Brunch with author Jeff VanderMeer (and thoughts on the Book People)

Hi all,

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeerDuring the Los Angeles Festival of Books in April I was fortunate enough to have brunch with author Jeff VanderMeer and then wander old downtown in his company for a while. This blog entry is a bit of a travelogue, so here we go. Jeff was the development editor on my first two Romulus Buckle books (and the upcoming third installment) and he is a blast to hang around with. The first two books in Jeff’s new Southern Reach series, Annihilation and Authority, are blowing the lid off of the world, by the way (the third book, Acceptance, releases on 2nd September of this year). The books are intense and superb. But don’t take my word for it: look at mega-author Stephen King’s recent tweet below. Stephen King tweets Southern Reach

Wow. Jeff was in town for LATFOB and we met at the old Alexandria Hotel for brunch. The hotel’s regular restaurant, The Gorbals, hosts a weekend outfit called KTCHN DTLA and both Jeff and I agreed that the food was fantastic. I had the Habanero Scramble and I can’t remember what Jeff had, but yes, sir/madame, it all was great. After brunch we walked across the street (through a street fair) and wandered into the famous Last Bookstore, which is an interesting place to putter and hang out in. We chatted about a lot of things, about the state of publishing, steampunk, comic books and his injured knee (it was healing, I think), among countless other things. I brought along my copy of Annihilation for Jeff to sign and he even drew a picture (of what I’m not telling) in it.

The Alexandria Hotel in Downtown LAWandering a massive bookstore with Jeff, the man whose brain generated both Ambergris and Area X, is as entertaining as it might sound. Jeff has a silly, funky sense of humor which I suspect brings a wonderful undercurrent of lightness (an unbearable lightness of being/) to the often dark and twisted tales he so brilliantly weaves. He is fascinating to watch: he is always looking, digging, seeking, supplying ideas for the storygrinder that lives in his skull. We haunted the Last Bookstore for an hour or so–it is refreshing to be in a store like this, one full of well-invested employees, a sense of fun and mountains of books (plus a few book sculptures), plus that comforting, slightly burnt old book smell.

Jeff VanderMeer at The Last BoostoreIt is unfortunate that many of our neighborhood used bookstores are dying off, but hopefully it’s simply because it’s time for the little guys, battered as they are, to invent a new business model. Yes, the online stores can offer more and offer it cheaper. I purchase books on Amazon all of the time. But I–and I am one of many–I am also capable of loving a brick and mortar bookstore. I’m not talking about a big chain, mind you, the massive cookie-cutter outfits with the neat racks and pre-made, new bargain books, cookie-cutter cafes and cd and dvd sections that overwhelm the books in many ways.  I think that local bookstores, if they avoid peddling endless junk like toy collectibles, can win their customers back if they offer a unique experience, knowledgeable staff and lots of BOOKS. Me at the Last Bookstore

Book People, at least almost all that I know, love physical books. Sure, one can love a Nook or Kindle, but I get a lesser experience from the digital screen than I do from real pages, the spring of the binding, the ability to navigate half-blindly by flipping paper around. Book People love stores with nooks and crannies stuffed with old hardcovers. Book People love roughly-defined subject sections and they want to dig around mountains of dogeared paperbacks stacked on the edge of categorical nonsense, hell-bent on the thrill of the hunt and of the finger-clutched discovery.Creativity is chaos. A bookstore should be a a triumph of navigable chaos, not organization. Instead of being led by the nose through well-marked racks, Book People want to dig through a hundred tomes that they would never had seen otherwise, sneezing from the dust, crouched, lost and loving it. JV in Book Tunnel

Book People love the condescending, pimple-faced bookstore employee, the way-too-young guy or girl wearing the holed Radiohead tie-dye t-shirt with the ragged copy of Camus in their pocket, who knows exactly where each copy of everything the store has is located, tucked or half-crushed.The head of Jeff VanderMeer

Sure, if your bookstore is cool and unique enough, sell a few bookmarks and t-shirts. But give us the goods, the straight-up, unadulterated, come-as-you-are, messy cornucopia of books, and I think your store will survive, even prosper. I don’t know. I’m not a businessman. Perhaps I am all wrong. I can only tell you what would bring me in, keep me coming back and paying more to get my books from you than from an online mega-giant. The Last Bookstore fits much of the above bill, though it’s size and fame do demand some concessions. I like The Mysterious Galaxy bookstore in Long Beach. When I lived in North Hollywood I was a big fan of The Iliad, though they did have to downsize and move.

JV and LA street rabbitAs our afternoon ended, Jeff bought me coffee at a nearby Cuban cafe and we sat outside, our table mere feet from the rumbling traffic and lines of Los Angeles homeless, and Jeff assailed me with stories of the writing and convention life so funny that my face hurt from laughing. He will write a book about his experiences one day, maybe when he is ancient and all of the goofballs involved are dead (surely such a man shall easily outlive all of us), and I’ll make him do it. You can’t take stuff that good to the grave with you–its not allowed, nor is it fair to the rest of us.

So, full of far more coffee than I was accustomed to (I didn’t sleep well that night), I did bid farewell to Jeff as he headed back to LATFOB, back to the readers who love his stories, back into the arms of the Book People. Guest Blog #1 on Book Release Day

My first guest blog on Jeff VanderMeer’s website is up and running at is entitled “Steampunk Genesis & the Pillars of Your Private Booklife” and discusses the beginnings of my book, Romulus Buckle and the City of the Founders, while also looking at a few elements of Jeff’s Booklife writing philosophy.  I will be pinning up a new blog post every weekday until Monday, July 8.

Jeff VanderMeer's Booklife

Jeff VanderMeer’s Booklife

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.

Wonderful blurb from Jeff VanderMeer

Sci-Fi sage and author Jeff VanderMeer was kind enough to give me a super-positive blurb regarding my Chronicles of the Pneumatic Zeppelin novel series which you can read below.  Disclosure: 47North cannot use the blurb because Jeff has been my development editor and there is a direct conflict of interest, but I wanted to publish his super-cool endorsement here anyway.  R.

“Full of wit, verve, daring and inventiveness, Romulus Buckle and the City of the Founders is a wonderful read.  You’ll love the fun and adventure, but you’ll become addicted to the great characters and mind-blowing steampunk situations. Richard Preston is poised to become the Patrick O’Brian of the steampunk subgenre. A classic series in the making.” (Jeff VanderMeer, author of The Steampunk Bible)