Wednesday, June 27, 2012

SPECIAL ROUND TABLE: Sexuality in Fantasy

by Gustave Courtois
Hello, everyone, and welcome to another installment of the Amazing Migrating Fantasy Round Table, started earlier this year by Sylvia Kelso. This month, I'm hosting the topic of sexuality in fantasy. Here you'll find a range of viewpoints, ways of approaching the topic, . Please join in the discussion!

A few years ago, I had the privilege of editing a new anthology series, Lace and Blade, from Norilana Books. The concept was a certain flavor of elegant, romantic sword and sorcery, witty and stylized, sensual yet with plenty of swashbuckling action (think The Scarlet Pimpernel with magic). Because we wanted to release the first volume for Valentine’s Day, I contacted a group of seasoned professional authors, people I could depend on to understand what I was looking for and to deliver top quality stories to deadline. For various reasons, the publisher wanted the second volume to be open submissions. If I'd had any idea what I was getting myself into, I would have refused. Insulated in the world of competent fantasy writers and readers who are versed in the grandeur of writers from J.R.R. Tolkien to Tanith Lee, I was ill-prepared for what mundanes think of when they hear “fantasy.”

Needless to say, when I talk about sexuality or eroticism or sensuality or gender issues in fantasy, I do not mean pornography. It seems that for far too many people, sexuality is such an emotionally difficult subject that instead of facing it honestly, discussing it openly, they shroud it in prurience and embarrassment, or else turn it into something salacious or forbidden. Yet just about every human being over the age of puberty has had sexual feelings (notice my delicate use of qualifiers). So if sexuality in fantasy does not mean “your most lascivious and pornographic imaginings, regardless of whether you’d really like to do these things, because how would you know what you enjoy if you’ve never been permitted to experiment,” what is the role of sexuality in fantasy? Does it even have one? Should we keep sex out of fantasy literature, restrict the love stories to a chaste kiss now and again, and keep the hero/ine’s mind firmly fixed on nobler causes?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Summer Reads: A Few Random Book Reviews



Summer reading evokes images of beach chairs or hammocks, lazing around with undemanding stories. While I indulge in my share, I also think it's good to give my brain at least a little exercise, too. Summer's a good time to catch up on books I've been hearing about, and to try something new. So here's a potpourri of what I've been enjoying.




N.K. Jemisin, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Despite all the fuss over this debut fantasy novel, it took me a while to pick it up. I'm not sure what I can usefully add to what has already been said, except to say that the praise is richly deserved. There's a bit of a bobble at the very opening, for me, at least, but that is undoubtedly a matter of taste and it doesn't last long. Very cool stuff about a castle that's a whole city, byzantine schemes and some very unpleasant, ruthless people, a few enslaved and therefore resentful gods, a heroine on the track of her mother's killer, and occasional moments of stunning compassion. Very shortly, I was immersed and am now looking forward to reading more by Jemisin.


Connie Willis. Blackout/All Clear. Time-traveling historians visit the London Blitz, get trapped  there, try to find a way home without changing history and thereby creating a future in which their world (and their time machine) does not exist. All done up in inimitable Connie Willis style. This two-part novel is (fortunately or unfortunately, according to your taste) downright chatty, with lots of conversations in which characters alternate between discussing the minutia of surviving in a dangerous historical period and trying to figure out either how to get home, why their failsafe return strategies aren't working, and whether they are inadvertently changing history. If you like dialog, you'll relish them, but if you find this sort of detail tedious, the story will be slow going. Crucial details are planted in the midst, and if your eyes are glazing over, you'll miss them. Another objection I've heard, although it wasn't an issue for me, was the

Thursday, June 14, 2012

One Stitch At A Time: Knitting For Peace


Teddy Bears for African kids
A piece of knitting is, with few exceptions, one long strand of yarn, looped back on itself. Every part of it is connected, and if one pulls the loose end, one can unravel the entire piece of fabric. That’s the philosophical aspect of knitting.

Knitting creates communities, and every knitter has stories of personal connections. I learned to knit as a child. My mother taught me, as her mother had taught her. This is a lineage of love, of people, mostly women, sitting together and passing on stories as well as stitches. Later I learned to hold the yarn in my left hand from a college friend who had learned it from her German host family when she was an exchange student.

My collection of needles is a potpourri of stories. A few I have bought new, including the beautiful set of rosewood double-pointed needles on which I knit a pair of bamboo-silk socks for my sister to comfort her feet after surgery. Some have come to me from my mother, so lovingly used over the years that the printed sizes have worn off. Others appeared in the boxes of yarn from my first mother-in-law, most likely from the senior center she frequented, so I will never know the women--or possibly the men--who began projects on these needles, only to leave them half-finished. I love these untold stories, even as I add my own and pass them on.

Over the years, I knitted many sweaters, scarves, hats, even an afghan or two, mostly for family and friends. Then about 4 years ago, I came across Betty Christiansen’s Knitting for Peace: Make the World a Better Place, One Stitch at a Time. I read about the history of wartime knitting, the Revolutionary Knitting Circle, Peace Fleece, and programs that teach knitting to prisoners.

My projects shifted to a different focus: I knit a prayer shawl for a dying friend and a lap robe for my second mother-in-law during her final illness. With each stitch, I held in my mind wishes for peace, for love, for understanding.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Feathered Edge: Swords, Souls, and Editing Tanith Lee

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 8, 2012

Book Review Kit -- Just Add Adjectives and Mix!

In case you missed this blog post on Book View Cafe, here it is to enjoy. Feel free to post your own book reviews under Comments!

Have you noticed how alike many book reviews are? Aside from recapitulations of the plot, the same words might apply to almost any book. Therefore, as a service to discerning readers (and a hoot and a holler, besides), Book View Café presents the newest innovation in book reviews. Design your own inimitable personalized reviews using this cutting-edge technique!

First, you will need to assemble a number of words. The exact order doesn't matter, so long as you match nouns with nouns, adjectives with adjectives, and so forth. By mixing up the order, you can create even more variations, so you can use the same basic review for almost any book!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Book View Cafe Wild Rumpus... er, New Bookstore Launch



For lo, these many months, the elves at Book View Café, beloved spouse among them, have been laboring to transform the ebookstore into something elegant and user-friendly, in which browsing means discovered very cool new books as well as old out-of-print favorites. Now it's done and up and we want all our friends/n/relations to celebrate with us.

To that end, we're giving our readers a chance to win the book of their choice free. There's a lot of hoopla about whether such events are helpful, but I hope this one will be fun. The point is to invite you to check things out. Who knows, you might find something you want. (And such a deal - 95% of the price goes to the author.) So here's the skinny: