Monday, April 22, 2019

Citadels of Darkover Author Interview: Barb Caffrey

Coming in May 2019
Strongholds of rock . . . fortresses of the spirit . . . a planet set apart . . .

Citadels can be psychic, emotional, and cultural as well as military, and the wonderfully imaginative contributors to this volume have taken the basic idea and spun out stories in different and often unexpected directions.

Pre-order it at:

Here I chat with contributor Barb Caffrey:

Deborah J. Ross: How did you become a writer?
Barb Caffrey: When I was very young, I started writing. I don't remember exactly when, either; I do remember that my first try at a really elaborate story was when I was eleven years old. I wrote about the first ball girl at Milwaukee County Stadium (then the home of the Milwaukee Brewers); at the time, there were no ball girls, just ball boys, and that annoyed me. But because I felt, even at eleven, that the boys wouldn't like it if the girls got to play along with 'em, my female character pretended to be a young boy. And was found out...but another of the boys liked her, and kept her secrets.
I wish I still had that story...ahem.
Anyway, I also wrote poetry, a few SF stories, and some Star Trek pastiches when I was in high school. I enjoyed it, but at the time my focus was on music; I never thought this would end up my career, and the music a sidelight, but life is what it is. (And I'd not have it any other way.)

DJR: What authors inspired you?
BC: There were so many, growing up. Probably the first writer I read a lot from was Poul Anderson; our junior high library had a lot of his books, and I found them amusing. (I did not take Dominic Flandry seriously, but I enjoyed his adventures. Had I been a bit older, I might've been alarmed by Flandry's misogyny, or at least by his cynicism. But I've always had a soft spot for him.) Then I read Andre Norton, and was so pleased to find out Andre was a woman...then, when I was in high school, I remember reading several of Marion Zimmer Bradley's books, mostly the juveniles (we'd definitely now call 'em YA), including the romance between Andrew Carr and his eventual wife, Callista.
I returned to Darkover again and again, because I found it to be such an interesting world. 
Then I found The Shattered Chain, and I was riveted. The structure. The style. The story!
Best of all, I got to meet three strong women in Lady Rohana, Terran Magda Lorne, and Jaelle n'ha Melora. And I loved 'em all, and could see at least a little of myself reflected in matter what choices they made, they knew they had to make them consciously, as best they could. And the idea of conscious choice was new to me, so I wanted to know more.
Anyway, more contemporary writers who've definitely made an impact include Rosemary Edghill, Katharine Eliska Kimbriel, and of course my late husband, writer Michael B. Caffrey. Without all three of them, I would not be the writer I am today.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Book Reviews: Of Alchemy, and Ethos, and Siblings

Middlegame, by Seanan McGuire (Tor)

I’ve enjoyed Seanan McGuire’s books since I discovered Rosemary and Rue and the “Incryptid” series. Her sense of dramatic flow, finely-handled narrative pacing, and just plain nifty stuff made each successive adventure more enjoyable. I quickly learned that when I picked up one of her books, I was in for a good time. Sometimes I wondered how she was able to maintain the quality of her work, given how productive she was. Not only did she consistently deliver one good story after another, but her recent releases have leapt from “good” to memorable. Her novella, Every Heart a Doorway, was stunning, a journey of the heart as well as a series of dramatic events, richly deserving both the Nebula and Hugo Awards. I loved her “Sparrow Road” ghost stories, too. Now I can add Middlegame, an alchemy/Frankenstein/time-traveling/sibling-story to that list.

The outer frame of the story involves a precocious and wildly talented alchemist who devises a way to remake the world through the human incarnations of the Doctrine of Ethos.
“In the ancient world the Greeks believed music had a magical power to speak directly to human emotion. In what has come to be known as the doctrine of ethos, the Greeks believed that the right kind of music had the power to heal the sick and shape personal character in a positive way. The Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that when music was designed to imitate a certain emotion, a person listening to the music would have that emotion.” – From Music and the Doctrine of Ethos,
McGuire uses a somewhat different sense of this doctrine, albeit still in the sense of possessing transformative powers. The alchemist, Asphodel Baker, and her disciples set about creating pairs of twins whose natural talents (language and mathematics, for example, or order and chaos) complement and complete one another. Adopted out and separated as infants, when mature they will be drawn together to fully manifest the Doctrine and grant the one who controls them power over the universe. Or so goes the plan.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Passover 5779: My Favorite Charoseth Recipe

Passover is my very favorite holiday, Jewish or secular. I love the warmth, the connection with tribal history, and so many of the phrases that remind me everyone is welcome at this table, and that until all of us are free, none of us can be. Of course, all the stories about Passovers past, like the one in college when, after all 4 obligatory glasses of wine, V called his parents in Chicago to wish them Happy Passover, so I did (mine were in California), and the L called hers -- good Southern Baptists... It was that same seder when, at the moment when we fling open the door to invite Elijah into our homes and our hearts, B stopped by, hoping to scrounge dinner. And so forth.

Then there are the foods, glorious foods! Most Ashkenazi Jews make charoseth (which represents the mortar the Hebrew slaves used to build the pyramids) from finely chopped apples, walnuts, sweet Passover wine, and a little matzoh meal (from the special kind of matzoh kosher for Passover, that has been carefully monitored to make sure there is no leavening). This concoction always set my teeth on edge. I dreaded it...until I discovered this recipe for Yemenite charoseth. It's so sweet, I can eat only a little at a time, but bursting with flavor.

Yemenite Charoseth -- about 12 servings

1 cup pitted, chopped dates (I use Medjool when I can find them)
1/2 cup chopped dried figs
1/3 cup sweet Passover wine (or fruit juice)
3 Tablespoons sesame seeds
1 tsp - 1 T ginger, either powdered dry or fresh, according to your taste
Dash - 1/2 tsp ground coriander
Dash cayenne -- optional
2 Tablespoons matzoh meal (I use brown rice or sorghum flour as it needs to be GF)

Combine the fruit and wine. Add sesame, spices, and matzoh meal until thoroughly mixed. Roll into 1" balls or serve in a mound.


The image is the first Nuremberg Haggadah, circa 1449 C.E.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Citadels of Darkover Author Interviews: Lillian Csernica

Coming in May 2019
Strongholds of rock . . . fortresses of the spirit . . . a planet set apart . . .

Citadels can be psychic, emotional, and cultural as well as military, and the wonderfully imaginative contributors to this volume have taken the basic idea and spun out stories in different and often unexpected directions.

Here I chat with contributor Lillian Csernica:

Deborah J. Ross: How did you become a writer?
Lillian Csernica: As far back as I can remember, I've always loved stories. I still have the copy of the Little Golden Book of Fairy Tales my mother gave me when I was in kindergarten. In elementary school we made our own books. Like many writers, I spent a lot of my childhood at the library. Stories have always been important to me, both for the reading and the writing.

DJR: What authors inspired you?
LC: Ray Bradbury, Tanith Lee, Harlan Ellison, and Agatha Christie, among others.

DJR: Were there any pivotal moments in your literary journey?
LC: My first short story sale, Fallen Idol, made it into DAW's The Year's Best Horror Stories XX. The sale of my pirate romance, Ship of Dreams, was a major career milestone. The Treehouse Writers Group, the folks behind the Clockwork Alchemy steampunk convention, invited me to contribute to their convention anthologies. We're currently in production on the fourth anthology in the series. Writing steampunk has opened my eyes to the wonders of combining science and fantasy.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Short Book Reviews: Fighting Amorphous Monsters Without Using Magic

City of Broken Magic, by Mirah Bolender (Tor)

In this fairly recognizable post-Industrial Revolution world, magic is both friend and foe. Enchanted amulets are useful in all sorts of ways, but let one become empty or damaged, and an infestation of vicious magic, taking the form of a jellyfish-like “monster” will erupt, consuming everything in its path. In the city of Amicae, as elsewhere, Sweepers clear out such infestations, but they are few in number. Two, to be precise, the notorious, irascible, scoundrel-with-a-heart-of-gold, Clae Sinclair, and his apprentice, Laura. Soon they acquire a third, one of the very few humans to possess innate magic. But the situation in Amicae is unstable, with government propaganda proclaiming that there is no infestation problem and Sinclair’s team fighting an increasingly desperate battle with the odds stacked against them.

I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, the system of magic and its evil manifestations is reasonably fresh, and I liked the characters a great deal, especially how their relationships evolved over time. On the other hand, I found much of the magical terminology vague and confusing. “Monster” could mean anything from a tyrannosaur to Cookie Monster to a serial killer to a thing-that-goes-bump-in-the-night. I never got a clear visual of these, and I really wish they had a better, more descriptive name. Amorphic, toxic ink-squid would do, amorphs or ATIS for short. Likewise, “Gin” and “kin” (don’t ask me why one is capitalized and not the other; I haven’t a clue) and a host of other terms for magical energy.

My biggest disappointment, though, was that I thought the story was setting up for a romance between Laura and Clae. She’s beset by other people in her life who want her to be less than her potential because of her sex, except for Clae, who consistently demands her best and refuses to coddle her. A dozen subtle moments make clear her growing tenderness for him, her compassion for his tortured past, and her maturity within their relationship. Perhaps the author saw that as an easy, predictable outcome, but I relish stories where characters force one another to grow, and then to grow in love.

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