Category Archives: Blog

No magic would save me unless I had the wit and heart and courage to use it widely.

Terri Windling, Faerie Godmother of the Mythic Arts, needs our help.

Here are some things you likely already know about Terri Windling: she’s a fantastic artist, creating captivating sketches, paintings, and collages of tree-people and rabbit-people and fairy tales and faerie creatures and more. She’s a distinguished editor, responsible for co-creating Bordertown, co-editing The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror (with Ellen Datlow), and a great other fairy tale anthologies and novels besides. She’s the author of The Wood Wife and more, the mother of Endicott Studio, and a gracious, generous woman.

Here is something you don’t know: Terri Windling’s work helped save my life.

Terri Windling has been through some shit in her time, and she’s turned those experiences around into both overt and embedded outreach in her work. An especially potent example is an anthology entitled The Armless Maiden and Other Tales for Childhood’s Survivors. Reading that collection gave me the wherewithal to break down some walls, battle the monsters that plagued me beyond them, and emerge from my inner-labyrinth a stronger, more capable person. Terri Windling is one of those amazing creators, women and men I have never met, who have built this sword in my hands through stories of strength, grace, and survival.

I’m not the only one. She’s helped people professionally, of course, but I’ve also heard from no few others about how she’s helped them personally through her creative works and endeavors.

Now it’s our turn. To quote The Color of Angels, a fundraiser to benefit Terri Windling:

Terri Windling and her family have been coping with health and legal issues that have drained her financial resources at a critical time. Due to the serious nature of these issues, and privacy concerns for individual family members, we can’t be more specific than that, but Terri is in need of our support. As a friend, a colleague and an inspiration, Terri has touched many, many lives over the years. She has been supremely generous in donating her own work and art to support friends and colleagues in crisis. Now, Terri is in need of some serious help from her community. Who better than her colleagues and fans to rise up to make some magick for her?

A truly staggering number of Terri’s friends, colleagues, and fans have gotten together and…

Human Tales

Human Tales, edited by Jennifer Brozek, is an anthology of stories revolving around a simple, yet provocative concept: what are the cautionary tales that the supernatural tell their children to warn them against humans? So many of our fairy tales illuminate how dangerous dealing with the fair folk and others of their ilk can be – how they diabolically bargain for children when a person is in dire straits, how they do not lie but neither do their words add up to the complete truth, how they’ll lead you astray or drown you in deep waters. Of course, these are all from the human perspective.

Human Tales are, to quote the back jacket of the anthology, “[t]ales of warning and terror… of those who break their vows and kill for no reason other than malice. Tales of saving the lovely princess from a prince that is much less than charming… and what it takes to bring her home, of rescuing babes from parents not fit to raise them, and the reason no supernatural can truly win a bargain with such vile creatures.”

I have a story in this anthology – “A Tithe for Homecoming,” being the life and times of a woman named Laura Jane and a grove of elm dryads. It’s set in 1950′s rural Alabama, with all the kudzu-choked highways, ingrained spirituality, and folk songs that suggests. It’s about changelings and paying for things taken and finding comfort where we may.

I hope you’ll give…

“Make toast!”

Diana Wynne Jones died last weekend, surrounded by loves ones. Her death was not unexpected – she had been coping with lung cancer for some time. However, no forewarning could prepare her friends and fans for this serious loss: by all personal accounts, she was a generous friend, and creative, fierce, and clever. These qualities also permeate her books; she stands a wondrous titan in the contemporary fantasy genre.

I always meant to read more of her novels, and had not yet gotten around to it for all that The Dark Lord of Derkholm and The Tough Guide to Fantasyland and the Chrestonmanci books sounded extremely up my alley. I would have liked to have been more familiar with Diana Wynne Jones before she left us; it saddens me to know that we now have all the books by her that we’re going to get.

Gorgeous, touching or just heartfelt things have already been said by a number of people:

Neil Gaiman – “Being alive. Mostly about Diana.”
Pamela Dean – “I want to tell of our journey down the river.”
Delia Sherman – “More Precious was the light in your eyes that all the roses in the world.”
Marie Brennan – “A Seed of Hemlock.”
Robin McKinley – “Diana Wynne Jones.”

In memoriam here, I now give you the story of the first and only Diana Wynne Jones book I’ve read, a theatre-outing to see Haoru no Ugoku Shiro, and two silly gaijin.

I am an ardent admirer of the Studio Ghibli films directed by Hayao Miyazaki, most prominently of Mononoke Hime (Princess Mononoke) and Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi (Spirited Away) at the time this story takes place in late Fall 2004.

At the time I moved to Tokyo, I actually had no idea that Miyazaki would soon be releasing his newest offering: Haoru no Ugoku Shiro, or Howl’s Moving Castle, inspired by a British author’s book of the same title. A fantastic girl I worked with – Becky, who would soon resolve as one of my fastest and best friends in Tokyo – clued me in to the forthcoming Studio Ghibli feature, and soon we were both intrigued by the film’s premise and eagerly awaiting its release.

One problem: neither of us spoke more than a few phrases of Japanese.

To counteract our ignorance, I hied myself to the nearest bookstore after work one day and purchased a copy of Diana Wynne Jones’ novel. I figured we could both read it, and then follow the basic story as it unfolded in Miyazaki’s film.

I didn’t expect to fall head over heels into such a marvelous narrative. I didn’t expect the sly humor, the meta-inclusion of fairy tale tropes, the urban fantasy mixed in with secondary world fantasy and a dash of portal fantasy. I didn’t expect this novel to push so many of my buttons, indulging my fascination with the heart and witches and fairy tales. And strong women: in a time when I was often feeling vulnerable and lost, Sophie’s irascible strength filled me with a sympathetic conviction.

We saw the film in the theatre at Roppongi Hills a couple of weeks later, reveling in super-plush seats and the fact we didn’t have to wait ages to see it in an indie theatre back in the States.

For the first five minutes, the fact that we understood none of the film’s dialogue wasn’t a problem. (Especially considering there isn’t any dialogue for the first several minutes of the film.) We were armed with our knowledge of Diana Wynne Jones’ fantastic book. We were prepared!

Of course, then Miyazaki took us for an utterly fantastic ride away from the source material and into his own, equally genius vision. We were soon utterly lost, but it didn’t matter. The intoxicating imagery moved us, the music enthralled us, and I sat transfixed as even more of my thematic fascinations played out on screen: fallen stars, the lure of power, the glory of flight.

I may have missed all the nuance of Miyazaki’s concept in that first viewing, but I had a wholly complex two hours there in the dark: Diana Wynne Jones’ narrative and Miyazaki’s vision collided in my heart, leaving me immersed in an artistic experience beyond language that enthralled much deeper than either the novel or the film could have on their own.

It’s an experience that has stuck by me, and it need not have happened at all. The theatre we visited apparently also does a small number of showings of Japanese films each day with English subtitles. We had just missed that detail, and didn’t realize what the beleaguered ticket lady was trying to communicate to us before she just gave up and sold us tickets to the Japanese-only showing.

Still, I’m glad Becky and I were such silly gaijin. Otherwise, I would have missed out on a potent experience.

If you’re not familiar with Diana Wynne Jones’ work, do yourself a favor – find her books and read them.

That’s one of the best memorials such a fine writer could have.

Help Japan

Japan changed my life – utterly and certainly for the better. I lived there for only a couple of years, but the effect my experiences there had on me transcend such a paltry measure of time. Japan, Tokyo, my friends – Becky, Mayumi, Iwao, Kazue, Junichi, and so many more – have become landmarks on my inner topography. I miss walking my neighborhood streets in Tokyo in a way I’ve missed nothing else – except home.

When I heard about the devastating earthquake and resulting tsunami, my heart literally hurt. So much destruction. So many lives lost. I remember how bemused I would be when there was an earthquake while I lived there – any earthquake at a good distance from Tokyo, mind – and my family and friends reached out to me with great concern because they were unsure of the geography. I know the geography. I know how far the people I know stood from the epicenter of this terrible event, but it didn’t matter. Especially since distance wasn’t as helpful in the face of an earthquake that measured 9.0 on the MMS. Part of Honshu (the main island of Japan) was moved almost eight feet. The tsunami destroyed entire cities. Collateral damage certainly reached as far as Tokyo, as in the oil refinery fire in Chiba. There is an ongoing concern with Japan’s nuclear reactors.

My friends are all safe, for which I am exceedingly grateful. However, it is a bittersweet thing – for all that I rejoice in my loved ones’ safety, I can’t help but think of all those lost, and homeless, and devastated.

helpjapan-shukugawara-2

I am moved by the charitable response that has swept the world, and especially by the harnessing of the Internet to generate donations for the aid of Japan and other areas affected by this catastrophe. I can’t turn around without finding a new way to give to Japan, and I thank the world for that.

If you haven’t helped already, and if you have the means and desire to contribute, I hope you’ll consider a few of the ways below:

Papaveria Press, purveyor of brilliant books, is donating all proceeds in the near future to Doctors Without Borders.

Genre for Japan will be auctioning prizes (related to the SFF and horror genres) for donations.

Writers for the Red Cross, while not specifically geared for Japan, is raising money for the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, which will be assisting recovery efforts in Japan.

If you participate in any fandoms, you may like giving through one of the following – get something cool, and help Japan at the same time!

help_japan: A series of fandom auctions, from fanfic to artwork to care packages.
japan_calls: Auctioning celebrity voices to raise funds.
fandomaid: Another series of fandom auctions.
helpjapan: Deviant Art’s auction group, mostly of arts and crafts.

These are just a few ways you can help; like I said, you almost can’t turn around without falling over a new way to donate. This is an amazing thing, and I hope you’ll search your pockets or the couch cushions for even some small bit to chip in to one of those charities.

Now, let’s close close this post with another amazing event that has arisen in the wake of this tragedy: Hideaki Akaiwa named Badass of the Week. The silly honor is not the amazing bit – just read the story and see! (Warning, though: contains language.)

Stone Telling 3: Whimsy

The third issue of Stone Telling was released yesterday, full to bursting with a dizzying profusion of whimsy.

I haven’t yet had a chance to read the full issue, but have instead sampled here and there as fancy took me. There’s a new poem by Catherynne M. Valente – the first in nearly two years! – that makes me want to amble on the range and shed fierce tears and laugh in the seized grasp of truth. “The Secret of Being a Cowboy” is powerful, and the accompanying audio recording by SJ Tucker in an Arkansas accent brings that point well home.

Sonya Taaffe’s “Persephone in Hel” is a paragon of macabre beauty and leaves me both delighted and creeped out. A startling juxtaposition to be achieved by one poem, but it’s true! Jo Walton’s “The Weatherkeeper’s Diary” is a slow little bit of cloud-gathering, equal parts pragmatism and whimsy. The timbre of Walton’s poem suits this issue of Stone Telling entirely, and adeptly strokes the reader’s imagination.

Beyond these, there’s a pantoum inspired by mathematics, a haunting prose poem concerning Lot’s wife (who deserves a name), kaleidoscopic poetry invoking the chaos of cities, and several other pieces as unlikely and surprising. The accompanying images are deftly chosen by Rose Lemberg, and there are audio recordings of the poetry where available.

Stone Telling is also unique among poetry zines in its inclusion of nonfiction columns. In this issue, you can find an article by Nin Harris on Muhammad Haji Salleh’s Sajak-Sajak Sejarah Melayu, as well as one exploring the pantoum that I am honored to have contributed.

In “There is That Line Again: Revealing the Pantoum in Context,” I explore how the pantoum emerged into the Western poetry scene from the Malay pantun. I included quite a few examples of Malay poetry, French poetry, and poetry in English, along with the historical context and an expanded definition of the pantoum form. If you have any interest in poetry, I hope you’ll read it – if you do, tell me what you think!

After you’ve read this fantastic issue of Stone Telling, be sure to continue on to the roundtable led by Julia Rios – this is another unique aspect of Stone Telling, and one that never fails to foster important conversations.

This issue of Stone Telling can be discussed at stonetellingmag, the zine’s Livejournal community. Also, if you’ve enjoyed the publication and are interested in supporting the arts, please consider leaving something in the tip jar at the bottom of this page.

Of cats and birthdays.

Today is my thirtieth birthday, and that definitely feels odd to type. I don’t feel thirty years old, nor am I sure what thirty is meant to feel like. My day began with errands (emissions test, tag renewal) and exercise (biking, aerobics). It’s closing with writing creatively, teaching myself crochet, replaying Kingdom Hearts, and a decadent Italian dinner (but with only half a tira misu). Perhaps I’ll wedge in a viewing of one or two of my birthday gifts (How to Train Your Dragon and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World).

Maybe this is what thirty feels like, this mixture of responsibility, self-respect, creativity, and silly fun. That’s not bad at all.

Happy birthday also to Mary Robinette Kowal1, Jules Verne2, John Ruskin3, Seth Green4, and Kate Chopin5!

Each and every one of you should do something awesome today, and be excellent to each other. Get excited and make things. Maybe even say it was done in the name of me. I would be amenable to that!

Here’s something both enjoyable and generous you could do:

Erin M. Underwood is raising money to donate to the Great Lakes Bengal Rescue, an organization dedicated to helping Bengal cats in need. As part of this effort, she solicited cat poems from the online community and has posted them along with images of some absolutely gorgeous Bengal cats and a donation link.

Go. Enjoy free cat poetry, and give a little if you can.

You will find a poem of mine entitled “Fae Cat Fib” in there. It was originally inspired by the Cait Sidhe in Seanan McGuire‘s October Daye series, although the final piece also drew upon the Scottish legends of the Cait Sith. The poem is also informed by the Fibonacci sequence: I set out to write a fib, but decided I wanted to mirror the structure in the end.

Brittany Warman’s “My Cat is a Collector of Stories” is one poem particularly deserving of your attention in the collection: it’s infused with an elegant fairy tale sensibility, and phrases both fully apt and startlingly resonant. Jess Mersky’s “Alice is Missing” evokes shivers of dark delight, summoning to mind the black and white kittens from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There. “Reveille” by Martha Wallen makes me laugh because it’s so true, and Amanda Gannon’s turns of phrase in “Cat in the Doorway” are gorgeously constructed and perfectly evocative.

Read poetry. Help bengal cats in need, if you’re moved to do so: make a donation, or spread the word of Poetry for Cats.

And have an awesome day.

Notes:

1. Who wrote the delicately enthralling Shades of Milk and Honey, one of my favorite books of 2010.

2. Who is being honored with a great interactive Google doodle!

3. Who may have inspired his friend George MacDonald, who wrote Phantastes, The Princess and the Goblin, and many other fantastic works.

4. Who made me love him as Oz in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and is stunningly well-connected in Hollywood.

5. Who wrote The Awakening, one of the more engaging books I was tasked to read in a rather intellectually painful high school English class.

Writing for Queensland

It’s good to be able to talk about wordcount again, especially when it involves a saucy selkie and her misguided suitor. And the selkie’s sister, who’d really rather be a firespinner, thank-you-very-much. Did I mention she’s dating the carnival’s Queen of Serpents? She is.

These characters are already rolling on into new stories, even as I’ve worked at finishing this one for submission to 100 Stories for Queensland. I’ve got mischievous plans for that carnival’s denizens and an independent theatre in Montgomery, Alabama.

…this is what happens when I listen to Seanan McGuire‘s Wicked Girls on loop for a while, with a mad dash of Lady Gaga and a judicious sampling of Seanan’s earlier album, Stars Fall Home. They compose the perfect creative soup for mythic madcap merriment.

But, yes, wordcount! The original draft of “Binding Tides” was in the neighborhood of 1200 words, which was really a bit shorter than it needed to be. However, the maximum wordcount permissible for the 100 Stories for Queensland benefit anthology was 1000 words. That’s it.

Cue bringing out the scalpels, along with the weeping and the gnashing of teeth.

The worth of a word is so precious when you’re dealing with so few. Implications, nuances, whole delicate architectures of suggested backstory can fall away with just one excision.

I’m not sure I’ve ever appreciated disused quite so much.

Thanks to copious teeth-gritting and fine paring work – but more to the tireless efforts of my crack coterie of friendly beta readers – I made “Binding Tides” come in at the maximum wordcount and sent it off to the editors last night.

Regardless of whether it’s accepted, I’m pleased that I wrote so quickly and to spec, for the first time in a very long time. It’s refreshing.

100% of the money made from 100 Stories for Queensland goes to supporting those impacted by the flooding in Australia. The anthology is due out in late February or early March, in both print and ebook formats. Y’all should absolutely purchase it, for it promises to be full of good fiction for a really good cause.

And maybe even my selkies.

Hello from Hothlanta!

If you visit my main site, you may notice it has been completely transformed. Yes, I figured it was time to move to a WordPress-based site, mainly due to the siren call of easily customizable layouts. One of the most wearisome aspects of building my own website by my lonesome* was the fact that my content did not automatically transfer into the shiny new format. But now! Oh, now, I can go for a new look with impunity, whenever I fancy! (Or as near to impunity as makes no nevermind.)

Of course, in the course of making this transition, I literally destroyed my website three times. I had to open multiple support tickets with my hosting service, and make impassioned pleas for help to my dearest tech adviser and friend, David. WordPress isn’t quite as easy as her fetching temptress appearance would have you believe. That’s okay. We understand each other better now.

Please do, come and have a look-see: you can find all of my reviews, and a bit of free fiction and poetry. I’ve also managed to upload and organize my fledgling attempts at photography, and put together a small showcase of my likewise novice jewelry creations. Tell me what you think, and if you find anything that’s broken or missing. I would appreciate it.

Would you believe that I am currently snowed in here in the metro Atlanta area? Hotlanta, as the city is often nicknamed, has transformed into Hothlanta in the last 24 hours. My apartment complex is buried under about five inches of snow and no little ice, with sleet and the occasional snow falling as I type this. We’re literally locked in – cars frozen in place, parking lot untreated, and the road down the hill impassable (to our vehicle at least).

I know this amount of snow is a pittance in comparison to essentially anywhere a couple of hours north of us and beyond, but it’s crippling to somewhere this far South. We’re just not built or organized to handle it. We’re not accustomed to the road conditions that result, and unfamiliarity in this case is deadly. The busy thoroughfares were at a standstill last night, as vehicles got stuck or lost purchase or spun out. A ridiculous number of cars have been abandoned. Eighteen-wheelers have jackknifed, and MARTA buses have ended up immobile on the highway, blocking three lanes of traffic while the authorities have a devil of a time trying to get it moving again.

Hundreds of flights have been cancelled at Hartsfield. All government offices and schools are closed. UPS and FedEx cancelled all service in the metro area, and the word from the USPS was “you may or may not get your mail.” Malls are closed, banks are closed. MARTA cancelled all bus transit service in the metro area. It’s an utter mess out there, and I can’t blame the officials for declaring a state of emergency throughout the state.

I am grateful that my husband and I have no cause to leave the house until Wednesday. The road conditions continue to worsen as the ice thickens, and I don’t fancy any travel tomorrow. I hope we have a handle on this by Wednesday, though: there’s business to attend to then.

* Er, and by “by my lonesome,” I mean “with no insignificant help from dear friends like David and Ryan.”