Visit me on SFSignal!

Hi, all.

Paula S. Jordan here, and I have wonderful news!

John DeNardo of SFSignal has invited me to post monthly on his well-produced and widely-read site.

My first post there is up this week: On The Characters Who Seize the Reins, http://ow.ly/N7aJy.

The column is entitled A Writer’s View.

I’d love to have you drop by.

Thank  you.

Meet Jo Walton

Hello Fellow DarkCargoites, I have taken up residence at my new web site, PaulaSJordan.com, and would love to have you drop in for a visit there. If you like Jo Walton, or would like to know more about an excellent writer whom I have just found out about, please click on the link after the excerpt below. Thank you. I look forward to seeing you.

Copyright 2015 by Paula S. Jordan

My Real ChildrenHave you read Jo Walton yet? The author, poet, and blogger/reviewer who will be the Guest of Honor at Balticon over the Memorial Day weekend? I am just becoming acquainted with her, literarily speaking, and am bemoaning the past fifteen years that she’s been writing behind my back!

I am starting to make up for lost time: to date, one novel, My Real Children, and a few selections from What Makes This Book So Great, a collection of Walton’s book reviews for Tor.com. That may not sound like much, but it’s more than enough to appreciate her impressive but unstuffy breadth of knowledge and her great talent for complex ideas and depths of feeling expressed in brisk, matter-of-fact language. To say nothing of her unusual story lines, and characters so real you almost hear them breathing. I loved every bit of what I’ve read and am looking forward to more.

Early in Walton’s novel, My Real Children, an old fashioned telephone rings in a girls’ school in a remote area of World War II-era England. The young teacher who takes the call is asked a question. She hesitates, read more

Ursula LeGuin at Eighty Five

Ursuls LeGuin at Eighty Five Photo by K. Kendall

Ursula LeGuin at Eighty Five
Photo by K. Kendall

I invite you to join me on my new web site and blog for a celebration of Ursula LeGuin at Eighty Five, including links to a new interview, comments by Niel Gaiman and others, as well as new BBC Radio productions of Earthsea and The Left Hand of Darkness. and much more.

Thank you,

Paula S. Jordan

Note on the Following Post …

As noted below, this post was written just after my reading of Jim Butcher’s Summer Knight, the fourth novel in his Dresden Files series. Now I have read all of them, including Skin Game, and have been continually re-impressed with his insightful characterization and ever-more-powerful writing skills. Felt like a good time to revisit that old post.

I’d also like to invite you to visit my new web site and Wordshop blog here  PaulaSJordan.com. Or go directly to the blog here for my report on Mysticon 2015.

Once there, please click on the blog title to open up the like and comment features below.

It’ll be good to hear from you.

Jim Butcher and the Human Condition, Reprise

Copyright 2011 – 2015 by Paula S. Jordan

Oh, how I love to disappear for a weekend into an interesting book with characters who catch my heart! Urban fantasy writer Jim Butcher’s people do that for me far better than most, and I’ve been thinking about how he does it.

I had never read Mr. Butcher’s work before a month or so ago, and I am taking his Dresden Files series in sequence; eagerly catching up with Wizard Harry Dresden and his tremendous challenges, both magical and human, in the even-meaner-than-you-thought streets of present-day Chicago. I’ve just finished the fourth one, Summer Knight, and it caught me even better than the first three.

Of course, urban fantasies have a serious edge in earning reader buy-in, set as they are in places and times like the ones we live in. If the baddies attack in the garden department of a WalMart Superstore as they did in SK I am right there in the fray!

But Butcher’s gift goes far deeper than that.

Harry may be the most accomplished wizard actively practicing his craft on the street, but he is no immortal, and he faces adversaries far more powerful than himself on a regular basis. One of the many joys of these books lies in the cleverness and often downright comedy of his magical cheats and inventions.

But it’s in his characters’ inner struggles that Butcher shines brightest. When Harry is conflicted—and he is always having to endanger the very innocents he is fighting to defend—you feel his conflict in your bones. When he’s afraid, Butcher lets you know in ways large and small just exactly why this contest is so much scarier to him than most. Also, Harry is thoroughly invested in his struggles against evil, and when things go desperately wrong, which they sometimes do, he carries vast loads of guilt.

That’s not to say that his world is all dark. Harry is a profoundly human and intelligent man, facing Butcher’s  fiendishly imagined range of inhuman powers. But he faces them just as he does the same frustrations and ambiguities that life throws at us all: with that greatest of all human survival traits, a razor sharp sense of humor.

Still, when he’s confused or hurt or threatened, and especially when he’s thwarted in his efforts by skeptical officials of the mundane world or pigheaded members of his own, he may act out in ways that only deepen their animosity. But you, dear reader, have the inside track to his soul, and are never mislead.

So. A brief look at what Jim Butcher does to pull you into Harry’s life and mind. But as to how he does it so well? That’s his special gift: a clarity and depth of insight that are rare indeed.

Libraries and Their Keepers, Reprise

As a companion piece to my current post on Paula S Jordan’s Wordshop (my brand new website :-) ) I am resurrecting here a post of mine from 2011. It was then written as a followup to a DarkCargo piece entitled Everyman’s Library comparing traditional books (older reading devices) to e-books.

Copyright by Paula S. Jordan, 2011-2015

I’d like to offer a thought or two on the places of enchantment and discovery where those ‘older reading devices’ were to be found, i.e.: ‘older libraries,’ and the Librarians who brought them to life.

My earliest memory of a library was of a single pleasant room attached to the general store in my grandmother’s tiny Louisiana town.  My brothers and I would climb the steps to the long-unpainted porch that served both establishments, say polite hellos to the chorus of old men wearing down the benches outside the store, and pull open the screen door at the end of the porch.

The room was no more than ten feet by twenty, with windows on the front and one side wall, Miss Duckworth’s small desk to the right of the door, and all remaining wall space filled with books.  In the center was a table where featured books were displayed, and where members of the summer reading club colored in a segment of a smiling bookworm for each book we read.

Miss Duckworth was a world-expanding experience for me, with her suggestions of such new friends as the Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew, and the fabulous adventures they enjoyed.  When she discovered that I liked science fiction, she made sure that I found all the six or eight volumes with the space ships on their spines.  Later still it was biographies, maybe twenty in all, and I read all those as well.

She never had an assistant that I knew of. When she was ‘indisposed’ the door inside the battered screen was locked.  Her own pay, if she was paid, was surely very small.  What I regard, then, as the gift of her time, was pivotal for me.  Though other libraries have followed, with flashier technology and limitless collections of more serious and challenging fare, Miss Duckworth’s was the cornerstone of my reading life.

And I wonder, for all the convenience and variety of e-books dropping magically into our reading devices, isn’t something missing? And I’m thinking of something more than the bulk and heft of words resting physically in your hand. I am thinking of the absence of that other hand that put the book into yours.

World Fantasy Con 2014

Copyright by Paula S. Jordan 2015

Art by Centennial Artist Virgil Finlay

Art by Centennial Artist Virgil Finlay

A great con, as the 40th World Fantasy Convention (held the 6th through 9th of last November in Washington DC ) certainly was, should be recognized here however belatedly.

Themed in honor of the hundredth anniversary of the beginning of World War I, the convention also paid tribute to the births in that same year of two notable talents in the field of fantasy: writer/filmmaker Robert Aickman and acclaimed artist Virgil Finlay.

Several convention offerings spoke directly to the centennial theme.

Michael Dirda, scholar and Pulitzer Prize–winning book critic for the Washington Post, presented a spritely discussion entitled Fantasy and the Great Age of Storytelling: mid-1800’s to World War I. His delighted audience scribbled down pages of new titles for their to-be-read lists,

In addition to examinations of the works of Messrs Aickman and Finlay, panel discussions on the period included Historical influences in Fantasy, Women’s Roles in Fantasy Fiction Changed by World War I, and Myths and Legends of World War I..

World Fantasy Award Nominees

World Fantasy Award Nominees

The primary business of the annual convention, the presentation of the 2014 World Fantasy Awards, got underway at the opening ceremonies as nominees in the various categories were welcomed and given their nominee pins. Life Achievement Honorees Ellen Datlow and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro were also introduced, as were the convention guests of honor: author Guy Gavriel Kay, artist Les Edwards, author and creator/editor of Whispers Magazine, Stuart David Schiff, very special guest Lail Finlay, daughter of Virgil Finlay, and Toastmaster author Mary Robinette Kowal. A nicely staged remembrance of World War I was presented during the ceremonies.

Other highlights of the con included An interview with Life Achievement Honoree Chelsea Quinn Yarbro [author of an astonishing 91 novels – horror (28 Saint-Germains), mystery, science Image3fiction, western and YA – plus 7 nonfiction books and 78 short stories, under 5 pseudonyms] … A lively discussion of R.A. Lafferty as an American Fantasist … A panel on Young, Middle-aged, and older writers – How Does Age Affect Writing … Comments from Julie Czerneda on the Ecology in World Building panel … The Cicerones, a film by Robert Aickman … and readings by Patricia  McKillip, Andy Duncan. and Carol Berg.

Sadly, I was unable to stay for the Sunday afternoon World Fantasy Awards Banquet. The winners, in case you haven’t seen them yet, can be found here.

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro photo credit: Facebook

Vampires? In New England?

Copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan

I always figured the only vampires in the US were in New Orleans, neatly interred — at least in daylight — between the pages of Ann Rice’s books.Gravestone

But not so.

There was a real live, er, undead one in Rhode Island, with a really eerie grave where no grass grows and the tomb stone “must be anchored down by a steel post.” Or so goes the story. Coins, shells, rocks, even printed prayers, have been left there as gifts for 19 year-old Mercy Lena Brown.

Mercy died in the deep winter of 1892 and her body was stored in an above-ground tomb until the ground thawed enough to bury her. When suspicions of Rock Cropvampires arose, Mercy’s body and those of her also recently deceased mother and sister were exhumed. The decayed condition of the other two bodies was enough to acquit them. But Mercy’s, having lain only two months in the freezing, above-ground tomb, was in perfect condition. It was reported, in fact, that she still had fresh blood in her veins. Proof positive that she was “feeding off the living.” So they cut out her heart and burned it on a stone.

In another instance, the body of a 50 year old man, buried around 1830 in Connecticut, was “completely rearranged” some time after death. The skeleton was beheaded, the ribs fractured, and the head laid on the chest with the thigh bones crossed beneath it as on a pirate flag.

And they weren’t the only ones. Rhode Island Folklorist Michael Bell has exhumed some 80 “questionable” burials, some from as early as the late 1700’s or as far west as Minnesota, but primarily in backwoods New England in the1800’s. He suspects there are many more.

Stone crypt at Chestnut Hill Cemetery, Exeter, RI, where Mercy's remains may have been kept in the winter of 1892.

Stone crypt, Chestnut Hill Cemetery, Exeter, RI, where Mercy’s remains may have been kept the winter of 1892.

But what raised such powerful suspicions among the good people of New England?

Turns out, the one linking factor among all the known disturbed burials is that they occurred around the time of virulent outbreaks of consumption (tuberculosis.)

People falling ill without explanation? Wasting away till death claimed them?

What would you think?.

P.S. It’s been suggested that one Bram Stoker, traveling in the United States with a theater company the same year as Mercy Lena Brown’s exhumation, may have taken note: Lena + Mercy = Lucy??? And a doctor attending at her exhumation as with Miss Brown’s?

P.P.S. H.P Lovecraft specifically mentions Mercy’s exhumation in “The Shunned House,” and includes a living character named Mercy.

Sources:
Extensive analysis and commentary here:
The Great New England Vampire Panic, Smithsonian, October 2012

mystery of Rhode Island’s vampire revealed

Tales from my Ursula K. Le Guin Bookshelf: The Earthsea Cycle Part II

Copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan

smilings2When Ursula Le Guin revisited Earthsea some years after her completion of Tehanu, as she explains in her Foreword to Tales from Earthsea:

A mere glimpse at the place told me that things had been happening while I wasn’t looking. It was high time to go back find out what was going on now … [and also about] … things that had happened back then, before Ged and Tenar were born. A good deal about Earthsea, about wizards, about Roke Island, about dragons, had begun to puzzle me ….

Tales of EarthseaAnd so, as she put it, she went back, “to spend some time in the Archives of the Archipelago.” The five luminous stories that resulted shed a few bright rays on the people and the forces that unmade and remade and reoriented the world of Earthsea  during the 300 years before Ged. They are told in that quiet Le Guin voice that contains the raging of the storm. The calm that is the storm

“The Finder,” recounts the time after “Elfarran and Morred perished and the Isle of Soléa sank beneath the sea,” after further depredations from warlords and self-serving mages and wild dragons out of the west, after Erreth-Akbe’s Ring of Runes was broken. In that dark time the safest and most reliable magic rested with the “Women of the Hand,” long forgotten in Ged’s time, and with a Finder named Otter, a man who, with the women of the heavily-warded enclave on Roke, began to build the future.

“The Bones of the Earth” gives insight into the selfless strength and generosity of the true mage, and of the sorcerers who would teach the sorcerer who would teach Ged.

“Darkrose and Diamond” tells of the love between two gifted people and the trials they face in times when such gifts were both coveted and suspect.

“On the High Marsh,” from the “brief but eventful six years” when Ged was Archmage of Earthsea, tells the story of a child whose great powers were so harshly misunderstood and repressed that even on Roke he could not be mended, and of the one who went alone and on foot to find him in yet another place of ignorance to which he had run.

The final story, “Dragonfly,” occurring a few years after the end of Tehanu, introduces a powerful new character and provides a bridge, “a dragon bridge” as Le Guin says, between that book and the next one, the masterful novel The Other Wind.

Tales concludes with a 23-page “Description of Earthsea,” filled with details and explanations for much of the world of Le Guin’s creation. Close readers of her stories will revel in this. And for writers aspiring to Le Guin-quality fantasy, there are riches to be found in the Foreword: about “the way one does research into nonexistent history,” and the importance of stories that “have weight and make sense.” You’ll want to read it. Over and over again.

The Other Wind reaches back, nearly to the dawn of history, to identify and address the greatest wrong ever done by the mages The Other Windof Earthsea. This ancient miscalculation, a colossal failure of magic, comes to light through the heartbreak of a sorcerer named Alder, whose young wife calls to him from across the low wall between the living world and the realm the dead. What can be done to mend this vast error and make right the harm it has caused? And who has the power for the task? Tenar, Tehanu, the young king Arren, the former Archmage Ged, and Irian, a dragon who can take the shape of a woman, gather in the Immanent Grove on Roke, to try.

It was in reading the Tales From Earthsea this past week that I felt the whole of this long, patient story wash over me, the slow gathering together of whose parts Le Guin has pursued over these thirty-one years. It is a simple story, seen whole: a world of sometimes rough, sometimes marvelous beauty, populated by a people of rich imagination and great but often flawed intention, who insist on the superiority of their own limited vision over the deep-rooted wisdom and power of the natural world around them.

So, is there more of Earthsea’s story yet to come?

Le Guin tells us in the new Afterword provided in the 2012 edition of The Other Wind that, so far as she knows, “the story that [she] had to tell ends here.”  And yet, she says, she knows what Tehanu will do, and where Ged will go now.

For this series of posts there is definitely more: the science fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin. The Dispossessed, which many consider her masterwork, and my favorite, The Left Hand of Darkness, and Always Coming Home. And more? We shall see.