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].)
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.
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.
My first stories (actually, my first umpteen attempts at novels) were written by hand in composition books or on scratch paper. I remember reading an interview with the British mystery writer Dick Francis, in which he described writing in ink in composition books (and that it had never occurred to him that a story, once written, could be revised!) so the method is definitely a time-honored one. Once I learned to type (in high school, on those really heavy manual typewriters) that became my preferred method, although when my children were small, I always carried a spiral-bound notebook on which to work on the Story of the Day in odd moments. Retyping a revision was always a major chore, since I had to do it myself. I became expert in the application of white correction fluid. At least carbon copies were no longer necessary, but I had to take my finished manuscript to a copy shop because in those days no one owned a home copier.
I am of several minds about whether the ease of making changes as I go, being able to print out a manuscript at any stage, and so forth, have really changed how I write. I love the saying that the most important word processor is your brain. Perhaps I splat over the page, as it were, more spontaneously when I use a computer just because it’s so easy to tidy up my prose later, and that can be a good thing as I follow whatever wacky idea pops into my mind. Some of them are truly best expunged but others are quite juicy. In some ways I am more focused now than in 30 or 40 years ago; I know much more about how to put a story together, even if it isn’t one I’ve outlined.
Having multiple writing media available to me is a great thing. I often go back and forth when I’m stuck, especially between dictating and typing or typing and longhand. Dictation using voice recognition software is especially great for dialog or speeches (can you see me acting out the parts of the various characters?) Just as we don’t all write in the same way, I don’t write in the same way all the time. Sometimes words flow and then I want the medium that allows me to best keep up with them. But other times I’m stuck (or sulky, or distracted, or tired) and switching can help get things rolling again.
In the end, though, the only version that matters is the one in the hands of the reader.
This year I edited three anthologies. Sadly I now turn the page on this chapter of my writing life. The publisher, The Marion Zimmer Literary Works Trust, has decided to lay down bringing out original anthologies. They made the announcement in the September issue of their own newsletter. Both the print and eBook versions of the Darkover anthologies published before 2000 and volumes 22-27 of Sword and Sorceress will be going out of print at the end of 2018, but the more recent ones will remain available.
Lace and Blade comes to a conclusion with volume 5, to be released next Valentine’s Day. It’s a delicious potpourri of elegant, romantic, swashbuckling fantasy from around the worlds, real and imaginary. At the same time, I forwarded royalty payments for the first two volumes to contributors; sadly, three of them, people dear to me, have passed away, so I had to track down their heirs. The amounts involved were very small, but the sense of community and gratitude was immense.
In nostalgia and farewell, I turned in Citadels of Darkover, which will be released May 2019. I took up the reins of editing this series in 2013 with Stars of Darkover, and over the years have had the privilege of working with many of my favorite authors, all of us cherishing this magical world. In the Introduction, I wrote:
While I am sad to lay down this amazing adventure from “the other side of the editorial desk,” I am also grateful to the immensely talented, generous authors who have entrusted me with their work and listened to my editorial comments with such insight and patience. Over the years, many have become friends as well as professional colleagues. But most of all, I extend my sincere thanks to you, the readers, you who have loved Darkover over the decades. I hope the stories I’ve put together here have given you the exhilaration of visiting the planet of the Bloody Sun once more, and I hope that you will continue to enjoy that experience through the novels I have written for DAW Books under the supervision of the Trust (even if their release dates are a bit further apart).
This year I got to co-edit Sword and Sorceress, along with Elisabeth Waters. This was a special joy because my very first professional sale was to the first volume of that series. The Table of Contents is here, and it’ll be available in November 2018. Elisabeth edited my story, “The Fallen Man,” which features a woman painter who discovers magic in her art. The inspiration was the Renaissance fresco painter, Onorate Rodiana. Her wealthy patron, Marquis Gabrino Fondolo, engaged her services to decorate his palace. When a courtier attempted to rape her, she stabbed him (with a palette knife?) and fled, disguised as a man. This led to a new career, that of bandit and eventual leader of a band of condottieri mercenaries, with occasional painting commissions. She died in 1472 while defending her home town, Castelleone.
Snippet from TheLaran Gambit (the final text may be different)
Gradually they ascended the slopes leading to Scaravel Pass. Beyond it, Martina assured Bryn, the going would be easier. The pass itself was over seven thousand meters high, and the approach often led along sheer cliffs through slanting sleet. The trail grew steeper, more like something goats would follow than any proper path. Bryn clung to her saddle, trying to sit as still as possible so as not to unbalance or distract her mount. Often they had to dismount and lead their animals, half-scrambling, half-climbing. Martina, as the leader, ensured that whenever possible, the two older people were able to ride on the sure-footed chervines. Bryn’s heart pounded and her breath came in quick gasps from the thinner air, but her body seemed to remember the strenuous trek from their crash in the mountains, and she felt her muscles grow stronger day by day. She noticed how none of the Darkovans complained, taking the hardships of the terrain for granted. I’m becoming like them, she reflected, and the thought renewed her determination.
At night, Bryn snuggled deeper into the cocoon of her blankets. She’d gotten used to sleeping on the hard ground, and the altitude had left her tired enough so she had no difficulty falling asleep. She stirred as her tent mate, Doranne, slipped inside and settled herself. Just as she was dozing off again, she heard a faint, eerie wailing. She jerked fully awake, her muscles instantly tense. Her heartbeat sounded unnaturally loud and fast. The faint rustle of cloth told her that Doranne was awake and reaching for her long knife.
“It’s a banshee, isn’t it?” Bryn whispered.
“Aye, but far off.”
The cry came again, rising and falling. Bryn could not tell if it came from farther than before, or if the mountainous terrain and her own fears only made it seem so. If it came upon them in the night —
No, don’t think that!
Doranne got to her feet, knife drawn, and left the tent. A few moments later, Bryn heard voices in the camp, too low and soft to make out the words. She made out Desiderio’s voice among the higher pitches of the women, but nothing that sounded like her father or Felicity. Fervently she hoped they would sleep through the incident.
Drawing her blankets more snugly around her shoulders, Bryn put her head down and waited. Minutes passed, one growing from the last. Strain as she might, she heard no more banshee cries, yet sleep would not come. Doranne had not yet come back; Bryn told herself that was a good thing. Doranne and the other fighters would be on guard, keeping everyone else safe.
Safe? Is anywhere truly safe? Not Terra, not Alpha, not Cottman IV.
Bryn touched the silken pouch nestled between her breasts. Her fingertips outlined the hard crystalline contours of the insulated starstone. Her starstone. She remembered handling it for the first time, the moment when it had made contact with her bare palm, the way its blue radiance had flared like a living thing, reflection and complement to her mind. How she had focused through it to monitor the bodies of the circle workers. It had made her more than she once was, and through it she had entered a larger, more vibrant world.
The starstone rested now in her lightly closed fist, lifeline and guide. Light pulsed through her. It filled her, soothed her. She drifted on the patterns of brilliance that were as familiar as the hardness of her bones, the inside of her closed eyelids. Safe, it was safe to sleep now . . .
Gradually she coalesced into herself and became aware of her surroundings. The light had shifted from blue to pale, watery gray. All the warmth had seeped out of it, like the sullen overcast with rain not ready to break. She felt no cold, however, only a strange absence of emotion. As for her body, she could not feel it, not quite, but any moment she expected a surface to materialize under her feet, a chill wind to ruffle her hair. The grayness before her was not uniform but darker in some areas, lighter in others, the patterns suggesting faroff structures, a tower perhaps, or a person.
She was in the Overworld, and all the warnings she’d been given came rushing into her thoughts. But so too did the nature of the place, for here she could encounter the dead she had once loved.
As if summoned by her silent plea, a figure condensed. She knew without having to speak that it was indeed him. Hope beyond hope, she had been given this last chance to see him, to speak with him, to hold him in her arms. She tried to move in his direction but was not yet substantial enough for traction with the insubstantial ground. In desperation, she reached out with her mind to his and, to her astonishment, made a connection. It was fragmented, like a reflection seen in the shards of a broken mirror, but enough for her to catch his mental response. She could not make out any words, not even her name, only a silent cry. At the same time, she became aware of a bone-deep chill creeping across her skin. All the warnings she’d been given of the dangers of the Overworld flashed through her mind.
She dared not linger — but just a moment longer — if she could only make out what he was trying to tell her — this was no place for the living — she might be trapped — one last glimpse of him.
In a last, desperate effort, she stretched out her mind. Blue light flared, filling her. The distant figure grew no closer, no clearer, but she heard, very faint but clear, as if he too were throwing all his might into the call: