Monday, July 6, 2015

Summer Illness, Reading Joy

My summer began in a rather inauspicious manner with a round of bronchitis that lasted the better part of 3 weeks. Long story, the highlights of which are a history of previous episodes, the discovery that I am highly allergic to marijuana smoke, which lead to an asthma attack, which promptly turned into bronchitis, and Deborah in her inimitable fashion had not one but two relapses. Only one of which was my fault for doing too much too soon. (I am now the proud possessor of the relevant inhalers.)

Enough whinging (British friends: is that the right word?) One of the very, very few upsides of this illness was that I had to stay in bed. A lot. After the initial phase of sleeping all day, I started reaching for my pile of To Be Read books. Ah, books! How would we get through bed rest without them? Here is a sampling of the stories that helped me through the tedium:

Judith Tarr: Kingdom of the Grail. I’d picked this up at Powell’s Books, that amazing bookstore in Portland OR (see below), and then got distracted by other things. It’s historical fantasy, with the emphasis on a wonderful blending of fantastical elements. We all know the story of King Arthur and the Holy Grail, right? Tarr sets her story not in King Arthur’s time but that of Charlemagne, with one of the King’s Companions, Roland, as the hero. Add much Grail-centered magical subterfuge, an ancient evil bent on acquiring the Grail, and a sorceress who transcends time and culture. Oh, and a love story. Of course. Oh, and some very nifty horses.

Carlos Ruiz Zafón: The Shadow of the Wind. This gem was on my husband’s TBR shelf, and I almost didn’t pick it up because of the mainstream-looking cover. Imagine my delight when the story opens with a visit to “The Cemetery of Forgotten Books,” where you get to choose one book, just one book from the thousands of musty volumes, that you promise to keep alive, to make sure it never disappears. For the narrator, that book is The Shadow of the Wind, by Julián Carax, and from the very first paragraph, his life is never the same. Especially when a mysterious figure appears, bent on destroying every copy of every book Carax wrote, all of which were dismal publishing failures so they’re rare collector’s prizes anyway, not to mention addictive. After a while, the story devolves into part mystery, part suspense thriller, but that opening, which spoke so eloquently about the magical power of books, had me hooked. It’s not exactly fantasy/science fiction, but it’s definitely one for us book-loving fanatics.

Jo Walton: My Real Children. An elderly woman who lives in a nursing home suffers from
confusion. Does she have four children…or two plus a beloved stepchild? Is the door to the right or the left? Is this dementia…or something else? Once her life was one stream of events, until a single decision changed everything. This sounds like your usual parallel-universe story, but the focus is on the intimate, everyday lives and relationships of the women she becomes, executed with such nuanced sensitivity that when you’re inside the story, it feels like it’s real history. For all its domesticity, the book moves right along. I loved every page of it.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Gifts of Darkover: Behind the Stories

Writers find inspiration in many places: an image, a line of dialog, a character, a question, or the burning desire to know more. Here, in a fascinating peek into the imaginations of talented writers, some of the contributors to Gifts of Darkover share the origins of their stories. (This material appeared previously in individual interviews.) Available in trade paperback and ebook editions at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other venues.

Jane Bigelow (“Healing Pain”): What happens when someone wants the best of both worlds, not just for themselves, but for their people? Taniquel’s father might have lived if the people around him had been able to combine Terran and Darkovan medical knowledge instead of each fearing and discounting the other’s resources. Taniquel also must deal with a question that transcends cultures: How do you rebel effectively against people who genuinely, but mistakenly, believe that they have your best interests at heart? People whom you respect, like, and even love?

Barb Caffrey (“A Problem of Punishment”): How did Fiona's parents meet? What was her father Dominic, who I already knew had been a judge before her, really like? And what had made Gorsali fall in love with him, and he with her? A romantic story of a smart man and an accomplished woman against the background of the Hellers appealed to me, especially since they fell in love prior to the Terranan returning to Darkover and didn't have many role models that would've helped them out. Now, as to why I felt Dominic, a judge, could fall in love with a Renunciate? Dominic has seen it all in his courtroom, and knows how to size up people quickly. Because of that, he has fewer prejudices in certain respects than others, and he has far more respect for the charter of the Renunciates than do most other men because he has far more respect for the legal system. Because of that, I felt he could see her as an equal partner in time...and that way, love could potentially grow (or at least a strong attraction).

Margaret L. Carter (“Hidden Gifts”): The guidelines for Darkover stories often mention “unusual use of laran.” I wanted to do something with one of the most unusual laran phenomena, teleportation, which (I think) is shown in the novels only in the context of matrix work. What experience might make a person unaware of the extent of her power desperate enough to perform such an act on her own? For a protagonist, I chose one of my favorite character types, the “Ugly Duckling” who discovers her “swan” traits only when pushed to her limits. In a way, this story echoes my first Darkover tale, “Her Own Blood” (in Free Amazons Of Darkover), which also features a nedestra heroine discovering her laran.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Guest Blog: Steven Harper on Greek Mythology and Sexual Abuse

Several years ago, I realized I wasn't dealing with my son's autism diagnosis very well. Too much rage, too much helplessness. Just too much. So I started seeing a counselor, and I saw her for several years.

During that time, I decided I wanted to write about Ganymede, the teenager who was kidnapped by Zeus to serve as his cupbearer on Olympus. Zeus sees Ganymede on the earth below, decides he's the coolest kid ever, changes into an eagle, and snatches Ganymede up to Olympus. Zeus then persuades Hebe to make Ganymede immortal, then dumps Hebe as his cupbearer and gives that exalted position to Ganymede.

Only two and a half stories about Ganymede have survived--the story of his kidnapping, a mention in the Iliad about Zeus giving Ganymede's father a set of horses in payment for the loss of his son (that's the half), and a story in which Ganymede loses a game of dice against Eros, and gets mad at him. That's it.

When I got older and read the actual material instead of the summaries and children's versions, I learned that Ganymede was more than Zeus's cupbearer. Zeus also took Ganymede to his bed. This was part of Greek culture--a powerful man would often serve as a mentor/teacher/second father/love interest to a teenaged male. Usually the parents went along with this: "Good news, son! Your uncle has offered to be your mentor!" So Ganymede was a mythological parallel to this mortal custom.

The stories, however, never went into what it was like. What was it LIKE for Ganymede to be
snatched away from his family and friends and suddenly make into the cupbearer and lover of the king of gods? You have the ultimate mentor, but it wasn't anything you'd asked for. Your culture
teaches you that being taken to this guy's bed is a good thing, or at least something you can put up with because all of us men went through it, but how do you =really= handle it?

I ended up using my therapist as a resource here. She had counseled many survivors of sexual assault and was an expert. I told her about the book and said my theory was that a teenager in Ganymede's position would have a lot of mixed feelings.

Sexual assault victims often feel shame because our society has (incorrectly) decreed that victims of sexual assault have done something wrong, that they're bad people who have become further soiled. But Ganymede's culture says that being chosen as a mentee is an honor and a duty, and if you're chosen by the king of gods himself, you must be an amazing person.

And yet . . .

Ganymede at a stroke loses his family, his friends, and his home. He changes from a mortal into an immortal. He is thrust into a group of powerful people who see him as a pawn in a greater game that Ganymede himself doesn't quite understand. He's at the beck and call of Zeus, who does some pretty dreadful things. And he'll be a teenager for the rest of his immortal life.

Some major mixed feelings there.

My counselor agreed. "This would be way too complex for it to be one-sided," she said (or my notes
say she said).  "He would love it one moment and hate it the next.  There would likely be periods of great sadness and great happiness until he adjusted. You can love and hate someone--people do that all the time, especially when it comes to sex, or to someone you're =supposed= to love but aren't sure you do, or with someone you think you love but don't understand why. Don't be afraid to show that between Ganymede and Zeus."

I set out to explore this in DANNY.  Or at least, partly. Half the book is set in ancient Greece and half the book is set in modern America. Danny tells Ganymede's story while he tells his own, and the two overlap in strange ways. It's the most complicated, layered novel I've ever written, with plenty of shout-outs to lovers of Greek mythology.

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