How His Worlds End

imageHard news tonight.  I found myself last Friday on the receiving end of an auto which was busily demonstrating Newtonian physics in action, with associated rattled brain and body. Reading is hard just now. Writing is harder. Accordingly, I’ve been largely absent from social media this past week. So I didn’t know. Until Bertie MacAvoy messaged me. Details have been following. And I’m wrestling with my accident-addled brain to make sense of it, to find words. Because words are what brought Michael Harper to my page, and are what our strange friendship was built from.

Writing is such a weird art form. It’s so solitary, crafting a story. But it’s such an intimately cooperative art, too, because the story never lives without a reader. The story is uniquely THEIRS, their understanding of it shaped by their own experiences and thoughts and ways of being. A writer envisions and shares a world and its people and places. But the reader is the one who actually LIVES in  that world, for a time, shaping the experience of the book by their own essence.

When someone passes, we lose their presence in this world. Also gone, though: their experiences in the fictional arts, the worlds they shaped in their own images. Nobody will ever again read my stories in the form that Michael Harper read them. Whatever his waking walking life was, Michael knew how to read and be present in a book. I so appreciate his bringing his energy to my stories. My head is splitting from the effort of writing this, but I know that of all things, words were what was between the two of us. So I can’t help but share a few in his memory.

Rest, in peace, and I wish you joy amid the stardust, Michael Harper.

 

 

Escaping

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Began coloring this page from my Naughty Fairies coloring book during a night vigil at my brother’s hospice bedside. Lost myself here for a while in layers of blue.

Last week’s sojourn to be with my brother and sister as they finish up this part of the universal experience was beautiful and devastating and, clearly, as much as my body can handle right now. And the whole thing is Just. Too. Much. I’m sick now, in body and heart, and I cannot return to them as I so very much wish to.

Bless Bertie MacAvoy today, who has flung a double handful of electrons at me today in the shape of her latest round of Shimmer edits. I get to look at them, think about them,  fall into the story and see where it needs to be transitioned.

Exactly what I need at exactly this moment.

Sometimes ducking into another world for a while gives you the break that you need to be able to cope in this one, don’t you think? Even if you’re the one making that other world. Blessings on the artists, the creators, the musicians, the poets, the weavers, and all, who give us respite from our many cares.

 

Fragment

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Tea and a Tale on a Tuesday: Fragment by Craig Russell

Bertie (R.A.) MacAvoy sent me a book to read, without telling me much of anything about it, or why I should read it.

But I trust her. So I read it: Fragment, by Canadian writer Craig Russell.

Well, I meant to read just a chapter or two. But I ended up reading the whole thing, compulsively. It’s a slender volume. The story, however, is a big one.

Sometimes what’s scary about a thriller is its plausibility. One of the things speculative fiction writers do best is tell the truth sideways.  And there’s a lot of truth here. Craig Russell’s near future ecological and political world are a little too easy to imagine as reality. It was a compelling, but uncomfortable read: I found myself reading faster as the story progressed, hoping there might be some way to avert disaster. Maybe something in the way of hope, that might be carried past the pages of the book and into the outer world. The hubris and political manipulation in Fragment: yes, there are real-world analogs. Seeing the potential outcome as spelled out in this novel? Dread inducing. But I couldn’t look away.

As a key part of the novel, Russell has created  a particularly compelling, and unexpected, major character. No spoilers here … but I’d have liked to see the book return to this character’s unique viewpoint more often.

This book would make a challenging summer movie. It might be difficult to get made in the current political situation. But there are some important messages here. And the visuals would be mesmerizing.

Tuesday: Tea and a Tome 9/13/16

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In my studio today.

My happiest time is when I stand in front of a white empty board: the space is full of hope.

— Kinuko Craft

Too much wrestling with tech yesterday left me irritable. Today is a new beginning! So I had a lovely cup of chai tea with a friend to start my morning. Cinnamon and ginger, allspice and cloves, quiet conversation: all warming and life-enriching. These things will soothe.

As will a peek into the visually delicious Kinuko Craft: Drawings & Paintings. I purchased a copy in New York recently. You may not know Kinuko Craft’s name, but you might recognize her paintings: ethereal, yearning,  ambient pieces that cup narrative in an enchanted, wordless space.

If you know her work, then like me you probably saw her paintings first on a book cover. I looked into her art after discovering her wonderful illustration for The Bards of Bone Plain by Patricia McKillip, and realized that many of these paintings were familiar to me. Generally, yes, via book covers. A good cover stands alone as a work of art, but also serves as a sort of gateway, inviting a reader to come step through into the story.

An ill-suited cover can suffocate a book, but the right cover can make it sing. Craft and McKillip are well suited. As are Craft and Ellen Kushner, at least in the case of the wonderful Thomas the Rhymer. I read this story in 1990, when it was a new version of an old wonderment, and have revisited it since. I loved the Thomas Canty cover back then, and thought it couldn’t have an equal, but the US and Kindle reissues are graced with a Kinuko Craft cover that will likely draw in a new generation of readers. (You can see more about it on Terri Windling’s wonderful blog post over at Myth and Moor.)

But back to the book at hand. This volume (available through her official gallery for $25 at the time of this post) is a lovely production. Gleaming gold ink, lavish borders, and vividly printed illustrations. Worth the space on your bookshelf.

Kinuko Craft’s words give insight into her process and motivation.

“The stories invite me into a world the author has created. I start living there and let my own dreams and imagination explore and guide me.”  — Kinuko Craft

The art, though, is the main reason for picking up the book. Line drawings let us see pieces of the creation of the finished works. She has a very great technical skill in art, but as with the best writers, she transcends technique and takes us into worlds of her own creation. Dense, layered, rich with detail and color. Her paintings are so narrative, they don’t have subjects: they have protagonists.

Once a painting is finished I never look back. The journey is done, and I go on to the next adventure. — Kinuko Craft

Visit Kinuko Craft’s official website for more wonderment!

Supercon and Supercool Humans

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The self-proclaimed Tower of Geek from WordFire Press. Watch for this edifice, coming to a con near you! Say hi to authors. Discover cool books. See epic hats.

This has been a jam-packed week! Friday last, I gathered up the son, his various cosplay elements, a couple of fabulous hats, braved the infamous I-95, and headed to Florida Supercon. Saturday was sold out, a first for this event; congratulations to the organizers and volunteers for running a successful show!

Lots of great artists and some fun costumes in evidence. I got to chat with actor Emilio Delgado (Luis from Sesame Street) and we sang a bit of impromptu music from the “Lovers of 5” segment. I’d only seen that bit once, but the catchy tune, costuming, and staging stuck with me through the years. Emilio laughed and said it was one of his favorite bits. You can find the video online by searching “Sesame Street Give Me Five”: worth your time for the costuming and epic sideburns alone! That show had some great music. I think that segment, music and costuming alike, was likely a play on “Float On” by The Floaters. But I actually prefer the Sesame Street version. (Does it seem strange that a song about loving the number 5 would be performed by 4 guys?)

I love going to a convention that’s not primarily a literary event and seeking out the writers. At Supercon, I met some from indie and traditional publishing (sometimes both in the same person)! WordFire Press scored a great location in front of a set of entrance doors and erected their Tower of Geek; see photo above. Egged on by Todd McCaffrey, I entered a silent battle of hats with the gent above, which I will freely admit to losing. He had panache, and better accessories. And was unaware of our battle, until I told him he’d won. He won with panache too. A great hat and confidence go hand-in-hand.

Blew my budget on books and art (a refrain you will grow accustomed to around here) and you’ll be hearing about them in the weeks to come. Right now I’m in the throes of editing, though, so not much reading time. (I’m hoping to enlist a couple of younger readers to my cause today. I will use tea as a bribe, and with any luck I will get them to guest post here! Wish me luck!)

Also loved: attending a writing panel with Miami playwright and groovy human Andie Arthur (of Lost Girls Theatre fame) and her very generous friend, Kent Wilson, who so kindly distributed my extra ticket to the event to a forlorn-looking random stranger standing alone outside. (Kent went so I didn’t have to go through bag check again. And because he is an awesome human.) Kent missed part of the panel, but gave some huge delight to a guy who’d driven the length of two counties (on I-95) only to find there were no tickets available … Our co-conspirator walked up to him and transformed his day! There’s so much grim in the world. I love having been able to be a small part in this moment of kindness, and so appreciate Andie and Kent for helping it happen. You can find out more about Andie on her website. Or watch for her all over the South Florida theater scene.

In honor of Andie and Kent and the book-in-30-days panel we attended together, I’ll share with you a podcast I’ve discovered. (I wish I could remember who told me about this one. I want to think it’s Terri Windling, but I’m not sure.) In any case, I made the road trip north to Ocala (and back!) over the last three days for family stuff; wee dog Max and I while driving listened to several episodes of new-to-me podcast The Creative Penn by Joanna Penn. Just in time for Camp Nanowrimo, so of interest to some writers. But her opening thoughts on Brexit were calming to me, and very timely for reasons I won’t go into here, and I’d like to thank her for them. Whether you’re a new or established writer, indie or traditional, or a reader looking for more insight into the process, Joanna will have something in her backlist of podcasts that will be of use to you. Highly recommended.

How To Write 50,000 Words In A Month With Grant Faulkner

 

Tea and a Tale on a Tuesday

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Max is skeptical of my experiments with water-soluble crayons over Pentel Pocket Brush pen in my sketchbook. But sometimes you just gotta scribble.

Maybe this will have to become a thing. Sometimes I’m so project-driven (today it’s a cosplay thing, and then working on the sequel to Albatross) that I don’t give myself time to sit down and just lose myself in a good book. Committing to posting something I’m reading on a Tuesday could be just the nudge I need to make sure I’m not neglecting this bit of self-care. Committing to a related sketch makes sure I’m playing in my sketchbook, too.

I attended a seminar last night on publishing for LGBTQ+ and allies. It was informative and I met some cool writers and their friends. It’s revitalizing to have “authorial energy” being shared in person. Online connections are important and so special, but I really miss that in-person connection. Note to self: look for a writing group locally. It was also a refreshing break from some of the bigotry and hate I’ve been seeing online: folks working together, sharing their craft, without judging. Diversity and inclusiveness in action.

Today’s reading: I recently finished cult favorite Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner. Not your typical fantasy novel … definitely more swords than sorcery. Flavors of Dumas for a modern sensibility. Kushner joined with partner Delia Sherman to return to the world of Riverside with  The Fall of the Kings . I’m not too far into the novel, but it seems there is at least a discussion of magic. Most of the characters don’t believe it’s real (yet), but I-the-reader withold judgement. As with the earlier novels in the series, there’s elevated language, a complex plot that one suspects is about to become more complicated, and intriguing characters in a well-painted habitat. I will probably stay up long after my tea is gone tonight, caught in this world, happy for the chance to revisit some of the characters I so enjoyed in the previous books. And Kushner’s matter-of-fact inclusiveness is a pure delight in the previous books, so I’m hoping to find more of that in this collaborative work.

Need more Riverside? Kushner is spearheading a new set of serial stories also set in Riverside’s world, a prequel to Swordspoint. Does the name “Tremontaine” mean anything to you? If not, go read Swordspoint. Otherwise, you can find out more at Ellen Kushner’s website.

I hope your Tuesday finds you with a warm mug and a good book.

Tuesday: Tea and a Tale

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Studio Assistant Judy Bear is a fan of chai, too.

It’s Tuesday and the hours have been dotted with spitting rainstorms, and I’ve spent the day organizing files and little pieces of the flotsam and jetsam that wash up in the course of living. Not my favorite task, but I’ve done it! As my reward and escape, I’m bundling up with a cat, a blanket, a book, and a lovely serving of chai tea. The tea was delivered with courtesy by my newly-driving-solo teen son, and it was both memorable and delicious.

The book was found courtesy of a suggestion on Goodread’s Vaginal Book Club forum (yes, it’s a thing). I’m reading Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner. Shoutout to that great Thomas Canty cover I remember from years ago still showing up on the digital version. I spotted a comment in an online discussion (I don’t remember the site, just my indignant harrumph in response) that claimed that this style is dated and should be replaced, but I find the Belle Epoch-influenced delicacy of Canty’s covers delightful. I remember that Alponse Mucha fell out of fashion, too, but tastes swing around, and I fully expect the future to justify my admiration for Canty’s distinct style. (Ask to see my Canty card collection; I’ve got the whole set!)

Bertie MacAvoy was commenting on the gender of a writer’s narrative voice on facebook earlier today, so I returned to the book with an ear out for the authorial voice. Perhaps I’m tired, or just too engrossed in the story to pay proper attention, but I’m hearing this narrative voice in the neutral “in my head” narrator, rather than a specific male or female timbre. I point to this as a sign of a most competent writer; when the narrator manages to disappear in the story, something’s going very right.

Summary in brief: it’s a good book, and worked well with the tea, and the cat, and the rain.

There’s plenty of fighting (did the “swordspoint” in the title tip you off?) with the fencing scenes written with interest, and brevity, both of which are important in a good battle. Engaging portrayal of a city, from the slums  to the halls of the wealthy, with sharp clear descriptions that catch and hold the mind without overwhelming. Some lovely descriptions, evocative, throughout, but not in a way that would bog down the story. The unnamed City is built up into a living, breathing place over the course of the book.

There’s political intrigue, romance, theater, and a bit of fashion. Primarily, though, this book is driven by its characters.

Deft characterization, built up through interactions and conversations between individuals as much as descriptions and direct actions, so very well balanced that way. Some homoerotic scenes, applied with discretion and most of the action implied rather than graphically described. Refreshingly casual approach to non-binary preferences.

Interesting use of power dynamics here, with sex acts, or sexual violence, threaded through as reward and threat, and the difference in the manifesting of power in this way by men versus women, against men and against women. (There’s probably a solid research paper in here, but it won’t be written by me. At least not without an additional vat of tea.)

I quite liked the two main characters, and would enjoy reading more of their adventures and interactions. A third major character in whom quite a bit of time is invested is removed from the action rather sooner than I might have expected, and I wonder if he’s going to appear in a follow-up novel. Even if this early departure wasn’t intentional as a teaser, though, he IS cited near the end; I can accept this as closing the circle, even if I’d have liked a bit more of him.

I’d love to tell you more except the tea has stopped working and I’m likely to fall asleep at the computer, which would be pleasant for none of us, but most especially the cat. So I’ll tell you goodnight, and happy reading!

GBR #17: Peter S. Beagle

Once upon a time, there was a boy who was born a storyteller. As he grew, he told stories, and some of them were made into books. Grown, he told stories, and some of them were acted out by other people, or put into magazines, or had pictures drawn of and through them. Growing older, he told stories, and some of them were put into new books, or were told to people, and some of them went dancing through the air and came slipping along through the wires and curled into the screen in front of me.

Along the way, he wrote some lovely things, and some true things, and some things that were both. (And some of those were about cats.)

Not everyone appreciates the work of Peter S. Beagle, but many many of us do. It’s a quiet tribe. I had wondered if perhaps the love of this sort of lyric wordsmithing was leaving our culture. Then, backstage at a theater, I saw a young man I’d met but didn’t really know. He was reading. He was stealing moments from the production, and himself from the attention of his peers, to lose himself in the pages of The Last Unicorn.  I smiled. I left him to it, to the play of words and images, to learn something about himself and the world. It’s good to find your old friends loved by new readers.

Peter S. Beagle: voted Most Likely to Have Nancy Lose It and Start Crying at Balticon. (Last time such a thing happened, it was Caroll Spinney. So fine company.)

The Last Unicorn has sold over 6 million copies, and Beagle has been storycrafting ever since. Many books, short stories, and more. He’s got a lovely rich storyteller’s voice, too. Writing Excuses podcast has an interview with him; you should give it a listen; you’ll probably want his audiobook that he narrates once you’ve heard this voice.

Cat status: this is the man who wrote, “It made the cat dozing in Molly’s lap look like a heap of autumn leaves.” These words will always summon my long-gone Purrl from memory. And Purrl would never come for anyone who didn’t appreciate a good cat.

 

GBR #15: R.A. MacAvoy

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Self-portrait as a Pony —R. A. MacAvoy. Used with kind permission.

I’ve never been quiet about my love for the writing of R. A. MacAvoy. Back in my bookstore days, I pressed these volumes into the hands of many customers. As Bertie and I have been collaborating on Albatross and its sequel, she worries it would seem self-serving if I write much about her. And now I love not just the writing, but the person herself. Impossible to be unbiased, says Bertie, and she’s right. So I’ve called in the calvary! You can read R. A. MacAvoy’s bio on her blog.

The following is a  gracious guest post from my long-time friend and reading buddy, Kirsten M. Blair. When I asked Kirsten (@Lorac625) if she’d take time away from making tiny things and shiny things (some Steampunk in her Etsy shop, ya’ll!) to give me a reader’s response to R. A. MacAvoy’s Tea with the Black Dragon, she quickly agreed. We both thought that she’d read it previously. When we discovered she hadn’t, I was going to let her off the hook. But she sent me this the next day:

Amazon has this categorized as romance (probably why I hadn’t found it before) which it is, but… it is so much more. I couldn’t put it down. It took until the following day to start this review because I had to come back from the state of mind generated by reading it, and recover from the awe its excellence left with me. I didn’t expect this at the very beginning, as I find it frustrating not be able to instantly grasp where a story is going, but enough was quickly revealed — and was intriguing enough — to keep me going until I finished it.

It has fantasy, mystery, crime, romance, history and a gritty kind of reality soundly grounded in our ‘real’ world — like Charles de Lint’s urban books or Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill’s Bedlam Bards series. There are good, evil and in between characters — the main ones are fully fleshed in 4D (pasts and possible futures included or hinted at — I like knowing where/what characters have been/will be), but mostly it has a spell which only the best books cast, i.e., drawing you into itself and its world and out of your own. Definitely one to return to, and an author I need to read more of.

Thanks for “Yet another fine world ye’ve embroiled me in!” — KMB

Thank you, Kirsten! I’m so glad to have introduced you to another great book! You’ve got a lot of fantastic reading ahead of you. ((cue maniacal laughter)) The Great Balticon Readathon extends its power to embrace yet another with amazing literature! Bwaahaahaa!

Cat Status (because Laura Sue will be looking for it): confirmed, historically, and horses too. Presently, dogs. And the intermittent visiting bear.

GBR #14: Donald Kingsbury

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Kingsbury Cat Status: Entirely a Mystery! AND I didn’t draw him. So here’s a photo of my cat Seleno Kyle and a sketchbook to tide you over while I sort this out.

True confession: I have failed in my mission, and have not read Donald Kingsbury’s work. It’s not in my local library, and not available digitally. The book I ordered seems lost in transit, but if it arrives, it will be too late for Balticon. I did attempt to listen to the Audible version of one of his books … and I simply don’t have it in me to do that. Through no fault of the book, mind you. This listener has discovered she can’t multi-task while listening to certain audio books, and I won’t risk anyone’s life by driving while trying to follow the mind of a mathematician.

Nor did I draw him. My usual method, when I’m not drawing live and haven’t taken photographs myself, is to respect copyright by not copying someone else’s picture without permission. I will look carefully at as many photos of someone as I can find online, compare them, then from this study attempt to recreate the image I’m holding of them in my mind. (I know…this explains a lot, right?) (I may yet go in and purple up Sharon Lee’s hair.) Couldn’t do this with Kingsbury, though, as I’ve only been able to find a single confirmed picture of him online. So until and if I get to see him at Balticon? No sketch.

His blog was last updated with an anticipated release of Psychohistorical Crisis in November 2001. If I didn’t know the man was planning to attend Balticon, I’d have likely assumed that he has found some way to experiment with his argument that,

…quantum mechanics, unlike general relativity, cannot distinguish between a system in which time is traveling “forward” and a system in which time is traveling “backwards.”            — Donald Kingsbury, blog post

So I wonder … HAS Donald Kingsbury been exploring the nature of entropy relative to time by slipping in and out of the time stream, popping over to 2016 just in time to attend Balticon 50? If I meet him, I’m not sure I’ll have the audacity to ask. Perhaps I’ll just check his cat status.