Monday, January 14, 2019

Lace and Blade 5 Author Interview: Pat MacEwen

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:


I think I ran across Pat MacEwen at our local science fiction convention, BayCon, but didn't really get acquainted with her work until I edited two novels, Rough Magic and The Dragon's Kiss for Sky Warrior. I look forward to many more.

Deborah J. Ross: Tell us a little about yourself.  How did you come to be a writer?
Pat MacEwen: I’m told I started when I was four. I would use crayons to draw the story, and then I would tell it. Often, those stories featured my favorite toy, a rubber giraffe missing one foot the dog had chewed off. In my stories, there was always a grand adventure involved in how that happened because I knew even then that heroes wind up scarred by life, win or lose. Some of that may be genetic – my father’s people were bards and seanachies for the Campbell clan for centuries, and my mother’s people include lots of preachers and teachers. We’ve always had a tale to tell.

DJR: What inspired your story in Lace and Blade 5?
PM: The fairy queen Sathyllien came out of my first novel, Rough Magic, where she does forensic work on modern murders involving magic. She has a history stretching back over centuries, and a habit of using Elizabethan insults. I wanted to find out more about that period in her life, and her relationship with a human queen of great renown. So I started with a basic problem – a murder victim who’s been concealed by being rendered invisible. And I tied it to another fae and bits of hidden history concerning the Virgin Queen. It so happens that lots of information has survived about her 40th birthday party, organized by the original “Nosy” Parker, then Archbishop of Canterbury, so I set it then and there.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Short Book Reviews: Explosions and Loaded Guns, Oh My!

They Promised Me the Gun Wasn't Loaded, by James Alan Gardner (Tor)

Sequels are always challenging: how much backstory to include, how much to omit; how to bring new readers up to speed without boring those who’ve just finished previous volumes; and most of all, how to keep the series fresh and engaging. They Promised Me succeeds on every measure. If anything, it’s more entertaining and has even more heart than All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault.

In Gardner’s intriguing world, people acquire Dark and Light superpowers, Dark by paying obscene sums of money for immortality (and surrendering any control over their form this “gift” takes – vampire, ghost, demon, or something incredibly squicky and nameless). Light sort of happens to folks, as it did in the first installment, turning our current protagonist, hockey player and science student Jools, into Ninety-Nine, the human Olympic-level best at everything (including WikiJools, encyclopedic knowledge resident in her mind).

Throw into the mix an array of Mad Geniuses and superhero/Mad Genius Robin Hood (who steals from the rich but can’t give to the poor without revealing his secret identity) and his Merry Men, a supernatural bazooka claimed by the villain in the first book and sought after by all and sundry, and a handful of unexpected explosions and side-effects, and the result is a delightfully wacky first-person narrative. It’s got an immense amount of heart, too, because now that the basic rules of this world are established, Light/Dark sides drawn, and action moving right along, the choices Jools makes and the sacrifices she’s willing to make for the people she loves are really what the story is all about.

I hope this one-two switcheroo in point of view character follows through in subsequent volumes, and as I would love to get to know the other flatmates/superheroes in the gang as their lives unfold.

Highly recommended, but do read All Those Explosions first for maximum enjoyment.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Lace and Blade 5 Author Interview: Gillian Polack

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:


My introduction to the work of Gillian Polack was The Wizardry of Jewish Women, a concoction of pink tutus, sarcasm, amulets and bushfires. and oh yes, Jewish women with and without magic, set in Australia. I was instantly literarily smitten.

Deborah J. Ross: Tell us a little about yourself.  How did you come to be a writer?
Gillian Polack: I love telling people that when I was eight I stopped in front my Grade Three Classroom - for I was in Grade Four and had just been moved to the Big School to study with Mr Remenyi – and said to the empty air, “I’m going to be a writer. I’ll need another job because I won’t make enough money to live on.” My other job was going to be in history, though I flirted with other careers from time to time. I have no idea how I could have known that much about myself or the writing world when I was eight. I suspect Mr Remenyi was a part of it, for he taught us Christina Rosetti’s work and it was love at first reading. I knew I wanted readers to react to my work with the same voraciousness we reacted to her poems.

DJR: What inspired your story in Lace and Blade 5?
GP: I had just been diagnosed with glaucoma and told it was not responding to treatment. I spent three months talking myself through the emotions of it. This story was to remind me that blindness is not going to stop me being myself and that I need to find the people who will see that in order to lead a happy life in future. This story, then, is my declaration to the world about the future I’m carving for myself.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Short Book Reviews: A Vaccination Medical Thriller

Kingdom of Needle and Bone by Mira Grant (Subterranean Press) belongs in the tradition of
epidemic thrillers, always a favorite of mine for their medical neepery. In this story, a measles-like a virus (“Morris’s Disease”) results in a loss of immunity to all pathogens. Besides the illness itself, with its fever, rashes, and so forth, the patient’s immune system loses the ability to “remember” being exposed to any other infection. Therefore no immunization to any disease gives protection. The mortality rate from this disease is very high, but worse yet is that the survivors are left without the ability to fight off future infections of any type. The only way they can survive is by complete quarantine, which figures prominently in the story.

The story begins with journalistic descriptions of Patient Zero, her fatal illness, and the spread of the disease, which is highly contagious and easily spread by contact with inanimate objects such as door knobs. A more personal view of the unfolding catastrophe comes through the point of view of that child's aunt, Dr. Isabelle Gauley, a physician who later devises a strategy to save humankind from the epidemic. Some medical thrillers jump from one point of view to the next, showing the many different and varied experiences as characters either succumb to whatever plague has arisen or take part in finding a solution. By focusing on just one character who has a personal relationship to the first victim and who also has complicated relationships with other members of her family, Grant skillfully sets up the surprising twist at the end. Cataclysmic historical events — like the Black Plague of the 14th Century CE — affect multitudes but can be emotionally remote unless dramatized through the lives of individual characters. Grant achieves both the world-changing nature of a pandemic and the intimate journey and ultimate personal responsibility of a small set of characters.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Happy New Year: 2019 Intentions, Goals, and Wishes

I'm not big on resolutions, New Year's or otherwise. More often than not, all they do is set me up to fail or put me in competition with others, and who needs that? However, I do see a great deal of value in taking some time to clarify where I'm going in my life, if it's where I want to be going, and what I'd like to see different.

Years (as in, decades) ago, a friend suggested making a list of goals instead of resolutions, and to break them down into 1-year, 5-year, 10-year, and lifetime goals. I did that for quite a while, and I still have the notebook I kept them in. It's fascinating to look back at what I thought I wanted, 30 years ago -- what I have achieved, what I no longer want, and what is no longer possible.

Along the way, I realized that some of these things were within my power to achieve, but others were not. I might long for them, but I could not bring them about, or not entirely by my own efforts. For instance, finishing a novel or studying Hebrew are things I can choose to do, but my children being happy, however much I might desire to see that come about, is not something I myself can create. These things are wishes, not goals. Of course, many things are both. On my list is to write a work of enduring value -- I can write the best stories that are in me, but how they are received and how they endure the test of time is another matter entirely. I have no say over that.

For 2007, the year I turned 60:
1 year goals:
Finish (a specific book I was working on)
Transfer family videos to DVD
Celebrate becoming a crone

5 year goals:
Keep writing good stuff

10 years/lifetime:

Be active and happy
Do something activist and outrageous

As I wrote down goals and wishes, year after year, I found that they changed in other ways. The specifics tended to be resolved or discarded, but things emerged that were more general and had more to do with quality and spirit than measurable achievements. An example -- writing something that would speak to people long after I'm gone as opposed to selling a novel or selling a particular novel -- shows this change. The farther out in time the goals/wishes, the less they resembled "resolutions." I've started to think of them as intentions instead.

Yet, the universe does not cooperate with our best intentions. I can wish for and intend to have a year that is one way but get presented with situations and challenges I had no way of anticipating and end up with something quite different, marvelous or heart-breaking. Part of the shift from resolutions to intentions is the introduction of flexibility, of a suppleness of response to whatever life brings. Life is not limited by my imagination (or my fears). It is an adventure, not a fixed syllabus.

For 2019, the year I will turn 72, my intentions are:
1 year intentions:
Write well most days
Exercise well most days
Make music most days
Let the people I love know how precious they are to me

5 years/10 years/lifetime:
Keep writing good stuff
Live a happy life
Be of service to others

My wishes are:
A more compassionate world
A return to political sanity
Hope for the devastation of global warming
Saving the most vulnerable people from poverty and climate change

Photo by Cleo Sanda (1962-2012), may her memory be for a blessing.