Friday, November 16, 2018

Short Book Reviews: Prohibition, Booze Running, and Demonic Possession in Roaring Twenties Long Island

My introduction to the work of Molly Tanzer was her novel, Creatures of Will and Temper, a 19th century urban fantasy revolving around The Portrait of Dorian Gray, and demonic possession. Creatures of Want and Ruin takes place in the Roaring Twenties on Long Island, New York. The common thread between the two books is the role of demons controlling human lives. Demons take possession of people who freely agree to the arrangement, granting their hosts long life, wealth, beauty, or in this case the ability to detect falsehoods and to compel others to tell the truth. In exchange demons receive various experiences that can come about only through physical incarnation. Some demons are benign, but others are highly malevolent. Demons pass summoning instructions through generations or encoded in children’s books, as is the case here.

In this story two women from very different walks of life encounter unsettling changes in the sleepy community of Amityville. (The Amityville Horror, it should be said, lies decades in the future and does not play a part in this story.) One of the women is a boat woman engaged in the moonshine smuggling trade during Prohibition. The other is the wife of a newly wealthy Gatsby type of social idler who finds herself increasingly alienated from her husband and his party loving, booze zwilling friends. Spooky things are afoot: illegal liquor that causes most people to hallucinate. a preacher who gathers bigger and bigger crowds, bent on ridding their community of immigrants and anyone who isn't a white Protestant. And creepiest of all, slimy fungus growths that appear and spread.

The characters are engaging and the story moves right along. The creepiness grows, step by Lovecraftian step. Just when you think nothing more terrible could happen, something else goes disastrously wrong. Stopping the white nationalist mob and defeating the fungus-monster necessitate finding out the truth, which is where the bargain with the demon comes in. There are moments of sweetness, of courage, and of terrible but necessary choices. I loved every page of it and I'm eagerly looking forward to Tanzer’s next.

The usual disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book, but no one bribed me to say anything about it.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Sword and Sorceress 33 Author Interviews: Melissa Mead

Enter a wondrous universe…the latest volume of Sword and Sorceress, featuring stories from new and seasoned authors. Herein you will find tales of fantasy with strong female characters, with some version of either martial skill or magic. Not all the protagonists will be human, and sometimes the magic will take highly original forms, but the emotional satisfaction in each story and in the anthology as a whole, remains true to the original vision. The release date will be November 2, 2018.

Deborah J. Ross: Tell us a little about yourself.  How did you come to be a writer?
Melissa Mead:  I don't remember when I wasn't telling stories, even before I could write them.
My first attempt to write a story for publication actually came about when my then-husband suggested that I write a story for Sword and Sorceress, but they weren't open to general submissions at that time. My first submissions (and rejections) were in 1997. My first publication was in The First Line, in 1999.

DJR: What inspired your story in Sword and Sorceress 33?
Mm: Thinking that it's kinda creepy how so many girls in fairy tales end up marrying "Prince Charming" without knowing anything about him, or him knowing anything about her. And why WOULD the rulers of a kingdom need to invite every eligible maiden in the kingdom to a ball to get the heir to the throne married off, anyway?

DJR: What authors have most influenced your writing?  What about them do you find inspiring?
Mm: Gosh, probably more than I realize. I wish I had Terry Pratchett's wisdom and humor, Robin McKinley's gift for making familiar fairy tales come alive in new ways, and Lois McMaster Bujold's general brilliance. She writes the way I wish I did. And Gail Carson Levine inspires me not only with her work, but the wise and kind advice she gives to new writers in her blog. I'm sure I'm missing many more.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Love and Death: Would You Like a Little Romance with Your Action?

Crossing genres is hot business these days: science fiction mysteries, paranormal romance, romantic thrillers, Jane Austen with horror, steampunk love stories, you name it. A certain amount of this mixing-and-matching is marketing. Publishers are always looking for something that is both new and "just like the last bestseller." An easy way to do this is to take standard elements from successful genres and combine them.

As a reader, I've always enjoyed a little tenderness and a tantalizing hint of erotic attraction in even the most technologically-based space fiction. For me, fantasy cries out for a love story, a meeting of hearts as well as passion. As a writer, however, it behooves me to understand why romance enhances the overall story so that I can use it to its best advantage.

By romance, I mean a plot thread that involves two (or sometimes more) characters coming to understand and care deeply about one another, usually but not necessarily with some degree of sexual attraction. This is in distinction to Romance, which (a) involves a structured formula of plot elements -- attraction, misunderstanding and division, reconciliation; (b) must be the central element of the story; (c) has rules about gender, exclusivity and, depending on the market, the necessity or limitations on sexual interactions. These expectations create a specific, consistent reader experience, which is a good thing in that it is reliable. However, the themes of love and connection, of affection and loyalty, of understanding, acceptance and sacrifice, are far bigger.

In my own reading and writing, I prefer the widest definition of "love story."

Wednesday, November 7, 2018