Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Today's Wisdom from Middle Earth

"Never laugh at live dragons." 

-- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Monday, June 28, 2021

Deborah Reads from "The Fallen Man"

 In magical Renaissance Italy, art not only captures reality but remakes it. Shadows gather within the duke’s palazzo, threats that only the gifted young artist Rodiana can visualize through her painting. Danger lurks even closer, as a lecherous noble guest is bent on taking Rodiana for himself. Her best defense against the attack and its aftermath lies in the power of her art to both reveal and conceal the truth.

"The Fallen Man," is based on the life of Renaissance fresco painter, Onorate Rodiana, who escaped an assault by a wealthy courtier to become a notorious bandit queen. It's available for pre-order now and goes live on July 1, 2021.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Short Book Reviews: The H. P. Lovecraft Elder Gods Stalk Modern London

Dead Lies Dreaming
, by Charles Stross (Tordotcom)

The Elder Gods have cast their long, twisted shadow over contemporary London, the “New Management” has transformed government into a private megacorporation, and supernatural powers are popping up in people of all walks of life. One billionaire tycoon will stop at nothing to acquire the one true Necronomicon, a cursed grimoire right out of H. P. Lovecraft. When a group of psychic misfits stages a bank robbery, ex-cop Wendy Deere is put on the job as private security to track them down and soon finds herself drawn in to the hunt for the ghastly book. The plot goes from playful to horrific, from reality-bending and beyond in true Stross fashion. Although this world has much in common with The Laundry Files, and I kept waiting for our friends from those stories to show up and save the day, to my mind this is a parallel-Laundry-Files universe, just as fun and wildly inventive, and it works great as a stand-alone.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Today's Wisdom from Middle Earth

“I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo.

"So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Monday, June 21, 2021

Guest Post: Economic Self-Reliance and Well-Being in American Women

Gender, Capitalism, and Labor: The Relationship Between Economic Self-Reliance and Well-Being in American Women

by Sarah Madeleine Wheeler

The proposition that “Throughout U.S history a woman’s capacity for economic self-reliance is the most important determinant of her well-being” is not unreasonable and is well-supported by evidence; however, it is incomplete and fails to extend into the critique of capitalism, power and class disenfranchisement that is necessary for a well-rounded understanding.  In any capitalist system, the powerful will seek to deprive the disadvantaged of monetary resources, the better to retain and stratify their own class privilege, and to maintain a desperate class of workers willing to labor on starvation wages.  While the American race-caste system, dating back to the 1681 statues made in reaction to Bacon’s Rebellion (How America Invented Race, 2020), was orchestrated with the suppression and control of minority labor forces in mind, the domination of the largest minority on Earth pre-dates the invasion of the continent and composes the oldest form of unpaid labor.  That a woman’s economic self-reliance is primary and critical to her well-being is true insofar as any disadvantaged person’s economic fortunes is thusly important to their fate within the capitalist system; that is to say, women’s rights are human rights and human rights are labor rights.

Prior to and during the strict control of women’s capital via legal statute, women frequently were capital, a reflection of both their reproductive capacity and of the unpaid labor they were expected to perform.  From approximately 1600 onwards, both colonialist and Indigenous women (and children) functioned as chattel and “valuable cultural commodities to be taken hostage and exchanged” for inanimate objects and other capital (Brooks, 1996).  In the wake of Bacon’s Rebellion, women were key to controlling the labor force through racial categorization; miscegenation laws combined with “according to the condition of the mother” clauses (Hening, 1823) ensured that neither women of color nor their descendents would have access to either freedom or capital of their own.  As systems of power and control began to emerge, those women whose labor was not controlled by systems of servitude and racial disenfranchisement were constrained by the laws of men which erased their separate legal identities after marriage and stripped from them most claims to capital and property, a system known as coveture.  The twin American disenfranchisements, on the basis of sex and on the basis of race, had devastating consequences for women’s well-being.  For instance, renowned poet Phillis Wheatley, the founder of multiple American literary traditions, died at 31 years of age in wretched poverty as she struggled alone to support an infant son by working as a scullery maid, on account of both her race and her sex (Wikipedia, 2021; Phillis Wheatley clip…, 2014).  Even Rachel Wells, a White woman who lent the hefty sum of £300 from her own resources to fund the Revolutionary War and therefore should have been a valued patriot, could not get her bond returned on account of her sex and was reduced to sleeping on straw in her old age, begging piteously in misspelled letters to Congress for “a little [interest]” from her ‘borrowed’ funds (Living Through War & Revolution, 1786).  Many younger women took advantage of the war to leave their gender behind and cross-dressed as soldiers, the better to pursue their own wellbeing (Deborah Sampson Cross-Dresses…, 2019).  That it was better to be a man at war than a woman at any occupation casts a stark light upon women’s fortunes during this era.

However, in the wake of the Revolutionary War, “the mothers of the republic were tasked with instilling in their sons the qualities of virtue, piety, and patriotism necessary to the young country’s future,” for which education was essential (Ware, 2015).  While, as Ware observes (2015), access to segregated education was “a long way” from equality, “it was an opening wedge.”  Indeed, the mothers of suffrage, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady-Stanton, were both educated women, a condition predicated by relative affluence which afforded them the liberty to pursue their life’s work.  Anthony, a teacher who never married, astutely remarked on the grim dichotomy facing her sex: “I do not want to give up my life of freedom to become a man’s housekeeper. If a girl marries poverty, she becomes a drudge. If she marries wealth, she becomes a doll, and I want none of either.”  (One Woman, One Vote, 1995)  Her determination to retain her economic independence was no doubt a significant factor behind her ability to remain a staunchly active figure in the Women’s Movement until her death: better able to protect her own economic health, dispossessed by neither a feckless husband nor his descendants, with the right to access and manage her own economic resources, she was not reduced to working as a drudge or to homelessness in her twilight years for lack of a man to “cover” her.

Friday, June 18, 2021

Short Book Reviews: Kelley Armstrong's Time-travel-Victorian-haunted-house-mystery-romance

A Stitch in Time
, by Kelley Armstrong (Subterranean Press)

The author describes A Stitch in Time as a “time-travel-Victorian-haunted-house-mystery-romance,” and it hits all the right notes. History professor Bronwyn inherits the Gothic manor where she lived as a child, and as a summer project embarks upon its renovation. As a child, she was able to step into the manor’s past, where she befriended William, the next heir, until present-day adults decided she was mentally ill and locked her up. So her return is fraught with memories – was William real? – and ghosts that seem to be attempting to communicate with her. Although she’s reluctant to accept it, the time “stitch” keeps returning her to William’s time. So many years have now gone by, and yet the old affection quickly blossoms into something more. Or would, if the ghosts weren’t increasingly importunate. Someone was murdered in William’s time – but who was the victim? And who did it? The more deeply Bronwyn searches, the more dangerous the secrets she uncovers.

All these elements are handled with such superb skill and pacing that I kept turning the pages long after I should have turned out my light. I’m a sucker for a good love story, but when it comes packaged with tantalizing mystery and the wisdom of older-and-wiser characters, the result was a highly satisfying time-travel-and-so-forth adventure.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Today's Wisdom from Middle Earth

"The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater"

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Monday, June 14, 2021

My Love Affair with the Music of The Lord of the Rings

In an earlier post, I talked about my enthusiasm for Peter Jackson’s films of The Lord of the Rings. One of the things I adored was Howard Shore's music. I ran out and bought the CDs, of course. At first I listened to the music as a way of re-experiencing the movies. I’d done this with other movie music, like The Last of the Mohicans, Shakespeare in Love, Titanic, and all the work of Ennio Morricone. Romantic, evocative music fits the same slot in my brain as Mendelsohn’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream” or his violin concerto, or Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet,” Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” suite, or Borodin’s “In the Steppe of Central Asia” (one of the pieces I listened to while writing Shannivar). It’s narrative music, emotive rather than abstract, and I find it marvelous to write to.

When at long last it was my time to embark upon piano lessons, as a first-time older adult student, I grabbed a copy of the easy piano versions of The Lord of the Rings music. My goal was to play “Into the West.” I was one of those folks in the theater with tears down my cheeks as the song ended. But I was just starting out, I had zero self-confidence, and I wanted to make sure I had the skill to play it well. My teacher and I selected “In Dreams” (which is also the leitmotif for the hobbits) as one of my early pieces. Even in the easy version, it was a challenge. And it had words, words in a key within my limited vocal range.

Like others of my generation, I got caught in the folk scene of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and even taught myself a few chords on the guitar. Although I enjoyed singing in a group, I had become convinced I had a terrible voice. I remember being told as a child that I couldn’t sing. So of course, my voice was strained, thin, unreliable in pitch. With the piano to support my voice, however, along with lots of practice when no one else was in the house, not to mention having an encouraging teacher, I learned how to breathe more deeply and relax my throat. The higher notes became easier and more clear. I added other songs and vocal exercises, which helped my confidence. “Wow,” my teacher said after one class, “who knew you had such a voice?”

Friday, June 11, 2021

Short Book Reviews: Saving the Prince of the Holy Russian Empire

The Russian Cage
, by Charlaine Harris (Gallery / Saga Press)

This is the third installment of the “Gunnie Rose” series, featuring hired gunslinger Lizbeth Rose in an alternate 1930s America in which the United States has fractured into different nations, the West Coast being the Holy Russian Empire. In previous stories (A Longer Fall is reviewed here), Lizbeth encountered, then partnered with and fell in love with, Eli, a gregori (wizard) and Prince of the aforementioned Holy Russian Empire. Their adventures took place in the Southern regions, but now he’s been arrested in San Diego, and Lizbeth sets out to rescue him. As resourceful as she is, and as keen a sharpshooter, nothing has prepared her for the dangerous intricacies of royal court politics, certainly not her previous life, which was poor in material goods but rich with love.

I loved Lizbeth’s first-person voice, a bit Southern-folksy in the manner of Sookie Stackhouse of the True Blood series, but not the same character. Lizbeth has little formal education but a good deal of common sense, kindness, and life experience. While the story moves right along, I most enjoyed the tiny details of Lizbeth’s life. No wonder Prince Eli fell in love with her!

Thursday, June 10, 2021

[personal] Bragging About My Younger Daughter

My younger daughter, Rose, is finishing up her residency in Family Medicine. She's also a strong advocate for gender and sexual minority patients. And she's just been recognized for her work:

(DEIA - Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, & Access 

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Today's Wisdom from Middle Earth

“A man that flies from his fear may find that he has only taken a short cut to meet it.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Children of Húrin

Monday, June 7, 2021

Author Interview: Nancy Jane Moore

Today I chat with Nancy Jane Moore, whose feminist retelling of The Three Musketeers -- For the Good of the Realm -- came out from Aqueduct Press.


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

Nancy Jane Moore: I grew up in a world in which reading and writing were taken very seriously. My parents were both journalists, so they wrote and edited and had strong opinions about the way other people reported news and wrote stories. When my sister and I were young, my mother would take us to the bookmobile (we lived in the country, so there wasn’t a regular library nearby) to get two weeks worth of books. We’d also grab a box of Hershey’s almond bars at the store and come home to read and eat chocolate.

When I was older, my mother would edit my papers for school, which taught me more about how to write than the work I actually did in class. By the time I finished high school, I had lots of confidence in my basic ability to write.

Two things about reading fiction pushed me toward writing it. First, I came across the occasional story or novel that had a profound effect on me – for example, Doris Lessing’s The Four-Gated City – which made me want to write something that did that for someone else. For all that I read lots of non-fiction, it was always the fiction that inspired that feeling.

Secondly, I spent a lot of time as a teenager reading stories in which I found myself identifying with the main male character because any women in the stories were just there for sex appeal or to tell the man “Don’t go.” I wanted to write stories in which women got to do things. I hope I’ve done that.


DJR: What inspired your book, For the Good of the Realm?

NJM: Some years back, I re-read The Three Musketeers and one of the sequels Dumas wrote, Twenty Years After. After d’Artagnan progressed from a romantic young man to a disillusioned older one, I gave up, but the core story stayed with me. I love adventure stories, but of course the role of women in the Dumas stories was unsatisfying. So I came up with the idea that an all-woman Queen’s Guard should protect the Queen, and went on from there. The short story “A Mere Scutcheon” came first – it’s in my collection Conscientious Inconsistencies – and I finally got around to taking the advice of the editor who bought the collection to expand it into a novel.

DJR: What authors have most influenced your writing?  What about them do you find inspiring?

NJM: There have been different ones at different times, but perhaps the most crucial ones were the ones I read starting in 1979. I had complained to a co-worker about the fiction I was reading – for years I described the mainstream/literary fiction of the 1970s as “people living in the Hamptons and getting divorced” – and he said, “You should read C.J. Cherryh.” So I found the first book of the Morgaine series at the local mall bookstore and was hooked. From there I stumbled onto most of the major women science fiction writers of the 1970s and 1980s, both those writing great adventures and those writing incredible feminist fiction. (The feminist science fiction from the 70s was so much better than the mainstream feminist fiction.) I read a few male authors, too – Samuel Delany and William Gibson in particular – but mostly I read Ursula Le Guin, Joanna Russ, James Tiptree, and for awhile everything Cherryh wrote (she was so prolific she got ahead of me). Among other things, they made me realize that if I set a story in the future or in a world that doesn’t exist, I could write about women with agency without spending time explaining how they were able to be that way. That got me started.


Friday, June 4, 2021

Book Reviews: The Two (Women) Musketeers

For the Good of the Realm, by Nancy Jane Moore (Aqueduct)

The elevator pitch for this charming historical fantasy is “The Three Musketeers With Women.” That does not do justice to the book by a long shot. The concept is familiar enough, from both the novels by Alexandre Dumas and the many film adaptations. In this swashbuckler tale, heroic, chivalrous swordsmen fight for justice and for their unbreakable friendship. The original, written in 1844, featured men in all the fun roles, with women being either weepy and weak or deviously evil. But why should the men have all the fun? I expect just about every female reader or viewer has railed at the injustice of depriving half the human race of such valorous deeds. Nancy Jane Moore, a thoughtful writer and skilled martial artist, has now set things right.

For the Good of the Realm is and isn’t like The Three Musketeers. There’s a realm like France, a royal couple divided by politics, each served by their own dedicated guard, and the head of the Church bent on cementing their own power. In this world, however, the Queen’s Guard is comprised of women, and the King’s Guard of men, and the queen’s advisors are largely women, as is the Hierophante. Add to this the existence of magic, condemned by the Church, arousing superstitious dread but freely used by the enemies of the Realm. There is no green recruit, D’Artagnan, but a pair of women friends from the Queen’s Guard – Anna D’Gart and Aramis, who fights duels as an amusement and cannot quite seem to give up her bawdy relations to become a priest. Each has a lover from the King’s Guard from whom they must keep secrets, but with whom they occasionally join forces.

The structure of this novel reflects the style to which it does homage. The point of view straddles the divide between third and omniscient, less intimate than is currently in vogue but marvelously evocative of Dumas and his contemporaries. Moore’s control of language and tone never falters as she draws the reader into not only a different world but a slightly different way of experiencing that world. Today we confuse “closeness” in point of view with emotional closeness to a character, but as Dumas and now Moore demonstrate, readers can feel very much in touch with a character through the careful depiction of actions and words. This is, after all, how we come to understand the people in our lives. “The adventures of…” implies an episodic arrangement, but here each chapter and each incident builds on what has come before and lays the foundation for what is to come in subtle, complex ways. The final confrontation between Anna d’Gart and the evil, scheming Hierophante is less a Death Star explosion than it is the inevitable showdown between two highly competent chess players.

In reflecting on the pleasure of immersing myself in For the Good of the Realm, it strikes me as a tapestry created by a master weaver. There is an overall picture but the intricate details and skill of the stitchery – the lives and relationships of the characters – are what lend it depth and resonance.

Order it from Amazon here or from your favorite bookstore.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Story Release Day! The Poisoned Crown

The newest entry in my lineup of stand alone fiction is The Poisoned Crown, now available here.

The king is dead, long live the prince, but not for long if his stepmother the Queen Regent has anything to say about it. So he appeals to the one person he can trust, his father’s best swordswoman and the king’s secret lover. Venise wants nothing more than to bury herself in her grief at the king’s death, but her conscience will not allow her to abandon the young man who is so like his father. The only question is whether the two of them can stand against the Queen Regent’s black magic.

Here's what a reader had to say about it: 
As to be expected, I thoroughly enjoyed this brief tale of the struggle of an honorable young Prince to be crowned King while his stepmother, the current Regent, tries everything in her power to prevent it while still appearing loyal to the nation. The main character, a former soldier and woman who had served and loved her King, the Prince's father, loyally for many years, uses her wit, skill, and experience to help the Prince save his country. ... The writing, characterization, and storytelling are excellent and this is an engrossing and fun read. ...This is really a story about family––identifying who you love and choosing to make a life that holds them and your mutual ideals close. Like all her stories and novels, I will remember A Poisoned Crown with great affection and recommend it highly.

Next month's story is The Fallen Man, is available for pre-order. In magical Renaissance Italy, art not only captures reality but remakes it. Shadows gather within the duke’s palazzo, threats that only the gifted young artist Rodiana can visualize through her painting. Danger lurks even closer, as a lecherous noble guest is bent on taking Rodiana for himself. Her best defense against the attack and its aftermath lies in the power of her art to both reveal and conceal the truth.