Fiction writer and anthologist Jeff VanderMeer has seen his profile skyrocket since the release of Annihilation, the first novel in his Southern Reach trilogy, in February of 2014. All three books in the series, as well as his most recent bestseller, Borne, have been optioned by Paramount. VanderMeer's literary sci-fi features touches on the bizarre—Borne, for instance, features a giant flying bear. Today, as his latest novella, The Strange Bird, releases (available exclusively in e-book from publisher MCD), VanderMeer talked with PW about weird fiction, climate change, and working with Hollywood.
Why released Strange Bird exclusively in e-book?
MCD is devoted to doing things in an innovative or experimental way sometimes. Just like [the Southern Reach trilogy] was released as three books in one year in trade paperback, they have interesting ways of publishing, and I think for now they want to make sure that they can quickly get to Borne readers something that they’ll find really meaty and interesting. When I originally said I’d write some short fiction around Borne, I didn’t realize I was going to write a short novel. So they want to make sure the readers have quick access to it. And I think that’s one thing publishing is doing better and better. It’s being quicker on the uptake and getting stuff out there.
Both the Southern Reach trilogy and Borne have been optioned by Paramount. Have you been involved in any of the talks involving the pruchase? Will you be involved in writing the script?
I believe I’m going to have an executive producer credit or consultant credit on Borne. Really the way it works is, as you have more and more things optioned and work with some of the same people over and over, you have a little bit more say in what’s going on. For Annihilation, I didn’t write the screenplay... With Borne, I’ll definitely have more of a say on things like casting. It’s like anything that I do—and I’ve been involved in multiple parts of the publishing industry—in that the first thing that I do is I listen and I watch, and I don’t try to talk about things I don’t know about. So first is the learning curve, and now that we’re a little bit past the learning curve, I’ll probably get a little more practice.
You and your wife, Anne, collaborate on anthologies. What are the big differences, for you, between writing and compiling/editing?
An anthology to me is more of an abstract thing. I’m thinking about structure in a different way. Obviously it’s not quite as personal as writing my fiction, which is the most personal thing I do. Sometimes I liken it to trying to solve a mathematical equation. How do all these parts fit together? How are they going to add up? What are the complex equations we’re trying to solve here? It’s a very different kind of intellectual experience from writing novels, which are more visceral and kind of inhabit the body, in a way, while you’re writing them.
What other projects are you working on?
The next novel I’m working on, Hummingbird Salamander, has a very slight speculative element that basically is set ten seconds into the future and deals with bioterrorism, ecoterrorism, and climate change.... I have a YA series that’s coming out from FSG Kids, the first book of which is called Jonathan Lambshead and the Golden Sphere, and it involves a talking marmot, an alt-word Aleister Crowley who heads up a Franco-Germanic empire with the disembodied, reincarnated head of Napoleon as his military adviser—which, I have to be honest, is a lot of fun, if you can imagine how fun it is to have a villain who kind of chews up the scenery, so to speak. But it works. And then I have Napoleon always poking jabs at him. And a talking marmot. It’s the best of both worlds. I’m working on one more Borne piece, which is called The Three, based on the dead astronauts that are referenced in Borne. And I’m also working on another Southern Reach piece called Absolution, which I didn’t expect to be working on, but which came up spontaneously.