TAMPA — It can be difficult to describe the kind of fiction Jeff and Ann VanderMeer write, edit and publish.
Called weird fiction, it's a mix of fantasy, science fiction and horror. And there seem to be no set rules.
"It's not Harry Potter and it's not The Walking Dead. It's kind of a combination of both," Jeff VanderMeer said.
"It's when the strange and surreal intrude upon your real world," added Ann VanderMeer, his wife.
The couple spoke at the University of South Florida Tuesday night as part of the school's annual science fiction symposium.
Both are famous in the science fiction world. Jeff VanderMeer, 44, is a World Fantasy Award winner. His fiction has been published in more than 20 countries. Ann VanderMeer, 56, is a publisher and editor, and only the second female editor, of the horror magazine, Weird Tales. And together, they have published the critically acclaimed anthology The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories. They live in Tallahassee.
On Tuesday, Jeff VanderMeer added one more accomplishment to his list. Before his presentation at USF, he learned his latest book, Annihilation, and the trilogy it is part of have been optioned to become movies by Paramount Pictures and Scott Rudin Productions.
"I can't believe I'm saying this," he said as he announced the news to the audience full of creative writing students.
The book is about Area X, a forbidden zone of wilderness concealed by the government for 30 years. Eleven expeditions have entered the area to try to discover what's going on inside without success. The book follows the 12th expedition, VanderMeer said.
While the genre of weird fiction may seem unfamiliar, it's more popular than one might think.
Weird fiction has been around since Gothic novels 200 years ago, said Rick Wilbur, a professor of mass communications at USF and organizer of the science fiction symposium. Edgar Allan Poe would fit into that, he said.
More recent authors such as Ray Bradbury and Margaret Atwood write stories of a similar feel, too, Jeff VanderMeer said.
"A lot of people read darker fantasy fiction," he said, "and don't even realize it because it's in the mainstream."
Shelley Rossetter can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3401.