Photo credit: Kyle Cassidy
Describe your latest book.
My latest book is The Strange Bird
, which exists in the universe of my novel Borne
. It’s my attempt to write from the perspective of a bird, although I cheat a bit since the bird is part human. The story follows the bird’s quest to be free, while encountering any number of obstacles, including the Magician (familiar from Borne
is also out in trade paperback now, with a bestiary of critters illustrated by Eric Nyquist. It’s quite a handsome package.
I also just finished writing a novel that includes such highlights as talking marmots, singing potatoes, and the disembodied resurrected head of Napoleon.
When did you know you were a writer?
It’s hard to tell. I just was always reading and writing, as I recall. Poetry and then retellings of fables, which was my way of beginning to figure out how writing worked. I don’t think there was much doubt in my mind by around age 10, and I kind of knew that even if I never got published, I was going to keep telling stories. I do think that growing up in Fiji and having the juxtaposition of incredible natural beauty and having allergies to a lot of flowering trees, and coping with asthma, created a need to make sense of the world that might have led to storytelling. Then throw in my parents’ long divorce and traveling all over at a young age, and it’s pretty clear to me that writing was important as a kind of anchor or way of having balance, at least in my own mind if nothing else.
What does your writing workspace look like?
Fairly chaotic. When I’m working on a novel, it’ll be all these scraps of papers and books and notebooks filled with scene fragments. I don’t really realize how cluttered it gets until I’ve finished a book, and then I have to come to terms with what a mess it’s all become. I don’t like certain kinds of order while working on a book. It has to be a bit messy, and I can't be too organized, for it to remain organic, for the book to continue to be alive in my head. That said the mess usually has some structure to it. And over time I’ve abandoned all rituals of writing as procrastination, so sometimes I’ll write at Lucky Goat, a local coffee shop, or at a local nature park. The most important thing is not the workspace but the headspace.
Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
Paul Scheerbart i
s a fascinating fiction writer and thinker from early in the 20th century, and you could do worse than start with his collection from Wakefield Press entitled, Stairway to the Stars and Dance of the Comets
. He’s one of those optimistic writers awash in interesting ideas who was well ahead of his time and is still relevant today.
Besides your personal library, do you have any beloved collections?
I have a very large collection of frog figurines, legacy of my first published book, The Book of Frog
. All of the stories have frogs in them. After that, people still sent me toads as well. TOADS ARE NOT FROGS. So I guess I actually have a very large collection of amphibians in general. Of the stone, wood, plastic, and clay variety. I sometimes feel obligated as a result to randomly put a frog in any new fiction. Usually that works out okay.
If someone were to write your biography, what would be the title and subtitle?
Curmudgeon: The Weird Tree-Hugging Non-Joiner
Describe a particularly memorable dream.
I used to have this horrible nightmare in which I was on the balcony of a skyscraper in some big city and dinosaurs were attacking by land and sky, and all we could do was hope they wouldn’t choose our balcony. I also used to have a dream in which I kept running farther and farther out on this spit of land surrounded by marsh, with all these weird monsters on all sides and fairly ordinary crocodiles chasing me from the land behind.
I guess the best one, though, was one in which I kept hearing this voice saying, “There’s something you need to know,” and I was searching through this forest and then there was this door — just a door, not a wall, nothing on the other side — wedged into moss amid the trees. But when I opened the door, there was Kelly Link
. And I was like, “What do I need to know?” And she just shrugged and said, “Whatever you need to know!” And then I woke up.
Name a guilty pleasure you partake in regularly.
I got hooked in the mornings on that Canadian border patrol show, during breakfast, before I went off to write. Which is a fairly polite kind of border patrol show, for the most part, with anything harrowing usually happening because of the US side. Now I’m watching the New Zealand border patrol show, which is very polite and often charming and really all about not letting invasive animal species get into the country. I used to watch Frazier
for a bit before writing. I need something in the morning that is somehow lively but not going to stick.
(Top) Five Mysterious Texts
I don’t really have Top 5 lists, or even a Top 10, because I can never really decide what should go on them. But these five books all feel mysterious to me and I think reward rereading.
by Aase Berg
The True Deceiver
by Tove Jansson
The Other Side
by Alfred Kubin
by Anders Nilsen
The Blue Fox
÷ ÷ ÷
’s New York Times
bestselling Southern Reach trilogy
has been translated into over 35 languages. The first novel, Annihilation
, won the Nebula Award and Shirley Jackson Award, was shortlisted for a half dozen more, and has been made into a movie. His novel, Borne
, is the first release from Farrar, Straus and Giroux’s new MCD imprint and has received wide critical acclaim, including a rare trifecta of rave reviews from The New York Times, Los Angeles Times
, and The Washington Post
. The novel has also been optioned by Paramount. The New Yorker
has called Jeff “the weird Thoreau” and he frequently speaks about issues related to climate change and storytelling, including at DePaul, MIT, and the Guggenheim. He lives in Tallahassee, Florida. The Strange Bird
is his most recent book.