I like the holidays, I really do.
But it’s a busy, stressful time of year. To make it worse, I’m coming off a hot gift-buying streak. There’s a singular pleasure in finding the exact right thing that will delight the recipient, that will thrill them with the knowledge that you remembered a wistful comment they made back in February, that you’ve taken the exact measure of their taste, that you truly care.
Sometimes you have it, sometimes you don’t.
My streak peaked when I scored the ultimate: a perfect gift the recipient didn’t even know existed. As it happens, it was a Super Frybread t-shirt, as worn by the character Thomas Builds-the-Fire in the movie “Smoke Signals.” Great movie, by the way. Who knew the t-shirt actually existed? Until I went looking, I wasn’t sure.
Still, my streak is on the wane; it’s going to be hit or miss this year. That’s okay. It really is the thought that counts. Whatever we celebrate – Christmas, Hanukkah, Solstice, Kwanzaa – the exchange of gifts is a tangible manifestation of the season’s spirit. It’s not about the material gain, and surely not the price-tag attached to it. It’s a reason to come together, as family, friends and colleagues. It’s about learning to give and receive with grace.
It’s easy to lose sight of that while the bills are mounting, the cards are waiting to be written and the list of gifts to buy grows longer and longer every year. I’m going to try not to. After all, it should be simple for me. I’ve gotten the best gift of all this year: I’ve seen my long labor come to fruition. What could be better than that?
It should be simple.
Of course, it’s not. There’s too much to do, too much pressure to feel joyous, which only makes us anxious. But there are still moments. There are always moments. Correspondence from a long-lost friend, a stolen evening with a loved one, a family reunion that doesn’t end in tears and disaster. A complicit glance shared with a stranger. A chorus of voices raised in song. An unexpected “Thank you.” The poignancy of a single straggling tree in an isolated yard, strung with lights, challenging winter’s darkness.
There are moments. Notice them, hoard them, cherish them. Hold them up like a flame against the darkness, gather them until they warm your heart. That’s all any of us can do. And remember, no matter how we celebrate, that we come together to revel in the idea of peace on earth and goodwill toward men, of the miraculous endurance of hope and faith, of the light’s return and the lengthening of days, of the harvest’s bounty. Of a surety (as Phèdre might say), there are worse reasons to celebrate!
Thanks for reading. Here’s wishing you joy.
On the brink of winter, you might notice that entries in the Events column are sparse. That’s because I’m hoping to dedicate the next couple of months to a matter of great importance: Writing.
At least, it’s important to me. It’s what I do. And this is a good time for it. Fallen leaves are blowing in the wind, the branches of the trees are stripped nearly bare. Darkness comes earlier and earlier with each day that passes. Soon, there will be frost glinting on the ground. It’s a good time to light a candle in my study and gaze past my computer screen at the darkened windows, dreaming of what-might-be.
I’ve spent long hours this fall editing and proofing and doing other writerly things that are good and necessary, yet aren’t the same as writing. But Kushiel’s Chosen is finished and in the pipeline, scheduled for publication in April. You can check out a synopsis and a sample chapter, and even preorder it online. Sequels are intimidating, but I feel good about this one. It stands on its own as a story worth telling. And yes, there’s going to be a third: Kushiel’s Avatar, which will bring the story around full circle.
This winter promises to be a good time for fantasy, with the advent of the first Lord of the Ringsmovie. Hollywood’s impact on culture has such a broad reach; more so, alas, than the publishing world. If it’s anywhere near as good as I hope it will be, it may serve to remind a vast audience of the power and beauty that the genre contains.
And after the events of this autumn, we need those stories more than ever-need to believe that heroism can arise out of sacrifice, that one person’s courage can change the world. It’s easy for critics to dismiss fantasy by saying the ‘real world’ seldom works that way, because life is unfair and good things happen to bad people. That’s not the point. It never was. The point lies in believing itcould be true, and conducting our lives accordingly. And there’s nothing like a vast epic, filled with passion and drama, writ larger than life, to make you want to believe.
One of the things I like about Phèdre as an epic heroine is that she’s completely unsuited for the role. No warrior’s skills, no magic powers. All she has, apart from the dubious gift of Kushiel’s favor, are quick wits, a gift for language and a refusal to submit to despair. I think, ultimately, it’s the latter that makes the difference. There are times when hope itself is an act of heroism.
So here’s to hope, and everyday heroes.
I spent a day in New York in June.
It was the busiest day on the “Women in Fantasy” book tour, which covered 9 cities in 17 days. Sara Douglass, Juliet Marillier and I arrived on a morning flight and plunged into a full itinerary. Although it wasn’t my first visit to the city, I was sorry that my fellow authors wouldn’t have a chance to do any sight-seeing. Neither Sara nor Juliet, both of whom live in Australia, had been to New York before. It seemed a pity they wouldn’t have a chance to explore.
We did get to see one sight, though. Tom Doherty, the head of Tor Books, took us to dinner that night at a restaurant on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center. Catering to the out-of-towners, I thought; New Yorkers must get sick of it. Well, at least Sara and Juliet would have a great view of the city to take away with them. Me, I’d been before, and I could always come back.
There were eight of us, I think-Tom and his wife, the three writers, our editor Claire, and Heather and Jodi, the publicists who put the tour together. We started with champagne, a sparkling rosé, toasting as the sunlight slanted low over the city in the windows before us. Tom escorted us to the windows, pointing out sights and beaming. It truly was a spectacular view, and I was wrong about New Yorkers. I had underestimated the pride they feel in their city.
After dinner, we went for a walk-through the center, across a plaza, along the Hudson River. It was a gorgeous summer evening, the first of the season. I watched light reflecting on the water and thought of home. I thought banal thoughts, of how I would have to ice my sprained ankle after this much walking. And I thought, in amazement and gratitude, of the opportunity I’d been given, of how all the years of struggling and persistence had brought me to this night, this place.
Behind us, skyscrapers rose in anthems of steel and glass, tallest among them the twin towers of the World Trade Center. By night, all that is grey and mundane fades; what is left is light, pure light, thrusting up from the ground. It is a magical sight. Blocks of light, raised by human hands, reaching toward the stars. Buildings cast brightness like a shadow and people stroll and smile beneath them, while the vast harbor offers a shining echo.
It is gone, now.
Life continues and the river flows, but no one again will ever stroll blithely in the bright shadow of those buildings. One day New York will rebuild, but what stands there, in lower Manhattan, will be forever a cenotaph, a remembrance of those thousands upon thousands of people, Americans and others, who lost their lives on September 11, 2001.
I’m glad I have a memory to cherish of how it was before. I pray it makes me mindful, always, of how fragile life is, how every moment is to be savored, for the fabric of the our existence can be rent in a heartbeat. With the rest of the world, I grieve for the victims and the bereaved. I struggle to grasp the magnitude of this tragedy, and cling to the hope that somehow, somewhere, good may come of it.
May we become our better selves. May we choose wisely and with compassion. May we make of the world a better place, where acts of terror driven by fear and fury are unthinkable.
May peace be with us all.
As I write this, it’s hard to believe it’s already August, and I’m overdue with this entry, which once again will serve double duty. Where did the summer go? I’ve only been to the beach once!
It’s been a good time, though, and an exciting one. The initial furor has subsided, and now I’ve reached one of the fun parts-hearing from people reading the book (or at least those who like it). Thanks to all the people who’ve dropped me a line through this website to let me know they’ve enjoyed Kushiel’s Dart! I’m delighted to know it’s finding such a great audience.
It’s been fun hearing from friends reading it, too. A lot of people I know don’t consider themselves fantasy readers, and it’s gratifying when someone reading it out of a sense of duty gets caught up in the experience. Too many people, I think, forget that reading can be an adventure, forget what it’s like to lose yourself in the pages of a book. For me, that’s the best. Staying up until 2:00 in the morning, thinking, “Oh, just one more chapter,” because you can’t wait to find out What Happens Next.
As a life-long avid reader, those are the books I crave. They’re hard to find, though. It’s part of what drives me to write. There’s a funny, simple logic at the base of it. I want to read a book that doesn’t exist: Ergo, I will write it. Of course, the execution of it gets a bit more complicated, but that’s where the impetus starts.
A few years ago, by the way, I made the same connection in a different context. After subsisting throughout my young adult life on pizza and microwave burritos, I had the staggering epiphany that I could actually obtain good food by making it! At that point, I began learning to cook-and my interest found its way into my writing, too, manifesting in the description of various meals.
This was serendipitous, as I’m sure the culinary arts occupy an important place in D’Angeline culture. Fantasy writers are tied more loosely than most to the axiom, “Write what you know.” We draw on imagination over experience, on the wellspring of myth and legend over quotidian existence. That’s what I love about it, and why I write it. At the same time, fantasy is stronger when its roots are grounded in visceral knowledge, and takes place in a world the reader can see, hear, feel, smell-and taste.
It’s all grist for the mill.
And that’s about it for this entry. I’ll be updating the site with events as my schedule develops, and we’ve added a brief reading on RealAudio just for fun. Feel free to drop a line and let me know what you’d like to see on this website-it’s a work in progress, and I’m learning as I go.
Until next time, happy reading!
At last, Kushiel’s Dart is out! It’s in stores, it’s on shelves. And I am emerging from one of the busiest months of my life. The “Women in Fantasy” tour was a wonderful, exhausting time. It began at BookExpo America in Chicago, where I met my fellow WiF authors, Sara Douglass and Juliet Marillier-both of whom were still in another time zone, having flown in from Australia.
We spent several days at BEA, which was vast and overwelming. What an event! At the Printers Row Fair, we debuted the panel discussion format we would perfect over the next two weeks on the road, discussing the role of women in fantasy-writers, readers and characters alike-adding spice (and the occasional sheep joke) to taste, to borrow Juliet’s famous soup metaphor.
Once we left Chicago, the whirlwind commenced. Ann Arbor, Cleveland, New York, Washington DC, Toronto, Seattle, San Francisco and San Diego. Many thanks to all the great people we met along the way-booksellers, fans, media folks, everyone! And special thanks to family, friends and friends-of-friends who came to see me. I felt truly fortunate to have such a network.
Sara and Juliet were marvelous traveling companions, and I can’t imagine having done the tour without them. The three of us kept one another going through the grueling parts, and it was truly a pleasure to meet two such talented, good-natured and interesting writers! Any experience that results in new friends like that is well worth having.
It’s hard to pick out highlights. For a thorough rundown, take a look at Sara’s account of the trip http://www.saradouglass.com/trip.html, which includes the infamous and oh, so slightly exaggerated door-falling-off-the-plane incident, as well as the highly entertaining commentary of Greg the flight attendant, and the hazards of encountering turtles in the recording studio.
Personally, I was partial to the cake with all of our covers (Kushiel’s Dart, Son of the Shadows, The Wayfarer Redemption) rendered in frosting-I hope to have a photo of that at some point. It was great to meet many of the Tor staff in New York, and thank them for all their efforts. I only wish we’d had more time!
Upon returning, I embarked on local publicity, culminating on Friday, June 29 with the official launch event. Almost a hundred of my friends, family and colleagues turned out for this very special evening, and I am awed by and grateful for all their support.
It’s been one hell of a beginning.
This entry is pulling double duty since, as I write, in less than 24 hours my odyssey begins: first with a trip to the feminist SF convention WisCon in Madison, and then we’re off on the Women in Fantasy book tour. Nine cities in sixteen days-I won’t be back until mid-June. It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be grueling. It’s going to be one hell of a learning experience.
Of course, I have been preparing intensively for the tour. Not by rehearsing readings, practicing my signature or anything silly like that. No, I focused on what’s really important: Shopping. For a while, I was focused on the equally important task of getting in shape, but after spraining my ankle in the process, I went back to shopping. Vanitas vanitatum, omnia vanitas! I may be hobbling, but I’ve got lots of cute new clothes.
In other news, reviews are starting to come out, and excerpts are posted on the Buzz page. So far, so good. Thanks to all my friends (and their dancing cats) for the good thoughts.
See you in July!
As a first-time novelist, I’m in the midst of a learning process. This month, I’ve learned that a lucky author is a busy author! Things are starting to move as the release date draws nearer, and I find myself drafting essays, blurbs and comments for all kinds of venues. Galleys have been sent to the major publications, so I’m crossing my fingers for 1) Reviews, and 2) Good reviews. K-Dart’s scheduled to be a featured alternate in the Science Fiction Book Club’s summer catalogue, and Romantic Times magazine is doing a cameo. Next up, Field & Stream, maybe?
One of the coolest developments is that I’ll be a part of Tor’s “Women in Fantasy” promotional campaign this summer, along with Juliet Marillier and Sara Douglass – and we’ll be doing a booksigning tour this June! Check the events listings on the left to see if we’re coming to a town near you.