Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Feathered Edge essays: History and Feathers

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. Here goes...

This is the first in a series of blog posts about the stories in my new anthology, The Feathered Edge.  Due to a brainflub on my part, it didn't get posted on time. But we're lovers of fantasy and science fiction, so what's a little temporal flip-flop among friends? Here it is!

I love how communities are built and how people are linked. So, in the wonderfully organic network of writers who meet one another across vast distances, I can't talk about "Featherweight" and Kari Sperring without telling the tale of SFWA and its Circulating Book Plan.

The idea is that publishers send review copies to garner Nebula nominations, and boxes of books make their way to participating SFWA members according to an arcane circulating route. Some years ago, this migratory library included a book called Bridge of Dreams by some fellow I'd never heard of, Chaz Brenchley. I try every book that isn't obviously war porn for a few pages, so I opened it...and was lost at the first sentence. It grabbed me, poetry neurons and curiosity and romanticism all in one fell swoop, and didn't let go for 400 pages or however long it was.

Shortly thereafter, I found myself with the delightful prospect of editing my first anthology, Lace and Blade. Because the publisher wanted a Valentine's Day release, she agreed to let me do it by invitation. So I sent Chaz an email. The rest, as they say, was history. I not only received a wonderful story ("In The Night Street Baths," reprinted in Wilde Stories 2009), but made a valued friend.

Through Chaz, I made the online acquaintance of Kari Sperring, a charming and articulate British writer whose first novel, Living With Ghosts, would soon be released (and from my own publisher, making her a fellow DAWthor). Kari's a trained historian and knows about things like ancient Welsh (which I believe she speaks) and Viking history. She's also a fellow cat lover and the owner of an amazing collection of elegant skirts. When I learned that her childhood ambition had been to join the Musketeers, I knew we were kindred spirits. However, friendship is one thing and editorial selection is another.

Living With Ghosts won the Sydney J Bounds Award for a first novel, which is administered by the British Fantasy Society. Her first novel. It's luscious and edgy and romantic and sad. Oh my, can this woman write! So she went on my short list for the next anthology, which by this time would be #3. I had no idea if she wrote short fiction, but I asked her anyway. She sent me "Featherweight." I read,

After the alchemical queen died, she turned into feathers. In life, she had been whipcord and lemons, yet in death she came apart in peace. Her peace--her pieces--floated out into the city she had guarded so long...

One of the deepest pleasures of editing is getting to indulge my own taste, to carefully attend to what strikes such inner chords as to fill me with music. Delightful as it was to read Living With Ghosts, I made my way through "Featherweight" thinking, I asked for this story. She wrote it on my invitation. The feeling is akin to discovering you have acted as midwife to something glorious.

The anthology needed a title and a focus. I thought about romantic, swashbuckling fantasy, and about poetry and heroic quests and the beauty of language, how stories take us beyond ourselves on journeys...where? I kept coming back to this one as a touchstone, the image of feathers drifting through a city and transforming lives. Feathers...dreams...tall tales and myths and bardic chants and sonnets...together they create a very special place in the imagination, neither reality nor dream, but filled with the language of the heart.

The Feathered Edge.

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