June 28

Going to Westercon

I will be manning a dealer’s table at Westercon 69 with not only my own titles, but quite a few others from the #dsppublications catalogue–kindly come visit!

AND, if you’re interested in some quality speculative fiction, the Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading might be just your ticket. Yours truly will be in the most excellent company of S. A. Bolich, Wendy Van Camp, Martha Murvosh and Cat Rambo. Sunday at 11 am.

I’m thinking about a sneak peek from Summerwode… anyone interested?  🙂Westercon RPR posting on social media

October 17

It’s International Robin Hood Day…

And I was pondering how best to honour a Favoured Outlaw.  Some time ago I wrote Some Musings about a few of the reasons Robin Hood always lurks in the collective unconscious, and I could certainly ponder further upon that, but…

Well, it seemed that to list some creative retellings of Robin’s many faces would be a far more fitting tribute. I certainly cannot list them all — nor would I choose to, in some cases 😉 — but here are some of the prose examples that have, over the years, lain very close to my heart.

SherwoodSherwood-Godwin

&
RobinATKing-GodwinRobin and The King
both by Parke Godwin

Top of my list now, but at first I was hesitant to read them. Not because of the quality of writing (duh, it’s Parke Godwin), but due to the unexpected time frame. Robin Hood circa 1066 ACE? But I was young and foolish. Because why not? and yes!–Godwin took the Saxon/Norman conflict and put it where it truly belonged, with an amazing surround and strong, well-rounded characterisations… which meant, of course, they break your heart in all the right places.

Last of the GreenwoodLotG-Whidby by Sharon Whitby
This one has all but disappeared, which is a shame. (Even the verrry dated cover that really doesn’t do the story justice is my old battered copy scanned in–couldn’t find it online.) I discovered Last of the Greenwood years ago whilst first researching the rest of the then-trilogy begun in Greenwode… and the dark mysticism in it was familiar, compelling… and reassuring, particularly to a young writer trying her own wierd new take on a warhorse of a legend.

SoNotts-Kluger

The Sheriff of Nottingham by Richard Kluger
Told from the titular P.o.V., this was a refreshing take.  An anti-hero, certainly, but not a shallow villain with no story of his own.

MythagoWood-Holdstock
Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock
Robin is, in this book, a minor–and nicely ambiguous–character, but the Wood is the true wonder; a character in its own right, dark and magical and not-quite-friendly.

—————————
In all these examples, the prose runs from brilliant to sublime. Beautiful and evocative writing.

Of course, I also must mention the ones that lie closest to my heart.
WodeLogoIf I didn’t care about my own characters, didn’t love and hate and suffer with them… believe in them… even more than I cherish these other examples? There would be little point to living, loving, and suffering with Robyn Hode and his covenant of the Shire Wode.

So to the spirit of Robin and his band, in all their many incarnations — I salute you!

#RobinHood #RobinHoodDay

March 27

Retro Recs — THE KING MUST DIE

HERE’S THE PLAN: to pull out a book from my tight-packed bookshelves and share it. Qualifications? It has to be one I’ve read over and over again, one that has inspired my own writing, and one that gave me a lasting experience of some sort. There are so many older books that are just too damned good to be buried in the mosh pit of publishing fashions and frenzies. So I’m going to pull them out and have another dance with them. And hopefully encourage others to do the same.
———-
In my own pantheon of The Three Marys, there is one whose Historical Fiction was greatly instrumental in prompting me to plunge into the writing of said genre. Mary Renault didn’t need to adopt the detached, oft-pontificating tone in which historical fiction can sometimes indulge. Her works possessed a profound gift–the storyteller’s art in motion. Her characters were real, passionate, often deeply flawed… and you were right in there with them.

My choice for today, out of many excellent novels, had to be The King Must Die. This cover image is from my bookshelves and the mass market edition circa 1979, but the original date is 1958, and my first read was from the public library. TheKingMustDieThe King Must Die was my introduction to Ms Renault’s works–I think I read it when I was eleven or twelve. (We didn’t have or read ‘YA’ when I was of that age–we read books!) Already more comfortable with mythological and speculative worlds than any contemporary reality, I’d not yet realised how fascinating history was–no doubt in consequence of the dry dates and statistics to which public school curriculum rendered it.

This book began to change all that for me. A retelling of the myth of Theseus, it had an undeniable and firm grasp upon the historical personalities and realities that birth legends. It was that seemingly effortless mix that truly comes only with serious application of craft.  Gritty and sometimes unpleasant, yet nonetheless magical in every sense, the novel makes an impassioned appeal for both the fantastic and the historic–together. It was bildungsroman (woot!) at its finest, warts and all, with an oft-unreliable narrator as hero, displaying both the arrogance and virtues of a deeply-inculturated young man. Not much is shied away from or glossed into comfortable platitudes. You root for Theseus, as well as long to give him a good spanking. 😉

It takes little guesswork to hazard that The King Must Die is responsible for my plunge into a lifelong fascination with Sacrifice and Sacred Kingships from all cultures. It also made it difficult for me to be satisfied with a lot of first person narrative. It’s a form that not many can achieve with the same effortless grace as Mary Renault. (Or my inaugural Retro Rec author, Mary Stewart, for that matter.)

Recently, I heard a writer at a convention recommend Mary Renault–with the caveat, however, that ‘she is old-fashioned’. I was rather appalled at anyone attempting excuses for someone who had more talent in one nib finger than most writers possess in their entire repertoire… but, after all, we all say a lot of silly things when we’re baby writers. Though I truly don’t think I had the brass to assume myself able to take a mammoth with a BB gun. 😉 Not with prose that glides like this:

The Great Court was empty under the moon. Tier upon tier rose the pillared balconies, dimly glowing. Lamps flickered behind curtains of Eastern stuff. The pots of lilies and of flowering lemon trees shed a sweet heavy scent. A cat slipped from shadow to shadow, and a Cretan who looked as if his errand were the same. Then all was silent. The great horns upon the roof-coping reared up as if they would gore the stars.
I stretched out my hands palm downward and held them over the earth. “Father Poseidon, Horse Father, Lord of Bulls, I am in your hand, whenever you call me. That is agreed between us. But as you have owned me, give me this one things first. Make me a bull-leaper.”

————-
No question in my heart, I would encourage everyone to read The King Must Die. Or any of Mary Renault’s books. And come on, I read it at the age of eleven; surely it isn’t that insurmountable an experience. If it is, indeed, ‘old-fashioned’, then bloody DAMN but we need more ‘old fashioned’ in this world.

Pax~
J

March 12

Retro Recs–First Up: THE IVY TREE

HERE’S the plan: to pull out a book from my tight-packed bookshelves and share it. Qualifications? It has to be one I’ve read over and over again, one that has inspired my own writing, and one that gave me a lasting experience of some sort. There are so many older books that are just too damned good to be buried in the mosh pit of publishing fashions and frenzies. So I’m going to pull them out and have another dance with them. And hopefully encourage others to do the same.
——–
To choose Mary Stewart was a no brainer, actually, though it was difficult to pick between what I call ‘my rosary of three Marys’ (Stewart, Mary Renault, and Mary O’Hara). But once I decided which Mary, it was a little easier to pick the book. I’m sure others will come into play at a later date, but this time, it had to be The Ivy Tree.
——–TheIvyTree
From those aforementioned bookshelves, (c)1961, this is the first US printing in 1963. Isn’t this cover just deliciously (and a bit painfully) ’60s gothic? From the sweeping cape and hair to the Barnabas Collins coat and the uphill, defiant pose? From the back cover:  If Mary Grey looked so much like the missing heiress, why should she not be the heiress? To the lonely young woman–living in a dreary furnished room–the impersonation offered intriguing possibilities… So plain Mary Grey became the glamourous Annabel Winslow. Only someone wanted Annabel Winslow missing… permanently.

I love old gothics. I miss them. Brain candy, of course, but a specific type of tweak and treat for those doomed with a brain that stubbornly refuses to totally check out. Gothics have their own formula, tiresome as any when cranked out with little skill or craft… but the good ones were complex, character driven, and subtle after their own fashion, with the formula in service to the craft, not the other way ’round. The Ivy Tree was a very, very good gothic.

Mary Grey is, like most of Stewart’s heroines, a real person: independent and capable, conflicted… and with a secret that could be the death of her, if she’s not careful. Inheritance of a small estate, a dying, over-controlling grandfather, and a few sociopaths scattered into the mix, turn a chance meeting on Hadrian’s Wall into a madness of plot and counterplot… did I mention I love gothics? A good one has as many twists as a North Country back road. And the language Stewart uses!

If you stood on the low piece of crumbling wall that enclosed the trunk, you could just reach your hand into the hole. I held on to the writhen stems of the ivy with one hand and felt above my head into the hollow left by some long-decayed and fallen bough. I put my hand in slowly, nervously, almost as I might have done had I known Julie’s owl and seven mythical young were inside, and ready to defend it, or as I might have invaded a private drawer in someone’s desk. The secret tryst; Ninus’ tomb; the lovers’ tree; what right had a ghost there, prying?

What right indeed? Well, you’ll have to read the book and let me know what you think. You won’t be sorry; it’s a thumping good afternoon’s read.

January 28

The Eternal Return of Legends

Celebrating Re-releases, the Collective Unconscious, and the Eternal Return of Legends

It’s in the water, right? Must be.

But it’s not always that simple. In fact it’s staggering–and humbling, really—how creativity channels itself. Not only in our hearts and minds, but in that undeniable cogency oft known as the ‘collective unconscious’. Things really do bide in the ether, surface for breath in the waters of the subconscious. And as of late, a certain Notorious Outlaw is making the rounds again.

Thankfully, that Notorious Outlaw makes those rounds on a regular basis. You can peer back through history and see nice, fat clusters of storytelling. It’s brilliant, in every sense of the word. Because those of us who are fascinated by something, who study it and obsess over it, love, live, and breathe it, are always willing for more. People who crave a well-told story will visit—and revisit—that story again and again. Each incarnation gives us new cause for either shattering insight or groans of utter dismay, brings new adventures and causes… all with which we can ponder the outlaw Robin Hood.

And there is so much to ponder. So much to explore and discover. He’s in the water, all right: a water horse, a kelpie who’ll cozen you to back him then throw you in to drown. Or even better, a pwca, a trickster who’ll give you that wild ride but perhaps relent, share some advice and goodwill to see you back home on wobbly legs.

You see, it was about thirty years ago when I wrote and nearly published my own first invocation and incarnation of Robin (or Robyn, even as the books have always been called Greenwode and Shirewode). England’s greatest archer was popping his wolfish head above the water then, too. Some amazing novels came from that particular surge—Parke Godwin’s retelling being amongst my all-time favourites of any genre. There were also movies: one so-so, one not-so. A man who was to become my friend was, unknown to me and across the pond, working on a very magical Robin Hood at nearly the same time as I was working on mine. Both of these were (and are) akin in their mix of historical tradition, high romance, and old magic. His went on to be an award-winning (and breathtaking) television series; mine was not so fortunate, though it did nearly go to contract twice before ending up in a file drawer as the cycle waned.

Such are the hazards of publishing. Yet bad luck can hold its own share of fortune. Those books that almost were thirty years ago now are. I’m a better writer than I was, and the Wode books are better than they were.  (Now with DSP Publications, a third in the series is slated to release Autumn of 2015.) Even more gratifying, when I dusted off an old manuscript several years ago and decided upon a total rewrite and restructure, it seems Robin was also dusting off the old longbow and taking aim back into the collective mainstream. There’s even talk of a new movie—definite cause for hope and dread and even perhaps a gnash of one’s teeth. 😉 It’s happening again: new tales and retellings, little wildfires popping up here and there… quite apropos to a firebrand archer.

I’m sure the signs have been there for a while, but admittedly I’ve been spending more time larking my own ‘swete greenwode’. Amidst my larking I’ve shaped a story which is garnering some loyal readers and critical acclaim; a satisfying debut for a world that has been poking at my back brain for… well, for much of my life, really. A strange thought, perhaps, to spend so much time in creation when our modern existence extols “hurry, put it out there, now!” But I don’t find it strange, not at all, and it is my sincere hope many others will find my books, sit back… breathe… and enjoy the ride as much as I have.

Robin Hood (aka Robyn Hode), more than perhaps any other figure from myth or history, is discontent to merely bide in the depths of history. In a very real sense he challenges it, both flaunts and mirrors those changes history and society would choose to reveal. How fitting that a figure often connected with the Green Man would be so wrapped up in the spiral of the Eternal Return, both mythic and prosaic. For someone whose historical existence is ever in doubt, Robin has the ultimate extant power: he sparks stories in those of us who are compelled to tell them.

He’s a pwca, all right.RobynIcon

Purchase SHIREWODE through DSP Publications
And GREENWODE is now on sale–a limited time for .99c

February 21

Words are powerful, indeed

GreenwodeCover275I once told a good friend who had just had her book put on audio that it must be an amazing feeling.

And I was right.  It IS.

Awesome, in the true sense of the word. Thrilling. Humbling. Those are your words. Someone arsed themselves to speak them aloud, tell them. Greenwode is on audiobook, and I’m finally getting to listen to it.  In another month, Shirewode will be joining it, and yours truly will be in auditory bliss. The narrator–I prefer storyteller because, well he IS–Ross Pendleton, is fabulous. I sincerely want to share the auditory squee!

So, in aid of this, I want to invite you to visit the Dreamspinner audiobooks Facebook page tomorrow, (Saturday, 22 Feb) where I will be helping to host a giveaway of an audio copy of Greenwode. Come on over, say hullo, enter to win this fabulous audiobook. I’ll be checking in pretty regularly throughout the day to chat and answer questions:  DsP Audiobooks on Facebook

I’m reading another book whilst listening to Greenwode. This in itself not unusual–there are books piled all over the cottage, half-read or being read, much of them research for the next projects because, well, everything eventually comes back around to the writing.  But this book (The Guardian of All Things: the Epic Story of Human Memory by Michael Malone) has a particularly strong correlation:

“It was the increasingly complex demands of daily life, combined with consciousness and this irresistible call to meaning and purpose, that drove language forward toward realisation.  We learned to talk because we had things to learn, and stories to tell.”

Written words can give one a shiver, like that passage did for me. The written word can be life-altering, uplifting, damaging, diverting; a power its own existence. But telling the stories, listening to the stories; this is something even more primal, buried deep within our consciousness. A storyteller is what I have no choice but to be; to hear one of my stories told–passed on–by another is something truly to leave one, temporarily at least, without words.

September 9

It’s In The Water…

RobynIcon
It’s humbling–staggering, actually–the way creativity channels itself; not only in our hearts and minds and consciousness, but in that undeniable cogency oft known as the ‘collective unconscious’.  Things really do bide in the ether, and surface in the water.

And right now, a certain Notorious Outlaw is making the rounds again.

Thankfully, that Notorious Outlaw makes those rounds on a regular basis.  You can peer back through history and see nice, fat clusters of storytelling.  It’s brilliant, in every sense of the word.  Because those of us who are fascinated by something, who study it and obsess over it, love, live, and breathe it, are always willing for more.  People who crave a well-told story will visit–and revisit–that story again and again.  Each incarnation gives us new cause for either shattering insight or groans of utter dismay, brings new adventures and causes… all with which we can ponder the outlaw Robin Hood.

And there is so much to ponder.  So much to explore and discover.  He’s in the water, all right: a water horse, a kelpie who’ll cozen you to back him then throw you in to drown.  Or, even better a pwca, a trickster who’ll give you that wild ride but perhaps relent, share some advice and goodwill to see you back home on wobbly legs.

You see, it was nearly thirty years ago when I wrote and nearly published my own first invocation and incarnation of Robin (or Robyn, even as the first book has always been called Greenwode).  England’s greatest archer was popping his wolfish head above the water then, too.  Some amazing novels came from that particular surge–Parke Godwin’s retelling being amongst my all-time favourites of any genre.  There were also movies: one so-so, one not-so.  A man who was to become my friend was, unknown to me and across the pond, working on a very magical Robin Hood at nearly the same time as I was working on mine.  Both of these were (and are) akin in their mix of historical tradition, high romance, and old magic.  His went on to be an award-winning (and breathtaking) television series; mine was not so fortunate, though it did nearly go to contract twice before ending up in a file drawer as the cycle waned.

Such are the hazards of publishing.  Of course, it was terribly disappointing at the time.  Yet bad luck can hold its own share of fortune.  Those books that almost were, now are–and all the better for it.  Even more, several years ago when I dusted off an old manuscript and decided to totally rewrite and structure it, it seems Robin was also dusting off the old longbow and taking aim back into the collective mainstream.  For now, nearly a year after Greenwode released (and just in time for today’s release of Shirewode), it’s happening again: new tales and retellings, little wildfires popping up here and there… quite apropos to a firebrand archer.  I’m sure the signs have been there for a while, but admittedly I’ve been spending more time larking my own ‘swete greenwode’.  Amidst my larking I’ve shaped a story which is beginning to garner some critical acclaim; a satisfying debut for a story that has been poking at my back brain for… well, for much of my life, really.  A strange thought, perhaps, to spend so much time in creation when our modern existence extols “hurry, put it out there, now!”  But I don’t find it strange, not at all, and it is my sincere hope many others will find my books, sit back… breathe… and enjoy the ride as much as I have.

Robin Hood–aka Robyn Hode–more than perhaps any other figure from myth or history, is discontent to merely bide in the depths of history.  In a very real sense he challenges it, both flaunts and mirrors what changes history and society would choose to reveal.  How fitting that a figure often connected with the Green Man would be so wrapped up in the spiral of the Eternal Return, both mythic and prosaic.  For someone whose historical existence is ever in doubt, Robin has the ultimate extant power: he sparks stories in those of us who are compelled to tell them.

He’s a pwca, all right.

—————————————————————–

Yes, SHIREWODE is now available!!SWSmall150res
Both in e-book and trade paper!
*throws confetti*

LINKS:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

AMAZON
POWELL’S BOOKS
OMNILIT

And of course, through my verra own author page at Dreamspinner Press:
JTH at DsP

September 3

Research books are better than candy…

They are!

So, finished the latest WIP.  Not ready to start tackling the dreary task of flaying myself for a readable synopsis and starting to shop it around.  Then one of the books I’d requested from inter-library loan came in.  Which means the burgeoning To Be Read pile has to burgeon just a little while longer… at least this ILL book wasn’t one with a 1 week deadline! Because they have been.

(Gonzaga always has the coolest Medieval Lit titles.  Just sayin’.)

Not only is Gamelyn there, but Thomas of Erceldoune, who was a key player in the Book What Almost Got Movie-d.  I really like reading essays about the ballads; agree or disagree with them, new opinions are always good in some fashion, they trigger more insights.  And with chapters like “Sons of Devils’ and ‘The Anti-Heroic Heart’… I’m really looking forward to this one.

Called Heroes and Anti-Heroes in Medieval Romance, (ed. Neil Cartlidge), it had me from the introduction:

“Anti-heroism in medieval romance is not just about ideological or moral values… Medieval writers and their audiences seem to have been attracted to anti-heroes, not because of any real anxiety about the meaning of heroism, but simply because of the dramatic possibilities it creates… the concept is useful because it helps to explain the different ways in which medieval narratives invite admiration of figures who are obviously flawed, failed, sinister or destructive…”

Though we modern readers also like anti-heroes, I think we are more anxious about the meaning of heroism.  Is it because we have more unrealistic expectations of heroes? Because heroism is always predicated by which ‘side’ views it?  Because we are more aware of such things… or less aware?