Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Feathered Edge: More Feathers and Masks

Last year I began this series on "the stories behind the stories" in this anthology of marvelous fantasy stories I was privileged to edit. I got about halfway through when life in the form of writing deadlines intervened. So I'm going to repost them and hopefully finish the series, then put them together in a companion volume. to The Feathered Edge.

One of the inevitable results of novel writing is that in order to keep the focus on this story (and not the two dozen others that spring up along the way), we have to rein in that natural desire. Myself, I must sometimes bribe secondary characters into staying secondary, by promising them stories of their own, or endowing their appearances with nifty, memorable details. Or virtual chocolate. Then we end up with outtakes, related stories, branching series, and the like. Sometimes, the worlds and casts-of-characters are so vivid and rich, and speak to us so deeply, that we return to them again and again. They provide the setting, background, culture, history for short stories that are complete in themselves, little jewels set in the larger imaginative tapestry.

"The Art of Masks," by Sherwood Smith, is one such story. You don't need to have read her Inda series or her many other works set in the world of Sartorias-deles in order to enjoy it. It's simply a slice of a larger world, complex and varied. But if you have, you'll see all the shimmering threads that lead off in the distance. At the first reference to the ballad of Jeje the Pirate Queen, I wanted to stand up and cheer -- it was like glimpsing an old, dear friend, just a flash and then back to the present moment. And yet, the story works just as well if you've never heard of Jeje before. Although you should. You really should.

In much the same way, this anthology has links to other works, other stories, and the larger world of fantasy. Sean McMullen's story, "Culverelle," is part of a larger tale, with the same characters. "The Woman Who Loved The Horned King," by Judith Tarr, takes place in a world in which she's already set a trilogy. And "Blue Velvet" is part of Diana E. Paxson's series about the intrepid young Baron Claude DeLorme.

Fantasy literature, like other types, takes on the aspect of a conversation, one I'm especially happy to have with Sherwood. She writes deeply and knowledgeably about a variety of historical and literary topics, and has a gift for encouraging newer writers and generating thoughtful discussions on history, manners, story-telling, and a host of related topics. Even when I feel inundated by things to read -- online and in print -- I find her work rewards a second reading, and "The Art of Masks" is no exception. Every story element is precisely balanced, with an interplay of nuance and detail that enhances the sense of the greater world beyond. The good news is that if you, like me, have fallen in love with that world, there is much much more to discover.

And really, what more can one say about a woman who participates in the SFWA Musketeers, enjoys watching The Three Stooges, and reads the letters of Jane Austen?

1 comment:

  1. what more can one say about a woman who participates in the SFWA Musketeers, enjoys watching The Three Stooges, and reads the letters of Jane Austen?

    Someone who is really cool, that's what you can say. :)