Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Interview: Ann VanderMeer

Every Tuesday, I'll have an interview posted.

Ann VanderMeer is the fiction editor of Weird Tales.

Thanks for agreeing to do the interview! First off, how did you first get introduced to the genre?

Hard to say. I’ve always been an avid reader and lean more towards horror, fantasy and science fiction in my reading tastes. My dad had a collection of all the early L. Frank Baum books from his childhood. And I’m not just talking about The Wizard of Oz, I am talking about the entire series. These were the editions from the 1940’s and they were absolutely beautiful. I loved those books more than anything, especially since my parents had such a nasty divorce and those books were like a part of him that I could still have. Unfortunately when I was in college my dad insisted that I give back those books so he could give them to his new family.

Who were some of your favorite authors or favorite books back then? How about now?

In high school and college I read a lot of Peter Straub, Stephen King, Anne Rice, Clive Barker, J.R.R. Tolkien, Ray Bradbury and also Harlan Ellison. Also Dostoyevsky, Dickens, Poe and Lovecraft. I still enjoy their work. I also read a lot of comic books and still do. Today I read so much of everything really. Michael Connelly, Laura Lippman and Faye Kellerman for crime and detective fiction. Clare Dudman, Nicole Krauss, Gloria Naylor and Zora Neale Hurston. Just discovered Meg Gardiner and she’s wonderful. Anything and everything by Jeff Vandermeer, of course! I read history, biography, religious and political work – really everything.

Aside from editing Weird Tales, what are the projects you're working on right now?

I’ve got several anthologies in the works right now. Two charity anthologies - The Leonardo Variations; which came out of a writing exercise that Jeff assigned when we were teaching at at Clarion the summer of 2007 (proceeds to the Clarion Foundation). And Last Drink, Bird Head, a collection of short shorts from writers and other creative people all over the world providing their take on what a “last drink bird head” really is (proceeds go to world literacy and inspired by the art of Eric Schaller).

Right now I am working on a deadline for The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals, a beautifully designed and illustrated gift book where Evil Monkey and I have discussions about which imaginary animals are kosher or not and why. This idea originated from a blog post Jeff and I did in honor of Passover last year. It was hugely popular and we were approached about doing it as a book.

Did you ever imagine yourself getting involved this deep in such a vibrant field?

Never in my wildest dreams.

Do you have a day job? How do you manage to find the time to juggle all this work (in addition to keeping the cats and Jeff in check)?

I have a very demanding job as the software manager of a computer company. We develop, sell, implement, train and support business management system in the manufacturing field, primarily in boat and manufactured homes industries. This job often entails traveling around the country to visit with various customers.

The project juggling and time management pose quite a challenge for me. Still working on finding the best balance. I try to get the most out of every moment. I am also a volunteer Bar/Bat Mitzvah teacher at my synagogue. I believe that this probably restores my sanity with all the daily craziness. The students keep me honest and grounded.

What made you decide to start The Silver Web?

At that time in my life I was reading a lot of short fiction magazines, small press. I had a co-worker who joined me in this passion and together we thought we could do a magazine ourselves. We thought it would be fun and easy. Well…. It was mostly fun but hardly easy!

What were some of the challenges in running that magazine? What are some of the lessons you learned back then that you apply now, whether it's your anthologies or Weird Tales?

Publishing The Silver Web was very different because I was running the publishing company myself. I was responsible not just for selecting the fiction, but also the layout and design of the mag, subscriptions, art direction, distribution – the whole shebang. And I found that there are some things I enjoy (and am good at) more than others.

With Weird Tales I get to do what I love most, reading fiction. And working with the writers. It’s the best! Let someone else worry about all that other stuff. Although I do miss working with the artists. I guess if I had to pick one thing that I have learned back then and applied to my work now is patience. I’ve also learned to trust my instincts.

How different is editing a magazine back then compared to now?

The technology has changed. The way that people communicate is different with email and the internet. Because you can get a response in an instant, everyone expects to get a response in an instant! But the basic don’t change. You still need to have good solid fiction. How it is delivered to the audience doesn’t matter as much as what it is, right?

If there's anything you'd have changed back then, what would it be?

I would have trusted my instincts more and not let other so-called experts allow me to question my abilities.

So how does one become a talented and famous editor?

Good question, still wondering that myself!

In your opinion, what skills need to be developed in order to become a good editor?

In addition to the usual language skills, you have to be able to see the potential. Not just in the fiction you read, but in the overall projects you develop. You should have an open and curious mind. Don’t be afraid to take a chance.

What qualities set you apart from other editors? How about qualities that differentiate you from your husband's tastes when you're collaborating on the same project?

One of my greatest strengths as an editor is that I am not impressed by someone’s name or list of credits. It all boils down to the story. It either works or it doesn’t. And it has to fit the project as well.

As for Jeff and I, probably the biggest difference between us is his willingness to just jump in and embrace something straight off the bat. I prefer to ponder things a bit – to let them marinate, so to speak. He will come up with a big bold idea and share it with me. I take that idea and refine it and make it workable, bringing him down to earth.

Do you ever feel pressured being the editor of a name-magazine like Weird Tales?

No more than with any other project I work on. I will say that I feel this is a tremendous honor. I think about the history and what went on before and I am humbled by the opportunity.

Are there any specific type of stories you're looking for when it comes to that magazine? Any advice for those who plan to submit?

I am looking for those stories that are truly unique. It could be a familiar trope but with a different take. Surprise me, but don’t gross me out (that’s not the same thing). Honestly, I can tell when a writer writes something from their heart and when they are just writing something to satisfy a market.

It's been several months now since you've been working on Weird Tales. How's the reception to your work and how different is it compared when you just started?

When the announcement was first made, there were a few grumbles from some but overall I was welcomed and congratulated. I am sure that some were waiting to see what I could do. In general I’d say that there has been a very wide approval of the new direction. My task was to bring Weird Tales into the 21st Century while still respecting the history of this iconic magazine and that’s what I’ve done.

Future plans for the magazine? Like I really like the thematic concept of an international issue to tie the content together.

I was thrilled to do an International issue. And I ended up with more stories than could fit in one issue, not to mention the introduction to many international writers. You will see more work from around the world in the future. We have a steampunk issue planned for the fall, but no other themes at this time.

What's the work dynamic like between you and Jeff when you're working on the same anthology? Is there lots of horse trading, debating, etc.?

We have many, many discussions about the pros and cons of different approaches. We truly respect each others abilities and because of that we trust each other. We have different talents that complement each other so this makes for a wonderful working relationship.

Any projects we should be keeping an eye on that's exclusively Ann?

Outside of Weird Tales, Jeff and I collaborate on just about everything. Even when I was working on The Silver Web and he was working on Leviathan, we were still assisting each other – just not acknowledging it publicly.

Your husband has a couple of animal avatars, from squirrels to monkeys to squids. Do you have a particular "familiar" or will Jango get jealous?

Nope, I am just me. And that’s a fulltime job, let me tell you.

Any advice for aspiring editors?

Gee, I don’t know. Read and absorb as much as you can. Take risks and trust yourself.

Advice for aspiring writers?

See above answer re: writing from the heart. Also write and write and write. Then write some more. And don’t forget to read. And by this I mean read everything, not just work in the genre. Read all kinds of different fiction and non-fiction.

Anything else you want to plug?

Just to say that in addition to the projects we’ve got going, we also are doing workshops and seminars. Jeff and I will be doing a workshop on creativity for Worlds of Warcraft this spring. And I was asked to be the Editor Guest of Honor at MidSouth Con in Memphis next month (March 20-22) where I’ll be doing various workshops and panels. I’m very excited about that – my first guest spot! We’ve also been invited to the Eaton Conference in April in California and the Louisiana Book Festival later in the year.

1 comment:

kaolin fire said...

color me uninformed--I hadn't heard of the change-over. Just got my December issue of WT and haven't cracked it open yet.

Is there anyone _not_ in the software industry, these days? ;) :)