Multiple award-winning editor Ann VanderMeer has been a frequent visitor to the Carolinas, both as an instructor at the SharedWorlds teen summer writing camp at Wofford College and multiple events both at Asheville’s Malaprop’s Bookstore and in the Triangle. In her 3rd appearance in the Triangle in the past 4 years, she will be at Chapel Hill’s Flyleaf Books on Monday, April 21, as part of a tour for The Time Traveler’s Almanac, a definitive, nearly 1000 page anthology of time travel stories. The tour continues on Wednesday, April 23 at Lexington’s Joseph-Beth Booksellers and on Thursday, April 24 at Malaprop’s. VanderMeer took the time to talk about anthologies, editing for Tor.com, teaching, and why she keeps coming back to the Carolinas.
Your reprint anthologies have taken quite a shift in size: after The New Weird and three moderate-sized Steampunk anthologies, both The Weird and The Time Traveler’s Almanac push (or in the case of The Weird) exceed 1000 pages — and come from larger publishers. Did the scope of the project necessitate finding a bigger publisher, or did having the support of a larger publisher allow for the scope?
Each of these projects was different in theme, scope, approach and philosophy. With both The Weird and The Time Traveler’s Almanac, the goal was to provide as inclusive as possible an overview of over 100 years of fiction in those select areas. The New Weird was designed to capture a moment in time and illustrate through the fiction and non-fiction selections just what this literary movement was all about; from its precursors to current examples. And each of the three Steampunk anthologies focused on different goals yet again; starting off with the early days in the first, the modern development across the globe in the second and then, with the third in the series, seeing Steampunk fiction as a revolutionary act.
You’ve been asked about your (many!) favorites from The Time Traveler’s Almanac, but I wonder about some of the stories that you couldn’t quite fit into the book — whether they were too similar to other stories, or cases where reprint rights couldn’t be managed. Do any stories stick out from that perspective?
Unfortunately as an editor, there are hard decisions to make. You can’t always acquire the permissions to certain stories and other stories might not ‘play well’ with the rest in the TOC. This anthology was no different, which is why it concerns me when some reviewers will call me out for not including this or that story. Am I going to mention certain writers and/or estates that were difficult to work with? What would be the point of that? Instead I’d rather focus on the stories that are published here, but will mention one story I wasn’t able to publish that about broke my heart. I really wanted to publish “All You Zombies,” by Robert Heinlein. That story still blows me away. Hard to believe it was written in the 1940s.
Even though this is a huge anthology, I could have doubled its size easily with more great fiction. Who knew there was so much amazing time travel fiction out there?
For the past couple of years you have been an associate editor for Tor.com, acquiring fantastic stories from talented young authors such as Kai Ashante Wilson, Kali Wallace, and John Chu. The most recent, Wilson’s novelette “The Devil in America”, carries a warning for its strong themes, dealing as it does with slavery, post-slavery racial violence, not to mention the titular demonic forces. Can you talk a bit about first reading that story, and was there any hesitation on the part of Tor.com to publish it?
As soon as I read it, I knew I had to publish it. Just ask Jeff about my initial reaction. I usually will set aside a story for a second or third read, but in this case, I knew immediately. And the good folks at Tor.com agreed wholeheartedly. In addition to being a brilliant piece of fiction, this story is important. It can, and will, make a difference. If nothing more than to open people’s eyes and perhaps make them ask more questions, seek more answers. Yes, it might make some of us uncomfortable but that is the point to truly powerful art. It should take us out of our comfort zone and make us examine what’s going on. How else can we envision and work towards a better future if we don’t understand the past and present and what we can do to make a difference? And it is my job as editor (and a citizen of the world, really) to get this story in front of as many people as possible. Thankfully, this is easy with Tor.com – a great venue for presenting the best fiction out there. I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of it.
In addition to the Kickstarter-backed anthology of feminist speculative fiction, in recent interviews you’ve mentioned a “dream” project of a massive anthology of world fantasy. Has there been any progress towards those two books of late, and are there any other books on the horizon?
Slowly but surely, Jeff and I will see this happen. We’ve got a lot going on at the moment, but this project will not be forgotten. We’ve got several different ways we’ve been approaching it – can’t really talk about the details, but rest assured it will happen.
Teaching has brought you repeatedly to Clarion as well as the SharedWorlds teen writing camp at Wofford College. Why are these workshops so important, and what do you get out of them as an instructor?
I consider teaching to be the noblest line of work there is. I’ve been teaching all of my professional life. In addition to writing and creativity workshops I also have spent many years teaching technology to adults in all types of industries as well as working with the Bar/Bat Mitzvah students in my synagogue.
I get as much back from the students as I put in, if not more. I am always invigorated after working with new writers. I love to see how they look at the world; at fiction and character and story. And there’s a special relationship that you develop when working with writers, because you get to share in their vision from the very beginning. I am still very close in touch with many of my former students, both Clarion and Shared Worlds (as well as former Bar Mitzvah students – I am expecting a few to show up at these events!). Their successes are my happiness. I just love watching them develop their writerly muscles. I just received emails this morning from two former students – one just finalized a book deal and another had some great news to share (that shall remain a secret for another few days, sorry, but I can brag about it when I see you!).
Your tour for The Time Traveler’s Almanac is bringing you back to North Carolina, both to the Triangle area (Flyleaf Books, Monday April 21) and Asheville (Malaprop’s, Thursday April 24). What makes the Carolinas such supportive territory for these anthologies and other projects?
To be honest I never really thought about that but you are absolutely right. Some of the best events I have done took place in the Carolinas. And now that I think about it, I have met so many brilliant and talented people who either are from here or moved to the area. Maybe it is because there is an openness and friendliness of the population. These bookstores are just amazing. And bookstores this good can’t exist unless the people are there to support them. I also believe that if you offer a creative, inclusive environment you will get the best and the brightest knocking down your doors to join you.
Monday, April 21, 7:00 PM—Flyleaf Books (752 MLK Jr. Blvd, Chapel Hill, NC) [Facebook]
Wednesday, April 23, 7:00 PM—Joseph-Beth Booksellers (161 Lexington Green Circle, #B1, Lexington, KY)
Thursday, April 24, 7:00 PM—Malaprop’s (55 Haywood Street, Asheville, NC)
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