READERSVOICE.COM: Do you do a lot of reading in other genres, fiction or non-fiction, or has your reading become specialised in fantasy?
ANN VANDERMEER: Because I read so much fantasy/horror/science fiction, I take a break from that by reading lots of other things. I love a good crime fiction. My favorites include Michael Connolly, Laura Lippman and Fay Kellerman.
I also read quite a bit of mainstream fiction as well as non-fiction. On my nightstand right now is Death by Black Hole by Neil deGrasse Tyson, right next to Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose, James Morrow’s The Philosopher’s Apprentice and Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (the last one for my monthly bookclub). And when I just can’t read a book, I have a subscription to Vogue magazine (it’s not just about the pictures – I read the articles, really!)
As you can see, I like a lot of diversity and I usually have two to three books going at a time.
RV: Were there typical characteristics of fantasy stories in different eras, like the 1950s, 60s, 70s, and later? How did the plots or other aspects change, and what’s your favorite era?
AV: I would say that my favorite era is the one we’re in right now. And all that went before got us to this point. The best stories stand the test of time – the story written in the 50s that still speaks to a more contemporary audience. I can’t really speak to the specific characteristics of each era, not being a literary historian, but it seems to me that each era reflects the times they were brought forth in.
RV: There are many sub-genres to fantasy. What do they call the subgenre that deals with realistic settings but with a slightly awry aspect to them, like some of the old Twilight Zone stories, Night Gallery, or some of the Weird Tales stories? Can you recommend a few authors or titles in this subgenre?
AV: Not really sure if there is one single sub-genre that this describes. Magic realism is a literary category that can be described this way. A lot of classic horror stories could fall here as well. In many cases the Twilight Zone-type story was actually a morality tale. It often taught a lesson to the subject, or the audience. In this vein, much of the early fairy tales had the same purpose.
RV: What innovations have you noticed in the fantasy story over recent years?
AV: I’ve seen writers take more chances. I’ve seen them unafraid to mix genres and see what happens. There is a lot more unclassifiable fiction out there now than ever before. Yes, you still have your traditional heroic fantasy and sword and sorcery. You have your space operas, too, but many of them seem to be more grown-up, if I may; written for an adult audience. And marketed to them as well.
The other thing I’ve seen lately is the rise of the Young Adult market. I could be totally wrong, but I don’t remember there being such a separation in the bookstores when I was growing up. You had children’s books and you had adult books. Now there is a clear division for Young Adults. And it seems like every writer now has a YA novel coming out (or they’re working on one). I’m not sure yet if this is a good thing or not.
RV: What makes for a good plot structure for a fantasy story? What other aspects make a good fantasy story?
AV: The same thing that works for any other type of fiction must be present in a well-told fantasy story. Characters we can care about (we don’t necessarily have to love them, but they must fascinate us in some way) set in a place we can visualize (much harder to do in fantasy, to make it believable – in mainstream you take a lot for granted) doing things that grab our attention.
The fantasy element can give the writer the freedom to explore topics and ideas that may come across as too dogmatic in mainstream fiction. The best fantasy stories will take the reader someplace new and out of the ordinary. They will stick with the reader long after the story has been read. Whether it is a single character, an event or perhaps even the overall theme of the story, if you finish it wanting more yet are still satisfied, then the story works.
RV: Will the appeal of fantasy like in Weird Tales last well into the future, and if so, what will always attract people to these stories?
AV: I sure hope so! Stories in any magazine will appeal to your readers as long as you know your audience and where to take them. When WT re-surfaced in the late 1980s the vision of those editors was to take the magazine into the present; present day late 20th century, that is. Pay respect to the past but explore the future. My goal is the same.
Yes, H.P Lovecraft had a lot do to with the origins of Weird Tales, but now the reader is looking for something else, something more in addition to the old classics.
People will always want to read fantasy. It’s the oldest form of storytelling. Engage people where they live but take them somewhere else, somewhere challenging and different. Somewhere they’ve never been before. That’s where I see the future of WT.
RV: What are some of your plans?
AV: My plans? For Weird Tales I have the 85th anniversary issue coming out early next year. Actually the entire year will be a celebration, but this issue is a special one. I have a brand-new Elric novella from Michael Moorcock as well as an awesome story by Tanith Lee. I also have a great story from Sarah Monette. In addition, you will be introduced to some enormously talented newcomers, Ramsey Shehadeh, Rachel Swirky and John Kirk.
I am also planning an international issue for late 2008. I’ve currently got stories from the Philippines, Israel, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands. There is so much great fiction out there all over the world and I want to bring as much of it to our readers as possible.
Other plans? Jeff and I have a lot of anthologies coming out next year. We’re currently reading for the next volume of BAF (Best American Fantasy) coming out from Prime Books. And we’re working on a Clarion Charity anthology, based on an exercise Jeff gave the students when we taught there last summer.
We have another charity anthology called Last Drink Bird Head (proceeds to go to literacy programs) and its companion volume, Love Drunk Book Heads from Ministry of Whimsy (also working on a possible music CD to go with it). We have the aforementioned New Weird anthology due out in May from Tachyon Press and Steampunk anthology also from Tachyon. And Fast Ships, Black Sails, the pirate anthology from Nightshade books.
In addition, I look forward to doing more teaching and workshops (Jeff and I will be doing a workshop to 250 librarians in Arizona next March) as well as putting together a documentary with Jeff about what happens to a writer when his first book is sold (kind of like a year in the life….). Oh, and learn French!