Friday, July 30, 2021

Book Reviews: Women Seizing Power

The Women's War
, by Jenna Glass (Del Rey)

Reminiscent of both C.L. Polk’s The Midnight Bargain and Louise Marley’s The Terrorists of Irustan, this world’s women, although as capable as men of using magic, are denied its practice. Their value lies in the marriage alliances they can bring and the magic their sons may inherit. In the dominant Western European-style realm, even women from rich and aristocratic families are treated as chattel, discarded at whim into The House of the Unwanted and a life of prostitution and economic slavery. The story weaves together the lives of a number of women caught in different ways in this pernicious system: the widowed daughter of a king, despised by her half-brother and desperate to protect her children; one of the Unwanted, thrust from sex slavery into leadership, for which she feels singularly unprepared; the despised wife of the heir to the throne who sees her only worth in her unborn child; the princess royal of a small kingdom, destined to save her people by sacrificing love for marriage.

The world changes dramatically when several kinswomen, who have been practicing and refining their magic secretly, enact a curse over all the realms, and then perish. With their deaths, no one can reverse what they have done. The curse ensures that no woman shall be pregnant unwillingly. Across the realms, women who are not truly willing to bear children either miscarry or fail to conceive.

Political chaos threatens. Scapegoated and then exiled, the surviving Unwanted journey to a barren land, that guarantees extreme hardship and poverty. What they discover there will change their world even more than the curse.

The women and their plight, their courage, and most of all, the way they learn to work together swept me up from the first chapter.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Deborah Goes Blackberry Picking (a video adventure)

 Join me and my daughter, Sarah, as we pick blackberries, observe bees enjoying fennel pollen, and turn blackberries into compote.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Characters Hurling Insults For Fun and Profit

How many times has a discussion escalated into an argument, or an argument into violence, with the hurling of insults? It seems we human beings never outgrow the impulse to call people who disagree with us nasty names. There have been enough compilations of creative, gleeful, or historical insults to fill entire libraries. We so much enjoy our own cleverness that we blithely ignore whether calling someone names actually encourages them to change their behavior or whether it firmly cements their own negative opinion of us and their determination to not do whatever it is we want. The words we use and the comparisons we make say as much about us as about those we are insulting. The same is true for characters in fiction.

Let’s accept as given that the purpose of insults is not reconciliation. If that were true, we’d have long since achieved peace in the Middle East, not to mention a few dozen other places around the globe. What are the other possibilities? 

  • Venting ill temper, including displaced aggression – that’s the man who kicks his dog instead of his boss, the real target of his anger.
  • Showing off for a third party.
  • Parroting what has been said by those the character respects.
  • Being out of control. If violence is the last refuge of the incompetent, then surely hurling insults is an expression of frustration in a person who simply can’t come up with a constructive response.
  • Trying to provoke a reaction, whether it’s loss of control in the other character or an escalation of violence.
  • Justifying previous ill-treatment of the person being insulted.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Book Reviews: Superb Sea-Faring Fantasy

In this highly original, vividly depicted world, ships powered by magical flames sail across an ocean of exotic grasses. Crews harvest the lucrative psychoactive plants, although the area around the principal island has been growing increasingly barren of such prizes. A mob boss is gradually taking control of the free ships by rationing their access to drinking water, a vanishingly rare resource. The Forever Sea presents its own dangers. Pirates sail the grasses, of course. Exceptionally nasty ones, who slaughter vanquished captains for their bones to fuel the flames. Below the surface, dragons lurk, as well as even more fantastically gruesome, lethal creatures. For any ship that can reach it, the legendary Once City beckons.

Into this world comes Kindred, a young hearthfire keeper with a rare, intuitive gift for singing to the flames. Granddaughter to a legendary captain, Kindred struggles against both the ordinary dangers of the Forever Sea and the restrictions of the hearthfire keeper academy. To make matters worse, her grandmother has disappeared, leaving cryptic messages about the world beneath the surface of the sea. Kindred’s voyage will test her loyalty to her ship, captain, and crewmates, against the longing of her heart to follow in her grandmother’s path.

This is a huge, gorgeous story. The world-building is highly original and filled with brilliant details. The characters have depth and complexity, and most of all, heart. Their choices – loyalty to the ship, to each other, to themselves – their mistakes and losses and triumphs, their loves and grudges, all exemplify what it is to be human. At times the narrative read like prose poetry, and I had to slow down to savor it.

Superb storytelling in a brilliantly original world with memorable characters make The Forever Sea a stand-out.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

New Interview!

 I was interviewed by NF Reads. Here's a sample:

# How do you deal with creative block?

For a long time, I used to joke that I couldn’t afford writer’s block. I began writing professionally when my first child was a baby and I learned to use very small amounts of time. This involved “pre-writing,” going over the next scene in my mind (while doing stuff like washing the dishes) until I knew exactly how I wanted it to go; when I’d get a few minutes at the typewriter (no home computers yet), I’d write like mad. I always had a backlog of scenes and stories and whole books, screaming at me to be written. The bottleneck was the time in which to work on them. Now I understand that it is indeed possible to run into a brick wall, creatively speaking. This usually means there is an issue in my set-up or I need more time to mull over a problem that just under the surface. In all of these cases, the best thing I can do is to write something else: a journal, poetry (I’m a terrible poet), blog posts, something hideously self-indulgent and unpublishable, letters, shopping lists…the point is to keep the words flowing while the “back” part of my mind sorts things out.