Monday, December 31, 2018

Lace and Blade 5 Author Interviews: Anne Leonard

From lands distant or nearby, familiar or utterly strange, historical or imaginary, from ancient times to the Belle Époque comes a treasury of luscious, elegant, romantic fantasy. Come with us on a journey through time and across boundaries, inspired by the longings of the heart and the courage residing in even the meekest person.

The release date is Valentine's Day 2019, but you can pre-order it now:

Kindle: https://amzn.to/2
PBzyj6ePub: https://www.books2read.com/u/bwYJwP

I became acquainted with Anne Leonard through a serendipitous connection with a mutual writer friend and was delighted with her submission to this anthology.





Deborah J. Ross: Tell us a little about yourself.  How did you come to be a writer?
Anne Leonard: I started writing seriously when I was 14 and haven’t stopped (although there have been some hiatuses). I got an MFA in fiction and just kept chugging along. When I finally sold a novel, Moth and Spark, I was 44. I’ve always gravitated to novels as a form and have only become really serious about short fiction in the last few years. I’m driven by language - I love words, and bad prose will make me give up something I’m reading even if there’s an interesting plot. I read in many genres and try to learn from them all.

DJR: What inspired your story in Lace and Blade 5?
AL: “Fire Season” was originally started after a visit to Istanbul, because I wanted to write a story about a djinni. The original inspiration was pictures of California wildfires. I wrote it, submitted it a couple times, then let it sit. Then a California wildfire hit my community hard (a year later, people still don’t have their homes back), and I tore the story apart and started over with a greater sense of what fires really do. It was grimmer but much more authentic. By that time I knew more about how to write a short story, too, which was another impetus for revision.

DJR: What authors have most influenced your writing? 
AL: It’s a pretty endless list, because I am always paying attention to how other writers work. But most of the strongest influences are probably the authors I read as a kid and teen. I only recently realized just how much Ray Bradbury has shaped my work. Stephen King has been an influence for sure. As a fantasy novelist, I have been influenced by Tolkien and Le Guin. Shakespeare continues to be influential. [Joseph Conrad's] Heart of Darkness, problematic though it is, is a book I come back to pretty frequently. I sometimes read poetry to kick my mind into gear, and that’s whoever I’m in the mood for at the time.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Kitten Video 12-2-2018


We recently acquired a kitten from the local animal shelter. She's about 9 weeks old, and had one eye removed due to an injury. So of course her name is Freya, wife of Odin. (From all accounts, Freya was the ultimate party girl.) She's still settling in, isolated in my office. My daughter "The Kitten Whisperer" took this footage of me playing with her. This is the day after Freya arrived, so she's still a bit hand-shy. Since then she's become much more bold in initiating physical contact with her humans. Enjoy!



Friday, December 28, 2018

Short Book Reviews: The Plight of the Oceans Meets The Little Mermaid


The Oyster Thief, by Sonia Faruqi (Pegasus)


This new take on the classic mermaid love story (which classic? Pick any one, they’re all represented) strive hard to be fresh and charming. For the better part it succeeds, except for a couple of areas. The story pits ocean exploitation against a complex society of vegetarian merpeople who live on various forms of seaweed and have creatures like whale sharks and seahorses as “muses,” personal companions. The naming conventions are often whimsical, especially if you are reading with a dictionary in hand (or, like me, have a dictionary on your e-reader). Parallel plotlines – an apprentice apothecary engaged to the scion of one of the richest merpeople families and the adopted heir to Ocean Dominion, an inventor who’s devised a way for fire to burn underwater – weave together with mystery elements, betrayals and reversals and an ultimately satisfying ending.

The book is not without its shortcomings, however. It’s overlong for the weight of the plot, and many elements of personality, history, and world-building are repeated too many times. But more than that, the author displays a lack of trust in the reader’s perspicacity. Too many elements are first shown as the action unfolds, then told in a ham-handed way that left me feeling as if I were being bashed over the head. As an example, Izar is desperately insecure and eager to win his adoptive father’s approval. I got that from their first interaction. I didn’t need to read:
He would do anything, invent anything, even another moon, to win Anrares’s approval. 
“From the company’s very first days, I dreamt of one day plundering the oceans for precious metals and minerals.”
 [A. Who talks like that? B. Metals are the refined product of minerals, rarely occurring in pure form in a salt-water environment. The book is rife with violations of the principles of physics, chemistry, and biology.]

At the same time, to be fair, the prose occasionally rises above the pedestrian examples above:
Tears trickled from her eyes, water meeting water, salt meeting salt. [Let’s not consider how an aquatic species can weep or how anything can trickle when immersed in water.] or: 
He pursued clues, she pursued cures. He kept merpeople safe, she kept merpeople well. 
People died in the deep sea not of the darkness outside, but the darkness within.
Still, the book merits four stars for its inventiveness and charm. Sonia Faruqi is an author worth watching. I hope that future works from this author will benefit from critical editorial input.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Book View Cafe Boxing Day Sale



To celebrate the season—and the return of our website—Book View Café is holding a site-wide Boxing Week Sale from December 26 through January 1. Shop on those dates and receive 25% off all bookstore purchases. 

The coupon code, 25%BVCSALE, will be automatically applied to your purchase during check-out.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Merry Everything and Happy Always

To all my friends, of whatever faith or none, I send you heart-felt wishes for peace and joy, now and in the coming years. Whatever gives you comfort and inspires you, may you receive it in abundance.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Lace and Blade 5 Author Interview: Shariann Lewitt

From lands distant or nearby, familiar or utterly strange, historical or imaginary, from ancient times to the Belle Époque comes a treasury of luscious, elegant, romantic fantasy. Come with us on a journey through time and across boundaries, inspired by the longings of the heart and the courage residing in even the meekest person.

The release date is Valentine's Day 2019, but you can pre-order it now:

Kindle: https://amzn.to/2PBzyj6ePub: https://www.books2read.com/u/bwYJwP


I met Shariann Lewitt at LaunchPad Astronomy Workshop in 2011, and what a delight our friendship has been. She's also a heck of a good writer.




Deborah J. Ross: Tell us a little about yourself.  How did you come to be a writer?
Shariann Lewitt: I can’t think of when I thought I wasn’t going to be a writer!  But I loved too many different things, and I realized that I wasn’t going to earn a full time living writing fiction, so I planned to go to grad school in something Radically Different.  I only applied to one graduate writing program—Yale School of Drama.  I only knew of one other that carried that level of prestige in the country, and that was Iowa, and, being a born and raised Manhattanite, I had no idea where Iowa was (is?) or how I would get there.  Really, I only applied because I expected to be turned down, so I could go on with other things knowing that I didn’t have enough serious talent to pursue professional writing.  To the great shock and horror of all my relatives, I got in.  The graduate degree didn’t make me a writer, but it did make me employable as a teacher, which does pay an extremely modest rent.  Grad school was traumatic and genre fiction was my drug of choice to get through it.  In my final year I wrote my first novel as an escape project—and it got published.

DJR: What inspired your story in Lace and Blade 5?
SL: My father lived in Japan for several years when he was quite young, before he married my mother.  Since I was too young to remember I’d heard about how wonderful Japan is.  My father would take out his special box of treasures with his water colored picture of Fuji-san and curling white waves, his dark oiled wood chopsticks, his long silk tassel and little laughing Buddha.  He taught me Japanese children’s songs, to eat with chopsticks (as a very young child—my mother hated seeing me eat Lucky Charms with chopsticks and refuse to use a spoon.)  And of course, as I got older, I became fascinated with Japanese culture and history.

The basic idea for the story (which I won’t tell because it would be a spoiler) has been with me for a long time.  I wrote it once in the very beginning of my career as a short story and then abandoned it because short stories were very hard for me then.

Deborah’s invitation for this anthology came a few weeks after I had returned from a trip to Kyoto with an idea for a novel and a large package of research books on the Meiji rebellion.  Before this particular trip I had been more interested in the more distant past; the nineteenth century seemed far too modern for my taste.  And yet on that trip I learned a great deal that I had skipped over before because I had thought it too modern and was swimming in research on the particulars of the men—and women!—involved in breaking the Shogun’s death grip on the government.  The moment I read that invitation I knew I had to write this story.  I already knew Toshiro, who had been in my story decades earlier.

And then the whole story just revealed itself to me.  I wrote long form; short fiction is hard for me.  But this story came whole as a story, with the characters fully realized and the concept perfectly alive from the moment I began.  I have never had an experience writing a story like this one.  I was all the reasons I love to write, all the joy and wonder, and for two days I sat and wrote and pretty much ignored everything else in the world.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Short Book Reviews: A Shooter Takes Hostages at an Abortion Clinic


Jodi Picoult’s latest novel, A Spark of Light, tackles the abortion debate and pulls no punches. The story opens in Mississippi’s sole remaining abortion clinic, where a gunman has killed several people, including the clinic’s owner, gravely wounded several more, and is holding the rest – staff and patients – as hostages. The police negotiator is desperately trying to talk him down before the SWAT team takes control, and also to keep secret his discovery that his own daughter is inside. One of the hostages is an anti-abortion protester who’s gone undercover to try to obtain incriminating evidence of wrongdoing that will shut the clinic down. As if that weren’t dramatic enough, in another part of the state a teenaged girl has been charged with murder after a self-induced abortion through pills she’d bought on the internet.

All of this is explosive enough, but Picoult doesn’t simplify, preach, or condescend. Every one of her characters, from the shooter to the spy to the negotiator, to the critically injured doctor and intrepid nurses, to the girl who was at the clinic to get oral contraceptives to the elderly woman facing a terminal diagnosis, come across as people with their own histories, tragedies, and deeply held beliefs. More than that, Picoult leaves the reader to draw their own conclusions from a spectrum of sympathetic but ultimately incompatible agendas.

What happens next is even more challenging to the reader. Instead of moving forward chronologically, each successive section moves us back in time. We see the stage before the events we’ve just witnessed, and the stage before that, and so forth, until the day is ordinary, the work routine, beliefs are yet untested and courage untried. Poignantly, we see the people killed by the shooter as alive and vital. The final section draws together all the disparate threads to make the story whole.

For me, however, the most moving part of the book was the Author’s Note, where Picoult talks about her interviews with people all along the spectrum from opposing abortion under any circumstances to advocating for no restrictions whatever. She points out that a significant number of abortions are done for financial reasons, and offers suggestions for reducing the number by addressing that desperation. Raising the minimum wage and offering government-funded child care and universal health care would all make it financially more feasible to bear and raise children. Discouraging employers from firing or refusing to hire pregnant women is another approach.

Finally she writes,
Honestly, I do not believe we, as a society, will ever agree on this issue. The stakes are too high and both sides operate from places of unshakable belief. But I do think that the first step is to talk to each other – and more important, to listen. We may not see eye to eye, but we can respect each other’s opinions and find the truth in them. Perhaps in those honest conversations, instead of demonizing each other, we might see each other as imperfect humans, doing our best.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Today's Moment of Art



Cattle at Rest on a Hillside in the Alps, 1885, Rosa Bonheur

Monday, December 17, 2018

Lace and Blade 5 Author Interview: Marella Sands

From lands distant or nearby, familiar or utterly strange, historical or imaginary, from ancient times to the Belle Époque comes a treasury of luscious, elegant, romantic fantasy. Come with us on a journey through time and across boundaries, inspired by the longings of the heart and the courage residing in even the meekest person.

The release date is Valentine's Day 2019, but you can pre-order it now:

Kindle: https://amzn.to/2PBzyj6ePub: https://www.books2read.com/u/bwYJwP


Here I chat with Marella Sands about her story, "Spire Witch," and a bunch of other stuff.





Deborah J. Ross: Tell us a little about yourself.  How did you come to be a writer?
Marella Sands: My fourth grade teacher made us write a story every day. After that, I never really stopped, although it didn't occur to me until I was graduating from college that someone might actually pay me to write. From then on, I tried to figure out how to write at a publishable level.

DJR:
What inspired your story in Lace and Blade 5?
MS: That's a little tough. The original idea was very different, about an apprentice priestess who was learning how to properly inter the dead of the city, but I never could figure out a plot to go with that character. After several failed drafts, the character changed into a runaway rich girl who merely prayed over the dead and dying, and the story became “Spire Witch.”

DJR:
What authors have most influenced your writing?
MS: I'd have to credit my writers group for that. Up until I met them, I hadn't really encountered people in real life who could help train me to be a better writer. As for reading, I grew up consuming vast amounts of fantasy. My father had an extensive SF collection so there were always novels around the house and piling up on shelves. So...I grew up in the milieu and loved to read, but when it came time to writing, it really helped to have people who could show me the ropes.

DJR: What advice would you give an aspiring writer?
MS: It's more work than you can possibly imagine, so be sure it's something that really calls to you. 

DJR: Any thoughts on the Lace and Blade series or this being its final volume?
MS: This is the final volume? Too bad - there are so few places to try to sell one's work. Thanks for the sales :)


Marella Sands writes that she likes to travel, and in 2018 was able to do some fun things like watch a village cricket match in Cerne Abbas, Dorset; search the Jurassic Coast for fossils; visit the Phallological Museum in Reykjavik; and stand in the crack between the Eurasian plate and the North American plate in Thingvellir National Park, Iceland. She, like most writers, has more writing projects on her desk than are really good for her sanity.


Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Today's Moment of Art



A Clump of Trees (c. 1860), Constant Troyon (1810-1865)

Monday, December 10, 2018

Lace and Blade 5 Author Interview: Harry Turtledove

From lands distant or nearby, familiar or utterly strange, historical or imaginary, from ancient times to the Belle Époque comes a treasury of luscious, elegant, romantic fantasy. Come with us on a journey through time and across boundaries, inspired by the longings of the heart and the courage residing in even the meekest person.

The release date is Valentine's Day 2019, but you can pre-order it now:



With typical modesty and succinctness, Harry Turtledove responded to my questions as follows:



Deborah J. Ross: Tell us a little about yourself.  How did you come to be a writer?
Harry Turtledove: I wrote.  Eventually, people started buying stuff.  It was more enjoyable than working in Dilbertland, so I kept at it.

DJR: What inspired your story in Lace and Blade 5?
HT: I was thinking about correspondences between lands and sovereigns. Once I had the idea of both going wrong at the same time, the story came pretty easily.

DJR: What authors have most influenced your writing?
HT: L. Sprague de Camp and Poul Anderson.

DJR: What’s the most memorable fan mail you’ve ever received?
HT: There was the fellow named "Thorstein" (I'm changing it) who complained that no one named Thorstein was ever a heroic figure.  I have thus far resisted the impulse to name a child-molesting axe murderer Thorstein, but I still may yield to it one day.

DJR: How does your writing process work?
HT: I do first drafts in longhand, which saves me a lot of rewriting. Then I clean things up on the computer and submit.

DJR: What have you written recently? What lies ahead?
HT: I just sold a novelette about evolved dinosaurs to ANALOG, and have another under submission there. I'm also working on a new Hellenistic historical after a long hiatus.

DJR: What advice would you give an aspiring writer?
HT: Write. Finish. Submit. Keep submitting. Keep doing all that stuff. It's how you learn your licks.

DJR: Any thoughts on the Lace and Blade series or this being its final volume?
HT: The series has been highly enjoyable.  I wish there were more.



Harry Turtledove says he is an escaped Byzantine historian. He has made a poor but none too honest living writing fantasy, science fiction, and, when he can get away with it, historical fiction. Being named “The Master of Alternative History” by Publisher’s Weekly has not impacted his modesty in the least. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife — fellow writer Laura Frankos (who is equally but differently delightful) — and three overprivileged cats.  Three daughters and two granddaughters round out the brood.  If you like, he can annoy you on Twitter @HNTurtledove.

I should add that he's very tall. Or I'm very short.


Friday, December 7, 2018

[personal] My Love/Hate Relationship with Chanukah


For the past decade or so, whether Chanukah falls in early December or overlaps Christmas, I have wrestled with the meaning of the holiday. I grew up in a devoutly secular Jewish family, although my father used to tell us stories of the holidays. It wasn’t until I had children of my own that observing Jewish customs became important to me. Their father, my first husband, came from a family that celebrated Christmas as a paean to overconsumption, an amalgam of showering each other with cheap gifts and gorging on indigestible food while sniping at one another. In our own home, however, we would have a modest tree, a modest meal, and presents that had something to do with the interests of the recipients.

So where did Chanukah fit it? For one thing, when my kids came along I decided not to compete with Christmas. No big gatherings. No tinsel. No horribly unhealthy meals. And no presents. Instead, we turned off the tv, and gathered around to light the candles and stumble through reading the blessings. We’d play dreidel using Chanukah gelt (foil-wrapped chocolate coins) and take turns reading aloud from a collection of funny children’s Chanukah books. The hands-down favorite was Eric Kimmel’s Herschel and the Hanukkah Goblins, although his The Chanukkah Guest came a close second. One of the appeals of Herschel was the way the dialog of the goblins lent itself to silly voices as Herschel outwitted them one by one. Needless to say, the kids loved reading together and playing games as a family. Years later, they told me that they didn’t want to give the impression they didn’t like getting presents for Christmas but they liked Chanukah better.

As the kids grew up, and I divorced and later remarried, I found myself re-evaluating the holiday. I hadn’t celebrated it as a child and I no longer had children to delight. By this time, my own Jewish identity had become increasingly important to me. What did this holiday mean, beyond a way of enjoying the winter in a non-specifically-Christian way?

I started reading the story behind Chanukah, and that’s when my troubles started.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Monday, December 3, 2018

Sword and Sorceress 33 Author Interviews: Dave Smeds


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?

Dave Smeds: I loved fiction from an early age. I was particularly drawn to stories of imaginary worlds, or at least by settings that were in effect imaginary, such as Mars as depicted by Edgar Rice Burroughs. At age fifteen, it occurred to me I might be able to write a short story or two. I did that. The result was crap, of course, but every time I did another story or fragment of a novel, I could see how to improve. (It was, as you might imagine, REALLY OBVIOUS how I could improve.) I felt driven to eventually write something at a level I'd want to read if someone else had written it.

DJR: What inspired your story in Sword and Sorceress 33?
DS: Six years ago, when pondering what I would write for Sword and Sorceress 27, I decided it was the right time to initiate a story sequence. A number of S&S contributors have resorted to the series format. I had not done so, other than my gullrider tales in S&S 4 and S&S 5. In my teens I very much enjoyed the Conan stories. Part of the joy of those -- speaking now of Howard’s original eighteen tales, not of the scads of pastiches that have been added to the canon over the seventy years -- is that he skipped around, presenting views of his character at various stages of life, in all sorts of settings. I also greatly appreciated the economy and focus of a sequence made up of short-fiction installments. It’s so much work to devour a series made up of four or six or eight novels, but four or six or eight short stories? Great from an author perspective, and hopefully great from a reader perspective as well. Somehow the image of my characters making a getaway on a flying carpet came to me, and that led to the first outing of my characters Coil and Azure. I like coming up with original worlds too much to limit my S&S contributions to nothing but Coil and Azure stories, but I had not featured them since S&S 29 and I missed them, so here we go for at least one more time with “The Citadel in the Ice.” At this point I have no idea how soon I’ll do another installment. I promised myself to do them only when the muse is really nagging me.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Short Book Reviews: Bram Stoker and the Raiders of Ancient Egypt

The Night Crossing, by Robert Masello (47North)

Loosely falling into the category of historical urban fantasy, this delicious tale places Bram Stoker, author of Dracula, center-stage. Literally, since Stoker ran the theater that featured Henry Irving, the first actor to be knighted. And figuratively, since this is essentially Bram’s adventure. In the 19th Century, “Egyptomania,” enthusiasm for all things ancient Egyptian, swept Western Europe. Ordinary travelers as well as serious scholars pillaged archaeological sites looking for treasure and curiosities, which they of course brought back to England. Never mind the damage done by amateurs to the archaeological sites. To be sure, some artifacts ended up with serious collectors who cared about provenance and preservation. Accounts relate “mummy unwrapping parties.” People apparently considered a fine way to pass an evening with port wine and removing the coverings of a mummy, searching for small articles folded in the bandages, which were then distributed as trinkets. (Some scholars now dispute these accounts, although not those of scholars holding similar public events.)

In the world of urban historical fantasy, Egyptian burial practices involve supernatural elements, including the ability to prolong life and reanimate the dead. Bram, searching for a high-concept premise to launch his literary career from obscurity into best-seller territory, takes notice when he runs afoul of a brother and sister duo who are using Egyptian magic to do just that.

Enter (Minerva) Mina Harcourt, intrepid Anglo-Romany adventurer, her century’s female Indiana Jones. While investigating the monumentally huge Carpathian sphinx (there really is such a thing), she comes into possession of a mysterious golden box (see the cover image). Enter also Lucinda Watts, a timid young woman who works in a match factory (owned by the brother of the above-referenced nefarious pair), suffers from phossy jaw (formally known as phosphorus necrosis of the jaw, from the white phosphorus used in match manufacture) and is the mother of an illegitimate son (the brother being a rapist, as well) who dies when the evil duo suck out his soul. (That’s an approximate summation of the process, which is actually more than a bit more complex.)

Before long, Bram and Mina are on the hunt not only for the Egyptian immortality thieves but the origin of her golden box and the shadows that mysterious escape from it. The mash-up of historical setting and real personages, the fictional inspirations for Stoker’s Dracula, and the dramatic twists and turns make this a delicious and occasionally shiver-producing thriller. The narrative style, rich in detail, atmosphere, and well-drawn personalities, kept me turning pages even through the parts of slower action. The variation in pace allowed for context, nuance, and emotional resonance, making The Night Crossing more than just a “fun read.” I’ll be on the lookout for more from this sensitive, skillful writer.

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

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Monday, November 26, 2018

Sword and Sorceress 33 Author Interview: Marella Sands


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.




Marella has a multitude of pets who are slowing destroying her carpeting but are too cute to be angry with. When she is not feeding the furry bottomless pits or taking them to the vet, she is more-or-less methodically making her way through her Netflix watchlist. Currently, she is watching The Great Interior Design Challenge, which has proven to her that she has absolutely no ambition to become an interior designer. This is her second story in Sword and Sorceress; the previous story, “Tortoise Weeps,” was in Sword and Sorceress XIII.

Deborah J. Ross: What have you written recently?
Marella Sands: I'm finishing up revisions on an alternate history novel with a tangled real-life backstory. I belong to a writers group called the Alternate Historians, none of whom write alternate history. The name was chosen in the early days of the group, and the people who voted for the name left soon after, so the group name has never matched what anyone in the group actually writes. Another member (Mark Sumner) and I decided to change that around 1994, because Mark wanted to produce a cable-access show that would be a fantasy/alternate history. We wrote a script, but by the time we finished it, the cable-access idea had faded, and we tried to market it through our agent instead. That didn't work out, so the script was mothballed. Then, in 2017, I was asked if I'd like to submit an alternate history novel to a small press, and so the idea was un-mothballed. Mark wasn't interested in pursuing the project, but gave me his blessing, so I've been working on that. A few more scene changes and it should be ready to go. Hopefully, it will be what the editor is looking for!

DJR: What lies ahead?
MS: Like many writers, I have too many projects that I want to get to. I want to take another

look at a novel I wrote ten years ago that got glowing rejections. There are more short stories that want to get told, and I am still trying to get back to my series of novellas about a bartender caught up in a war between fallen angels. I wanted to have six or seven of those done by now, but short stories like the one in this anthology, and the alternate history novel, have meant I am only on the third at this point.


Friday, November 23, 2018

Darkover Novel News



For those of you who like to follow such things, I've begun work on the next Darkover novel, Arilinn, about the founding of that Tower. I've been fleshing out the outline, and am about to begin writing the text itself. Go, me! Stay tuned for updates. If you'd like a sneak peek now and again, subscribe to my newsletter here.

Short Book Reviews: Vampires and Ogres and Were-Dragons, Oh My!

Shadow's Bane, by Karen Chance (Berkley)

Elsewhere I have written about the challenges of picking up a book in the middle of a series, and it’s worth repeating here:

 “Series” can mean a number of things, from stand-alone complete-in-themselves novels set in the same universe to one long story that extends over several volumes. Recently I listened to an interview with Peter Jackson in which he discussed the decision to not put a recap at the beginning of The Two Towers, the second part of The Lord of the Rings. He felt that one year between film was a short enough time for viewers (those few not intimately familiar with the books) to remember and anyone who went to see it without having seen or read The Fellowship of the Ring, oh well… I admit to not being as careful as I might about checking to see if a book is a sequel, so I rely on the skill of the author to furnish necessary backstory without inundating me with it, and to draw me into the story so that even if I have to work a little harder to figure out what has gone before, I’m already hooked. 

I began Shadow’s Bane without realizing it was “yet another adventure” in a series. To the ultimate credit of the author, for most of the book, I honestly could not tell if there was separate backstory (previous volumes) or if this was a brilliantly executed, complex novel that wove in aforementioned backstory, world-building, and characters, all while sweeping me up in a dramatic, action-driven plot.

The world is fascinating, multi-layered, and rich in its own history. Vampires exist, as do dhampirs (vampire-human hybrids, heartily loathed by both parent races), ogres, fae, mermaids, were-creatures, and magicians. Relations between the various races are uneasy at best and impossible to summarize here. Our heroine, Dory/Dorina, in addition to being dhampir, suffers from split personality that’s the result of her (vampire) father attempting to save her from her worser (waaaay worser) nature. So there’s a nice internal conflict, as well as rather spicy romance with a master vampire, a sweet friendship with a human woman who has (a) given birth to the heir to a fairy kingdom; (b) turns out to be a were-dragon, so don’t get her pissed, and various other friendships and enemyships.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Today's Moment of Art




Old Street, Bologna, by Melbourne Havelock Hardwick (1857 – 1916)

Monday, November 19, 2018

Sword and Sorceress 33 Author Interviews: Deirdre M. Murphy


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?
Deirdre M. Murphy: When I was a kid, I felt like books were my best friends.  They brought me a lot of joy and led, in the end, to me being less lonely in real life and finding human friends who understood me.  I wanted to be one of the storytellers, to give those gifts forward, in part, and to, in a sense, play with the storytellers I’d admired for so long, whether or not I got to meet them in person.

DJR: What inspired your story in Sword and Sorceress 33?
DMM: A panel at a science fiction convention.  We were discussing monsters as metaphor, and there was one pretty obvious metaphor that hadn’t been used much, which combined with the thought that dysfunctional behaviors are often functional behaviors done wrong, or occasionally the function is just misunderstood.

DJR: What authors have most influenced your writing?  What about them do you find inspiring?
DMM: This question is too big for a short interview!  I love stories that surprise me, that make me think, that give me a window into a different world or into understanding people who are unlike me in some fundamental way. 

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.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

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

Today's Moment of Art



Figure in a Rowboat, by Albertus Del Orient Browere (1814 – 1887)

Monday, November 5, 2018

Sword and Sorceress 33 Author Interviews: Jennifer Linnea


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: How does your writing process work?
Jennifer Linnea: I have a day job, so I write for a few hours every morning before work. Sometimes I write in coffee shops, alone or with other writers, but most of the time I write in my home office. It’s a tiny room decorated with images from stories that have inspired me throughout my life – Jim Henson’s Labyrinth and Dark Crystal, R.A. Salvatore’s Drizzt novels, and Star Wars, to name a few. I also keep a shelf with my favorite speculative fiction novels, and another with books about writing. Everything else is pretty loose: some days I compose on a computer, other times I write longhand; sometimes I start with a writing exercise or journalling, sometimes I jump right in. But there’s always tea. Lots of tea in iron teapots and gaiwans and mugs with tigers on them. And once in a while, if I’m trying to finish a project, I set aside an entire day. Days spent writing are some of my favorite days. 

DJR: What advice would you give an aspiring writer? 
JL: Find people who can critique your work, and whose work you can critique. If the critiques all say the same thing – listen! Then rewrite. It will make your writing better, and help you self-correct in time. As a beginning writer, I thought a story had to be working in the first draft or it was a failure, but that’s not true. Rewriting critiqued manuscripts and helping other writers improve theirs was how I went from aspiring writer to published writer. (Incidentally, “The Secret Army” was critiqued by about six people and then rewritten into the draft I submitted to Sword and Sorceress.)

Friday, November 2, 2018

Short Book Reviews: When World-Building Isn't Enough

Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee is the third and last volume of the trilogy, “Machineries of Empire,” that began with Ninefox Gambit and Raven Stratagem. I absolutely loved the first two books with the concept of a space-faring empire based on a mathematically derived calendar. It tickled my geeky self that to see mathematicians highly valued in a society. It struck me as weird and wonderful that a revolution could happen through the means of instituting a new calendar. In this universe exotic effects make space flight and many other things — including immortality — possible, and these effects are in turn the result of the way human beings conceptualize time. (Of course everyone is not on the same page about which calendar is the correct one.) I loved the way this creative intersection of mathematics and physics and culture interacted with the tendency of humans to form armies on opposing sides. I was intrigued, if sometimes a bit appalled, by the Immolation Fox, Shuos Jedao, a brilliant general who committed unspeakable atrocities many hundreds of years ago and whose physical remains are incarcerated in something called a black cradle but whose mind now occupies the body of a fairly ordinary woman in the soldier caste.

“Which one are you?” it asked Jedao-Cheris-whoever.

“Whoever I need to be,” Jedao-Cheris-whoever said. Their eyes were sad. “I used to be one person. I was a Kel. Now I have fragments of a dead man in my head.”

Revenant Gun begins with Jedao awakening in a body much older than his self-perceived age and quite ignorant of recent history, as well as all the things that he supposedly knows about military strategy. To my disappointment I found that the magic had gone out of the story arc. The gimmick of space flight by via calendrical manipulation had lost its luster, and the characters and their interactions seemed artificial and forced. There is one extremely nifty revelation about halfway through the book, which I won't say reveal because it’s a major spoiler. Suffice it to say that even though I found this on a par with the wacky and delightful inventiveness of the world-building in the first two books, it was not enough to sustain my interest through this climactic volume. I really wanted to see the revelation played out in all its consequences and implications, and was sadly disappointed.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Scrub Jay Cuteness




Scrub jays, despite the humdrum name, are wonderful birds, smart, fearless, and opinionated. Plus, beautiful blue plumage. My older daughter, an avid bird-watcher, caught this fine fellow in our back yard.




Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Autumn 2018 Newsletter

Deborah's Autumn 2018 Newsletter (from the redwoods)

(to view or subscribe, go here:

It’s a beautiful autumn here in the redwoods, a time of reflection and appreciation for the richness of life. (This is a longish letter, so look for the three dots on the lower left that mean [More].)


Publishing News

I’ve begun the process of bringing out print editions of my short fiction collections, previously available only as ebooks.

With my usual trepidation, I set up an account, carefully noted the code for the discount, and uploaded the files. To my dismay, I got a series of error messages in red letters. The result was overwhelming paralysis. It was hard enough to get this far and make all these check-the-box decisions, but then to be told the this or the that didn’t meet their requirements and the results would be dreadful, was more than I could cope with. I saved the draft, signed off, and binge-watched Grey’s Anatomy for the evening. The next day I returned to the fray, determined to “do science” and investigate just what they meant by “inferior results.” I ordered a proof copy.

 







The proof arrived promptly. All the aspects the website got so upset about turned out just as polished and crisp as anything out of a traditional publisher. The interior in particular is elegant and easy to read. With the matte cover finish, the book has an exquisite “hand feel.”

Plus…I did it myself. Well, with a lot of help from my friends, which is why you’ll see the BVC logo on cover and interior. Plus…you can order it through your favorite bookstore as well as online vendors. Or here, through the BVC links. Isn’t that nifty?

Over the next months, moving at the speed of volunteers, I plan to release print editions of my other collections. I have some exciting brand-new projects in the works, too, and those will come out in print and electronic editions simultaneously.

Read more about my adventure here.

A Few Thoughts on Technology and Transitions


In my personal life, my younger daughter graduated from medical school in May, which occasioned a cross-country trip for the rest of the family to celebrate with her. She’s begun her residency in Family Medicine at a (more or less) local hospital but has warned me that I likely won’t see her for the next 3 years. It’s always amazing and heartening how much inspiration we can draw from the next generation, whether they are our own children or someone else’s. My daughter dragged me, kicking and screaming, into the world of social media, into getting my first stupidphone, and into video chatting (during her medical school years). Now these technologies are part of my everyday and work life. I think it’s good to keep learning new things, to use our minds and bodies in different ways. One of the challenges of these new computer-based technologies is that they require us to use different methods of thought. The transition, for example, from keyboard-based word processing programs (like WordStar for DOS, the one I first used) to graphics-based (Windows) programs entailed a different logic and hand coordination. And both of them are a far cry from the old typewriter.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Sword and Sorceress 33 Author Interviews: Pauline J. Alama


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?
Pauline J. Alama: I had great teachers.  My second-grade teacher, Mrs. Dorothy Mutch, assigned a lot of creative writing, which led me to the life-changing discovery that writing stories was like playing pretend, except better, because I got to keep my pretend game, show it to other people, sometimes even see it light them up the way it lit me up to create it. What could be better than that?

DJR: What inspired your story in Sword and Sorceress 33?
PJA: I love the ocean, so I decided that was where my sword-and-sorcery buddies Ursula and Isabeau should go next. I think I also had in mind a poem by James Joyce that I sort of vaguely remembered, “I Hear an Army,” with images of riders coming up out of the sea. Now I look back at the poem and I think I may have misunderstood it as well as misremembering it, but that’s all right: I gathered what I needed from it, like a bee from a flower. Sometimes only half-remembering a source is best for creativity. The landscape of the story is partly Rhode Island, where I spent some time musing over different forms of seaweed, and partly Normandy, where I visited Arromanches, one of the D-Day beaches, walking barefoot in the sand beside my history teacher husband, listening to him talk about a very different sort of army coming out of the sea.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

CITADELS OF DARKOVER Table of Contents



I've completed the lineup for the next Darkover anthology, Citadels of Darkover, and here it is, a banquet of delicious stories featuring fortresses of the heart as well as those constructed of stone. Release date is next May, but I'll be posting author interviews and the cover reveal as we go along.


DANCING LESSONS
By Evey Brett
SACRIFICE
By Steven Harper
BANSHEE CRY
By Marella Sands
THE KATANA MATRIX
By Lillian Csernica
SIEGE
By Diana L. Paxson
SEA-CASTLE
By Leslie Fish
FIRE STORM
By Jane M. H. Bigelow
THE DRAGON HUNTER
By Robin Rowland
FISH NOR FOWL
By Rebecca Fox
DARK AS DAWN
By Robin Wayne Bailey
CITADEL OF FEAR
By Barb Caffrey
THE JUDGMENT OF WIDOWS
By Shariann Lewitt