Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Feathered Edge: Ghosts in a Garden, and a Farewell

I've been wondering how I can write about K. D. Wentworth's marvelous, touching story, "The Garden of Swords." I put off this essay until the last, and you'll see why. In the story, a young scullery maid finds solace in the castle garden, in which the slain opponents of the power-mad baron are buried. This is a magical garden, and the ghosts of those swordsmen (and swordswoman!) become the girl's friends, confidantes, teachers, and on occasion her protectors. When I read it over, I feel as if Kathy's ghost is there, too, welcoming us all into her special realm of enchantment and friendship.

I met K. D. Wentworth back in the days when GEnie was a vibrant and interconnected community. I don't know how well the site worked for others, but we sf/f writers took to the bulletin board topics like ducks to supernovae. The various round tables were like rooms in an ongoing convention, with some silly chat and some serious conversations. Professional relationships formed and deepened, and many beginning writers found support and encouragement there. Alas, GEnie with its text-only format went the way of the dinosaur as the clocks ticked over into 2000, but many of the friendships are still going strong.

We met in person a few times, although I did not frequently travel outside the West Coast and she hailed from Oklahoma. I found her as charming and thoughtful in person as online. A number of her short fiction pieces were Nebula Award finalists (the novelette, "Kaleidoscope" 2008, and "Burning Bright" 1997, "Tall One" 1998, and "Born Again" 2005) have been Nebula award finalists. I knew she was one of the writers I wanted for The Feathered Edge.

True to her high professional standards, she sent me a story that is extraordinary. In clear prose and straightforward narrative, she managed to reach into my heart. "In the Garden of Swords" fits loosely within the theme of elegant romantic fantasy, a ghost-story-with-a-twist, sword and sorcery, but it is also a story of how love and kindness, strength and truth, transcend death. Whenever I re-read it, I hear Kathy's literary voice still spinning out tales of wonder and hope.

Kathy died in April 2012. I had no idea she was so ill. We weren't close, except in the sense that all writers who love fantasy and whose professional paths cross are close.

Wherever you are, Kathy, thank you for your marvelous stories. The world is richer for having had you in it.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Feathered Edge: An Outlander Takes on Masks and Feathers

Writers form communities in various ways, and I think there is no finer, more supportive or interwoven community than people who read and write fantasy and science fiction. Sometimes it feels as if there really are only about 300 of us, and we mill around, meeting one another through yet another different connection. Just as I wouldn't have met Rosemary Hawley Jarman except through Tanith Lee, who I had met through Norilana's publisher, I wouldn't have had the joy of editing Samantha Henderson's "Outlander" if I had not been friends and colleagues with Sheila Finch (whose "Fortune's Stepchild" also appears in The Feathered Edge).

Samantha was such a discovery that I searched out her other work. It came as no surprise that's she's also a poet and winner of the Rhysling Award, or that her fiction spans a spectrum from hilarious to very strange-and-dark, with a little steampunk thrown in, too. As one whose own poetry efforts are best forgotten, I'm a bit in awe of writers who can do this well, and even more so when they, like Samantha, are adept at prose stories as well.

"Outlander" has many of the superficial trappings we've seen before, in the adventures of a man from the "sticks" who is seen by members of a caste-bound aristocracy as uncouth and dull-witted, although physically strong. We expect to find him in the dueling arena instead of the drawing room, and so we do, but not for the reasons we -- and the narrator -- assume. The story is told from the point of view of a member of the nobility who, while unable to see beyond his own prejudices, provides a transparent window for the reader's experience. Throughout the story, from the very first sentence, runs a vein of wit, not to mention keen social commentary. The result is a delightful mixture of humor and romance, with a twist at the end.

And I'm not saying any more about it, lest I spoil the surprise.

You can listen to this marvelous story on Podcastle.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Music and grief

Our elderly and Highly Opinionated tortoiseshell cat, Cleopatra, died Saturday morning. She's made it to her 20th birthday last month, which astonished us all. Privately, I think she wasn't about to let the dog outlast her. (Oka, our wonderful German Shepherd Dog, died on Wednesday.)

It's a bit much to take in, the loss of two pets within a week. We're keeping an eye on the black cat who was Oka's buddy. He wanders around the house, clearly looking for Oka. (He still has a cat friend, one-eyed lady pirate Gayatri.)

I've been studying piano as an adult for about 7 or 8 years now. I play mostly classical, but add in fun stuff, too, like music from The Lord of the Rings. Earlier this spring, I began working on "Into the West." It's an easy setting, and it's flowing nicely, although in a key I can't sing. That's okay. Since Oka died, I've played it with tears streaming down my face. "All dogs pass...into the west." The music brings up grief in a way words can't. A healing way, a gentle way that lets me go as deep as is right for me at the moment. It's not the same as listening to music because I'm inside of it, I'm creating it right now in this moment and no two performances are ever the same. It reminds me poignantly of how pets live in the "now."

Today's practice was a little different. One of my serious pieces is the 3rd Gymnopedie by Satie. The tempo is Lento e grave. I slowed it a bit, focusing on the full tone of each chord, and realized I was playing it for both animals. The right hand melody soars above the funeral bass rhythm in that aeolian mode. Sweet and sad and profoundly honoring the memory of these friends-in-fur.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Space Opera Fridays Revisits: Is Darkover Space Opera?

This post from a couple of years ago still gets viewers, so in case you missed it, I'm giving it another day of blog-glory. With the recent publication of The Children of Kings, which takes place entirely on Darkover, but does involve things going 'splody in space, it seems appropriate.

My husband, sf writer Dave Trowbridge, and I were discussing the appeal of space opera at breakfast, what it is and why it appeals. Basically, space opera is a type of science fiction set on a large scale, highly dramatic and sometimes melodramatic. It tends to have military elements -- huge battles upon which hinge the fate of galactic empires, that sort of thing. Although wikipedia says it has nothing to do with the musical form, I think that reflects their own ignorance. What space opera and musical opera have in common is being larger than life, or rather brighter and more intense than life. Opera was, after all, the epitome high-tech special-effects knock-your-socks-off entertainment for centuries. Music, lyrics, sets, and costumes, not to mention trap doors and wire harnesses, exotic animals and fireworks, all enhanced one another. But that's another topic.

We agreed that we love the grand scope of such tales, but that it needs to be balanced by emotionally intimate moments. The same is true, for me at least, in epic fantasy. Monstrous dark forces are threatening the entire world, volcanoes exploding by the thousands, rivers of fire and poison...and then a detail in the characters that's so human, it touches my heart, not just my things-go-boom adrenalin endorphins.

Which brings me to Darkover.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Good night, sweet boy

Most of my blogs are about writing and writers, my projects and those of others. But I want to step aside from that and share a very special life and passing. For those of us who are dog people, the short years we share with a canine companion enrich our lives immeasurably. Our sweet, brave German Shepherd Dog, Oka, died peacefully yesterday. He was 12 1/2, quite old for that breed, had had been battling lymphoma and degenerative myelopathy. We'd hoped to have him for a little while longer, but he developed leukemia, lost the ability to walk, and most likely had an embolism and a stroke. The vet came out to our house and he slipped away with "his people" holding him and talking to him. Also, "his cats" - all 3 gathered around, especially Oka's "best buddy," who cuddled up next to him when it was all over.

Here are a few images to share with you:

Oka at 8 weeks. The green coloring in his right ear is the Schaferhundverein breed tattoo, certifying that he really is a German Shepherd Dog (i.e. both his parents were Schutzhund titled; in fact, his father was the Weltsieger: the world champion).

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Feathered Edge Ventures into an Algerian Brothel

As I've discussed in earlier posts, one of the joys of editing is getting an inside view of another writer's creative process. Sometimes this comes in the reading process, but more likely it happens during the editorial discussions with their give-and-take. Often a good editor can pinpoint places where what is on the page does not fully or accurately convey the writer's intention. We then become conspirators whose goal is to make the story the best incarnation of that authorial vision. When I began editing, I had no idea that I'd also get to witness yet another joy of short fiction -- the inception and development of a series of related stories that trace not only the adventures but the emotional development of a character.

The first anthology I edited was Lace and Blade (Norilana Books, 2008), and I asked Diana L. Paxson, who I'd known about as long as I'd known Marion, to send me a story. The premise of the anthology was elegant, sensual sword and sorcery of the "Scarlet Pimpernel With Magic" or Alfred Noyse's poem, "The Highwayman," variety. Diana gave me a dashing young hero, Baron Claude DeLorme, newly come into his title, and promptly took a right angle turn from the expected European-centered fantasy by sending him off to Brazil to claim an emerald mine as his inheritance. The magic that imbues "The Crossroads" is anything but conventional, but this adventure was only the beginning. If "The Crossroads" taught Claude about Brazilian/African magic, then his next story (in Lace and Blade 2) brought him back to Paris to face a very different sort of supernatural evil in "The Crow." One of the things that most appealed to me in this second story is how, although it stands perfectly well on its own, it's a true, developmental continuation of the previous story. The Claude DeLorme who arrived in Brazil is not the same man battling an occult cabal in Paris...and not the same man who arrives in Algiers.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Space Opera Fridays: Dave Trowbridge on Space Opera and the Siege of Vienna

Space Opera and the Siege of Vienna: the Archetypal Perspective

In their 2003 article How Shit Became Shinola: Definition and Redefinition of Space Opera, David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer defined modern space opera as “colorful, dramatic, large scale science fiction adventure, competently and sometimes beautifully written, usually focused on a sympathetic, heroic central character, and plot action … and usually set in the relatively distant future and in space or on other worlds, characteristically optimistic in tone.”

It would be hard to improve on that definition using words (although I could write an  entire blog post concerning the exceptions that prove the rule—and maybe I will one of these days), but I can show you what I go to space opera for with a single image.

That’s the Alexanderschlacht (The Battle of Alexander at Issus) by Albrecht Altdorfer, which was commissioned in 1528 by William IV, Duke of Bavaria. Altdorfer’s conception of the painting was almost certainly heavily influenced by the defeat of the Suleiman the Magnificent at the Seige of Vienna the next year, and his execution of the commission epitomizes what I look for in space opera, and what Sherwood Smith and I tried to do in our space opera Exordium, which is being reissued in a revised edition by Book View CafĂ©.

Alexanderschlacht portrays the victory of Alexander over Darius III in a battle that was the beginning of the end for the Persian Empire, which fell in 330 BCE with the death of Darius and Alexander’s assumption of his title as king, assuring the Hellenization of the Near East.  The work’s composition is thought to echo the four-kingdom eschatology of the Book of Daniel—Babylon (note the distant Tower of Babylon at the left side of the painting, under the crescent moon), Persia, Greece, and Rome), with Alexander’s victory representing the triumph of Greece over Persia, and echoing the hope that the relief of Vienna represented the triumph of Christendom (i.e., Rome) over Islam.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

One World, Many Stories

From time to time, I take my pile of newly-read books and post reviews. As I sat down recently to do this, I realized that not a single one of them was a true stand-alone. They were either the first book at led to others set in the same world (Kage Baker’s The Garden of Iden, her debut novel and also the first “Company” novel; Garth Nix’s Sabriel, the first book of the “Abhorsen” trilogy); or they were middle books in a series (Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe’s Prey and Sherwood Smith’s Blood Spirits). The Baker and the Nix novels differ in that Baker’s story is complete in itself. No previous knowledge of this world is necessary and the reader is left in a place of rest. Sabriel, on the other hand, clearly is part of a defined trilogy – one long story arc, with only a partial resolution at the end.

The Cornwell is clearly part of an ongoing series that follows one primary character through a certain historical time period, with occasional minor characters, both allies and villains. It is interesting because Cornwell’s first “Sharpe” book began in the middle of the hero’s career. After writing a number of novels, he returned to an earlier time and also “between times,” novels interpolated between previously-published episodes. Each book centers on a battle or other specific, time-limited military event in the Napoleonic Wars and adjacent time periods, and although it is enjoyable to meet old “friends,” there is little sense of development in plot or tension from one story to the next. True, the central character matures with experience, but his personal arc is not the driving force of the novels. The escalating tension, climax, and outcome of each battle provide the structure for the plot.

Smith’s Blood Spirits is the middle book of a three-book series (Coronets and Steel; Blood Spirits; Revenant Eve). The “Dobrenica” books are not a true trilogy, nor are they a sequence of  independent episodes. Enough information is provided so that it is not absolutely necessary to read the books in order, but it is definitely better to do so. There is a degree of continuing momentum from one book to the next, so the books have less of an episodic nature than do the Cornwell novels.

I’ve been thinking about the whole issue of book “series” because for the last dozen years I have been continuing the “Darkover” series, created by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Especially in the early years, Marion insisted that each book had to stand on its own and that they could be read in any order. I think that’s a laudable goal, and for the most part, the early and middle Darkover books achieved it. Eventually, she began writing books that, while they may not have been part of a single overall story line, were most definitely sequels. Readers may argue with me, but I think that novels such as Thendara House and City of Sorcery fare less well if they are not considered as an extended story line begun with The Shattered Chain. To a lesser extent, Sharra’s Exile (which was itself a rewrite of The Sword of Aldones, a very early Darkover novel) is a sequel to The Heritage of Hastur.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

WWW Wednesday 4-10-2013

WWW Wednesday. This meme is from shouldbereading.
To play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…
• What are you currently reading?
• What did you recently finish reading?
• What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading: Charles de Lint’s Muse and Reverie: A Newford Collection. I love de Lint’s work. A couple of paragraphs into each story, some undefined tension in me sighs happily and lets go. I suspect it’s the effortlessness of his craft, or maybe just that I read his prose with a different part of my mind than I write my own. I’ve long given up trying to analyze why this is so.
I’ve been overworking these past few months, so I crave refreshment of the spirit. At bedtime I’m slowly savoring my way through The Book of Words: Talking Spiritual Life, Living Spiritual Talk by Lawrence Kushner. Kushner (there are two – the other is Harold) was my introduction to Jewish mysticism. I re-read Honey From the Rock every few years and get even more out of it. I find I sleep better and am kinder and yet stronger during the day if I enrich the gentle transition to sleep. I read a little in Hebrew to signal to my brain that this is now a time of rest, a sacred time. Then I switch to English because although I can sound out the words in Hebrew, I’m very, very far from fluent in it. I read:

Blessings give reverent and routine voice to our conviction that life is good, one blessing after another. Even, and especially when life is cold and dark. Indeed to offer blessings at such times may be our only deliverance.

… and my spirit gives that sigh of relief, just the way my writer’s mind does when I read de Lint. No matter what sorrows the day has brought, in this moment they are over. I can rest easy. Tomorrow I will begin the struggle anew.

Recently finished reading: For fun and delight: Sherwood Smith’s Blood Spirits; Kage Baker’s In the Garden of Iden (which I think is the first Company novel), a novel-in-beta-form by Juliette Wade, a rising star in science fiction, For Love, For Power. And at night, Ethics for a New Millennium by the Dalai Lama. It took me a long time to read the latter, as I wanted to let each thought sink in; small bites, small moves.

What I’ll likely read next: I’m up for more Molly Gloss, who is a terrific writer; maybe The Jump-Off Creek or rereading The Hearts of Horses. I’ve been saving Carol Berg’s The Soul Mirror and now’s a great time. I have the next Dobrenica book, also several Caitlin Brennan/Judith Tarr novels. And if life gets too crazy, I can always dive into the next Sookie Stackhouse. For bedtime, maybe rereading Jonathan Sacks To Heal A Fractured World: The Ethics of Responsibility or Elyse Goldstein ReVisions: Seeing Torah Through A Feminist Lens. Or Mary Oliver’s poetry, which always speaks to me.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Feathered Edge Tackles Norse Mythology

My relationship with Rosemary Hawley Jarman is all Tanith Lee's fault. Which is actually a good thing. In my more whimsical moments, I suspect there is a secret society of British fantasy authors who, if they don't actually know one another, enjoy only a single degree of separation. (Sometimes that degree is me, and it's both odd and delightful to be performing introductions across the Atlantic between people who live on the same island, but that's another story.) So when Tanith introduced me to Rosemary, Rosemary and I also had another connection, which is that the small press Norilana was publishing both the first anthology I'd edited and Rosemary's romantic fantasy, The Captain's Witch. Her 1971 novel, We Speak No Treason, featured the much maligned King Richard III.

Rosemary is one of the authors who teach me about editing. It's quite a humbling experience to work with writers with far more years and experience than I have. I feel privileged to get a peek into their

Friday, April 5, 2013

Space Opera Fridays: Judith Tarr on From Fantasy to Forgotten Suns

Forgotten Suns is a “heart book”—an Attack Novel that grabbed me by the throat and refused to let me go until it was more than halfway done. Now it has me again, as I’ve set aside other projects to oversee the Kickstarter that has already reached its funding goal and is now advancing toward (I hope) wonderful professional cover art and a print as well as a digital edition.

I didn’t know it was a space opera at first. I just knew that there was a planet out there, which used to be inhabited but for the most part no longer was. I didn’t know why it was empty, or where the people had gone. I started writing the novel to find the answers. Then as those answers took shape (or as I took dictation—because Attack Novels are like that), I realized that there were starships. And space pirates. And devices that could shatter worlds.

Why all these things? Why science fiction? I’m known as a fantasy writer, after all. Fans beg me for more rooted-in-real-facts historical fantasy. One of the projects that’s in the to-be-written pile now is alternate history with a fantasy component. Another is the kind of historical fantasy I’m known for. I’m excited about both, and looking forward to both.

But here we are, rampaging down the spaceways with a group of renegades and runaways, and as I write this, we’re about to meet the sentient starship. My brain, which has a weird slant, is showing me ways to put the “opera” in space opera.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Feathered Edge: Moonlight and Martial Arts

I love the way each story in this anthology carries with it a history, not just of that particular tale itself but of the growth and comradeship of the author. So in order to talk about Dave Smeds's wonderful "A Swain of Kneaded Moonlight," I have to go back to how I first met him. We both had stories in the fourth volume of Sword & Sorceress (1987), edited by Marion Zimmer Bradley. (It's a marvelous volume, if I do say so, with stories by Mercedes Lackey, Jennifer Roberson, Charles de Lint, Diana L. Paxson and more, some of us just starting out our careers.) As an editor, Marion encouraged new writers and eventually a whole community of successful authors who'd made their first sales to her emerged. "Gullrider" wasn't Dave's first sale; he was already building a reputation as an up-and-coming fantasy writer with quite a few short fiction sales, a novel in print (The Sorcery Within) and another in publication when Sword & Sorcery IV came out.

"Gullrider" showed a number of characteristics I would grow to recognize as hallmarks of a Dave Smeds story - an original idea, carefully developed, meticulous attention to story craft, and a "heart" that stays with me long after I've put down the volume. At a time when the generic fantasy default was telepathic dragons, Dave took us soaring with sea birds and diving with mermen.

Various of us whose early sales were to Marion managed to hook up at conventions, this being before the internet made geographical separation irrelevant. I might have been introduced to Dave by Jennifer Roberson, another rising star I'd met through Marion, or perhaps we made our way to one another on our own. Dave and I discovered that we were not only writers of fantasy but martial artists. Dave's art was goju-ryu karate and today he is a senior black belt and instructor in that style. I'd met other writers who were also martial artists; it was like a secret underground, with the recognition of the discipline required, an appreciation of the balance of mind, body, and spirit. Not only that, most of us found our martial arts experiences sneaking into our fiction. This was certainly true for Dave!