Worldcon 75, Part 2

Aug. 16th, 2017 12:07 pm
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Posted by Jeffrey A. Carver

Thursday through Saturday were good days for me at Worldcon.

But first, congratulations to all the winners of the Hugo and associated rewards! You can see the full list on Women once again dominated in the trophy winning, which might have made some people unhappy, but I thought it was great. It’s about time some of our fantastic female writers got their due. And I’m also glad to see lots of young fans, from many nations, of all and sundry genders.

The convention ran into problems with serious overcrowding, because attendance wildly exceeded expectations. Tons of people registered at the last minute, or showed up without preregistering or hoping for day passes, which they had to stop selling. Combined with this, the local authorities strictly enforced the fire laws, so that no standing room was permitted in any of the rooms. The result was crazy long lines, lots of folk not getting into panels they wanted to see, and plenty of hair pulling. The con committee rallied, worked with the convention center, and got some of the more popular events moved to larger rooms, and even added additional panels at the last minute. It was a tough recovery, but I think they did a good job under difficult circumstances.

My own panels over the last few days included one on keeping yourself motivated in writing, a topic that drew plenty of interest. Friday we were on for writing space opera and writing collaboratively, and both were well attended and fun discussions. I was moderating both, so I was revved up keeping things moving.

Today I had two big panels that I was not moderating, one on the future of physics, and one on world building. Both were a lot of fun.  Here’s a sort of blurry picture of the world building panel, with (from left to right) Jon Oliver, Alex Acks, me, and George R.R. Martin. The audience for this one was huge, as you might expect. It was a lively and interesting discussion, I thought.

There were lots of camera flashes out in the audience, so if anyone out there has a clearer picture and would like to send it my way, please do!


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Posted by Judith Tarr

One of the things I love about the way the fantasy genre has evolved in the new millennium is how it plays with its tropes. Every genre has them, and cherishes them. Tropes are what make a genre what it is.

But since they are tropes, that is, common and repeated themes, they can turn all too quickly into clichés. In swords and sorcery, that would be the brawny swordsman, the bawdy tavern, the wicked bandit, and of course various forms of spellcasters and their magics. If you see all those together, you know what you’re getting. Special bonus points for a clever sidekick and snarky dialogue.

I grew up on Conan, Elric (oh, the moodiness! ah, the Angst!), Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and the women, too: Jirel of Joiry, Red Sonja. They were fun, they were exciting, they fought on all fronts with verve and gusto.

I was going to say they’re out of date now, but mostly they’ve been superseded by comics and superheroes. But they’re still a part of me, even while I’ve moved on with many of my fellow writers.

We’re woke now. We see sexism, racism, culture-ism, all the casual assumptions that used to pervade the genre. Still do, in too many parts of it. Worlds that consist entirely of males, most of them white. “Strong female characters” that add up to a single token “Smurfette,” while all the rest of the crew are male. “Diversity” that means the white guy is in charge, The Girl backs him up, and the black guy might as well be wearing a red shirt, because he’ll be gone before the final credits roll.

These things get called out now. Writers are noticing, and so are readers. We see what people did there for so long and so automatically, and we think about ways to change it.

So I was cruising along on social media, a year or two back, and people were talking, as they used to do before everything was all politics all the time, and someone—alas, I forget who—said, “What about realism in fantasy? Won’t the barbarian swordsman have to do his taxes?”

Why, so he would. And there’s an assumption in that, too: that he’d be male.

Time passed. Conversations rambled as they will. We talked about genderbending, and about shifting away from forced binaries. And somewhere in there, an editor observed that omniscient point of view has gone far out of fashion, which is too bad because it can be really effective when it’s done right.

All of that came together in my head, and suddenly there it was: Bron the barbarian swordswoman/tax accountant, trying to get her taxes done on the absolute last day, under literal combat conditions. Nevertheless, she persisted. And the rest is story. A story. With beloved fantasy tropes, tilted somewhat sidewise.

When the writers of Book View Cafe began to talk about an anthology in honor of a certain persistent Senator, I realized my odd little story might have found a home. I submitted “Tax Season” to Nevertheless, She Persisted, and editor Mindy Klasky allowed as how she had laughed aloud in public when she read it—and that was an acceptance. Bron and company have not only found an anthology-home, they’ve joined eighteen other excellent stories by most excellent (and persistent) authors. And that’s a happy ending.


Where to find me at Gen Con

Aug. 16th, 2017 01:59 am
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Posted by John Kovalic

The Steve Jackson Games booth isn’t hosting any signings this year, so here’s where you can find me at Gen Con 50:

Thursday, July 17th:

2:30 – 3:30, Dealer’s Hall, Booth 118 (Game Trade Magazine)

7:30 – 8:30 The Munchkin Tavern, Tavern on South, 423 South St. (Steve Jackson Games)

Friday, July 18th:

2:30 – 3:30, Dealer’s Hall, Booth 118 (Game Trade Magazine)

Saturday, July 19th:

11 am – Noon Humor in Roleplaying (with James Wallis and Matt Forbeck) Indiana Convention Center, room 244

2:30 – 3:30, Dealer’s Hall, Booth 118 (Game Trade Magazine)

I’ll ask be at the Diana Jones Awards Wednesday night, and gaming over in the CMON area from time to time!

Quick note: I’m typing this on an iMac I thought was dead – dead as a parrot; computer no more; ceased to be; expired and gone to meet its maker; kicked the bucket; shuffled off this mortal coil; run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible; AN EX-iMAC – but for a few hours there Apple Support helped bring it back from the grave. It was a bot of good news in a week of bad news, so that was welcome.

Customer Support takes a lot of flak, some of it well-deserved. But I wish I’d gotten the name of this fellow, who was patient, understanding and clear as he essentially guided me through brain surgery on my machine.

Seriously, you have no idea how relieved I am, right now.

More good news, though: Insane Charity Bike Ride 2017 is closing in on 40% of its goal! That’s still more than 60% away from me wearing a duck on my head (AGAIN!),  but it’s a solid start.

There are only four more weeks yo go, though, so fingers…and webbed feet…crossed!


Hei, Helsinki! Worldcon 75!

Aug. 15th, 2017 12:08 pm
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Posted by Jeffrey A. Carver

This is a catch-up series of reports, so set your Wayback Machine to last Wednesday, and join my ride, starting with lift-off:

We arrived in Helsinki, Finland, early this morning for Worldcon 75, this year’s World Science Fiction Convention. At the moment, sleep deprivation and jetlag are making things somewhat of a blur. (Finland time is seven hours earlier than Boston time.) I think half the people on our flight from Iceland to Helsinki were on their way to the con. My daughter arrived a few days earlier, and to my immense relief, she was able to straighten out an issue with the hotel, so we’re not paying an extra thousand for days of an empty room! 

Tomorrow, I start things in earnest, with a signing session at noon, and a panel on how to motivate yourself when writing is tough at 15:00. (Everything is on the 24-hour clock here.) The hotel is a brisk 15-minute walk from the hotel, which is good. I need the exercise.

Friday I’ll be moderating a panel on space opera, and another on writing collaboratively. Saturday, I’m the one non-physicist on a panel on the future of physics (I guess I’m the wild card in the deck), and participating—in my last panel—on one on world-building, a panel that might or might not include George R.R. Martin, author of Game of Thrones, depending on what listing I believe.

Once the worldcon is over, we’ll be taking a few days to see Helsinki and Finland, and then a couple in Iceland on our way home.

I’m looking forward to seeing many friends!



All the sluts at once

Aug. 15th, 2017 07:03 am
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Posted by Jennifer Stevenson

Sounds like some guy’s dream come true, doesn’t it? Well, it’s also mine. I’ve spent three years working on this series, and today the omnibus edition launches at Book View Café: All the Coed Demon Sluts under one cover, for a terrific price, done and dusted, whew.

Coed Demon Sluts: Beth by Jennifer StevensonFor the past year I’ve worked twelve to fourteen fourteen hours a day, no days off—on one memorable occasion back in January, forty hours out of forty-eight.

I’ve lived and breathed this series so intensely that sometimes when I was half-asleep I actually expected to get a visit from Delilah myself, take the offer, do something radical with my life and my body the way these women do…maybe not quite yet…but someday…

I’ve really loved writing these books. They’re funny and feminist and fantastical and finally off my desk, featuring succubi, shoes, and shopping, massive quantities of food and controlled substances, boots-on-the-ground empowerment, all-girl hot tubbing, riot-grrl rage, rollicking, revenge, renewal, rejoicing, and six women who find out what they’re made of by making themselves into something totally other.

Coed Demon Sluts: Melitta by Jennifer StevensonBy the end of the series they’ve turned a corner. They’ll have to make a plan.

Good time for the author to do a quick sneak.

So what do I do with myself now?

Coed Demon Sluts: Amanda by Jennifer Stevenson(After the longest hot shower ever and a bottle of wine.)

Additional coed demon sluts will be on the knees of the gods. (There’s a sentence.) The Hinky Chicago series is missing its final episode, which sits half-written in my hard drive. Four contemporary romantic comedies about exceptionally sneaky people, ditto.

Coed Demon Sluts: Pog by Jennifer StevensonOr this four-fat-book series of apocalyptic magical realism that’s been brewing since I wrote Trash, Sex, Magic, universe-building slowly through Hinky Chicago and Slacker Demons and Coed Demon Sluts…oh, man. I don’t know if I have the energy to destroy the world yet.

Sheesh. Take the rest of the summer off, Jennifer. Take up yoga. Breathe.


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Posted by News Editor

Coed Demon Sluts Omnibus
Coed Demon Sluts: Books 1-5
by Jennifer Stevenson

Aren’t you tired of doing everything right?
Wouldn’t you like a second chance to go back and do it wrong?
Coed Demon Sluts: There’s always room on the team.

This series of feminist women’s fiction novels features shoes and shopping, massive quantities of food and controlled substances, all-girl hot tubbing, riot-grrl rage, rollicking, revenge, renewal, and rejoicing. Six women find out what they’re made of by making themselves into something totally other.


The Coed Demon Sluts Series:

Coed Demon Sluts: Beth
Coed Demon Sluts: Jee
Coed Demon Sluts: Melitta
Coed Demon Sluts: Amanda
Coed Demon Sluts: Pog
Coed Demon Sluts: Omnibus

Buy Coed Demon Sluts Omnibus at BVC Ebookstore



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Posted by Marie Brennan

Diana Wynne Jones is the reason I became a writer.

For those who aren’t familiar with her work, she was a British writer of children’s fantasy who passed away a few years ago. One of her odder and more difficult works is the novel Fire and Hemlock, which riffs on the Scottish border ballads “Tam Lin” and “Thomas the Rhymer.” The friendship of the heroine and the hero, Polly Whittaker and Thomas Lynn, is built partly on the epic fantasy story they are writing together, sending chunks of manuscript back and forth in the post as each of them adds a new section.

I read that book when I was nine or ten years old. And I distinctly remember putting it down and thinking, I want to tell a story.

In Reflections, a collection of DWJ’s essays and speeches, there’s a piece called “The Heroic Ideal: A Personal Odyssey” where she discusses Fire and Hemlock in depth, tying it in with her childhood reading and thoughts on heroism and gender. Naturally, given my love for DWJ’s work in general and that book in particular, I devoured this essay. It discusses Odysseus quite a bit, and in passing says this about his wife:

In the Odyssey, Penelope can only stay good by tricksy passive resistance which doesn’t do much to get rid of her suitors. But at least she was using her mind — like her husband.

I’d never thought about Penelope as a trickster before. But isn’t it by deception that she fights against her enemies? She tells them she must weave a funeral shroud for her father, but each night she undoes her work, stalling for time. The essay made me see her actions in a new light.

And then one day I thought, hmmm. Is there any way I could reinterpret Penelope to make her more active?

The story fell out of my head in a single sitting while I killed a few hours at an airport, waiting for my flight. Because of course what is weaving associated with, in Greek mythology? With fate. With the three Fates, to be precise — who in some theogonies are said to be the daughters of the goddess Ananke, “Necessity.”

What if, with her weaving and unweaving, Penelope wasn’t just trying to stop something? What if she was trying to make something happen? And failing, again and again, but she keeps on trying, because she has a gift, even if she can’t fully control it.

“Daughter of Necessity” is one of my favorite stories I’ve ever written. And I owe Diana Wynne Jones thanks twice over for it: first for making me a writer, and then for writing the lines that brought this story into being.


The Eclipse Is Coming

Aug. 14th, 2017 05:59 am
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Posted by Diana Pharaoh Francis

The full eclipse will happen next week. There hasn’t been another in my lifetime and I’m incredibly excited. It doesn’t hurt that I live in the path of totality. I’m super excited to see it. I’m less excited about the influx of people. It’s not that I begrudge people this opportunity. I would certain come hundreds of miles to see it. It’s just that it’s going to be almost like a midwestern blizzard in terms of the need to stock up on supplies and stay home. In my town alone, they are expecting around 500,000 visitors. Restaurants are worried about employees getting to work since the roads will be packed. All business are worried about credit card transactions, because they think the system will be overloaded. Emergency response people are worried. Part of the reason is that there’s a river bisecting the city and only ONE bridge. If something happens there–like an accident or suicide attempt (which in fact did happen)–then no one crosses the river, and if you’re not on the side of the hospital, you’re in trouble.

The city is opening all the city parks to overnight camping, which could be interesting. I’m hoping they’ll have at least some bathroom facilities. Oh, restaurants are also figuring they are going to be running out of food.

My plan is to grocery shop this Weds. and Thursday, and the hunker down and plan not to do any driving if I can avoid it. Oh, except I ordered a bushel of fire roasted hatch chiles, (a local market here does the fire roasting and so they will be super fresh). It will be in this Saturday. Luckily we have friends coming in for the eclipse and will press them into service helping can the chiles. Speaking of which–I don’t have to skin them, do I? I planned to de-seed and stem them, chop them up, and then can them. If you’ve advice, I’d like to know. I plan to can in water, not oil, because that’s very much like the store bought fire roasted chiles that I get.

Also, we picked blackberries today. Lovely, fat, juicy blackberries. I’ve frozen at least three gallons so far, and have probably ten or more gallons left. There will be pies, and then there will be more freezing until I can get around to making jelly or something else. Oh, and I picked two quarts of blueberries off one bush yesterday. A bush I’d already picked. I have another six bushes to pick.

Anyhow, back to the eclipse. I’m planning my menu for my friends and planning on enjoying the weekend and staying out of businesses as much as possible. Also keeping cash on hand as they’re saying with the credit transaction issues, cash will be critical.

Anybody else have plans for the eclipse? Are you as excited as I am?




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Posted by Jill Zeller

The Twins, House of Frey. MKomarck


The Twins of House Frey are impressive. They rise up from the river flats, two hulking sentinels occupying either shore of the swift Green River. Joined by a bridge and the center Water Tower, if is a challenging fortress to assail and conquer.

So far on our trip we’ve walked through museums rife with emotion. One of the worst is the Twins, the infamous site of the Red Wedding. The hall is normal, now, draped in tapestries of fishing folk and portraits of the Frey family. The wooden floors gleam with wax, and the air is floral. A fire burns in the center of the hall—not a real fire but a hologram of one—making the hall welcoming and even homey. But I couldn’t wander through without pondering the horror of the murders that took place there.

The view from the causeway is stunning. The silver river is broader than the Mississippi here as it flows south through the valley to join the Trident. Tawny hills with every shade of orange and brown roll up to a sky mottled with clouds. Gulls wheel in the sky, and along the river banks herons stood and geese floated in the shallows.

We’d booked too late to land a two-night stay in the guest quarters of the Water Tower, to share the same room Catelyn Tully occupied. But our room in the eastern tower was room, and warm, and I spent long minutes watching the river.

My husband was very much looking forward to the Iron Islands, and I have to say I was sorry to leave the Twins—despite their horrific past. We travelled to Seagard to embark on the several-hour catamaran cruise to Pyke. This was a lovely trip, as the Iron Islands rose out of the windy sea, rocky peaks topped with fortresses, seabirds circling the cliffs, and not a tree of blade of grass in sight anywhere.

We’d been warned to dress warmly and were glad of our down jackets, woolly hats and thermals. It was cold!! Worse, I thought, than Winterfell, and probably because of the damp. Moisture was everywhere, coating the slate-colored bluffs, the stone castle walls, and everything else.

Magali Villenueve. Asha Greyjoy

But there was no time to fret about the cold, and the staff kept us busy as if to keep our minds off our numb fingers. They staged a Drowned God ceremony that was scarily authentic. We boarded a war galley and sailed out into the bay—here we had our chance at the oars, but I declined. My husband tried it and kept up pretty well, even at “ramming speed”. He earned a special button emblazoned with the Ironborn kraken.

The ships are amazing and huge. There were hundreds—it seemed, anyway—in the bay. Their bowsprits were carved into krakens, resembling giant squid with blazing, even eyes.

We stayed at Great Wyk, the outermost island, as we had been advised that was the most sheltered place. But “sheltered” on the Iron Islands is relative. It was so windy the sand struck our faces if we ventured out onto the walkways.

There is a fine portrait of Theon Greyjoy. The staff have hung it alongside that of Asha Greyjoy, despite his spotty reputation. Many of the halls have been dedicated to the warrior-like, violent Ironborn: Euron and Victarion among them. There was a startling depiction of Aeron “Damphair”, before his devotion to the Drowned God. In the painting he is really the prettiest of them all.

Tower of House Baelish. phatandy

After three exhausting days on the Iron Islands, we returned to Seagard and were flown to Baelish Keep on the Fingers. It was prettier than I expected and very relaxing. There was even a spa! This, of course was all in preparation for the Eyrie, as we had been warned that this leg of the tour was the most vigorous of all.

Next week: The Eyrie, Riverrun, Harrenhal and Dragonstone.



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Posted by Marissa Doyle

Nevertheless, She PersistedSomewhat paradoxically, the inspiration for my story in an anthology about the persistence of women was my son. He’s a software engineer and a long-time gamer, originally of card-based games like Magic: the Gathering and later of on-line MMO RPGs (that’s Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games, by the way) like World of Warcraft, Guild Wars 2, Path of Exile, and Final Fantasy 14. Both experiences, professional and recreational, have been eye-opening for a nice kid who grew up with a lot of strong women in his life and a dad who respects those women…especially when he chooses to play a female character in an on-line game.

It was talking with him about how female players are treated (and mistreated) in the gaming world, both during play and in the margins around direct play, that inspired this story—that and my eternal obsession with the social culture and dynamics of early 19th century England. Gaming (or gambling) was a major obsession for a lot of the aristocracy, so it was a short step for me to start noodling about what form a role-playing game might take in 1818…and what might happen if a girl had been taught to play that game by her brothers, just as my son taught his younger sisters to play RPGs.

From there, of course, it was just sheer catnip to write.

One of the other things I took the most pleasure in was finding a name for this story, because titles are usually a struggle for me (understatement of the week.)  Alea Iacta Est works well on multiple levels, with the literal meaning of casting dice as well as the figurative one of making an irrevocable decision, as Jane Wetherby does when she steps forward to take her brother’s place at Hatton’s to play The Game.

I hope you’ll enjoy it and all the other tales of women’s persistence in Nevertheless, She Persisted.


Visual Readers and Memorable Scenes

Aug. 12th, 2017 05:01 am
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Posted by Sherwood Smith


One of the most interesting discoveries I’ve made about reading (and writing) is how our brains process text. Some of us are intensely visual. This is both great and not so great.

The perils and pitfalls of being a visual reader are similar to those of the visual writer. One of the most obvious pitfalls is that one remembers only the images, not the words. So, for example, someone asks for a recommendation, and you want to suggest this terrific book you read a few years ago—you can remember the color of the cover, and where it sits on the shelf, but you can’t remember the title or author.

If you’re trying to describe this book to others as you desperately cudgel your memory, their eyes glaze over into catatonia as you babble, “No, wait, I’ll get it, I can see where I sat when I read it, and the chocolate chip cookie I dropped when I hit this certain part—I can even see the page! Where, well, it’d be a spoiler, but . . .”

The plus side of being a visual reader of course is the intensely vivid movie you get in your head from descriptive passages in books.

This is not a new phenomenon.

For years I nodded and passed on as I read Victorian memoirs and letters, many of which would mention Bulwer-Lytton (very popular all through the 19th century), and how most of The Last Days of Pompeii was forgettable except for the very end when the volcano erupted. Reading it over a century later, I’d agreed 100%.

A few years ago, after I’d begun studying how we process text (both as readers and writers) I thought I ought to reread it if I can find a copy, because I suspect what I might find: for most of the book, lots of Victorian melodrama and speechifying, the life of the characters never really in focus as I don’t think Bulwer-Lytton was a Roman scholar and knew how they lived. But when he got to the volcano explosion, the story shifted into vivid, intense description, and the emotion felt real, as opposed to standard melodramatic tropes of the time.

There are other books that I remember similarly: most of it forgotten except for one or two really vivid scenes, their emotional impact high for whatever reason. Like, when I first read Les Miserables in translation as a teen, I came away with vivid memories of the chase through the Parisian sewers, but not much else.

Another that stayed with me intensely was the prison break scene in The Count of Monte Cristo. I read all thousand-plus pages as a twelve-year old, but that scene stuck with me for decades.

Tom Sawyer was vivid pretty much all the way through, but the funeral scene that the boys watched stayed with me, whereas many have said that for them it was the fence-painting scene. It was not just Twain’s descriptive power, it was the emotional rollercoaster of the scene, from pathos to hilarity and back again. The other two I mentioned were high stakes chases, so the emotional component was there.

“The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” chapter in Wind in the Willows hit me with an intensity that made slogging through the rest of the book worth it, though I never reread it after that one experience about age ten. My visual sense was torqued too strongly, and I couldn’t make visual sense of the whimsy, for example, how did animal mouths produce words, did the toad have a tiny car or a human car, and how could a toad drive? You get the idea.

One of my favorite books that has many visually and emotionally satisfying scenes is Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword, but my favorite is when a vision of Horry’s ancestor emerges out of the fire and grins at her.

I recently blogged my reread of Lord of the Rings, naming many vivid and emotionally effective scenes, but one of the scenes that has lingered in its intensity all the decades I’ve been rereading the trilogy is not the huge battle or magic scenes, though I love them all, but a very small scene with immense emotional impact: when Gollum creeps back to see Sam and Frodo asleep side by side, at the very gates of Mordor.

How about you? Is there a single scene in a book that you’ve always remembered—or how about the most memorable scene among many?


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Posted by Dave Smeds

I am a lucky man. I’m the father of my daughter. I’m the father of my son. Can’t get much luckier than that.

I remember that feeling, though, toward the end of the first pregnancy. Everything was going well, yet until the birth itself happened, I carried a kernel of angst inside me. What if something went wrong?

Something did go wrong. My daughter, who had been head down, ready to go for weeks, suddenly decided on the due date to flip herself around and try to come out ass first. In a different era, that might have been a fatal choice, both to her, and to her mother.

We live in the modern age, though, and one C section later, there was our healthy, robust, beautiful baby.

About a dozen years ago I was contemplating what I might write for the upcoming volume of Sword and Sorceress. I’d done quite a few stories for the series to that point. I wanted to come up with a change-of-pace. Somewhere in the midst of tickling my muse, a memory welled up. I recalled an interval about two months after my daughter’s birth. My wife had gone back to work. When she was out of the house putting in a shift, I was seldom able to get more than a couple of paragraphs done on the novel I was supposed to deliver to Ace Books by the end of the year. Instead, that part of each day was devoted almost entirely to the care of my daughter.

An incredible thing happened. When you are the sole person responsible for the care of a baby for an uninterrupted stretch of eight to ten hours, day after day, you bond with your infant in a way that doesn’t happen if you have the outlet of handing off responsibility when things get tough. By “tough,” I mean, the baby cries.

“Why is she crying? Here. You deal with her.” I’m afraid too many dads fall back on that escape. They shouldn’t. They’re cheating themselves.

Just a few days after my wife’s maternity leave had ended, when my daughter would cry, I would know in an instant what the issue was. She might be telling me she was hungry, or needed a diaper change, or was just tired, or needed to be held. I didn’t have to wonder which one of those things it was. I knew.

I had never communicated more profoundly with another human being, not even with my wife. It was like I could read my daughter’s mind. I was awed. I was oh, so aware of how fortunate I was. I found myself observing my circumstances and thinking almost out loud, “Wow, Dave. What an amazing point you’re at.”

After a couple of months, thanks to the support of family and the patronage of my dear friends Bob Fleming and Cherie Kushner, my wife was able to give up the day job. This was a strategy designed to get me more time to write. In the end, the help was a key reason I met that Ace Books deadline. It had the side effect of bringing to a close that period when I was my baby’s sole caregiver in that hour-after-hour-after-hour way. Before that, during those weeks when it was just me and the kid, this happened: I went to my mailbox and found an envelope containing Marion Zimmer Bradley’s acceptance of the story I’d submitted to Sword and Sorceress IV. My first sale to the series.

So there you have the elements of the memory that surfaced in 2005: S&S. Baby. The joy of being a new parent. The fear, just before the birth, that something might yet go wrong.

Right then I knew I was going to write a story about a new mother.

I wasn’t going to write about a swordswoman, nor about a sorceress. I was going to write about a mother. I was going to write about a baby.

The thing about fiction is, a plot is most reliably driven by a big heap of conflict. My protagonist couldn’t just have a baby and that’s that, all’s well. Something had to stand in her way.

What if, I wondered, one of the things standing in her way was someone who wanted precisely the same thing she did — a healthy, wondrous, thriving baby?

From that inspiration, “Bearing Shadows” emerged. I found so much to say that I couldn’t bring it in under the Sword and Sorceress word limit. Marion had always preferred short pieces and mine clocked in at nearly double her upper limit. But Marion had passed away. Her successor, Elisabeth Waters, was more flexible.

When Mindy Klasky asked for stories of persistence, I immediately thought of “Bearing Shadows.” Both my protagonist and her nemesis — if one wants to call him a nemesis — have been oppressed by conditions forced upon them. They are unfair conditions of the sort that can’t be altered by any available mechanism. They have to be endured. That however doesn’t mean either of them has to settle for less than they want and deserve. Others might want them to stay down, accept scraps, wallow in bitterness. Instead they persist.

Give up? Hell with that.



New Worlds: Lucky Charms

Aug. 11th, 2017 01:00 pm
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Posted by Marie Brennan

(This post is part of my Patreon-supported New Worlds series.)

I don’t have actual scholarly statistics to back this up, but I wouldn’t be surprised if good luck charms weren’t one of the most common — maybe the most common — concepts in folk magic.

After all, they’re alive and well today, even when many other types of folk magic have become far less widespread. Do you have a lucky pebble in your purse, a lucky tie you wear to all your job interviews? Even when we know these things have no actual power, we often still make use of them, tongue only partly in cheek. It’s pretty basic psychology: if a given object is associated in your mind with one or more occasions when good things happened to you, then it’s reassuring to have it on hand when you want things to go well again. I have a five-yen coin in my purse that I found when scouring the ground in Okinawa for my lost wedding ring three years ago; five- (and fifty-) yen coins are supposed to be lucky because of the holes in them, just as stones with holes with them are often reputed to be special, and hey, I found my ring not long after that. Maybe the charm’s only effect is to soothe your anxieties a little bit when you’re going into a stressful situation . . . but that’s still a useful effect, and may cause things to turn out better as a result.

Pretty much anything can be a good luck charm. Some of them are codified; crosses, saints’ medallions, holy relics, and other such religious objects often have that association in addition to their religious function. In the Middle East and North Africa, the hamsa or Hand of Fatima, a hand-shaped symbol, is a defense against the misfortune brought by the evil eye; the nazar serves a similar purpose through a similar geographic region. Male Roman children were given a bulla, female children a lunula — two kinds of protective amulets, needed because children are often seen as being especially vulnerable to malicious forces. In East Asia, the creatures variously known as shisa (Okinawa), komainu (Japan), or shi (China) are protective symbols, warding off evil spirits from important locations like temples. At Japanese temples you can also buy omamori, small amulets that bring good fortune, often for specific purposes like upcoming exams or travel safety.

But as my coin example shows, it can also just be a random item you associate with good luck, because it’s pretty or something good happened to you in a related context or just, I dunno, everybody agrees that’s how they work. Stones seem to be common for this, as are coins — especially, as mentioned above, if they have holes in them — but not all good luck charms are durable; four-leaf clovers are perishable but very well-known. Rabbit’s feet are one of those things I took for granted until I stopped to think about it, at which point it started to seem a little gruesome. (I’m pretty sure most of the rabbit’s feet you see sold in gas stations and the like are not made from real animal parts, though.) Horseshoes, mentioned in my previous essay, may derive some of their reputation from the iron they’re made of, which in the British Isles was reputed to ward off faeries and their mischief — not to mention that blacksmiths have often been seen as having magical power.

Good luck charms are also behavioral. Have you ever knocked on or touched wood after speaking of your good fortune or the possibility of bad luck? The idea is that you’re calling on the spirit of the tree to make sure malicious forces don’t notice what you just said and decide to screw you over. Crossing oneself, spitting, turning around three times — there are all kinds of ritualized behaviors people may call on, whether they’re codified in the culture or just personal superstitions. (Taken too far, some of those things are manifestations of obsessive-compulsive disorder.) Blessings are a major category here, with various prayers and invocations asking the gods or their intermediaries to gift the target with good fortune.

My common refrain in these essays is, “I don’t see this very often in fiction.” Occasionally there will be a passing reference to a character “making a sign to ward off the evil eye,” but we rarely get a description of what that sign is — maybe because gestures often take more words to describe than they’re really worth. But if you put the first usage of it in a context where taking that time to describe it won’t disrupt the flow of the narrative, and if you give it a name (like we might say “the sign of the cross” or “the fig sign”), then you can use it repeatedly later in the story and your reader will have a better sense of what it means. You can mention children wearing or receiving or losing their protective amulets, or your protagonist reaching into their pocket to touch a well-worn bit of stone, or streetside kiosks selling good luck charms of all kinds. This kind of thing might be less common in science fiction, because so much of that genre takes for granted the idea that people in the future will be less superstitious than they are today . . . but of course that won’t necessarily be the case. And in fantasy worlds, you’d expect to see this kind of thing all the time, especially when society at large knows that supernatural forces have very palpable power to affect the world around them.

Any lucky charms in your life, whether they’re little ritualized habits or objects you associate with good fortune? Do you know where they come from and why they carry that association?

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