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Conquest: An exclusive Q&A with Jeff VanderMeer & Juan Carlos Reyes

Posted Fri, 4/23/2021 - 1:23pm by  |  Category: ,

On May 7, the 2021 Hugo Literary Series turns its attention to the White Horse of the Apocalypse with an evening of new works from Jeff VanderMeer, Lacy M. Johnson, and Juan Carlos Reyes on the theme conquest.

We recently caught up with Jeff and Juan via email to learn more about what they’ll be sharing, their favorite writing advice, and their apocalypse survival strategies.

Find out more about the upcoming literary series and buy tickets »

Jeff VanderMeer

What, if anything, can you tell us about your Lit Series piece?  

I finished a long novella titled “Subject 682” earlier this year, about a spy tasked with surveilling a house, while living in the house next door, both of which were built by the same enigmatic architect. He doesn’t know why the family in the house across the way needs to be monitored, but he faithfully records his observations, including the fact that their dog seems very un-doglike. Then, one day, his supervisor goes next door and kills everyone in the other house, then disappears. The very next morning, the family reappears in the house next door as if nothing ever happened. And it gets weird from there.

This year’s Lit Series events are themed on the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Tell us: What’s your apocalypse survival strategy? 

Rise up in activism and rise up in love for the world around us.

What’s one piece of advice that keeps you going when the writing gets tough? 

I’ve always loved revision and loved being immersed in re-imagining the rough draft. So, my advice in general would be: Learn to love rewriting and editing as much as you love writing the initial draft and then, most of the time, all your creative time will be a pleasure, not a curse.

Juan Carlos Reyes

What, if anything, can you tell us about your Lit Series piece?  

I’m reading from my novel-in-progress Tomorrow Everyone Lives. It follows a child who escapes a U.S. migrant detention facility looking to avenge his mother’s death at the hands of the company that built and maintained the warehouse where they were both being kept. I’ll be reading from the very first chapter. This novel is about becoming a bona fide superhero, about the brokenness of vengeance, about family and tragedy, about the kind of hope we carry by simply carrying on. I started the novel this year, responding in part to this reading’s theme but largely to make sense of my own heart that breaks even now for what we’ve done to a generation of children.

This year’s Lit Series events are themed on the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Tell us: What’s your apocalypse survival strategy?  

One step in front of the next. By worrying only about what I can do with my hands to nurture my children, my partner, and my creative life. That often means pulling out a guitar and playing for or with my family. That often means finding irregular moments alone to rush some nonsense into my notebook. That often means practicing a crossover dribble and step back jump shot on an empty basketball court. That often means scribbling fiction on postcards and mailing them to friends. As the world falls apart, the one thing I can do is make something from whatever loose words, from whatever adaptable tools, I can find.

What’s one piece of advice that keeps you going when the writing gets tough?  

The standard response seems to be “I don’t have any advice,” and I’m going to enjoy that cliche for this. I don’t have anything tangible to offer. I only have a memory of the things that’ve hurt, those things that teach me how to sit with somebody else’s hurt. I like sitting with people for their gestures and silences, for those things they don’t say. I’m informed by the energy people give off even when they don’t mean to radiate a presence at all. This is where I find the peace to return to writing, to the fiction I know I can do well enough if I don’t worry about doing it at all. So, maybe, there’s something like advice in all that. I hope.