Monday, February 27, 2012

The Feathered Edge: A Woman Warrior and The Horned King

"The Woman Who Fell In Love With The Horned King" is the second story with a woman warrior-as-champion/paladin. One of the most interesting things about putting together these anthologies of romantic, swashbuckling fantasy (2 volumes of Lace and Blade, and now The Feathered Edge: Tales of Magic, Love, and Daring) is the synchronicity -- or parallelism -- or "great minds work alike" thematic resonances. The first had 2 stories about Spanish highwaymen, the second 2 stories with Chinese generals. I'm not in the least surprised, but I am delighted and a bit awestruck by the way life works. The cover for The Feathered Edge could illustrate either this story or Sean McMullen's "Culverelle." You get to pick.

Now to the story. No, wait, background! I've loved Judith Tarr's work since I picked up A Wind In Cairo when it first came out. The horse got me into the book, as I'm a sucker for well-written horse characters, but the sheer mastery of storycraft, the depth and nuance, the use of language, all kept me wanting more. None of this should come as a surprise. Judy knows more about horses than any ten fantasy writers put together, and what she doesn't know, one or another of her nine amazing Lipizzan horses will enlighten us about. She's written the best guide to horses in writing I've ever seen, Writing Horses; The Fine Art of Getting It Right, and if you are a writer and need a horse in your story, it's a must-read.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Now in print...

The Feathered Edge: Tales of Magic, Love, and Daring is now available as a trade paperback. It's up on Amazon - don't see it elsewhere yet. Should make it to bookstores in a week or two.

If you enjoy it, please post a brief review!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Winter reading - some very cool books

I’m an unabashed fan of Katharine Kerr’s “Nola O’Grady” series. The third, Apocalypse To Go, lives up to its predecessors in inventiveness, drama, romance, and whimsy. In this urban fantasy, the heroine works for a supernatural Agency “so secret, the CIA doesn’t know it exists”. This takes place in an alternate San Francisco, one in which magic and the clandestine agencies necessary to regulate it are real. This world is not the only one; there are alternate, weirdly dystopic worlds (and a gateway in the attic of Nola’s aunt’s house). Not only do the Agency and its people hide in plain sight, Nola’s family, Irish illegal immigrants with past ties to the IRA, live with secrets, low on the radar. In this newest novel, we not only explore the radioactive San Francisco from previous episodes, but we encounter yet another world, one in which the dominant intelligent race is feline in origin, leopard to be precise. Apocalypse To Go definitely builds on the previous two books, but Kerr offers enough toe-holds so that it can serve as an entry point. Readers should be warned, however, that the series is addictive.
Winter brings storms, and storms mean power outages. Here in the mountains, these often go on for days. Most years, our generator kicks in and we continue on as before. This year, however, through a series of mechanical failures, we suffered through a period without electricity. Fortunately, there are many wonderful things to do that do not require it. Walking the dog, playing the piano, snuggling by candle light. Reading…as long as it’s daytime. All of which is a roundabout way of saying how glad I was that I’d loaded Pati Nagle’s Immortal on my (fully-charged) netbook computer. As the forest darkened, I pretended I was on vacation and curled up in my favorite chair.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Feathered Edge: Raven Girl and Sir Francis Drake

Sheila Finch's "Fortune's Stepchild" is linked to other stories backwards-fashion. For so many of us, a tale or legend or bit of history so captured our childhood imaginations that forever after, it is a touchstone for "something wonderful and magic." Kari Sperring, for example, grew up dreaming of joining the musketeers and saving France. (Aside: I wonder if there's something about being British -- Sheila's an ex-pat Brit -- that lends itself to such inspiration; we on the other side of the Atlantic can read about Arthur and company, but he's not our Arthur.) At any rate, Sheila admits to a special fondness for tales about Sir Francis Drake (who was an amazingly colorful fellow, even if only a tenth of the stories told about him are true.)

Sheila's best known for her science fiction, including a series of stories about the Guild of Xenolinguists (one of which won the Nebula Award), but she's a writer of many and varied interests. I met her a gazillion years ago, if memory serves me right at the same convention at which I met Sherwood, and thus began a long running conversation. After I fled from Los Angeles to the redwoods of the Central Coast, we'd get together every so often at one convention or another, grab a few friends, and head offsite for the best fish restaurant we could find. And have meaty, thoughtful discussions on everything under the sun.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Feathered Edge: Feathers and Masks

One of the inevitable results of novel writing is that in order to keep the focus on this story (and not the two dozen others that spring up along the way), we have to rein in that natural desire. Myself, I must sometimes bribe secondary characters into staying secondary, by promising them stories of their own, or endowing their appearances with nifty, memorable details. Or virtual chocolate. Then we end up with outtakes, related stories, branching series, and the like. Sometimes, the worlds and casts-of-characters are so vivid and rich, and speak to us so deeply, that we return to them again and again. They provide the setting, background, culture, history for short stories that are complete in themselves, little jewels set in the larger imaginative tapestry.

"The Art of Masks," by Sherwood Smith, is one such story. You don't need to have read her Inda series or her many other works set in the world of Sartorias-deles in order to enjoy it. It's simply a slice of a larger world, complex and varied. But if you have, you'll see all the shimmering threads that lead off in the distance. At the first reference to the ballad of Jeje the Pirate Queen, I wanted to stand up and cheer -- it was like glimpsing an old, dear friend, just a flash and then back to the present moment. And yet, the story works just as well if you've never heard of Jeje before. Although you should. You really should.

In much the same way, this anthology has links to other works, other stories, and the larger world of fantasy. Sean McMullen's story, "Culverelle," is part of a larger tale, with the same characters. "The Woman Who Loved The Horned King," by Judith Tarr, takes place in a world in which she's already set a trilogy. And "Blue Velvet" is part of Diana E. Paxson's series about the intrepid young Baron Claude DeLorme.

Fantasy literature, like other types, takes on the aspect of a conversation, one I'm especially happy to have with Sherwood. She writes deeply and knowledgeably about a variety of historical and literary topics, and has a gift for encouraging newer writers and generating thoughtful discussions on history, manners, story-telling, and a host of related topics. Even when I feel inundated by things to read -- online and in print -- I find her work rewards a second reading, and "The Art of Masks" is no exception. Every story element is precisely balanced, with an interplay of nuance and detail that enhances the sense of the greater world beyond. The good news is that if you, like me, have fallen in love with that world, there is much much more to discover.

And really, what more can one say about a woman who participates in the SFWA Musketeers, enjoys watching The Three Stooges, and reads the letters of Jane Austen?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Murder, the Death Penalty, and Cancer, a personal perspective

Twenty-five years ago, my mother was raped and beaten to death by a teenaged neighbor on drugs. My mother was 70 years old and had been his friend since the time he was a small child. For a long time, I didn't talk much about it except in private situations. This was not to keep it a secret, but to compartmentalize my life so I could function. At first, it was too difficult and then, as the years passed, I refused to let this single incident be the defining experience of my life. Recently, however, I have felt inspired to use my own experience of survival and healing to speak out against the death penalty. I don't write this to convince you one way or another on that particular issue, but to try to illuminate how the two issues are related for me.

My mother's murder was a spectacularly brutal, headline-banner crime, but it was only part of a larger tragedy, for the perpetrator's family had suffered the murder of his older brother some years before. I knew this, but for a long time it didn't matter. My own pain and rage took center stage. But with time and much hard work in recovery, I came to the place of being able to listen to the stories of other people.

We all lose people we love. Tolstoy wrote that happy families are all alike, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. I would interpret that to mean that each loss, each set of relationships and circumstances is unique, but there are things we share.

What might it be like if one family member were murdered -- and another family member had killed someone? What does it feel like to watch the weeks and days pass while the execution of someone you dearly love draws ever nearer? How can we wrap our minds around loving someone and accepting that they have caused such anguish to another family? I've had a chance to talk with people in all these circumstances. It's been a humbling experience.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Feathered Edge: The Australian Connection

Another of the writers whose work I got to know through the SFWA Circulating Book Plan was Australian Sean McMullen. I think the book was Glass Dragons, the second of his Moonworlds series. It's often challenging to begin a series in the middle, but this one posed no problem. Dragons and vampires and "War of the Worlds" and angsty heroes and radical organizers-of-the-people's-revolution, oh my! Well, not all in that first book, but it was enough to get me hooked.

So a little while later, I wandered into the Tor party at a WorldCon and there was Sean McMullen. I think the introduction caught me by surprise because the first words out of my mouth (after "Hello, I'm Deborah") were, "I love your work!" And received a glorious smile in reply, as if I'd just handed him a precious gift. And yes, it was. We create in such solitude, and reviews are such treacherous things when it comes to "did people like my book? did they understand it?" Then to come all the way to a different continent, to be surrounded by people you've heard of and maybe corresponded with but never met in person, and to have a fellow writer recognize your name and have read -- and remembered -- your work. What a joy!

That conversation was necessarily brief. If you've attended a publisher's party -- or any part -- at a WorldCon, you will understand why. Most communications at large conventions are sound bytes anyway, but when you add a crushing crowd, noise, and alcohol, it's many times so. But Sean and his work kept crossing my path -- we both love cats, we're both martial artists (or I used to be -- 30 years of tai chi and kung fu). By the strange synchronicity of publishing, when I returned to the pages of F & SF with my own work ("The Price of Silence," April/May. 2009), it was to an issue that had a story of Sean's as well.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Feathered Edge: About the Feathers...

This is the first in a series of blog posts about the stories in my new anthology, The Feathered Edge.

I love how communities are built and how people are linked. So, in the wonderfully organic network of writers who meet one another across vast distances, I can't talk about "Featherweight" and Kari Sperring without telling the tale of SFWA and its Circulating Book Plan.

The idea is that publishers send review copies to garner Nebula nominations, and boxes of books make their way to participating SFWA members according to an arcane circulating route. Some years ago, this migratory library included a book called Bridge of Dreams by some fellow I'd never heard of, Chaz Brenchley. I try every book that isn't obviously war porn for a few pages, so I opened it...and was lost at the first sentence. It grabbed me, poetry neurons and curiosity and romanticism all in one fell swoop, and didn't let go for 400 pages or however long it was.

Shortly thereafter, I found myself with the delightful prospect of editing my first anthology, Lace and Blade. Because the publisher wanted a Valentine's Day release, she agreed to let me do it by invitation. So I sent Chaz an email. The rest, as they say, was history. I not only received a wonderful story ("In The Night Street Baths," reprinted in Wilde Stories 2009), but made a valued friend.

Through Chaz, I made the online acquaintance of Kari Sperring, a charming and articulate British writer whose first novel, Living With Ghosts, would soon be released (and from my own publisher, making her a fellow DAWthor). Kari's a trained historian and knows about things like ancient Welsh (which I believe she speaks) and Viking history. She's also a fellow cat lover and the owner of an amazing collection of elegant skirts. When I learned that her childhood ambition had been to join the Musketeers, I knew we were kindred spirits. However, friendship is one thing and editorial selection is another.