Ask the Author: Jeff VanderMeer

“Hello! Between now and August, I'll be happy to answer your questions about the Southern Reach trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, Acceptance). With maybe a bit of Wonderbook thrown in.” Jeff VanderMeer

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Jeff VanderMeer Sorry for the delay in responding. Gosh, soooo many. I'll just mention one overlooked classic: Stepan Chapman's The Troika. Taught me so much by breaking ever rule.
Jeff VanderMeer Hedley's just a kind of amalgamation of several small southern towns. The HQ building is based on Soviet Brutalist architecture. Rock Bay is based on Botanical Bay on Vancouver Island.
Jeff VanderMeer Next year, I hope? Mostly East Coast the rest of the year.
Jeff VanderMeer I have learned to do whatever I'm inspired to do. So I don't write a certain number of words a day. Some days I might write 10k and then nothing for a week. For nonfiction, it doesn't take the same type of imagination and I just write it to whatever the deadline is.
Jeff VanderMeer Old weird old weird old weird...with *spice*.
Jeff VanderMeer I have been to a Steampunk convention, and they've all been sane and interesting--alas. I also wouldn't choose a steampunk name because that would kind of like not being myself.
Jeff VanderMeer Not really. Just that I was being chased by guerillas down a spit of land with crocodiles on either side.
Jeff VanderMeer The main thing about making the reader suspend disbelief is to engage in the three-step Annihilation, Authority, Acceptance method...but seriously, it is a combination of doing some research and thinking about it but also being willing to have the confidence to just let some elements go unexplained or to offer just a one-sentence explanation and move on. Sometimes writers will have what I call a "tell"--like, three paragraphs trying to explain how something works and it's because they're not confident in it--they think they're pulling some b.s. on readers. The important thing is to not have that tell. Everything in fiction is made up and everything can be believable if you approach it the right way.
Jeff VanderMeer Stuff like that tends to come out of the subconscious, so I recognize there's a lot of things in Annihilation that come out in the subtext, and all you can do as a writer is get a sense of these things and either cut stuff you don't like that's resonating or enhance it.
Jeff VanderMeer I didn't really think about it, so it must be unintentional. Although I don't think there are a lot of such references. Hmmm. Interesting.
Jeff VanderMeer Not usually. Although there are actors like Brit Marling who I love and sometimes channel the intelligence of or some aspect of.
Jeff VanderMeer This depends on the individual story, but one way is to convey somehow to the reader that something is not quite right, something the main character doesn't quite recognize and to imbue in the text little glints and hints of the wrongness.
Jeff VanderMeer Alas, no. I still haven't gotten around to Wyndham. I will soon. Mostly, the whole thing comes out of my experiences in the North Florida wilderness.
Jeff VanderMeer Honestly, most of it is out of personal experience. Influence is a weird thing in this case, since the real big influence is the natural world and my personal experiences in it. But I would have to say that the nonfiction of Rachel Carson as well as fiction by Michel Bernanos’s novella “The Other Side of the Mountain,” Leena Krohn, as well as Algernon Blackwood in stories like “The Willows.” Kafka is an influence on Authority, along with Le Carre. I’m really not sure about influences on the third book, Acceptance. I can’t think of any, but I’m also very close to it and a lot of influence just settles into the back of your mind in a subconscious way.

It would be wrong not to mention the movie Alien because although often called a horror movie it actually has a very smart script in terms of characters trying to do the intelligent thing but being undermined by betrayal. So I admired the way the main character was portrayed. The early movie of Cronenberg I binged on prior to writing Authority, and I dissected scene-by-scene Kubrick’s The Shining to help with Authority. I also recently saw a German film titled The Wall based on a novel, which would have been an influence had a I seen it earlier. A novel by a Catalan author, Cold Skin, shares some affinities about isolation and lighthouses, but I read it after I wrote the novels.
Jeff VanderMeer Sometimes it's easy to do just by having one in third person and one in first person. Sometimes as with Shriek it's just that hopefully you know the characters well enough that the voices are different. But also in Shriek because they are brother and sister you expect some similarities, which helped me out a bit. And thanks for the kind comment about Shriek--still the hardest book to write technique-wise and still my own personal favorite.

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