Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Feathered Edge: Moonlight and Martial Arts

I love the way each story in this anthology carries with it a history, not just of that particular tale itself but of the growth and comradeship of the author. So in order to talk about Dave Smeds's wonderful "A Swain of Kneaded Moonlight," I have to go back to how I first met him. We both had stories in the fourth volume of Sword & Sorceress (1987), edited by Marion Zimmer Bradley. (It's a marvelous volume, if I do say so, with stories by Mercedes Lackey, Jennifer Roberson, Charles de Lint, Diana L. Paxson and more, some of us just starting out our careers.) As an editor, Marion encouraged new writers and eventually a whole community of successful authors who'd made their first sales to her emerged. "Gullrider" wasn't Dave's first sale; he was already building a reputation as an up-and-coming fantasy writer with quite a few short fiction sales, a novel in print (The Sorcery Within) and another in publication when Sword & Sorcery IV came out.

"Gullrider" showed a number of characteristics I would grow to recognize as hallmarks of a Dave Smeds story - an original idea, carefully developed, meticulous attention to story craft, and a "heart" that stays with me long after I've put down the volume. At a time when the generic fantasy default was telepathic dragons, Dave took us soaring with sea birds and diving with mermen.

Various of us whose early sales were to Marion managed to hook up at conventions, this being before the internet made geographical separation irrelevant. I might have been introduced to Dave by Jennifer Roberson, another rising star I'd met through Marion, or perhaps we made our way to one another on our own. Dave and I discovered that we were not only writers of fantasy but martial artists. Dave's art was goju-ryu karate and today he is a senior black belt and instructor in that style. I'd met other writers who were also martial artists; it was like a secret underground, with the recognition of the discipline required, an appreciation of the balance of mind, body, and spirit. Not only that, most of us found our martial arts experiences sneaking into our fiction. This was certainly true for Dave!

The overlap of interests, the willingness to "talk shop," and the mutual respect for each other's achievements set the groundwork for a deeper professional relationship than merely one of having stories in the same anthology. Those early conversations were like threads that, woven together over time, formed a tapestry of community.

Dave's story, "A Swain of Kneaded Moonlight" arose from his questioning a time-worn trope: the damsel in distress in need of a rescue. Dave says, "the inspiration boils down to a simple observation that in situations where a male comes to the rescue of a damsel in distress, the damsel is usually playing a far more active role than the stereotype gives her credit for." Dave's stories can be gritty, romantic, action-packed, heart-breaking, but they are never predictable. This one's no exception.

Long ago, the story begins, silver dripped from a crescent moon. The drops fell upon the land and became the glimmering brides. They were magical women. The great men of long ago won them as consorts--whether by force, seduction, or contract--and sired children upon them.

The brides lingered in the known realms until their children were grown. When their mortal flesh had aged and its grip upon them loosened, they slipped away. Now they are the stars that wander in the skies.

Or so they say.

You can read the story either in The Feathered Edge or Raiding the Hoard of Enchantment, Dave's

short fiction collection from Book View Café.


  1. That was a wonderful post Ms Ross! It seems like magic to sit in my lounge after a hard session of Ju-jitsu, researching for my first real short story, to stumble across your amazing blog- and this post! I have had a secret love affair with the concept/act of true, selfless honour since I read Magician 20 years ago. To hear that greats like yourself and others also share such romantic ideal fills me with hope of writing something readable (I'm clutching at straws but I don't care, I read your post at the perfect moment in time and it sang to me). I have started your books today and look forward to reading them all. All the very best Sam

  2. Hello, Samuel - yes, there is a secret consortium of martial artists who also write sf and fantasy -- or maybe it's the other way around, writers who also do martial arts. Welcome to the fellowship!