Adrian Boteanu / Sun Staff Photographer

March 16, 2017

Author Recalls Turning Charging Alligators into Bestselling Novels

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Jeff VanderMeer has put his characters in remote islands, wildlife refuges in Northern Florida and fictional cities named after whale biology. On Thursday, he told his own career story in a lecture in the Rhodes Rawlings Auditorium.

When writing, VanderMeer said, he takes the oddities from his everyday experiences to create novels that are often categorized as “weird fiction.” He said his novel Annihilation, the first in his successful Southern Reach trilogy, was inspired by the Florida wilderness.

Annihilation is set in the wilderness [and] primarily incorporates my real-world experiences of being charged at various times by alligators, otters, wild boars and, at one point, in a kind of half-hearted way, a Florida panther,” he said.

For his novel Authority, the sequel to Annihilation, VanderMeer explained that he drew from his experiences working at various day jobs before he became a full-time author.

Describing a previous workplace where he and his coworkers were underpaid and existing in a work environment VanderMeer compared to Lord of the Flies, he and his fellow employees felt a sense of claustrophobia that he tried to channel into his work.

“One employee had tried to rob a bank with nunchucks and, once out of jail, was offered his old job back,” VanderMeer gave as an example.

Annihilation is currently being adapted into a film and is slated for release in September 2017. It is being distributed by Paramount Pictures with lead actress Natalie Portman and Ex Machina director Alex Garland.

VanderMeer described the adaptation as “very surreal” and said it was “strange to have written something in such a personal way” and then have it made into a major Hollywood production.

He added that, though he didn’t read the screenplay carefully, he still found it strange to see the book take a different turn as a film.

“There are scenes that are different from the books that are, I think, true to the spirit of Annihilation,” he said. “There are other changes because it’s a visual medium.”

VanderMeer’s latest novel Borne is set to be released next month and has been named “one of the most anticipated books of 2017” by The New York Times.

“He’s one of my favorite writers,” said Prof. J. Robert Lennon, English. “I feel like his work is fundamentally literary … I wanted my students to have an example of someone who writes really well and takes elements from other genres besides literary fiction.”