Wednesday, May 30, 2018

A Not-So-Brief BayCon report

BayCon, a science fiction fantasy convention held in the San Francisco Bay Area over Memorial Day weekend, has been my local con for almost 20 years. Attending has been more of a challenge these last couple of years when the convention moved from a location where I could commute from home, to one that required me to either get a hotel room or crash with a friend. Last year, I stayed with a fellow writer and carpooled to the hotel. This year she was out of town, so I booked a room for Saturday night and asked the programming folks to schedule me for only Saturday and Sunday. It was an interesting experiment, one I am apt to repeat.

In order to discuss the convention, I have to write about the hotel. The San Mateo Marriott has earned its nickname of “the Escher hotel” not only for its inexplicable split-level staircases but the difficulty of finding the elevator that will take you to your destination floor. (Once you’ve made it to the floor on which most but not all of the events are held, it’s not all that hard to navigate – but beware if you want to go from there to, say, the Green Room or Con Suite.) This year, major renovation of the hotel’s lobby added a whole new dimension to the chaos. The restaurant got moved to the 6th floor, the bar to the 3rd floor (meaning that from the convention floor, you had to go down one elevator, through a maze of corridors to another elevator to go back up to either destination). Given these challenges, the convention folks put forth a heroic effort, by way of signs and many helpers wandering the halls in search of those who are lost, to ameliorate the confusion. And the hotel registration staff allowed me to check in quite a few hours early, so I was all set for my first panel.

As for what I was thinking when I asked programming for my usual heavy schedule, without taking into account unforeseen illness, the less said the better. I was a Very Busy Camper.

My first panel, one I did not moderate so I had a chance to transition from driving through my redwood mountains to being in a hotel with lots of people, all talking at once, was Saving What We Love: A look at how the concept of resistance in SF has changed as well as kept a continuity and what different generations have to teach each other, ably moderated by Jennifer Nestojko, with Colin Fisk, Skye Allen, and Tyler Hayes. We looked at how resistance movements have been depicted in genre literature over the decades, and examined the role of literature in general and sf/f/h in particular in generating, supporting, and being the voice of the resistance. I talked about how I came to write Collaborators, my occupation-and-resistance sf novel that was a Lambda Literary Award Finalist. I’d lived in Lyon, France, the center of the French resistance to the Nazi occupation, and had become intrigued by all the ways people either resisted or collaborated. With my memories of protesting the Vietnam War in mind, I wanted to show each side acting for reasons that seemed good yet getting caught in a cycle of escalating, violent retaliation. It’s important in our fictional portrayals that we not demonize or dehumanize the other side but to create bridges where, by slow steps or sudden epiphanies, enemies can discover common ground.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Crossroads of Darkover: Rosemary & India Edghill on Story Inspiration

This all-new Darkover anthology features 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: iBookKindleKoboNook

Table of Contents is here.

While we (Rosemary and India Edghill) have collaborated before – which is always wonderful, because we have different strengths as writers – this is our first Darkover collaboration.  So in addition to working with each other, we’re also working within a third author’s universe.  Being able to “play” in MZB’s power Darkover universe and to co-author with each other is incredibly energizing.

            Our story in CROSSROADS OF DARKOVER is “A Cobbler to His Last,” and was inspired not only by the Darkovan Dry Towns, but by the research India’s done on women’s life in the Middle East, as well as by what we now know about how  the people that anthropologists like Margaret Mead actually felt about being interviewed.  One of Mead’s original subjects said later that she and her purposely mislead Mead and invented answers to what they felt were intrusive questions.  In comparison to Mead’s monumental but controversial works, Elizabeth Warnock Fernea lived within the women’s world her husband (a fellow anthropologist) could not enter, and her works are regarded as groundbreaking and definitive in the field of women’s studies in the Middle East.

            India has a long-standing interest in the Dry Towns, and Rosemary agreed that seeing scenic Darkover through the eyes of a woman who arrives with no real information about Darkover except that the Darkovan women live horrifically restricted lives.  So what would really be going on when our protagonist, Grace, tried to study Darkovan women?  What will Grace really find?  And what would the Darkovan women think when they interacted with her?

            Tossing a woman from a very egalitarian society into newly-opened Darkover was a fascinating.  Grace interacts with comynara, Renunciates, farmers’ wives, and chained Dry Town women, and struggles to truly understand what she learns – which turns out to be harder to do than she’d thought it would be. Remaining totally object turns out to be almost impossible.  In the end, she learns more, perhaps, than she truly wanted to about relationships between men and women.

            Unfortunately, since “Cobbler to His Last” is a short story, not a novel, we weren’t able to include everything we’d wanted to add to the mix.  However, we had a lot of fun playing what, say, the small-holders’ wives opinions of the studious off-worlder in their midst.  Or India’s favorite scene-that-doesn’t-exist in the confines of the story:  Lord Akram’s conversation with his mother when she tells him he’s going to have to take on yet another wife!

Rosemary Edghill describes herself as the keeper of the Eddystone Light, corny as Kansas in August, normal as blueberry pie, and only a paper moon. She says she was found floating down the Amazon in a hatbox, and, because criminals are a cowardly and superstitious lot, she became a creature of the night (black, terrible). She began her professional career working as a time-traveling vampire killer and has never looked back. She's also a New York Times Bestselling Writer. 

About herself, India Edghill writes, Having written four books about Biblical women (Delilah, Queenmaker, Wisdom's 
Daughter, and Game of Queens), I'm now writing an epic-length romantic historical novel set in Victorian India.  And India (that's me, not the country) is also going Indie!  My short stories will be available in a collection:  The Courtesan Who Loved Cats and Other Stories, and my mystery series set in 1984 New York City, starring Cornelia Upshaw, a professional temporary secretary, will be continued as well.  The first book in the series, File M For Murder, should be reissued in 2017. 

Friday, May 25, 2018

[personal] Hope for Our Kids

Renoir, Maternite, 1887

On Mother’s Day, May 13 2018, I attended the graduation of my youngest daughter from medical school. While this is surely an occasion of joy and pride for all families, in this case it is especially so. Rose had a long, hard struggle through her adolescence and teen years. As her (single, working) mother, I couldn’t wave a magic wand and make her problems go away; what she needed was patience and love, especially my unwavering belief that she was resourceful enough to cope her challenges. One of the things that helped me during those difficult years was hearing from another mother about the rough time her son had gone through, but that he had come through those times, rebuilt his life, and was now a successful emergency room physician. (Both our kids becoming doctors is an interesting coincidence.)

For quite a while, I blamed myself for Rose’s difficulties. She’d been an intense, fiery toddler, than an easy-going child. When my mother was murdered, Rose was only 3 months old, so she grew up with me struggling through initial PTSD recovery. It was sheer awful luck that her puberty and my crisis (after the first parole hearing of the man who did it) and subsequent breakup of the family happened about the same time. She and I ended up moving to a different part of the state, both of us trying to restart our lives. Marion Zimmer Bradley had invited me to collaborate with her on Darkover, so my writing career was getting started again. I was dating the man I eventually married, so many aspects of our lives were happier and more stable. Except, of course, for adolescent hormones.

After doing well in middle school, Rose starting having difficulty, including self-harm. It was clear to me that if I got on her case about it, the only result would be that she would stop talking to me and I could not help her. So I took my worries elsewhere, including to the friend who told me about how her son had overcome drug addition and other serious problems, then finished college and went on to medical school. Another story I heard involved a kid who was living at home and not doing much. When his parents issued an ultimatum to either go to school or get a job. the kid moved out, became a drug dealer, and ended up in prison. The friend who told me this story was at a loss to do with her own son, who had dropped out of college and moved back home. Her thought was that at least she knew where her son was, and he was in a safe place until he could figure things out.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Monday, May 21, 2018

Crossroads of Darkover Author Interview: Rebecca Fox

Now available, 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: iBookKindleKoboNook

Table of Contents is here.

Deborah J. Ross: Tell us about your introduction to Darkover.
Rebecca Fox: As a moody teenage girl with SFnal leanings in the early/mid-1990s, I really had three main reading choices: Pern, Valdemar, or Darkover. Pern I’d found on my own, in a sixth grade language arts reader of all places. My discovery of Valdemar and Darkover (simultaneously) at the age of 14 or 15 and the subsequent loss of at least a week’s worth of sleep while I devoured several books as fast as I could possibly read them I owe to a camp roommate.
 My introduction to writing Darkover came via Rosemary Edghill - who is, incidentally, a brilliant human being, a terrific writer, and a truly stellar teacher - who mentored me through my angst-filled and far less than graceful move from Darkest Fanficcia to the Land of Paid Professional Writers and somehow managed not to murder me in the process (it would have been entirely justified, trust me). At any rate, Rosemary invited me to collaborate with her on a story for Stars of Darkover (“Second Contact,” of which I’m still terribly fond) and the rest is history. I remain more grateful than I can really express for the invitation, as well as for patient lessoning in things like how to pace a story and how to edit my own work and more than a few good stiff doses of humility. I wouldn't be here without her, and I hope one of these days I’ll at least get the chance to pay it forward.

DJR: What inspired your story in Crossroads of Darkover?
RF: Well, the glib (and not in the least untrue) answer here is: my complete inability to let anything go, ever. I get so attached to some worlds or characters that it’s hard to simply bid them adieu after a bare six thousand words or so. And I just couldn’t bring myself to say goodbye to Jamie MacRorie and Miralys after nothing more than a few paragraphs in “Where You’re Planted” (never you mind that I’d originally produced them simply because Cat needed to get her parents from somewhere).

The less glib answer is that at the time I sat down to think about my next Darkover story, I’d been wallowing happily in the very earliest Darkover books, and in one of them – I think it was The Bloody Sun but I wouldn’t swear to it in a court of law – there’s this really brief mention of the Terranan and the Darkovans having fought a war over “resources,” with the implication that the Terrans lost or were somehow humiliated. Since that one paragraph was the only time I’d ever seen that “war” mentioned, it couldn’t have been much of a war, could it? Between the fact that I found myself kind of obsessing over what might have happened (because that’s what I do) and the fact that I’ve never met a spy story I didn’t like, “The Short, Inglorious War” was born.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Friday, May 18, 2018

In Troubled Times: The Challenge of Compassion

Nov. 10, 2009

"All real living is meeting." -- Martin Buber

At World Fantasy Convention, three friends and I ventured forth from the hotel in search of un-conditioned air and reasonably-priced food. Our path took us into a pedestrian mall with a lively street scene. Two encounters stand out in my mind. The first was with a homeless man. As he asked us for money, his voice was low and dispirited, as if he had no expectation of a response. He seemed on the edge of giving up hope. Usually I feel uncomfortable giving cash, although if I have the time, I may offer to buy the person a meal. I didn't have the time, but something in this man spoke to me. Without questioning that inner prompting, I turned back, dug in my purse for a dollar, and offered it to him. It seemed to me that a kind word and the recognition of our common humanity was as important as that small amount of money. As I spoke to him and met his eyes, I saw them fill with tears. In broken tones, he told me of how he had lost his job and left his home, rather than be evicted. I don't know if he was telling the truth or if he later used the money to buy drugs or booze. I'm not sure it matters. The moment between us, his response to being treated with kindness, was real. For all I know, it might have been the tiny nudge that kept hope alive.

Further up the street, a group of young adults in uniform-like black sweats was holding forth in loud voices, lecturing all within earshot, preaching their religious beliefs. Their voices echoed against the buildings and their eyes were hard and angry. As we passed, I tried to imagine what I might say to them -- "Live and let live"? A few people on the street shouted back at them. My friends and I thought of all sorts of snappy retorts, none of which would have amounted to any real communication. I realized this was a way of diffusing the discomfort caused by the abrasive behavior of these young people.

How can speech that is combative to the point of hostility be answered? It seemed to me impossible to have even a token conversation with someone who is browbeating me at the top of his lungs. Isn't it necessary for both parties to be willing to take turns, to listen to one another? It did occur to me that these young people, berating all within earshot for their sinful ways, were not at all interested in hearing anyone else's point of view. I wonder what would have satisfied them.

Afterwards, I was struck by the contrast in the two encounters. Certainly, the evangelists were more intent on pounding home the evils of this world and terror of the next than in giving to the poor. But there is this: reaching out to the homeless man was easy. His manner was gentle and humble. He spoke out of need and then gratitude. The angry young people, on the other hand, presented a much greater challenge, one I was not equal to. I still do not know how I might be present with them without getting drawn in to acrimony and name-hurling.

Charity is easy. Seeing the common humanity in people who are screaming hatred at you -- that's hard.

The drawing is by Isidre Nonell (1872–1911)

Monday, May 14, 2018

Crossroads of Darkover Author Interview: Robin Wayne Bailey

Just out, 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: iBookKindleKoboNook

Table of Contents is here.

Deborah J. Ross: Tell us about your introduction to Darkover.
Robin Wayne Bailey: The first Darkover tale I ever read was Darkover Landfall, and I came across it perhaps in an unusual way. At the time, I was working in a bookstore part-time to earn college money, but I was also already a fairly dedicated book collector. Among the books I collected were DAW's yellow-spined paperbacks, which DAW was kind enough to number. I searched these out in new bookstores and used bookstores, determined to own them all, and this is how I came across Darkover Landfall. I'm not sure if I had previously read any of Marion Zimmer Bradley's earlier work, but this book captivated me. I was a sucker for a good "lost colony" story, and this proved one of the best. I remember the day we unpacked that latest DAW shipment and removing this book with its shiny cover and artwork by, I think, Jack Gaughan. It excited me then, and although I drifted away from the series after a time, it continues to excite me.

DJR: What about the world drew you in?
RWB: Several things about Darkover struck me as fairly unique, even daring, at the time the books were appearing. The blending of disparate cultures immediately stood out. The first ship that crash landed on Darkover carried an interesting mix of Celtic and Spanish colonists, and maybe a few others I'm forgetting. In so many sf novels, then and now, humans seem to be a homogeneous group without national or cultural identity. Not so, Darkover. Marion emphasized and celebrated these differences. The other thing that surprised me was her willingness to play with sexuality and gender roles. Lots of early sixties and seventies science fiction played with sex, but always of a rather tame heterosexual variety. Marion went further. Her depictions of the Renunciates and the society established by the Free Amazons was remarkable for its time, as was way in which polygamy was regarded throughout the series. Her views on homosexuality and her willingness to write gay characters into the series was also almost revolutionary, although her depictions of gay men and relationships troubled me then and continue to trouble me. But that's for another essay, perhaps.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Short Book Reviews: A Classic Nancy Springer Fantasy

The Oddling Prince, by Nancy Springer (Tachyon Publications) is pure, classic Nancy Springer. In a faroff land, not unlike northern England, a king returns from a mysterious absence, wearing a magical ring that rapidly drains his life force. Just as he is about to perish, a young man appears, riding a steed of untamed light, and lifts the curse. The narrator, the king’s son and heir, befriends this stranger, his half-fae half-brother. But all is not well, as residual evil poisons the king’s mind and danger lurks just beyond the borders. Springer’s style sometimes reminds me of Tanith Lee, yet is completely her own. The love and fidelity of the two brothers, the steadfast discernment of the queen, the twists and turns and unexpected character developments, all kept me enchanted, page after page. Springer is in fine style!

Monday, May 7, 2018

Crossroads of Darkover Author Interview: Diana L. Paxson

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: iBookKindleKoboNook

Table of Contents is here.

Deborah J. Ross: Tell us about your introduction to Darkover.
Diana L. Paxson: I first heard of the Darkover books when I discovered fandom in the mid-60s, became even more involved when Marion Zimmer Bradley admitted they were a series in the 70s and started using Darkover as a setting for some ground-breaking ideas.

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?
DLP: I asked myself what Marion Zimmer Bradley would be writing about if she were here. I am sure she would have tackled trans-gender issues. My perspective might be different, but I am trying to push the envelope a little further as she would have done.

DJR: Is there another Darkover story you would particularly like to write?
DLP: I am happy for the opportunity to further develop the characters from my previous stories.

DJR: What have you written recently? What is your favorite of your published works and why?
DLP: Most recently, a non-fiction book on the Norse god Odin, and short stories for Lace and Blade and the Valdemar anthology. I am getting a new Westria novel ready for publication.
DJR: Hooray!

DJR: What lies ahead for you?
DLP: Non-fiction and fiction on Norse Pagan topics and on political magic, more novels if I have time.

DJR: Anything else you’d like our readers to know about you, Darkover, or life in general?
DLP:  Now that we are living in such “interesting times”, I think writers should seize the opportunity to use fiction to say what cannot be said (or will not be heard) in any other way.

Diana L. Paxson is the author of twenty-nine novels, including the books that continue Marion Zimmer Bradley's Avalon series. She has also written eighty-six short stories, including appearances in most of Marion's Darkover anthologies. She is currently working on a novel about the first century German seeress, Veleda.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Short Book Reviews: Guy Fawkes with Magic

Fawkes, A Novel by Nadine Brandes (Thomas Nelson)

This YA novel centers around two brilliant premises. The first is the setting, England on the eve of the Gunpowder Plot (1605) and the origin of Guy Fawkes Day. The second involves a fascinating new system of magic in which power arises from the various colors, focused by specially constructed masks, constructed by the practitioner’s same-sex parent. A third strength arises from the protagonist narrator, son of the conspirator Guy Fawkes, and his inner turmoil as he is drawn deeper and deeper into a plot to blow up King James I’s Parliament.

Therein, however, lie the book’s weaknesses. Few Americans, unless they are English History buffs, are familiar enough with the Gunpowder Treason Plot to appreciate the cultural, political, and legal aspects. The plot in the book follows the historical order fairly closely but not always in the most logical fashion. Magic is tacked on to historical events; practitioners use their powers only when they don’t change the way things really happened. But any world in which people wield those powers is going to operate very differently than ours, and that requires careful working through all the implications of those powers, of which I see little here.

The attempt to translate the historical Protestant-Catholic struggle into a battle between those who adhere to the color system (“Keepers”) and those devoted to the primal White Light (“Igniters”) is awkward and often confusing. The real struggle was based not only in religious dogma but in politics, arising from the establishment of the Church of England with King Henry VIII and consequent independence from Rome. Queen Elizabeth, Henry’s daughter, did much to establish religious tolerance, although even her emphasis on secular loyalty could not eliminate the plots to restore a Catholic ruler. Without the context of the struggle, the rift between Keepers and Igniters, each hating the other for no apparent reason, come across as superficial. This is all the more so because for most of the story, I had trouble remembering which side was which. Everyone has access to the White Light (which is a snappy, smart-ass voice, quite apart from any references to direct experience of the divine, which also strikes me a reversal of the Catholic-Protestant quarrel). Anachronisms of speech and social attitude added to the confusion.

Besides the system of magic, this story includes a supernatural “Stone Plague” that infects the victim and gradually ossifies both skin and internal organs, resulting in death. Somehow Igniters have concluded that the plague is the fault of the Keepers and the only way to bring it to a halt is to slaughter all of them. Since no one offers any other explanation for how this fascinating disease works, and apparently the magical healers are just as ignorant and incurious, this persecution is arbitrary and baffling.

Despite its significant shortcomings, this novel has many appealing moments. If it sends readers to the history books to find out what really happened, or generates conversations about prejudice and religious persecution, so much the better.

The publisher asked that I include a disclaimer saying I'd received a complimentary review copy through NetGalley and my opinions do not represent theirs.