Visiting the Planet of Jeff Vandermeer

Richard Ellis Preston, Jr. is a science fiction writer who loves the zeitgeist of steampunk. Although he grew up in both the United Sates and Canada he prefers to think of himself as British. He attended the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, where he earned an Honors B.A. in English with a Minor in Anthropology. He has lived on Prince Edward Island, excavated a 400 year old Huron Indian skeleton and attended a sperm whale autopsy. Richard currently resides in California.

“Our life is what our thoughts make it.” (Emperor Marcus Aurelius)

As of my last blog, Romulus Buckle and the City of the Founders had been written, agented and sold.  The first two books of the series (the second eventually being titled Romulus Buckle and the Engines of War) were now in the stewardship of 47North and my editor, Alex Carr.  47North had been looking for some steampunk to flesh out their fledgling imprint’s catalogue, and Alex was willing to bring on first-time novelists.  My book had been agented and sold very quickly, but then it took six months for my agency Trident Media Group and Amazon to work out a boilerplate contract—ah, there is always waiting somewhere along the line.  Once the contract could be signed, Alex set up a conference call and immediately introduced me to our 47North team which included Patrick Magee (Author’s manager), Katy Ball (Marketing manager) and Justin Golenbock (PR Manager).  All of these people have been kind, attentive and crackerjack, and I shall talk about my positive experience with 47North in a later blog.

I should make a note that, along the way, my first agent Adrienne Lombardo made the difficult decision to move on into another aspect of the publishing industry, and I was picked up by Alyssa Eisner Henkin at Trident Media Group.  Alyssa has been great, and very supportive of my plans for the future.

Enter Jeff VanderMeer.  Alex wanted to put me under the wing of a development editor who was both familiar with the steampunk genre and a master of story, so he assigned my books to Jeff.  Do you assume that I shall speak kindly of Jeff here on this platform of his own construction?  Should I speak the truth?  Perhaps I shall set fire to the place, setting the curtains ablaze before leaping from the stage, screaming “Sic semper tyrannis!” tearing away the lamb’s mask from the face of the monster?  Fortunately, I have no awful tale to tell.  These two books were my first experience with a development editor—although I did spend a decade having my screenplays (some, not all) disemboweled and reworked by producers—and I was aware that it could be an excruciating process for everyone involved, especially if the editor was trying to rewrite the book.  It was a lot of work at times—and you have to muster a new perspective as you return to a sentence, passage or chapter that you were once certain was finished—but Jeff brings an intelligence, empathy and humor to the table that infuses a lot of enthusiasm and joy into the work.  Yeah, it can be a long, hard haul for both of you, but it’s all about making your book better.  As a writer himself, Jeff put on kid gloves whenever he came near the innards of my story, not wanting to disrupt or alter my vision in any way, shape or form.  His job was to make the communication of my story, the telling, clearer, cleaner and more effective.  Jeff had his work cut out for him, especially in the structure of the first third of the first book, where a writer of speculative fiction must delicately balance all of the introductions of characters, environment and story.  Jeff’s experience and deep understanding of my tale, its characters and the world it is set in—what my books are at their core—allowed him to generate notes and suggestions which resulted in vast improvements in the way the novels read without ever altering the story.

Jeff is a super development editor to work with, and I thank my lucky stars that Alex Carr decided to bring Jeff in to work with my little books.  Jeff is now heavily invested in a huge trilogy project of his own (Southern Reach, as I am sure you are aware) but I hope he can stay on as the development editor for the rest of the books in my series, provided 47North continues it in the new year.  I would also like to add that Jeff and his wife Ann have become my friends and have been wonderfully supportive of my new writing career.

I must admit here that before I met Jeff, I had not read any of his books.  I had heard of him, but my science fiction reading until recently had usually involved revisiting the classics of my youth such as Verne, Wells, Heinlein, Asimov and Vonnegut.  Since then I have read his City of Saints and Madmen—what a delightful, dark, spin through the fantastic— and of course Booklife.  Needless to say, the rest of Jeff’s works are now high on my reading list.