Monday, April 16, 2018

Crossroads of Darkover Author Interview: Pat MacEwen

Coming in May, an all-new Darkover anthology featuring tales of decisions, turning points, love lost and found, all in the beloved world of the Bloody Sun. Stories by Jenna Rhodes, Pat MacEwen, Gabrielle Harbowy, Evey Brett, Rosemary and India Edghill, Diana L. Paxson, and more!  Order yours today at: iBookKindleKoboNookTable of Contents is here.

Deborah J. Ross: Tell us about your introduction to Darkover.
Pat MacEwen: My introduction to science fiction happened in the back of a station wagon on a cross-country road trip when I was 13. An older cousin took pity on me, and gave me a box full of paperbacks to help me pass the time. That’s where I met up with Asimov, Doc Smith, Poul Anderson, Heinlein and more. Once home again, I began to explore the genre, and was delighted to encounter female authors as well, and books with strong female characters and story lines.

DJR: What about the world drew you in?
PE: Darkover was a rarity then – a complicated world with a long history where women mattered quite as much as men, and which often explored nonbinary questions of sex and gender and family and inheritance, and of course laran. Like most writers, I was something of a misfit in high school, but here was a place where I could see myself fitting in, one way or another. I’m also strongly attracted to moral questions in story-telling and tales of Darkover often focus on intricate problems concerning what’s right and wrong in this setting, compared to Terran mores.

DJR: What do you see as the future of Darkover? How has its readership changed over the decades? What book would you recommend for someone new to Darkover?

PE: When I look at the various maps of Darkover, I have to wonder how so many different species of sapient and semi-sapient species developed within what is really very limited space. Then I think about laran, and the ancient strengths of the chieri, and wonder if it was always that way. Whether it will stay that way. Between Terran geoengineering and long-lost arts in controlling laran, what if there are sunken continents or ice-covered regions that were once inhabited and might be rediscovered? What secrets might be hidden by water and ice? Where did the Catmen and the Ya-men really come from? Are the chieri all done with their genetic engineering projects? Are they quietly reshaping humans? Toward what ends? What about those four moons? Are they really moons? All of them? Are there more chieri elsewhere?

As for an introduction to Darkover, my personal favorites are The Shattered Chain and Thendara House, but there’s a lot to be said for Stormqueen too, and Heritage of Hastur, The Alton Gift, and Sharra’s Exile.

DJR: What inspired your story in Crossroads of Darkover? How did you balance writing in someone else’s world and being true to your own creative imagination?

PR: I have a background in forensics and physical anthropology, having worked as a CSI for a California police department, and for the International Criminal Tribunal during war crimes investigations in the Balkans. I do independent research on genocide, and one of the aspects I’ve studied is the occurrence of certain crimes and atrocities during genocidal campaigns that are not expressly forbidden by law. They are acts almost never encountered in the course of “normal” warfare, no matter how savage. They are not committed by ordinary criminals, or even by serial killers. In many cases, they are so rare that no one keeps statistics on their occurrence, making research on the topic rather difficult. We don’t bother to even keep track of these acts because we don’t make laws against the things people simply don’t do. But on Darkover, thanks to laran and certain environmental cues, like the Ghost Wind, there are some kinds of assault and of murder that can be committed, and aren’t on the books. So how do you investigate them? How do you even prove they’ve been committed, let alone who did it? Even when you’ve made your case, how can you obtain justice?

As for writing in someone else’s universe, it’s a pleasure to explore “new” crooks and crannies in a setting I’ve enjoyed reading about. And because this whole complicated world has already been built, I can concentrate on the elements most useful to the story I’m telling. In any kind of speculative fiction, the most important factors are the limits – to magic, to science, to technology, to power, and to the characters’ own personal experience. When those limits have already been set by the world-building, I’m being handed a framework that makes it easy to focus on the story itself, and the character arcs taking place in it. And it’s a pleasure to honor the work that was done before I came along, as I add my own brick to the wall.

DJR: Is there another Darkover story you would particularly like to write?

PE: I think the characters in Wind Born are just getting started. The Terran forensic specialist really can’t go home again, and must make a place for herself on Darkover, like it or not. The Terran intelligence service isn’t likely to give up on the pursuit of laran and its secrets, which they see as possible weapons and sources of enormous power. There must be records hidden away somewhere of what the two agents described in the story have already learned and done, and very likely other covert programs are underway. What will the Comyn do about that, in self-defense and to keep the Terrans from generating a whole new and possibly interplanetary Age of Chaos? And what about the Renunciate, who may find that simply avenging her brother is not enough? Who may find herself drawn to the Terran in the same way as the Comyn Lord Darriel? Can either one help Gillian learn to control a laran-like “gift” that presents itself as an allergy, and has already come so close to killing her?

DJR: What have you written recently? What is your favorite of your published works and why?

PR: I’ve written and sold three new short stories this year, besides “Wind Born.” One, called “The Butcher’s Boy and the Piri Folk,” concerns the shortest man in British history and his encounter with the Little People. That one will be appearing in an anthology called Lace and Blade 4. The main character is also the subject of a screenplay in development and set some 25 years after events portrayed in The Three and The Four Musketeers, about which I can’t say much more at this point, although I’m pretty excited about it. Another story, “The Forever Boy,” is based on Cherokee lore and history. The boy in question is a survivor of the Trail of Tears who was taken in by the Cherokee version of the Little People when he escaped from the Blue Coats. Unable to face the memory of what happened to his original family, he rejects adulthood as well andis allowed to remain a boy for two hundred years – until history repeats itself and he has to choose a new path. That one has just come out in an anthology of stories about refugees of many kinds called Children of Another Sky, edited by Alma Alexander. A third story, “Mumia”, concerning the Black Death, grave robbers, apothecaries making medical treatments out of mummies, and the legendary founders of the city of Marseilles, will appear in a horror anthology called Mary Shelley’s Daughters.

My favorite piece of my own work, thus far, is probably the comic sf novelet “Home Sweet Bi’Ome” – it appeared in the Jan/Feb 2011 issue of F&SF, and was selected for Hartwell and Cramer’s Best Year’s SF anthology, vol. 17. That one’s about a woman with hyperallergic syndrome who lives in a house built out of her own DNA, and what happens to her and her love life when that house unexpectedly catches a very uncomfortable childhood disease. I’ve also published a novella, “The Lightness of the Movement,” in the March/April 2014 issue of F&SF which later made the Tiptree Honors List and was a finalist for the Sturgeon Award. That one is about a graduate student/ballet dancer and her misadventures when she encounters an alien species with an unusual kind of courtship display and no concept of motherhood. I like to play with ideas about alien sex, and societies based on non-human biology, so this was a lot of fun

DJR: What lies ahead for you?  

PE: I’m finishing up the second book in a forensic/urban fantasy series that began with Rough Magic and concerns refugee communities in a central California town that were stranded here by a catastrophe in Faerie. The main character is a former fairy queen now working as a CSI on criminal cases involving the denizens of Faerie and/or magic.  The first volume is available here. 

A second book in a YA series that began with Dragon’s Kiss is also underway. This one concerns a crippled boy who can’t talk to humans but finds out he can talk to dragons, and must if either they or his own people are going to survive. The first volume is available here

I’m also working on a steampunk novel (off and on, I admit) about Harry Houdini, who ran away from home at the age of twelve and was gone for a year. No one knows precisely where he went or what he did during that year, but he’d already put together his very own trapeze act at the age of nine, so I borrowed him and made him a crewman aboard a dirigible on its way to Europe, and a fateful encounter with sky pirates. The first third of that tale is called “A Proper Cuppa,” which appeared in the anthology Alterna-Teas in 2016, available here. Forthcoming segments will be set in the Catacombs of Paris, and in a clockwork version of Mad Ludwig’s Bavarian castle, Neuschwanstein.

DJR: Anything else you’d like our readers to know about you, Darkover, or life in general?
PR: If you want to know what my non-fiction’s like, you can check out my blog, called BoneSpeak - where I have a lot to say about the Manson Family, from a forensic point of view, and the murders that happened after Charlie got locked up. Or there’s Fae Forensics - where I’m compiling a Modern Bestiary about those refugees from Faerie who might appear in Rough Magic and its sequels.
As for Darkover, well, I’ve been imagining an HBO miniseries, in view of the great success George R.R. Martin has had with Game of Thrones. Wouldn’t that be cool? Let’s imagine that one en masse. Who knows what might happen?

Pat MacEwen is a physical anthropologist. She works on bones from archaeological sites and does independent research on genocide. She worked on war crimes investigations for the International Criminal Tribunal, after doing CSI work for a decade, and was once a marine biologist at the Institute of Marine & Coastal Studies at USC. Rough Magic, first in a forensic/urban fantasy trilogy, The Fallen, is out from Sky Warrior Publishing. Dragon’s Kiss, a YA fantasy about a crippled boy who can talk to dragons, is also out from Sky Warrior. She writes mystery, horror, science fiction, and fantasy. Her work has appeared in a Year’s Best SF anthology. It has also been a finalist for the Sturgeon Award, and made the Tiptree Honors List.. Her hobbies include exploring cathedrals, alien-building via nonhuman biology, and trawling through history books for the juicy bits.

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