Sunday, December 30, 2012

Food on The Travelling Round Table (Fantasy Guest Blog)

This month's topic is Food in Fantasy, and since I proposed that, it's my turn to host. Welcome one and all!
Stay Me With Apples, Comfort Me With Flagons 
Once upon a time, food must have been the most important thing in everyone's lives. Millions of Australopithecoid generations didn’t need shelter, expected seasonal sex, and maybe drew moisture from food, as gorillas still do. But food? If the food ran out, and you couldn't find more, you fell off the human family tree for good.
Lacking food storage, the now idealized Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers were little safer. As for Neolithic farmers, those enormous stoneworks speak as much fear as reverence: they were at famine's mercy, and they knew it. When the climate changed in Orkney, they opened the top of the Tomb of the Eagles and filled in the centuries-old community temple, a mute testament to the despair of people who felt themselves abandoned, literally, to death.
Before the Industrial Revolution, very little changed. William Langland’s great medieval poem, “Piers Plowman”, is vague if dour about vanity and lust, but to the sin of gluttony it speaks with passionate and specific detail, invoking a society where spring doesn’t mean admiring the pear blossom but hunting desperately for the first green vegetable shoots.
Nowadays, at least in the First World enclave, our food fetish has gone negative: for most of us, food is far too available, far too tempting, far too dangerous. Our bookshops swarm with delectably illustrated cook-books, opposite shelves of diet-books. Our TVs bristle with celebrity chefs and celebrity dieticians attacking red meat, dairy products, processed food. Yet every December, Australians, having largely excised religion, and often present-giving, from their major food-based festival, embark on an orgy of food-buying, preparation and consumption calculated to send their nearest and dearest to an early grave.
Ironically, this Desire-Taboo attitude brings us right back beside the oldest (Western) fantasy stories, of the Judeao-Christian apple and Persephone’s six pomegranate seeds. Unsurprisingly, if from our differing angles, Elsewhere’s food has always been the easiest and most tempting way to get lost precisely where you DON’T want to be.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Next Big Thing Blog Meme

This one was passed on to me by the energetic and talented Beth Barany, who's done the meme on her own blog. We all know The  Next Big Thing is just over the horizon, so I'm joining the ranks of writers like Beth who are describing our own new and just-beginning projects, in answer to the Ten Questions for the Meme. And here are mine:

What is the working title of your next book?

My next published novel will be The Seagull – this is the long-delayed fourth of my Everran books, beginning with Everran’s Bane


Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

This one  I’m putting up on Kindle myself. A bit scary, having no copy or line editors as a safety net, though the freedom of choosing your own cover and knowing the blurb will stay the way you wrote it does compensate. And the promo is no heavier than with my previous print publishers. 

Where did the idea come from for the book?

This was a literal “son-of” book. It’s part of a series, and it sprang as naturally as any book can from the question I can sometimes not resist answering after I finish a novel – yeah, and what happened then?
The 3rd Everran book, The Red Country, featured two of my favourite characters, with an HEA end. But it left me with the What-happened-then tic, which eventually became questions like, What happens to characters after an HEA? And from that, especially, the next-gen questions: How do you deal with children? Especially once they begin growing up?

What genre does your book fall under?

High fantasy. 

How long does it take to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Sometimes I can write an opening scene and take 18 months or more doing the research to go any further. This one, set in a secondary world where I could make my own geography and history, probably took 3-4 months for the first draft.   

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

It’s a bildungsroman, and a wizard’s bildungsroman, of which there are literally hundreds in fantasy. Somewhat presumptuously, the first book into my head in answer to this question was Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea. The Seagull is also a book about voyages, on the sea and in the mind and heart.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Round Two, Turn Three, My Travelling Post


In Gratitude for Fantasists

 "Barren crags and ancient forests, winds scented with honey, wolf, wildflowers, swift water so pure it tasted like the wind, deep snow lying tranquilly beneath moonlight, summer light cascading down stone under sky so bright it held no color. These he put into his making... Shapes he had taken in his long life mingled together as swiftly as his body remembered them: the white owl in winter, the golden hawk, ferret and weasel and mink, stone, wind, the tree smelling of sun-soaked pitch, water thundering over stone, endlessly falling, the stag that drank the water ... He remembered faces he had loved, of friend and lover, teacher and ruler, their eyes speaking his name, Atrix Wolfe, beginning to smile.” (The Book of Atrix Wolfe, Ch. 23. p. 238)
The great shape-shifting mage Atrix Wolfe created a death-dealing spell whose ravages occupy most of the book. Here he finally creates a counter-spell, ranging through all the aspects of his life. It’s also a passage that typifies why Patricia McKillip, for me, is a gratitude among fantasists.
 I like many fantasy writers, but few achieve permanent lighthouse status. A handful of small but telling oeuvres, Sheri S. Tepper’s Gameworld books. Ellen Kushner, E. R. Edison. Samuel Delany. Joanna Russ. Tolkien, of course. Unlike Tolkien, McKillip’s work never radically altered my outlook or my writing style, but even now, I wish it could.
McKillip, however, has been around a while. Her fantasy novels run almost uninterrupted from The Forgotten Beasts of Eld in 1974, up to The Bards of Bone Plain in 2010. Eld won the World Fantasy Award, but nothing since has missed a nomination or finalist position in some award, if not a win. From the passage above you can begin to see why.
First and foremost, McKillip is the only fantasy writer I know who customarily operates at the rare level of language Tolkien himself only achieved every so often, as when, describing Cerin Amroth, he used the commonest words – “ gold, white, blue, green, tree, grass, flower” and yet drew with them “shapes that seemed at once clear cut, as if they had been first conceived” [that moment] “and ancient as if they had endured forever” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book II Ch VI.) But in Atrix Wolfe here alone we have: “wind scented with honey, wolf, wildflowers,” “summer light cascading down stone”, “the tree smelling of sun-soaked pitch.” This passage is a major aria, so to speak, a cornucopia of life-images, but such examples appear everywhere. Simple words, often repeated, particularly words like “bone, wind, light.” Used mostly unadorned, but magnificently resonant.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

That Table Again

Revolution two, round three of the Great Travelling Fantasy Guest Blog Round Table is out, in some three sections. All appear courtesy of Theresa Crater, foundation Table member, over here
And here

And finally, here, with me and Deb Ross, the last people into our seats, apologies, been away or pressure of work caused the delays.
No Round Table picture this time, since it appears various unsolicited net crawlers have been bouncing on and off this blog, attracted by the key phrase or else the pic including such. Testing to see if the words or the image cause a blip in things. Stay tuned.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Great Travelling Fantasy Guest Blog Circus


And here's my contrib. to the Table's Second Turn, Second Month: fantasy/horror crossovers was the topic, remember?
When I think of horror, SF and Fantasy together as genres, I tend to see a big bog between two slippery hillsides. You can’t get straight from one hill to the other - SF and fantasy usually don’t mix: their license to suspend disbelief comes from mutually opposed sources, science and magic. But both genres can slide down into the bog, representing the horror genre, as fast as you can say “demon” – or “alien.”
The big difference between hills and bog is that the hill genres have the bog as an option – or in more common terms, they can offer the reader wonder as well as horror. The bog doesn’t do wonder. Even if treasure is buried there, the emphasis is on the dead men’s bones accompanying it. Comedy there may be, and entertainingly black, too, but wonder, no.
This doesn’t mean that the bog is any worse than either hill genre, or that such traffic should be prevented by border guards. Indeed, where would the hill genres be without the darkness option? Someone like Nietzsche once remarked, either of Homer or Greek mythology, that, in paraphrase, the greater the light, the blacker the shadows it casts – you’ll excuse the vagueness, I haven’t turned up the quote for years, and it’s too long to resort to Google, even if I cd. remember it right. Nevertheless, the idea rings true to me. The greater the wonder a fantasy text can evoke, the greater the horror it MAY evoke. And a fantasy text with unrelenting light and wonder wd. be somewhat like a medieval Christian heaven: great if you’re immortal, but if you’re still under the sun, eventually conducive to eyestrain and headaches rather than alleluias.
This assumes that the writer of such a roller-coaster story is “in control” – well, intentionally sliding up and down the hill, because who of us is ever “in control” of a story as we write? But unintentional slides can produce awkwardness, bathos, and at worst, audience hilarity when you wanted shudders. I recall a local Hamlet where the ghost walked a “battlement” above and behind the stage. Fine, except that ghost shd. be uncanny, inhuman, silent, unconnected to earth. As this one walked, the audience cd. see his feet shuttling below his robe. They cracked up, and the performance never recovered.
Evoking the spookiness of wonder’s dark side is not easy, either.  It helps to recall the dictum of Old Gothic best-seller Mrs. Radcliffe: “terror and horror are so far opposite that the first . . . awakens the faculties to a high degree of life; the other contracts, freezes and nearly annihilates them . . .” And for Radcliffe, terror’s power lies in “obscurity and uncertainty.” That is, let the reader imagine horrors and outdo your efforts, rather than present the monster full frontal and fail to raise a shiver.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Great Travelling Fantasy Guest Blog Circus


 And we have rotated to Month 2 of Round 2, coming to you this time courtesy of our new knight, er,  member, Chris Howard, hosted on his blog, with a brilliant introductory illustration by Chris himself. The topic is fantasy/horror crossovers, and the posts are really excellent. Enjoy!



Sunday, October 21, 2012

When Art Fools With Nature (Or Nature Toys With Art)

 All sort of weird coincidences and concatenations can happen when you start writing fiction. "Art Imitates Nature" is a truism, and sure, fiction writers very often pay strict attention to accurate correspondences with "reality" in the parts that do draw on "the real world." There's also verisimilitude, when you try to give the feeling of reality to a wholly invented world. But in odd cases the nature you imitated turns out to be nature you never knowingly heard about.
 My good mate Lillian Stewart Carl is currently writing a series of murder and other mysteries featuring US expatriate reporter Jean Fairbairn, now living in Edinburgh, and Scottish ex-DCI and now heritage security operative, Alasdair Cameron. "America's exile and Scotland’s finest on  the trail of all-too-living legends," as Lillian describes it, such legends often being uncomfortably unlike the haze of Scottish "romantic" mythology. 
The seventh, most recent opus, "The Chanter," was/is still in draft when Lillian wrote to share another case of Art Imitating Nature You Didn't Know. "The Chanter" has a young character called Tara, with a mother in the US, and a surrogate mother in Scotland, where the action is. Looking for a name apart from "Mom" for this surrogate mother, Lillian found her creative crew had supplied "Mags" (for Maggie.)
I quote, "I can’t say I’ve ever heard that name before, but okay. Search-and-replace and off we go."
Then, the day she wrote to me, Lillian Googled "Roman lead coffin”, since one such plays a major part in the action, and found:
As Lillian said, scroll down to the third photo, a woman cleaning a skeleton, and see what her name is.
Such has happened before to Lillian, with the fourth Fairbairn/Cameron book The Charm Stone, set in US colonial Williamsburg.
Quote from Lillian: "The Charm Stone features a couple of conspiracy theorists who believe the old rumor that Francis Bacon’s paper are hidden in Colonial Williamsburg and who also believe the Stuart dynasty was involved in a plot by Freemasons to run the world. In the course of the book, Jean Fairbairn visits an imaginary site near Williamsburg that was once called Duckwitch Pond but which, over the years, has become the more palatable Dunwich Pond. She’s reminded of the story of the drowned village of Dunwich off the coast of England.
 Just as I was finishing the book, an issue of Archaeology Magazine arrived with an article on work being done on Dunwich in England by an archaeologist named Stuart Bacon."
 *                                                *                                      *
Something of the sort most recently happened to me in the work-in-progress reading phase of Concepcion's story, "The Honour of the Ferrocarril." I had invented a gadget for a steam locomotive that I thought wd. actually be impossible. A gadget, let me add, that plays a major role in the crisis of the story. Drafts finished, I sent one off to an amazing friend of mine, currently a Critical Care physician who reads half-a-dozen languages, and with whom I've had a startling rapport over book-swapping. Not once but several times one of us has mentioned a - we thought - little-known book, only to have the other either have read, own, or be about to order and/or read, exactly that title.

But after reading "Ferrocarril," my friend wrote back:

         in the last scene, I had to use my imagination however the idea of the [gadget] was right on the pitch. 
        And I have traveled on [a train with one] from 1950, the [gadget] is unforgettable

As you might guess, "gob-smacked" didn't approach my reaction. What, I hadn't done a hand-waving impossibility? One of these things really existed? Oh, yes, but that was only the lesser half of the shock. The rest was the type of engine I had put the gadget on.

There were several companies selling steam-locomotives to South America at the time. I had picked one, but changed because another's company name sounded better. (And I had modelled the whole partly on a photo of a steam loco up in Bolivia, battered but still extant in 1977.) Imagine the shock of discovering that not only did the gadget exist,  it had actually been built for the brand of engine I finally chose. Moreover, that company made the type of engine I'd seen in the pic. And crowning touch, my friend had actually ridden on a train that carried one of these things!

My favourite if somewhat different weird connection happened wayhay back in the 1970s, when I was writing a long and eventually abandoned historical novel on the Second Punic War. Endeavouring to describe what you'd hear when the preliminary skirmishes of a major ancient battle moved into the main phase - when the heavy infantry collided - I used the simile "as if a peal of thunder drowned a cat-fight." Ha, very unlikely, thought I. Until a year later, camped for the night in a leaky Turkish hotel somewhere near Troy, I was dragging my bed out from under a drip during a thunderstorm when I heard? Yep. Catfight on the nearby tiles, and then, drowning it out, one mighty celestial crack.

I'm not sure what you would actually call all these weird "concidences." Not art anticipating nature, except in the last. Not exactly art imitating nature, either, because it wasn't done with conscious intent, and in the case of the South American engine gadget I really thought I had cut from whole cloth. But weird, these events certainly are. I'm really wondering how many more of them will turn up, if I keep writing fiction, as, after all, you do...

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Submissions High

This month marks about the most of anything I ever had out on the publishing tiles at once. Novel The Heart of the Fire off in the HarperVoyager ebook slushpile. Short story "Crow" with editor for Thunder on the Battlefield antho. Novella Spring in Geneva sent to 12th Planet Press (out of season for novella submissions but graciously accepted as a one-off.) Short story "White Fire" off with Beneath Ceaseless Skies. And about to launch the  Shakespeare-steam story "The Isle is Full of Noises" to a new journal/magazine Unsettling Wonder. Surely, she remarked with common author's reflex, some of all this has to hit the mark?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Great Travelling Fantasy Guest Blog Circus - Round 2, Mark 2


Se, we are up to week two for the new spin, and here's my Animals in Fantasy contrib. Now up on Deborah J. Ross's blog with the rest of the eight posts for the month.

This is one of those grab-bag topics: shake it and a confetti of sub-topics leaps out. Just to start with, especially in high fantasy, there are the normal but mandatory animals that indicate a pre-industrial or agricultural society: cows, pigs, etc., and above all, horses, that necessity of all heroes down from the Round Table knights.
Horses can come with varying degrees of verisimilitude, and for me at least, consequent levels of suspended disbelief for the whole story.  Sharon Shinn’s Mystic books, for ex, don’t seem aware that horses on a journey need a lot of feed, water, shelter, grooming – as when chilled through by a snowstorm – and that their likes and dislikes include both rider and equine companions.  In total contrast, Aerin’s horse Talat in Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown is a personality in his own right, but a wholly equine personality, and as present a character as Aerin herself.
Equally essential to fantasy are the magical animals. Most often, they are speaking animals: to use a classic example, the Badgers and Reepicheep the cavalier mouse from the Narnia books. There is some discussion over what makes a beast fable as distinct from fantasy: my answer would be, in a beast fable the animals are allegorical, as in Animal Farm. The Badger and Reeepicheep stand for themselves, and are therefore fantasy. So, too, is the presence of animals as povs and purveyors of a wholly non-human society, as with Diane Duane’s felines in The  Book of  Night and Moon, and of course, Watership Down.
Where horses and cows lend essential verisimilitude to a pre-industrial world, magic animals matter in an entirely different way.  Such creatures say very clearly that this is not realism but a genre of Elsewhere: Yeah, Toto, we’re not in Kansas any more.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Great Travelling Fantasy Guest Blog Circus - Round 2, Mark 1


The  Table revolves again!
Month One of Round Two, hosted by Deborah J. Ross over on her blog, on the topic, Animals in Fantasy.

The Table has expanded by two new knights, um, members,  Chris Howard and Valjeanne Jeffers - welcome around, people! Chris's blog is in this section. Valjeanne, and the rest of us further down the alphabet, will be up for view next week.

Enjoy!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Unsung Heroes of the Industry

There was (for publishing) a relatively large fuss at the end of August when Sue Grafton made some rather careless remarks about self-publishing authors. The slurs were returned with interest by those who know how much work self-publishing actually is, especially when the result is intended to be more than mere ego-indulgence. But the incident made me think of some of the unsung heroes of the publishing industry.

I had in mind those who run the indie and small presses, who usually do their publishing work along with a day job. And hence, often putting their own writing on time-share, or even to the side, they help so many writers see the light of independent publication, who otherwise would struggle much harder, if they ever reached any daylight at all.

I thought of these heroes also because I currently have or had two stories and an academic article in the publication pipeline, all due to indie or part-time editors who happen to be women. So here's a word about these heroes, just for once.

In alphabetical order by surname, first, there's Janet Brennan Croft, who is editing an academic collection, originally titled Forward Momentum, on the work of Lois McMaster Bujold, which includes a piece from me on Lois's novel Memory. Janet's day job is as Head of Access Services and Associate Professor of Bibliography at the University of Oklahoma libraries. Like most academics of note, she has published extensively in the academic scene herself, including  War in the Works of J.R.R. Tolkien (Praeger, 2004; winner of the Mythopoeic Society Award for Inklings Studies) and several book chapters on the Peter Jackson films. But she's also edited three previous essay collections on Tolkien, and will be working on a festschrift for Tom Shippey (McFarland 2013).

On top of that Janet's written for library journals, edits an academic journal, Mythlore, and is book review editorof Oklahoma Librarian. And to fiction writers, book reviewers are valued only second to acquiring book editors. This publishing work, needless to say, would be considered paid for by her academic wages, and comes, usually, outside "normal" working hours.

Next by alphabet comes Jennifer Parsons, who so nicely selected my story for the September issue of her e-zine for women's specfic, Luna Station Quarterly. I'll let her fill you in with her own words:

I currently hold a day doing web design and development, but started out doing print design for a newspaper. All the skills I have acquired over the last twelve years in these industries gave me the tools I needed for actually running the press and quarterly, while my lifelong love of stories and my own experience as a writer and my editing work for other authors gave me the confidence that I could put out something worth while as well.
While I was unemployed I had the time to get LSQ off the ground and went for it. Fast-forward three years and I decided to spread the LSQ mission of bringing women genre fiction writers to greater prominence by starting Luna Station Press. My biggest challenge now is making sure that I continue to develop my own writing as these two sister ventures keep growing.

Finally, by surname, and only by surname, there's Phyllis Irene Radford, author in two other identities, in urban fantasy as P.R. Frost and space opera as C.F. Bentley, and in between, indefatigable planner, general contributor and founding member of Book View Cafe, the online writers' community. She's also a freelance and indie editor, who among other projects has taken my story "The Honor of the Ferrocarril" for a third steampunk anthology from Sky Warrior Press.

Anyone who was ever involved with an anthology or journal or magazine issue knows that one such is almost a full-time occupation.The indie editor/owner,like the self-published author, has to do the lot: think of an idea for an issue or antho, coin a cfs, make sure it is circulated, correspond with, pick up and read the submissions, even before the hard graft of actually editing them, and then getting the antho/issue released, available and promoted. Oh, did I forget, arrange or arrange to have designed, a cover? Not to mention, later, dealing with the royalties to the authors, or at the least, their free copies.

Almost all of this work these three women have done and will go on doing, for very little in the way of kudos and almost nothing in the way of payment except "the lifelong love of stories" that Jennifer Parsons mentions. Those of us who benefit from their labours have much reason for gratitude. My hat's off to you, ladies, if you don't mind me calling you that. Long may you flourish!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Luna Station Quarterly story is out!

Luna Station Quarterly just released their September issue, which has my story "At Sunset."
Check it out on their site (read stories there for free, or download the issue for a price you can set yourself.)
And check the awesome illustration too.

Issue 011 is live!

Another batch of wonderful stories are out in the world.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Great Travelling Fantasy Guest Blog Circus

The Table has rotated to week 6 of this cycle, final topic for this time, and hosted by Warren Rochelle, over at his blog, with a great cover illustration, btw. The topic this time is LGBT in Fantasy, or issues of same in Fantasy. Check it out, people have some v. interesting things to say.



Sunday, August 26, 2012

Written on Shards

A while back on Facebook my mate Brendan Baber posted a whole list of Pompeian graffiti. It brought back to my mind a book of poetry I found at the Twice Brewed Inn,

halfway through our walk along Hadrian's Wall. The whole book was called Writing on the Wall (yeah, yeah, cutesy), and this one poem mentioned another Roman graffito, that in translation read simply,
"VERECUNDA 
ACTRESS 
LUCIUS 
GLADIATOR"
It stuck in my mind; such a a fragile commemoration of a past moment's happiness, of two lost, forgotten people's lives. Yet such a poignant recipe for disaster, in those four lines. Brendan's Pompeian post brought it back to the top of my mind, and all of a sudden, there was a poem.

VERECUNDA ACTRESS
LUCIUS GLADIATOR
She was slave or bond –
The name’s from a family
In the Vindolanda tablets,
Known on the Wall.
He? No clan name, family name -
Could have been anyone,
Gaul to Numdian
Sarmatian to Scot,
Subsumed in the Empire.
Doomed by trade.
If it ended happy
How could you hope?
That she bought herself out,
That he lived till his wooden sword,
That they loved together
To a gentle end?
They lived, they met,
It must have mattered,
Because they wrote.
Tabula rasa.
Now the tablet’s wiped.
You can re-inscribe
Anything
Except the truth. 



A bit of later research disclosed that the names were on a pottery shard, probably from a cup, and found in Leicester, quite a way from the Wall. Which only raises more questions, eg. what was a ludia, an actress, doing in Leicester, with the family name of a Prefect of cavalry up on Hadrian's Wall? How did she get there? Who was she, after all?
Tabula rasa. You could suppose anything. Everything's gone, except the names.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Viking Rune Strikes Again

I bought a Viking rune for success on Lindisfarne at the end of my overseas trip this year. It has to be working overtime, because I've just had a third story accepted in the time since I came home in mid-June.

This one is called "At Sunset" - it was written for an anthology that tanked, and I've never been able to place it elsewhere before, even though it's one of my more favourite Sf stories, being the sort that's based on a Real Scientific Idea. In this case, said idea is Elaine Morgan's theory, developed in The Aquatic Ape, of how great a role water played in human evolution. I first read it in The Descent of Woman, her original proposal, but the Ape develops the idea in greater depth. This story produces a slightly different take, based in a galaxy far in the future and a long way away, and...

But the story's been accepted by the Luna Station Quarterly and it's coming out in their next issue, on September 1st. Go there in a fortnight or so's time, and it might even be featured story for the day! If not, get the issue. It's e-formatted and it's not expensive. And there promises to be lots of good stuff in there as well.

Off now to smoke-oh with my cousin to celebrate!

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Great Travelling Fantasy Guest Blog Circus - #5

Borders and Crossovers in Fantasyland

Since we’re all writers at the Table, we can all talk about the publishing side of borders and crossovers, but a couple of us are also academics (just as well only a couple). So I’ll start with some well worn theoretical dicta about genres and borders.
Quote 1, Roland Barthes’ famous dictum from  “The Death of the Author,” that “The text is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture.” Hence no single novel, whatever, can be purely “original.”
Second, the parallel claim of a Russian structuralist (whose name I have lost) that all genres begin as cadet branches from another genre – therefore, except for some legendary Big Bang single ancestor, all will have elements of another.
Quote 2, Jacques Derrida’s sweeping, "Every text participates in one or several genres ... yet such participation never amounts to belonging," and hence, to demand purity of any genre is "a madness" ("Genre" 212; 228).
Practically, it’s impossible to work without labeling and categorizing texts of any sort. Damon Knight’s despairing, “SF is what I say when I point to it,” only throws the burden of labelling back on the pointer’s experience of texts he/she understands to be SF, and that was decided by someone else’s understanding of … Indeed, Samuel Delany, always an alternate thinker, argues that “The generic mark ... is always outside the text," for example on the bookstore shelf ("The Gestation of  Genres" 65). Amazon’s “Readers who bought this also bought,” is a very fluid and highly practical bookseller’s way of managing this, geared toward another sale, of course.
Genre borders, are most likely then, a matter of general but implicit consensus. Brian Attebery devised a very neat method to demonstrate this. Back in the days when “Fantasy” meant high fantasy, he sent some readers a list of novels and asked for a rating, 1-10, on the nearest to “real fantasy” (I paraphrase slightly here.) Satisfyingly, the centre or highest score of his “fuzzy set,” came back as The Lord of the Rings.
Publishers and smart authors play into this implicit consensus with the choice of cover and even the font.  Genre borders are also policed, again implicitly, by readers and academics both. Long and fierce have been the academic squabbles over Star Wars as either fantasy or SF, or even “film SF,” as one academic editor insisted.  Readers, too, can dispute a text's generic siting, and/or vote on the matter. Samuel Delany’s Dahlgren, one of the most astonishing experimental novels in any genre, was published as SF, and was a resounding flop. Readers voted with their wallets in (relative) droves.
At present the bewildered publishing world is confronted with genre borders more permeable than water. When Diana Gabaldon’s best-selling Outlander series first appeared, nobody knew where to classify it. Historical fiction? No, it had time travel. Fantasy? Well, um, not exactly a secondary world, historical detail far too heavy. SF? Nup, the science was hand-waving at best. There were mutters of “time romance” from those who had met the term in other minor specfic, but those examples never escaped the esoteric ghetto.
Gabaldon, au contraire, is now shelved in the “best-sellers” genre, defined by one agent’s web-site as lacking any marker except sales. But with Gabaldon’s sales, novels like this are suddenly big-time. My own Blackston Gold duo, tentatively marketed as “contemporary fantasy” got snapped up by a nameable agent on a friend’s mere whisper of “Gabaldon.”
Then there’s “paranormal romance” – a meld of horror and “romance” in the usual generic sense of the word. Came out of nowhere and is flourishing like the green bay tree.  For how long, who knows? Mutters of No Vampire are appearing daily in specfic indie presses’ Call for Subs. On the other hand, there’s Twilight, and now Fifty Shades of Grey … While there’s money, publishers won’t let the Fanged Ones leave.
There’s little new to say about this seething cauldron, present or future. Let me finish with a crossover, a form not discussed theoretically, but practiced in earnest by Hollywood in movies of the Godzilla –Meets-Tarzan type. I’ve noticed a tendency in thrifty authors to do this by combining characters from two different series, for instance, Dana Stabenow’s latest, Though Not Dead.  But the best crossovers happen in current fanfic.  Here’s a third-gen descendant of Bridget Jones’s Diary, (via Aragorn's Secret Diary and other LotR fanfic gems) combining two cinematic hot-sites in a single exuberant text.

FIC: The Very Secret Diary of Captain Jack Sparrow (PG13, 1/1 if you're lucky)
AUTHOR: Gloria Mundi , Poor Napoleon and Ladymoonray.
PAIRING: Errrr. None, really.

Day 1
Arrrr.

Day 2

Storm is finally over, after what seems like days at the wheel. (Gibbs says this is because I spent days at the wheel.) Too much cloud cover last night to determine current position. Sailing north with land to the east. Do not recognise coast - not Florida anyway, as entirely devoid of chimp-like politicians and sparkling castles, and cannot think of other north-south coast between Port Royal and New Orleans. …

Could be Portugal, if badly lost. Or Blackpool, if very badly lost.

Arrr.

Day 3

Cotton's parrot sighted smoke to north. Well, actually squawked "Where is the horse and his rider?", but Gibbs assures me that's what it meant…

Day 3, later:
….
Huge armada assembled here at river delta. Most of larger ships (50 or so) have black sails; as usual, the Black Pearl is inspiration to all. Inspiration does not go as far as raggedy sails with huge holes, but we gave that look up ourselves, due to lack of forward motion …

Day 3, still later:

Interesting. This fleet hails from somewhere called Umbar. Never heard of it, and can't find it in Mercator's New Atlas of World Conquest, or A-Z of Caribbean, so is obviously local name for some perfectly ordinary place. Key West, perhaps. Or Morecambe (see Very Badly Lost possibility above).

Anyway, pirate armada call themselves corsairs, but am not fooled; they have black ships with black sails, crewed by ugly, overweight disfigured men with exotic accents. Perhaps 'Umbar' is actually Gateshead…

Pirates heading upriver to sack some city called Minas something. Cannot find this on the map either. (Memo to self: ask to copy their charts.) Have said we will join them, as long as we get an equal share of any loot, plus expenses. Will have Gibbs forge receipts…

Day 4:

Hmph. Always suspected crew were weasel-gutted cowards but did not expect to be proved right so comprehensively. They have deserted, every one of 'em, just because a ghost army turned up and swarmed over the ship. You'd think they'd never seen the walking dead before. And this lot are much prettier than Barbossa's mob. In or out of moonlight…

Rest of fleet similarly affected. Fat pirates leaping overboard, marooning selves on delta islets, screaming, drowning, etc. Am Captain Jack Sparrow. Not scared of ghosts. Not going anywhere.

Am also pissed and incapable of walking, but that's not the point!

At least do not have to share the Rum any more.

Day 4, later:

May have spoken too soon. Load of ruffians calling themselves Dunne-ed-dane (spelling?) turn up, along with a blond pretty-boy and a dwarf.

Allegedly they are with the army of Dead and are off to Minas Thing to save it from raiders and orcs and black-hearted scoundrels. Quite what killer whales are doing teaming up with scoundrels not quite clear, as is threat they pose to Minas Thing. …
As Black Pearl is clearly jewel (hahahah) of fleet, chief of Dunne-ed-dane has chosen it as flagship. He came aboard with pretty boy and dwarf but was put out to find me here.

Am off to Minas Thing to save it, says he.

Not on my ship you aren't, says I. Arrrrr.

Why not? says pretty boy, looking at me with superior look.

For one (says I) I spent ten years without the Pearl an' I'm not giving her up again for anything…

Dunne-ed-dane chief turns out to be Isildur's Heir: eventually understood he wasn't Isildur's Hair (what is that accent?), but have never heard of Isildur, let alone Heir (or Hair)...

Pretty boy tells me he is Elf, from realm of Fairy. Reacts badly to being asked where his wings are, then. Points to ears as evidence, but have seen pointier ears on a bo'sun from Swansea. Something very familiar about him, but can't quite put finger on it. Not while he's watching, anyway. Dwarf tells me he is a Dwarf. This so blatantly obvious, do not bother to comment...

We drink to Destiny. Isildur's Heir starts on about the Dark Lord, who is called Sow-Ron and lives in Morrdorr and is a Bad Thing. In return, tell him about myself, Aztec curse etc. Isildur's Heir not much interested, but neither was I...
                                                                     *****

The rest, if you’re interested, is at http://www.livejournal.com/users/viva_gloria/95146.html 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Candace and Concepcion

An amazing week.Monday heard from Milton Davis that he is taking "The Price of Kush" for his anthology Griots II: Sisters of the Spear - sword and soul antho whose theme is strong women of colour in or from or around Africa/n settings. Wonderful!  "Kush" is 12K words and counting, the research into Kush itself (south of Ancient Egypt, the USSR to Egypt's US, three times destroyed or colonised by Egypt and every time fighting back) not to mention Egypt, was labyrinthine even if fascinating. So much history, over so many years.

This is the ruin of the great central temple in the city of (probably) Kerma, the capital of the most powerful version of Kush. It was solid brick and huge. Kush even had more pyramids than Egypt at one time, but they had no writing before they were colonised so they vanished from history except from Egyptian perspectives, which were highly hostile - because Kush was the source of all the slaves, soldiers, copper and gold that Egypt depended on, and powerful enough to take over Egypt - and almost did, at least three times, let alone the Kushite Pharaohs who constituted an entire Egyptian dynasty. It was fascinating doing my own version of raising Kush from a name to a reality, however hypothetical.

Then on Thursday heard that the editor of another antho, from Skywarriors Press, not only loves but will take - with some emendations toward steampunk and not steamvamp! - "The Honour of the Ferrocarril" the South American story I wrote about a while back here. After no word from the original antho press 6 months and a query down the track, this was a real thrill. Bought a Viking rune for success in Lindisfarne. Maybe it's started to work.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Great Travelling Fantasy Round Table Guest Blog - Round 4

 For everybody's comments, have a look on Deborah Ross's blog
 
My contribution, sans any pretty pix, sorry, here:


Sexuality in Fantasy
There’s an anecdote, probably from Ellen Datlow herself, that she once asked K. L. Jeter to write a story for an antho titled Alien Sex. To which the redoubtable K. L. responded, “What other sort is there?”

Like the equally out-there Rudy Rucker, Jeter is an SF practitioner, but the question could apply as well to fantasy: both are genres of Elsewhere, in my terms. What form of sex could be as native to them as the alien?

Some parameters here: the OED defines “sexuality” as: 1, capacity for sexual feelings, 2, sexual orientation or preference, 3, sexual activity. Since sexual preference/orientation will take us instantly into GLBT territory, slated for a later Table round, here “sexuality” means either 1 or 3. And 3, yes, is K.L. Jeter’s sense, usually  the modern shorthand for intercourse. First question, then: what have either 1 or 3 to do with (modern) fantasy?

The immediate answer is, Not much. The basic fantasy story arcs are the Quest and the Battle of Good and Evil, with a common side-helping of Bildungsroman – young wizard grows into/discovers magic. Sexuality, either in 1 or 3’s sense, is not integral to any of these. In fact, all 3are notably missing from early modern or even classic high fantasy, right back to Andrew Lang and Lord Dunsany. This is not surprising in early SF, with Gernsback’s emphasis on a teenage audience, but fantasy has earlier avatars. Sex in the 3rd sense is all over epic and mythology, from Enkidu and the harlot to Circe and Ulysses to Ovid’s Metamorphoses. And it’s at the centre of Malory’s great romance, the epitome of the medieval.

Sex in any sense only “got into” SF in the post-War period, while modern fantasy’s eminence begins in the ‘60s, with the popularity of Tolkien. In SF treatments of sexuality, “human” or alien, suffered at first from stereotyping – most often, the female side, in either 1 or 3, appeared either a victim, a pattern still apparent in Connie Willis’ “All My Darling Daughters,” or another Evil Female stereotype, immortalized by the alien sexual predators in Tiptreee’s “And I Awoke and Found Me Here On the Cold Hillside.” But in SF, with its focus on the idea, second-wave feminism rapidly made sexuality a powerful basis for thought experiments. Ursula Le Guin opened the ball with her biologically gender-fluid aliens in The Left Hand of Darkness, and has continued to construct secondary worlds where sexuality, in both cultural and biological forms, offers a way to rethink our own societ(ies.)

But fantasy is not a genre integrally focused on The Idea. So when sexuality in all 3 senses begins appearing in modern fantasy, the questions arise: why now, and what’s it FOR?

The superficial first answer is that even fantasy writers can’t escape their cultural matrix. Coleridge’s Gothic verse romance created uproar over a glimpse of the wicked Geraldine’s naked “side” – not even her breast, mind you – in an age when rape of female servants, by male peers or masters, was a commonplace. Nowadays it’s an expectation that fiction include more and more explicit sexuality. A modern fantasy writer would not think of constructing a secondary world without reference to the inhabitants’ sexualit(ies).

Hence the skirts of the fantasy mountain now brush the modern genres of erotica and (commercial) romance. Admittedly, modern fantasy in sense 3 usually escapes the stock genre romance patterns, where descriptions of intercourse have become almost paint-by-numbers predictable. But steamy sexual encounters for major fantasy characters are now more usual, and some fantasy would count as erotica, if not porn. Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel books, Laurell Hamilton’s Meredith Gentry series, are only two that come to mind.
But if sexuality’s not a way of thinking about ideas, what’s it FOR? 

One functional answer is, sexuality humanizes. The Quest or the Battle of Good and Evil push a hero, in particular, to Deeds, not Words, let alone Lust. Consequently, as Tolkien discovered with irritation, he can turn out a stick, like Aragorn. But a hero who suffers from sexual passions or sexual handicaps or just plain inability to keep his trousers buttoned – very notably, Lois McMaster Bujold’s apparent hero Arhys in Paladin of Souls – is far more engaging. Malory already knew this, way back when he crafted Lancelot and Galahad.

Beyond actual sex, there’s all the delicious UST so beloved of fanfic writers. (Unresolved Sexual Tension, for the ignorant like me) and so useful for driving a narrative. The dynamo for Tanya Huff’s first novel, The Fire’s Stone, was the long-term UST between the protagonist and his eventual male lover. But UST is routinely done just as easily in realist genres. What, then, can sexuality be for solely in fantasy?

One answer is the term I started with. Alien sex. That is, sexual capacities that are not human, sexual activity that may involve partners more or less than human. Bestiality is a very gray area at the moment for publishers, but alien sex doesn’t merely have to mean sex with animals. It can be truly alien, in fantasy as much as in SF.

To mention only two notable examples, Sheri S. Tepper’s heroine in Grass eventually escapes her alien planet’s tyranny with a “native” lover who, from glimpses in the later Sideshow, may well be some form of god. In the last of her Door series, Diane Duane group-marries seven main characters, including a fire elemental, a gay king and his partner, and  two other couples, including the female warrior Segnbora and the dragon Hasai – referred to as “he,” but whose answer to, “What do dragons do to get married?” is, “Get pregnant, of course.” Whether Hasai or Segnbora is to do so isn’t quite clear.

Alien sex can be much more integral, as in Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow, which focuses on the protagonist’s own sexuality, in senses both 1 and 2. But the alien sex he encounters is confronting and horrifying. On the other hand, in Hamilton’s Gentry series, sex with the alien – goblins, half-humanoids, gods – acquires even religious overtones, because it raises and recovers the Goddess. I’m not fond of Hamilton’s vanilla elf-porn, but as in Grass and Door into Sunset, there are scenes – when the Faerie Dun walls move to create a garden, for instance – when alien sex achieves that hoary goal of both genres: the reader experiences the sense of wonder that comes from a fleeting glimpse of another, un-human and enchanting world. If sexuality becomes a reclaimed weapon in the Elsewhere genre-writer’s search to grasp that moment, so much the better, say I.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Flash Fiction Antho

 While I was away, Caroline Smailes brought out the flash fiction antho where my piece "Lament for the Heroes of Longhope" appeared. The title is 100 RPM and there's talk from her of maybe another one next year - to be titled 200 RPM of course. Where will this end - at the speed of light?

In the meantime, here's the Amazon link for anyone wanting to take a look.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0087IOCIS

Cover is pretty neat.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Return of the ... Bloggist?

Finally returned from overseas on 12th June, after the Three Long Walks - something like the Three Huge Tasks fairytale characters encounter. Fairytale characters seem to finish in a lot better order than I did, alas. The problem with a lazy glute muscle I took o/s, with a bill of clearance from a physio, turned out not to be up to the test, and I spent a lot of time shuffling, stopping, cursing, and throwing down anti-inflammatories and painkillers.
Apart from that, the scenery was from great to amazing, the weather was better than we had expected overall, and the Western Highlands, Hadrian's Wall, and the Border Country-into-the-Cheviots and across to Lindisfarne were all garbed for spring. Greeeeeeeen. Trees as well. And flowers. More bluebells in Scotland than you could count, and others beyond recognition. Hawthorn in most hedges at least along the Borders. Also lots of good history, in the two southern walks in particular.
Now, 10 days after landing, am just about round to the the larger and less immediate To-dos, such as updating the blog at last. A couple of pix here for teasers,


Loch Lomond from the top of a peak called Conic Hill. The islands mark the line of the Highland Fault that geologically divides the Scottish Highlands from the Lowlands.
 
 A snow-capped Ben Mhor on the road into Tyndrum.

Sunset at Kinloch House Hotel, at the mouth of Glencoe, after a day of torrential rain and really bad wind, and a sudden clearing just on dusk. The big slope to the left is the notorious Munro (3K feet peak) of Buchaille Etive Mor, the one to the right is the side of the Glencoe mountains.

View of the fort at Vindolanda, behind Hadrian's Wall, with a replica of the Hadrianic main gate in the distance. 


A typical shot of the Wall in the high tops of the Whin Sills escarpment.


Melrose Abbey at the beginning of St. Cuthbert's Way.
 The Peetwood  Bridge over the River Till, halfway and more through St. Cuthbert's Way. Crossed, though perhaps not in this form, by the English troops going to Flodden, among others.


Your generic shot of Lindisfarne Castle.


The statue of St. Aidan outside the Lindisfarne Priory, all that's left of the monastery where Bede and St. Cuthbert lived and the famous Lindisfarne Gospels were made (there being as much illustration as wordage, "made" is a better term than "written.")

For lots of pix, see my photos on  Fbook,

http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150978662932769.452704.719632768&type=3&l=bfaa32339f

http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150980770077769.452981.719632768&type=3&l=6ad753f18d


And shortly, another round of posts from the Great Fantasy Travelling Round Table Blogs as well. 


Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Solitaire Ghost Launch in Townsville

Friday 13th April the Blackston Gold books hit the airwaves at home here in TSV.




More pix on here when I have time to mess with the formatting, itm, the album is also up on Facebook:

http://www.facebook.com/media

Great to see so many local people there, and the weather was good too.



Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Live and Let Fly Blog Tour

Today I'm guesting fellow Broad Universe member Karina Fabian's blog tour for her new dragon detective release, Live and Let Fly .


When Charlie Wilmot, the Duke's herald and Vern and Grace's friend, gets mugged and his fianc√©'s engagement ring stolen, they agree to find the culprit. But his courier pouch held more than just a ring--the secret device sewn into it could help others create their own Interdimensional Gap--or usher Armageddon into two universes. Drafted into an Interdimensional intelligence network, Vern, Grace and Charlie go undercover--Vern, as a human! It's super-spy spoofing at its best as 007 meets Ragnarok! 
Twitter Hashtag:  #DragonEye, #L&LF

Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012