deborahjross: (Shield #1)
Recovery (which includes return and renewal of health) is a re-gaining—regaining of a clear view. I do not say “seeing things as they are” and involve myself with the philosophers, though I might venture to say “seeing things as we are (or were) meant to see them”—as things apart from ourselves. We need, in any case, to clean our windows; so that the things seen clearly may be freed from the drab blur of triteness or familiarity—from possessiveness. Of all faces those of our familiares are the ones both most difficult to play fantastic tricks with, and most difficult really to see with fresh attention, perceiving their likeness and unlikeness: that they are faces, and yet unique faces. This triteness is really the penalty of “appropriation”: the things that are trite, or (in a bad sense) familiar, are the things that we have appropriated, legally or mentally. We say we know them. They have become like the things which once attracted us by their glitter, or their colour, or their shape, and we laid hands on them, and then locked them in our hoard, acquired them, and acquiring ceased to look at them.


Creative fantasy, because it is mainly trying to do something else (make something new), may open your hoard and let all the locked things fly away like cage-birds.

J. R. R. Tolkien on Fairy Tales, Language, the Psychology of Fantasy, and Why There’s No Such Thing as Writing “For Children” | Brain Pickings
deborahjross: (Shield #1)
Here's the gorgeous cover by Matt Stawicki for my December DAW release, the second volume of The Seven-Petaled Shield. Be still, my heart!

deborahjross: (Shield #1)

This month's Amazing Fantasy Round Table examines the question of whether modern fantasy comes in shades other than grim and gritty.

Warren Rochelle: Fantasy: How Many Shades of Grey?

All right.  I’ve been browsing in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy. I googled “different kinds of fantasy—and, for the most part, found similar lists and similar terms.  I doubt most of those who write for this blog would be surprised at the terms and definitions I found, such as:  

Ø  high fantasy: immersion, set wholly in the secondary world, “with its own set of rules and physical laws,” (no connections between here and there). Think Middle-earth.

Ø  low fantasy: a sub-genre of fantasy fiction involving nonrational happenings that are without Low fantasy stories are set either in the real world or a fictional but rational world, and are contrasted with high fantasy stories (see above)… The word "low" refers to the level of prominence of traditional fantasy elements within the work, and is not any sort of remark on the work's quality” (Wikipedia contributors. "Low fantasy." (Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 27 Mar. 2013. Web. 2 May. 2013.)  Examples include The Borrowers, Tuck Everlasting, The Five Children and It, Edward Eager’s novels, and so on.

causality or rationality because they occur in the rational world where such things are not supposed to occur.

Ø  epic fantasy, which is centered on the quest, relies on a heroic main character, stresses the battle between good and evil, heroes, legendary battles—often called heroic fantasy.  A portal-quest or portal fantasy could be a variant, with a prime example that of the Chronicles of Narnia.

The lists go on to include contemporary/urban fantasy, anthropomorphic, historical, dark, science fantasy—you get the idea. Fantasy, all about good vs. evil, the light versus the dark, heroes and heroines, magic, dragons, and their ilk, comes in many shades of grey. (50? That’s another essay—see the blog on sexuality in fantasy, okay?)  Then, there is immersive vs. intrusive and liminal or estranged and … But instead of defining each and every one, and dredging up examples (which is something I like to do when I teach fantasy lit—English 379, this fall, 3:30-4:45 TTh, come on down), I want to talk about the shade of grey I write and why (and yes, grey, the British spelling, and not the American gray. Grey just looks …. well, grey, and it’s prettier… I digress).

So. What’s my shade of grey?  I have two published fantasy novels, Harvest of Changelings (Golden Gryphon, 2007) and its sequel, The Called (Golden Gryphon, 2010). A third is being edited, The Golden Boy, and a fourth in progress even as I write, The Werewolf and His Boy. They are all, I am thinking, low and intrusive fantasies. True, The Golden Boy is sort of pushing the above definition of low, as it is set in an alternate reality, that of the Columbian Empire. Magic is real, but it is illegal, and the Empire is definitely meant to be a rational country. Magic, does, however, intrude, according to the Columbian political and religious authorities. But, the others: this world (more or less), and then magic returns (thus intruding), or is disclosed in some fashion, voluntarily and otherwise. Harvest and The Called are set in North Carolina; Werewolf, in Virginia. Complications ensue—lots of complications. Bad things happen. The good guys are in serious trouble. Yes, there are forays into Faerie from time to time, but on the whole, things happen here, not there.

The question of the moment is why, to what end. Part of me has always wanted to believe in magic (oh, all right, part of me does believe in magic) and that it is real and if we just knew—the right people, the right words, where to look—we could find it. It’s always been here. There has to be a reason for all these stories. So, I create fictional worlds that satisfy this longing. In these worlds the magical and the mundane intersect, overlap, come into conflict—and I find these encounters fascinating. As do their real-world counterparts (encountering the unexplainable), such meetings pull back the veils and reveal us as who and what we really are. They are meetings in which we are forced to ask the question of what it means to be human. That some of these encounters are fraught with peril is also part of this question.Read more... )

  To be human is, sometimes, to be in danger, to be facing great evil, and to have to confront that evil, albeit the evil is a monster, another human, or a personal darkness. To be human is to undertake the quest. As Le Guin says in her essay, “The Child and the Shadow,” “fantasy is the natural, the appropriate language for the recounting of the spiritual journey and the struggle of good and evil in the soul”(Language of the Night 64).

In low fantasy, in intrusive fantasy, the metaphor, the myth, the symbol, the shadow, can be real, literal.  It can be touched, felt, and fought. Russell, a hero of Harvest and The Called, is an abused child; so is Jeff, his partner. They grew up with people who behaved monstrously. They also find themselves confronted with evil reptilians and black witches and other bad guys. They find they have to fight their inner demons as well as those that wait for them. Could I do this in high fantasy? I think so, but I am finding it is important to me to acknowledge the darkness and mystery that is here, in this world.

Good fantasy, after all, is about human beings doing human things, and with all the ambiguity and trouble and good and evil and love and hate and all the rest that comes with being human. Yes, they have to deal with the magical, the impossible, the mystery, the myth made real, but they are still humans—most of the time, and mostly.

So, I write in this shade of grey because it is here that I live, that my imagination lives. Oh, yeah, by the way: magic is real.


Warren Rochelle has taught English at the University of Mary Washington since 2000. His short story, "The Golden Boy” (published in The Silver Gryphon) was a Finalist for the 2004 Gaylactic Spectrum Award for Best Short Story and his novels include The Wild Boy (2001), Harvest of Changelings (2007), and The Called (2010. He also published a critical work on Le Guin and has academic articles in various journals and essay collections. His story, “The Boy on McGee Street” was published in Queer Fish 2 (Pink Narcissus Press, 2012).


Andrea Hosth: Grimdark 

The last ten years have seen a rise in what is known as "grimdark fantasy" (or, more amusingly, as "grittygrotty").  Joe Abercrombie defines the core of the genre as:

"The dirt physical and moral. The attention to unpleasant detail. The greyness of the characters. The cynicism of the outlook."

There are numerous articles discussing grimdark, covering everything from what makes it "more real", "less real", "nihilist", "gratuitous", "honest", or "unimaginative".  Most of all, "sexist".

Beyond being a sub-genre I'm disinclined to read, I'm sure some of my negative reaction to grimdark is due to some of its champions positing it as an "evolution" of fantasy: something which has left less evolved, inferior versions of fantasy behind.  This both annoys and confuses me.

Part of the confusion is due to what I see as a lack of newness about some of these concepts.  Are grimdark protagonists more morally ambiguous than, say, Elric of Melniboné?  Steerpike of Gormenghast?  Heck, Lord Vetinari of the Discworld?  How much more cynical in outlook are these worlds compared to, say, Mary Gentle's "Grunts" (a satire of heroic fantasy, but certainly not a recent one)? Is Leiber's Lankhmar naïve and 'unevolved'?

What exactly has evolved here?  Is a willingness to describe people peeing the big advance we're supposed to find in grimdark?

The other, perhaps larger, source of my confusion is whether the link made between "grey" and "real" is supposed to lead to a second link between "heroic" and "fake".  If the charcoal greyness of the protagonists is the big selling point of grimdark's advances (ignoring the decades of "pre-grimdark" fantasy featuring morally grey characters), does it follow on that real heroism does not exist?

The people-are-fundamentally-rotten trope is common to another genre: post-apocalyptic.  Almost inevitably, post-apocalyptic stories feature small bands of people, sometimes fighting viciously for resources against other bands, until their own group dissolves when Untrustworthy-Second-Male produces a schism against Mr-Reluctantly-In-Charge because he wants to be in charge/to get the girl/to go that way.  My own apocalyptic story was a direct reaction to how boringly predictable I find this story progression, and to recent events at the time of drafting – particularly the 2010-2011 Queensland Floods.  Here, as with countless other natural disasters, lives and safety were threatened…and thousands of people stepped up.  Helped out.  Behaved heroically.

If we spend the time to look around us, at the real world, we see villains, we see plenty of morally grey people – a vast bunch on the paler side of the grey scale.  And we see heroes.

Grimdark is a genre which removes a portion of the real.  To cast a crapsack world as a "more real" world is to ignore the considerable amount of grey in large portions of heroic fantasy, and to suggest that the concepts of nobility, heroism, selflessness, and the rule of law are all weak figments which do not and never did exist in (historical) reality.

A brief stroll through the myths and legends which are used as the basis for many modern fantasy stories will show us that grim and tragic events are hardly new to the genre (try Deidre of the Sorrows on for size).  A passing acquaintance with history will show us heroes.


Andrea K Höst was born in Sweden but raised in Australia. She writes fantasy and science fantasy, and enjoys creating stories which give her female characters something more to do than wait for rescue.Her website, Autumn Write.


Sylvia Kelso: Shades of  Fantasy

Originally I meant to talk about sub-genres, but I’ve covered this before, so instead I’ll look at shades in high fantasy, varying by both authors’ style and time. Which logically lets me start with one of the fathers of modern fantasy, Lord Dunsany. Here’s the intro to his short story, “Carcassonne:”

They say that [Camorak’s] house at Arn was huge and high, and its ceiling painted blue; and when evening fell men would climb up by ladders and light the scores of candles hanging from slender chains. And they say, too, that sometimes a cloud would come, and pour in through the top of one of the oriel windows, and it would come over the edge of the stonework as the sea-mist comes over a sheer cliff’s shaven lip where an old wind has blown for ever and ever (he has swept away thousands of leaves and thousands of centuries, they are all one to him, he owes no allegiance to Time).

Writing pre WWI, Dunsany has more than an echo of Yeats’ Celtic twilight: whimsical tone, slightly formal, archaic usages such as the “they say” beloved of medieval romances. And characteristic of Dunsany, whimsy extended into a long, flapping, image-ridden sentence that in the wrong hands could come perilously close to a place in the Bulwer Lytton awards.

From around the same period we have:

“His highness rode a hot stirring horse very fierce and dogged; knee to knee with him went Styrkmir of Blackwood o’ the one side and Tharmrod o’ the other. Neither man nor horse might stand up before them, and they faring as in a maze now this way now that, amid the thrumbling and thrasting of the footmen,  heads and arms smitten off, men hewn in sunder from crown to belly, ay, to the saddle, riderless horses maddened, blood plashed up from the ground like the slush from a marsh.”

Yep, that other Daddy of the Genre, E. R. Edison, from the chapter “The Battle of Krothering Side,” in The Worm Ouroboros. And yes, nobody sounds or ever again could sound like Edison. The lavish detail, the exuberance, the outrageous yet so brilliant faux Elizabethan language is a Phoenix. One of a kind.

The writing in The Worm actually ranges widely, from battle scenes like this, sounding almost straight out of Mallory, to the ornate settings, and breathtaking natural beauty like the sunset that closes this chapter, or the first view of Zimiamvia. But it’s a good shade away from Dunsany, not least in the ferocity of its focus, and the equally ferocious insistence of its rhythm.

Now here’s one of the modern heirs of both Edison and Dunsany. Describing magic outright this time, 70 or so years later, when fantasy styles have greatly simplified – or been dumbed down, imo – for a far larger, less literate readership.

Lynn Hall had changed again. This time she showed me how her secret wood devoured it, in a monstrous tangle of root and vine that wove into its stones and massed across its gaping roof. Past and future and the timeless wood scattered broken pieces of themselves within two rooms. Nial Lynn’s marble floor lay broken and weathered by the years, even as his blood or Tearle’s flowed darkly across it. A curve of tree root so thick it must have circled the world had pushed through the floor beneath Corbet’s table...

Much plainer than Edison or Dunsany, yes, and yet no less part of Elsewhere in the starkness of images like the broken marble floor and the flowing blood, here in service to the time-folding, reality-dissolving effect so common in McKillip’s work. Yes, Patricia McKillip again, this time from Winter Rose, Chapter Twenty-Three.

And now a particularly famous figure from modern fantasy who first appeared in the late ‘60s and returned in the 2000s, through his creator’s trademark mix of utterly everyday details and sudden, yawning vistas of unreality:

The leaves shook and the man came briskly down the ladder. He carried a handful of plums, and when he got off the ladder he batted away a couple of bees drawn by the juice. He came forward, a short, straight-backed man, grey hair tied back from a handsome, time-worn face. He looked to be seventy or so.  Old scars, four white seams, ran from his left cheekbone down to the jaw.  ( The Other Wind Ch. 1)

Yup, it’s Le Guin’s famous mage, Ged, in his (happier) old age. Now an almost poverty stricken dweller on the heights above Havnor, with a plum tree and some goats and chooks – chickens, to American readers – a handsome old face,  and the four scar marks that invoke his first mortal struggle  in the magical world.

In this quote everything looks deceptively simple. Until you begin to analyse the subtle, resilient rhythms of the prose, and the almost invisible patterning of assonance and alliteration.  If Edison is the High Priest of Ornament, Le Guin is the Mistress of Understatement.

Further into the present, and not quite high fantasy, here’s a very good Canadian writer doing urban fantasy at its most attitudinous. It’s from The Second Summoning, a world where Keepers use their magic to maintain the fabric of reality against determined incursions from Hell, below, but sometimes, accidentally, from Heaven above. In this one, a street evangelist is confronted by a currently humanly-embodied angel (read the book for the full outrageous details):

“Greenstreet  Mission. We’re doing a Christmas dinner. You can get a meal and hear the word of God.”

Samuel smiled in relief. This, finally, he understood. “Which word?”


“Well, God’s said a lot of words, you know, and a word like it or the wouldn’t be worth hearing again but it’s always fun listening to Him try to say aluminum.” (Ch. 7)

But, I hear you muttering, where are the famously gritty and dourly “realistic” masters like George R. R. Martin? OK, I confess. I loved Fevre Dream, years ago, but the Thrones books feel to me like a fantasy version of Stephen King’s gross-out followers. It’s not realism I find in Martin. Perversely, it’s like King, a “gritty fantasy” gross-out.

When it comes to gritty, I’d sooner go with another prize-winning contemporary woman fantasy writer, and the opening of her first book in the “Chalionverse”:

Cazaril heard the mounted horsemen on the road before he saw them. He glanced over his shoulder.  (Lois McMaster Bujold  The Curse of Chalion Ch. 1)

The well-worn track behind him curled up around a rolling rise, what passed for a hill on these high windy plains, before dipping again into the late-winter muck of Baocia’s bony soil. At his feet a little rill, too small and intermittent to rate a culvert or a bridge, trickled greenly across the track from the sheep-cropped pasture above. The thump of hooves, jangle of harness, clink of bells, creak of gear and careless echo of voices came on at too quick a rhythm to be some careful farmer with a team, or parsimonious pack-men driving their mules.

It’s not over-gritty – yet. Before the end it will go beyond gritty to grotesque, to appallingly realized unrealities, like Cazaril’s demon-pregnancy, but here the only signals are in the landscape. The natural fallacy. Bleakness in the meager messy surroundings foreshadows Cazaril’s own plight, penniless, dressed in rags, with crookedly healed fingers and a back thick with flogging lesions, creeping like a beggar toward his last hope of sanctuary, after a life of war, siege and the galleys that have left him only the knowledge of “how to prepare a dish of rats.”

I meant to end with a tour de force from the grand master of modern fantasy, who in one book can do all the shades of tone and voice from chatty children’s book to King James Version mythology, with epic and romance and comedy and tragedy in between. But I’ve traveled too often already in the realms of Tolkien, so I’ll stop here, with the grit under Cazaril’s sandals, only one of my particular favourites among fantasy’s more than fifty shades.

* * * * *

Sylvia Kelso lives in North Queensland, Australia, and writes fantasy and SF set mostly in analogue or alternate Australian settings. She has published six fantasy novels, two of which were finalists for best fantasy novel of the year in the Australian Aurealis genre fiction awards, and some stories in Australian and US anthologies. Her latest short story, “At Sunset” appears in Luna Station Quarterly for September 2012. “The Honor of the Ferrocarril” is forthcoming in Gears and Levers 3 from Skywarrior Press, and “Spring in Geneva,” a novella riff on Frankenstein, is projected to appear from Aqueduct Press in August 2013.


Carole McDonnell: Shades

This month's blog tour is called Shades of Fantasy -- a perfect title, I think. Because what is shading, exactly?

There are shades of evil, shades of humanness, shades of power, shades of the psyche, shades of power, shades of spatiality, shades of time, shades of intelligence and different kinds of intelligences, shades of sexuality and gender, shades of cultures, shades of life and non-life. Each shading can bring us closer to the darkness in the universe or in humanity. It can also bring us closer to the light. 

Depending on the writer, any of these shadings can be explored. A good fantasy book will show its reader so many shadings of its theme that the book and its issues will forever linger in the reader's mind. For better or for worse or for all the shadings in between.


Carole McDonnell is a writer of ethnic fiction, speculative fiction, and Christian fiction. Her works have appeared in many anthologies and at various online sites. Her first novel, Wind Follower, was published by Wildside Books. Her forthcoming novel is called The Constant Tower. 


Here's my own essay: Fantasy –A Long View of the Gritty, and Hope for the Numinous

At first, I thought the current fashion of dark, gritty fantasy – fantasy noir – is just that, a recent shift in popularity, like the explosion of angsty teenage vampire stories. If we take the long view, it’s an established variation in a much larger genre. Historically, fantasy’s appeal was as tales of wonder, from Homer’s Odyssey (a “tall tales” story if there ever was one) to Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Scary things certainly do happen in these stories and much is at risk, but the tone is elevated and the sensibilities are distinctly romantic. I suspect that one reason movie-goers who loved Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Lord of the Rings and found the novels unengaging was the somewhat old-fashioned “epic” level of prose, very much in line with the mythic tradition Tolkien is so much a part of and yet foreign-sounding and artificial when placed in the context of contemporary “realistic” literature. In this, Tolkien’s work has much more in common with Beowulf than with The Dresden Files

Spooky stories like the early Gothic novels such as Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764), Matthew Gregory Lewis's The Monk (1796), the works of Edgar Allen Poe or Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) approached the fantastical as other-worldly, making no pretense of portraying the seedier side of everyday reality. In Germany, Gothic fiction was called Schauerroman (“shudder novel”), in the sense of a delicious fascination with the macabre. Black magic, occult rites, vampires and ghosts, haunted castles, “the sins of the fathers,” Byronic heroes, ancient curses and the like pervaded these works.

Even stories that sought to balance supernatural elements and realistic settings could in no way be described as “gritty.” As time went on and literary tastes changed, the macabre or horrific elements shifted to include “explained supernatural” and psychological horror. What constitutes “realistic setting” has evolved from 18th Century drawing rooms to the streets and skyscrapers of modern urban fantasy. 

Contemporary gritty fantasy, whether in an urban setting or not, has been influenced by the larger movements in 20th and 21st Century literature. The Cold War fostered the twin sensibilities of paranoia and impending disaster, giving rise to generations of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic stories. I don’t think Ann Radcliffe or William Polidori, or even Robert Louis Stevenson would have dreamt of the bombed-out cities, virulent plagues, social disruption, and ecological collapse that characterizes modern dystopic fiction. Taking this thought a step further, I see the transformation of the zombie from a figure in voodoo religious rites to yet-another-monster to the victim of an epidemic, to one of hordes that walk the streets and break down doors, infecting everyone they bite, with all the attendant end-of-the-world you-will-be-eaten-next tropes. As a person who remembers the McCarthy Era, I see a chilling parallel in the underlying themes of contagion and loss of humanity. In this way, what we see in gritty fantasy today, particularly the dystopic and urban flavors, reflects the fears rampant in recent history. 

At the same time, although it has occasionally fallen out of popular favor, epic fantasy, whimsical fantasy, fantasy that echoes spiritual or religious themes of hope and redemption, not to mention beautiful magic and romance, has not gone away. I think readers (and writers!) respond to the optimism and portrayal of courage, loyalty, and imagination in these tales.

I first got the idea for my own epic fantasy trilogy from a series of short stories that were published in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword & Sorceress series. I love horses and was intrigued by the cultural clash between the Romans with their cities and disciplined infantry, and the nomadic horse peoples of Asia – the Scythians, Sarmatians, and others. I wondered how these two very different cultures might give rise to different systems of magic as well as different military strategies. One story (the first one being “The Spirit Arrow” in S & S XIII) wasn’t enough! I fell in love with the vast reaches of the steppe, the nature-based religion of the nomads, the lore of horses. This isn’t so different from what Tolkien envisioned in the Rohirrim of Rohan, although I came at it from a different historical context. As one story followed another, “Rome” deepened and became less of a monolithic enemy and more of a culture to be admired. In order to create the complexity of conflicts necessary for a work of novel length, I added an ancient city-state, guardian of the magical devices that once protected the living world from the forces of chaos. All this was background for the real story, the adventures of a handful of characters as they make their way through this world, each with her or his own goals and follies. I was off and running with The Seven-Petaled Shield. The first volume comes out in June 2013.

deborahjross: (Feathered Edge)
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.

"Blue Velvet" is not an easy read, for Claude's adversary is a sadistic, equal-opportunity-rapist slave-master, and Diana doesn't pull any punches. As in the previous stories, Claude finds himself in danger that is both physical and magical. But he is not without resources -- his innate compassion, the loyalty he shares with his friends, and his hard-won understanding of the supernatural. At the end, Diana suggests that Claude might next be off to West Africa. I hope she has the chance to write that story -- and that I have the chance to edit it!
deborahjross: (Shield #1)
Wonderful perspective on world-building, which is as applicable to sf as to epic fantasy. A richly detailed world, however captivating, does not a story make.

" building is important, but in good epic fantasy it only find its way into the story in bits and pieces through the context of the characters. The Silmarillion is rich in history, language, and lore, but it’s outside the framing context of any character’s story arc. It’s an atlas-arguably an atlas Tolkien needed to write in order to write LOTR with such a rich sense of history and culture, but an atlas nonetheless. Only avid fans who are already invested in LOTR bother to read it. Most readers are drawn to the stories of Bilbo and Frodo and Aragorn, and rightly so, because those are the character whose stories are linked to saving the wonderful, complex world Tolkien created."

[GUEST POST] Garrett Calcaterra on Epic Fantasy and How J.R.R. Tolkien Pulled a George Lucas - SF Signal
deborahjross: (Default)

My love affair with this world and its people began with a series of short stories in Sword & Sorceress. I kept wanting to go back and explore more...and before I knew it, I'd committed trilogy -- one long story arc with four major cultures, a vast and wonderful landscape, and characters I came to treasure for their compassion, their arrogance, their wisdom, their courage, their human frailty.

The first part, The Seven-Petaled Shield (which is also the name of the trilogy) comes out from DAW in June. Here's the cover, with a painting by the wonderful Matt Stawicki:

I am such a happy camper. (And you can pre-order it from your favorite indie bookstore or the usual internet sources.)

I'll be blogging more about it as the time approaches.

deborahjross: (Feathered Edge)
Last year I began this series on "the stories behind the stories" in this anthology of marvelous fantasy stories I was privileged to edit. I got about halfway through when life in the form of writing deadlines intervened. So I'm going to repost them and hopefully finish the series, then put them together in a companion volume. to The Feathered Edge.

One of the challenges of writing short fiction is how much must be accomplished in how few words. Harry Turtledove once said that novels teach us what to put in a story, but short stories teach us what to take out. Every story element must serve multiple purposes - setting the scene and evoking the larger world beyond it, creating and heightening tension, revealing character -- oh, and moving the plot along. It's a tall order to accomplish in only a few thousand words. Some writers do the world-building part so well in even so short a space that it keeps beckoning them to return. That happened to me with a series of short stories I wrote for Sword and Sorceress (that eventually became a fantasy trilogy, The Seven-Petaled Shield). It also happened to Madeleine E. Robins with her world of "Meviel."

The first I saw of this wonderful place was the story Madeleine wrote for the first anthology I edited, Lace and Blade from Norilana Books. It was called "Virtue and the Archangel" and began thus:

Veillaune meCorse left her virtue in the tumbled sheets of a chamber at the Bronze Manticore. This act, which would have licensed her parents to cut her off from family and fortune, was a grave error; but with her maidenhead, Veilliaune also left the Archangel behind, and that was a calamity.

I guess the world of Meviel was just too enticing for one such tale to suffice, and when I was reading for the next volume, Madeleine queried me whether a second story in the same setting would be of interest. Bring it on, I said, and received the hilarious "Writ of Exception." I'm not going to divulge any of its secrets; you'll have to read it for yourself.
Read more... )
deborahjross: (Deb and Cleo)
Last year I began this series on "the stories behind the stories" in this anthology of marvelous fantasy stories I was privileged to edit. I got about halfway through when life in the form of writing deadlines intervened. So I'm going to repost them and hopefully finish the series, then put them together in a companion volume. to The Feathered Edge.

What is there to say about editing a Tanith Lee story? You sit there, holding the typewritten manuscript that she sent you, and something in your brain turns itself into total fan-girl jelly. But you already knew that.

To begin with, the first Tanith Lee story I worked on was for Lace and Blade (Norilana Books, 2008). She'd agreed to submit a story in the very early planning stages of the project, before I came onboard as editor. And it was my first gig as editor. Over the years, I'd worked with a bunch of different editors, and had ideas about what worked for me, what didn't, and how I wanted to interact with writers "from the other side of the desk." Marion Zimmer Bradley had been a role model and inspiration about how to encourage new writers. After years of participating in writer's workshops and teaching adult education classes in writing, I was all set to instruct and guide.

None of this prepared me for the experience of holding in my hands an original typewritten Tanith Lee manuscript.
Read more... )
deborahjross: (Default)
Last year I began this series on "the stories behind the stories" in this anthology of marvelous fantasy stories I was privileged to edit. I got about halfway through when life in the form of writing deadlines intervened. So I'm going to repost them and hopefully finish the series, then put them together in a companion volume. to The Feathered Edge.

"The Woman Who Fell In Love With The Horned King" is the second story with a woman warrior-as-champion/paladin. One of the most interesting things about putting together these anthologies of romantic, swashbuckling fantasy (2 volumes of Lace and Blade, and now The Feathered Edge: Tales of Magic, Love, and Daring) is the synchronicity -- or parallelism -- or "great minds work alike" thematic resonances. The first had 2 stories about Spanish highwaymen, and the second had 2 stories with Chinese generals. I'm not in the least surprised, but I am delighted and a bit awestruck by the way life works. The cover for The Feathered Edge could illustrate either this story or Sean McMullen's "Culverelle." You get to pick.

Now to the story. No, wait, background! I've loved Judith Tarr's work since I picked up A Wind In Cairo when it first came out. The horse got me into the book, as I'm a sucker for well-written horse characters, but the sheer mastery of storycraft, the depth and nuance, the use of language, all kept me wanting more. Read more... )
deborahjross: (Default)
Last year I began this series on "the stories behind the stories" in this anthology of marvelous fantasy stories I was privileged to edit. I got about halfway through when life in the form of writing deadlines intervened. So I'm going to repost them and hopefully finish the series, then put them together in a companion volume. to The Feathered Edge.

Sheila Finch's "Fortune's Stepchild" is linked to other stories backwards-fashion. For so many of us, a tale or legend or bit of history so captured our childhood imaginations that forever after, it is a touchstone for "something wonderful and magic." Kari Sperring, for example, grew up dreaming of joining the musketeers and saving France. (Aside: I wonder if there's something about being British -- Sheila's an ex-pat Brit -- that lends itself to such inspiration; we on the other side of the Atlantic can read about Arthur and company, but he's not our Arthur.) At any rate, Sheila admits to a special fondness for tales about Sir Francis Drake (who was an amazingly colorful fellow, even if only a tenth of the stories told about him are true.)

Sheila's best known for her science fiction, including a series of stories about the Guild of Xenolinguists (one of which won the Nebula Award), but she's a writer of many and varied interests. I met her a gazillion years ago, if memory serves me right at the same convention at which I met Sherwood Smith, and thus began a long-running conversation. After I fled from Los Angeles to the redwoods of the Central Coast, we'd get together every so often at one convention or another, grab a few friends, and head offsite for the best fish restaurant we could find. And have meaty, thoughtful discussions on everything under the sun.

When I was considering the balance of new-to-me writers and new-to-my-anthologies writers, I thought, I bet Sheila would come up with something fascinating. With her unerring sense of serendipitous timing, she presented me with a period piece with romance, magic, and intelligence. The first time I read "Fortune's Stepchild," my husband and I had not long finished watching every film adaptation of the life of Elizabeth I we could get our hands on, and my head was filled with the Spanish Armada, Shakespeare, religious wars, courtly politics, schemes and beheadings, pirates and privateers, not to mention seekers of fortune of all varieties.

We tend to think of the early history of the Americas as one tragedy after another, at least for the native peoples. What Sheila has given us is a tiny moment of magic in a land of unusual opportunity. Perhaps this really happened. Perhaps it happened in a different world, a different America . . .

Perhaps it's one of those stories that should have happened, and some day, in a galaxy far, far away, it will...

deborahjross: (Feathered Edge)
Last year, I started a series of blog posts on the stories in The Feathered Edge: Tales of Magic, Love, and Daring - how I met the authors, my thoughts on these particular stories, how our lives and work are woven together in community. Life and deadlines intervened, so I never finished, so now I'm reposting them and will complete the series. I can post each blog here, or just a link to send you over to my blog. Which works better for you?

[Poll #1896343]
deborahjross: (Default)
New from Book View Cafe:

Eleven original stories by recipients of the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship (2007 through 2012), plus a reprint of "Speech Sounds" by the scholarship's namesake, Octavia E. Butler. This anthology also includes a brief memoir of Butler by her Clarion classmate Vonda N. McIntyre and an introduction by Nalo Hopkinson. Edited by Nisi Shawl and published by the Carl Brandon Society, the administrator of the Butler Scholarship Fund.

Nisi Shawl is reviews editor for The Cascadia Subduction Zone, a member of the Clarion West board of directors, and a founding member of the Carl Brandon Society, which administers the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship Fund. Her collection Filter House won the 2009 James Tiptree, Jr. Award.
deborahjross: (Default)

The What We’re Reading Wednesday meme is making the rounds. True to form, I offer up some reflections on what I have been and am reading Not On A Wednesday.

I’ve been slowly working my way through two series: Bernard Cornwell’s “Richard Sharpe” books and the Sookie Stackhouse “Southern Vampire” novels of Charlaine Harris. Each of these is a story in itself, about which more is forthcoming below. I say “slowly” because I want to make them last, so I ration them out a chapter here, a book there, with breaks for other reading.

The Cornwell is undoubtedly Ioan Gruffud’s fault. When my younger daughter still lived at home, we watched the A & E “Horatio Hornblower” series together (a precursor to her inflicting Dr. Who upon her unsuspecting mother, who then retaliated by knitting her The Scarf, but that’s another tale entirely). Years later, my husband – who normally does not care for movies in general and anything with fighting in particular – expressed willingness to indulge me with Friday night videos. We noodle around with every dramatization of the life of Queen Elizabeth I we could find and then advanced to Horatio Hornblower, both the series with Gruffudd and the movie with Gregory Peck. From there, it was just a hop, skip, and a jump to the infantry’s role in the Napoleonic Wars. Sean Bean’s “Richard Sharpe” to the rescue. Having watched the series, I of course grabbed for the books. They are interesting in many ways. For one thing, they aren’t written in order. The series begins in the early middlish part, when Sharpe has already saved the life of Sir Arthur Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington) and become an officer “up through the ranks,” an elevation much frowned upon by both his fellow officers and the common soldiers he is to command. Then, after quite a number of adventures, Cornwell goes back to the beginning, as it were, fills in a lot of background, so you can read them in the order in which they were written or in chronological order. For another, each book centers on one battle. One battle! And has not a speck of flab anywhere.
After several books, the principles of warfare of the time – such as the relative advantages and weaknesses of infantry, cavalry, artillery – become part of the dramatic landscape. It was certainly nice to imagine a much younger Sean Bean when I read about Richard Sharpe, but I find I like the written character better.

That’s true as well for the Sookie Stackhouse books. I’d read a few before I caught the television series on DVD and found the casting choices interesting, not to mention the way bits of different books were conflated and put in a different order. In the books, Sookie has such a strong, distinctive voice that even her describing getting dressed is entertaining. I was a fan of Harris’s “Lily Bard/Shakespeare” and “Aurora Teagarden” mysteries and love the way she hooks me with the surface of the story while weaving in deeper, darker stuff.

deborahjross: (Default)
Over on my blog, I host Warren Rochelle to talk about what he's working on -- not one but three projects. Here's the skinny on what he's up to:

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
The Golden Boy: Can Gavin, part-fairy and gay, keep his true self secret, be true to himself, and survive in a country that wants to kill people like him?
The Werewolf and His Boy: Henry, a werewolf, and Jamey, a godling, must find the key left by Loki before it is too late and magic explodes in the world, and at the same time, sort out their love for each other.
Happily Ever After: Everyone deserves the chance to have a happy ending.
deborahjross: (halidragon)
Pati Nagle was born and raised in the mountains of northern New Mexico. An avid student of music, history, and humans in general, she has a special love of the outdoors, particularly New Mexico’s wilds, which inspire many of her stories. Her fiction has appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Cricket, Cicada, and in anthologies honoring New Mexico writers Jack Williamson and Roger Zelazny. Her fantasy short story ”Coyote Ugly“ was honored as a finalist for the Theodore Sturgeon Award. She has also written a series of historical novels as P.G. Nagle. She is a founding member of Book View Café.
Q: What is the working title of your book? 
A: CURSE OF THE FALLEN or CURSE OF THE ALBEN, not sure which.  What do you think?  Is CURSE OF THE ALBEN confusing?

Q: Where did the idea come from for the book?
A: Short answer: This is book 4 of my Blood of the Kindred series, inspired by my short story, "Kind Hunter" (which you can read at Book View Café - it's the free sample from the anthology DRAGON LORDS AND WARRIOR WOMEN).

Q: What genre does your book fall under?
A: Fantasy

Q: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
A: Well, Orlando Bloom is the quintessential elf in my eyes, so I'd cast him as Turisan. Read more... )
deborahjross: (blue hills)
Fantasy and horror have a natural affinity, one that goes back to the pre-literate times when people sat around the campfire, terrifying each other with stories of ghosts and skin-walkers and things-that-go-bump-in-the-night or that-are-not-quite-dead. Supernatural elements infused these tales with delightful spine-tingling shivers. One might speculate that way back then, the entire world must have seemed a perilous place, filled with phenomena beyond human understanding. I think that does a discredit to peoples who might have a much lower level of technology than we do but were nonetheless extremely sophisticated in their conceptualization and emotional understanding of the world around them. For all our computers and skyscrapers, we are just as enthralled by the uncanny and that jolt of adrenaline.

Of course, as individuals we vary in what is pleasurable to us. One person’s fun may be the trigger that causes months of terrifying nightmares for another person. This is especially true for people who have themselves been the victims of trauma, whether the assault has come in the form of physical violence or from psychological or emotional abuse. Reading horror or dark fantasy is not an approved method of psychotherapy, but encountering these stories mindfully can shift our perspective. Good fiction of any kind does not “stay on the page” but has the power to change the way we see ourselves and our lives. Horror, by its focus on frightening elements, carries a particular emotional punch.Read more... )
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Deborah J. Ross: ROUND TABLE: Animals in Fantasy (Part I)

To get the ball rolling on this topic, I'd like to point out some general aspects of the use of animals in fantasy. The first is simply their presence. Many fantasy tales take place in low-technology worlds (with the recent exception of urban and other contemporary fantasy subgenres). This generally means that animals will fulfill the same functions as they have historically been used for, such as transportation (horses, mules, donkeys, oxen, reindeer...), food, clothing (cattle, sheep, goats, rabbits, pigs...), hunting/protection (dogs, cheetahs), and so forth. The exceptions (exotic animals or using an animal for an unusual purpose) can be lots of fun, but it's important to do the research and understand the proper handling and temperaments of whatever species is being portrayed. The ridiculously romanticized and unrealistic portrayals of horses in fantasy are notable, and what's sad is that there is a wealth of accurate information available, such as Judith Tarr's excellent Writing Horses

A second role for animals in fantasy involves changing the nature of existing species, such as making them telepathic or giving them magical abilities. I suspect that much of the allure of these animals is our own desire to communicate, but in our own terms. If a dolphin or a dog or an eagle speaks to us mind-to-mind, it is in human thoughts, from a primate perspective. Once we step outside the paradigm of projecting our own thought patterns and emotional responses on to another creature, however, we open the door to true encounters with the "other," which may not only be our equal but our superior, beings who can teach and inspire instead of be tools that obey us. Is there anything more magical than seeing the world through the eyes of someone -- no less a person -- with radically different senses, desires, thought processes, and knowledge?

A third, and perhaps the most challenging, way animals appear is as fantastical beings in themselves - dragons, phoenixes, unicorns, and the like. Every culture has such beings, so there is a wealth of material from which to draw. They can resemble ordinary animals (the kelpie appearing as a black horse, often to the peril of anyone who accepts a ride) or be chimeras, combinations of different animals, or be ordinary animals modified in some way (winged cats). Or they may be essentially different from animals we know, transcending the limitations of terrestrial biology.

A fourth category, perhaps a subset of the third, involves human/animal combinations -- hybrids, if you like. Certainly werewolves (and were-other-animals) fall into this category, as do centaurs and mermaids. One might argue that vampires do, as well. Whether they are essentially humans with the added physical (and magical) attributes of animals, or have a very different consciousness, culture, and personal goals, they offer a chance to explore what it is to be human, to be a person, to be kin to both people and animals. And that sort of exploration is, after all, one of the most profound gifts fantasy has to offer.
deborahjross: (Feathered Edge)
Sky Warrior Books, which published the amazing and delicious anthology The Feathered Edge: Tales of Magic, Love, and Daring is having a sale this week only. You buy a gift certificate for $10 and get $20 worth of e-books.

SaveLocal : $20 worth of E-books for only $10

The Feathered Edge features elegant, witty, sensual stories by [ profile] la_marquise_de_, [ profile] sartorias, [ profile] jaylake, [ profile] dancinghorse, [ profile] samhenderson, [ profile] calendula_witch, [ profile] madrobins, [ profile] lingster1, Tanith Lee, Diana Paxson, Sean McMullen, Rosemary Hawley Jarman and the late K.D. Wentworth. It's quite wonderful, if I do say so myself, said the editor modestly.

And with a single gift certificate (good until January 2013) you can also treat yourself to something else from their catalog. How about [ profile] ramblin_phyl's steampunk anthology, Gears and Levers?
deborahjross: (dolomites)
I'm so glad to see more of [ profile] dancinghorse's wonderful-but-alas-out-of-print fantasy novels in ebook format. See if this one piques your interest.

In the magical kingdom of Rhiyana, peace reigns under the Elvenking. But terrible forces are stirring in the world beyond. The Hounds of God, the heretic-hunters and inquisitors of the Church of Rome, have come hunting. Their prey: the king and his immortal people. And their greatest weapon may be one of the king's own kin.

Judith Tarr is the author of over three dozen novels, mostly historical and historical fantasy. Her trilogy, The Hound and the Falcon, won the Crawford Award. She holds a PhD in Medieval Studies from Yale, and lives near Tucson, Arizona, where she raises Lipizzan horses.
deborahjross: (Default)

What is there to say about editing a Tanith Lee story? You sit there, holding the typewritten manuscript that she sent you, and something in your brain turns itself into total fan-girl jelly. But you already knew that.

To begin with, the first Tanith Lee story I worked on was for Lace and Blade (Norilana Books, 2008). She'd agreed to submit a story in the very early planning stages of the project, before I came onboard as editor. And it was my first gig as editor. Over the years, I'd worked with a bunch of different editors, and had ideas about what worked for me, what didn't, and how I wanted to interact with writers "from the other side of the desk." Marion Zimmer Bradley had been a role model and inspiration about how to encourage new writers. After years of participating in writer's workshops and teaching adult education classes in writing, I was all set to instruct and guide.

None of this prepared me for the experience of holding in my hands an original typewritten Tanith Lee manuscript.

The first, and most important thing, I had to do was to take off my fangirl hat and my fellow-writer hat and affix my editor hat firmly to my head. This involved an excruciating change of gears. I made mistakes. Of course, I made mistakes. (And learned how to clean them up.) I wasn't born knowing how to edit, let alone how to edit iconic authors in whose shadows I have long stood. Tanith herself encouraged me. She wrote to me, "On editing though - like writing, I feel strongly one must do what one feels is right. In me, of course, you run into an old war-horse, 40 years in the field, covered in armour and neighing like a trumpet." Which was a most gracious way of acknowledging that the relationship between an author and an editor is an organic process, when at its best rooted in clear communication, deep listening, and respect. Not intimidation (in either direction), but a partnership in which both people have the same goal -- to make the story the best representation of the author's vision.

By the time I received, "Question A Stone," Tanith and I had evolved out a procedure that worked for both of us. It begins with her sending me a typewritten manuscript. In a 1998 interview, she said, "I have to write longhand, and no one can read my writing, I have to type my own manuscripts, because I'm going almost in a zigzag, across and then down. (I don't write backwards, I've never been able to do that!) I used to throw away my holograph manuscripts after I'd typed them, but I'm keeping a lot of them now, because I'm starting to think, if anyone ever is interested in me after I'm dead, they can look and see, 'My god, this woman was a maniac!'" I've tried scanning the pages into a digital file, but all the corrections and irregularities of type, not to mention the paper being British-sized rather than American-sized, means the result requires an enormous amount of line-by-line clean-up. So I transcribe it (and the print out and send her a copy for review, which amounts to a preview of proof pages.) I've heard this technique suggested for beginning writers -- type out pages from the published works of your favorite authors, to get an inside look at how the story is put together, how the prose works, all the details you miss when you read; the action of typing (or writing out the passages longhand) engages your brain in a different way. Transcribing Tanith's manuscripts taught me an immeasurable amount about how she crafts her prose and weaves together the details of character, setting, dialog, plot, the works.

On the computer print-out, I highlight anything I have questions about, she catches my typos, I catch hers, and what she sends back is ready to go in the final anthology line-up.

"Question A Stone" involves two superb and very sexy swordsmen who, through a twist of circumstances, find themselves committed to fighting a duel to the death, despite having fallen in love with one another. Their swords, being magical, have other ideas. The whole adventure takes place in an inn called The Chameleon's Arms, a delight suggested by Tanith's husband, John Kaiine.

Here's where to buy the whole delicious anthology in ebook or trade paperback editions from Amazon:  or from Barnes & Noble or, if you prefer an independent bookstore, Powell's online (paperbck only).

The chameleon photo is by Volker Herrmann, licensed under Creative Commons.

Mirrored from my blog.


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Deborah J. Ross

May 2017

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