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: (Default)
My relationship with Rosemary Hawley Jarman is all Tanith Lee's fault. Which is actually a good thing. In my more whimsical moments, I suspect there is a secret society of British fantasy authors who, if they don't actually know one another, enjoy only a single degree of separation. (Sometimes that degree is me, and it's both odd and delightful to be performing introductions across the Atlantic between people who live on the same island, but that's another story.) So when Tanith introduced me to Rosemary, Rosemary and I also had another connection, which is that the small press Norilana was publishing both the first anthology I'd edited and Rosemary's romantic fantasy, The Captain's Witch. Her 1971 novel, We Speak No Treason, featured the much maligned King Richard III.

Rosemary is one of the authors who teach me about editing. It's quite a humbling experience to work with writers with far more years and experience than I have. I feel privileged to get a peek into their

"Ever since my first glimpse of fjord and glacier," she writes, "the Norse legends have become emotionally significant. The magical sword I see as the archetype of mortal striving and desire. In this story I have departed from the Wagnerian tradition and it is a woman who, like the hero Siegfried, renders the broken weapon into a sacred force. The Ring has elements of the Sleeping Beauty, the longed-for princess, and the flames symbolise the ordeal to be passed through in search of fulfillment. Nothing changes, even today, so long as love is pure."
own processes. More than that, I've come to see that editing-according-to-Deborah is like a dance. The author does her best to put her vision (or, as Rosemary puts it, her "creative plan") into words on a page, and I do my best to discern the heart of that story and, upon occasion, to make suggestions aimed at realizing that heart more fully. Sometimes I'm spot-on, but at other times I can misperceive or get overly enthusiastic about what I think the story is about (as opposed to what the author intended). I know I'm on the right track when I'm able to judge when to drop it, what is the author's creative prerogative, and when to press a question, when there's something unresolved that in my judgment impairs the story from reaching its potential. Working with Rosemary, especially seeing how she thinks in terms of a "creative plan" has given me great insight into the flexibility needed for good editing. This was especially helpful with "Fire and Frost and Burning Rose" because she's taken a mythology and shaped it in unexpected ways.
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: (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)

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.
deborahjross: (Feathered Edge)

Italy has some of the most romantic and mysterious cities in the world, and I was delighted when Jay Lake and Shannon Page sent me a story set in the Renaissance Florence. 


Florence, by Thermos
Venice, by Paolo da Reggio

My own adventure began in 1991, when I was living in France. We used our children’s spring break to visit Italy, and that meant Florence and Venice. These places overwhelmed me with a sense of being not quite in the same reality as other places I’d been. I was accustomed to living near water (having come from Venice, California -- all right, just across the street from the Venice city line), but not the pervasive sense of dark, fluid depths underlying every building and every walkway, nor the atmosphere of age and history, or the constant reminders of private lives – of secrets – behind those shuttered windows and doors. Whether strolling through the piazzas or over one of the many bridges, or riding in a gondola, or sitting in a café, I felt myself surrounded by stories. I remember the moment of awe when I stepped out into the plaza of the ghetto (the original ghetto, after which all others are named). There isn’t much to see, just a well-swept space surrounded by tourist shops; it’s not what I saw but what I felt, century upon century of hope and despair, of huddled safety and wellsprings of determination.

A tourist brochure, perhaps from the city of Venice itself, I can’t remember now, featured images from carnevale. One of these was the famous character, Bauta. This costume consists of a unadorned white mask, flared at the bottom where the mouth should be, a black tricorned hat, and a black cloak. It is impossible to tell if the person wearing it is old or young, man or woman, rich or poor – a true disguise for that brief time of merry-making when such distinctions no longer hold sway. In the publicity image, indirect, diffuse lighting cast the figure in mysterious shadows. You can see something of what it looked like here.

Or here.

Oh my, I thought. Story material.

When I returned to the US, I pinned the picture on my bulletin board beside my computer. Although I worked on other projects, my eyes kept drifting back to this enigmatic, slightly menacing figure. I had a chance to take some of those shivers and weave them into a story when I was invited to submit to an anthology of historical fantasy, Ancient Enchantresses, edited by Kathleen M. Massie-Ferch. I based my story, "Unmasking the Ancient Light," on the life of Dona Gracia Nasi, one of the most extraordinary Jewish women of the Renaissance. My friend Bauta did not put in an appearance in my story, but furnished a wealth inspiration for an ancient, brooding menace.

Then, as I was reading stories for The Feathered Edge: Tales of Magic, Love, and Daring, I opened the one Jay and Shannon had sent me and read:

Firenze, 1498

I peered around the rough-edged corner of the Palazzo Martelli, searching down the long, night-shadowed lane but seeing nothing save the muddy path to the river Arno below. The Ponte Vecchio glimmered in the distance, lit by a single torch at the near end.

Palazzo Martelli, by sailko

Oh my. Italy, again!

And what a marvelous time this is! Florence is ancient and brooding, but infused with the vigor of magic, of a living, working city, not a vacation destination. This is not the Florence of picture postcards and tourist brochures. Dangerous things lurk in waters, and watch you from the rooftops…and behind the gaity and mercantile riches, a battle is being waged, one whose stakes are hearts as well as souls. Jay and Shannon weave the vivid details into an erotic tale of desire, sorcery, and power.

deborahjross: (Feathered Edge)
... not mine, but from The Feathered Edge: Tales of Magic, Love, and Daring that I edited.

"Outlander," by our own [ profile] samhenderson. It's a tale of swordplay and romance and not a little humor. Oh, and libraries. And masks. Some of them, feathered. You have to read it (or, now, listen to it) to see what I mean.

"Outlander," by Samantha Henderson

(Doesn't that make you want to run out and buy the whole anthology?)
deborahjross: (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.

Time passed, as it does, but the years did not dim Meviel's luster, because when I inquired of Madeleine if she would like to do a story for the anthology that would become The Feathered Edge: Tales of Magic, Love, and Daring, she wrote:

I'm working on a Meviel story... No alternate sexuality per se (after the last two stories I sort of wanted to change things up a bit) and no romance particularly: just a girl who reads too much and gets kidnapped by pirates and...

I ask you, what editor could resist that premise? Who knew there were pirates in same world as Veillaune meCorse and the Archangel? True to form, the pirates in "Wreath of Luck" are and are not your usual sort. There's a lovely twist of -- is it magic or superstition or a plucky young heroine creating her own good fortune?

If you love Madeleine's work as much as I do, you'll want to check out her wonderful Regency novels on Book View Café (and the latest "Sarah Tolerance" adventure, The Sleeping Partner, in paper, too). Madeleine's also got a story in Beyond Grimm: Tales Newly Twisted.
deborahjross: (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, 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.

So 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, will...
deborahjross: (Feathered Edge)
Another of the writers whose work I got to know through the SFWA Circulating Book Plan was Australian Sean McMullen. I think the book was Glass Dragons, the second of his Moonworlds series. It's often challenging to begin a series in the middle, but this one posed no problem. Dragons and vampires and "War of the Worlds" and angsty heroes and radical organizers-of-the-people's-revolution, oh my! Well, not all in that first book, but it was enough to get me hooked.

So a little while later, I wandered into the Tor party at a WorldCon and there was Sean McMullen. I think the introduction caught me by surprise because the first words out of my mouth (after "Hello, I'm Deborah") were, "I love your work!" And received a glorious smile in reply, as if I'd just handed him a precious gift. And yes, it was. We create in such solitude, and reviews are such treacherous things when it comes to "did people like my book? did they understand it?" Then to come all the way to a different continent, to be surrounded by people you've heard of and maybe corresponded with but never met in person, and to have a fellow writer recognize your name and have read -- and remembered -- your work. What a joy!

That conversation was necessarily brief. If you've attended a publisher's party -- or any part -- at a WorldCon, you will understand why. Most communications at large conventions are sound bytes anyway, but when you add a crushing crowd, noise, and alcohol, it's many times so. But Sean and his work kept crossing my path -- we both love cats, we're both martial artists (or I used to be -- 30 years of tai chi and kung fu). By the strange synchronicity of publishing, when I returned to the pages of F & SF with my own work ("The Price of Silence," April/May. 2009), it was to an issue that had a story of Sean's as well.

I can take a hint. When I was scheming The Feathered Edge, I wrote to him. We worked together on one story idea, and eventually he sent me "Culverelle." Curiously enough, is set in the same world, with the same overall characters and tale, as "The Spiral Briar" from F & SF. They are not the same stories in that they have different emotional and moral centers, but if you fell in love with Eleanor (as I did), and you savor the wonderful blend of engineering, chivalry, and Faerie, I encourage you to run out and find the other story -- and make a note to look for the novel The Iron Warlock when it's released.

"Culverelle" in some ways belongs to the small but excellent group of stories about women learning to be warriors -- by training. By practicing, by learning what their strengths and weaknesses are and by using those strengths in an intelligent way. (Another example is Barbara Hambly's novel, The Ladies of Mandrigyn.) I love that Sean doesn't simply wave his authorial hands and turn a determined but unfit woman into a super-paladin in a few paragraphs. When we take on such a training, we must be prepared for it to change us in more than physical ways.

Later in the anthology, you'll meet another woman warrior, from Judith Tarr's "The Woman Who Fell In Love With The Horned King." See what you think about what they have in common, and how their experiences are different. As a fascinating side note, the swordswoman on the cover could be either!
deborahjross: (Feathered Edge)
This is the first in a series of blog posts about the stories in my new anthology, The Feathered Edge.

I love how communities are built and how people are linked. So, in the wonderfully organic network of writers who meet one another across vast distances, I can't talk about "Featherweight" and Kari Sperring without telling the tale of SFWA and its Circulating Book Plan.

The idea is that publishers send review copies to garner Nebula nominations, and boxes of books make their way to participating SFWA members according to an arcane circulating route. Some years ago, this migratory library included a book called Bridge of Dreams by some fellow I'd never heard of, Chaz Brenchley. I try every book that isn't obviously war porn for a few pages, so I opened it...and was lost at the first sentence. It grabbed me, poetry neurons and curiosity and romanticism all in one fell swoop, and didn't let go for 400 pages or however long it was.

Shortly thereafter, I found myself with the delightful prospect of editing my first anthology, Lace and Blade. Because the publisher wanted a Valentine's Day release, she agreed to let me do it by invitation. So I sent Chaz an email. The rest, as they say, was history. I not only received a wonderful story ("In The Night Street Baths," reprinted in Wilde Stories 2009), but made a valued friend.

Through Chaz, I made the online acquaintance of Kari Sperring, a charming and articulate British writer whose first novel, Living With Ghosts, would soon be released (and from my own publisher, making her a fellow DAWthor). Kari's a trained historian and knows about things like ancient Welsh (which I believe she speaks) and Viking history. She's also a fellow cat lover and the owner of an amazing collection of elegant skirts. When I learned that her childhood ambition had been to join the Musketeers, I knew we were kindred spirits. However, friendship is one thing and editorial selection is another.

Living With Ghosts won the British Fantasy Award. Her first novel. It's luscious and edgy and romantic and sad. Oh my, can this woman write! So she went on my short list for the next anthology, which by this time would be #3. I had no idea if she wrote short fiction, but I asked her anyway. She sent me "Featherweight." I read,

After the alchemical queen died, she turned into feathers. In life, she had been whipcord and lemons, yet in death she came apart in peace. Her peace--her pieces--floated out into the city she had guarded so long...

One of the deepest pleasures of editing is getting to indulge my own taste, to carefully attend to what strikes such inner chords as to fill me with music. Delightful as it was to read Living With Ghosts, I made my way through "Featherweight" thinking, I asked for this story. She wrote it on my invitation. The feeling is akin to discovering you have acted as midwife to something glorious.

The anthology needed a title and a focus. I thought about romantic, swashbuckling fantasy, and about poetry and heroic quests and the beauty of language, how stories take us beyond ourselves on journeys...where? I kept coming back to this one as a touchstone, the image of feathers drifting through a city and transforming lives. Feathers...dreams...tall tales and myths and bardic chants and sonnets...together they create a very special place in the imagination, neither reality nor dream, but filled with the language of the heart.

The Feathered Edge.

mirrored from Deborah's blog.


deborahjross: (Default)
Deborah J. Ross

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