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Ann VanderMeer, fiction editor at Weird Tales

Readersvoice.com aims to collect a few good reading tips. A few months ago, while browsing in a Brisbane comics store, I came across a copy of Weird Tales, a magazine of fantasy fiction. Originally published in 1923, Weird Tales launched authors like Ray Bradbury and H.P. Lovecraft, and inspired many others including Stephen King. It stopped publication in 1954, but after a couple of reprints, anthologies and new issues over the decades, it relaunched in 1988. I liked the stories in Weird Tales, and I sent some questions to their fiction editor, Ann VanderMeer. This interview is packed with excellent fantasy reading suggestions.

See www.weirdtales.net for more information about Weird Tales.

READERSVOICE.COM: How did you get into editing, and can you talk a bit about the career path that led you to becoming fiction editor at Weird Tales?

ANN VANDERMEER: I have always been a voracious reader. Back in the late 1980s I was reading a lot of small press magazines, like Deathrealm, Cemetery Dance and Midnight Graffiti, along with more established ones such as Twilight Zone, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and Weird Tales. My friend and I thought that we could publish one, too. So in 1988 we started a publishing company called Arachnid Publishing. Our magazine was titled The Sterling Web.

My partner, Amy Mann, was a budding writer and artist. I was neither but I loved to read. We published our first issue in 1989. And this was before desktop publishing software. It was all paste up. The fiction was all over the place. A little horror and little science fiction and some fantasy, too.

We had begun to make contacts in the small press genre field with the help of a small magazine market guide called Scavenger’s Newsletter, put out by Janet Fox. After six issues, Amy called it quits and I decided to forge ahead without her. I created Buzzcity Press and the magazine became The Silver Web. At this time I met the artist Alan M. Clark and fell in love with his work. He introduced me to surrealism, which, surprisingly enough, started as a literary movement before it was made popular by artists such as Salvador Dali, de Chirico and Man Ray. So I decided to make the magazine more focused and chose “A Magazine of the Surreal” as its subtitle.

The magazine evolved over the next few years and became as known for its fiction as it did for its art. I loved working with all the talented contributors. And the magazine developed a reputation for being a good venue for new writers and artists. Indeed, it was the first sale for many writers that went on to have novels published by major publishers.

I decided to expand into books. By this time I was romantically involved with the writer (and fellow editor) Jeff VanderMeer, having met him through the magazine a few years earlier. He had a short book, Dradin in Love, that I considered a surreal masterpiece. I published it under the new imprint Buzzcity First Editions in 1996 and it became the most reviewed book of that year. It was shortlisted for just about every award you can think of, including the Theodore Sturgeon Award. The book was lavishly illustrated by Michael Shores, who had done work for me in the magazine. The story went on to become one of the foundation novellas of Jeff’s well-known City of Saints and Madmen.

A couple of years later, Thomas Ligotti suggested that I read a novel by a newcomer, Michael Cisco. The book was The Divinity Student, and I was blown away when I read it. It became the next book in the series, illustrated by Harry O. Morris. In addition to a starred review in Publishers Weekly, it also won the International Horror Guild award for best first novel. Within six weeks I had sold out of the first print run and had to do a second print. That print run is also sold out. I published the last issue of The Silver Web in 2002.

By this time I was a bit burned out from being a one-woman show and I needed a break. The break came in the form of helping my husband (by this time Jeff and I had married) with his various writing and anthology projects, because I can’t just do nothing.

In addition to his renowned Leviathan series, Jeff was in the process of putting together The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases (most commonly known as the Disease Guide). This book took over our lives (it seems like every project takes over our lives in some manner). It was originally published by Nightshade books and went on to be published by Bantam Spectra here in the US and by Pan Macmillan in the UK. An ambitious project with over 60 contributors, each entry is a fake disease and also a short story in its own right, richly designed by John Coulthart with art from several other artists.

Jeff and I decided to do more projects together as co-editors (since we were sharing the work anyway). We had talked for years about a new approach to fiction recognition. We considered it a good idea to have rotating editors for a Year’s Best, similar to having rotating judges for the World Fantasy Award. This idea turned into Best American Fantasy, a new Year’s Best anthology with Jeff and I editing the first two volumes (works from 2006 and then 2007) and Matt Cheney as series editor.

The first volume of BAF was released to critical acclaim earlier this year, being selected for the NPR Summer reading list. We were then asked to edit a New Weird anthology, a Steampunk anthology as well as a Pirate Anthology (the last one all original work).

Also, about this time I became a judge for the IHG. I spent the next few years reading everything I could get my hands on. I am proud of the work I’ve done here along with my fellow judges, Edward Bryant, Stefan Dziemianowicz and Hank Wagner. I finally could read all the comic books (or graphic novels) I wanted and call it work! This also allowed me to work more closely with Paula Guran, the awards administrator.
And this led me to Weird Tales. When the publishers were looking for a new fiction editor, Paula suggested they take a look at me. My first thought, when asked, was “Are you crazy?” But luckily I didn’t say that out loud. I realized that I missed reading the slushpile. We had many conversations back and forth. I recognized that they were offering me my dream job. All I had to do was read, select and edit fiction! Someone else would do the magazine layout. Someone else would worry about advertising and subscriptions. And they wanted to take this iconic magazine into a new direction, into the 21st century.

The publishers and I had a similar vision for the new direction. And so, in March of this year I became the latest in a very prestigious line of editors for this magazine. Once I started reading the manuscripts and selecting stories for my first issue, I appreciated the enormous privilege and opportunity that has been given to me. My first edited issue comes out any day now and I can’t wait!

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