Link Roundup & Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy

Interviewed on Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy

I was privileged to be in this week’s Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy in which host David Barr Kirtley interviewd me, Matt Kressel, and Jack Dann about Jewish science fiction and fantasy. Listen to the podcast here.

(Among many other things), Matt talks about Jewish mythology, and how Jewish symbols have become cultural staples–such as Leonard Nimoy’s Vulcan salute. Jack Dann talks about how the attitudes toward Jewishness in science fiction have changed in the past century. I talked about my experience editing The People of the Book: The Decade’s Best Jewish Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Relatedly, I’m looking forward to Matt Kressel’s new book, KING OF SHARDS.  king of shardsQuoting its description, “Across the ineffable expanse of the Great Deep float billions of shattered universes: the Shards. Populated with vengeful demons and tormented humans, the Shards need Earth to survive just as plants need water. Earth itself is kept alive by 36 righteous people, 36 hidden saints known as the Lamed Vav. Kill but a few of the Lamed Vav and the Earth will shatter, and all the Shards that rely upon it will die in a horrible cataclysm.” I love Matthew’s facility with bizarre world-building, and I’m excited to see what he does with it in novel form.

 

Link Round-Up

On my social media, I’m posting links to things I’ve written, things other people have written, and artists to support. On Mondays, I’m gathering the links from the previous week into a blog post. (Within the next couple weeks, I’m hoping to replace my Wednesday poems with writing advice, and add Patreon links on Thursdays.)

Some horror for October.

A Story of Mine

“When Shadow Meets Light,” Fantasy Magazine

This isn’t really a horror story, but it is about a ghost. When I was little, Princess Diana was a figure who loomed large. I had paper doll books of her fashions, knew what her wedding dress looked like. Reading her biographies was interesting; most seem to take a particular slant on her. I ended up siding with the more sympathetic, she seems to have been very young and naive when she got entangled in the royal mess.

A Poem of Mine

Thirteen,” Apex Magazine

Straight-up horror.

This is also the last poem of mine that I’ll be linking to here, unless I start reprinting stuff online or publishing something new. I’m planning to replace these entries with writing advice columns.

A Cool Patreon

If you don’t know what Patreon is, it’s a website that helps fans connect with artists they want to support. Some (like my friend Barry’s) work on a per creation basis (he gets paid per cartoon); others are monthly.

Carmen Maria Machado is one of my favorite new writers, and probably one of my favorite writers period. I hadn’t planned this deliberately, but she’s actually a very talented horror writer, so yay for continuing the October theme. Whether or not you end up supporting her Patreon, check out her stories; it’s worth it.

(ETA: Whoops! Actually posting my links to this next week. But her patreon is still awesome.)

An Awesome Story

Flat Diane” (audio) by Daniel Abraham, originally published in F&SF, reprinted in Pseudopod
There is a version in text as well

This is one of the scariest stories I’ve read. When I gave it to my students a few years ago, they agreed. It’s chilling, with excellent character work, and Daniel Abraham’s consummate craft. Trigger warning for violence against children.

Recommendation Roundup 10/12/15

Hello, internet world.

On my social media, I’m posting links to things I’ve written, things other people have written, and artists to support. I wanted to gather those links in one place, so each Monday I will put up a post with the previous week’s links and recommendations.

I might start working through my backlog weeks later, but for now, moving ahead…

A Story of Mine

Eros, Philia, Agape,” published on Tor.com, my first short listed piece for the Locus Award, World Fantasy Award, Hugo Award and Sturgeon Award.

It was partially inspired by something Octavia Butler said to our class when I was at Clarion West: That the echoes of slavery continue to affect the ways Americans express love.

A Poem of Mine

Dear Melody,” which originally appeared in Sybil’s Garage and is now online at The Examining Room, is what happened when I first learned about chimerism. Science is so weird and cool. (Scroll down to read it.)

An Awesome Story

“In the House of the Seven Librarians” by Ellen Klages, originally in FIREBIRDS edited by Sharyn November, reprinted online in Uncanny Magazine (text) and in PodCastle (audio).

I don’t usually love stories about books and librarians. They can feel too easily like pandering to an audience that loves to read. However, the whimsy and beauty of this piece, and Ellen’s consummate ability as a writer, made me melt.

I was privileged to buy this story as a reprint for PodCastle, and to narrate it. (Audio link above.)

“Dinosaur” up on PodCastle, and Books That Got Me into SF/F

Two lovely pieces of news.

First off, PodCastle magazine has released a flash fiction extravaganza! The extravaganza includes flash fiction pieces by former editors and assistant editors, including myself, Ann Leckie, Anna Schwind, Dave Thompson and LaShawn Wanack.

When Rachael K. Jones contacted me about this a while ago, I sent over “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love.” The story has been podcast before — here at Apex Magazine (Lynne Thomas), and here at Escape Pod (Christina Lebonville). This version is read by excellent narrator and author, Tina Connolly. I love having multiple versions and interpretations of things, which is probably part of my love of retellings.

If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” begins around 50:00. Check out my story and the others. Several are even originals!

Second, I participated in the most recent SF Signal MIND MELD which asked the question, “For each one of us, there is a book, or a series, that hooked us on genre fiction. Maybe it was the first SF book you read, maybe you had to read a couple before you hit the one that hooked you. Tell me what book got you to become a fan of SFF, and why?”

Here’s an excerpt from my answer, but check them all out at the link.

My parents were huge science fiction and fantasy fans before I was born. They have a large bookshelf that they built themselves into their bedroom wall with heights perfect to accommodate their accumulating paperbacks. The top shelf which spans all the way to the ceiling has vertical piles of old Asimov’s magazines dating back to the 70s…

 

I can remember two other huge draws that changed my interaction with media. One was Fairy Tale Theatre by Shelley Duval which introduced me to the concept of fairy tales built with character and humor, shaped by whimsical and intelligent hands. Another was Star Trek which I came on when I was eleven and which sent me into many day dreams about departing on space ships.

 

I suppose, if I were being reductionist, I could even point everything all the way back to Sondheim’s Into the Woods which I’ve known as long as I can remember. It’s a musical that’s also a fantasy about reweaving cultural narratives to discover deeper emotional truths–and that’s a good summary of one of the things that inspires me most as a reader and writer.

Cat Rambo and I teaching a class on Nov 8

Interested in writing retellings? Cat Rambo and I are teaching a class together: retellings and re-taleings.

Authors constantly draw on the stories that have preceded them, particularly folklore, mythology, and fables. What are the best methods for approaching such material and what are the possible pitfall? How does one achieve originality when working with such familiar stories? Lecture, in-class exercise, and discussion will build your proficiency when working with such stories.

Cat Rambo has been a friend of mine since 2005 when she and I, along with many other fabulous people, went to Clarion West together. She’s a Nebula nominated author  with an established short story career whose first novel just came out. She’s also the current president of SFWA.

The class is at 9:30 am pacific time on November 8, taught online. It’s $99, 10% of for former students.

(Check out Cat’s other classes, too!)

Interviewing C. Dale Britain about the Royal Kingdom of Yurt

Starflight RavenWhen I was nine or ten, my mother and I used to go to the local chain bookstore — Barnes & Noble? Borders? Walden’s? I don’t remember now — on about a weekly basis. I’d go stare at the science fiction and fantasy section and trawl for paperbacks. I discovered a lot of writers that way — Patricia Wrede, Tanith Lee; I had a David Eddings phase; I could go on. (My other major source of new author discovery was my parents’ science fiction bookshelves.)

One of my discoveries there was C. Dale Brittain‘s The Royal Wizard of Yurt series which begins with A Bad Spell in Yurt (link to Amazon), It’s a really light-hearted, charming epic fantasy series, in which the characters are by and large kind to each other and the author is kind to them. It would be many years before I learned about the concept of generosity to one’s characters, and more years before I intuitively understood why it felt precious to me, but these books are an example of it.

One thing I also liked about the series and its medieval world was its strong, political religious presence. As a child, I’m not sure I knew exactly what to make of it. Having been raised by atheist parents (though I did attend Bible study at about the age I was reading these books), I had a vague understanding of Catholicism. I think I felt intrigued because it was a different way of handling medieval settings, and also a little uncomfortable because coming from a Jewish-atheist family with a side of a-couple-generations-back Mormonism, I was well aware of the problems of mixing religion and government. I remember being a little worried about that in the setting of the world, despite the light tone.

Once I’d been to Europe though in my early twenties, I started to understand how much the history of medieval Europe was deeply influenced by Christianity, particularly Catholicism. It seems almost inconceivable to me now that one could write a medieval-inflected world that’s supposed to have a realistic edge — whether or not it’s light-hearted and funny — without incorporating that. Many books do, but Brittain takes a gentle approach; while the church is not perfect, by and large the priests who show up are well-meaning and acting in (literal) good faith. This is back to the generosity toward characters thing.

So anyway, I was flipping through my SFWA directory and I happened to see C. Dale Brittain’s name. At which point I squeaked. The author kindly agreed to answer some interview questions for me.

I hadn’t realized how far the Yurt series had come in my absence. There are 3 or 4 new books now that I haven’t yet read, including this new one, THE STARFLIGHT RAVEN (Amazon link), which tells the story of the generation who lives in Yurt’s castle after the characters in the original series.

1) One of the things that makes your books distinct is the role religion plays in them. I appreciated how the church has an impact on the world-building, as of course it did in the real world. I also appreciated that while the church isn’t perfect, the main character associated with it is truly devout and caring. Can you speak to the way you built the church into your world and your experience in writing it?
When I started writing “A Bad Spell in Yurt,” I don’t believe I made a deliberate decision, “This story will include religion.”  Rather, as a medievalist writing a fantasy set in a vaguely-medieval world, it just made sense that the castle of Yurt have a chaplain.  Romances and epics written in the twelfth century–the real origin of what we now consider the fantasy genre–all included Christianity.  One of the major themes that keeps coming up in my stories, I think because I believe it myself, is that people who don’t agree on many issues still need to find a way to get along, and a rivalry between organized wizardry and the Church seemed like an excellent way to show this.  I’ve also never liked stories in which all the priests are either scheming hypocrites or else prejudiced ignoramuses–ie, some weird combination of caricatures of the Spanish inquisition and of modern evangelicals.  Sure, pompous ignoramuses certainly existed in the real Middle Ages (and in my “The Wood Nymph and the Cranky Saint,” a lot of the priests don’t come off real well), but so did extremely devout, sincere people, so I wanted to include that aspect.  The religion in the Yurt series isn’t exactly real medieval Christianity, but it should remind one of it.


2) Have you always been a humorist? What do you like about writing humor?
Actually I originally wanted to write books where reviewers would say things like, “Searing,” and “Uncovers the failings of our society as a whole.”  Instead I get, “Charming light fantasy,” and “Gave me a few chuckles.”  Daimbert points out that this is what I should expect of a series where the title of the first book is a pun.  In fact, I think I’ve always made people laugh–I used to entertain my family on long car trips–but it’s because I always see the humor in situations.  I rarely tell jokes per se, but I like looking at things from a slightly different angle.  There’s always a lot of laughter in my big Western Civ lecture classes–how could someone *not* laugh at Zeus chasing anything in a skirt, or anything not in a skirt?  PG Wodehouse and Garrison Keillor are probably formative influences (I get the line about “Gave me a few chuckles” from Garrison, who has the same problem).


3) As a teenager, I didn’t know whether you were a man or a woman. I think I assumed you were a man (possibly because the main characters in your books are male) and didn’t really think about it again until I picked up your books as an adult. There are a lot of reasons why women writers decide to take on gender ambiguous bylines–including, of course, just preferring the sound. If you’re willing to talk about it, what were some of the reasons you decided to go by C. Dale Brittain?
C. Dale Brittain is indeed a part of my real name, but parts that I don’t use in my day-job as a professor.  I always liked Dale (derived from Hinsdale, an ancestral name), and in my cowgirl phase around age 8 I was very excited to learn about Dale Evans.  (Hey, I can’t rope a steer, but I bet she never published a fantasy novel.)  Since “Bad Spell” is told by a first-person male wizard (Daimbert), it made sense to use a potentially-male name.  I have a male narrator for the audio versions of my books, and when I first listened to him my initial thought was, “Hey, Daimbert doesn’t sound like that in *my* head,” because of course Daimbert sounded like me.  I should add that I really like my narrator once I got over the initial shock!  The other reason for writing my fantasies as C. Dale Brittain is to keep them separate from my scholarly books.  I didn’t want a fantasy fan seeing the title, “Sword, Miter, and Cloister,” rushing out to buy it even though it was $60 in hardcover, and then being bitterly disappointed.  I also didn’t want a professional colleague saying, “Oh, look, Connie’s published a new book called “The Witch and the Cathedral,” probably about gender issues in 12th-century religion, I think I’ll assign it in seminar.”


4) When I was reading your books, I was also reading a lot of other contemporary sword and sorcery. It felt like your books fit in with the zeitgeist of that moment–at least the zeitgeist I was reading as a teen. Did you feel like you were working in unison with other writers? Who were your influences, contemporary or past?
Oddly, I hadn’t read much fantasy recently when I wrote and published “Bad Spell.”  Tolkien and CS Lewis had been early favorites, and I read a lot of SF and fantasy in the ’70s, when Ballantine first started their fantasy line (that became Del Rey).  At the time I think there was more good YA fantasy than “adult” fantasy (for some reason that term still makes me think of things like peep-shows, we definitely need a better term), authors like Ursula LeGuin and Susan Cooper (of “The Dark is Rising”).  In the ’80s however I probably read more mysteries than speculative fiction–in some ways “Bad Spell” is an English country-house murder mystery.  Once I got published and joined SFWA and all those good things I started reading in the field again.  I think my main knock on a lot of sword and sorcery is that–somehow, against all odds, can he do it?–the hero ends up whacking the Bad Guy into submission.  My heroes win (happy endings and all that), but they do very little against-all-odds whacking of Bad Guys.  I really like Tolkien’s point that he very deliberately did *not* have Frodo use the Ring to overpower the Dark Lord, and yet a lot of modern imitation-Tolkien has exactly that outcome.


5) The Starlight Raven came out in April 2015. Forgive me for not knowing, but is this the first book that takes place with the new Yurt generation? What made you feel like it was time to move on to them? Can you tell us a bit about the book?
Yes, “The Starlight Raven” is the first of the “Yurt, the Next Generation” series.  (That is *not* the official name of the series.)  I’d originally started writing it over 10 years ago, after the Yurt series wrapped up with “Is This Apocalypse Necessary?”  I was figuring this would be a good way to relaunch my career, and fans were asking, “What happens to Antonia?”  The problem, as it turned out, is that having teenage protagonists at a wizards’ school made all the publishers and agents pronounce, “This is too much like Harry Potter.”  It was of course useless to point out that it was nothing like HP, or that “Bad Spell,” with its wizards’ school, appeared long before the first HP book.  Then I got really busy with that pesky day job.  But a few years ago, when the original Yurt series went out of print and I got the rights back from Baen, I decided them to re-publish them as ebooks, as an indie.  And then this spring I figured, since no one (other than my fans!) seemed to want a story about a wizard’s daughter, that I’d publish “Starlight Raven” myself, both as an ebook and in paperback.  Antonia, our heroine, is the daughter of a wizard (Daimbert) and a witch, and she wants to be the first female wizard, but the wizards’ school is not so sure a girl belongs there.  Meanwhile the witches on her mother’s side of the family want to bring her into the Sisterhood of workers of *their* kind of magic, which the wizards have always looked down on.  The story tells how Antonia tries to find her own way between competing claims of the right way to learn and practice magic, and has to deal along the way with some fairly scary creatures out of wild magic who have no use for either wizards or witches.