Shira Glassman went live with a gorgeous fan-art promotional post for the Alpennia books that she commissioned. I feel immensely honored and flattered that my fans think so highly of my books as to do things like this.
My queer-Mabinogi short story "Hyddwen" was accepted by Podcastle.org. I'm overjoyed that it's going to get the audio-publication treatment, like the first story in the series (Hoywverch) did, because it's written very deliberately in an oral storytelling style. Selling it means that it's time to start writing the third story in the series. (Like the original Mabinogi, it's planned to have four branches. I have the basic skeleton of the plots for 3 & 4 outlined, but there are still a lot of details to noodle.)
The Golden Crown Literary Awards 2017 shortlists came out and Mother of Souls did not make the shortlist for the Science Fiction and Fantasy category. (Daughter of Mystery and The Mystic Marriage were both shortlisted but neither of them won--there are three winners in each category.) In one sense, this is not at all surprising, because the Goldies are--in their essence--awards for the best lesfic novels, and I don't write lesfic in the genre sense. But it's still disappointing.
On Wednesday, I came home from work to discover my front door kicked in and my house ransacked, including having my safe ripped out of its fastenings and pick-axed open. Mysteriously (but tellingly) I have not identified anything that was actually stolen (including the two older laptops that were stored in the safe, or any of the jewelry that was left strewn across the bed). My hypothesis is that the burglars were under the vastly mistaken impression that there might be drugs in the house, given the nature and scope of the apparent search activities. But given that one of the major reasons for moving out of Oakland seven years ago was being tired of regular burglaries, I'm furious and shaken and resigned.
As a reader, it can be easy to forget just how much power readers have to make or break the success of a book--particularly of a book that doesn't have the resources of a major publisher's promotion department. I always feel hesitant about asking my readers to serve as my publicists, but the simple fact is that when an author tells people about how wonderful her books are, it gets discounted as meaningless. When a third-party reader tells people how wonderful a book is, they're more inclined to believe it. So while I never expect my readers to promote my books, I will occasionally point out that the success of my current books has a major influence on whether you'll be given the opportunity to enjoy future ones. If that matters to you as a reader, it's important not to treat my work as some sort of guilty pleasure--to be admitted to only when pressed--but to shout out to the rest of the world what a wonderful experience they'll miss out on if they don't read these books. With that in mind, here are a few observations on the process.
There is no such thing as "over the top" when promoting a book. No one has ever been convinced to read a new author by being told, "The writing is kind of interesting," or "She's never going to be the next Ursula K. LeGuin or Brandon Sanderson, but the books are ok, I guess." People expect book recommendations to be full of intensity and passion. A luke-warm recommendation is heard as a polite way of warning readers away.
When you recommend a book, don't hand people reasons to decide to avoid it. Reviews need to include critical assessment, but when you're being an advocate for a book, focus on the things you like, on what you consider the book's strengths. Honestly, I cringe when fans of my books write things like, "Even though it's a lesbian romance, other readers might enjoy this," or "I don't usually like historic settings but this one worked for me," or "it isn't really much of a romance but I didn't mind that," or "I enjoyed this book but I wouldn't recommend it to most people because they wouldn't appreciate it properly." Talk about the specific aspects that you honestly and genuinely loved. "The worldbuilding is intricate and immersive," or "the characters are all richly individual," or "the plot went in delightfully unexpected places."
Don't pre-reject the book when people are asking for recommendations. The most important part of recommending a book is remembering to actually recommend it. I'm not saying you should act like a rec-bot and insert the recommendation randomly into every conversation. But look for connections where it matches part of what people are looking for, even if it isn't a "central case". Books like mine aren't ever going to be a "central case." They intersect too many themes for that. But most of all, I beg you, simply remember that my books exist and that you liked them. Once upon a time, there was a recommendation thread in a lesbian fiction group where a reader was specifically looking for historic/fantasy stories. After I waited patiently for a day to see if anyone would recommend the Alpennia books, I finally suggested them myself. Several posters who had previously made suggestion comments jumped in and said, "Oh yeah, I really liked Heather's books." But not one of them had thought to recommend the series themselves. Don't make Alpennia the Colonel Brandon [*] of the book world, the books everyone thinks well of but nobody remembers to talk about.
[*] Sense and Sensibility reference
At the very least, post a review-like-object somewhere online. Not everyone does Amazon reviews; not everyone does Goodreads reviews; not everyone has a review blog. But pretty much everyone who is reading this has some context online where they can say, "Hey, I just read this great book [title] by [author]. Here's what I liked about it." Make sure the title and author's name will show up correctly on searches. That sort of thing matters.
That's probably enough of a pep talk for one day. Let's have another excerpt from Mother of Souls. It's the first term of Margerit's new college for women and Serafina has been tapped to help out with the thaumaturgy lectures...
* * *
Chapter 22 - Serafina
“Mais— Serafina, I don’t understand.” The question came hesitantly from Valeir Perneld.
The hesitation in her voice was not from what they studied, for Valeir was one of Margerit’s most promising thaumaturgical finds: an auditor who heard the fluctus as choirs of angels. No, they all still stumbled over how to address each other. Margerit had declared that there would be no distinction of rank among the students. No constant reminder from mesnera to mefro of the distance between them outside these walls. And there, too, she held an awkward place. Not a teacher to be given the respect of a surname, and yet one who stood on familiar grounds with most of those who were. If the other students stumbled over addressing her as Serafina, she too stumbled to remember to address Akezze as Maisetra Mainus in their hearing.
“Yes, Valeir?” she said. “What is it?”
“How will it work to try to…to describe fluctus in pictures when I don’t see it?”
Serafina paused in laying out the drawings to answer. “Visio is the most common way of perceiving phasmata, if the word ‘common’ can be used at all. But even for visions it isn’t a simple question.”
From the corner of her eye, Serafina saw two figures slip quietly into the room. Not tardy students, but Margerit herself and a stranger in the dark clothing of a priest. It wasn’t at all uncommon for guests to observe the classes: parents who wanted to see what their daughters would be studying or simply the curious. And not surprising, perhaps, that a priest might be sent to examine what was being taught in the way of thaumaturgy. Margerit made a silent gesture to continue, so Serafina turned back to her topic.
“The depictio isn’t a true image. None of these are, any more than letters written on a page are the sound of a word.” She caught the eye of a plump, dark-haired girl at the far side of the table. “Helen, write your name on the board.” She nodded encouragingly to indicate that this was not intended as punishment.
The girl traced the letters crisply and precisely.
“Now in Greek,” she instructed.
With only the slightest hesitation, Helen wrote Ἑλένη.
“Now in Latin.”
Back to the more familiar letters: Helena.
“Now,” Serafina asked, “are those the same name?”
The students looked confused and uncertain.
“They’re not the same…” Valeir began.
Serafina returned to the dark-haired girl. “Who is your name-saint?”
“Sain-Helen,” she replied promptly.
“And if you read her life and miracles in Bartholomeus, what do you read on the page?”
Her eyes brightened in understanding and she said, “Sancta Helena.”
“Is that two saints or one?” Serafina asked. This time she directed the question to the whole cluster of girls.
“One,” they chorused.
Serafina nodded to indicate they’d done well. “So here you have a depictio that Maisetra Sovitre made during the Mystery of Saint Mauriz.” She returned to the images they’d been studying. “If I had represented that same moment of the ceremony—” She cast her mind back, though it hardly mattered in detail. “—I would have called the currents here more of a reddish-pink where she has green. I would have said it pulsed slightly, which she hasn’t indicated. And these lines here at the side are meant to indicate the aural part, but I rarely hear things during mysteries. Someone else who is a tactile sensitive might describe the same thing as a breath of warm air followed by a prickling as if an insect were walking on their skin.”
Two of the girls shuddered at that description.
“And yet the mystery is the same. The grace of God through Saint Mauriz is the same.” Serafina chose those words for the unknown priestly observer. Margerit was usually the one who insisted on the language of charis and miracles.
I'm still considering whether I want to continue posting teasers for Mother of Souls now that it's out. They don't serve the same purpose now that people can actually go read the book, and it's getting harder and harder to pick interesting selections that don't include significant spoilers. So while I'm thinking about what I want to do with Writing Blog Tuesday, it seemed a good time to do a year-end summary of what I've produced this year. At this point, everything that's going to be published is out there.
Within the SFF community, this sort of post evolved as an "award eligibility" reminder--a convenient place to list all the publications of the year for the convenience of those who are contemplating their award nominations. I don't know how useful this post will be for that purpose. I've only published one thing that's solidly SFF this year: Mother of Souls. But there's still a usefulness in reminding myself that I have accomplished some writing goals (even if I'm berating myself internally for not having the next novel solidly in process yet).
So here are what I consider my writing accomplishments for 2016. Many of these are on-going projects, which makes it more awkward to treat them as a "2016 publication." They also don't have a clear unifying theme (other than "stuff Heather writes"). As usual, doing cross-genre work means I don't really have a clear identity in people's minds as "an SFF blogger" or "a lesbian blogger" or "a history blogger", just as my fiction defies easy genre categorization. That's not something I have any plans to change, but it tends to make my work more invisible, I think.
Mother of Souls - The third novel in the Alpennia historic fantasy series. The ensemble of familiar characters from Daughter of Mystery and The Mystic Marriage are joined by two new protagonists, and the stakes of Alpennia magic expand to take on a sorcery that threatens half of Europe. But the unlikeliest factor is a widowed music teacher who aspires to write an opera about the philosopher Tanfrit.
The book is still too freshly out for me to be able to point to prominent reviews and whatnot. I hope that at least some people read it in time to consider whether they'd want to include it in award nominations.
"The Mazarinette and the Musketeer" - A historical romp, pulling together an assortment of outragous late 18th century women for an adventure that involves a lot less invention in it than you might think. I put this out as a free e-story on my website for a variety of reasons, some more relevant than others. It's hard to say whether that was a mistake and it might have gained more readers if I'd gone ahead and tried to find somewhere to submit it. The major problems with that are that it isn't SFF (the markets I've researched), novelettes are an extremely difficult length to place, and the market for non-erotic lesbian historicals is functionally nonexistent. I have fun writing it, but I'm not sure that it served the purpose of attracting new readers and fans.
The Lesbian Historic Motif Project - I covered 27 new publications for the project so far this year, for a total of about 80 separate posts. (I'll do a round-up post at the end of the year listing them all.) I made a couple of new contacts for publicizing the project from the SFF community where there's a lot of interest in resources for writing diverse characters. Relatively little interest from the lesbian writing community, though, which is a continuing disappointment. This year saw a major overhaul in the format of the project as the new version of the Alpennia.com website came online, with a lot more back-end tools for managing and accessing the material, though some of those tools are still having the bugs worked out.
Queer Fantasy Roots - In August I started doing a mothly column at the Queer Sci Fi website entitled "Queer Fantasy Roots" as a sort of spin-off from the LHMP, looking specifically at historic and literary themes relevant to fantasy, but with a broader scope than just lesbians. Topics covered so far include m/m shapeshifting pregnancy in the Mabinogi, gender change in Ovid's Metamorphoses, queer themes in the fantastic fiction of Margaret Cavendish, and the changing perception of Amazons in fantastic literature.
The Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Another new project I started in August is a monthly podcast supplement to the LHMP, hosted by The Lesbian Talk Show, a magazine-style podcast with multiple contributors. I hope that as part of a continuing podcast feed it will introduce the project to a larger audience that might not otherwise stumble across it. My current plans are to use it to focus on "human interest" stories and to present some more extended excerpts of texts than would fit well in the blog. Requests are always welcome (if they fit in the scope of the project).
I'll wait until the end of the year to do a round-up of all my reviews, including my extended analysis of Frances Hodgeson Burnett's A Little Princess. Suffice it to say that I've maintained a schedule of reviewing some new item every week.
Civil War Source Material
A reader might possibly find connecting themes among all the above material. My new Wednesday project sticks out as a bit of an odd duck. I've returned to the project of formatting my great-great-grandfather's Civil War diaries and correspondence for the web. (My mother did the original transcription and editing.) This project does connect in with my interests in history and especially the everyday history of ordinary people.
I put out a call for blog prompts on facebook and had this suggestion: "If you could have any piece of classic literature but with explicitly canon queer character, which would you pick?"
The thing about asking this question of an author is that it isn't exactly rhetorical. You can be sure that if we have a favorite story that needs queering, we've contemplated making it so (and may even have it on the writing schedule). And with the current acceptability of classics/genre-crossovers, such projects don't need to be confined to "just for fun to circulate among friends." But I suspect the "classics" that come to my mind may be a little more obscure than most. Here are some stories that I've run across in my research and reading that I either have or plan to write my own versions of that turn faint suggestions of queerness into main-text.
The Romance of Silence - A lesser-known work in the Arthurian mythos, involving a girl raised as a boy who becomes a famed knight but gets in hot water when the queen tries to seduce "him". I've actually written a short story heavily adapted from one of the episodes in this story, with Silence coming to terms with non-binary identity in the midst of peril and adventure. The story has been collecting rejections for the last couple years and I'm running out of places it seems logical to submit it.
L'Escoufle - Another lesser-known medieval romance that is part of one of the French genealogical cycles. I like that the implied romantic connections between women arise out of women's spaces, rather than being enabled by cross-dressing and gender confusion. It is, in essence, a quest adventure with a female protagonist. I have solid plans to write a medieval fantasy based on this, but have a lot of background work to do first.
The Travels and Adventures of Mademoiselle de Richelieu - This 18th century picaresque novel (well, it's a bit more complex in genre than that) needs almost nothing except a little character self-awareness to bring out the love story between the two protagonists, who go romping across Europe together disguised as men and are constantly teasing each other about how, "If I were really a man, then I'l marry you and we'd live happily ever after." And then--at the end of the adventures--they settle down together and live happily ever after. The story doesn't need much at all to make it queer (they just need to stop with the no-homo thing all the time!) but it does need some drastic editing to make it readable for modern tastes. My plans for it are a bit more complicated than that, involving a sort of modern/historic crossover...well, let's not give too much away.
Yde and Olive - This may be the best-known and most widely adapted medieval same-sex marriage story. It's one of the several medieval romances where a cross-dressing woman gains recognition as a knight and ends up in romantic entanglements with a woman as a result. The fact that there are several variants of the story make it ripe for further adaptation.
There are also a number of older works of literature that I have plans to extract bits and pieces of, but not re-write the original story itself. (Hervor's Saga lends a significant chunk of inspiration to a Viking-era story that I've had sketched out for a couple decades.) So, not "classics" in the sense of widely-read best-sellers, perhaps. But they're all stories that, to me, call out to turn subtext into main-text and turn the queer themes from covert hints into overt plot.
Magic in the world of Alpennia is elusive to the senses. Someone with the right talent may see the workings of the mysteries in visions--though no two will see exactly the same thing--or may hear it in "angel voices", like one young woman who appears in Mother of Souls, and many who have no other special sensitivity will experience the Great Mysteries as a shiver like the feel of someone walking over your grave. I not only have to convey how each character perceives is, but to convey how they understand what they're perceiving. Serafina struggles with that same thing, as she and Luzie work over their compositions: how do you describe the workings of magic to someone who can't see them, and do it well enough for that person to shape the mystical effects? Here's a little window on that struggle.
* * *
Chapter Fifteen - Serafina
Serafina leaned on the end of the fortepiano and watched Luzie’s hands move over the keyboard. She never tired of watching those hands, of imagining what other tunes they might play. No, that was too soon. Too soon. Issibet was on the sofa with her sewing, constantly in Serafina’s awareness. Even a touch that might once have seemed harmless now burnt like a coal. Guilt magnified everything.
Light filled the room in swirls and eddies. Serafina kept up a quick commentary on what she saw, using the code words they had slowly developed between them. When they spoke of music, they fell into Italian together, in a jumble of dialects that still failed to hold the words needed to describe what they were attempting. They fumbled and stretched to find a meeting point.
“The third time through is weaker,” she said. “It needs… It needs to start from a different place but move toward the same finish. Not like the call and response of a tutela mystery. More like a castellum where the echoes are the same but different each time, and build up layer on layer. Or like a painting.”
She thought of watching Olimpia at work: the sketches, the underlayers, the glazes, the highlights. Each utterly different and yet all shaping the figure on the canvas.
Luzie paused and then tried the strain again with the chords modulated to a wilder, more mournful sound.
“Yes,” Serafina said slowly. “That might work. Now again from the beginning.&rdquo
It was a slow, tedious process, this working out of Tanfrit’s aria. And it was only the first of the major songs they’d tackled. The mystic undertones could only be seen in the structure as a whole. With each revision they went back to the beginning—the beginning of that song, at least. Heaven knows how long it would take if they needed to play the entire sequence to see the success of each change!
Luzie was endlessly patient. She might not be able to see the details of the fluctus, but she knew music. Serafina marveled at how Luzie turned her frustrated, incoherent suggestions into exactly the right structure of sound that filled the house with power and made the hairs along her arms stand on end.
I'd lost track that the Gaylactic Spectrum Awards were being announced this past weekend at Gaylaxicon. The announcement has been moving around a bit in recent years due to the Gaylaxicon schedule. Last year and on a number of previous occasions they were announced at Chessiecon/Darkovercon. So it took me by surprise Saturday when Catherine Lundoff started live-tweeting the results. According to the website, 36 novels were submitted for consideration from 2015. The winner was Luna: New Moon by Ian MacDonald, a book I'm not familiar with. The shorlist of nine "recommended books" includes The Mystic Marriage. When you look at that list of authors, you might have a hint at how pleased I am to be in such company.
- Planetfall by Emma Newman
- Ebenezer by JoSelle Vanderhooft
- My Real Children by Jo Walton
- The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley
- Chaos Station by Jenn Burke and Kelly Jensen
- Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear
- The Mystic Marriage by Heather Rose Jones
- The Bastard’s Paradise by Kathe Koja
- Cherry Bomb by Kathleen Tierney
Note that the Spectrum Awards website hasn't been updated yet at the time I'm posting this but I assume it will be as soon as folks have had a chance to recover from the con.
* * *
When Margerit and Barbara decided to share their lives openly, rather than making more discreet arrangements, Margerit entered into a delicate dance with her Fulpi relatives in Chalanz. To be sure, there's nothing inherently unacceptable about two unmarried women in a close friendship deciding to live under the same roof. (This is the era of Romantic Friendship, after all, as can be seen in the LHMP material I'm currently blogging.) But it looks a bit odder for it to be two women who are young enough (and wealthy enough) to have good marital prospects. And Barbara's history and habits are such as to raise more than the usual suspicions.
The provinces tend to be more conservative than Rotenek society and, unlike Margerit's Aunt Bertrut, the Fulpis have no direct financial or social stake in turning a blind eye to Margerit and Barbara's relationship. Furthermore, they have daughters whose own reputations need protecting until they're safely married. It would break Margerit's heart to cause a complete rupture with the Fulpis. She has a genuine affection for the family, despite everything, but most especially for her youngest cousin Iulien. We've seen glimpses of Iuli in previous books as she grows from a child to a wayward teenager. And now she's on the brink of the first step into womanhood: the start of her dancing season.
In case readers are wondering, I completely invented the concept of the "dancing season"--a period of a year or two when a young woman is out in society but is explicitly not on the marriage market yet. She is expected to go to dinners and balls, to socialize and to dance, but neither to entertain nor to encourage the attentions of particular suitors. There were a few logistical reasons for inventing it, but partly it was just one of those ideas that came to me and was a way of turning Alpennian culture into its own thing, and not just an imitation of English Regency society.
Once I'd conceived of it, a number of consequences emerged on their own. Letting a girl have a dancing season must be a mark of a certain level of wealth, because it extends the period of time (and therefore the investment of money) when she's "on display" before she might be married off. For families where marriage alliances are serious political business, it provides a neutral period when the prospective parties have a chance to size each other up before making approaches. There's always the danger that the young people will form attachments despite all that (though it is very much Not The Done Thing), but keep in mind that this is a culture where love is never the only deciding factor in a marriage. And in that context, a dancing season also provides the opportunity to get puppy love out of one's system without taking any irrevocable steps. (This is also where the elaborate system of vizeinos and armins come in, especially for important families.)
Margerit had originally planned to host Iulien's coming out ball at Fonten House, her mansion in Chalanz, as she had for Iuli's older sister Sofi. But plans change.
* * *
Chapter Fourteen - Margerit
And now there was no putting off the letter to Iuli.
My dearest cousin, I hope you and your parents are well. I greatly enjoyed the verses you sent with your last letter and I have taken the liberty of having them set to music by the talented Luzie Valorin, whom you might have heard of even in far-off Chalanz. I enclose the music with these letters and hope to hear you perform the song some day.
It pains me to tell you I will not have that opportunity this summer, even though you learn it in time for your coming-out ball. As you know, I have decided my college must be ready in time for the fall term, and I will have no chance for travel this summer, neither to Chalanz nor to Saveze. I would very much have loved to host your ball at Fonten House as I did your sister’s, but our lives move on and Fonten House is no longer part of mine.
Margerit paused, chewing on the end of her pen and thinking what more to say. She couldn’t tell Iuli the truth: that Uncle Fulpi had suggested in the strongest terms that her presence would be unnecessary. He hadn’t gone so far as to say unwanted. While she had owned property in Chalanz, the prestige of hosting Sofi’s ball in the mansion on Fonten Street had more than balanced the Fulpis’ concerns for the family reputation. The abstract family pride in an absent relation who was an heiress and the Royal Thaumaturgist was always put in peril by her presence. Her presence brought with it an inconvenient baroness who had a habit of wearing men’s clothing, not to mention an affection between the two of them that couldn’t entirely be excused by the conventions of friendship.
With Fonten House sold, Uncle Fulpi was happy to accept her offer to underwrite the expenses of Iuli’s coming-out, but had expressed his strong preference that only her purse and not her person attend. Iuli would be disappointed, but there was no help for it. Her cousin’s parents had the power to forbid their continued correspondence entirely and Margerit knew how much it meant to Iuli to have at least one person in the world who encouraged her writing and wanted her to continue dreaming beyond the future that Chalanz offered.
Perhaps I will be able to visit next year at floodtide. I know it seems so long to wait! It would have been an eternity when I was your age and I will miss your entire dancing year. Write to me when you have time and make sure to save up all the memories from your ball to tell me.
Your loving cousin, Margerit Sovitre.
This past weekend I tackled the emotionally draining process of going through all my notes and lists about potential reviewers for Mother of Souls and this morning I sent the initial list to my publisher.
It's not a simple process. There are a small number of people who get an advance copy -- though what that means in practice is that they get the Word file with my latest version. In the "real" publishing world, it's all about Advance Review Copies (ARCs) and the majority of serious reviewers won't review a book after the publication date. So for the most part, I don't get reviews of that sort.
The next group are people I've had positive interest from--people who have actively asked for a review copy or who've said yes when I offered one. There's actually a gratifying number of those this time. Their preferred format and e-mail get passed along to receive a copy at release. The third group are review sites that say, "Send us a copy and if one of our reviewers is interested, we might do a review." Those get scrutinized rather heavily to see if their existing reviews suggest a likelihood of success, because I don't like using up my review-request credit with my publisher on pure speculation. The fourth group are reviewers whose website says, "tell me about your book, and if I'm interested I'll let you know." Those get a query and then I pretty much forget about them because I don't think they've ever panned out. I mostly survive this process by burying myself in the geekery of spreadsheets.
The Alpennia books focus a lot on high magic: the Great Mysteries in the cathedral, or at the very least the ceremonies of formal guilds. But there have been a lot of references to smaller, more informal workings: the floodtide "sweetheart divination" that Antuniet adapts for her book-finding charm, everyday prayers for health that are embedded in little rituals, the small magics dismissed as "market-charms", bought and sold in the plaiz and of questionable efficacy. The more precarious one's life is, the more likely one is to place hope in those charms--to eke out one's resources with a bit of luck, to stave off disease when there's no money for a physician, to gain answers to which path to choose. Any time the marketplace is filled with people, they charm-wives gather to offer their wares. And Carnival is a prime opportunity...
* * *
Chapter 13 - Luzie
“I’m freezing again," Luzie said. "If we aren’t going to dance, there’s less wind under the arches and we could have our fortunes told.” And the drifting smoke from the food-sellers would be less noticeable there. Luzie took Serafina by the hand and led her to the covered walk that bordered the plaiz, where they were besieged by market-women with trinkets and charms.
“Ribbons, Maisetra? Fine silks and laces?”
“A candle with a blessing from the Holy Mother, guaranteed to cure the cough.”
The woman who offered it turned away briefly to hawk and spit. It might have been only the smokey air, but Luzie made a note not to trust her cures.
“What would you buy? Combs for your hair, Maisetra?”
Luzie pushed past the more forward of the hawkers to the stretch where the charm-wives gathered. They were less inclined to besiege their customers, and instead waited for a need to be presented before they gathered around to argue the efficacy of their wares over those of their rivals.
Serafina gazed at each of them in fascination. What did she see? Luzie wondered. She leaned closely. “Can you tell which of them can work mysteries and which are frauds?”
“It’s not…” Serafina looked down, realizing that she had been staring. “It’s not quite like that. Some of the charms have power and some don’t. At least from what I can see. But some may only show it when used. And some of the women, I can see that they… Margerit would say they have the ear of the saints. You can see the echo of holiness following them. But that doesn’t mean that all their works have power. It’s complicated. They don’t always know what they’re doing, you see.”
Luzie didn’t see at all. She laughed at the thought. No, she didn’t see at all. “Who shall we ask to tell our fortunes?”
No sooner had the question left her lips than they were surrounded by offers. Luzie looked sidelong at Serafina, waiting for a sign.
“If you want the hope of truth, that one,” Serafina said, nodding at an older woman wrapped in red shawls, sitting behind a barrel that served as a table, back against the building wall.
They were all older women, of course, and a few old men. Who would trust a young charm-wife? And who would try to scrape a living peddling cures and market-charms if they still had the strength for more certain work?
The woman turned sharp eyes on the both of them, looking from face to face, but she didn’t rise.
“What do you care to ask, Maisetras?” She unwrapped a set of cards and began shifting them around in her hands with quick, jerky movements.
Luzie looked at Serafina who nodded at her to go first.
“There is a…an endeavor that I have begun.” Did she really want to know what her Tanfrit songs might become? Why had she chosen that question?
Before she could either offer more details or change her mind, the woman shuffled the cards one last time and laid out several on the barrelhead, keeping a fingertip of her left hand on each to keep the breeze from shifting them.
“Ah, they speak clearly,” the fortune-teller began, tucking away the remaining cards and pointing to those displayed in turn. “It is a long path you’ve set your feet on. You see here? But a dark stranger will help you to your heart’s desire.”
Luzie glanced at Serafina again. They both grinned like schoolgirls. A dark stranger indeed. It didn’t take any mystical visions to suggest that.
“Beware the man who will betray you. He has less power than you think. Not enough to destroy your work, but enough to destroy your dreams. That is all the cards say.”
It was the sort of vague answer that anyone could give, but Luzie pulled a few coins out of her reticule and placed them in the woman’s hand. “Thank you. Serafina, what will you ask?”
Serafina nodded to the woman, almost like a little bow. “I ask nothing now, but if I have a question that needs a true answer, I will return, Mefro.”
You may have noticed that a lot of my so-called “random” Thursday blogs have been about Alpennia. This is, perhaps, not entirely surprising, given that the clock is ticking down to release day. A couple days ago I turned in the editorial revisions and now I’m turning to compiling lists of reviewers while waiting for the copyedits to come in. So I’ve been thinking a lot about forthcoming Alpennia stories (while not forgetting that I plan to do the Skinsinger collection in 2017).
As the scope of the Alpennia stories continues to expand, and as events start moving into place for the big events of the last couple of novels, I’m running into a unusual frustration: there are stories I want to tell in Alpennia that can’t be told through the viewpoints of queer women. Huh. It’s sort of the flip side of one of the forces that pushed me toward publishing with Bella. I knew that I was planning a lot more stories about queer women than I had any confidence a general publisher would support. But publishing with Bella means that my novels are locked in to centering on women who love women.
I had a bit of an epiphany about this the other week: think how radical it is to be telling an extended epic-level fantasy series that’s about the regular world (rather than a single-sex secondary world) and yet where everything is experienced and filtered through the lives of queer women. Especially when those women do not hold a central or decisive position in the power structures of that world. Yes, it distorts things a bit. Yes, it means that there are things we’ll see intimately and things we’ll experience only tangentially that are very different from how those choices would be made with straight (and/or male) protagonists. And isn’t that just a bit mind-blowing all by itself?
But there are still stories I want to tell—need to tell, for completeness’ sake—that need other voices. Fortunately, that’s what short fiction is for. And the overall story arc is coming up on the points where those pieces fit in.
The next book I’ll be working on is Floodtide, and there’s a story—something in the line of a character sketch—about Celeste that I want to put out before it’s published. And then, right on the heels of Floodtide, comes an episode that prompts Jeanne to reminisce about her first girlfriend. Mistress of Shadows currently looks like it’s going to center on three viewpoints (Barbara, Serafina, and Zobaydah) and take place largely outside of Alpennia. But while it’s going on, back at home, I want to tell a story that happens around Iulien Fulpi’s long-delayed coming-out ball (not the one she has in Chalanz, the promised one in Rotenek). And while Barbara is in Paris, I want to tell a story about Margerit’s complicated crisis of faith and how it resolves. And then there’s a story about Anna Monterrez that doesn’t really fit well anywhere else but falls around the end of Mistress of Shadows and involves events that would be hard to tell from any viewpoint than hers. I think people have asked for something about Akezze as well and there are some possibilities in her future that might grow into a separate story.
These are all short, self-contained episodes, none of them novel length. I’ve been thinking a bit about how I want to handle them (other than continuing in my tradition of self-pubbing them as freebies). Slapping the files up on the website is all very well, but it doesn’t give me a good sense whether anyone is reading them. I’ve been thinking of something more like an opt-in “fan club” newsletter that would include access to the short fiction as an incentive for signing up. I blog so much that it can be hard to identify reasons for someone to sign up for a separate newsletter, but I’m assured by other authors that it’s a useful tool. So maybe, possibly, something worth considering.
I confess that I get a thrill out of planting bits of information in a current novel that also serve the purpose of setting up events for a future story. It's one of the reasons I've made my peace with having things plotted out in advance in a fair amount of detail. If I don't know the general who, what, where, when for the overall series arc, how can I know what seeds I need to be planting now? When I knew I wanted to write Floodtide, and realized that it would weave into the events of Mother of Souls, I had some careful planning to do. I knew I wanted to bring in all the "teenagers": Brandel, Iulien, Celeste, and Anna. But I wanted/needed to keep the story centered on a queer female character, and to the best of my current knowledge none of them fill that bill. (Well, I have an idea about one of them but...still incubating.) I also wanted to tell Floodtide through the point of view of someone who wasn't "special". Not just an ordinary girl, but a working class one, and one who wouldn't have any special magical talents. I wanted her to be a catalyst and a nexus for the interaction of the other characters, but in a more ordinary way. And that was how Rozild came into my life.
You get two glimpses and one offhand reference to Roz in Mother of Souls. Not enough to know she has a story of her own to tell (unless you have an inside line from the author). And, of course, those glimpses serve an entirely different purpose within the current novel: to shine light on some of the social dynamics and anxieties around sexuality for those who don't have the privilege to be given a pass as "eccentric", and to serve as a challenge of empathy to some of our main characters.
Jeanne de Cherdillac has received a rather odd note from her dressmaker, begging a few moments of her time for a favor...
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Chapter Twelve - Jeanne
Several days later, Jeanne’s thoughts returned to the note from Mefro Dominique and she sent a reply. Several more days passed before she found the time to travel down to the neighborhood near the Nikuleplaiz where the dressmaker’s shop stood. There had been just enough of a delicate hint to pique her curiosity. A favor, Dominique had said, and so not some new fabrics to be shown only to special patrons, or any of the other imaginable reasons Dominique might have to contact her.
At the chime of the bell on the door, Dominique herself came out from the back rooms to greet her and invite her into the side parlor that served both for fittings and as a workroom. Two girls scrambled to their feet at their entrance. She recognized the dressmaker’s daughter, of course, but the other girl was new. She was nothing much to look at, with mousy brown hair pulled tightly back under a linen cap, a whey-faced complexion, a long thin nose and sturdy arms that spoke of hard work, but her eyes were bright and curious before she remembered to look down.
Dominique gave them brief instructions. “Celeste, go to the front and see to anyone who comes. You may leave your work here. Rozild, do you think you can see about fetching some tea for our guest?”
Jeanne saw a flash of panic in the girl’s eyes before she nodded and slipped through the rear door to the private rooms. “A new apprentice?” she asked. Dominique certainly had the custom to support one, but usually the extra work was hired out.
“No, Mesnera, not an apprentice, though if I dared take her on, that would be a better choice.”
Dared? Well, who knew what these arrangements required. Every trade had its rules. Jeanne made a shrewd guess. “Is it possible that the favor you want has something to do with the girl who is not your apprentice?”
Dominique nodded with a glance toward the back rooms, and so Jeanne held her tongue until—after a lengthy wait—the girl returned with a tea tray that would not have passed muster in any respectable household.
“Thank you, Rozild,” the dressmaker said in dismissal. “Take your sewing upstairs until we’re done here.”
She waited until the footsteps had faded overhead before continuing. “Rozild was in service until recently. Not a parlor maid,” she said with a rueful smile and a nod toward the tea tray. “Laundry and mending at one of the houses near the Plaiz Nof. She helped out with the sewing when the Maisetra and her daughters all needed new gowns at once. That’s how I met her. She’s a good girl: quiet and well-mannered. There’s not an ounce of vice in her.”
“And yet,” Jeanne observed dryly, “she is no longer in service.”
There were several possibilities. She wasn’t particularly pretty and she looked scarcely more than fifteen, but men didn’t always care about that, and no one would ask whether she’d been willing or not.
“Is she with child?” Jeanne felt an inward shiver. Such a fine line between respectability and shame. A girl like Rozild couldn’t bluff her way through with tales of alchemy. But why had Dominique come to her? There were charities for fallen girls.
“No, it’s nothing like that. Mesnera de Cherdillac, it’s not my business to make judgments of my betters, so I hope you will forgive me if I speak of things that are not spoken of. Rozild was accused of a…a particular friendship with one of the other housemaids, if you understand my meaning. She has no hope of being given a character.” Dominique’s hesitation seemed born, not of reticence, but of uncertainty over the right words. Her gaze was direct and without accusation. “I hoped that you might know of an employer who would overlook that particular sin.”
“Ah,” Jeanne sighed.
In this series of teasers, I'm working hard at not using scenes that touch on the main backbone of the plot. Spoilers and all that. Given that the various interpersonal relations are not the main backbone of the plot, I thought this might be a nice teaser from Chapter 11. Despite all my best efforts in emphasizing that Mother of Souls is even less of a "romance novel" that the previous two, there it is listed on Amazon under "Books > Romance > Lesbian Romance" and you just know that means it will get slammed in some reviews for being a really bad example of a romance novel. Alas, there isn't much I can do about that.
While not following a category-romance structure, the Alpennia series is very much about relationships. All types of relationships. It's about the vast array of relationships that women forge with each other. Some of them would fit into a standard romance plot, but there's more to life than happily-ever-after romances. Serafina Talarico is on a quest and Mother of Souls is primarily the story of how she achieves that quest in unexpected ways. Serafina is also hungry for personal connections and faces a lot of hurdles in that pursuit, but achieving personal connection is not what her story is "about". Nor is that particular pusuit resolved in the pages of this book (which is pretty much the definition of Not A Romance Novel).
She does have some interesting adventures along the way, though...
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Chapter 11 - Serafina
The thin winter sun struggled through the narrow window in Olimpia’s bedroom, such that late afternoon seemed more like dusk. The sunny rooms were reserved for painting. Serafina rolled over and squinted trying to gauge the time.
“Must you go?” Olimpia said. She twined their legs together and buried her face in the loose cloud of hair.
“Not yet, but soon.” Serafina reached across to adjust the wick on the lamp, bringing a warm glow back to the room, then relaxed across Olimpia’s body, drawing in her heat against the chill of the room. Their stolen afternoons were a warm refuge against so many things. There was nothing of her failures here, no struggle to find her place. But the mood had been broken and she sat up in the middle of the bed. The covers slipped off her bare shoulders as she fumbled for a ribbon to tame her hair until she could braid it.
“Just like that; don’t move.” Olimpia rolled off the side of the bed and snatched up the sketchpad that was never far from her reach.
The instruction was familiar by now. Serafina paused with her hands reaching behind her head as Olimpia’s hand moved quickly across the surface of the paper. “Do all your lovers have my patience?” she asked. Talking was permitted; moving was not.
“Mihail only visits for one thing and then he’s gone,” Olimpia said, pausing with her head tilted to consider the work. “And Renoz won’t ever stay still. If I can’t capture her in three lines, she’s done. Done.”
The last was meant for her. Serafina slid to the edge of the bed and held out her hand to see. It was only a rough sketch, the sort of study that littered the walls of the studio. Olimpia had captured her as if in mid-movement: her elbows akimbo as she gathered up her hair into the ribbon, a single sinuous line following the arch of her back down around the curve of her hip to where her feet peeked out from the jumbled covers. The merest impression of dark eyes and a tilting smile. “You make me beautiful,” she said.
Olimpia took the sketch back from her. “You are beautiful. I make you see it.”