Monday, December 31, 2018

Lace and Blade 5 Author Interviews: Anne Leonard

From lands distant or nearby, familiar or utterly strange, historical or imaginary, from ancient times to the Belle Époque comes a treasury of luscious, elegant, romantic fantasy. Come with us on a journey through time and across boundaries, inspired by the longings of the heart and the courage residing in even the meekest person.

The release date is Valentine's Day 2019, but you can pre-order it now:


I became acquainted with Anne Leonard through a serendipitous connection with a mutual writer friend and was delighted with her submission to this anthology.

Deborah J. Ross: Tell us a little about yourself.  How did you come to be a writer?
Anne Leonard: I started writing seriously when I was 14 and haven’t stopped (although there have been some hiatuses). I got an MFA in fiction and just kept chugging along. When I finally sold a novel, Moth and Spark, I was 44. I’ve always gravitated to novels as a form and have only become really serious about short fiction in the last few years. I’m driven by language - I love words, and bad prose will make me give up something I’m reading even if there’s an interesting plot. I read in many genres and try to learn from them all.

DJR: What inspired your story in Lace and Blade 5?
AL: “Fire Season” was originally started after a visit to Istanbul, because I wanted to write a story about a djinni. The original inspiration was pictures of California wildfires. I wrote it, submitted it a couple times, then let it sit. Then a California wildfire hit my community hard (a year later, people still don’t have their homes back), and I tore the story apart and started over with a greater sense of what fires really do. It was grimmer but much more authentic. By that time I knew more about how to write a short story, too, which was another impetus for revision.

DJR: What authors have most influenced your writing? 
AL: It’s a pretty endless list, because I am always paying attention to how other writers work. But most of the strongest influences are probably the authors I read as a kid and teen. I only recently realized just how much Ray Bradbury has shaped my work. Stephen King has been an influence for sure. As a fantasy novelist, I have been influenced by Tolkien and Le Guin. Shakespeare continues to be influential. [Joseph Conrad's] Heart of Darkness, problematic though it is, is a book I come back to pretty frequently. I sometimes read poetry to kick my mind into gear, and that’s whoever I’m in the mood for at the time.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Kitten Video 12-2-2018

We recently acquired a kitten from the local animal shelter. She's about 9 weeks old, and had one eye removed due to an injury. So of course her name is Freya, wife of Odin. (From all accounts, Freya was the ultimate party girl.) She's still settling in, isolated in my office. My daughter "The Kitten Whisperer" took this footage of me playing with her. This is the day after Freya arrived, so she's still a bit hand-shy. Since then she's become much more bold in initiating physical contact with her humans. Enjoy!

Friday, December 28, 2018

Short Book Reviews: The Plight of the Oceans Meets The Little Mermaid

The Oyster Thief, by Sonia Faruqi (Pegasus)

This new take on the classic mermaid love story (which classic? Pick any one, they’re all represented) strive hard to be fresh and charming. For the better part it succeeds, except for a couple of areas. The story pits ocean exploitation against a complex society of vegetarian merpeople who live on various forms of seaweed and have creatures like whale sharks and seahorses as “muses,” personal companions. The naming conventions are often whimsical, especially if you are reading with a dictionary in hand (or, like me, have a dictionary on your e-reader). Parallel plotlines – an apprentice apothecary engaged to the scion of one of the richest merpeople families and the adopted heir to Ocean Dominion, an inventor who’s devised a way for fire to burn underwater – weave together with mystery elements, betrayals and reversals and an ultimately satisfying ending.

The book is not without its shortcomings, however. It’s overlong for the weight of the plot, and many elements of personality, history, and world-building are repeated too many times. But more than that, the author displays a lack of trust in the reader’s perspicacity. Too many elements are first shown as the action unfolds, then told in a ham-handed way that left me feeling as if I were being bashed over the head. As an example, Izar is desperately insecure and eager to win his adoptive father’s approval. I got that from their first interaction. I didn’t need to read:
He would do anything, invent anything, even another moon, to win Anrares’s approval. 
“From the company’s very first days, I dreamt of one day plundering the oceans for precious metals and minerals.”
 [A. Who talks like that? B. Metals are the refined product of minerals, rarely occurring in pure form in a salt-water environment. The book is rife with violations of the principles of physics, chemistry, and biology.]

At the same time, to be fair, the prose occasionally rises above the pedestrian examples above:
Tears trickled from her eyes, water meeting water, salt meeting salt. [Let’s not consider how an aquatic species can weep or how anything can trickle when immersed in water.] or: 
He pursued clues, she pursued cures. He kept merpeople safe, she kept merpeople well. 
People died in the deep sea not of the darkness outside, but the darkness within.
Still, the book merits four stars for its inventiveness and charm. Sonia Faruqi is an author worth watching. I hope that future works from this author will benefit from critical editorial input.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Book View Cafe Boxing Day Sale

To celebrate the season—and the return of our website—Book View Café is holding a site-wide Boxing Week Sale from December 26 through January 1. Shop on those dates and receive 25% off all bookstore purchases. 

The coupon code, 25%BVCSALE, will be automatically applied to your purchase during check-out.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Merry Everything and Happy Always

To all my friends, of whatever faith or none, I send you heart-felt wishes for peace and joy, now and in the coming years. Whatever gives you comfort and inspires you, may you receive it in abundance.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Lace and Blade 5 Author Interview: Shariann Lewitt

From lands distant or nearby, familiar or utterly strange, historical or imaginary, from ancient times to the Belle Époque comes a treasury of luscious, elegant, romantic fantasy. Come with us on a journey through time and across boundaries, inspired by the longings of the heart and the courage residing in even the meekest person.

The release date is Valentine's Day 2019, but you can pre-order it now:


I met Shariann Lewitt at LaunchPad Astronomy Workshop in 2011, and what a delight our friendship has been. She's also a heck of a good writer.

Deborah J. Ross: Tell us a little about yourself.  How did you come to be a writer?
Shariann Lewitt: I can’t think of when I thought I wasn’t going to be a writer!  But I loved too many different things, and I realized that I wasn’t going to earn a full time living writing fiction, so I planned to go to grad school in something Radically Different.  I only applied to one graduate writing program—Yale School of Drama.  I only knew of one other that carried that level of prestige in the country, and that was Iowa, and, being a born and raised Manhattanite, I had no idea where Iowa was (is?) or how I would get there.  Really, I only applied because I expected to be turned down, so I could go on with other things knowing that I didn’t have enough serious talent to pursue professional writing.  To the great shock and horror of all my relatives, I got in.  The graduate degree didn’t make me a writer, but it did make me employable as a teacher, which does pay an extremely modest rent.  Grad school was traumatic and genre fiction was my drug of choice to get through it.  In my final year I wrote my first novel as an escape project—and it got published.

DJR: What inspired your story in Lace and Blade 5?
SL: My father lived in Japan for several years when he was quite young, before he married my mother.  Since I was too young to remember I’d heard about how wonderful Japan is.  My father would take out his special box of treasures with his water colored picture of Fuji-san and curling white waves, his dark oiled wood chopsticks, his long silk tassel and little laughing Buddha.  He taught me Japanese children’s songs, to eat with chopsticks (as a very young child—my mother hated seeing me eat Lucky Charms with chopsticks and refuse to use a spoon.)  And of course, as I got older, I became fascinated with Japanese culture and history.

The basic idea for the story (which I won’t tell because it would be a spoiler) has been with me for a long time.  I wrote it once in the very beginning of my career as a short story and then abandoned it because short stories were very hard for me then.

Deborah’s invitation for this anthology came a few weeks after I had returned from a trip to Kyoto with an idea for a novel and a large package of research books on the Meiji rebellion.  Before this particular trip I had been more interested in the more distant past; the nineteenth century seemed far too modern for my taste.  And yet on that trip I learned a great deal that I had skipped over before because I had thought it too modern and was swimming in research on the particulars of the men—and women!—involved in breaking the Shogun’s death grip on the government.  The moment I read that invitation I knew I had to write this story.  I already knew Toshiro, who had been in my story decades earlier.

And then the whole story just revealed itself to me.  I wrote long form; short fiction is hard for me.  But this story came whole as a story, with the characters fully realized and the concept perfectly alive from the moment I began.  I have never had an experience writing a story like this one.  I was all the reasons I love to write, all the joy and wonder, and for two days I sat and wrote and pretty much ignored everything else in the world.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Short Book Reviews: A Shooter Takes Hostages at an Abortion Clinic

Jodi Picoult’s latest novel, A Spark of Light, tackles the abortion debate and pulls no punches. The story opens in Mississippi’s sole remaining abortion clinic, where a gunman has killed several people, including the clinic’s owner, gravely wounded several more, and is holding the rest – staff and patients – as hostages. The police negotiator is desperately trying to talk him down before the SWAT team takes control, and also to keep secret his discovery that his own daughter is inside. One of the hostages is an anti-abortion protester who’s gone undercover to try to obtain incriminating evidence of wrongdoing that will shut the clinic down. As if that weren’t dramatic enough, in another part of the state a teenaged girl has been charged with murder after a self-induced abortion through pills she’d bought on the internet.

All of this is explosive enough, but Picoult doesn’t simplify, preach, or condescend. Every one of her characters, from the shooter to the spy to the negotiator, to the critically injured doctor and intrepid nurses, to the girl who was at the clinic to get oral contraceptives to the elderly woman facing a terminal diagnosis, come across as people with their own histories, tragedies, and deeply held beliefs. More than that, Picoult leaves the reader to draw their own conclusions from a spectrum of sympathetic but ultimately incompatible agendas.

What happens next is even more challenging to the reader. Instead of moving forward chronologically, each successive section moves us back in time. We see the stage before the events we’ve just witnessed, and the stage before that, and so forth, until the day is ordinary, the work routine, beliefs are yet untested and courage untried. Poignantly, we see the people killed by the shooter as alive and vital. The final section draws together all the disparate threads to make the story whole.

For me, however, the most moving part of the book was the Author’s Note, where Picoult talks about her interviews with people all along the spectrum from opposing abortion under any circumstances to advocating for no restrictions whatever. She points out that a significant number of abortions are done for financial reasons, and offers suggestions for reducing the number by addressing that desperation. Raising the minimum wage and offering government-funded child care and universal health care would all make it financially more feasible to bear and raise children. Discouraging employers from firing or refusing to hire pregnant women is another approach.

Finally she writes,
Honestly, I do not believe we, as a society, will ever agree on this issue. The stakes are too high and both sides operate from places of unshakable belief. But I do think that the first step is to talk to each other – and more important, to listen. We may not see eye to eye, but we can respect each other’s opinions and find the truth in them. Perhaps in those honest conversations, instead of demonizing each other, we might see each other as imperfect humans, doing our best.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Today's Moment of Art

Cattle at Rest on a Hillside in the Alps, 1885, Rosa Bonheur

Monday, December 17, 2018

Lace and Blade 5 Author Interview: Marella Sands

From lands distant or nearby, familiar or utterly strange, historical or imaginary, from ancient times to the Belle Époque comes a treasury of luscious, elegant, romantic fantasy. Come with us on a journey through time and across boundaries, inspired by the longings of the heart and the courage residing in even the meekest person.

The release date is Valentine's Day 2019, but you can pre-order it now:


Here I chat with Marella Sands about her story, "Spire Witch," and a bunch of other stuff.

Deborah J. Ross: Tell us a little about yourself.  How did you come to be a writer?
Marella Sands: My fourth grade teacher made us write a story every day. After that, I never really stopped, although it didn't occur to me until I was graduating from college that someone might actually pay me to write. From then on, I tried to figure out how to write at a publishable level.

What inspired your story in Lace and Blade 5?
MS: That's a little tough. The original idea was very different, about an apprentice priestess who was learning how to properly inter the dead of the city, but I never could figure out a plot to go with that character. After several failed drafts, the character changed into a runaway rich girl who merely prayed over the dead and dying, and the story became “Spire Witch.”

What authors have most influenced your writing?
MS: I'd have to credit my writers group for that. Up until I met them, I hadn't really encountered people in real life who could help train me to be a better writer. As for reading, I grew up consuming vast amounts of fantasy. My father had an extensive SF collection so there were always novels around the house and piling up on shelves. So...I grew up in the milieu and loved to read, but when it came time to writing, it really helped to have people who could show me the ropes.

DJR: What advice would you give an aspiring writer?
MS: It's more work than you can possibly imagine, so be sure it's something that really calls to you. 

DJR: Any thoughts on the Lace and Blade series or this being its final volume?
MS: This is the final volume? Too bad - there are so few places to try to sell one's work. Thanks for the sales :)

Marella Sands writes that she likes to travel, and in 2018 was able to do some fun things like watch a village cricket match in Cerne Abbas, Dorset; search the Jurassic Coast for fossils; visit the Phallological Museum in Reykjavik; and stand in the crack between the Eurasian plate and the North American plate in Thingvellir National Park, Iceland. She, like most writers, has more writing projects on her desk than are really good for her sanity.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Today's Moment of Art

A Clump of Trees (c. 1860), Constant Troyon (1810-1865)

Monday, December 10, 2018

Lace and Blade 5 Author Interview: Harry Turtledove

From lands distant or nearby, familiar or utterly strange, historical or imaginary, from ancient times to the Belle Époque comes a treasury of luscious, elegant, romantic fantasy. Come with us on a journey through time and across boundaries, inspired by the longings of the heart and the courage residing in even the meekest person.

The release date is Valentine's Day 2019, but you can pre-order it now:

With typical modesty and succinctness, Harry Turtledove responded to my questions as follows:

Deborah J. Ross: Tell us a little about yourself.  How did you come to be a writer?
Harry Turtledove: I wrote.  Eventually, people started buying stuff.  It was more enjoyable than working in Dilbertland, so I kept at it.

DJR: What inspired your story in Lace and Blade 5?
HT: I was thinking about correspondences between lands and sovereigns. Once I had the idea of both going wrong at the same time, the story came pretty easily.

DJR: What authors have most influenced your writing?
HT: L. Sprague de Camp and Poul Anderson.

DJR: What’s the most memorable fan mail you’ve ever received?
HT: There was the fellow named "Thorstein" (I'm changing it) who complained that no one named Thorstein was ever a heroic figure.  I have thus far resisted the impulse to name a child-molesting axe murderer Thorstein, but I still may yield to it one day.

DJR: How does your writing process work?
HT: I do first drafts in longhand, which saves me a lot of rewriting. Then I clean things up on the computer and submit.

DJR: What have you written recently? What lies ahead?
HT: I just sold a novelette about evolved dinosaurs to ANALOG, and have another under submission there. I'm also working on a new Hellenistic historical after a long hiatus.

DJR: What advice would you give an aspiring writer?
HT: Write. Finish. Submit. Keep submitting. Keep doing all that stuff. It's how you learn your licks.

DJR: Any thoughts on the Lace and Blade series or this being its final volume?
HT: The series has been highly enjoyable.  I wish there were more.

Harry Turtledove says he is an escaped Byzantine historian. He has made a poor but none too honest living writing fantasy, science fiction, and, when he can get away with it, historical fiction. Being named “The Master of Alternative History” by Publisher’s Weekly has not impacted his modesty in the least. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife — fellow writer Laura Frankos (who is equally but differently delightful) — and three overprivileged cats.  Three daughters and two granddaughters round out the brood.  If you like, he can annoy you on Twitter @HNTurtledove.

I should add that he's very tall. Or I'm very short.

Friday, December 7, 2018

[personal] My Love/Hate Relationship with Chanukah

For the past decade or so, whether Chanukah falls in early December or overlaps Christmas, I have wrestled with the meaning of the holiday. I grew up in a devoutly secular Jewish family, although my father used to tell us stories of the holidays. It wasn’t until I had children of my own that observing Jewish customs became important to me. Their father, my first husband, came from a family that celebrated Christmas as a paean to overconsumption, an amalgam of showering each other with cheap gifts and gorging on indigestible food while sniping at one another. In our own home, however, we would have a modest tree, a modest meal, and presents that had something to do with the interests of the recipients.

So where did Chanukah fit it? For one thing, when my kids came along I decided not to compete with Christmas. No big gatherings. No tinsel. No horribly unhealthy meals. And no presents. Instead, we turned off the tv, and gathered around to light the candles and stumble through reading the blessings. We’d play dreidel using Chanukah gelt (foil-wrapped chocolate coins) and take turns reading aloud from a collection of funny children’s Chanukah books. The hands-down favorite was Eric Kimmel’s Herschel and the Hanukkah Goblins, although his The Chanukkah Guest came a close second. One of the appeals of Herschel was the way the dialog of the goblins lent itself to silly voices as Herschel outwitted them one by one. Needless to say, the kids loved reading together and playing games as a family. Years later, they told me that they didn’t want to give the impression they didn’t like getting presents for Christmas but they liked Chanukah better.

As the kids grew up, and I divorced and later remarried, I found myself re-evaluating the holiday. I hadn’t celebrated it as a child and I no longer had children to delight. By this time, my own Jewish identity had become increasingly important to me. What did this holiday mean, beyond a way of enjoying the winter in a non-specifically-Christian way?

I started reading the story behind Chanukah, and that’s when my troubles started.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Monday, December 3, 2018

Sword and Sorceress 33 Author Interviews: Dave Smeds

Enter a wondrous universe…the latest volume of Sword and Sorceress, featuring stories from new and seasoned authors. Herein you will find tales of fantasy with strong female characters, with some version of either martial skill or magic. Not all the protagonists will be human, and sometimes the magic will take highly original forms, but the emotional satisfaction in each story and in the anthology as a whole, remains true to the original vision. The release date will be November 2, 2018.

Deborah J. Ross: Tell us a little about yourself. How did you come to be a writer?

Dave Smeds: I loved fiction from an early age. I was particularly drawn to stories of imaginary worlds, or at least by settings that were in effect imaginary, such as Mars as depicted by Edgar Rice Burroughs. At age fifteen, it occurred to me I might be able to write a short story or two. I did that. The result was crap, of course, but every time I did another story or fragment of a novel, I could see how to improve. (It was, as you might imagine, REALLY OBVIOUS how I could improve.) I felt driven to eventually write something at a level I'd want to read if someone else had written it.

DJR: What inspired your story in Sword and Sorceress 33?
DS: Six years ago, when pondering what I would write for Sword and Sorceress 27, I decided it was the right time to initiate a story sequence. A number of S&S contributors have resorted to the series format. I had not done so, other than my gullrider tales in S&S 4 and S&S 5. In my teens I very much enjoyed the Conan stories. Part of the joy of those -- speaking now of Howard’s original eighteen tales, not of the scads of pastiches that have been added to the canon over the seventy years -- is that he skipped around, presenting views of his character at various stages of life, in all sorts of settings. I also greatly appreciated the economy and focus of a sequence made up of short-fiction installments. It’s so much work to devour a series made up of four or six or eight novels, but four or six or eight short stories? Great from an author perspective, and hopefully great from a reader perspective as well. Somehow the image of my characters making a getaway on a flying carpet came to me, and that led to the first outing of my characters Coil and Azure. I like coming up with original worlds too much to limit my S&S contributions to nothing but Coil and Azure stories, but I had not featured them since S&S 29 and I missed them, so here we go for at least one more time with “The Citadel in the Ice.” At this point I have no idea how soon I’ll do another installment. I promised myself to do them only when the muse is really nagging me.