Satan’s Claw, and 1973’s The Wicker Man. Each of these films posited the English countryside as a place of ancient traditions and malign forces, dangerous to outsiders and the unwary. In his essay “From The Forests, Fields And Furrows,” Andy Paciorek notes folk horror’s proximity to psychogeography, the Situationist concept which draws lines between landscape and the human psyche. In folk horror, evil is stamped into the very soil.

The term “folk horror” might have sprung from cinema, but this is a world from which music and sound is inextricable.

Wood Witch by The Hare and the Moon

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Larry Keenan, Photographer

Photographer Larry Keenan in Washington, DC for the The Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery exhibit, "REBELS: Beat Artists and Poets of the 1950s." - Photo by Lisa Keenan

Photographer Larry Keenan in Washington, DC for the The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery exhibit, “REBELS: Beat Artists and Poets of the 1950s.” – Photo by Lisa Keenan

Photographer Larry Keenan was there to chronicle the great transition from the “Beat Generation” to the “Hippie Generation” – taking pictures of artists, musicians, and scene-makers like Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady, Bob Dylan, Michael McClure, Timothy Leary, Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and more. Many of these photos are in the permanent collection of the Archives of American Artists in the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. That’s enough to make me a big fan, but Keenan has done much more.

He is called a “digital pioneer” in the Random House book Digital Photography and has produced a line of Fractal greeting cards. He was featured on the PBS television program Computer Chronicles digitizing and creating the award winning package cover of Deluxe PhotoLab for Electronic Arts using the Amiga 2000 computer system. His photographs are in museums and private collections throughout the world.

Keenan has received numerous awards and his photographs have appeared in ad campaigns, corporate and professional publications, CD and record albums, books, magazines, and software packages. On top of all that, and to my delight, he is friendly and easy to talk to.

Bill Ectric: How old were you when you started taking photographs?

Larry Keenan: I started in the 7th grade. In those days, I wanted to be a cartoonist and/or animator. My grandfather made me an animation box with the back-light, etc. I drew all the frames for my 3-minute movie. I used my parents 8mm movie camera to film each frame. It worked – the film was in real animation. My parents took us to the opening of Disneyland that summer. While we were down there, my dad had a friend who knew guy in Disney’s orchestra. He arranged for me to take a private tour to visit the Disney Studios. There, I met some unhappy animators, who all told me to do something else. They told me that they were all trapped into doing only their specialty, which might be water, clouds, trees, flowers, etc. They told me there was no variety. When I got back home, a painter at my parent’s remodeled kitchen used to work at DC Comics. He was not encouraging either. I needed variety and I already knew what being trapped was like, living at home. I ended up charging my friends a buck a signature and began signing report cards using my animation box. My first still images were underwater photos I shot with a camera I bought and I used an underwater case I had made for it while in the 9th grade.

Bill Ectric: How did you get involved with photographing the beats, hippies, and other counter culture icons?

Photo by Larry Keenan of Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg in San Francisco 1965

Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg   in San Francisco 1965, photo by Larry Keenan

Larry Keenan: I had Michael McClure for a teacher at California College of Arts and Crafts. After taking a couple of classes with him, I had great respect for his amazing knowledge and intelligence. I was doing a project with a few friends at school and it was going to be published. I got involved with the project because I wanted a real published piece in my portfolio. A lot of the hypothetical crap in everyone’s portfolio at school was pretty bad. Because my parents were against me going to art school (although they supported me in it), I had a real drive to make it, to be the best I could be. I asked Michael to be our faculty sponsor for our project and he said yes. We met at his house in the Haight in 1964. After the meeting, while we were going out Michael asked me if I would like to photograph some of his friends. I asked him who his friends were and he answered with a list that included Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, Kesey, Conner, etc.

Freewheelin Frank of the Hell's Angels and Michael McClure in 1966, photo by Larry Keenan

Freewheelin Frank of the Hell’s Angels and Michael McClure in 1966, photo by Larry Keenan

After we got outside, a friend said “going up.” For the next year or so, I photographed the end of the Beat scene. McClure and Ginsberg gave me the access but my honesty, skill and professionalism kept me in good graces with all concerned. Then the Haight-Ashbury and the hippies came out of the Beat movement, so I was well placed to continue shooting the counter-culture. I caught the cultural transition in photographs and that is my legacy.

Bill: Any particular memories about Ginsberg, Dylan, or anyone from that scene?

Larry: All memories from those days are positive. I was treated with respect by the Beats. They were very nice to me, besides they were receiving mounted 11×14 prints every week. I would go to a party with McClure and people would come up to me and ask who I was. I would tell them I was nobody. To my surprise they would say, “No man, you have to be somebody, you came here with McClure.” My only bad experience was when I was shooting Dylan in the City Lights alley. I brought 2 cameras, one for me, and one for a girlfriend of mine. It is long story but to keep it short, she did not come to the session. In the frenzy of the shoot, with the crowd being kept at bay by Ginsberg, I used the camera I brought for her. It had no film in it (she was going to use her own film). When it seemed as if the end of the roll would never come, I realized there was no film in the camera. It said #40 on the film counter and I knew it should only be #36 if there was film in the camera. The first camera was hurried work because I did not know how long we were going to be able to work with these cats. My best stuff was with the camera without film (when I was calmer).

Members of Sexual Freedom League in the 1960s, photo by Larry Keenan

Larry Keenan photo Sexual Freedom League 2 Members of Sexual Freedom League in the 1960s, photo by Larry Keenan

Bill: I know that Dennis Hopper is into photography, and I know you have taken pictures of him. Has he ever asked you for tips or advice?

Larry: No, he does not need my help. He is a very good photographer and artist.

Bill: This question is off-the-wall, but I’ve always wanted to ask someone who is an expert in the field. I once heard a story about a murder mystery being solved because, while the culprit was in the victim’s room, there was a flash of lightning, which burned a photographic image of the killer onto a mirror in the room. Is that possible?

Larry: It really depends on what the image looks like. Anything is possible and I share the same philosophy as Marilyn Monroe. We believe a little in everything.

Bill: I think it’s fascinating how physics and math is intertwined with nature and aesthetics. Like the Fibonacci number and all. Would you mind talking about that briefly?

Larry: I love the fact that art and science go hand in hand. I like how Fibonacci’s number string seems to hit the number of flower petals at least up to 233 or so. Number sequences do not do it for me. Personally, I like how M.C. Escher has worked his art out mathematically. Even more abstract and beautiful are the fractal geometric equations by professors Benoit Mandlebrot and Gaston Julia. The first time I saw a Mandlebrot I recognized it as a primal image. I feel most art is dicks and pussies anyway, so I was not surprised. I have attached two examples each of my Mandlebrot and Julia pieces that I have created in the computer and incorporated into my work. I really loved messing with their calculations to come up with my own work using their math. I did this work on an Amiga 1000 computer in 8 bit.

Shiva (Raven) photo by Larry Keenan

Shiva (Raven) photo by Larry Keenan

Timothy Leary photo by Larry Keenan

Timothy Leary photo by Larry Keenan

Bill: I read that you have a line of fractal postcards. Can you explain what fractal means?

Spiral Jetty Galaxies by Larry Keenan

Spiral Jetty Galaxies, a fractal by Larry Keenan

Larry: Fractal geometry (also known as the Chaos Theory) describes the marks and trails left after chaotic activity that do not vary under different magnifications. Examples of these patterns are all around us, from snowflakes, trees, and landscapes to spiral galaxies and their distribution throughout the universe. I have also attached 2 examples to show scenes I created using fractal geometry in 1991 with 8 bit low-res Amiga system.

Zone Between the Zone, fractal by Larry Keenan

Zone Between the Zone, fractal by Larry Keenan

Origami Birds Flying by Larry Keenan

Origami Birds Flying by Larry Keenan

Nebula Plateau by Larry Keenan

Nebula Plateau by Larry Keenan

Bill: Do you still teach photography?

Larry: Not formally, but I still keep my hand in. I teach a class in pinhole photography in every school my daughter Chelsea has attended (every year). I mentor a couple of artists. One especially is flat-out amazing. Klaus Lange. He is a chef by profession who now works on a pilot ship (as a chef) in the ocean just outside the Golden Gate Bridge. He does excellent impressionistic work with his digital camera shooting the sides of ships. Amazing abstract images. I think his work is way better than Aaron Siskind’s stuff. Type his name into Google to see his work. I would like to teach again, part-time, but I have Parkinson’s. My handwriting is gone and my speech is iffy, although I have recently completed a speech therapy program. I learn a lot by teaching and I miss it.

Bill: Would you care to talk about the Parkinson’s disease?

Larry: So far, my handwriting is gone, my work has not been affected except when I write down phone message, write a check, sign a print, autograph one of my books or write on the back of a print to someone. It has become so small and jagged that I cannot read it. Going on location has become difficult because of all the equipment. I cannot walk backwards easily (pulling a hand truck, etc.) and I have much difficulty going through doors/doorways because I can fall. I take Parkinson’s medicine for the shake and for balance, walking, drooling, etc. I am in 3 studies to help find out how we got this disease. My speech was a real mess, too soft and hard to say words, slurred speech, etc. I found a speech therapist who specializes in Parkinson’s patients. With Parkinson’s, every day is different (I never know when I get up if I can walk or talk). I am also involved in physical therapy 3 days a week. So far my limbs can move just fine, no stiffness. I am not on disability because I love my work and will continue as long as I can. As my former grandfather-in-law used to warn, “try not to get old.”

Bill: Is light a particle or a wave?

Larry: I think it is a wave of particles. All I know is that when I am shooting, I think of light as water. It helps me think of it in real physical terms because of the complexity in lighting a set.

Bill: Is jazz musician David Amram a particle or a wave?

Larry: He is a laser, a coherent light source. David is a genius, an amazing cat. He is very generous with his time talking to young and old alike.

David Amram, photograhed by Larry Keenan

Bill: Do you think digital photography will ever replace film?

Larry: I think film is already out, especially in the smaller formats. I have not shot a film job in over two years. I look back on my work and the best reproduced jobs I have seen are from digital files.

Bill: Where do you live?

Larry: Emeryville, California.

Bill: What advice would you give someone who wants to be a professional photographer?

Larry: Go to Art school, learn to draw, sculpt and paint. Take psychology, philosophy, portfolio and business classes. Make the computer your friend. Photoshop classes are a real must. No one asks you if you are any good at Photoshop, they ask how long you have been doing it. Like drawing, it is mileage with the pencil. So, put miles on the mouse. Assist a working pro that you respect. Be social, this is where I failed. My special effects projects took so much of my time that I had to do them between marriages. The projects cost me friends because I was working day and night, weekends too.

Bill: That also sounds some excellent advice. Thank you. Larry, you’ve been very generous with your time, answering these questions. I want to say again how much I enjoy your work, both the early stuff and the new. I’m anxious to see what you do next!

AL Letson, Penumbra: Live at Henrietta’s at 9th & Main, Jacksonville, FL (2005)

Al Letson, photo by Billie Anderson

Al Letson is a poet, playwright, performer, and radio and podcast host. This article first appeared on Bill Ectric’s Place in June 2005. Since that time, Letson has hosted and produced the show State of the Re:Union for National Public Radio. He now hosts Reveal, a podcast from PRX and Center for Investigative Reporting.

Top photo by Billie Anderson. Text and other photos by Bill Ectric. Except for the one of Al and me. Does anyone out there know who took that one?

For dedication to his craft, innate talent, and hard work, Al Letson deserves the title of consummate professional, and I don’t use those words lightly. His delivery is precise, the emotion is fresh – Letson never seems to be on autopilot.

“Penumbra,” Letson explained to a full house, means basically “in between.” This night consisted of a mixture of poems and performance pieces that he has done in the past from different shows, as a kind of pause before he begins to put out new work, and to introduce himself to those who have not yet seen him.

Al Letson with Drummers

Al Letson with Drummers

Letson’s live performance, which began at 9:00 PM, was a diverse and exhilarating selection of poetry, acting, and monologue, sometimes accompanied by three percussionists near the stage. Interspersed among the live performances were two of Letson’s videos on a large screen backdrop. I believe we will see more poetry & spoken word videos and Al Letson is already helping to set the standard. Following an intermission, we all reconvened in the theater for a big screen viewing of Russell Simmons’ Def Poetry Jam – the 2nd episode of the season, featuring our man Al Letson as the first guest! He had recently taped the episode and this night was the first time he, or anyone had seen it.

My favorite piece of the evening was called “Eunice.” It’s about a young black girl, a child in 1943, playing her first piano recital after much practice. During the recital she is distracted by a disturbance in the audience. Her parents are being told to move to the back of the room to make room for a white couple. Through this debacle she must keep playing, as her father mouths the words to her, “you know what you suppose to do.” Near the end of the poem we find out that this is a true story and the young girl, Eunice Kathleen Waymon, later changed her name to become famous as the great Nina Simone.

When he wasn’t on stage, Letson was in great demand by fans, friends, reporters, and members of his crew, so I mostly had to ask him questions on the fly. “Who did your videos?” I asked him. “I do most of my own video work,” he said. “The two you saw tonight were filmed by Don Solomon from Jacksonville Beach, but I do all my own editing and effects. I know quite a lot about video production and I enjoy doing it.”

We watched a short film by Letson

Watching one of Al’s videos

I said that I could easily see him acting in films. Someone spoke up and said, “He writes good plays. One of his plays will be on Broadway someday!”

Al Letson and Bill Ectric

Al and me

I asked him, “If you could travel into the past, what historical figure would you like to meet?” As he thought about my question, a young woman approached us, saying, “Al, we need you backstage for a minute.” Turning to me, Letson said, “Excuse me, I need to see what they need,” but as he walked away with the lady, he looked back at me thoughtfully and said, “Kennedy.”

Watching an episode of Russell Simmons Def Poetry featuring Al Letson

Watching an episode of Russell Simmons Def Poetry featuring Al Letson

We got a special treat before watching Russell Simmons’ Def Poetry. Because of last minute complications, the local cable company refused to hook up HBO directly to the club (typical), so someone had to record the show and bring it to Henrietta’s for viewing. To fill in the time delay, Letson performed an electrifying, beat-filled theater piece from one of his plays, called Griot. He was joined onstage by Larry Knight and David Girard Pugh, two other performers from the play.

Larry Knight, Al Letson, David Girard Pugh performing a scene from Griot

Larry Knight, Al Letson, David Girard Pugh performing a scene from Griot

 

Letson was first up on Def Poetry. You can read more about this performance on Literary Kicks, which is reviewing each episode as they air.

Tim Gilmore discusses The Klan in Jacksonville, FL – Its Repugnant Rise and Hysterical Collapse

Tim Gilmore

Tim Gilmore, Author/Speaker/Educator

The Coniferous Cafe was packed Tuesday night, June 13th,  with every chair filled, many more people standing, and the crowd actually spilling out the door onto the sidewalk. I love this kind of motivated crowd, sincerely and lovingly united against bigotry and racism, ready to stand up for human rights. There aren’t many words I can use to describe the event other than to repeat the original announcement for the event:

This event was the first in a new Coniferous Cafe series called A People’s History of Jax with FSCJ Professor Tim Gilmore. You can also follow his seven-story series on the Klan in Jax at Jax Psycho Geo, starting here: https://jaxpsychogeo.com/all-over-town/ku-klux-klan-in-jacksonville/

Tim is the author of a wide variety of books and articles. Including but not limited to
* The Devil in the Baptist Church
* In Search of Eartha White, Storehouse for the People
* Central Georgia Schizophrenia
* Stalking Ottis Toole: A Southern Gothic

You can read Tim’s articles here -> https://jaxpsychogeo.com/

Suggested $5 – $10 donation
Complimentary libations.

I would also like to bring your attention to the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition, organized by Wells Todd, and Karen who was present at the event.

Also present was Karen Roumillat of the Stetson Kennedy Foundation.

Wells Todd, Jacksonville Progessive Coalition

Wells Todd, Jacksonville Progressive Coalition

Coniferous Cafe_ Mike Todd_Meri Read_Leiah Ann Gustavus_Kristen_Mieman

Mike Todd, Meri Read, Leiah Ann Gustavus, Kristen Kiernan

Coniferous Cafe Kristen Tia Samuels_Downtown Obi Brown 2

Tia Samuels,  “Downtown” Obi Brown

 

Coniferous Cafe_Hurley Winkler_Lisa Brown Buggs

Hurley Winkler, Lisa Brown Buggs

Kristen Kiernan, Taylor Ashey

Kristen Kiernan, Taylor Ashey

 

Connell Crooms, Mike Todd, Leiah Ann Gustavus, Cheri Jones

Connell Crooms, Mike Todd, Leiah Ann Gustavus, Cheri Jones

Connell Crooms, Mike Todd, Leiah Ann Gustavus, Cheri Jones

Connell Crooms, Mike Todd, Leiah Ann Gustavus, Cheri Jones

Coniferous Cafe_Connell Crooms_Mike Todd_Leiah Ann Gustavus

Connell Crooms, Mike Todd, Leiah Ann Gustavus

Tim Gilmore, Karen Roumillat

Tim Gilmore, Karen Roumillat

The Hardest Working Man in Weird Fiction: A Jeff VanderMeer Interview

Jeff VanderMeer collage Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

This interview first appeared on Literary Kicks on December 19, 2008. In 2018, Paramount pictures will release Annihilation, a film based on the novel by Jeff VanderMeer, starring Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh.

In close proximity to primordial Florida swamps, branch-shrouded canopy roads, and Kafkaesque state capital intrigues, Jeff and Ann VanderMeer are Tallahassee’s greatest unnatural resource. At the time of this interview, Ann was the fiction editor of Weird Tales Magazine, its continuing mission to publish brilliantly strange original material unavailable anywhere else. Jeff is on the cutting edge of the “New Weird,” infusing literary proficiency back into Gothic fantasy and science fiction with such novels as Veniss Underground, City of Saints and Madmen, Shriek, and most recently, Finch. Together, Ann and Jeff have edited a number of anthologies, most recently, the pirate-themed Fast Ships, Black Sails, in which, according to Publisher’s Weekly, “Saintly pirates, loony pirates, pirate cooks and talking animal-buccaneers slash and swagger through the Caribbean, the Internet, the perpetually frozen Atlantic and the seas of distant planets in this collection of 18 original stories.”

Winner of the World Fantasy Award, Jeff VanderMeer has been compared to Jorge Luis Borges, Mark Z. Danielewski, Edgar Allen Poe, and Vladimir Nabokov. His novels are sublime mixtures of genre, meta-, and literary fiction, books within stories within other books where the characters provide commentary via footnotes, illustrations, and other appendixes. If that sounds dry, it’s because it doesn’t convey the absurdist humor, nightmarish fear, and sweeping epic drama of VanderMeer’s secret history of the city of Ambergris. Tragic poets and artists populate dark cafes, naked holy men and furtive mushroom people menace hapless wanderers in alleys and alcoves, and once a year, the Festival of the Freshwater Squid plunges the city into decadent mayhem.It was hard to catch Jeff when he had time to answer questions. He pours his energy into writing with a perfectionist’s drive.

Bill Ectric: Congratulations on finishing your latest novel, Finch. Is this another Ambergris novel?

Jeff VanderMeer: Finch is the third in the Ambergris Cycle, set 100 years after Shriek. It features a detective.

Bill: I understand you’ve been hunkered down, hard at work on Finch for quite a long time. Are you in a state of decompression?

Jeff: I am in a state of severe imaginative withdrawal in the sense that I need to recharge before the next novel.

Bill: When did you first read Nabokov’s Pale Fire and what effect did it have on you?

Jeff: I can’t remember when I read it but it has had a profound effect. It showed me that using an experimental structure didn’t mean you couldn’t also achieve an emotional response in the reader. I think Nabokov’s formal brilliance blinds some critics to the emotional resonance in his work.

Bill: Are any of the artists, writers, and musicians in Ambergris based real people or real groups of people, for example, the Lake Poets, the Beats, or the Romantics?

Jeff: A lot of them are loosely based on the Decadents. Some are based on Chagall and Arcimboldo. The rest are based on contemporaries and thus I cannot divulge who…

City of Saints and Madmen by Jeff VanderMeer   Vertemnus by Arcimboldo

Bill: Is there a reason you do some rewrites in longhand? Doesn’t your hand get tired?

Jeff: No, my hand doesn’t get tired any more than my wrists do typing on a computer. Longhand allows me to get into the fictive dream more easily. I also will break a scene back down into longhand after it’s been typed up if I need to radically revise it. I tell writing students who only have laptops that they’re missing out. You’re ignoring a potent tool in seeing your fiction in a new light. A lot of beginners are doing light edits, not revision, and they also allow the computer, through IM and other things, to fracture their attention while writing.

Bill: J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan refused to grow up and H. P. Lovecraft feared that reaching adulthood meant “growing too old for pleasure.” Is it important for a writer of weird fantasy to stay in touch with childhood feelings and intuition? How does one balance that with the responsibilities of real life?

Jeff: Every writer needs to see the world fresh. Lovecraft, for all of his brilliance, was trapped in an adolescence fearful of women and foreigners and unable to live a fulfilling normal life. That’s definitely not necessary.

Bill: We hear about indie bands having their CD “picked up” by a major label. Do major publishers ever “pick up” independent and/or self-published books?

Jeff: Sure. I’ve had the majority of my books picked up by majors after being out first from indies. That’s how I finally got on people’s radar.

Bill: Fantasy author Ekaterina Sedia suggested I ask what your favorite dark beer is.

Jeff: Heh. It is Delirium Nocturnum followed closely by Arrogant Bastard.

Bill: How did it come about that you wrote a Predator novel?

Jeff: I think you write from love, mental illness, money…or some combination of the three. Predator I wrote for fun (love) and money. Brian Evenson got me an audience with Dark Horse and they liked my pitch.The challenge I set myself was to write the Predator movie I would want to see. I actually think both Predator movies are good action movies. So it is meant to be fun and exciting … with a few signature VanderMeerisms as part of that.

Predator by Jeff VanderMeer book cover   Finch by Jeff VanderMeer book cover