“Narrative Life-Forms” illustration from Wonderbook.
Jeff VanderMeer is the New York Times best-selling author of more than twenty-five books over a thirty-year career, including the best-selling Annihilation. He has won the Nebula Award, the Shirley Jackson Award, and the World Fantasy Award (three times) and has been a finalist for the Hugo Award. His highly imaginative guide to what he calls “imaginative fiction,” Wonderbook, features diagrams, maps, and renderings by the illustrator Jeremy Zerfoss that break down the mechanisms of creativity without losing any of its verve. It includes sidebars and essays by George R. R. Martin, Lev Grossman, Neil Gaiman, Michael Moorcock, Karen Joy Fowler, and many more. First published in 2013, the recently released expanded edition contains an additional fifty pages of material, including a section on ecology and fiction as well as on the process of bringing Annihalition to the big screen. VanderMeer spoke about the project with one of its contributors, Nnedi Okorafor, an award-winning novelist of African-based science fiction, fantasy, and magical realism for both children and adults. “I don’t actually remember how I came to know Nnedi,” VanderMeer says. “It feels like I’ve known her forever, even though it’s only from 2011 or so, I believe. I have always loved her affinity for owls and other creatures.”
Wonderbook is one of the best books about writing I’ve ever read or experienced. And I’m not saying that because I’m in it, even though that certainly gives the book a kick! Wonderbook is a collaboration of many of the most creative minds in literature and art, it features examples of writing philosophies, methods, and styles, and it’s just plain fun. It also teaches about creativity by its very existence—it’s a beautiful book. How did you come up with Wonderbook’s spectacularly organized chaotic form?
Abrams Image came to me and gave me a suitcase full of money and said, “Come back with the world’s first fully illustrated writing guide, all laid out and camera ready.” Or something close to that. I hired the artists and the designers and commissioned the sidebar articles, like yours. Then I turned it in to Abrams. No publisher has ever said anything as compelling or invigorating to me before or since. But the energizing thing was that no one had done a visual writing guide before—the closest thing would be Lynda Barry’s marvelous imagination carnival What It Is or, in another medium, Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics. It took three designers and dozens of artists across four continents and, a lot of stop-starts. It’s difficult, when you’ve written fiction for so long, to extract that muscle memory as a writing manual and especially to then translate it into visual metaphors, which hadn’t been done before in this way. Without Abrams letting me do the layout, it never would’ve happened. Because there was so much trial and error to get all the elements right. Read More