After our long cold winter (which is, apparently, still not over), the best book parties in New York City returned to Studio X last night – with the author of my so-far-favorite book of the year. That’s right, folks – the FSG Originals Series (presented in conjunction with Vulture and GQ) are back. And damn, it feels good to’ve been there.
It felt like seeing an old friend, to be honest. Not much has changed about the general setup of these shindigs, but it has streamlined and everything moves pretty smoothly now. The check-in, the drinks, the swag littered around (I’m kicking myself for not grabbing an FSG shotglass), the conversations buzzing throughout the room, the projector, the stage ready and waiting for a ritual sacrfice I MEAN joyful conversation. It’s just a groovy feeling to walk into that space for one of these events.
As readers of this blog/followers of my Twitter/anyone I’ve talked to about books in the last few months will know, I’m a huge fan of Jeff Vandermeer. I managed to not be terribly bumbling in my brief conversation with him last night, in which we discussed being charged by various wild animals (more on that in a moment) and the squidpunk video and I stammered out my appreciation for the man’s ridiculous imagination – so that was fun. But also, there was PROPER conversation to be had! Plus, music!
Starlee Kine, who I’m completely unfamiliar with although I believe I’ve heard her on “This American Life” and just didn’t put two and two together until I was googling today, was our host and she peppered Jeff with questions and queries from the get-go. A bit jetlagged/dropped-out-of-time-and-into-Area-X, she seemed a bit nervous and struggled to strike up that antic bounce between the author & musician that David Rees makes seem so effortless – but that just goes to show how difficult this sort of hosting can really be. The bulk of the heavy conversational lifting on bookish topics was Jeff’s shoulders – although Max had some neat things to add about the creative process as he sees it from a musician’s perspective. It was okay though, as it seemed like Jeff was happy to chat away – doling out a decent dose of teasers regarding the future of the trilogy, both in how he wrote them as well as where (in the vaguest of senses) it’s all going. He also related some terrific anecdotes regarding the creation of the series, including the following:
- He has been charged by a wild boar as well as an otter in the wilds of Northern Florida, where he takes a 14-mile hike that helped inspire the landscape of Area X.
- Also, to anyone who was potentially confused like Max: yes, otters have legs. Did no one else read Redwall as a kid? Was that just me?
- Also also: the projector was displaying photos, taken by Jeff, in said wilds and it’s a remarkable place. That sense of wilderness that feels unlike any other wilderness was palpable just looking at the shots.
- The terrifying refrain that the creature in the tower is writing (Annihilation reference – if you haven’t read it WHY ARE YOU HERE GO READ IT NOW) came to Jeff in a bronchitis-induced dream, as did the tower/creature itself.
- He writes out of order, taking on whatever scene is demanding to be written, but also doesn’t want to plot the books out too far in advance but rather just create them and let the characters take over.
- He does not have any father issues.
Finally, after some solid questions from the audience (including one from my sister, full disclosure), the conversation spun to a close and bled out into the audience. Jeff was gracious and generous with his time, chatting with folks and dishing a bit more about the stories. He was careful to state that Authority is a very different novel from Annihilation but that readers of the Ambergris trilogy (still one of my favorite works of weird fiction ever) will be familiar with his mode of stylistic change-ups. This piqued my interest even further.
Finally, Future of What took the stage to play a short set – which was cool, because (so far as I’ve been attending them, anyway) it was the first time a full band has played one of these gigs. The space has some acoustic challenges (it can get very echoy) but this ended up working out in Future of What’s favorite, giving their synth/dream-pop an immersive lift and wrapping the audience inside. The tunes are catchy and airy and apparently they’ve got a debut album coming out soon which is worth checking out just based on last night’s taste of the tunes.
Regardless of any bumps in the conversation of the evening, it was a welcome 2014-return for the Originals Series – as my sister said when we were leaving, “this is what I always thought New York was supposed to be about – cool parties in neat spaces with interesting people.” And there you have it, folks. Until next time (and seriously, READ ANNIHILATION).