Interview: Jeff VanderMeer, author of Wonderbook
The American writer is looking to inspire others with his 'illustrated guide to creating imaginative fiction'
You describe Wonderbook as 'an illustrated guide to creating imaginative fiction'. How would you define 'imaginative fiction'?
I think using terms like ‘realistic’ or ‘fantastical’ fiction sets up a kind of false opposition. You can find flights of fancy in mainstream lit and you can find a dogged pursuit of realism in fantasy. But what all of the best fiction exhibits, in my opinion, is applied imagination and an attempt to get beyond cliché and stereotypes to some place that’s unique, different and the perfect expression of what only you, that one particular writer, could create.
How did you decide on this new approach to writing guides?
I’m a very visual person; my mom is an artist (currently in France studying graveyard art) and I grew up around an art studio. Also, the next generation of beginning writers responds very well to images and instruction conveyed through image. I was able to analyse passages of fiction through diagram and image, show the differences in character arcs and even portray Joseph Campbell’s monomyth as the journey of a Mexican wrestler.
If you could give new writers one piece of advice, what would it be?
There’s no magic bullet, there’s no one way. If Wonderbook is trying to get across anything, it’s that you’ll find a wide range of options. Don’t force yourself to do things you don’t want to do with your writing, but use your beginning years as a writer to experiment, to get to know what you’re good at and what you need to improve. And, also, to find out what you don’t like. It’s important to reject things, too. Sometimes sticking to your guns means success takes longer, but I can tell you that nothing beats making it on your own terms. Nothing.
Wonderbook is published by Abrams Image, Tue 1 Oct.