Friday, September 23, 2011

Progress on The Children of Kings

The Marion Zimmer Literary Trust has approved the draft of The Children of Kings and I'm giving it a "one-more-pass" go-through. This is not a substantial revision, but a light polish. Mostly, it's a check not only for grammar and syntactical infelicities, but all those little errors that creep in when you've done a bunch of cut-and-pastes (or is it cuts-and-paste? that sort of thing). These don't get caught by either spelling or grammar checkers. Only real human beings can detect them, and not always then. We tend to see what we intended to write, not what's actually on the page or screen.

I'm at the stage of feeling immensely pleased with this book. Here's what I was working on yesterday (I took out a couple of spoilers) Hopefully, this snippet, taken utterly out of context and from the middle of the book, isn't too confusing.

    The villagers drew together, murmuring under their breaths.
    "Well?" Hayat demanded. "Has the fire stolen your tongues as well as your wits? What happened here?"

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

September Grieving, part three

For those of you who are following this essay here, rather than on the Book View Cafe blog (or my LiveJournal), here's the third and final part.

What has changed for me this year is that I have begun to work for the abolition of the death penalty. Speaking only for myself, I see strong parallels between a murder victim family seeking this form of revenge and the vilification of the Muslim community concurrent with the invasion of Iraq. Of course, justice is desirable. Criminal acts call for appropriate consequences. I would never say that it’s okay for my mother’s killer to walk the streets or that those responsible for the 9/11 attacks should not be prosecuted according to law. Setting aside the politics of that invasion and the problems with the application of capital punishment, however, my concern is with whether retaliative actions help or hinder the recovery of the survivors.

My own experience is that revenge does not. I want to emphasize that I do not speak for anyone else. We all have different experiences. For me, focusing on wishing harm to the one who had harmed my mother might well have kept me locked — incarcerated — in a state of bitterness and hatred. While I was in no way to blame for what happened, I still bear the responsibility for what I do with it. It’s like the adult child of an alcoholic getting herself into therapy instead of whining helplessly, attributing all her problems to her upbringing.

I have to ask myself, What do I need? What do I want? One of my inspirations was a woman of astonishing kindness and grace, whose daughter and son-in-law were murdered and whose bodies she discovered. She told me that she faced a choice of whether or not to let herself be driven crazy by what she experienced. I think we all have that choice — to succumb to the darkness of our anguish and righteous fury, or to walk through it, to move beyond it.

I remember the scene in The Princess Bride where Inigo Montoya finally tracks down Count Rugen, who begs for his life and offers anything. Inigo says, “I want my father back!” (and then kills him). I want my mother back, too. All those who lost loved ones and colleagues want them back. We know that’s impossible, but what is possible is to get our own lives back. Our own selves. Our best selves.

My experience of healing is that I get myself back when I focus on re-engaging with life, on fully experiencing my feelings, on understanding what I have lost and what can never be replaced, but what can be restored. The more I stop looking to an external event (the execution of the murderer) to somehow make me feel better or “achieve closure,” and instead focus on taking care of my insides — my heart, my spirit, my body — the better I fare.

So I’ve been talking about my own healing process and what I’ve learned. I’ve been meeting with other family members and with people who’ve been sentenced to death and then exonerated. I’ve been looking for ways to build bridges, to nourish tolerance and reconciliation, to create understanding. I make an ongoing conscious decision to not harbor hatred in my heart, but to fill it instead with what I want in my life.

Love. Compassion. Gratitude. Joy. Wonder. Peace.

I can think of no more fitting memorial for my mother . . . or for those who died on 9/11.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Post on Queer-Welcoming Anthologies Reposted

If you were looking for "Queer-Welcoming Anthology Adventures", and found yourself redirected to the Book View Cafe blog site (and hence, could not find it, because it came out April 2011), don't give up. I've put up the entire text below (and also edited the April 12, 2011 blog post to include it).

The recent brouhaha about an anthology (in which a number of authors withdrew their stories after one author was told to change her M/M to heterosexual) highlights for me how much power an editor has in establishing the tone of the anthology. This happens not only through the selection and editing of the stories, but on a much more fundamental level of concept and outreach. The editor’s vision for the book and the care and inclusiveness with which the authors are invited have a profound effect on what gets submitted and by whom.

In 2007, I was asked by Vera Nazarian of Norilana Books if I’d like to edit an anthology. This was something I’d thought about for a long time. I’d had both wonderful and awful experiences from the writerly standpoint, and I had formed opinions about how I wanted to treat my authors. I also thought it would be a great thing to work with my favorite writers and to meet new ones. After some discussion, we arrived at a topic: romantic, swashbuckling “sword & sorcery” fantasy with wit and intelligence. The title, Lace and Blade, was one Vera came up with to describe this particular flavor of fantasy.

Because we wanted to bring the first volume out the following Valentine’s Day and time was short, I decided to make the first volume by invitation. Tanith Lee had already agreed to send a story, and I contacted a number of authors that I knew either personally or professionally, authors I could count on to understand the concept and deliver fine stories. I specifically stated in the guidelines:
This is not “Romance” but “romance,” a play of sensibilities, a vision of something wondrous but not sentimentalized, from bittersweet to transcendent, stirring the heart, but not stereotyped “love stories.” I have no objection to happy endings (or heterosexuality, or monogamy), but I do not require them. … Alternate sexuality is welcome, although this is not specifically gay-themed — these are stories of the heart, not the plumbing.

In other words, I wanted to see stories of love and adventure for all of us, queer and straight. I believe that we all benefit by celebrating love (and courage and compassion) in its wondrous and diverse forms.
One of the authors I contacted was Chaz Brenchley. I’d read a little of his work and loved it. He sent me “In the Night Street Baths,” which featured an intimate relationship between two eunuchs, complete with a steamy sex scene (steamy in more than one sense, since it takes place in the baths). I say intimate rather than romantic because of the subtlety and complexity with which Chaz portrayed an unusual relationship. One doesn’t typically think of eunuchs of having love lives, let alone sexuality, so the story is startling and disquieting as well as deeply moving.

Many of the other stories fell comfortably within the parameters of traditional heterosexual fiction, beautifully rendered but not likely to discomfit the conservative reader. (Or so I thought. It turns out that the only reader reviews on that objected to sexual content found it all to be distasteful.) I was pleased that my anthological “tent” was big enough to include them all. It offered “something for everyone,” and “something to enlarge most people’s reading experience.”

I’d worked with Marion Zimmer Bradley for long enough, as an author she edited as well as a personal friend, to know that the narrower the scope of an anthology and the more rigid the guidelines, the deeper into the slush pile you have to dig. The stories that can hit a tiny target and offer excellent quality are few and far between.

I wanted excellence and I also wanted stories that pushed me–and my readers–just a little over the edge, that made my world larger and richer and more filled with possibilities. Chaz and BVC members Sherwood Smith and Madeleine E. Robins, Tanith Lee, Mary Rosenblum, Robin Wayne Bailey, Diana L. Paxson, Dave Smeds and Catherine Asaro sent me stories that answered the spirit of the premise in rainbow profusion. Reader response suggested that although not every story was to every reader’s taste, every reader found something to love, and every story reached the hearts of some readers.

After the anthology came out, Steve Berman of Lethe Press contacted me to reprint Chaz’s story in Wilde Stories 2009: The Year’s Best Gay SF. Other stories in the first volume appeared on LOCUS Recommended Reading, and Mary Rosenblum’s “Night Wind” was a Nebula Finalist.

We’re all different in what delights and inspires us, not just queer/straight and male/female, but as individuals. I suspect that the differences between one person and another are far greater than between sexually/gender-identified groups. And I hope to play a small part in creating a world in which no one feels invisible or excluded.

A Personal Essay: September Grieving, part one

This is the first part of a post I wrote about my experience of a private grief in the midst of national remembrance. I'll put up a second installment tomorrow. The entire essay will appear Tuesday in the Book View Cafe blog.

At this time of year, I often feel out of step with the rest of the country, at least as portrayed by the media and demonstrated by election results. This year is different.

Like just about everyone else I know who's old enough to remember the events of 9/11, I have a vivid memory of how I learned about them. I was driving my younger daughter to high school and we were listening to the news on the car radio. We heard the announcer cry, "The second Tower is down!" and the rest of the story tumbled out. The way the events unfolded reminded me poignantly of John F. Kennedy's assassination. I was in high school in 1963, just about the same age my daughter was on September 11. Listening to the news broadcast with her, I experienced a parallel of my own youthful experience. Once again, the world became to be a dangerous and unpredictable place, but for me it was not the first time. I too responded with a feeling that the world has changed forever, but I also had the memory of having walked through this before -- and not just the Presidential assassination.

For me, Septembers will never be solely about 9/11. Twenty-five years ago this month, my mother was raped and beaten to death by a neighbor kid on drugs. It was a spectacularly brutal, headline-banner crime, but only part of a larger tragedy, for his own family had suffered the murder of his older brother by a serial killer some years before. My body knows when the anniversary is approaching, even when my thoughts are distracted. The shift in the quality of the light at summer's end reaches deep into my nervous system. The scar tissue on my heart aches. The ghosts of things that once held the power to drive me crazy stir in the darkness. My sleep becomes fragile, even though I no longer have nightmares. It's a hard time, an intensely personal time.

One thing I have learned over the years is that grief isn't fungible; you can't compare or exchange one person's experience with another's or say, This one's pain is two-thirds the intensity of that one's. Grief is grief; loss is loss. There's no benefit to anyone in comparisons. And no one else can do the hard emotional work of healing for us.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Revenge and Retaliation

For various personal reasons, I've been thinking about the human tendency to lash out in retaliation. To take revenge for a wrong (whether actual or imagined), and to focus all resources toward that end. Such single-minded dedication makes for dramatic fiction. It is, after all, a form of self-sacrifice for a greater good -- the righting of wrongs, the punishment of the wicked, the service of justice. It also presents a wealth of possibilities for action and for exaggerated emotion.

It's also a natural and, dare I say, universal human impulse. When someone hurts us, our first and automatic reaction is anger. I think this is true, no matter what our religious beliefs, our social conditioning, or our meditation practices. These things influence how we express our reaction, but I don't think they can eliminate it. We want to strike back. Anger can be immensely helpful in energizing us to life-preserving action. It also has the result of temporarily numbing both physical and emotional pain. In the natural course of events, however, this reaction is quite brief in duration. We humans -- and the characters we create -- run into problems when we become frozen at this stage. Then we start thinking, "I've got to make her pay," or "That'll teach him." Then we start planning out our revenge, distorting our lives to creating suffering in others.

In fiction as in life, actions have consequences. As writers, it behooves us to understand the difference between natural consequences and created or artificial consequences. If Character A is an habitual liar, the natural consequence is that anyone who's had dealings with him will become distrustful. People may also be angry and resentful if they've been harmed in other ways. A created consequence might be someone slaughtering A's favorite guinea pig and hanging the carcass outside A's door. The distinction here is not only one of appropriateness but of scope. Cheating at poker has natural consequences within the game (and its financial obligations); fire-bombing the cheater's home town escalates the conflict to a new level.