John Klima, esteemed editor of this swell anthology, has cooked up a most ingenious and engaging bit of publicity. The way it works is that each writer in the book reprints the bit of Jeff VanderMeer’s story that deals with his or her word (Jeff having written a story, “Appogiatura,” that uses all of the words in VanderFashion). Ideally, this piques your interest enough to go check out a podcast of the whole book, broken out into twenty parts, one for each story. That podcast is here, and well worth checking out (as Mediabistro notes). Also I’m supposed to say a little bit about how I decided which word to use, which I will do forthwith.
I was originally going to use two words for my Logorrhea story, sacrilegious and semaphore. Those were the two words that bracketed the four-year hiatus the national spelling bee went on during World War II. As I worked on the story, the sacrilegious bits didn’t seem to work as well, so I pared it down to semaphore. I stuck with the war theme, though, and although I never really meant to, I got sort of self-reflexive in writing a story about the spelling bee hiatus and its effect on a particular family.
And here’s Jeff’s own VanderSemaphore:
When Truewill Mashburn turned eighteen, he left the US with forged documents and passed himself off as a thirty-something ESE teacher at a Costa Rican university. He’d always looked older than his age and at six-four with sandy blond hair and a Viking’s eyes and chin, people usually believed what he said. By the time he left Latin America at the age of twenty-two and headed for Europe, he’d hitchhiked through twelve countries, been a missionary, a doctor’s aide, and a bank teller.
Now twenty-five, Mashburn found himself living in an abandoned semaphore tower on the banks of a Central Asian river that eventually wound its way down to the ruins of old Smaragdine and the tired modern city that surrounded it.
He’d read about the semaphore towers while hanging out in a Tashkent library. They’d once been vital in Smaragdine’s epic battles against the dreaded Turk. Now they were just free apartments ripe for the taking, in Mashburn’s eyes.
Mashburn took the book—The Myth of the Green Tablet—and headed south. By the time he found the towers, he was ready to settle down awhile anyway, having been hassled at half a dozen borders. He could fish in the river, exchange some of his limited cash for food in the nearby village, read the book he’d stolen, or just hang out with the locals smoking dope. A few times a week, the village women walked past, giggling and talking about him. He couldn’t understand them, but he knew what they were saying.
It should have been perfect, but an odd sense of responsibility began to grow inside him with each day he lived there. He felt it in his chest every time he walked up the three stories of crumbling stone steps to stare at the tower a half-mile downriver that doubled his own.
The book was to blame, even though the author seemed contemptuous of the subject. On some level, the more Mashburn read about the fascinating history of Smaragdine, the more he couldn’t help but feel an obligation to continue its ancient fight against the Turk. It didn’t make sense, and yet it did.
Mashburn decided to become the true keeper of the tower. He removed the weeds inside and along the circular fringe. He did his best with his limited knowledge of drywall to repair the worst areas. He began to wear his tattered army surplus jacket all the time. He bought a pair of old binoculars from a villager. He even assigned himself guard duty, more often at dusk than during the day.
At night, the tower looked less ruined and it was easier to imagine he was back in Time and that he might need to use the tower’s windmill-like semaphore spokes to warn of some danger.
Then, too, Mashburn saw many strange things the longer he stood watch at night. Fish that bellowed at him from the water. Debris and bodies from some battle that had taken place many countries upriver. A man in a motorboat who looked vaguely American in a leather jacket and dark shades, a gun holster on his exposed ankle. Something was happening, Mashburn was certain. He just didn’t know what.
One moonlit night just before dawn, he saw the most curious thing of all: a river cruise ship with several smaller boats pursuing it. When they caught up, what looked like a band of circus performers jumped on board: a couple of women dressed like caliphs, a snake charmer, a mime, and a fire-eater, among others. The battle raged as Mashburn looked on with mouth open.
By the time the conflict had subsided, far to the south of his position, he couldn’t tell who had won, only that the boats remained empty and most of the river cruise crew was walking around on deck again.
Sometimes Mashburn felt prematurely old from all of his travels, but in that moment, he felt both dumbfounded and oddly blessed.
By midmorning, he had the semaphore spokes turning for the first time in two centuries and he was sending his message out across the water. He didn’t care if the next station was manned or not. That wasn’t the point.