Artists: buy a tabletop scanner

…if you haven’t already. Get a great camera. Get image manipulation software like Photoshop and Painter. Get a computer system beefy enough to handle the resulting workload. Make regular on and off-site backups of your data.

Most important? Take great pictures and/or scans of all your work. Here are the three reasons why:

1. Provenance. With good pictures of in-progress stages, you can keep a record of art processes and your participation in them. Handy in intellectual copyright disputes and show jurying! You can prove to galleries, museums, private collectors, and grants committees that, yes, you did the actual work.

2. Image editing. With the tools mentioned above, your art no longer has to be limited to what it was. Colors, proportions, crop sizes, etc. can be digitally manipulated to better fit your current needs and the artwork’s potential.

3. Monetization. If you are any kind of visual artist, you owe it to yourself to manage your catalog with an eye toward future profit. With new, powerful Print-On-Demand services, old original pieces long since sold can become prints on a variety of substrates.

(No matter how bad or goofy they are. Even terrible artists have flickers of accidental genius. Monkey Jesus wasn’t the first art mistake to become a cultural icon. It’s certainly not the last.)

I didn’t follow these rules, so I am missing documentation of the first fifteen of my thirty-two years in fine and commercial art. So much potential poster and image license income…lost. Sure, if I can remember the art I can make it again, and probably better. But the original is effectively gone. 

I am much more diligent about documenting my work now.

New visual pieces get shot or scanned at 300 dpi and large sizes (it’s always easier to scale down to smaller images).

One new side benefit is the Print Sales feature on SaatchiArt.com. Within reason, I am now my own curator. I can choose, manipulate, and upload older pieces to become part of Saatchi’s on-demand print catalog. Pieces that never got traction with my previous art publishers (even though I still believe in those artworks) can now be given a fair try in a huge market.

Jury’s still out on whether this is a good marketing strategy, or just another display site. But I’ve decided it’s worth a year or two of trial. I have nothing to lose but the storage space.

My art on SaatchiArt online

I finally got the first eleven pieces uploaded to my little piece of SaatchiArt.com!

This batch includes glass micromosaics and beaded tapestries, but acrylic paintings and jewelry will follow soon.

The link: http://www.saatchiart.com/mariancranedesigns

Whether this portal produces sales or not, it’s a great display site for my older work…and hopefully a better venue for new pieces.

A Tolkien-inspired teaser:

Two Trees Tapestry

Twitter pitches in publishing #2

I wrote this post just over a year ago, and in that time I’ve seen more and more abuses of Twitter’s generally-fun-and-useful pitch contests. It’s become bad enough that in two recent SF and Romance pitch contests I followed, over half of the ‘favorites’ were from brand new and unknown publishers, or worse: from companies already known to be predatory or clueless (by online watchdog groups). If the trend continues, Twitter pitches won’t be worth the time for serious authors, publishers, or agents.

New authors: do your research! Don’t send material to a publisher/agent unless you know they’re going to be a good partner. Do some simple, basic research: learn who they are, where did they learn about publishing (did they learn about REAL publishing?), are they total flakes and dictators when disagreements happen, and can they sell your work?

 

Legacy, by A. G. Carpenter

My fiendishly talented friend and beta-reader AG Carpenter has a new story out in the self-published wilds: Legacy.

A.G. Carpen

Blurb: When a skin-changer looking for passage to Lake Ponchartrain collapses at her feet, Willa Arch finds herself drawn into a conflict between the iron-willed Queen Elsbett of Brittania and Queen of the Dead, Marie Laveau. But survival means coming face to face with Willa’s own deadly legacy of fur and teeth.

Available 07-14-2015 at Kobo (.epub) and Gumroad (.mobi). If you like steampunk and Southern Gothic, try this.

Miranda Campbell: ‘Culture Isn’t Free’

I know two people, both younger than me.

One is running from massive credit card debt, skipping from city to city, odd job to odd job and couch to couch, while his potential as an artist is wasted in ennui and his own non-materialistic creed that ‘Hey, the only thing I own is my body, and even that is temporary.’ Given artistic opportunity, he tends to flee from or ignore it until it goes away.

The other is a driven, talented technical writer who patiently laid plans and built foundations for a rewarding commercial career that more than pays her bills. It gives her the freedom to attend fiction writing conferences, symposiums, and classes where she can network with other professionals, hone her considerable writing skills, and celebrate that her recently-released fourth novel just broke under the coveted 3-digits in Amazon rank.

I stumble along between their orbits, mildly appalled at the first and slightly envious of the second. But I’ve lived in both of their worlds.

Jacobin Magazine hosts this bleak, powerful essay by Miranda Campbell, in which the tagline reads: ‘Expecting artists to work for free hands the reins of cultural production to ruling elites.’

In our post-Recession world, everyone but the top 1% are still reeling from the economic and social costs of tech and housing bubbles bursting – and we’re all waiting for the next big impact. Most people consider art a privilege; artists themselves are often publicly constrained to admit they offer a luxury, not a necessity.

(Even though every single creative one of us screams the opposite, inside, where the nice agents, buyers, clients, family members, and pyschologists can’t hear us. We know Art is Important. We instinctively know it’s what we’re meant to be doing, in between hunting mammoths and keeping the leopards at bay. All higher animals play. Some of them appear to make art. In many cases, art is all we’re really suited to do in life, and everything that is non-art is a compromise we make with our loved ones and budgets.)

There. Now I’ve let out the dirty secret. Here’s a few more in quotes from Campbell’s essay:

‘In a post-Napster era, artists of all stripes face the expectation that the fruits of their labor should circulate for free, both on and offline, and when revenues from creative work do trickle in, they rarely amount to a decent wage.’

‘…The public response [to complaining artists] is often to push back and discredit, to find fault in the story or suggest the individual is not a credible spokesperson for the problem he or she is articulating.’

In this essay, Campbell hopes to ‘…raise awareness about artist livelihoods and draw attention to the contemporary challenges of earning a living from creative work’, all the while grimly acknowledging that talk is cheap and rarely fixes anything. She cites other books and sources that are worth a sidetrip.

What did we artists really gain, after all, from Richard Florida’s ‘Creative Class’ books? We became commodities and symbols.

I have free art out there, in the form of fan fiction, stories on this blog, and my image display accounts. Am I one of Campbell’s traitors, or am I making an educated bet on free art as a marketing ploy for later? At the very least, I can honestly say I give away this art out of love for it and its viewers. Would I be furious to see people making money off it, down the line? Hell, yes. Do your own work, please.

On the ground, I’ve watched a lot of urban decay converted into overpriced lofts for hipster would-be artists and marketing people, since very few actual artists can afford them. (To afford a decent 2 bedroom apartment, the base salary in Phoenix AZ is around $17 per hour. That’s not much to a middle-class professional. It can be a luxurious pipe dream for underemployed artists.) I see tireless volunteers working themselves into the ground to mount festivals and exhibitions that are feted in public, and continually underfunded in state, city, and institutional budgets. I see creativity being harnessed as a weapon and a lure by commercial interests who may or may not safeguard its core values on the way to staggering wealth.

In the nearly 30 years I’ve been in Arizona, I’ve watched numerous incarnations of the central Phoenix art districts rise and fall and rise again. While I have friends and former co-workers who are reasonably successful in that area, I don’t show there. I’ve never even tried. Until now, my main Arizona client base for my book art sculptures, fiber wall hangings, mosaics, and jewelry has been in the better-heeled resort and Baby Boomer communities of Scottsdale, Sedona, or Chandler. Their denizens don’t go to central Phoenix to buy art. The people who do, can’t generally afford or are not interested in my art. That’s okay. Marketing means knowing your niches. My Arizona niches withered with the Recession, and haven’t really come back.

The internet made reaching tiny but loyal markets much easier, letting me embark on new art adventures eleven years ago. My career in book arts really began with me reaching out in an email to a famous and foundering gallery in San Francisco, and being answered a month later by the people who bought it.

With my next foray into online art sales through SaatchiArt.com, I hope to bypass more of those dysfunctional niches, and reach more buyers who share my instinctive reaction to certain artforms. My tribe? My benefactors? Who knows?

In the meantime, I read articles and essays like Campbell’s to help ground my expectations.

 

Coming soon: online direct art sales

Crane tapestry -- Aquifer

Over the next week or so, I’ll be finalizing the details on my shiny new sales portal at SaatchiArt.com online. Even though I’m already registered there, I’ve got a lot of background work left: choosing art, deciding whether to offer prints, verifying shipping weight and dimensions for each piece, researching market prices, etc.

Why Saatchi? I’ve been considering online sales platforms for almost a decade, and found problems with too many. Another artist recently referred me to Saatchi. The US-based, internationally-known fine-art sales platform has a fairly good reputation both among artists and buyers. Their commissions are reasonable, and their marketing and delivery terms seem solid. It’s definitely not Etsy! (Yes, I was aware of certain legal issues before I joined.)

This is very like self-publishing: it could be a great new adventure, it could amount to absolutely nothing, or (as I suspect) it could be a modest new income source and another online portal to showcase my 30+ years of art design and creation. I’m cautiously optimistic. Not only does this give me a chance to regain some storage space (big paintings eat garages!), I have a venue for art styles I’ve always wanted to try but never had any luck in the local gallery scene or with existing art publishers.

What will be available? Surreal, fantasy, and semi-abstract acrylic paintings on wood, cotton canvas, and linen, ranging from 4″ x 4″ to 60″ x 24″ x 3″. Beaded and embroidered tapestries including ‘Aquifer’ above. Glass mini-mosaics of landscapes and still-life scenes, some bordered with glass bead mosaic frames. Some paintings will be offered un-stretched and rolled, some will be stretched and wall-ready. Tapestries and mosaics will be ready to display with hanging hardware attached.

When I’m ready, I’ll post the notification link here, as well as in the Art section of my Author Notes.

 

Attention, Big-Name authors who feel compelled to tout a writing-related product or service: Stop. Think. Research. At least check to make sure you are not endorsing something well-meaning but clueless, if not utterly predatory. Lesser authors look up to you. They may even believe you. Do you want to disappoint them?

Now, if you know there’s a problem with the company and you endorse it anyway, that’s on your karma.

 

psst! research before endorsing!

Aqua recorder

When I can afford to, I collect end-blown flutes and similar wind instruments. Occasionally I manage to play them without totally embarrassing myself.

aqua recorder

This is the most recent acquisition, a lovely little Yamaha recorder in translucent aquamarine lucite. For $.99 at a local thrift store. It needs some cleaning and minor repair, but I’m looking forward to trying it out.

So much prettier than the staid black and white plastic recorders I remember from grade school. These instruments get a bad or ‘meh’ reputation from all those bored kids having to play scales on them. It’s worth remembering that recorders are an old musical instrument, with a long history.

Who knows, this one may end up at a local charter school after I refurbish it.

Why did I spend money on it? Hello, it was ninety-nine cents and pretty. But more than that – flutes have a thematic place in the fantasy novel I just sent off to my agent. It seemed appropriate to rescue this one.

Amazon’s review policy (rant warning, adult language)

If you are a writer or a reader – or both! – you need to go here RIGHT NOW and look at this petition. Then please sign it.

https://www.change.org/p/amazon-com-amazon-change-the-you-know-this-author-policy

Lucky authors might have self-published bestsellers that seem to gain word-of-mouth acclaim instantly, or have commercial publishers bankrolling major marketing campaigns. The rest of us struggle to collect quality reviews of our work, because reviews help sell books.

Amazon just strangled our ability to get useful reviews from our writing peers.

For a few years, Amazon has been pushing aside or entirely axing reviews left by other writers in the same genre as the reviewed book. The theory was that it was unfair competition, and could lead to meaningless ‘gush’ reviews or bitter vendettas.

Which it did, in part because of newer writers (often self-published) who hysterically conflated three-star or lesser reviews with personal condemnation, or used the Amazon and Goodreads review comment systems to bolster or bully each other. Grown-up authors don’t do that shit; we all know better, and if we don’t, social media soon reminds us. Who better to honestly review a science fiction romance than other science fiction romance authors, hey? Why the hell does Locus Magazine exist, or Romantic Times, or other review sites, blogs,and industry magazines?

This is why I stopped submitting reviews to Amazon, and by extension to Goodreads. My reviews stay on my blog, right here, where I can control them and say what I damn well want.

At the same time, Amazon was notorious for allowing gushing five-star reviews from: the authors themselves, their agents, their family members, their best friends, their ministers, etc. It’s been a hallmark of vanity-publishers and dicey small-press publishers, who often pressure their authors into soliciting any reviews they can find.

Now Amazon is attempting to address that problem, too, and as usual is making it far worse. They’re trying to get rid of all reviews where the algorithms suggest the reviewer and the author know each other.

Huh? I’m a hermit, and I know several hundred other authors in several genres. I can review them if I want to, and I have no problem with them reviewing me.

What is wrong with a vigorous peer-critique system, anyway? It may sting but it may also offer more useful pointers than the average reader’s review. Pssst! Writers see different things than readers. Reviews are for readers, but critiques are for authors. Both can be entertaining from the outside, too. Think of all those viciously funny Dorothy Parker reviews from the early 20th C. Or current-day video game and movie takedown reviews from Zero Punctuation or How It Should Have Ended.

In the corporate and cultural rush to avoid Giving Offense, I often feel like we have tipped too far in discouraging real, coherent, and lively peer debate because it might hurt someone’s feelings.

Hmmm. If you’re a writer and have experienced this, I can only offer full sympathy and tbis observation: you became a public figure the moment you published. It’s hard having your work dissected in public. There are two remedies: stop writing and go hide from the world…or grow the hell up.

Parts of the science-fiction community may seem ready to cannibalize themselves at a moment’s notice, if you believe all the Hugo nominations scuffles this year. That’s not true. Romance writers are usually even more of a generous and community-minded bunch, happily trading honest reviews back and forth for the benefit of all (after all, literary pariahs have to help each other).

Amazon is seriously undermining the self-policing community of writers, to the ultimate detriment of readers who will be deprived of easy access to quality reviews.

Bad Amazon.

For all writers who feel they may have at-risk reviews on Amazon or Goodreads: copy them right now into a separate file you can cite and pull from at need. Because they may be gone tomorrow.

Added 7-9-2015: the petition made enough ripples to get noticed by The Guardian.

 

Kameron Hurley, on why we are writing

 

I’ve made myself unpopular before, by suggesting that easy, cheap self-publishing is not the instant ticket to success that many writers dream it could be. The blunt, sad truth is that many self-published authors now publish too soon. In their rush to market substandard or just-good-enough work, they neglect to hone their writing craft. Or they’re so new they can’t even see the flaws in their work.

I am incredibly grateful that self-publishing (as it is now) didn’t exist when I was an utterly clueless writer in the early nineties. I wouldn’t have made much money, I’d have suffered burnout, and probably stayed away from writing for longer than my art-decade hiatus. Or I’d have had enough success to ensure I remained lazy, and never pushed myself to become a better writer.

Locus Magazine has an excellent essay from author Kameron Hurley, on her reactions to the self-publishing glut and the myths that have grown up around it.

It’s worth a read for those of us considering self-publishing: are we doing it for the right reasons, and are we prepared?

Same-sex marriage in America

White+House+rainbow

Justice Kennedy said it best, I think:

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

-The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.

It is so ordered.”

We’ve caught up to Ireland, at least. There’s still a lot of discrimination to tackle, not just in gay rights but in universal rights.

It’s unkind of me, but I’m enjoying the hand-wringing, rants, and shock of conservatives who didn’t see this coming.

 

Kings Rising, by C. S. Pacat

Well, no, not the actual Book 3 of the stunning M/M thriller-fantasy-erotic romance ‘Captive Prince’ series*. Because that’s coming out 02-26-2016.

Three magic words, after all these years: pre-order is live!

But my fellow fans, the writer Herself has a giveaway just for us. Go here to her livejournal page to learn more about how you might just win one of ten copies of the books.

*’WothehellisCaptivePrince?’ I almost hear some readers saying.

Oh, boy. What Cassandra Clare’s ‘Mortal Instruments’ series was to Rowling’s ‘Harry Potter’…that is sort of what ‘Captive Prince’ is to Dorothy Dunnett’s ‘Lymond’ series of historical fantasy-political thriller-magic realism books (with a whole bunch of Yaoi archetypes woven in). Both are highly revised fan fiction-inspired epics.

Except that the latter two examples involve far more writerly skill than the first two. (Sorry, JK & Clare, I like your writing but it doesn’t rock my world. Pacat and Dunnett still can after numerous re-reads. Pacat gave me the gumption not to dumb down Moro’s Price, back when I was plotting the damn thing.)

In Pacat’s case, the ‘Captive Prince’ and ‘Prince’s Gambit’ duology have been some of the most enduring and challenging examples of self-published M/M romance, or ‘original slash’. Enduring, because their sheer quality snagged a reputable agent, then Penguin-Berkley’s interest. They’ve helped build legitimacy for M/M romance outside niche e-publishers and fan fiction communities. Challenging, because the slow-burn relationship between the two male main characters is framed in a political thriller as deep and believable as Jacqueline Carey’s ‘Kushiel’ alternate-history fantasy series.

Is there sex, you ask? Well, duh, yeah. Some of it tender, some brutal – but it’s very much a part of the storyline. Readers with a tendency to skip everything but the naughty bits might as well stay at home, and read simpler books.

Believe me, Book 3 is very good news to those of us who like our slash as complex as it is incandescently hot.

Killjoys

I finally managed to see the first episode of SyFy Channel’s ‘Killjoys’.

Wow.

Bounty hunters in space, check. All major characters seem to have deep backstories, check. Writers not afraid to dole out explanations in context, check. Fight scenes! Gritty realistic future with highly contrasted settings! Great props and costuming! The promise of a big, messy, wonderful story…

It could very well be Firefly 2.0. It reminds me most of the old space RPG ‘Traveller’ (Strephon lives, dammit!)

If you have a weakness for plotty space opera, give ‘Killjoys’ a try.

link: http://www.syfy.com/killjoys

Note added 7/27/2015: A month in, I love this show even more. Backstory with hints of much bigger things to come! Zombies that aren’t! Class warfare! Seething political struggles! Great fight scenes! Female characters with agency! Male characters with intelligence!

That probably means ‘Killjoys’ is doomed to be axed or lobotomized, given the general record of science fiction shows on cable. 

So watch this show while you can (and you should probably record the episodes, too.) Tell your geeky friends to watch it. Tell your science fiction romance reader friends to watch it, because it shares the framework of many celebrated modern SF romance books. They’ll get it.

Then tell the Syfy Channel that you and all your geeky and romance reader friends are watching it.

It’s not wrestling, so that might not get the executives’ attention, but it’s worth a try.

Dish Network, Killjoys, and dragons, oh my

1. Oh, Dish Network. I love you on a big screen TV, but due to circumstances beyond my control, I have to watch you on a laptop system right now. And your mobile/tablet app? Your app sucks. Accept that and please fix it. You’ll get your five stars from me if you fix it before I binge-watch ‘Penny Dreadful’ over the Fourth-of-July weekend.

Your app is buggy and badly engineered, merrily dividing its time between freezing up, dumping recordings halfway through, randomly deciding where to begin a program (Five seconds early? Twenty seconds late? Anyone’s guess!), and sporting an unwieldy lag time between touchscreen command and response (yes, the tablet is just fine.) And those are the flaws I encountered tonight while trying to watch ‘Killjoys’ on the SyFy Channel.

2. SyFy Channel, I didn’t let myself fall back in love with you for a long time since your (silly) name change. After all, you were basically run by some people who adored wrestling and didn’t seem to care beans about science-fiction and fantasy programming. When something GOOD came along, I braced for impact knowing its days were probably numbered. You had some well-done epics, some spectacular and stupid-fun programs (Sharknado), and a string of okay shows overly hyped and written into ignominy (Go on, tell me ‘Eureka’ and ‘Warehouse 13′ didn’t die wallowing deaths?)

You are pulling me back into the maelstrom with ‘Killjoys’, which I only saw part of before my service provider went thud. I’m recording a later playing. What I saw was a brilliant gritty space opera hearkening back to ‘Firefly’ and ‘Dune’. You have a female leader – and she’s competent! You have some male eye candy that can actually act. You have drama, gorgeous effects, and some strong worldbuilding.

Try not to can this one the first season, and you may have another ‘Defiance’ on your hands.

3. George R. R. Martin: thanks to you and your dragons, some of my old fiber art may be getting a new-and-topical lease on life. This will be the second time I’ve obliquely ridden on your coat-tails. I owe you a beer, sir.

Crane quilt block Air and Water

Tall Dark and Gruesome…

Sir Christopher Lee’s title for his autobiography. One of the most skilled, competent, badass character actors to ever grace stage or set. We in the US tend to think of him as a villain in Star Wars or the recent Tolkien movies, but he was so much more.

He passed a few days ago, but I didn’t hear about it until today. This has been a rough year: my heroes are passing, one by one.

Here is a short primer on Sir Lee’s sheer badassery.

Machines cannot imagine

“I think the rules are crumbling and I think the barriers are breaking.”  – Neil Gaiman

“Good.” – me

In the New Statesman, Neil Gaiman and Kazuo Ishiguro share a fascinating discussion about the past, present, and possible future of speculative fiction.

I find it a wistful, slightly cynical, but ultimately hopeful field trip shepherded by two incredible guides…well worth reading for many inspirational quotes and ideas. Given the mini-controversy of the 2015 Hugo Awards (old-school SF against ‘new’ fashions in writing), and the recent loss of so many great spec-fic authors, I think the readers, writers, and viewers of genre fiction need a call-to-arms.

 

Happiness, part whatever

For now, revisions are done (again) on the fantasy novel Singer in Rhunshan, at least until my agent and possibly some editors wade in.

This is what the manuscript looked like last September:

Singer mms for blog

 

This is what it looks like now: gone from 54K to 91K, plus sequel and series synopses.

Singer mms 6-4-2015

As I was in the final stretch I got word that Tanith Lee had died. Without her ‘Flat Earth’ series as guide and good example 30+ years ago, my work would probably not exist. There are many threads in the tapestry of that inspiration, but Ms. Lee was a major part.

Note added 6-13-2015: For better or worse, the mms has been mailed.

 

 

Dryland Codex (in progress, post 3)

Here are the approximately 5″ x 4″ fabric applique covers for my accordion book Dryland Codex, which I should be finishing in June (if I don’t keep adding to it.)

Dryland Codex covers

Dryland Codex detail

The cover art and the fold-out painting on the book itself are somewhat influenced by the artwork of American artist Jane Filer. Her abstracted landscape and urban paintings have one of my recurring temptations for about a decade. She’s one of those artists who would definitely be in my ‘collection’ if I had room and finances to have one.

 

 

R. I. P. Tanith Lee

Damn. We’ve lost another brilliant fantasy and horror writer. British legend Tanith Lee died in her sleep on May 24th, after a long illness.

Sometime in 1978 in a mall bookstore in Farmington, New Mexico, I noticed the cover of a paperback in the SF&F section:

Night's Master cover

The cover artist was George Barr. The book was ‘Night’s Master’, the first of the Flat Earth series. The author was Tanith Lee. 

I must have picked up a copy and read a little way into it, even though I didn’t remember doing so at the time. I know that I drew a picture of a black horse with a mane and tail of blue flame, and a dark-haired rider crouching low in the saddle.

For several years, that picture boggled my teenage brain: I couldn’t figure out where it came from. It wasn’t anything from my haphazard made-up universes, which owed more to Tolkien and Star Wars then. I walked by that book and others from Tanith Lee, intrigued by their ‘adult’ titles and covers but reluctant to beg my Mom to buy them. (She probably would have, but I was self-conscious.)

In college five years later, I bought my own new copy of ‘Night’s Master’, and learned it was part of her Flat Earth series. Those books changed my world.

First, I finally learned the origins of that damn horse.

Second, the writing was gorgeous and fearlessly complex, at turns full of sly humor, majestic vision, rich sensuality, and deep emotion. Lee also introduced me to active, engaged alternative-sexuality characters at a time when most of them in SF&F were written as token victims or villains.

I would periodically binge on her writing for the next 30-odd years, learning more each time I did.

‘Sabella’ is one of the best SF Romance vampire stories ever told. The YA ‘Unicorn’ books are magical for their voice and strong characters. ‘Silver Metal Lover’ still leaves more-modern YA paranormal romances gasping in its dust.

I built an original cosmology from questions Lee posed first in her Flat Earth fantasies: the nature of love, the power and frailty of Mankind, and the folly of worshipping a supernatural entity *that does not care*. (Yes: whatever other philosophies she followed, Tanith Lee seemed very much a humanist.)

She was the second author (after J.R.R.T.) whose story endings can leave me sobbing and smiling foolishly at the same time. (Sir Terry Pratchett’s the third.)

Don’t get me wrong: Lee is also one of the few writers who can infect me with grinding ennui and deep revulsion. Her darker aspects match Bierce, Bloch, and Lovecraft. Her work is not for the faint of heart or the reading-challenged. She will make you look into the Abyss…and keep looking. She never left a trope unexamined or unmanipulated; she remains the only author I’ve ever seen who made incest work sympathetically in terms of a story.

I’m saddened by her passing, and selfishly bereft: I will probably never know her planned ending to the Flat Earth series, other than one tantalizing hint in a 30-year-old short-story retelling of Rapunzel called ‘The Golden Rope’. (And yes, this blog is partly named for it and the concept behind it.)

#

Tanith Lee is also a sad example of changing readership and publishing fashions. Where she had been a top fantasy author in the 70s and 80s, by the mid 2000s her career seemed to falter.

As late as 2010, she remarked in interviews that while her work output was as strong as ever, she was unable to get a lot of manuscripts into print because of profound disinterest from Big Five fantasy imprints. She had been in the process of issuing high-quality revised editions of her most recognized works through a small-press publisher…but that publisher fell on hard times during the recent recession, and upcoming Lee projects have (so far) been cancelled. 

Lee was and remains a Writer’s Writer, a wordsmith whose skill is probably beyond readers who balk at descriptions of more than one sentence. She would have been an incredible candidate for self-published backlists (eh, my fellow Flat Earth fans?), but seemed unable or unwilling to take that step in time.

In her own words, from a Locus interview in 1998:

”If anyone ever wonders why there’s nothing coming from me, it’s not my fault. I’m doing the work. No, I haven’t deteriorated or gone insane. Suddenly, I just can’t get anything into print. And apparently I’m not alone in this. There are people of very high standing, authors who are having problems. So I have been told. In my own case, the more disturbing element is the editor-in-chief who said to me, ‘I think this book is terrific. It ought to be in print. I can’t publish it – I’ve been told I mustn’t.’ The indication is that I’m not writing what people want to read, but I never did.”

So amid the wistful tweets and reminiscences from authors, readers, and publishers, I’d like to rock the funereal boat and point fingers. Specifically, at the publisher where she started, and who oversaw at least one reissue of Lee’s Flat Earth fantasy series. At the other publishers who briefly carried her work, then wandered on. You (and here I mean both singular and collective ‘you’) have absolutely no right to be mourning her now.

If anything else, Lee’s example encourages me to consider self-publishing my Lonhra Sequence books, if I get no interest from a strong commercial imprint.

Note added 6-7-2015: There is some Tanith Lee fan fiction online, but not much. One of the loveliest and most ambitious pieces is ‘A Real Sky’, a work in progress inspired by Lee’s Four Bee universe from the SF classics ‘Don’t Bite The Sun’ and ‘Drinking Sapphire Wine’. It’s worth a look. 

Note added 6-15-2015: here is a lovely obit at the Guardian.

 

 

 

 

Ireland did it. The Millennials helped.

Yesterday, Ireland became the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage via an overwhelming popular vote.

Yup, Ireland. The same country that only decriminalized homosexuality in the early 90s, and saw its staunch traditional Catholicism reel from recent waves of child sex-abuse scandals among clergy and affiliated lay groups. Where the infamous ‘Magdalene Houses’ still operated (with their institutional slavery of young women and cesspit ‘graves’ of illegitimate infants) until the mid 90s. And where incredibly restrictive abortion laws still effectively deny women the medically-critical abortions needed to save their own lives. 

That Ireland is demographically the old, rural, and conservative religious portion* of the electorate. New Ireland flexed its younger, activist, cosmopolitan, and tolerant Millennial side yesterday. 

It’s good to see. I’m hopeful that this summer’s US Supreme Court deliberations will lead the way to similar referendums here.

*Note: I’m actually wrong here, which makes me even happier. A significant portion of the ‘Yes’ vote came from older, conservative, and/or rural voters. So, ‘family’ won yesterday – but not the ‘family’ the right-winger were counting on.