Friday, July 20, 2018

Short Book Reviews: A Welsh Legend in Chicago


Rough Justice, by Kelley Armstrong (Subterranean Press)

Continuing stories that center on the same cast of characters, advancing their relationships yet complete in themselves, face a number of hurdles. Whether linked short stories, novellas in this case, or entire novels, they must furnish enough backstory and setting to orient the reader. The first episode is in many ways the easiest; everything is new, nothing taken for granted. Often the protagonist explores the world via the plot, taking the reader along. In subsequent stories, the task requires progressively higher levels of finesse to give the reader the necessary history and detail in a smooth, unobtrusive fashion without interrupting the dynamic flow of action. Too much information will becalm the reader in a Sargasso Sea of exposition; too little creates disorientation and puzzlement.

At the same time, each story must stand on its own in terms of plot: inciting event, reversal, tension building to a resolution, and so forth. Not all ends need to be neatly tied up, but the reader should finish with a sense of satisfaction.

Rough Justice succeeds to a greater or less degree in these areas. Two concepts drive the story: a set of characters, avatars of ancient Welsh figures, who lead the Hunt, giant black red-eyed hounds and all, while wrestling with their previous incarnations and present lives (an attorney, a PI, and an ex-biker, all living just outside present day Chicago); and a very nifty murder mystery, complete with twisty turns, devious motives, and red herrings. PI Olivia (“Mathilda of the Hunt”) is on the brink of ordering the deadly finale to her first Hunt when her qualms allow the condemned man to escape. The Huntsmen claim to have an infallible supernatural method of determining guilt according to their “rough justice,” but Olivia isn’t convinced. She and her lover, attorney Gabriel (Gwynn in the old story) investigate what turns into a double murder/coverup/setup. That part is sneaky enough to please anyone who loves a puzzle.

The problems arise with the way the ancient Welsh myths play out in the lives of Olivia, Gabriel, and Ricky (Arawn). There’s an enormous amount of backstory and lore including how these three learned of their past lives, their roles in the Hunt, history and rules for same, the romantic triangle between Mathilda, Gwynn, and Arawn and how it relates to Olivia, Gabriel, and Ricky (or not). Plus the personal stories, relationships, and dark secrets of the three modern characters. This is where Rough Justice succeeds less well.

A certain amount of this setting and history is of course necessary but much more is presented in ways that paralyze the forward momentum of the pot. Although the story opens with the dramatic Hunt, it’s soon bogged down in backstory and long discussions of why the head Huntsman would set newbie Olivia up with a questionable verdict (and the question of whether the Huntsman is manipulating Olivia is never resolved).

On the other hand, Gabriel’s abusive, now-senile mother is being cared for by two women whose roles and relationships were never clear to me – family, professional caregivers, or fae guardians who strangely know little of Gabriel’s childhood? Therein lies the problem of trying to develop novel-length subplots in novella-sized chunks while reiterating everything that has gone before.

The setting and characters are intriguing enough to interest me in searching out the earlier installments of “Cainsville Tales” and certainly looking out for newer ones, especially if they contain similarly fascinating mysteries, but I can’t help thinking this tale would work better as a single-volume novel.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Short Book Reviews: Definitely Not "The Princess Bride"


Kill the Farm Boy, by Kevine Hearne and Delilah S. Dawson, Del Rey

These days I’m on a Kevin Hearne reading spree (see my reviews of A Plague of Giants and The Squirrel on the Train) so I dove into Kill the Farm Boy, discovering to my delight that Hearne’s co-author, Delilah S. Dawson, is none other than another of my recent favorites, as Lila Bowen author of the excellent “The Shadow” series. Delight rapidly gave way to hilarity as this story unfolded, tackling one fantasy trope after another, turning them on their heads and planting petunias between their toes.

The titular farm boy is Worstley, younger brother of Bestley, who had been stabbed in the heart by Lord Ergot (if you don’t know what ergot is, pause now and look it up) for being too handsome. When a malicious pixie named Staph (aureus?) casts a spell to change Worstley into the Chosen One (and gives Gustave the goat the ability to speak, which he does in smart-ass style), it does not set well with The Dark Lord Toby (whose most powerful spell causes baked goods to rain from the sky). Opposing The Dark Lord Toby’s nefarious, yeastly plans are Fia, a 7-foot tall barbarian warrior, and her sweetheart, Argabella, a woman enchanted to be a half-rabbit, who incidentally is the world’s worst bard:
She … sang an improvised song of obfuscation:
We are not food
No sir Mister Monster
We taste super bad
Oh gods we are not food
Really really really
You gotta believe me
It’s hard to beat that.

The silliness isn’t restricted to spooks of characters from pose, verse, and film (although familiarity with J. R. R. Tolkien, Lewis Carroll, The Princess Bride, The Wizard of Oz, Grimm’s fairytales, Conan the Barbarian, and Norse mythology, to name a few, enhances the humor).

I found that I couldn’t read too many chapters at a sitting, but the play of tropes, not to mention the puns, kept me coming back for another fun visit to the Lands of Pell.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Update on The Laran Gambit



I just finished the first draft of The Laran Gambit, the next Darkover novel. Whew! Now to take a little time off to play and then dive into re-reading it and the first revision (which will include making sure the characters' names and eye colors are consistent, that the same conversation doesn't occur 12 times in as many chapters, that there aren't too many plot idiocies and so forth).

I am majorly proud of myself at the moment.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Short Book Reviews: More Steampunk Airship Adventures


By Fire Above, by Robyn Bemis, Tor

In this sequel to The Guns Above, Robyn Bemis continues the steampunk adventures of a woman airship captain.  Once again, Josette Dupree, captain of His Majesty’s Signal Airship Mistral, along with her intrepid crew and not-so-intrepid supercargo, aristocrat Lord Bernat Hinkal, have been given an impossible mission: with glamorous but woefully inadequate repairs to the airship, she is to play a largely ceremonial role at the capital city. None of the real damage the airship sustained in the last batter has been repaired, including the “steamjack” engines. The bags are filled not with expensive, inert luftgas but explosive “flammable air,” a very bad combination with an engine apt to throw off sparks. Needless to say, Josette is unprepared for the courtly intrigues into which she is suddenly propelled (and with which Bernat, who grew up in such a milieu, is happy to reverse roles and become her guide). In the air, conducting a battle in three dimensions, Josette is as cunning as she is courageous. But thrown into the viper’s nest of courtiers or forced to face her own romantic feelings for Bernat’s brother, she finds herself all too fallible.

Josette has no intention of becoming a trophy hero and soon maneuvers to lead a mission to free the border state where her estranged mother (and Bernat’s lover) lives. From there, one mishap after another balloons (excuse the pun) into disaster.

As in the first adventure, I was impressed by the detailed construction of the airships, as well as the scientific (hooray for physics and chemistry!), mathematical, and engineering principles involved, as well as the strategies when battles are fought in three dimensions (up/down as well as side/side and forward/backward). The action sequences were breathtaking. My reservation, as before, pertains to the creation of a political geography so akin to Western Europe that it made no sense to not use the actual nationalities and thereby avoid reader confusion with made-up names and cultures. That reservation aside, I heartily recommend the series and hope to see more Josette’s unfolding stories (and I expect to see her, like Horatio Hornblower, become admiral one day).

Friday, June 29, 2018

Short Book Reviews: Amusement Park Urban Fantasy


Tricks for Free by Seanan McGuire (DAW)

Seanan McGuire’s “InCryptid” series just keeps getting better, her world-building more detailed, and her characters growing and changing as they struggle against inner as well as outer demons. Antimony Price comes from a family of cryptozoologists, dedicated to the study, protection, and sometimes containment of “incryptids,” creatures like Bigfoot, but who live disguised as humans. The last episode, Magic for Nothing, sent Antimony undercover, infiltrating the Covenant of St. George (yes, the  dragonslayer), whose aim is the destruction of all incryptids, no matter how benign. While in disguise and investigating a traveling carnival, she met Sam, a trapeze artist whose natural form resembles a graceful simian. Sparrow Hill Road, a related novel, introduced us to the world of road ghosts, crossroads bargains, and route-witches, many of which play crucial roles in this new novel.

Now, at the beginning of Tricks for Free, Antimony is on the run from the Covenant and hiding from her family. As she says:

I never wanted my life to be a wacky sitcom about a human girl and her inhuman roommates struggling to get by at what many people consider to be the second-happiest place in the world.

She’s taken a job working for Lowryland, a not-quite-second-rate Disneyland. Sharing an employer-provided apartment are her friends Fern (a sylf capable of altering her physical density), who enacts one of the many Fairyland princesses, and Megan, a (Pliny’s) gorgon, who in real life is a medical resident. In between the byzantine company politics, trying to stay off the Covenant’s radar and also to not burn down the theme park with her increasingly erratic ability to set fires, Antimony unearths a secret cabal of witches and sorcerers bent upon harvesting the good luck of the patrons to boost their own power. Things go awry as one terribly unlucky accident leads to another. Then Sam shows up, as well as various ghostly aunts, and the plot races right along.

McGuire writes complex, interconnected series in which every (or almost every) volume stands on its own, fast-paced, absorbing, and satisfying. She weaves in backstory and setting with such a deft touch that the reader is neither baffled nor inundated by chunks of indigestible exposition. Although I had read Magic for Nothing and Sparrow Hill Road fairly recently and enjoyed the references, I think Tricks for Free would work just as well as an introduction. So even if you’re new to the delights of the InCryptid and road ghost worlds, dive right in for a great read.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Sword and Sorceress 33 Table of Contents

This year I've joined Elisabeth Waters in editing the newest volume of Sword and Sorceress (#33, which will be released in November). The anthology, which contains some amazing stories, is now complete and here's your first sneak peek -- the lineup! 




SWORD AND SORCERESS 33 TABLE OF CONTENTS 



WRESTLING THE OCEAN 

by Pauline J. Alama 

HAUNTED BOOK NOOK 

by Margaret L. Carter 

THE HOOD AND THE WOOD 

by Lorie Calkins 

SINGING TO STONE 

by Catherine Mintz 

THE RIVER LADY’S PALE HANDS 

by M. P. Ericson 

LIN’S HOARD 

by Deirdre M. Murphy 

THE CITADEL IN THE ICE 

by Dave Smeds 

ALL IN A NAME 

by Jessie D. Eaker 

DEATH EVERLASTING 

by Jonathan Shipley 

BALANCING ACT 

by Marella Sands 

FIRST ACT OF SAINT BASTARD 

by T. R. North 

THE FALLEN MAN 

by Deborah J. Ross 

A FAMILIAR’S PREDICAMENT 

by Jane Lindskold 

THE SECRET ARMY 

by Jennifer Linnea 

COMING HOME TO ROOST 

by L. S. Patton 

FROM THE MOUTHS OF SERPENTS 

by Evey Brett 

MAGIC WORDS 

by Alisa Cohen 

CHARMING 

by Melissa Mead     


Friday, June 22, 2018

Author Interviews: Juliette Wade


Many of us balance writing, family, day jobs, and taking care of ourselves. Juliette Wade, whose stories have been featured on the covers of magazines like Analog, brings her own inimitable style to the challenge.

Juliette Wade is a rising star in science fiction, writing thoughtful, provocative pieces based in extraordinary insight into culture, language, and personal agency. Of her recent novella, Gardner Dozois wrote:

“The best story in the March Clarkesworld, and one of the best stories published so far this year, is “The Persistence of Blood” by Juliette Wade. … “The Persistence of Blood” is strongly reminiscent of C.J. Cherryh's work, and if you like Cherryh, you're likely to enjoy this story too.”



Deborah J. Ross: When did you know you wanted to be a writer? 
Juliette Wade: This actually took me a long time. I wrote a lot in elementary and junior high, but then got into nonfiction (i.e. class assignments) and didn't try writing fiction again until I was married and studying for my Ph.D. Maybe it was the fact that I'd been musing on the idea for a secondary world for quite a lot of years by then, but when I started writing, I couldn't stop. The desire to write was so strong and so clear that I knew immediately this was what I was meant to do. It was frightening and wonderful.

DJR: What is your writing process? When do you write? 
JW: Writing for me is about moments stolen in between running life for myself and my family. The impact of this on my process is that a lot of my work gets done in the form of thinking while I'm doing other things. Then whenever I get a chance, I sit down at the computer and write everything down. It's easier now than it was when my children were first born, but still, a constant challenge. My favorite time to write is when I'm by myself in the house, and that doesn't happen as often as I'd like.

DJR: How would you characterize your fiction? Are you writing to/for a particular audience or audiences? 
JW: My fiction is as realistic as I can make it - from the perspective of psychology, sociology, linguistics, and anthropology. I am aiming for a wide audience, but hoping particularly to appeal to people who are looking for diversity, intersectionality, and respect of other cultures.

DJR: What writers have been major influences in your work and why? 
JW: The writer who most influenced me when I was first beginning to write was Ursula K. LeGuin. The language she uses is graceful, and she brings a cultural sensibility to her work that always impressed me. I could see the evidence of her deep thinking about societies and cultures as well as individuals, and try to emulate her in those ways as best I can. In more recent times, I have found inspiration in the works of N.K. Jemisin and Ann Leckie. It's hard for me to pinpoint any one thing about these authors that I admire, because I admire so much about what they do. One thing they are both good at, though, is making sure to keep an intimate emotional connection to characters at the same time that they bring cosmic significance to events and stakes in their stories.

DJR: What is your most current project?
JW: My most current project is a novella that just came out in the March 2018 issue of Clarkesworld Magazine. "The Persistence of Blood" takes place in my Varin world, where people live in a complex caste society in underground cities. Lady Selemei is a noblewoman who nearly died giving birth to her fifth child, who takes the revolutionary step of refusing to bear any more children, despite the fact that the noble caste is in decline and expects every woman to have as many children as possible in order to sustain the Race. Her husband is supportive, and together they attempt to change the law to protect more mothers from death in childbirth, but when things go terribly wrong, she's forced to stand on her own and become a unique political voice in her own society.

DJR: What was the inspiration for the project? 
JW: I had a conversation with Ann Leckie a couple of years ago, and she encouraged me to try writing a novella in the Varin world. I chose to focus on Lady Selemei because it's important to me that Varin stories reflect the kinds of social issues we are dealing with right now in our own world. Selemei is a very grounded person, and a mom, and has to step out beyond what she has known in order to protect herself and her family from government policies that put her life in danger. It should come as no surprise that she ends up having to fight in the political arena, and that this fight turns out to be very difficult.

DJR: What lies ahead for you as a writer?
JW: I'm currently working on a sequel to "The Persistence of Blood," which will feature a character from the Imbati servant caste and take on a very different set of social issues. I'm also working with my agent's help to publish a novel of Varin.

DJR: What advice do you have for new and aspiring writers? 
JW: I guess my advice would be something Lady Selemei believes in, which is to believe in your own gifts and keep persisting, learning as much as you can along the way. 

DJR: What do you do when you’re not writing?
JW: When I'm not writing, I do lots of different things. I like to work in my garden, and to take long walks and hikes, all of which help me to think. I like to go top-rope climbing in the gym, and to do yoga, because both of these activities help to relax my over-active mind. I work as an English and French teacher, and I work with my family on things like school homework and life in general!

Juliette Wade combined a trip to the Gouffre de Padirac with her academic background in linguistics and anthropology to create the world of Varin, a grand experiment in speculative ethnography. She lives the Bay Area of California with her husband and two children, who support and inspire her. Her fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, Analog, and Fantasy & Science Fiction. She runs the Dive into Worldbuilding video series and workshop at www.patreon.com/JulietteWade.




Monday, June 18, 2018

Great Authors Meet Darkover at the Crossroads


Contributors to Crossroads of Darkover share how they first encountered the world of the Bloody Sun.

Robin Wayne Bailey: 
The first Darkover tale I ever read was Darkover Landfall, and I came across it perhaps in an unusual way. At the time, I was working in a bookstore part-time to earn college money, but I was also already a fairly dedicated book collector. Among the books I collected were DAW's yellow-spined paperbacks, which DAW was kind enough to number. I searched these out in new bookstores and used bookstores, determined to own them all, and this is how I came across Darkover Landfall. I'm not sure if I had previously read any of Marion Zimmer Bradley's earlier work, but this book captivated me. I was a sucker for a good "lost colony" story, and this proved one of the best. I remember the day we unpacked that latest DAW shipment and removing this book with its shiny cover and artwork by, I think, Jack Gaughan. It excited me then, and although I drifted away from the series after a time, it continues to excite me.

Evey Brett:
Back in 2002 when I was just out of college, I got a job working retail at a now-extinct Foley's department store in a mall. There was a Waldenbooks right across from the store, so I'd often go get a book and settle down in a comfy chair somewhere in the mall to eat my lunch and read. One day I was looking for a new book and picked up The Fall of Neskaya, and I was hooked. Fortunately for me (and the bookstore) they had several other Darkover novels as well.

I'm a sucker for stories with telepaths and damaged characters. I'd gone through a number of Mercedes Lackey's books, so finding Darkover gave me a whole new world with a sizeable canon to explore. Having just read the back of The Fall of Neskaya, I'd still pick it up to read because it's got everything I want--telepaths, power, gifts, a tormented character with a secret he can't reveal.

Rebecca Fox:
As a moody teenage girl with SFnal leanings in the early/mid-1990s, I really had three main reading choices: Pern, Valdemar, or Darkover. Pern I’d found on my own, in a sixth grade language arts reader of all places. My discovery of Valdemar and Darkover (simultaneously) at the age of 14 or 15 and the subsequent loss of at least a week’s worth of sleep while I devoured several books as fast as I could possibly read them I owe to a camp roommate.

Monday, June 11, 2018

A Thousand Ways to Story: Lace and Blade 4 Authors Talk About Writing Process


 Judith Tarr: 
[How do I write?] Horribly slowly now, but it still works, after a fashion. I get ideas and prompts from all kinds of places. I keep a file of them, multiple files in fact, and when one really needs to have a story, I pull it out and make notes and brainstorm and throw things together and see what comes of it. I do outline, but it's an ongoing, circular, organic process, which grows and changes as the characters wake up and start talking (or often yelling), and the settings make themselves visible, and the gears of story--the friction, the "what does this character want?" and "what are the stakes here?" questions that move it all forward--start to turn. Sometimes in totally unexpected directions.

With this story, I had a visual first, a scene viewed from above. Then I became aware of the viewpoint, and the character started telling me the story. I knew what had to happen in the end, but not how to get there, until I started telling the story. The resolution didn't come clear until I wrote the scene. What I thought was going to happen was not what actually happened at all.


Carol Berg: 
I’m an organic story developer, that is I start with a character in a situation and enough thinking about the world, cultures, and characters to put down the first scene. The act of writing that scene gives me ideas for moving forward in plot, characters, and world development, so that by the time I’m halfway in, I’ve got lots of notes about what needs to happen next. Every day, I read what I wrote the previous day, getting it right enough I can charge forward toward a climax that, so far, has made itself apparent by the time I get there. Revision is my friend and delight!

Marie Brennan:
I am such a night owl. Such a night owl. As I type these words, it's almost 11:30 at night, and this is the warm-up work I'm doing before settling in to put more words on the current story. I'll probably go to bed between 2 and 3 a.m. This has been my habit since college, and I've been lucky that, barring a few summer jobs with very early start times, I've been able to maintain my preferred schedule for basically my entire adult life.

As for the stories themselves, I am much more of a discovery writer than an outliner, though lately I've been working on some collaborative projects where outlining is a necessity. I can do that if I have to, but I prefer when possible to figure out my story as I go along -- that way I stay excited about it, rather than feeling like I'm just filling in the blanks.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Praise for Thunderlord

From Library Journal: 

Those who fondly remember the “Darkover” books (Stormqueen!; Hawkmistress!) set during the Ages of Chaos will welcome this new entry, which chronicles the aftermath of a conflict between two houses that can control the weather telepathically. Ross collaborated with Bradley on several other Darkover titles before Bradley’s death in 1999, and has written most recently The Children of Kings.

From Gabrielle Harbowy, editor and author:

Stormqueen! is my favorite of the Darkover books, and Thunderlord is a worthy successor to it. Ross sets up a complicated situation, drawing on all the nuance of Darkover politics and manners, and then proceeds to tighten the knot around her characters with fierce tension and, as the kids say, "all the feels." Definitely a worthy addition to the Darkover legacy!

Buy it now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Powell's, or your local indie bookseller.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Monday, June 4, 2018

Where’d You Get That Idea? Story Inspirations from Lace and Blade 4 Authors


Carol Berg: One of my aims when I create new heroes or heroines is to make them real people. I want readers to believe they had a life before walking onto the canvas of my story and will (if the story permits!) have a life when they walk off again. But of course, after the traumas/losses/victories of the story, the nature of that life is often irrevocably changed. 
Ever since my novel Song of the Beast was published, I’ve had readers asking what became of Aidan McAllister--a scarred, broken singer of visions, who saved his world from the scourge of dragon warfare. At the end of the story, he abandons his friends and his hope of a normal life to lead the beasts into the wild. I decided that it would be fun to satisfy the readers’ curiosity and mine, and so I wrote “The Heart’s Coda.”


Marie Brennan: Some years ago I bought a pair of black-and-red beaded earrings from the jeweler Elise Matthesen, who habitually gives titles to all the pieces she makes. The earrings are called "At the Sign of the Crow and Quill," and like many authors, I pledged to Elise that I would try to write something by that title someday. The mood that evoked in my mind was very much a Lace and Blade mood, so when I received an invitation to submit to the anthology, that turned out to be the spark I needed to transform the phrase into characters and plot.

Heather Rose Jones:  “Gifts Tell Truth” is set in the same world as my Alpennia series: a 
mildly alternate Ruritanian early 19th century with magic. One of the things I love to do when exploring characters it to make offhand references to events in their past. Events where I may not know all the details of what happened, just that it shaped them in some way. One thing that is very clear about Jeanne, Vicomtesse de Cherdillac, one of the protagonists of The Mystic Marriage and a continuing character throughout the series, is that she is a “Woman With A Past.” The more I write about her, the more fascinated I am by how she came to be the person she is in the novels.

The events in “Gifts Tell Truth” haven’t been specifically referenced in the books, other than a passing comment about how the stories of her youth aren’t appropriate for innocent ears. But I knew in a general way that during the French occupation of Alpennia, just after Jeanne’s unexpected marriage to a much older French aristocratic émigré, she led a wild and scandalous life, spurred on by a tragic event in her coming-out season (which will be told in a later story). The current story grew out of wanting to explore the origins of some of her later attitudes and reflexes, with the added bonus of showing the start of an odd but enduring friendship that features in the novels.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

A Not-So-Brief BayCon report


BayCon, a science fiction fantasy convention held in the San Francisco Bay Area over Memorial Day weekend, has been my local con for almost 20 years. Attending has been more of a challenge these last couple of years when the convention moved from a location where I could commute from home, to one that required me to either get a hotel room or crash with a friend. Last year, I stayed with a fellow writer and carpooled to the hotel. This year she was out of town, so I booked a room for Saturday night and asked the programming folks to schedule me for only Saturday and Sunday. It was an interesting experiment, one I am apt to repeat.

In order to discuss the convention, I have to write about the hotel. The San Mateo Marriott has earned its nickname of “the Escher hotel” not only for its inexplicable split-level staircases but the difficulty of finding the elevator that will take you to your destination floor. (Once you’ve made it to the floor on which most but not all of the events are held, it’s not all that hard to navigate – but beware if you want to go from there to, say, the Green Room or Con Suite.) This year, major renovation of the hotel’s lobby added a whole new dimension to the chaos. The restaurant got moved to the 6th floor, the bar to the 3rd floor (meaning that from the convention floor, you had to go down one elevator, through a maze of corridors to another elevator to go back up to either destination). Given these challenges, the convention folks put forth a heroic effort, by way of signs and many helpers wandering the halls in search of those who are lost, to ameliorate the confusion. And the hotel registration staff allowed me to check in quite a few hours early, so I was all set for my first panel.

As for what I was thinking when I asked programming for my usual heavy schedule, without taking into account unforeseen illness, the less said the better. I was a Very Busy Camper.

My first panel, one I did not moderate so I had a chance to transition from driving through my redwood mountains to being in a hotel with lots of people, all talking at once, was Saving What We Love: A look at how the concept of resistance in SF has changed as well as kept a continuity and what different generations have to teach each other, ably moderated by Jennifer Nestojko, with Colin Fisk, Skye Allen, and Tyler Hayes. We looked at how resistance movements have been depicted in genre literature over the decades, and examined the role of literature in general and sf/f/h in particular in generating, supporting, and being the voice of the resistance. I talked about how I came to write Collaborators, my occupation-and-resistance sf novel that was a Lambda Literary Award Finalist. I’d lived in Lyon, France, the center of the French resistance to the Nazi occupation, and had become intrigued by all the ways people either resisted or collaborated. With my memories of protesting the Vietnam War in mind, I wanted to show each side acting for reasons that seemed good yet getting caught in a cycle of escalating, violent retaliation. It’s important in our fictional portrayals that we not demonize or dehumanize the other side but to create bridges where, by slow steps or sudden epiphanies, enemies can discover common ground.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Crossroads of Darkover: Rosemary & India Edghill on Story Inspiration

This all-new Darkover anthology features tales of decisions, turning
points, love lost and found, all in the beloved world of the Bloody Sun. Stories by Jenna Rhodes, Pat MacEwen, Gabrielle Harbowy, Evey Brett, Rosemary and India Edghill, Diana L. Paxson, and more!


Order yours today at: iBookKindleKoboNook

Table of Contents is here.



While we (Rosemary and India Edghill) have collaborated before – which is always wonderful, because we have different strengths as writers – this is our first Darkover collaboration.  So in addition to working with each other, we’re also working within a third author’s universe.  Being able to “play” in MZB’s power Darkover universe and to co-author with each other is incredibly energizing.

            Our story in CROSSROADS OF DARKOVER is “A Cobbler to His Last,” and was inspired not only by the Darkovan Dry Towns, but by the research India’s done on women’s life in the Middle East, as well as by what we now know about how  the people that anthropologists like Margaret Mead actually felt about being interviewed.  One of Mead’s original subjects said later that she and her purposely mislead Mead and invented answers to what they felt were intrusive questions.  In comparison to Mead’s monumental but controversial works, Elizabeth Warnock Fernea lived within the women’s world her husband (a fellow anthropologist) could not enter, and her works are regarded as groundbreaking and definitive in the field of women’s studies in the Middle East.

            India has a long-standing interest in the Dry Towns, and Rosemary agreed that seeing scenic Darkover through the eyes of a woman who arrives with no real information about Darkover except that the Darkovan women live horrifically restricted lives.  So what would really be going on when our protagonist, Grace, tried to study Darkovan women?  What will Grace really find?  And what would the Darkovan women think when they interacted with her?

            Tossing a woman from a very egalitarian society into newly-opened Darkover was a fascinating.  Grace interacts with comynara, Renunciates, farmers’ wives, and chained Dry Town women, and struggles to truly understand what she learns – which turns out to be harder to do than she’d thought it would be. Remaining totally object turns out to be almost impossible.  In the end, she learns more, perhaps, than she truly wanted to about relationships between men and women.

            Unfortunately, since “Cobbler to His Last” is a short story, not a novel, we weren’t able to include everything we’d wanted to add to the mix.  However, we had a lot of fun playing what, say, the small-holders’ wives opinions of the studious off-worlder in their midst.  Or India’s favorite scene-that-doesn’t-exist in the confines of the story:  Lord Akram’s conversation with his mother when she tells him he’s going to have to take on yet another wife!




Rosemary Edghill describes herself as the keeper of the Eddystone Light, corny as Kansas in August, normal as blueberry pie, and only a paper moon. She says she was found floating down the Amazon in a hatbox, and, because criminals are a cowardly and superstitious lot, she became a creature of the night (black, terrible). She began her professional career working as a time-traveling vampire killer and has never looked back. She's also a New York Times Bestselling Writer. 

About herself, India Edghill writes, Having written four books about Biblical women (Delilah, Queenmaker, Wisdom's 
Daughter, and Game of Queens), I'm now writing an epic-length romantic historical novel set in Victorian India.  And India (that's me, not the country) is also going Indie!  My short stories will be available in a collection:  The Courtesan Who Loved Cats and Other Stories, and my mystery series set in 1984 New York City, starring Cornelia Upshaw, a professional temporary secretary, will be continued as well.  The first book in the series, File M For Murder, should be reissued in 2017. 

Friday, May 25, 2018

[personal] Hope for Our Kids

Renoir, Maternite, 1887

On Mother’s Day, May 13 2018, I attended the graduation of my youngest daughter from medical school. While this is surely an occasion of joy and pride for all families, in this case it is especially so. Rose had a long, hard struggle through her adolescence and teen years. As her (single, working) mother, I couldn’t wave a magic wand and make her problems go away; what she needed was patience and love, especially my unwavering belief that she was resourceful enough to cope her challenges. One of the things that helped me during those difficult years was hearing from another mother about the rough time her son had gone through, but that he had come through those times, rebuilt his life, and was now a successful emergency room physician. (Both our kids becoming doctors is an interesting coincidence.)

For quite a while, I blamed myself for Rose’s difficulties. She’d been an intense, fiery toddler, than an easy-going child. When my mother was murdered, Rose was only 3 months old, so she grew up with me struggling through initial PTSD recovery. It was sheer awful luck that her puberty and my crisis (after the first parole hearing of the man who did it) and subsequent breakup of the family happened about the same time. She and I ended up moving to a different part of the state, both of us trying to restart our lives. Marion Zimmer Bradley had invited me to collaborate with her on Darkover, so my writing career was getting started again. I was dating the man I eventually married, so many aspects of our lives were happier and more stable. Except, of course, for adolescent hormones.

After doing well in middle school, Rose starting having difficulty, including self-harm. It was clear to me that if I got on her case about it, the only result would be that she would stop talking to me and I could not help her. So I took my worries elsewhere, including to the friend who told me about how her son had overcome drug addition and other serious problems, then finished college and went on to medical school. Another story I heard involved a kid who was living at home and not doing much. When his parents issued an ultimatum to either go to school or get a job. the kid moved out, became a drug dealer, and ended up in prison. The friend who told me this story was at a loss to do with her own son, who had dropped out of college and moved back home. Her thought was that at least she knew where her son was, and he was in a safe place until he could figure things out.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Crossroads of Darkover Author Interview: Rebecca Fox


Now available, an all-new Darkover anthology featuring tales of decisions, turning points, love lost and found, all in the beloved world of the Bloody Sun. Stories by Jenna Rhodes, Pat MacEwen, Gabrielle Harbowy, Evey Brett, Rosemary and India Edghill, Diana L. Paxson, and more!


Order yours today at: iBookKindleKoboNook

Table of Contents is here.




Deborah J. Ross: Tell us about your introduction to Darkover.
Rebecca Fox: As a moody teenage girl with SFnal leanings in the early/mid-1990s, I really had three main reading choices: Pern, Valdemar, or Darkover. Pern I’d found on my own, in a sixth grade language arts reader of all places. My discovery of Valdemar and Darkover (simultaneously) at the age of 14 or 15 and the subsequent loss of at least a week’s worth of sleep while I devoured several books as fast as I could possibly read them I owe to a camp roommate.
 My introduction to writing Darkover came via Rosemary Edghill - who is, incidentally, a brilliant human being, a terrific writer, and a truly stellar teacher - who mentored me through my angst-filled and far less than graceful move from Darkest Fanficcia to the Land of Paid Professional Writers and somehow managed not to murder me in the process (it would have been entirely justified, trust me). At any rate, Rosemary invited me to collaborate with her on a story for Stars of Darkover (“Second Contact,” of which I’m still terribly fond) and the rest is history. I remain more grateful than I can really express for the invitation, as well as for patient lessoning in things like how to pace a story and how to edit my own work and more than a few good stiff doses of humility. I wouldn't be here without her, and I hope one of these days I’ll at least get the chance to pay it forward.

DJR: What inspired your story in Crossroads of Darkover?
RF: Well, the glib (and not in the least untrue) answer here is: my complete inability to let anything go, ever. I get so attached to some worlds or characters that it’s hard to simply bid them adieu after a bare six thousand words or so. And I just couldn’t bring myself to say goodbye to Jamie MacRorie and Miralys after nothing more than a few paragraphs in “Where You’re Planted” (never you mind that I’d originally produced them simply because Cat needed to get her parents from somewhere).

The less glib answer is that at the time I sat down to think about my next Darkover story, I’d been wallowing happily in the very earliest Darkover books, and in one of them – I think it was The Bloody Sun but I wouldn’t swear to it in a court of law – there’s this really brief mention of the Terranan and the Darkovans having fought a war over “resources,” with the implication that the Terrans lost or were somehow humiliated. Since that one paragraph was the only time I’d ever seen that “war” mentioned, it couldn’t have been much of a war, could it? Between the fact that I found myself kind of obsessing over what might have happened (because that’s what I do) and the fact that I’ve never met a spy story I didn’t like, “The Short, Inglorious War” was born.

Friday, May 18, 2018

In Troubled Times: The Challenge of Compassion

Nov. 10, 2009

"All real living is meeting." -- Martin Buber

At World Fantasy Convention, three friends and I ventured forth from the hotel in search of un-conditioned air and reasonably-priced food. Our path took us into a pedestrian mall with a lively street scene. Two encounters stand out in my mind. The first was with a homeless man. As he asked us for money, his voice was low and dispirited, as if he had no expectation of a response. He seemed on the edge of giving up hope. Usually I feel uncomfortable giving cash, although if I have the time, I may offer to buy the person a meal. I didn't have the time, but something in this man spoke to me. Without questioning that inner prompting, I turned back, dug in my purse for a dollar, and offered it to him. It seemed to me that a kind word and the recognition of our common humanity was as important as that small amount of money. As I spoke to him and met his eyes, I saw them fill with tears. In broken tones, he told me of how he had lost his job and left his home, rather than be evicted. I don't know if he was telling the truth or if he later used the money to buy drugs or booze. I'm not sure it matters. The moment between us, his response to being treated with kindness, was real. For all I know, it might have been the tiny nudge that kept hope alive.

Further up the street, a group of young adults in uniform-like black sweats was holding forth in loud voices, lecturing all within earshot, preaching their religious beliefs. Their voices echoed against the buildings and their eyes were hard and angry. As we passed, I tried to imagine what I might say to them -- "Live and let live"? A few people on the street shouted back at them. My friends and I thought of all sorts of snappy retorts, none of which would have amounted to any real communication. I realized this was a way of diffusing the discomfort caused by the abrasive behavior of these young people.

How can speech that is combative to the point of hostility be answered? It seemed to me impossible to have even a token conversation with someone who is browbeating me at the top of his lungs. Isn't it necessary for both parties to be willing to take turns, to listen to one another? It did occur to me that these young people, berating all within earshot for their sinful ways, were not at all interested in hearing anyone else's point of view. I wonder what would have satisfied them.

Afterwards, I was struck by the contrast in the two encounters. Certainly, the evangelists were more intent on pounding home the evils of this world and terror of the next than in giving to the poor. But there is this: reaching out to the homeless man was easy. His manner was gentle and humble. He spoke out of need and then gratitude. The angry young people, on the other hand, presented a much greater challenge, one I was not equal to. I still do not know how I might be present with them without getting drawn in to acrimony and name-hurling.

Charity is easy. Seeing the common humanity in people who are screaming hatred at you -- that's hard.



The drawing is by Isidre Nonell (1872–1911)

Monday, May 14, 2018

Crossroads of Darkover Author Interview: Robin Wayne Bailey


Just out, an all-new Darkover anthology featuring tales of decisions, turning points, love lost and found, all in the beloved world of the Bloody Sun. Stories by Jenna Rhodes, Pat MacEwen, Gabrielle Harbowy, Evey Brett, Rosemary and India Edghill, Diana L. Paxson, and more!


Order yours today at: iBookKindleKoboNook

Table of Contents is here.




Deborah J. Ross: Tell us about your introduction to Darkover.
Robin Wayne Bailey: The first Darkover tale I ever read was Darkover Landfall, and I came across it perhaps in an unusual way. At the time, I was working in a bookstore part-time to earn college money, but I was also already a fairly dedicated book collector. Among the books I collected were DAW's yellow-spined paperbacks, which DAW was kind enough to number. I searched these out in new bookstores and used bookstores, determined to own them all, and this is how I came across Darkover Landfall. I'm not sure if I had previously read any of Marion Zimmer Bradley's earlier work, but this book captivated me. I was a sucker for a good "lost colony" story, and this proved one of the best. I remember the day we unpacked that latest DAW shipment and removing this book with its shiny cover and artwork by, I think, Jack Gaughan. It excited me then, and although I drifted away from the series after a time, it continues to excite me.

DJR: What about the world drew you in?
RWB: Several things about Darkover struck me as fairly unique, even daring, at the time the books were appearing. The blending of disparate cultures immediately stood out. The first ship that crash landed on Darkover carried an interesting mix of Celtic and Spanish colonists, and maybe a few others I'm forgetting. In so many sf novels, then and now, humans seem to be a homogeneous group without national or cultural identity. Not so, Darkover. Marion emphasized and celebrated these differences. The other thing that surprised me was her willingness to play with sexuality and gender roles. Lots of early sixties and seventies science fiction played with sex, but always of a rather tame heterosexual variety. Marion went further. Her depictions of the Renunciates and the society established by the Free Amazons was remarkable for its time, as was way in which polygamy was regarded throughout the series. Her views on homosexuality and her willingness to write gay characters into the series was also almost revolutionary, although her depictions of gay men and relationships troubled me then and continue to trouble me. But that's for another essay, perhaps.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Short Book Reviews: A Classic Nancy Springer Fantasy


The Oddling Prince, by Nancy Springer (Tachyon Publications) is pure, classic Nancy Springer. In a faroff land, not unlike northern England, a king returns from a mysterious absence, wearing a magical ring that rapidly drains his life force. Just as he is about to perish, a young man appears, riding a steed of untamed light, and lifts the curse. The narrator, the king’s son and heir, befriends this stranger, his half-fae half-brother. But all is not well, as residual evil poisons the king’s mind and danger lurks just beyond the borders. Springer’s style sometimes reminds me of Tanith Lee, yet is completely her own. The love and fidelity of the two brothers, the steadfast discernment of the queen, the twists and turns and unexpected character developments, all kept me enchanted, page after page. Springer is in fine style!



Monday, May 7, 2018

Crossroads of Darkover Author Interview: Diana L. Paxson

Coming in May, an all-new Darkover anthology featuring tales of decisions, turning points, love lost and found, all in the beloved world of the Bloody Sun. Stories by Jenna Rhodes, Pat MacEwen, Gabrielle Harbowy, Evey Brett, Rosemary and India Edghill, Diana L. Paxson, and more!

Order yours today at: iBookKindleKoboNook

Table of Contents is here.



Deborah J. Ross: Tell us about your introduction to Darkover.
Diana L. Paxson: I first heard of the Darkover books when I discovered fandom in the mid-60s, became even more involved when Marion Zimmer Bradley admitted they were a series in the 70s and started using Darkover as a setting for some ground-breaking ideas.

DJR: What inspired your story in Crossroads of Darkover? How did you balance writing in someone else’s world and being true to your own creative imagination?
DLP: I asked myself what Marion Zimmer Bradley would be writing about if she were here. I am sure she would have tackled trans-gender issues. My perspective might be different, but I am trying to push the envelope a little further as she would have done.

DJR: Is there another Darkover story you would particularly like to write?
DLP: I am happy for the opportunity to further develop the characters from my previous stories.

DJR: What have you written recently? What is your favorite of your published works and why?
DLP: Most recently, a non-fiction book on the Norse god Odin, and short stories for Lace and Blade and the Valdemar anthology. I am getting a new Westria novel ready for publication.
DJR: Hooray!

DJR: What lies ahead for you?
DLP: Non-fiction and fiction on Norse Pagan topics and on political magic, more novels if I have time.

DJR: Anything else you’d like our readers to know about you, Darkover, or life in general?
DLP:  Now that we are living in such “interesting times”, I think writers should seize the opportunity to use fiction to say what cannot be said (or will not be heard) in any other way.

 
Diana L. Paxson is the author of twenty-nine novels, including the books that continue Marion Zimmer Bradley's Avalon series. She has also written eighty-six short stories, including appearances in most of Marion's Darkover anthologies. She is currently working on a novel about the first century German seeress, Veleda.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Short Book Reviews: Guy Fawkes with Magic

Fawkes, A Novel by Nadine Brandes (Thomas Nelson)

This YA novel centers around two brilliant premises. The first is the setting, England on the eve of the Gunpowder Plot (1605) and the origin of Guy Fawkes Day. The second involves a fascinating new system of magic in which power arises from the various colors, focused by specially constructed masks, constructed by the practitioner’s same-sex parent. A third strength arises from the protagonist narrator, son of the conspirator Guy Fawkes, and his inner turmoil as he is drawn deeper and deeper into a plot to blow up King James I’s Parliament.

Therein, however, lie the book’s weaknesses. Few Americans, unless they are English History buffs, are familiar enough with the Gunpowder Treason Plot to appreciate the cultural, political, and legal aspects. The plot in the book follows the historical order fairly closely but not always in the most logical fashion. Magic is tacked on to historical events; practitioners use their powers only when they don’t change the way things really happened. But any world in which people wield those powers is going to operate very differently than ours, and that requires careful working through all the implications of those powers, of which I see little here.

The attempt to translate the historical Protestant-Catholic struggle into a battle between those who adhere to the color system (“Keepers”) and those devoted to the primal White Light (“Igniters”) is awkward and often confusing. The real struggle was based not only in religious dogma but in politics, arising from the establishment of the Church of England with King Henry VIII and consequent independence from Rome. Queen Elizabeth, Henry’s daughter, did much to establish religious tolerance, although even her emphasis on secular loyalty could not eliminate the plots to restore a Catholic ruler. Without the context of the struggle, the rift between Keepers and Igniters, each hating the other for no apparent reason, come across as superficial. This is all the more so because for most of the story, I had trouble remembering which side was which. Everyone has access to the White Light (which is a snappy, smart-ass voice, quite apart from any references to direct experience of the divine, which also strikes me a reversal of the Catholic-Protestant quarrel). Anachronisms of speech and social attitude added to the confusion.

Besides the system of magic, this story includes a supernatural “Stone Plague” that infects the victim and gradually ossifies both skin and internal organs, resulting in death. Somehow Igniters have concluded that the plague is the fault of the Keepers and the only way to bring it to a halt is to slaughter all of them. Since no one offers any other explanation for how this fascinating disease works, and apparently the magical healers are just as ignorant and incurious, this persecution is arbitrary and baffling.

Despite its significant shortcomings, this novel has many appealing moments. If it sends readers to the history books to find out what really happened, or generates conversations about prejudice and religious persecution, so much the better.

The publisher asked that I include a disclaimer saying I'd received a complimentary review copy through NetGalley and my opinions do not represent theirs.


Monday, April 30, 2018

Crossroads of Darkover Author Interview: Evey Brett

Coming in May, an all-new Darkover anthology featuring tales of decisions, turning points, love lost and found, all in the beloved world of the Bloody Sun. Stories by Jenna Rhodes, Pat MacEwen, Gabrielle Harbowy, Evey Brett, Rosemary and India Edghill, Diana L. Paxson, and more! Order yours today at: iBookKindleKoboNookTable of Contents is here.

Deborah J. Ross: Tell us about your introduction to Darkover.


Evey Brett: Back in 2002 when I was just out of college, I got a job working retail at a now-extinct Foley's department store in a mall. There was a Waldenbooks right across from the store, so I'd often go get a book and settle down in a comfy chair somewhere in the mall to eat my lunch and read. One day I was looking for a new book and picked up The Fall of Neskaya, and I was hooked. Fortunately for me (and the bookstore) they had several other Darkover novels as well.


DJR: What about the world drew you in?

EB: I'm a sucker for stories with telepaths and damaged characters. I'd gone through a number of Mercedes Lackey's books, so finding Darkover gave me a whole new world with a sizeable canon to explore. Having just read the back of The Fall of Neskaya, I'd still pick it up to read because it's got everything I want--telepaths, power, gifts, a tormented character with a secret he can't reveal.


DJR: What inspired your story in Crossroads of Darkover? How did you balance writing in someone else’s world and being true to your own creative imagination?

EB: Since I came awfully close to the deadline with my last Darkover story, I kept trying to think of a plot early on. I had a vague idea of someone with a number of gifts but in nearly useless amounts, but when I started writing there wasn’t really room for more than one gift. I did keep thinking of Allart Hastur from Stormqueen!, and how the multiple futures he saw kept getting in his way, so I went with a variation on that gift and figured out a plot from there.

I did ask Deborah what she thought of a couple ideas when I was partway through, and she gave me a couple ideas which helped tremendously, so I was able to finish this story with time to spare. It was also the only complete story I managed to finish in 2017, so I’m glad it was for a world I care so much about.

For me, it's actually easier for me to write stories within the limits of a particular world or theme, and I've been doing far better at selling stories for anthologies than I have at selling stand-alones. Limits, like historical or world-building details, actually seem to force a better story. I like puzzles and problem-solving, so figuring out how to make my own ideas work within certain limits is fun.