la_marquise: (Marquise)
So, back in the ninth century, having established himself as king of Wessex, Alfred the Great initiated a programme of education of his male aristocracy and oversaw the translation into Old English of a number of books he considered to be 'most necessary for men to know'. These were mainly religious, but also included Bede's A History of the English Church and Peoples, and Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy.

What books would you recommend today, aside from sacred books and standard chestnuts like Shakespeare? Mine would be Sima Qian, Records of the Grand Historian, which to my mind is the finest early history we possess and a textbook introduction into how we construct, create, manipulate and interpret the varied histories that make up our past; Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, which despite dated sections is still a clear cold look at the intersection of greed for money and power, faith and modern society; and Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo, which is a masterclass in plotting, pace and colour by a mixed-race author who was always proud to be exactly who he was, and as a result wrote characters who stand up for their principles. (I love the Musketeers more; and his best female characters are Claire and Manon in The War of Women, but Monte Cristo is probably his strongest book).

Over to you.

Skirt of the day: blue flags.
la_marquise: (GKC)
So, over on twitter, I have a personal hashtag of #redwriter. I use it for those moments when I'm explicitly talking about my socialism, and sometimes when I realise that something in whatever I'm working on is bouncing off that. I do it, because I am of the age and type that agrees with the slogan 'Politics is life.' And it keeps me thinking, which matters to me. I want to be mindful, in my work, in my words, in my actions, in my life. I fail all the time -- I did so earlier this morning. But I try.

And I'm following the debates about politics in books, and whether they 'belong' and the calls for 'just good stories' and so on, and, well.... Politics is life. We are soaked in them, we are created by them. As with gender and race and class and ability and sexuality, our political assumptions and the political assumptions that we grew up with help to shape and form who we are, our way of being, our expectations, our interpretations. Which means that there cannot be such a thing as a politics-free book. Every decision the writer makes in their work -- who the protagonist is, what the latter wants and approves, the nature of the threat or problem they face, the types of backgrounds depicted, who is left out -- all of those are marked by the author's own expectations and experiences. We all do it. Most of the time we don't even notice. But as a result, how a book plays for different readers depends on how close those readers' experiences and expectations are to those of a writer. 'Just a good story, no politics' is not a simply a call for books to be entertaining. It's a call for books to make specific readers comfortable. But all readers are different: we all have different levels of comfort and familiarity. The easier it is for you to find a book that mirrors your experience -- a 'politics-free' book -- the chances are, the closer you are to the hegemonic centre of society.

None of this is new: people have been saying this for years, usually in response to other people complaining about politics 'spoiling' books. People who are highly privileged are most likely to complain if they meet something that's not comfortable, not because they are necessarily bad people, but because they're used to seeing themselves at the centre of everything, and they're startled. People who are less privileged, less central to social norms are used to reading about characters and ideas and foods and places that they don't recognise, because mainstream books tend to reflect mainstream expectations.

It takes work to notice this, especially if you're one of the privileged. We don't notice things that to us are 'normal' and we expect what we read to reflect that. When we write, we often write to our internalised norms without noticing it. I can see that everywhere in my own writing. I'm a feminist and a socialist, but most of the characters in my first book are rich and powerful. The plot is mainly driven by the male characters, and the three main characters are all men. I made a conscious decision that most of the characters were not white, but I did not, in my own opinion, do anything like enough work to back that up, and I failed. Thew female characters have a lot of political and social power, but at least three of them are self-sacrificing, placing duty and the welfare of others above their own needs and survival. My internalised misogyny was speaking: women cannot succeed without sacrifice, pain and loss. I worked harder of breaking out of misogyny and Euro-centrism in my second book. I made a conscious effort to depict foods and traditions, landscapes and buildings and ways of organisation that were not just versions of what I grew up with. And I still didn't succeed. I really struggled to write Aude as a person with agency: inner training steered me towards making her weaker, more dependent, more timid and diffident. I've never found a character so difficult to depict. (The twins were easy. Ferrets do what they like, regardless of gender. Writing them was hugely freeing and great fun.) But I'm sure there are many places in the book where I failed, because I am marked by my culture, I am trained and shaped by it and it infects everything I do.

We can always find excuses for defaulting to our norms. Let's take an explicitly political book that is also a good fun read -- and often marketed as a children's book -- Watership Down. I love WD; I read it when it first came out (I was 12 or 13) and it was a big part of my teens. It's an adventure with rabbit heroes. It's also an analysis of different political systems and their good and bad points. Richard Adams comes down on the side of a sort of democratic anarchy, with a charismatic leader setting the tone. He set out consciously to write a political novel.

And yet, his assumptions and training show through. The characters are nearly all male, and such female characters who are present are weaker, more anxious, less able to act with agency -- and presented as potential mates. The rabbits are monotheists. Male leadership is assumed as natural. Threats come from outside, not within. Creatures who are not like you are dangerous. Now, most of this is based on the fact that the characters are rabbits. It's natural for rabbits to fear predators, for instance, and wandering bands of young rabbits tend to be male. But at the same time, Adams -- and the scholars whose work he used -- were affected by their social training when they wrote and researched. Humans live in a society in which behaviour is heavily gendered. It feels natural. So when we look at other species, we assume they do the same. Yet more and more research is now questioning this -- researchers have broken the bonds of their social conditioning -- and finding that in fact, many species do not express gendered social behaviour in the ways humans do. I don't know explicitly what has been observed in rabbits since Adams wrote, but I suspect that the norms his sources detected were refracted by ingrained gender bias. And he was writing a fantasy, in which rabbits have a religion, tell stories, invent political systems. He could have made some of the active central characters female. He didn't. He was comfortable with his own status quo. And he had the excuse, if needed, of 'Oh, but the book I read said...' That books said stranger danger and few women; it did not say religion, but he included the latter anyway. He made an unconscious political choice, just as I did with how I depicted Yvelliane and Iareth and Firomelle in Living With Ghosts.

And here's another thing. Of all my characters, Iareth is the one closest to me. That drive she has to do her duty, come what may, and the problems it causes her, is mine. One of the hardest scenes for me to write in that book was the one where she agrees to stay with Valdarrien. All my instincts -- and thus hers -- were screaming at me that she must not, that it was not Good Behaviour. The first time I wrote it, she said 'No' to him despite the plot. I had to argue with myself for two days before I could rewrite it. And I still think that, had he lived, she would have left him again, in a few months or years, because of that iron sense of duty. That's my own internalised female guilt, right there. I am not supposed to put my own wishes at the centre of my life, because good girls live for others. Like Yvelliane. Like Firomelle. Not at all like Aude, who I struggle to write.

What about 'non-political' books; books in which our personal cultural comfort zone is the default? Let's take Anne McCaffrey's Dragonflight, another book I read and reread, and loved as a teen. There is no over political agenda in the book: it's the story of a young woman having adventures, finding love and saving the world. At 14, it was the best book ever for me, because it was a fantasy (my favourite type of book) with a female lead who was always right. Usually female heroes are corrected by men several times in a book, but Lessa talks back all the time, does what she wants -- and the men climb down. It was wonderfully liberating. And yet.... Though the role of Weyrwoman is important, Lessa is a Unique Heroine. She is explicitly different to all the other women around her, she is special. And there can be only one of her (6 by the end of the book). Her life is very, very unusual. Everyone else important in the book is male: the other female characters are minor, unimportant and occupy gendered space: wives, servants and sluts. The political structure assumes male leadership -- and aristocratic, born-to-rule leadership at that -- and the solution to the poverty, suffering or distress of the 'common people' is not more agency in their lives, but having a better Lord (or Weyrleader). Bad lords are overthrown by good lords. Everyone is white, and the trappings of their culture reflect that. The book normalises and even romanticises sexual violence, to the point that it's almost unnoticeable. (When in the sequel F'Nor rapes Brekke, I noticed, and I was never entirely happy with their love story, but I accepted that to Brekke the rape was minor, even good, because the writer said so.) As far as I know, the only agenda McCaffrey had when she wrote Dragonflight was to put a women at the centre (just the one). But the other things are there, because they were part of her cultural norm.

All books are political. All books have agenda, conscious or not. Because we are all products of our cultures, and those cultures show.

Skirt of the day: blue cotton parachute (in non-parachute mode).
la_marquise: (Marquise)
So, The Guardian has an interesting article today about forgotten writers. Literary Hero to Zero

Being me, I am of course certain that I will be forgotten myself (without having ever reached the heights of minor recognition, let alone 'hero') apart perhaps for some of my academic pieces. And that's fine with me, too. Also being me, I've read at least 3 of the 'forgotten' writers mentioned here (Morgan, Dreiser, Wilson) and heard of all the others apart from Mary Mann. But I'm not typical, I suspect (I have a widely -read mother and I have been known to read historical literary criticism for fun and then tracked down the books.)
The article focuses on 'literary' writers. There are names it doesn't mention -- Rosamund Lehman, John Fowles, Elizabeth Taylor, Elizabeth Bowen -- which I hope means people are still assumed to be reading them. There are, of course, far more 'forgotten' genre writers who were huge in their time -- Weyman, Sabatini, even Michael Innes, who was A N Wilson under a pseudonym.
As the article shows in the case of Virigina Woolf, writers can go out of fashion and be rediscovered, or indeed rescued from obscurity entirely. Dumas has never stopped being read or being in print but he has only begun to be accepted by the literary establishment as more than just a 'popular' writer in the last quarter century or so. On the flip side, Dickens was canonised almost at once, despite his popularity, and remains so despite the problems of misogyny, classism and sentimentality in is work. (I do not like Dickens. If I'm going to read social realism of that period, I'll take Balzac and Dostoyevsky.)
Who are your favourite forgotten writers? And who do you predict may be the writers canonised into fame by later generations? I'd like to see a rise in the recognition of Anne Bronte over her sisters, of Emily Eden, Rosamund Lehman and Rumer Godden. And, moving closer to now, Patricia Geary, Pat Murphy, Tanith Lee (who really belongs up there with Angela Carter already), Justina Robson, Judith Tarr and Zenna Henderson.

Skirt of the day: embroidered jeans.
la_marquise: (Caspian)
I have a guest today, the talented Kameron Hurley. Her novels were published to great critical acclaim by a small US press, and have now been picked up by a major house here in the UK as well as being republished in the US. She's a wonderful writer and it's a privilege to have her here today, talking about gender (on which her writing is fascinating).

Over to Kameron:

Women and Gentlemen: On Unmasking the Sobering Reality of Hyper-Masculine Characters
In the movie The Jewel of the Nile, sequel to Romancing the Stone, romance author Joan Wilder has written herself into a corner. Pirates have boarded the ship containing her heroine and the heroine’s lover. First, Wilder writes that the hero sacrifices himself to the pirates, allowing the heroine to get away in a rowboat – women and children first, after all.
But Wilder found herself deeply unsatisfied with this turn of events. It’s pretty cliché, after all, and this was 1985 – women’s lib, all that. So she rewrites it so the heroine sacrifices herself to allow her lover to get away. Stuck now with her heroine in the hands of the pirates and her formerly swashbuckling hero cowering in a rowboat, Wilder, frustrated with her choices, throws her typewriter overboard.
Whatever option she chose, it all felt ridiculous.
After almost twenty years writing fiction, it’s an impulse I can sympathize with.
When I started writing short fiction, I spent a lot of time writing sword-and-sorceress stories. I wrote about women who wielded swords and magic, who sacrificed themselves for greater causes, whose concerns were lovers and children. If I flipped them from women to men, they would be considered, perhaps, softer sorts of heroes – goody-goodies, a little too warm, a little too self-sacrificing. For boys, away.
Odd, I thought, that I would read these characters differently with a gender reversal. Why was that?
There was something that bugged me about how I wrote these women. It was like I put a sword in her hand and it didn’t change her. It’s like I didn’t consider how a life of violence would transform a person. I didn’t consider how training a person to kill, and putting them into violent situations, would badly damage the way the interacted with the rest of the world outside a battlefield.
Like Wilder, I felt like I was writing my characters into situations that simply weren’t satisfying.
I had a deep love of 80’s post-apocalypse movies and science fiction classics. Lone-gun hero types with no attachments; incapable of forming long-term relationships, valorized for their ability to bust down walls and shoot bad guys, but often incapable of living in civilized society. I looked at these male action heroes and wondered if we would cheer and celebrate them, their anti-social behavior wholly unquestioned, just as loudly if they were women.
So I began to write about the sort of heroes I loved – whiskey drinking, gun toting, lone wolf types – and I made them women.
I thought, at first, this was going to be really fun. I’d have these swashbuckling, heroic women who didn’t care about anyone or anything, forging off to do battle. And yeah, for the most part, it was fun. But then something interesting started to happen.
By turning squads of soldiers committing war crimes into women, and invading forces from other shores into women, I started to peel back the “normalcy” we attach to this extreme sort of masculinity, and uncover the rottenness at much of its core – while simultaneously creating more interesting and complex visions of women.
In my novel, God’s War, I created a former government assassin turned bounty hunter who was also a war vet. She could accomplish some insane acts of violence. She was notoriously tough to kill. But becoming a killing machine had taken its toll. For all the blood and glory, achieving this pinnacle of strength and perfection her society encouraged required her to give up being able to function within any kind of settled civilization. She couldn’t have normal relationships. She struggled to have friends. She self-medicated with whiskey and mild narcotics. She found the idea of motherhood suspect at best.
I had, I realized, created a monster. I’d created an 80’s action hero.
By putting women into these hyper-masculine roles, I was simultaneously challenging the portrayal of women in fiction as the people who do (as opposed to the people who have things done to them) and encouraging readers to take another look at both the benefits and severe drawbacks of that type of masculinity.
We toss men into the maw of war and call them weak or shell-shocked or mad for coming back physically changed. We say a man who hits women and children is a bully coward, but call him weak for expressing emotions beyond anger and rage. By putting my female characters into this masculinity trap, where they were expected to perform violence and shut down emotion, it gave me a new view of the expectations we have of many men in this society, expectations that linger in the broader media even as we, as individuals, cry out for change.
Expectations of masculinity can creep up on you, because to some extent we still view “masculine” as normal, the default, and “feminine” behavior as “other.” If you think this is not the case, see what happens when you send your son to school in a dress. We can pretend all we like that women are equal, but as long as men and women are continually encouraged to suppress the broad aspects of their humanity which we decry as “feminine” – we’re all screwed.
Because it’s those things we celebrate as “other” that make us truly human. It’s what we label “soft” or “feminine” that makes civilization possible. It’s our empathy, our ability to care and nurture and connect. It’s our ability to come together. To build. To remake. Asking men to cut away their “feminine” traits asked them to cut away half their humanity, just as asking women to suppress their “masculine” traits could be crippling.
What makes us human is not one or the other – the fist or the open palm – it’s our ability to embrace both, and choose the appropriate action for the situation we’re in. Because to deny one half – to burn down the world or refuse to defend the world from those who would burn it – is to deny our humanity and become something less than human.
When I see other writers celebrating their masculine stories in worlds which are 90% male, I wonder, often, if they’re forgotten the full humanity of the people they’re writing about. If they fail to see and interrogate what happens when they erase half an individual, and half the world, they’re suffering an incredible failure of imagination. A willful blindness. It’s celebrating a broken world that never was.
I, too, grew up on Conan stories and Mad Max. I grew up celebrating dangerous alpha males who fucked and drank and blew shit up with no consequences. But whereas other authors, perhaps, grew up to emulate those sorts of hyper-masculine heroes without question, I started to think about how Conan would actually get along in a world. I started to think about ways that hyper masculinity would affect the quality of their lives. I realized that Conan would never have a happy ending. Whether or not that’s something to celebrate, I don’t know. But it’s something we should talk about.
What I found when I started to explore the full potential of my characters is that my stories got better, too. I wasn’t crippling my characters with lazy stereotypes, expected conflicts, and failures of imagination. I was looking at all the different ways we express our humanity.
I was writing about people. Not caricatures.
When we go forward to forge new worlds – fantastic, science fictional – we could do worse than remember that just as our worlds are constructed, the people within it are constructed, too. We create boxes and toss people into them, regardless of their intrinsic ability to fight or nurture or build or destroy. How your characters navigate those social expectations and responsibilities has less to do with their physical sex than it does the ways they choose to adhere to or fight those expectations.
So maybe it’s your hero who gets the rowboat, or your heroine. Or maybe, in truth, there’s another option – maybe they turn and fight the pirates together. Maybe they skillfully talk them out of plunder with a witty, well-chosen story or clever ruse.
Maybe there’s another way out. Maybe it’s not either/or.
That’s the far more interesting story – what our characters do when they’re allowed to be people, not parodies of our own flawed expectations.

ABOUT Kameron Hurley
Kameron Hurley is an award-winning writer and freelance copywriter who grew up in Washington State. She is the author of the book God's War, Infidel, and Rapture, and her short fiction has appeared in magazines such Lightspeed, EscapePod, and Strange Horizons, and anthologies such as The Lowest Heaven and Years Best SF.
la_marquise: (Caspian)
Ten Reasons Why the Three Musketeers have girl cooties
1. They are obsessed with their love relationships
2. They care about how they dress
3. They hug and kiss one another all the time
4. They have sleepovers
5. They like horses
6. They gossip
7. They go everywhere together (possibly even the bathroom, though Dumas does not specify. I bet Porthos hogs the mirror, though).
8. They love to go to parties
9. They swear to be BFFs
10. They are awesome, swordfighting heroes.
This sequence inspired by the thoughts expressed in This article
NB The musketeers are my all-time literary heroes and favourites.

Skirt of the day: blue wedgwood
la_marquise: (Marquise)
So two things I read last week have set me thinking. The first was this post on principles by Nancy Jane Moore at the Bookview Cafe website. The second was a question posed on twitter by [ profile] kateelliott on twitter. Two proposals, two remarks -- 'the first thing a principle does is kill someone' 'do you self-censor and why/' -- that spoke straight to my core, to that part of me that sits back and tries to drive. To, if you like, my madness, and the ways in which I work with, through, around the world.

I've talked before about rules and how they accrete in my head. I am trained to accept rules, to be mindful of them, to be, I suppose, law-abiding. I'm trained to be, as the tag sometimes notes, a Professional Good Girl. Professional Good Girls keep to the rules and remember all the things their friends and relations and acquaintances don't like, don't want, don't approve of. Professional Good Girls end up with a head full of voices telling them about all the things they are not allowed to do. Don't say X or do Y, because person P hates that. Don't think Q or wear R, because person S doesn't like them. Don't think the mean things, even in the space inside your head, because Good Girls don't. Good Girls sit still and accept the blame, the pain, the anger, because Other People matter more than they do.

It's not an easy space, being so Professionally Good. And that's just the bit about what I'm allowed to do and say and think.

Then, there's Other People. Other People have more rights than me. Other People are more important. Other People must be pandered to, served, obeyed, deferred to. It gets, frankly, tedious. Especially when all this Goodness and deferring runs up against a principle.

You see, I believe in principles. Principles matter. Principles are the flood defences, the storm shelters, the shields that hold back cruelty and injustice and unfairness. Principles stand between us and the madness of pure, unbridled self-interest. In my head, anyway. Principles matter to me, because they are at the foundation of who I am, of what I believe. I may be, as my friend M once said, the last old-fashioned socialist in captivity, but that's fine with me. I'm proud of my principles. It matters to me, to stand by them.

I don't want to bore you explaining what my particular principles are. That's another post. But the thing that caught my attention, between Nancy Jane Moore's blog post and Kate Elliott's question was this: what happens when the rules and the principles collide.

The answer is fairly simple. I get into hot water. Any time I have my throat exposed in public, any time I post one of my rants or long commentaries, you can be pretty sure that a rule and a principle have met. The last time I really got into an on-line mess? That started because I felt that a third party had been harmed, and should be defended. That's one of the principles, you see. I cannot stand by and let someone else be bullied, harmed or undermined. However much I hate conflict -- and I do -- I am not allowed to look away, because someone has to do something, and I can't be sure that anyone else would. Because Good Girls help. This particular behaviour -- which is a rule and a principle (It Is My Duty To Help, combined with Bullying shouldn't be condoned) has been getting me into trouble my whole life. But I can't unlearn it. In my head, that need -- that duty -- to stand up for others is bigger than any inconvenience or pain it may cause me, however much it may frighten me. In my head, it's never right to put my self-interest or comfort ahead of the need of others who are less privileged than me, who are being belittled or dismissed, who are being treated unjustly. I may, alas, be the stuff of which martyrs are made. It is my duty -- and my sense of duty is harsh and strong and unrelenting -- to speak out, to act, to Do Something, because somebody has to, but the only person I can be sure will is myself. It doesn't make me nice to know, sometimes. It certainly doesn't make me comfortable, to myself or others. There's a piece of me that empathises on some level with that cold, principled, unkind man Robespierre, who on a number of occasions chose what he considered the common good over his own wishes and desires. (I don't agree with his policies. But, pace Simon Schama, he wasn't a monster, only a man driven to his extremes by his harsh, unforgiving principles. Saint-Just may have been a monster.) Principles can be hard, and cold and even cruel. But they matter, because without them, the tentacles of selfishness grow too strong.

This attitude of mine is, frankly, somewhat annoying. It drove my teachers mad 'don't get involved'. It used to drive my colleagues mad, because I would insist on asking the questions that the powers that be did not want asked. It drives the marquis mad, because I get myself into messes and arguments. It drives me mad. I am harsh on myself, and, sometimes, judgemental of others. I am bound up with ideas of duty that drive me bonkers. But I can't not do it.

And yet, I self-censor. I think most people do, in one way or another. There are lots of reasons. Other people's privacy, for instance. It's not up to me to decide what to say, what to reveal, sometimes, when others are involved. Rules -- those noisy things that infest my head. There are things I don't say, because I know it will upset or annoy or distress others. There are a handful of things I don't say because I don't want to deal with the consequences. There are things I don't write about because I feel they are better expressed face-to-face. And there are lots of things about which I don't think the world really needs my opinion, where I don't know enough. None of this means I don't care about those things. But I have chosen not to join in.

And then there are the ones that make me angry. The places I self-censor because of the Rules. The places I am silent because I've been taught that I Am Not Allowed. Don't say X, Kari: Y won't like it. Here's a list of things I self-censor not out of principle, not for any of the reasons above, not even entirely out of fear, but because someone else's voice is too loud in my head.

American exceptionalism
Gun control
The Labour plan for I.D cards in the UK
Scottish Independence
Julian Assange
Private education (in certain circumstances)
My own blasted country and its history
Why I really, really don't enjoy sunshine and heat

In a sense, none of this matters. Except... One of my principles is that I should not silence others. Silencing someone, particularly someone who has less power, or less privilege, is never good. Free speech -- if you believe in that (and I only do up to a point, because I live in the UK which has different rules on hate speech to those of the US, say) -- must be granted to all participants in a discussion, not just those with the loudest voices or the biggest sticks. Any statement that begins 'Your opinion doesn't matter because...' is a warning sign. It's an attempt to control, to dominate, to insist on a single story. Other people may well be right or they may well be wrong, but they should be listened to with respect.

Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to fantasy -- and to sf, for that matter. Principles are out of fashion right now. Since the 80s, at the latest, we have lived, in the west, in the realm of the Individual. It's all about Us. Heroes are mavericks, doing it Their Way. Other people have to get on board or be run over.

I'm generalising, of course I am, but a lot of current sff is about personal success, personal goals, personal achievement. Even when this is set against a background that refers to improving conditions for others, the latter is very much a sideline, an also ran. The focus is on the hero and how -- while saving The Suffering -- he or she achieves personal gratification and happiness. There are very few heroes who walk away from their own interest for the sake of others. Sacrifice is as unfashionable as principles. You have to go back a way to find examples. Galadriel rejecting the one ring, and accepting that she must dwindle. Gandalf holding back the Balrog. Michael de Sandoval of Dorsai and his companions, holding the castle against high odds. The pilot who stays on board the dying spaceship to let others escape. These days, there always seems to be a get-out, a back door via which the hero escapes at the last minute to enjoy the glory. A happy ending, yes, but it's a cheat. Principles are not easy. Duty is not easy. And when we don't show that, when we cheat, we undermine them, we reduce them to toys and poses. We undermine their value and their importance. And we reduce those acts, those choices made by the characters to just high-jinks and flash. The story becomes all about the hero. The poor who are always better off under the stable-boy king become no more than window dressing, because they don't really matter to the plot. They are just there to make the hero look good. In a sense, such fantasy is dangerous, because it makes change look easy and cheap, and it seldom questions the idea that what really matters is the individual getting what they want. This kind of narrative silences the underprivileged, the poor, because it reduces them to tokens, subordinate to the personal success of the chosen few. They have no agency. They are a voiceless mass, awaiting rescue, and nothing more. That, frankly, is a pretty patronising approach. And this story -- Wam the trainee pilot saves the galaxy and becomes admiral -- is a lie. It's never that simple. History shows us that, over and over.

In the real world, self-interest and the interests of others will conflict, probably on a daily basis. Uncontrolled, unchecked, it leads to exploitation, deprivation, huge social inequity and the Conservative Party (also the US Republican party) (Yes, my personal political prejudices are showing). Greed is not good.

There's a reason why Yvelliane makes the choices she does in Living With Ghosts. A number of readers didn't like those choices much. They wanted her to live happily ever after. In the very first draft of that book (which was hugely different to the final version) she did. And everyone got ice cream and kittens. (Or, all right, that's not the case.) It was a rotten draft and a rotten ending. I was lying to myself, offering fluff and nonsense. Power comes with responsibility, and responsibility should -- must -- be shouldered. It's a matter of that cold thing, principle.

And it matters. It should matter in our genre, because books have power. Books effect those who read them, though seldom in the ways the authors expect or intend. When we omit people or belittle their experience, we harm them. When we imply that following our own self-interest is all that matters, we contribute to a culture that grows ever more selfish and unkind and unfair. PRinciples may be out-of-fashion, but they have a lot to offer us.

And there are authors now who still speak of them, write of them, write with them. Patricia Bray, [ profile] pbray, whose heroes do what they must, what is right, in the teeth of their own wishes and needs. [ profile] kateelliott, who writes about the effects of war and wealth on ordinary people. Ken MacLeod. Walter Jon Williams. Aliette de Bodard, [ profile] aliettedb. Lois MacMaster Bujold, sometimes. The comforting ending, the personally advantageous decision are all too often not the best. The stable-boy king or space admiral is not really a hero, if it's All About Him. Because the world is always bigger than us, bigger than the hero. And that should be remembered.
Edited to add: Ursula K LeGuin has written about principles today, much more insightfully than me:
Skirt of the day: denim.
la_marquise: (Marquise)
Today I have a guest blogger, the fabulous Morgan Keyes, talking about her new book (aimed at younger teens) Darkbeast. I've been a fan of hers for years: she writes with wit and charm and tremendous pace. And this new book is fabulous.
There's also a giveaway, for US readers only, sadly (due to postal problems). Anyway, over to Morgan.

Darkbeast 150 dpi

Many thanks to Kari, for allowing me to visit and tell you about my middle grade fantasy novel, Darkbeast. Due to the generosity of my publisher, Simon & Schuster, I will give away a copy of Darkbeast to one commenter chosen at random from all the comments made to this post by 11:59 p.m. EDT tonight.

In Darkbeast, twelve-year-old Keara runs away from home rather than sacrifice Caw, the raven darkbeast that she has been magically bound to all her life. Pursued by Inquisitors who would punish her for heresy, Keara joins a performing troupe of Travelers and tries to find a safe haven for herself and her companion.

In preparing to write Darkbeast, I realized that some animals have all the fun. I mean, just look at The Grass King's Concubine – those ferret women have instant charisma. In Kari's own words, they are "short and sharp and, sadly, very smelly, all teeth and noses and curiosity." Like Keara's companion, Caw, the ferret creatures draw our attention from the first moment we meet them.

But what about animals with less charisma? What about snakes? And spiders? And lizards? And toads?

Sure, there are some people who can't get enough of amphibians and arthropods and reptiles. But a whole lot of people – a whole lot of readers – are frightened by certain animals. Some might even say they are repulsed.

So what is a conscientious author to do?

Right off the bat, I decided that I couldn't cater to people's animal fears. If snakes aren't your thing, well, I'm sorry, but Slither is an important supporting character on Keara's journey. (If you're truly phobic, I'm especially sorry, but you probably have a lot more severe problems avoiding the beasts than merely reading a middle grade fantasy novel.)

Next, I decided to help my readers along a bit, to ease them over their animal-dislike humps. I gave them characters to read about who change their attitudes about uncharismatic animals. Now, if I gave you specific examples, I'd be spoiling the story, but suffice to say that Keara herself starts off hating snakes. If a twelve-year-old girl can overcome her aversion, a lot of adult readers can also.

Finally, I reminded readers that these aren't just ordinary animals. These are darkbeasts. They are magical creatures, with the ability to bond with humans, the capacity to absorb evil deeds and take away negative emotions. Darkbeasts can guide a child along twisting paths between right and wrong, helping that child to become a mature, responsible adult.

And the darkbeasts know, the entire time they're doing their job, that they are doomed. They will be sacrificed when their human turns twelve years old. Nevertheless, the darkbeasts serve, bound by tradition, bound by religion.

That selflessness, that dedication actually makes me feel quite sympathetic to the darkbeasts. What are a few extra legs, or a slimy skin, or a few warts in the face of such commitment?

You can discover your own darkbeast by taking this personality quiz:

What darkbeast did you get? And what animal would you choose if you had all the animal kingdom as an option?

Morgan can be found online at:

Darkbeast is for sale in bricks-and-mortar and online bookstores, including: Amazon | B & N | Indiebound

Morgan Keyes grew up in California, Texas, Georgia, and Minnesota, accompanied by parents, a brother, a dog, and a cat. Also, there were books. Lots and lots of books. Morgan now lives near Washington, D.C. In between trips to the Natural History Museum and the National Gallery of Art, she reads, travels, reads, writes, reads, cooks, reads, wrestles with cats, and reads. Because there are still books. Lots and lots of books.

Morgan Keyes
la_marquise: (Default)
One of the things I'm liking about this summer is the number of books that I'm really looking forward to that are due out in July and August. And one of them is due out tomorrow: Thieftaker by D. B. Jackson, who is also the awesome David B Coe. I love David's books, and this new one looks even better than his previous ones.

"Murder and magic stalk the streets of pre-revolutionary Boston. Ethan Kaille, a thieftaker of some notoriety, and a conjurer of some skill, is hired by the father of a murdered girl to find her killer. Soon he is swept up in a storm of intrigue and magic, politics and treachery."

You can see the cover (which is gorgeous) and read sample chapters on David's website. Go, read, buy!
la_marquise: (Marquise)
So, a while back the wonderful [ profile] deborahjross invited me to be in an anthology she was putting together of stories of fantastical swashbuckling romance. Of course, I leapt at the chance -- swords! swashbuckling! my favourite things -- all with the chance to work with Deborah, who is a fantastic writer and editor. The anthology is called The Feathered Edge and it has a great line-up of writers, including Sherwood Smith, Judith Tarr, Tanith Lee, Diana L Paxson and Jay Lake. I am startled and delighted to be in such company.My story is called 'Featherweight' and is about ghosts and lost love and misunderstandings and, yes, a duel. For those who have the NewCon Press anthology Anniversaries, it's set in the same city as 'The Birthday of the Oligarch'.
The anthology is out today in e-book form: (for those in the US) (for those in the UK) (for those in -France)
It's also available from Barnes and Noble, for those in the US who are avoiding Amazon.

The paperback is due out in a few days.


Jan. 17th, 2012 07:15 pm
la_marquise: (Default)
The Four Musketeers has been borrowed 58 times in the last year. I find that obscurely pleasing. (This is in British public libraries). Welsh Kings is over 100, but it's a text book, so I find that less intriguing. It's good to know around 58 people wanted to know about the musketeers.
la_marquise: (Marquise)
Today, I have a guest on my blog, Alma Alexander ([ profile] anghara), who is awesome and who writes wonderful, textured, complex books. She has a new book coming out -- yay! -- and here's what she has to say about it.

"You've gotta dance like there's nobody watching,
Love like you'll never be hurt,
Sing like there's nobody listening,
And live like it's heaven on earth."
— William W. Purkey

It’s a lovely sentiment and it sounds like fine advice. But real lives are full of people watching and listening, of people who are going to hurt you, not necessarily because they want to but because they can’t help it. And sometimes, when you’re under a deadline, or the kids are screaming for dinner, or you’ve just received your twentieth rejection slip this month and this writing lark is losing its appeal, sometimes the word “heaven” just doesn’t seem to have that much meaning here on earth, outside the firmly closed and padlocked Pearly Gates.
In works of fiction, things are of necessity artificial and exaggerated – and what you get is extremes ranging from Danielle Steel and the soap opera romances to Cormac McCarthy and “The Road”. In fiction, people want the extremes. They want them because, well, that middle-of-the-road territory is something they’re already living – and they either want to indulge in improbable fairy-tale lives of the people whom they can never be, or gloat over how much better their lives are than those of people whom they never want to be..
Sure, there are novels that are firmly set in everyday angst – they are generally known as Literature with a capital L and they win lots of obscure prizes.
In genre works, outside the manicured Literature Lawns, things tend to gravitate either to the utopia or the dystopia side of things. But that’s the draw, that’s what brings the reader in. You don’t want to read an entire novel where Nothing Happens, where your character sits, if not in bliss then at least vague contentment, drinking lattes in corner Starbucks cafes and watching dreamily as the world passes by. You want to read the story where somebody barges in and holds up the Starbucks – or a strange/alluring/disgusting person or visiting alien wanders into the café from the street and makes you sit up and look twice – or a strange Noise keeps occurring but nobody except you seems to hear it or care – or there’s an unannounced solar eclipse – or you think you’ve just seen a wolf lope past the outside seating area and go trotting purposefully around the corner and you have this uncontrollable itch to find out where it’s going and why – or…
Well, you get it. Life – and story – is not really about trying to make everything perfect or seem perfect. It’s about muddling through, and being curious, and occasionally going past signs that say “no entry” because you have to know what’s on the other side of that door. It’s about finding the middle ground by trying to keep both utopia and dystopia at bay.

The key to living a life, fictional or real, is taking one step at a time, and making a binding choice every time you do it. You take a step in THAT direction or THIS one, you turn THAT way or THIS way, you sing THAT song instead of THAT one, you follow one wolf over another. Sometimes you live to regret those choices. And sometimes you are left breathless with relief at the ones that you have made. And there is absolutely no way of knowing which of those it is going to be until one or the other hits you in the face.
There are only a handful of large choices. But if you think that the myriad of little ones, seemingly insignificant ones, that you make every day don’t add up to life-changing decisions too you aren’t thinking it through. Choices are cumulative. Enough of them carry a weight that will force you in certain directions even if you weren’t aware that that was where you were heading.
In a sense every work of fiction ever written is about some sort of choice that happens on the pages of the book – or, sometimes, just beyond them, a choice just before the story-proper in the book begins which has driven your character to that beginning, or the choice that lies in waiting like a monster in the dark just after you close the covers of the book and leave the character to his or her inevitable fate. And choices can change according to circumstances, or knowledge, or instinct, or experience. And sometimes it can be difficult in the extreme to point to one choice or another as having been the “right” choice. Perhaps there is really no such thing as the “right” choice, not as a gigantic monolithic thing as and of itself – just the right choice for a particular situation, set of circumstances, moment in time.
I wasn’t really setting out to write about choices when I began to write “Midnight at Spanish Gardens”, my new novel, but somehow there it was – those characters just turned up, and secrets started spilling out all over the table, and the secrets were all about choices. And then they were presented with the biggest choice of all.
If they had a chance to change their lives, utterly, to choose to live an existence that was completely different to the one which they called their current reality, if they could get to unchoose things and choose all sorts of stuff anew, if they could suddenly make and unmake decisions using an alternative set of criteria – would they do it?
What constitutes a life? How much of a life’s minutiae needs to accumulate and accrete for something to be “set in stone”? Are you really who you think you are? Are you the kind of person you think you might be, if only this had been different, if only that hadn’t happened to you, if only…
It’s where that lovely advice at the top of this post comes in. It really isn’t quite that simple – or at least it seems to be right until you unpack it to a deeper level of meaning.
You gotta dance like everyone’s watching, and you don’t care what most of them think, and those few that you do care about you already know will be cheering you on.
You gotta love despite having been hurt, knowing that you’re probably going to be hurt at least once more in a given lifetime, but love anyway, because the alternative is far, far worse.
You gotta sing like you know everyone’s listening, and realize that a bunch of the winces on people’s faces merely mean “hell, it could be worse, it could be me.”
You gotta make your own heaven on earth, and live with the fact that no heaven is ever perfect anyway.
You gotta choose.

In closing – a few words about me, and a few more about the book -

My main website is at (take a look at the bibliography page!) and I also have a website dedicated to my YA series, Worldweavers, at , and you can find a book trailer there, as well as excerpts from those books and also ordering information. I blog regularly at and if people want to get to know the real me that's the more dynamic site right now. I'm also on Facebook ( , or ) and if you want to read more literary and writerly essaylets you might visit on the 30th of every month and keep up with me there.

If you want to look into purchasing any of my books, you can go to several places:
(if you are after actual books) or
(if you're after a Kindle ebook) for other ebook editions (and go there to keep an eye on the Alexander Triads project, themed collections of short stories…)

Or visit your friendly neighbourhood indie store and ask them to get my books for you if they don't have them...

For "Midnight at Spanish Gardens", you can preorder the book here:
and it will shortly be available here
and here

la_marquise: (Goth marquise)
I'm probably not the best person to do this. Or the right one. But in the light of Ian Sales' excellent list of women sf writers (, the wonderful work done by Maura McHugh ([ profile] splinister) about women in horror, and all the excellent articles being written on the sf side, it occurs to me that us fantasy types need perhaps to do our own stand-up-and-be-counted thing.

Fantasy is always going to be difficult, of course. As a genre, it attracts more than its share (imho, anyway) of negative comment for its supposed lack of rules, logic, rigour etc etc. I've lost track of the number of times I've seen articles and programme items asking questions on the lines of 'Is good sf being drowned in the fantasy slush pile?' I've definitely lost count of the number of times excellent fantasy novels are re-labelled sf or slipstream or anything so that those who like them but claim to disdain fantasy can feel safe. I seem to see phrases on the lines of 'all those fantasy-writer women' used all too regularly as a put-down of both my genre and my sex. Then there's the fantasy equivalent of that hoary old chestnut 'literary writer writes sf novel and gets plaudits for something done in the genre 40 years earlier,' when an established (and nearly always male) sf writer writes a fantasy. 'That'll show 'em', comes the cry (and usually the 'them' are characterised as probably female, probably bad, probably unaware of the possibilities of our genre). And out comes yet another book that, like those literary ones, doesn't know enough to know the cliches. Like everyday sexism, it slips by largely unnoticed, and I sigh. Fantasy is seen as a step down for women but a playground to be dominated for men. When a few years back an excellent female sf writer produced a novel with fantasy elements, there were loud mutters about her 'selling out' and 'failing'; around the same time a male sf writer produced a very dull fantasy and 'that'll show those fantasy women' said someone on a mailing list.

Then there are the in-genre hierarchies. In our litany of ancestors, we recall Dumas and Haggard, Burroughs and Howard and Lieber, but not Georges Sand or Hope Mirrless or Sylvia Townsend Warner. Two of those latter were not prolific. Then again, they had the problem of being female to contend with -- of being allowed that space to write and access and acceptance that men had far less trouble acquiring. There are many, many fine female fantasy authors, but the master lists remain that -- lists mainly of men. Male writers occupy more shelf space (albeit rather less than in sf), get more plaudits, more reviews, more acclaim and, I suspect, more rewards. I've said this before: for every acclaimed male fantasy author, there's a female author just as good or better who is not noticed, not reviewed, not rated. George R R Martin (whose work I love) and Kate Elliott, who is every bit as good, and sometimes more rigorous; The wonderful Patrick Rothfuss and the equally wonderful and horribly unfairly overlooked Barbara Hambly. China Mieville, whose books I admire but don't hugely like, and the -- too me, anyway -- more innovative Mary Gentle. Guy Gavriel Gay, whose books I have to admit don't grab me (though I can see why other people love them) and the astonishing Judith Tarr, the best writer of historical fantasy out there, whose books I've collected avidly since her very first.

And then there are the female innovators -- and Mirrlees is one, with her Austen-esque, wicked, playful, delicious Lud-in-the-Mist. Katherine Kurtz, whose Deryni novels are the real start of historical high mediaeval fantasy. The peerless Tanith Lee, whose range and depth and creativity is breathtaking. Anna Kavan, turning madness into slipstream without the masturbatory elements that some male writers seem to find unavoidable. Louise Cooper, with her questionable heroes and layered worlds, going beyond Moorcock to ask serious questions about sexual domination and control. Marion Zimmer Bradley -- much though I dislike The Mists of Avalon, it cannot be ignored as a book about the nature or female spirituality and about the other side of myth. Katherine Kerr, who did something genuinely original and creative and plausible with Celtic tropes. Leigh Brackett and C L Moore. R. A. MacAvoy. Evangeline Walton. Naomi Mitchison. Vera Chapman. Clemence Housman.

So, let's have some names and some books. Here are a few of my picks, just to start.

Clemence Housman, The History of Sir Aglovale de Galis.
Sylvia Townsend Warner, The Kingdoms of Elfin
Hope Mirrlees, Lud-in-the-Mist
Leigh Brackett, The Sword of Rhiannon
C. L. Moore, Jirel of Joiry
Evangeline Walton, The Prince of Annwn
Naomi Mitchison, To the Chapel Perilous
Katherine Kurtz, Deryni Rising
Louise Cooper, Mirage
Susan Cooper The Dark is Rising
Diana Wynne Jones, The Spellcoats
Tanith Lee, Lycanthia
Katherine Kerr, Daggerspell
Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Mists of Avalon
Judith Tarr, A Fall of Princes
Nancy Springer, Madbond
Barbara Hambly Dog Wizard
Claudia J Edwards, Bright and Shining Tiger
Ursula K Le Guin A Wizard of Earthsea
Sheila Gilluly, Greenbriar Queen
Freda Warrington, A Drink of Blood Wine
Storm Constantine, Sea Dragon Heir
Patricia McKillip, The Sorceress and the Cygnet
Alis Rasmussen, The Labyrinth Gate
Sheri Tepper, Marianne, the Magus and the Manticore
Jenny Nimmo, The Chestnut Soldier
Miyuki Miyabe, Crossfire
Elizabeth A Lynn, The Dancers of Arun
Nina Kirikki Hoffman, The Thread that Binds the Bones
Ellen Kushner, Swordspoint
Delia Sherman, The Porcelain Dove
Emma Bull, War for the Oaks
Pamela Dean, Tam Lin

Edited to add:
Greer Gilman, Moonwise
Megan Lindholm, Wizard of the Pigeons
R A MacAvoy,Tea with the Black Dragon
Patricia Geary, Living in Ether
Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House
Tove Janssen, Comet in Moominland
Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber
Elizabeth Goudge, The Little White Horse
Joan Aiken, Black Hearts in Battersea
Robin McKinley, Deerskin
Meredith Anne Pierce, The Darkangel
Madeleine L'Engle, A Wrinkle in Time
Elizabeth Marie Pope, A College of Magics
Laurie J Marks, Delan the Mislaid
Sherwood Smith, Crown Duel
Lisa Goldstein, The Red Magician
Lynn Abbey. Daughter of the Bright Moon
Carol Berg. Transformation
Francesca Lia Bloch. Ecstasia or Weetzie Bat
Mary Brown. The Unlikely Ones
Lois McMaster Bujold. The Curse of Chalion (I think it's 2001, but too good to leave out)
Joy Chant. Red Moon and Black Mountain
Suzy McKee Charnas. The Vampire Tapestry
Jo Clayton. Duel of Sorcery
Diane Duane. So You Want To Be A Wizard?
Doranna Durgin. Dun Lady's Jess
Phyllis Eisenstein. In the Red Lord's Reach
Esther Friesner. Elf Defense
Linda Haldeman. Esbae: A Winter's Tale
L. Dean James. Summerland
Phyllis Ann Karr. Frostflower and Thorn
Carol Kendall. The Gammage Cup
Adrienne Martine-Barnes. The Fire Sword
Diana L. Paxson. The White Raven
Rachel Pollack. Godmother Night
Elizabeth Marie Pope. The Sherwood Ring
Irene Radford. The Glass Dragon
Melanie Rawn. Dragon Prince
Jennifer Roberson. Sword Dancer
Kathleen Sky. Witchdame
Michelle West, The Broken Crown
Mary Stanton. The Heavenly Horse From the Outermost West
Sydney Van Scyoc. Sunstone series
Janny Wurtz. The Master of Whitestorm
Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. Hotel Transylvania
P. C. Hodgell, God Stalk.
Caroline Stevermer, When the King Comes Home.
C S Friedman, Black Sun Rising
Tanya Huff, Sing the Four Quarters
JV Jones The Barbed Coil
Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, The Healer's War
Patricia Wrede, Mairelon the Magician
Jane Yolen, White Jenna
Lucie M Chin, The Fairy of Ku-She
Juliet E McKenna, The Thief's Gamble
Francis Stevens (Gertrude Barrows Bennett), The Citadel of Fear.
Vera Chapman, Three Damosels
Anne Bishop, Daughter of the Blood
Kristine Katheryn Rusch, Heart Readers
Elizabeth Moon, Sheep Farmer's Daughter
Ann Lawrence, The Hawk of May
C J Cherryh, Gate of Ivrel
Jane Gaskell, The Serpent
Lynette Muir, The Unicorn Window
Mary Gentle, Rats and Gargoyles
Louise Lawrence, The Wyndcliffe
Gill Alderman, The Archivist
Gillian Bradshaw, Hawk of May
Eleanor Arnason, Daughter of the Bear King
Ru Emerson, Princess of Flames
Teresa Edgerton, Goblin Moon
Peg Kerr, Emerald House Rising
Sasha Miller, Ladylord
Susan Shwartz & Andre Norton, Imperial Lady
Martha Wells, The Element of Fire
Gael Baudino, Gossamer Axe
Katya Reimann, Wind from a Foreign Sky
Elyse Guttenberg, Sunder, Eclipse & Seed
Josepha Sherman, The Shining Falcon
Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff, Taminy
Mercedes Lackey, Arrows of the Queen
Katherine Eliska Kimberley, Night Calls
K M Briggs, Hobberdy Dick
Penelope Lively, he Driftway
Edith Nesbit, Five Children and It
Hilda Lewis, The Ship That Flew
P L Travers, Mary Poppins
Rosemary Harris, The Moon in the Cloud
Ursula Moray Williams,Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat
Lucy M Boston, The Children of Green Knowe
Margo Lanagan, Walking Through Albert
Sara Coleridge, Phantasion (more on this one here: Thank you to Matthew for the heads'-up.
Tananarive Due, My Soul to Keep

And there are more -- I've consciously left out books published after 2000, including some that I rate very highly, like The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (N K Jemisin); Traitors' Gate (Kate Elliott); Inda (Sherwood Smith) and General Winston's Daughter (Sharon Shinn) -- I think the Miyabe is the most recent on the above list, and that mainly for reasons of translation date. (It was originally published in Japan in 1998.)

What do you all think? What I have I forgotten? Who deserves to be included? And if any of you know what became of Sheila Gilluly, whose books I adore, please tell me.

Skirt of the day: black pinstripe wrap.

Edited to add: [ profile] jemck has been keeping track of female review share on her blog for a while now, too. Fascinating stuff on how attention is divided, and how male writers are still getting the bigger share. Do read it.
la_marquise: (Living With Ghosts)
Happy World Book Day, everyone!

The book I am reading: Camilla Lackberg, The Stonecutter.
The book I am writing: Grass King rewrites (probably, though I may do some work on Drowning Kings, too).
The book I love most: Alexandre Dumas, The Three Musketeers.
The last book I received as a gift: Mike Shevdon, Sixty One Nails.
The last book I gave as a gift: Ari Marmell, The Conqueror's Shadow (to the marquis, as I thought it looked like his kind of thing).
The nearest book on my desk: Steve Roud, A Pocket Guide to Superstitions of the British Isles.
la_marquise: (Default)
The Smart Bitches, Trashy Books website has posted an excellent piece about access to new books for the blind and the needs of blind readers here:

Well worth reading.
la_marquise: (Marquise)
If you were to ask me my favourite book, there is no doubt you'd get the immediate reply, The Three Musketeers. That is the book at the very heart of my best obsession, the core and key and very feel of what I most want out of reading, the other-place I aim to echo and reference and reflect and emulate when I write. It is my book of books, the book that somewhere in the most selfish corner of my mind I know was written just for me.
And yet, if you were to ask me that question in another way, you'd probably get a whole set of different answers. Because while T3M is my Ur-book, there are so many others that have woven themselves into me over my years.If you asked me for my desert island book, I might be forced to answer Twenty Years After, because while T3M is my core book, the core of the changing relationships between Athos, Porthos, Aramis and d'Artagnan -- which is, for me, the core of the whole series, the reason for reading and loving the books -- is found in 20YA, not T3M, and especially in the chapter 'La Place Royale'. All but one of my favourite scenes from the series are in 20YA, even though T3M is the better book. But it's 20YA I'd want on my island.
And then there are the books that set me on my various tangled footpaths. There's Lord of the Rings (of course), which built the shape of the genre I wanted to work in, and its deep deep scholarly roots, which pulled me down into the mangrove swamps of academe and mediaeval history. There's Peter Sawyer's Age of the Vikings, which set my standard for what analytical, exciting early mediaeval history should read like, and Frank Barlow, Edward the Confessor, which taught me thoroughness. There's J E Lloyd, A History of Wales from the Earliest Times to the Edwardian Conquest, which irritates and inspires me in equal parts, which set up the sacred cows of my field and informs every single out-of-line, against-trend, awkward, spikey and revisionist word of my academic writings. But the first book to teach me to love history and to love its sources was Eugenia Ginsberg, Into the Whirlwind, which my O' Level history teacher, Mr Roger Vandevelde, lent to me in 1977. Hello, Mr Vandevelde. You're still the best teacher I ever had, and even though I didn't do history A' Level, I turned into a historian anyway. If by chance you see this, do get in touch. I want to say 'Thank you' and send you some books.
I've written about Anne of Green Gables before, about how tightly I cleave to Anne Shirley and her imagination that gets out of control. She's the first role-model I ever had, the first of the many writing girls who populate children's books. I didn't relate as much to tomboy Jo March or self-leaning Emily Starr, but I loved Anne, and her close descendant Cassandra Mortmain, of Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle. They taught me it was okay to write, that books could be for and by spikey girls, misfit girls, girls of little account.
There are books that I loved and left, or books I've outgrown and and longer reread, but which remain and will remain on my shelves -- Anne McCaffrey's Dragonflight and Restoree, Andre Norton, Forerunner Foray, Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond books, Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre and Shirley, even, in some ways, Babel 17, Samuel R Delany. I still love the latter, but it no longer blows me away it as it did when I was 15, I see where the strains and the holes are, I see through the cleverness (though Delany remains one of the finest, the greatest, the shiniest of all).
And then there are the books I go back to just because. Tanith Lee, Drinking Sapphire Wine, which I can practically recite. Georgette Heyer, Cotillion and Friday's Child. Elizabeth Peters, Devil May Care, Robert Heinlein, Starman Jones, the book that introduced me to sf. Margery Allingham, The Fashion in Shrouds. Anne Bronte, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. These are all books of my years.
Which books are yours?
la_marquise: (Marquise)
My virtue, let me show it to you. It's amazing how much I will do to avoid writing. I ahve much clean laundry, I have very shiny clean bathrooms and I have reorganised the bookshelves over my desk. The piles of books in current research rotation are now on the shelves and my desk is lovely and clear. I may have to write something at it now, I suppose.

In other news, The History Press, the purchasers of my former non-fiction publisher Tempus have decided (after two years of chaos and no attempt to sell as far as I can tell) to remainder The Four Musketeers: the true story of d'Artagnan, Porthos, Aramis and Athos, by myself and the marquis (Kari Maund and Phil Nanson). So if you want a copy, order now as it will shortly be unavailable (the marquis and I will have copies to sell on in future, but it would be nice to show THP that we in fact wrote a rather good book that people ). It's my favourite of my non-fiction and was great fun to research and write. It's a good book, I think and it has excellent illustrations. I'm not sure I am quite capable of recommending my own stuff, but if you like musketeers or 17th century France, this is one is interesting, I think.

Meanwhile, my shoulders hurt. I blame Bookworm. I must stop playing the blasted thing.
la_marquise: (Goth marquise)
I'm feeling daring today. So: recommend something for me to read, any genre (except strong slasher horror -- I can't deal with that), fiction or non-fiction. It can be a book you love, a book you consider essential, a book you remember, a book that disturbed you. ANd I'll do my best to read them. I can't promise to read all of them -- time, access and so on -- or to finish them all, but I promise to try. I need to shake up my reading.
la_marquise: (Default)
Borders UK is going into administration.
There goes one of the few booksellers we have locally who still stock substantial amounts of backlist and of US as well as UK paperbacks. (I know Borders aren't perfect, but since Heffers was gutted by the Evil From Oxford, and since Waterstones decided they were bestseller focused, Borders have been the best chain we have in Cambridge, at least.)

Evening edit: it's now even more complicated, as the administrators have pulled out citing a 'conflict'.
la_marquise: (Horus)
First of all, through my letterbox this morning fell my copy of [ profile] stillsostrange's debut novel The Drowning City. Yay! I am so looking forward to reading this.

Second of all, also through my letterbox fell four vols of a certain fantasy game book, last seen in the 1980s, for Vector. Er, what?

Third of all, I still can't make up my mind about World Fantasy Con (because writer brain is in one of its regular 'who are you kidding?' funks).

How's everyone?

And then there's Lockerbie. I haven't posted on this, because, you know, the world really doesn't need my four pen'orth. But, for the record, Scots died too. The event occurred in Scottish air space and the trial was held in Scotland. Scottish legal sovereignty. Scottish decision and that is right and proper. Because all lives are of equal value. US lives, Scottish lives, Iraqi lives, Fijian lives, you name them.
la_marquise: (Default)
1. I list three characters from ten favourite books.
2. You try to guess what the books are!
3. I reserve the right to be sneaky and use secondary characters.

1. Kitty, Grimaud, Madame de Bois-Tracy -- The Three Musketeers as [ profile] fleetfootmike observed.
2. Danar, Naz, Kley -- Tanith Lee, Drinking Sapphire Wine (and everyone ought to read this!)
3. Diana, Ruby , Jane -- Anne of Green Gables, as [ profile] desperance said.
4. Daro, Gyorg Lavode, Jenicor e'Terics -- [ profile] drplokta suggested Steven Brust, Five Hundred Years After. I was thinking of The Phoenix Guards, but both work.
5. Max Jones, Sam, Eldreth Coburn -- Robert Heinlein, Starman Jones, guessed by [ profile] chilperic
6. Calvin Johnson, Margaret Hardy, Elizabeth -- Richard Cowper, The Twilight of Briareus -- and I am horrifed at some of you for not knowing this one.
7. Pallahaxi-Browneyes, Alika-Drove, Horlox-Mestler -- Michael G Coney, Hello Summer, Goodbye guessed by [ profile] drplokta again.
8. Claudine, Luce, Aimee -- Claudine a l'ecole, Colette, correctly spotted by [ profile] seph_hazard
9. Harry Wardle, Durathror, Angharad Goldenhand -- The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, spotted by, of course, [ profile] brisingamen
10. Glinnes Hulden, Duissane, Lord Gensifer -- Jack Vance, Trullion: Alastor 2262, first spotted by [ profile] were_gopher


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