Saints and Madmen: Lunch with Jeff and Ann VanderMeer

I was fortunate enough–very fortunate, in my opinion–to have Alex Carr at 47North install Mr. Jeff VanderMeer as the development editor on my Romulus Buckle steampunk series.  Jeff is an experienced, highly successful sci-fi author whose expert input has improved my storytelling and, in some impossible-to-comprehend method, has made an excruciatingly difficult process enjoyable.  He is a writer’s writer.  ‘Nuff said.

When Jeff and his wife, Ann, visited Los Angeles during a visit to the coast, we were able to schedule a lunch at the Getty Center restaurant. Jeff and I have become friends during the months of book edits swapped back and forth, the revision notes rife with dry,sarcastic and humorous comments which all serve to make the difficult process a little less painful.  I say ‘friends,’ even though we had never met in person.  Jeff’s kind of positivity and encouragement, even when suggesting that a writer disembowel parts of his baby because it is best for the book, rises above the basic requirements of the copy editor, so I already considered him a friend in a fellow-writer, thanks-for-caring-about-my-messy-little-book sort of way.

It was a cool, sunny (except for the marine layer to the west) California day (last Thursday) when I took the tram up the Santa Monica mountains. The Getty Center itself is a work of art, a wonderful merging of architecture and space that makes it as enjoyable to walk the grounds as it is to peruse the inner chambers.  Jeff and Ann recognized me first; I was carrying one of Jeff’s books, “City of Saints and Madmen,” which I had brought for him to sign.  Ann suggested that we check out the “Overdrive: LA Constructs the Future 1940-1990″ exhibit – one I had skipped on a previous visit – and it was a nice kick in my LA-apathetic pants.  I tend to forget what great buildings there are scattered across our sprawling, disjointed amalgam of a city.  I didn’t see a model of Randy’s Donuts there, but surely I just missed it (the first Friday in June is National Donut Day, a tradition since 1938, by the way.)  We arrived at the restaurant and had a lovely lunch – flat iron steak (medium well) rarely lets me down –  and I got to know my new friends a little better.  They are both open, self-deprecating and funny people.  And brilliant.  It was a grand lunch for me, sitting across from two accomplished writer/editors/publishers holding World Fantasy Awards and Hugo Awards (Jeff has also recently inked a huge three book deal (Southern Reach Trilogy) and a huge movie deal with Paramount) who treated me–a first-timer–as a peer.  They had even brought a copy of my ARC for me to sign; I was so excited, I don’t even remember how I signed it – the book could unfortunately be inscribed to “Jasper and Anastasia,” for all I know.

I am almost finished with “City of Saints and Madmen” now, and it is a wonderful book.  The city of Ambergris is a dream and if you wish to plunge into a colossal, multilayered mystery of vast imaginings, darkness, humor and enigmatic mushrooms, then I highly recommend the novel.  It was nice to meet you, Jeff and Ann VanderMeer.  Fanboy I am.

Jeff VanderMeer (left) and the Author at the Los Angeles Getty Center, 23 May 2013.

Jeff VanderMeer (left) and the Author at the Los Angeles Getty Center, 23 May 2013.

Booklist Starred Review

A starred Review for Romulus Buckle and the City of the Founders from Booklist!  I am jazzed about this.


“What a glorious novel! What a glorious, steam-filled, larger-than-life, action-packed adventure! Set in the future, about three centuries after an alien attack devastated planet Earth, the tale involves the crew of a steam-powered airship, the Pneumatic Zeppelin, led by the brave Romulus Buckle, mounting a mission to rescue the head of their clan, Balthazar Crankshaft, from the clutches of the mysterious and dangerous Founders, who have kidnapped several clan leaders for their own nefarious purposes. Preston creates a fully realized world, lavishing description on the airship’s mechanical accoutrements (“ . . . panel after panel of ornate levers, cranks, and knobs that spread out like a gigantic church organ, an elegant riot of vacuum tubes, steam switches, quicksilver instruments, brass gauges, and copper dials”) and on its crew (Romulus Buckle: “a tree-tall fellow, six feet and a couple of caterpillar lengths more if he was an inch, his cheeks and chin scruffed with whiskers the color of sand dunes, in ample quantities for a man of the ripe old age of eighteen”). Suitable for adult and young-adult readers, the book is like an old-fashioned movie serial—one crisis after another—and Preston definitely isn’t afraid of asking us to believe the unbelievable (even the most ardent steampunk fan would probably admit that a hydrogen-filled airship, powered by steam-generated flaming boilers, stretches the imagination a bit). Steampunk doesn’t get much more exciting, or more adventurous, than this. The book is the first of a proposed series, and the second installment can’t come soon enough.”

— David Pitt

This title has been recommended for young adult readers:YA/General Interest: Teen fantasy fans with a taste for steampunk will wolf this one down and ask for more. —David Pitt